Peter Yeung (PY) will say he doesn’t use it, that it is his students who insist on calling him that. The thing is, by allowing, and passively encouraging (which we’ve seen him do), his students to call him Rinpoche, he is proving his lack of respect for, and understanding of, Tibetan Buddhism.
In Tibetan Buddhism, Rinpoche means something more than the translation “Precious one”. An idea of its meaning in Christian terms would be “cardinal”. The title is always and only bestowed by higher authorities. It is like “Tulku” in many respects. One cannot announce oneself a Tulku, only recognised authorities can do so. Having written evidence of being recognised as such is entirely the norm, and has been for centuries. For this reason, and unless he can produce evidence to back it up, he shouldn’t be allowing you to call him that.
“Rinpoche” is also not an honorific students can bestow out of respect or affection. In Tibetan Buddhist culture, students do not have the right to bestow this title. It would be like a congregation of a village church starting to call their local vicar “cardinal”. PY knows this very well.
That PY allows his students to do this is damaging, because it reduces the value of the office, and gives him status he has not earned.
When you hear of a real Rinpoche, you will think they are like PY. They are not. Simply on the practical level of studies undertaken and authority awarded by objective hierarchies, they are far more than he is. In the Tibetan Buddhist system they are also thought to have special status, similar to Tulkus.
When others hear PY is known as a Rinpoche, they will ascribe to him all sorts of authority and recognition he does not have. People will also assume a level of accountability that PY does not operate within. Rinpoches are held very closely accountable to their hierarchies, their lineages and often responsible for entire monasteries of people. Calling him Rinpoche means, certainly within Eastern cultures, people will assume that a certain level of external assurance has been applied to PY. It simply has not been.
It should also be noted that one of PY’s Western students told me that they started to call him Rinpoche only after students from Eastern cultures joined the group, and were calling him that. The Westerners felt they would be seen to be showing less respect than the Easterners if they didn’t start calling him that too, because it is one of the highest titles around. It didn’t arise out of joyful overwhelming feelings of admiration.
However, to truly understand this, we need to understand something about the reality in Eastern cultures:
Because “Rinpoche” (like cardinal) indicates very high social status, there is a big temptation to ascribe the title to one’s teacher. It’s the difference between having the local priest or a cardinal as one’s spiritual director, if one was Roman Catholic, and lived in a Roman Catholic country.
In the East, Lamas are very common. However, in those cultures, if one can say one’s teacher is a “Rinpoche”, then there’s an immediate increase in status that has real-world impacts. It’s virtue-signalling (and self-reassurance), as a Rinpoche would only pick top students to work with. It’s also a message about influence: direct access to a Rinpoche means the person will likely have other high-level connections. In the East, these things are super important. So, how much self-interest there was in this, should be carefully considered.
The bottom line is that it’s actually disrespecting Tibetan Buddhism to call PY Rinpoche. Whether that’s culturally relevant in the West, or not, can be debated. What can’t be debated is that if he was who he says he is, then he wouldn’t allow you to call him Rinpoche. He knows it’s not a title he can accept without betraying some fundamental, if invisible to most people, rules. In the same way, if he was who he says he is, he simply couldn’t advocate violence, or use aggression as much as he does. These facts expose a hypocrisy that cannot be denied.
He does claim plausible deniability, by saying his students call him Rinpoche of their own volition… but is this really credible when he is so aggressively controlling in every other respect? To us, it just reveals a deeper level of deception.
Objectively, that he allows his students to call him Rinpoche shows his need for external affirmation overrides his respect for the system he says he is part of. This tendency becomes dangerous when allied to cult-building techniques.