Having extracted myself from Pathgate before completely depleting my financial resources, and before completely losing my connection to mainstream society, I can’t help but feel immense relief. I spent much time reacquainting myself with authentic Buddhist teachings and filtering out PY’s distortions, in order to free myself from his brainwashing around the Buddhist concept of merit, karma and utilisation of financial resources. This led to my realisation that PY’s relationship with students is nothing more than an exploitative one.
Having personally spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to PY’s cause, and having seen others do the same, I can only say that PY’s exploitation of sincere spiritual aspirants to fuel his narcissism is truly horrifying.
In this post, I will focus on the material or financial aspect of PY’s exploitation. But make no mistake, PY exploits his students in multiple ways.
1. PY portrays himself as a sage who is worthy of receiving offerings
PY, throughout the years, hints to his student that he is a sage, and it is essential to stay close to a “man with knowledge of virtue” (his own translation of kalyanamitra).
He recycles quotes such as “you generate more merit by making offering to a single skin pore of your guru than to countless Buddhas in the 10 directions,” and more recently, loves to quote Chapter 11 of the Sutra Forty-Two Chapters (which incidentally, is his retreat topic this year):
Fields of Blessings
The Buddha said:
“It is better to offer food to a single virtuous person than to one hundred evil people.
“It is better to offer food to one who observes the Five Precepts than to one thousand virtuous people.
“It is better to offer food to one stream-enterer than to ten thousand who observe the Five Precepts.
“It is better to offer food to one once-returner than to one million stream-enterers.
“It is better to offer food to one non-returner than to ten million once-returners.
“It is better to offer food to one arhat than to one hundred million non-returners.
“It is better to offer food to one pratyekabuddha than to one billion arhats.
“It is better to offer food to one of the Buddhas of the three periods of time than to ten billion pratyekabuddhas.
“It is better to offer food to one of ‘no thought’, ‘no abidance’, ‘no cultivation’, and ‘no attainment’ than to a hundred billion Buddhas of the three periods of time.”
Through this “teaching”, PY achieves 2 objectives. Firstly, he infers that he is a being beyond the level of a Buddha or pratyekabuddhas. And that making offerings to him would generate infinite merit.
I remember clearly the smug look on PY’s face when he said that very last verse. At that time, I berated myself for picking that up, and reminded myself, “Oh, Rinpoche is reflecting to me the conceit in my mind.” This was yet another case of cognitive dissonance. I had objectively observed the recurrent arrogant behaviour by PY, but within the authoritarian cult environment, the only way for me to resolve the conflicting thoughts was to blame myself. Looking back at it now, I feel nothing but pure disgust.
Secondly, PY discourages students from channelling financial resources into anything other than his own activities. Over the years, PY tells his students that doing charity is useless — their money should be used to propagate Dharma instead. The huge irony here is that PY uses his students’ money to do charity under his very own “Pathgate Partnership Programme”, and claims credit all for himself.
2. PY conditions students to believe material offerings is the key to generate merit
Having deceived students into believing he is worthy of receiving offerings, PY then talks about merit, a lot. “There are 3 ways to generate merit,” he would say. “The best way is to put the teaching into practice. Secondly, serve your teacher. And lastly, make material offerings. I was very fortunate to have done all three with H.H. Penor Rinpoche.”
Then he tells his students, “But since you don’t practise, you don’t know how to serve your teacher, the best way for you to generate merit, is to make material offerings. What if you don’t have resources? Give your time and effort.”
That we students are not practising, do not understand how to practise, serve the teacher poorly or lack the opportunity to serve is reinforced by PY constantly.
“Who is practising here? No one!” He would often sneer at us atop his so-called lama seat. PY conditions students to believe that they have such poor spiritual conditions that the only way to ever progress on the path was to make material offerings.
“To understand the teachings, you need merit. You don’t understand the teaching because you do not have enough merit. How to generate merit? Practise generosity, give!”
This, by the way, is totally inaccurate. Students do not understand PY’s teaching because as noted by anon27, PY’s teaching is extremely confusing. I have first-hand knowledge of this, as I had years of listening and then reverse-engineering his teaching style. I can verify that PY’s teaching lacks structure, is blatantly plagiaristic and lacks substance (more about this in future). He has successfully tricked his students, especially the Westerners into believing they are listening to something extremely profound, when most of his teaching content is already widely available on the internet. I even remembered him spending half a teaching session reading a Wikipedia article from his iPad, and then boasting how eclectic his teaching is.
As a result of the conditioning around merit and the practice of giving, I, for many years, threw myself wholeheartedly into PY’s cause, and seen others do the same.
I’ve seen a young entrepreneur with 2 successful businesses gave all that up progressively, travelled around the world with PY, and gradually depleted all her resources over a 7-8 year period. This is the same student who goes shopping with PY for his Prada clothing and shoes (PY’s favourite luxury brand), and two Dior suits for PY’s nephew’s wedding, all using students’ money.
I’ve seen another student who dropped a successful career in the financial industry completely, and spends her time and resources nowadays travelling and supporting PY’s activities and projects; while rubbing her fellow students the wrong way with ever increasing self-righteousness.
I’ve heard how PY instructed a long-time student to sell her investment property years ago, so that she could use the money to travel and attend his classes. The same student, now in middle age, scraps along today in a part-time job and gets put down constantly by PY for her anxiety, fear and cluelessness.
I’ve been told by another ex-student how under PY’s guidance, borrowed money to buy plane tickets to attend his retreat.
I’ve witnessed most of the remaining monks and nuns (around a third of them has left PY) continue to eke out a living working in dead end jobs, only to offer most of their income to PY.
I’ve observed, for the most part, students have become stuck in a rut, because PY destroys their motivation for any material progress in life, unless it has him at the centre of it. I’ve also seen how he set students up for stagnation, by encouraging them to attend more and more of his classes, when they do not have the economic conditions to do so.
As an outsider now, I can’t help but recall how miserable these students actually looked, because PY have programmed them to believe that they are in this economic state due to their poor practice.
I myself, stopped working totally after a few years with PY, because it simply became impossible to hold down a job with the amount of travelling I was doing. “There is nothing more important than attending teaching,” I would remind myself then.
PY had us believe that if we just have enough faith in him, the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas would take care of us. “Just look at me,” PY claims, “I’ve never asked for anything in my life, the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas took care of everything for me.” (That is a blatant lie by the way, if one examines his history of manipulative behaviour.)
3. PY exploits his students’ feelings of indebtedness to him
Through setting up his students to fail financially, PY utilises the opportunity to present himself as a generous and compassionate teacher. He would display acts of kindness and generosity (always publicly), such as sponsoring group meals, buying clothes, gifts, or giving students money to buy plane tickets to attend his “teachings”.
This is just one of many psychological tricks he plays on students; if they had a normal livelihood and were sensible about how much material offerings to give, none of them would require PY’s gestures of financial support. Instead, students are tricked into perceiving that these gestures as proof that PY is a living Buddha, and feel indebted to him. To “repay the guru’s kindness”, the students offer more and more of their time, effort and resources to PY.
In essence, PY has created an illusory debt bondage, a vicious cycle where PY exploits students’ genuine feelings of gratitude to become richer and more powerful, while students become poorer, more dependent on him, and feel endlessly indebted.
This kind of psychological manipulation is why PY vehemently distances his students from modern psychology, because it will expose his psychopathologies. I heard how one young student became highly distressed because she was specifically “advised” by PY not to choose psychology for her university studies, and she, under the influence of her brainwashed mother, complied.
4. PY targets the financially wealthy, and they get preferential treatment
PY preaches a lot about the Buddhist notion of equanimity, but with distance and time to reflect on his behaviours over the years, I conclude without a shadow of a doubt that there is nothing equal about the way he interacts with students.
Once, on short notice, he flew halfway across the world to “help” a student’s daughter over a weekend. I was puzzled and surprised by this gesture. This student in question was also shocked but due to the feeling of indebtedness as described above, offered an envelope with money that more than covered PY’s air fare. This student has since left Pathgate because he saw through its financial irregularities, but only after tens of thousands of dollars in donations.
Looking back, it is clear to us that PY only did what he did because he knew this student was financially wealthy. This single trip was no more than an investment that will pay off infinitely bigger in future. PY wouldn’t never have done it if it was another student of lesser financial capacity. Circumstantial evidence tells me this was not the first time PY did this either.
Over the years, I have witnessed PY’s pattern of “lovebombing” towards the financially wealthy, and their relatives. I’ve seen him flatter and try to impress them over initial interactions. I remembered feeling puzzled about why PY was extra nice to them. I have personally been the receiving end of one of his tantrums, when he was late for an appointment with a rich foreign student wannabe. I have heard from others how he would rage at students when he failed to impress his potential cash cows, and blamed his students for interfering with his plans.
Once hooked onto PY’s spell, these financially well-off students would be told, “the wealth you have in this life is due to the merit generated in past lives, so make use of it now,” going on to imply that they should devote their resources to him and his projects instead. In general, he implicitly discourages his lay students from finding work, because “mundane work creates negative karma,” unless of course, the work serves PY’s personal agenda.
Personally, I remembered picking up PY’s subtle but unmistakable excitement in his voice when I revealed to him I had passive income. PY had even openly said to me once, “If you do not know what to do with your money, give them to me!”
PY characterised students and potential students in terms of “investability”. That’s what I believe he ultimately sees his students as: investment property, not human beings. My observations leads me to conclude that he only keeps the “good investments” around him. When an “investment” goes bad, he discards them ruthlessly, and then proceeds to utterly destroy them in the eyes of the “good investments”, who in turn feel superior as “practitioners who had not lost their way”, and remain loyal, but actually in an unconscious state of fearful submission.
In sum, PY has been exceptionally manipulative and had distorted Buddhism to financially exploit his students. By shedding light on this, one would realise that this pattern of exploitation is prevalent among cults / high-demand groups — further evidence that Pathgate is no more than a cult of personality around PY.
I hope that this lengthy post helps elucidate the sinister paradigm past and present students have been subjected to. I pray that current students will one day, in their financial doldrums and emotional misery, snap out of the brainwashing and see the truth about their situation. But I pray even more that most don’t need to reach that sorry state.