By GUEST CONTRIBUTOR
A new website documents the global effect of the allegations of abuse against the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje as well as his failure to address those charges publicly. Visitors to the site can read the testimony of others, anonymously share their own experiences and view a timeline of reported events.
The website – healingoursanghas.org – is part of a new initiative to address abuse in Buddhist communities, called Healing Our Sanghas. The initiative was created by a group of Buddhist practitioners with connections to diverse Karma Kagyu communities, in association with two Buddhist Studies scholars: Dr. Ann Gleig and Dr. Amy Langenberg, professors at two American institutions researching abuse in Buddhist communities as part of the Religion and Sexual Abuse Project.
Healing Our Sanghas comes nearly a year and a half after English-language media reports first began covering allegations by Vikki Han, a resident of Canada who filed a paternity suit against the Karmapa in a Canadian court. Han alleged that she was left pregnant when the Karmapa assaulted her. Two other women shared video testimonies detailing their allegations that they had secret sexual relationships with the Karmapa that they described as abusive. At no point has the Karmapa denied or otherwise responded publicly to the allegations.
There has been virtually no media coverage of the allegations after an initial flurry of reporting on the paternity and child support case in Canada. Meantime, Han engaged an international law firm, McAllister Olivarius, to represent her in a civil case based on allegations of rape against the Karmapa in New York. More recently, this blog published a report that cited sources saying that a court-mandated DNA test taken by the Karmapa confirmed Han’s claims that the Karmapa was father to her child. The blog also claimed that Han was seeking an out-of-court settlement upwards of US$7 million. Should such a settlement be reached, the normal course is for no further information to be made public once the money has changed hands.
Making Visible a Global Scope
The Healing Our Sanghas initiative makes visible the unseen cost that these unanswered allegations have had for the Karma Kagyu lineage. Many who shared their experiences on the map report leaving their Dharma centers and turning to other teachers or lineages. Others have opted to take their practice private, while some seem to be leaving the Dharma altogether.
The taboo that many Buddhist centers have imposed on the topic has made it difficult to track the scope of the impact that the allegations against the Karmapa have had on Buddhist communities. Many who disagree with the informal ban on discussing the allegations have quietly left their Dharma communities, as can be seen in many of the comments on the map. Those who remain therefore tend to dominate the conversations, advocating unquestioning loyalty to the accused.
For this reason, the global scope of the impact that the allegations have had has been virtually invisible until now. As of October 25, the map has published accounts from people tagged to locations in four continents, from Australia to Germany, and from Alaska to India.
Screenshot of the “Healing Our Sanghas Map” generated by anonymous contributions.
This website offers special conditions to ensure that would-be contributors feel confident that their posts will be anonymous. The website does not capture IP address information nor request e-mail addresses. Users have the option of placing themselves on the map where they are currently, where they are from or in any place they may have been during the time they were affected by the allegations.
“This site and the map are aimed at offering conditions where everyone can be comfortable speaking without fear of reprisals,” the site says.
The website constitutes one of the few places online where readers can review a concise timeline of the events surrounding the allegations, and easily access links to public information, including the court cases and personal testimonies by survivors. The timeline includes disclosures in English as well as Chinese. The allegations were reported first in Chinese.
The site identifies a collective trauma that has befallen those who entrusted themselves to the Karmapa as a source of inspiration and refuge. It describes a fragmenting of the sangha when Dharma communities make discussion taboo or fail to create safe spaces to address the allegations together.
The site lists four aims it hopes to further: 1) to protect the vulnerable by ensuring their voices are not simply silenced, but are “taken seriously and investigated”, 2) to address the harm done to others in the community when institutions support the powerful at the cost of the vulnerable, 3) to create a safe space where practitioners can find their voice to address the allegations and what it has meant for them and 4) to preserve the sangha by gathering the voices in a single space where everyone who wishes to speak can be heard and can know they are not alone.
Unfortunately, the website cautions that for legal reasons they cannot publish posts that report abuse by other named individuals. Healing Our Sanghas stresses that it recognizes a need for a safe channel for survivors to report abuse, but notes that it cannot function as one.
The website adopts a neutral position as to the veracity of the allegations, focusing instead on the effect they have had on practitioners, and especially the effects of the Karmapa and other Buddhist leaders’ failure to respond to the allegations.
Anticipating the frequent charge levied at those who raise the question of allegations against the Karmapa—that they are conspiring with the Chinese government —in the Who We Are section of the website, its creators emphasize that none of them “have any ties whatsoever to the Chinese government.”
While two Buddhist studies scholars, Dr. Ann Gleig and Dr. Amy Langenberg, are named on the site, the remaining members of the Healing Our Sanghas team have chosen to go unnamed. Explaining their decision to remain anonymous, the website reads:
Some of us have already experienced adverse consequences as a result of raising the topic of the allegations in much smaller arenas. At this point, we want to conserve our emotional energy for our own processing of this situation, which is ongoing, and for conversations where we can make positive contributions rather than simply defend ourselves.
- Healing Our Sanghas: New Website Seeks Discussion of Karmapa Abuse Allegations – Buddhist Door (Justin Whitaker) – November 2, 2022
- New website invites discussion of abuse allegations against 17th Karmapa – Lion’s Roar (Nov. 10, 2022)
- Karmapa Agrees to Multimillion-Dollar Settlement with Mother of his Child, Source Says January 9, 2023