The Bodhisattva & Sexuality – The Skill In Means Sutra

We had some discussion on the blog about ethics & safety. We mainly looked onto the ethics from the point of view of the Vinaya, and we only slightly touched the ethics from the Vajrayana point of view. This post should stress the Mahayana point of view and is an extract / quote from the The Skill in Means Sutra (Upayakausalya-Sutra) translated by Prof. Dr. Mark Tatz who dedicated the work to his gurus Kalu Rinpoche and Dezhung Rinpoche.

The cover of the book says about this sutra:

This rare Sutra, ancient but timely, has long been treated with circumspection because of its liberal attitude toward sexuality and other ethical concerns. One of the original statements of the early Mahayana school, it is here collated from Chinese and Tibetan translations, and from passages that remain in the original Sanskrit. Originally part of a larger sutra on the six perfections that included the well-known Perfection of Wisdom Sutra, the Skill in Means Sutra explicates the other five perfections of the Bodhisattva. The translator has traced its source to verses of the Ratnagunasamcaya-gatha that have no counterpart in the Perfection of Wisdom. The Skill in Means is also found as part of the Ratnakuta collection of sutras, under the title The Question of Jnanottara’.

The Bodhisattva and Sexuality: The Bodhisattva “King at the Head of the Masses”

23. Then the master Ananda said to the Lord:
“Venerable Lord, the Thus-Come-One may be the teacher of all sentient beings; and it may be that there is nothing not known to, not seen and realized by, not directly evident to him. Nevertheless, the Thus-Come-One has said, ‘When you see a monk incur a transgression, do not dissemble, but tell your fellow celibates or the Thus-Come-One. Therefore I relate this to the Lord, with friendliness and the intention of avoiding an act of transgression.

“Venerable Lord, as I was making my round for alms in this great city of Sravasti, I saw the Bodhisattva King at the Head of the Masses inside a certain house, together with a woman on a couch.”

When master Ananda had finished speaking, the great earth suddenly shook in six ways.

24. Then the Bodhisattva King at the Head of Masses levitated and sat in the atmosphere before the Lord at seven times the height of a palm tree. Addressing master Ananda, he said: “Master Ananda, what do you think of this? Can someone sit in the atmosphere while possessed of a subject of transgression?”

Ananda answered, “No, son of the family, he cannot.”

The Bodhisattva King at the Head of the Masses asked again: “Then let master Ananda ask the Thus-Come-One who is present before us now how one comes to be possessed of a subject of Bodhisattva transgression.”

Master Ananda was disconcerted. Bowing his head to the feet of the Lord, he said to the Lord:

“Venerable Lord, I disclose as an offense the offense I have committed in accusing such a standard-bearer of a fault. May it please the Lord to accept as an offense the offense I have confessed as an offense.”

25. The Lord replied to master Ananda: “Ananda, do not conceive of a holy person, someone practicing the Greater Vehicle correctly, as being faulty. Ananda, this is how you should understand it: A person of the vehicle of the auditors, in order to be absolutely peerless in maintaining meditative calm, will seek uninterruptedly to exhaust the outflows. In the same way, Ananda, the Bodhisattva great hero who is skilled in means, who is endowed with the thought of omniscience, will seek uninterruptedly for omniscience, even to the point of abiding among a holy retinue of women and enjoying, playing with, and taking pleasure in it.

“Why so? Ananda, the Bodhisattva great hero who is skilled in means takes a retinue only to introduce it to the three jewels—the jewel of the Buddha, the jewel of the doctrine and the jewel of the community—and to supreme,
right and full awakening.

“Ananda, if you should see a son of the family or a daughter of the family (someone of the Bodhisattva vehicle) who, while not parted from the thought of omniscience, is enjoying, playing with and taking pleasure in the five sensuous qualities—then, Ananda, you should understand that the holy person in question is endowed with five faculties like those of the Thus-Come-One.

26, “Now listen, Ananda, to why the Bodhisattva King at the Head of the Masses was sitting together with a woman on a couch. That woman, Ananda, had been the wife of Bodhisattva King at the Head of the Masses for the past
five hundred lives. Because of that clumsiness (ayonisa) in the past, her thoughts clung to that son of the family. On the other band, she perceived the splendor and majesty (generated by the power of his past morality) of the Bodhisattva King at the Head of the Masses. She found herself incapable of uttering the words that would take her to (sic) a lower rebirth.

“Off in private, the thought arose in her mind, If the Bodhisattva King at the Head of the Masses were to sit with me on a couch, I also would generate the thought of supreme, right and full awakening.

27.  Ananda, the Bodhisattva King at the Head of the Masses 
cognized that sister’s supposition with his mind.
He let the night pass and in the morning put on his under and outer robes, took his bowl and went for alms to the great city of Sravasti. Wandering through the great city of Sravasti for alms, he came to the house of that sister.

“He thought about the earth-equivalency—the spiritual exercise of equating the internal and external elements of earth. He took that sister by the right hand, and they sat down on a couch. As soon as they had been seated, he spoke this stanza:

The Buddha does not praise desire;
That is the range of the foolish.
Eliminate craving for sense-objects,
And become the best of humanity—a Buddha.

28. “Ananda, then that sister, hearing the stanza, was elated and jubilant.
 She rose from the couch and fell at the feet of the Bodhisattva King at the
 Head of the Masses, Then she uttered these stanzas:

Desires censured by the Buddha,
I will not seek hereafter;
Abandoning thirst for sense-objects,
I’ll become the best humanity—a Buddha.

The offensive thought I was thinking,
I hereby confess to you;
For the welfare of all living creatures,
I generate the wish for awakening.

29, “Ananda, the Bodhisattva King at the Head of the Masses instructed that sister in supreme, right and full awakening, built her up to it, introduced her to it, and established her in it with that skill in means. Then he rose from the couch and departed.

“Ananda, regard the distinction of his beneficent intentions! Ananda, I make this prediction in regard to that sister: Upon transmigrating from here, she will exchange her woman’s body. After 9.9 million ‘incalculable’ eons, she will become and appear in the world as a Thus-Come-One, a Worthy, a fully perfected Buddha named Free From Obsession, in the Buddha-field in which he obtains awakening, sentient beings will have no unwholesome obsession at all in their minds.

“Ananda, you may understand by this account how a Bodhisattva takes a retinue without its becoming a subject of transgression.”

30. Then the Bodhisattva King at the Head of the Masses descended from the atmosphere. He made a prostration to the Lord, and said:

“Venerable Lord, a Bodhisattva maintains skill in means and great compassion. Venerable Lord, this is how I think of it:

“Suppose that a transgression would befall a Bodhisattva in the course of creating a store of merit for a particular sentient being, and the offense would cause him to bum in hell for a hundred thousand eons. The Bodhisattva will incur the transgression—and the suffering of hell-enthusiastically, O Venerable Lord, rather than relinquish the store of merit of a single sentient being.”

31. The Lord gave a “Well done!” to the Bodhisattva King at the Head of the Masses. “Well done, well done, holy personage. With such great compassion, a Bodhisattva avoids any transgression; he possesses no subject
of transgression. How is this the case?

pp. 30–33

The Bodhisattva and Sexuality: The Story of Jyotis


The Bodhisattva and Sexuality: The Story of Vimala

36. Then the Lord again addressed the Bodhisattva great hero Jnanottara:

“Son of the family: If the monks Sariputra and Maudgalyayana had been skilled in means, the monk Kokalika would not have gone to hell. Why so?

37. “Son of the family, this I know for myself. Once upon a time, during the promulgation of the Thus-Come-One, the Worthy, the fully perfected Buddha Kakutsunda, there was a monk a preacher of doctrine named Vimala (‘Immaculate’) who dwelt in a remote cave. Not far from him lived five hundred rsis. During that period a mass of clouds arose unseasonably, and a great rain came to fall. A pair of women who were en route between villages
entered Vimala’s cave seeking refuge from the rain. When they re-
emerged from the cave, they were spied by the five hundred rsis. Seeing them, 
the five hundred rsis thought 
harsh and hateful thoughts:    in alarm:

“‘ Aha! This monk Vimala is lusting for wickedness. He is uncelibate.’

38. “‘Then the monk Vimala, knowing in his mind the thinking of those
 five hundred rsis, levitated into the atmosphere to seven times the height of
 a palm tree. Seeing him sitting there, the rsis thought to themselves:
“‘According to our theories, someone who is uncelibate cannot levitate and sit in the atmosphere.’

“Without further ado they made prostration with five limbs to the feet of the monk Vimala and confessed their fault to be a fault.

“Son of the family: If the monk Vimala had not levitated and sat in the atmosphere at that time, those five hundred rsis would have fallen physically into hell.

39. “Son of the family, what do you think of this? At that time, in that 
life the present Bodhisattva Maitreya was none other than the monk Vimala. Do not view it otherwise. Have no second thoughts or doubt on this point.

“Son Of the family: You should understand by this account that if the monks Sariputra and Maudgalyayana had levitated and sat in the atmosphere, the monk Kokalika would not have gone to hell.

pp. 35–36

From the Conclusion (pp. 39–45)

52. The thought occurred to him, “What have I done to be reborn here?” Knowledge that is a recollection of past deeds arose in him, and he thought:

“I was the daughter of a merchant in the great city of Sravasti, and while there I gazed amorously upon the Bodhisattva great hero Priyamkara. After dying with my mind possessed by lust, I transformed my woman’s body to obtain a male body here. I have become opulent beyond measure.”

Then the male divinity (devaputra) thought: “If this be the reward for thoughts of lust, what would be my reward for doing prostrations and service with thoughts of faith to the Bodhisattva great hero Priyamkara? It is inappropriate and wrong for me to continue in a state of careless indulgence in sensual exhilaration and play and sexual pleasure. Instead, let me go before the Lord and the Bodhisattva great hero Priyamkara.”


58. Then Master Ananda said to the Lord:

“Venerable Lord, it is like this. All sentient beings who stand before Sumeru, the king of mountains, have the same color—the color of gold—regardless of whether they have thoughts of hatred, serenity, or attachment, or thoughts hindered in access to the doctrine. In the same way, venerable Lord, all sentient beings who stand before Bodhisattvas, whether they have thoughts of hatred, serenity, or attachment, or thoughts hindered in access to the doctrine, all have thoughts of the same complexion—the complexion of omniscience. Venerable Lord, henceforth I will consider all bodhisattvas to be like the king of mountains.


Professor Mark Tatz holds a Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies from the University of British Columbia, and an M.A. in Asian Languages (Sanskrit and Tibetan) from the University of Washington. Resident in Berkeley, California, he teaches at the Institute of Buddhist Studies. He is the author of numerous books and articles, including Rebirth: The Tibetan Game of Liberation; and The Complete Bodhisattva: Asanga ‘s Chapter on Ethics with the Commentary by Tsong-kha-pa.*

* from the book cover

‘Zen Has No Morals’ – The Cases of Eido T. Shimano (USA), and Dr. Klaus Zernickow (Germany)

Christopher Hamacher (Germany, Munich) presented an academic paper on 7 July 2012 at the International Cultic Studies Association’s (ICSA) annual conference in Montreal, Canada. His paper has been uploaded to The Zen Site and it covers the cases of Eido T. Shimano in the USA, and Dr. Klaus Zernickow (Sotetsu Yuzen) in Berlin, Germany.

  • Zen Has No Morals!” – The Latent Potential for Corruption and Abuse in Zen Buddhism, as Exemplified by Two Recent Cases by Christopher Hamacher [PDF from The Zen Site]

Dr. Klaus Zernickow (a.k.a Sotetsu Yuzen, left) and Eido T. Shimano

Dr. Klaus Zernickow and a media lawyer office were able to get removed an anonymous post about his activities on my German blog on Buddhist “cults”. I am happy that there is now an academic paper which offers some background information allowing people to make an informed decision before they commit themselves to Zernickow’s group Mumon Kai.

There is a very useful post on Smiling Buddha Cabaret, that picks up Hamacher’s paper and digs even deeper:

The blogger adds a few more potential causes or contributing factors to Hamacher’s list, like:

j) Lack of cross-cultural or cross-class understanding. Where a leader is of a different culture or class than the majority of students there is a lack of knowledge of what is and isn’t appropriate for the leader to be doing. Leaders exploit that ignorance and use their “special” knowledge to their advantage. One can also note this when sangha leaders are in the psychological counseling profession occasionally as well.

The blog discusses also examples of fallacies in reasoning that block discriminating intelligence, e.g.

  • False Contingency: from a small sample to a large conclusion. “He’s always been truthful with me, therefore he is not a liar.”,
  • False Dilemma: only 2 choices allowed. “You either agree with the rest of the sangha or you’re not a sincere Buddhist.”, “If he doesn’t agree with the teacher he must be mentally ill.”

Christopher Hamacher—who wrote the paper “Zen Has No Morals!”—graduated in law from the Université de Montréal in 1994. He has practiced Zen Buddhism in Japan, America and Europe since 1999 and run his own Zen meditation group since 2006. He currently works as a legal translator in Munich, Germany.

See Also


Last edited by tenpel on February 16, 2013 at 12:03 am

Committing to ethics which counter any type of abuse, including child abuse

We have discussed on this blog a bit on abuse, and sexual abuse in Tibetan Buddhist Tradition (and off the blog there was a discussion about child abuse too) and what to do.

I just found a document I downloaded some years ago from the website of, The Sakya Monastery of Tibetan Buddhism, called Sakya Monastic – Code of Conduct 2005. This document frankly states the facts:

“The problem of sexual abuse of children, and the wave of lawsuits alleging sexual abuse, is a real and prevalent one for all churches of all faiths.”

The Sakya monastery has committed explicitly to an ethical charta which could serve as a model for centres and spiritual places in general. It addresses among others a “Policy: Anti-Harassment & Abuse” and a “Policy: Preventing Sexual Child Abuse”:

Policy: Anti-Harassment & Abuse

Sakya Monastery is committed to providing a work, residence and volunteer environment free of harassment because of any employee, resident or volunteer’s race, sex, religion, age, national origin, disability, veteran’s status or any other category protected under any local, state, or federal law in the U.S. or in any country in which Sakya Monastery conducts its business or religious affairs.

Harassing conduct includes, and is not limited to, the following:

  • Epithets, slurs, stereotyping, threatening or intimidating language, jokes or hostile acts that relate to race, sex, age, religion, national origin, disability or any other protected category.
  • Written or graphic material that denigrates or shows hostility or aversion toward an individual or group based on race,sex, age, religion, national origin, disability or any other protected category.
  • Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitutes sexual harassment when submission to or rejection of this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, residence or volunteering unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, residence or ability to offer volunteer services or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work, residential environment.

The Sakya Monastery is committed to protecting its employees, residents and volunteers from such harassment whether from its clergy, residents, employees, members, and volunteers or from non-employees such as vendors, members, clients, customers, and contractors.

All clergy, residents, employees, members, and volunteers are expected to treat each other with dignity, courtesy and respect
and to conduct themselves in accordance with this Code of Conduct. Each employee, resident and volunteer must mindfully
endeavor to exercise good judgment to avoid engaging in conduct that others may reasonably perceive or find as harassment.

In addition, everyone in any way associated with Sakya Monastery shall make a solemn promise to try to make everyone feel
safe and comfortable while at Sakya Monastery and during any Sakya Monastery organized event or gathering.

Policy: Preventing Sexual Child Abuse

The problem of sexual abuse of children, and the wave of lawsuits alleging sexual abuse, is a real and prevalent one for all churches of all faiths. Sakya Monastery’s insurance company, Church Mutual, has provided the guidelines to help prevent sexual abuse and protect Sakya Monastery from sexual abusers. These guidelines include:

  • Selective “hiring”

(a) All new clergy, residents, employees, members, and volunteers shall fill out and sign the Volunteer or Employee application booklet, as appropriate.
(b) Applications will be reviewed and references be checked.
(c) Background checks will be conducted on people who will be involved in children’s programs.

  • Developing and following a set of operational and supervisory guidelines.
  • Conducting educational programs.

Violation of the Sacred – Western Psychological Perspectives …

Guest Post

Western Psychological Perspectives on Sexual Misconduct in the Clergy and their Implications for Western Dharma Centers

“The pig and the chicken were on their way to breakfast, trying to decide what to have.  When chicken said, “Let’s have ham and eggs,” the pig then replied, “That’s fine for you.  It’s a small donation on your part, but it’s a total sacrifice for me.” Anonymous

So it’s time to ask the question again: Are sexual relations between lamas and their students harmful?  I’ve decided to keep asking this question until women begin to be heard.  Now is a good time to ask, because comments from BellaB on Dialogue Ireland (DI) continue to support the following key points:

1. Sogyal Lakar does have multiple sexual relations with his students; and
2. Bella and Sheila both see no harm in these relations.

In the absence of any official response from Sogyal or Rigpa, we must assume that Bella’s comments are the official response.  Bella is particularly clear about those two points in her responses to the bulleted summery which I included at the end of my last post on DI:

Certainly, in the comment line, neither she nor Sheila deny Sogyal’s right to have multiple sexual relations with his students, nor do they deny that he is likely having those.  Bella has also been forthright about an assumption underlying all of her comments on DI and those of Sheila as well.  This is the assumption of the elite, which is that the suffering of a minority—meaning those few courageous women who have come forward to speak of their suffering—is insignificant and questionable if it challenges the comfort of the majority.  This attitude is quite contrary to the essence of Mahayana Buddhism, where the bodhisattva pledges to protect the happiness of every last being in existence.  There are no exceptions in this pledge, never a deaf ear to any cry of suffering.  Within this mighty outlook, if Sogyal’s style of teaching and sexual gratification causes suffering for even one woman, then it is unsafe for all women.

So what do we mean when we talk about suffering here?  Rigpa students frequently refer to suffering in the light of the necessary discomfort that sometimes comes from spiritual growth.  This is how they justify Sogyal’s sometimes harsh, sometimes unorthodox methods.  Of course, this is true.  Once we embark on such a grand spiritual path as the Mahayana, there are bound to be obstacles and difficulties.  Certainly, we embrace those short termed sufferings for the sake of long term happiness and there is no trouble in that outlook.

However, that is not the suffering we are talking about here. The suffering I refer to here is trauma.  In fact, the women who suffer from sexual abuse within a religious setting frequently struggle to even continue on the spiritual path.  Many of them in fact turn away from religion entirely.  For many of them, even the name of God or reference to their place of worship will trigger painful and intolerable memories and so it is avoided (Rauch, 2008).

Much of what psychologists know about this sort of trauma comes from studies done on clergy sexual misconduct.   Buddhism is still relatively new in the west and I admit that literature specifically addressing the harm caused by lama sexual misconduct is lacking.  However, the features of clergy which make sexualizing clergy/parishioner relations harmful are similar to features of Buddhist spiritual teachers.  In this way, one can conclude that the harm caused by sexualizing the clergy/relationship is likely to be no different than that resulting from sexualizing the lama/student relationship.

In fact, there are more similarities than dissimilarities between clergy and Buddhist spiritual teachers.  Both are seen as leaders of a religious institution and both give regular sermons/teachings.  Both are in positions of power and authority.  Both tend to the spiritual needs of community members, frequently in very close ways.  Both have the role of fiduciary care, which means placing the needs of their parishioners/students before their own.  Both play roles in major life events, such as funerals, births, marriages and religious holidays.  Both frequently counsel and advise parishioners or students.

Of sexual misconduct by spiritual leaders, Simpkinson (1996) writes:

“Despite the lack of reliable figures and the misconceptions, most professionals agree that the problem is far-reaching not only in Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish congregations but in Buddhist sanghas and Hindu ashrams as well. Abuse by spiritual leaders is nondenominational, and the dynamics between clergy and parishioners, between gurus and devotees, between spiritual teachers and students, bear striking resemblances to one another. From profiles of the perpetrators and victims to the impact on the spiritual communities and their ways of dealing with the situation, clergy sexual malfeasance is an ecumenical reality, one that has probably been with us as long as civilization and one that is not about to go away.”

A decade later, in a 2008 study on the prevalence of clergy sexual misconduct, Garland and Chaves (2008) reported, “Overall, 3.1 percent of women who attend religious services at least monthly reported being the object of a sexual advance by a clergyperson or religious leader in their own congregation since turning 18; 2.2 percent of regularly attending women reported a sexual advance from a married leader that did not lead to an openly acknowledged relationship.”

Within this context, I suggest that we in western Buddhist communities need to begin to view ourselves as part of a larger, societal problem.  In the same way that religious intolerance and hate crimes can be addressed in powerful ways through interfaith exchanges, this discussion as well can be better addressed within an interfaith context.  I believe that it is time for the closed, secretive and separate components of these problems to be opened up and aired within mainstream western societies.  These problems are not religious; they are societal.  Church communities are currently assessing methods for insuring safety within their congregations.   Dharma centers would certainly benefit through joining these efforts.

Decades ago, Rutter (1989) advised that students will be better protected only when spiritual teachers become more aware of the harm which these sexual relations can cause and when they cultivate greater empathy for those students.  While I can do nothing more than the Buddha himself to assist Buddhist teachers at becoming more empathetic, I would like to assist lamas at understanding the strong risk for harm in student/lama sexual relations.  While I am no expert myself in these matters, most of the articles I quote from are written by professionals who have expertise both in counseling victims and in clinical research.  I assure BellaB and Sheila that the articles I quote from are not the mere opinions of a few individuals but the substantiated findings of most professionals.

So what is meant in western psychology by the term “clergy sexual misconduct?”  Psychologists identify three key reasons why sexualizing the clergy/parishioner can be called misconduct.   These are: 1. The power imbalance; 2. The presence of fiduciary care; and 3. The violation of necessary boundaries in the relationship.

The imbalance of power in these relationships is the most important consideration.  Because clergy, like lamas, are in strong positions of power and authority, it is questionable whether any clergy/parishioner sexual relationship can ever be consensual.  The parishioner is less able to refuse because of the authority invested in the clergy.  In western psychological and legal perspectives, this constitutes a potentially abusive situation.  (Faith Trust Institute, 2008; ALEPH).   Without consent, sexual relations are at great risk of being nothing more than sexual assault.  In the literature, there are many stories of victims who are confused about their right to refuse the sexual advances of their clergy.  Many of them speak of being unable to view these sexual advances as they would the advances of other men.

I suggest that the power imbalance within the lama/student relationship is even greater than that in the clergy/parishioner relationship.  In Buddhism, students are instructed to view the lama as perfect, as a Buddha.  Despite the fact that this instruction is meant only for tantric practices, it is commonly fed to students soon after they walk in the door of a dharma center.  Even outside of tantric practice, students are frequently instructed to see the faults of the lama as faults in their own perceptions.  Sogyal refers to his teachers as “masters”—and his students, even beginning students, refer to him in the same way.

Indeed, the word “master” holds a strong meaning of power!  How could a woman refuse the sexual advances of her “master”?  Certainly this fact alone places any sexual advances made by Sogyal precariously close to sexual assault.

There is a quote from the scriptures frequently quoted which reads that if you view the lama as a human being, you will receive the blessings of a human being, but if you view the lama as a Buddha, you will receive the blessings of a Buddha.  Indeed, who wouldn’t choose to view the lama as a Buddha in order to receive the higher blessing?  And who would refuse sexual advances from Buddha himself?

Another complication which increases the risk for abuse in clergy/parishioner sexual relations is the assumption of fiduciary care.  This means that within their roles, it is assumed that clergy will place the welfare of their parishioners first and not seek gratification for themselves.  Clergy sexual misconduct occurs when the clergy’s own sexual gratification interferes with his responsibility for the welfare of his parishioners.  Many victims speak about their feelings of confusion because they trusted that the clergy had their welfare uppermost in his mind.  Many victims are unable to view the situation realistically as one of simple sexual desire because of their belief in the clergy’s unselfish motives.

I suggest that fiduciary care is even more relevant in the context of a Buddhist lama. Lamas pledge to put the welfare of others before their own.  This is a central feature of Mahayana Buddhism.  Students become sexually abused because their expectation that the lama will put their needs first impairs their ability to judge his sexual advances.  This also leads to a deep betrayal of trust when students realize that their lama is putting his own sexual gratification before their needs.

The third feature of clergy sexual misconduct listed above, the feature of boundary violation, is also prevalent in lama/student relations.  In fact, lama/student relations have the potential of becoming far more intimate than those between clergy and parishioner.  This is because the very nature of Buddhist practices, particularly those of meditation, Dzogchen and tantra, is very intimate.  These practices frequently involve deep, personal change.  In addition, practices of tantra frequently involve visualizing the merging of the lama’s mind within the student’s mind.  One could argue that these practices alone constitute a boundary violation!  Certainly, they require a very high ethical standard on the part of the lama.  In Buddhism, as in all religions, boundaries are protected through ethical restraint.  Sexual boundaries in particular require this.

In our discussions here regarding Sogyal, the question of his methodology in “working” with students is frequently raised.  Not only does this methodology involve a huge power imbalance, as students give Sogyal permission to harass and insult them whenever he sees fit, these harassments and insults are said to “work” on a student’s problems on a very deep way.  Students frequently report very deep experiences of intimacy with Sogyal resulting from these experiences.

In this way, I propose that sexual relations between a lama and his/her student certainly have comparable, but likely even more, risk for harm than similar relations involving clergy.  This is further complicated by the difficulties inherent in moving from a culture grounded in a faith-based religion to Buddhism, which is not faith-based.   Redefining the sacred without the central figure of God is unknown territory for a western student of Buddhism.  Navigating this territory requires clear guidelines and boundaries.  It can be expected that sexualizing the student/lama relationship could confuse these guidelines and boundaries and place the student at risk.

I believe that it is also imperative to view lama-student sexual relations in the west in the context of the judo-Christian culture within which it occurs in order to obtain a full understanding.   For example, Christian doctrine generally prohibits sex outside of marriage.  While this prohibition might not apply to a western woman’s own personal, more liberal ethical standards, it is likely to play a role, albeit unconscious, in shaping her expectations of a spiritual leader.  Many of the victims described in BTT report that they never had a sexual expectation of their relationship with the lama.  It took them completely by surprise.

In fact, much of the harm resulting from sexual relations between a Tibetan lama and his/her students comes from deep confusion.  The relationship crosses personal boundaries in ways that cloud the student’s spiritual orientation.  In a qualitative study of 46 adult victims of sexual misconduct by clergy, Garland and Argueta (2010) observe that most of the participants in their study admit to feeling confused over accepting advances made by the clergy that they would never accept from a man outside of the church.  These participants also describe confusion making them particularly vulnerable during the beginning days when the relationships first turned sexual.  They didn’t expect clergy to use sexually explicit language, for example, and yet found ways to accept the behavior.  They reported that they had no cognitive categories in which to understand sexual advances from clergy, so they contorted the truth in ways that they would never do in relation to an ordinary relationship.

The risk of confusion is even greater for western students of Buddhism because Buddhism in the west is unchartered territory.  Westerners come with assumptions from a judo-Christian upbringing and Tibetan Buddhist lamas come with assumptions from a Buddhist, Asian (and patriarchal) upbringing.  It seems that both sides expect the Buddha’s teachings to somehow resolve all the confusion.  Both sides however need to better understand their own cultural biases in order to approach those teachings in more honest ways.

For example, women within a judo-Christian culture frequently have strong associations of guilt around issues of sexuality and frequently respond with self-loathing when their sexual boundaries are crossed.  These are not emotions with which Tibetan Buddhist lamas are at all familiar.  In fact, HH Dalai Lama responded with shock years ago when he first learned of the western phenomena of self-hatred.  This is not a situation which occurs amongst Tibetans.  As a result, lamas are in unchartered territory in terms of fully understanding the damage that can occur when sexual boundaries are crossed with western women, when the sacred becomes tainted in a woman’s perspective.

Rauch (2008), who is herself a survivor of sexual abuse in a religious setting and a longtime therapist of victims, gives a strong statement on the damage that can result when sexual relations intrude on the sacred:

“Sexual abuse in a religious context is a double breach of sacred trust and space.  It occurs when sexual activity is forced or coerced by a person in some position of power on another.  It is not necessarily direct physical contact.  Sexual abuse in a religious context can include voyeurism, exposure to sexual material, inappropriate and erotic sexual conversations, or sexual exposure in the context of a religious activity.  But it is an act of aggression nonetheless, whether one is forced or seduced, whether it is painful or pleasurable.

“Sexual abuse by a member of the clergy in any religion is tantamount to incest.  No violation other than with a blood relative combines such profound intimacy with intense betrayal.  The breach is all the more serious because the abuse is under the auspices and in the company of the sacred.  Circumstances and context can differ whether the victim is a child or an adult.  But, for anyone violated in this manner, regardless of age, the malevolent exploitation of trust, dependency and affection leads to a mind-numbing decline into alienation, secrecy, and spiritual chaos.” (Ch. 6)

In a review of the literature and a conference on clergy sexual misconduct organized by the Interfaith Sexual Trauma Institute, Wells (2003) observed: “The preponderance of evidence that the trauma of clergy sexual abuse is seriously debilitating is overwhelming.” And later, he summarizes, “clergy sexual abuse is a trauma that denudes the soul of the basic sense of trust that is so needed in the quest for spirituality. Contamination of the sacred rituals is the result of the one who pledges his faith to God, only to be betrayed by his representative through sexual abuse… [and can] lead the victim parishioner into experiences of no understanding, no connection, and no peace.  Oftentimes, the victim is rendered stuck in the stage of spiritual development that he or she was in when abused.”

Indeed, the greatest tragedy of all with these instances of sexual misconduct by both clergy and Buddhist lama is the fact that the trauma reaches into the spiritual wellbeing of the victim.  In this way, it has the potential of causing immeasurable harm.  I suggest that clergy, lamas and all spiritual leaders have an even greater responsibility for restraint than psychologists, doctors or teachers.  They certainly have a greater responsibility for restraint than ordinary men or women!  This is quite contrary to Sheila’s comment on DI that having sex with one’s lama was no different than sharing a nice meal with him!

Certainly in the comment line it seems that concern over the sacred is often ignored.  Rauch (2008) asks: “with all the books, documentaries, discussions and arguments, why had no one spoken of the impact of religious abuse on the soul?  Why did it seem that people who suffered some form of violation in God’s name struggled not simply in their psyche but beyond that—to the core of themselves?  How do people recover what is most essential to who they are, within whatever one calls the soul?” (Ch. 1, Introduction).

Indeed, Hopkins (1993) notes that when the person of the clergy is seen to embody the divine, this intensifies the relationship such that the betrayal of trust can become even more devastating for the victim of sexual abuse.  In many Buddhist tantric practices, the lama is visualized as a deity—he actually does embody the divine, at least in the minds and imaginations of practitioners.  Once the relationship moves into such a realm of the sacred, student/teacher sexual relations can never be compared to ordinary sexual relations and the risk of harm and abuse is greatly increased.

Simpkinson (1996) writes “Sexual abuse by spiritual leaders violates trust, devastates lives, and tears communities apart.  No denomination or tradition is immune.”

Rediger (1990) writes:

Victims of clergy sexual abuse suffer consequences most nearly identified as betrayal, grief and loss, shame, confusion, rage, and contamination. Betrayal, because the pastor-parishioner relationship has been violated. Grief and loss, because this pastor can never truly be a pastor to this person again . . . Shame because sexual intimacy with clergy, whether instigated or suffered, [italics added] often implies in the victim’s mind the grossest of moral turpitudes. Confusion, because intimacy and spirituality are so closely related . . . Rage, because of the power imbalance . . . Finally, contamination, because the victim’s life is now clouded and distorted by titillating rumor, loss of reputation, voyeuristic sympathy, and mistrust, along with loss of care and support he or she has a right to receive in the church. (pp. 28-29)

In a comprehensive review of the literature and study of 149 victims of sexual misconduct by physicians, therapists and clergy, Disch and Avery (1998) conclude, “the results underscore many findings of other studies: sexualized abuse of power by professionals can have highly negative effects on the victims, whatever the practitioner’s discipline. Loss, emotional turmoil, suicidal depression, isolation, low self-esteem linked to shame and self-blame, mistrust, and relationship difficulties are so common as to be almost predictable.”

As I dig deeper into the literature, I discover how church congregations play their part in allowing the abuse to continue.  I discover that the characters of Bella and Sheila, as portrayed in the DI comment line, are not unknown in the dramas within church congregations dealing with these troubles.  Indeed, their habit of denial and their insidious assumptions that it is the women (and not the lama) who are transgressing is the most common occurrence of all.  Women making allegations of clergy sexual misconduct are frequently ostracized and demonized in ways that are reminiscent of years ago when rape victims first spoke out for their own rights (Fortune, 1999; Faith Trust Institute, 2003).

So I say to Bella, Sheila and that silent Rigpa congregation—for the sake of all that’s decent, it’s time to hear these women.  Their suffering is real.  They cannot truly heal until they are heard.  It is time to put aside your fears, prejudices, rages and blindness and hear what the women have to say.  As Crisp (2010) observes: “Survivors of sexual abuse are frequently met with cultures of silence which make it difficult for their experiences to be acknowledged. Furthermore, many have been subjected to threats and intimidation in efforts to ensure that they remain silent about what has happened to them.”

So please, Bella and Sheila and you others, listen—

“In his statement to the US Conference of Bishops Conference in 2002, Craig Martin, who spoke of being abused during his childhood by a priest known and trusted by his family, said:

‘Gentlemen, I wanted so desperately to be heard. I wanted someone to listen to me. I wanted someone to help me. I wanted to break the silence and despair that was killing me. I wanted someone to hear my story.’” (Martin, 2002 as quoted in Crisp, 2010).


“As the American legal scholar Susan Estrich discovered:

‘At first, being raped is something you simply don’t talk about. Then it occurs to you that people whose houses are broken into or who are mugged in Central Park talk about it all the time. Rape is a much more serious crime. If it wasn’t my fault, why am I supposed to be ashamed? If I’m not ashamed, if it wasn’t “personal”, why look askance when I mention it?’”(Susan Estrich, Real Rape (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1987), p. 2.4, as quoted in Crisp, 2010).

Bella and Sheila, instead of pointing to the pain, emotional instability and confusion of victims and labeling them as signs of guilt, listen—
“As the psychiatrist and trauma expert Judith Lewis Herman has noted:

‘People who have survived atrocities often tell their stories in a highly emotional, contradictory, and fragmented manner which undermines their credibility, and thereby serves the twin imperatives of truth-telling and secrecy. When the truth is finally recognized, survivors can begin their recovery. But far too often secrecy prevails, and the story of the traumatic event surfaces not as a verbal narrative but as a symptom.’”Judith Lewis Herman, Trauma and Recovery: From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror (London: Pandora, 2001), p. 1., as quoted in Crisp, 2010).


“’In order to escape accountability for his crimes, the perpetrator does everything in his power to promote forgetting. Secrecy and silence are the perpetrator’s first line of defense. If secrecy fails, the perpetrator attacks the credibility of his victim. If he cannot silence her absolutely, he tries to make sure no one listens. To this end, he marshals an impressive array of arguments, from the most blatant denial to the most sophisticated and elegant rationalization. After every atrocity one can expect to hear the same predictable apologies: it never happened; the victim lies; the victim exaggerates; the victim brought it upon herself; and in any case it is time to forget the past and move on. The more powerful the perpetrator, the greater is his prerogative to name and define reality, and the more completely his arguments prevail.” (Herman, Trauma and Recovery, p. 8, as quoted in Crisp, 2010).

So when are the women who have come forward with their suffering going to be heard?

I will conclude with observations from Marie Fortune (1999) who spent three years fighting for a group of women who had been sexually abused by a pastor in a church in the US:

The situation that arose at First Church of Newburg is in some ways an extreme instance of betrayal of the pastoral relationship.  But it is extreme only in terms of the severity of the pastor’s assaultive and abusive behavior.  It is not extreme in terms of the situations he exploited, the methods he employed, the numbers of people he harmed, or the resistance of the church to   knowing the truth.  In regard to the dynamics that allowed for such behavior, it is a typical case.  I chose it (from nearly fifty other with which I have had some association) to illustrate the problem of professional misconduct by a pastor, because it carries within it virtually every aspect of the issue and of the difficulty of the church’s response.  It may strike you as so extreme as to be unbelievable.  Some of the events were unbelievable; but this does not mean that they are not true.  You may conclude that this case is so extreme that it must be an isolated incident; these things simply do not happen in the church.  Unfortunately, instances of pastoral misconduct are far more common than any of us would like to believe.  They may not be as far-reaching or as extreme as in the Newburg situation, but the damage to individuals and to the church is often just as serious …

“The church has a choice when faced with such occurrences: It can turn a deaf ear, or it can heed the call of its own theology to attend to the powerless who are victims of its own power.  It can keep faith with itself and its people.  It can seek to do justice as a means to healing and restoration for all concerned.  It can preserve the sacred trust that rests within the pastoral relationship.” (pp. xvii-xviii)

Bella and Sheila and all you silent Rigpa students, when are you too going to start hearing?  When are you going to heed your own theology—our theology as dharma students—and  ensure that the Buddha’s core teaching— “Commit no harm”– forms the pillar of every Rigpa center?  When are we going to preserve the sacred trust that rests within the lama/student relationship?

Congregants grant clergy authority.


ALEPH, 2008. Breach of Professional Trust: Sexual and Financial Ethics,
Crisp, Beth R., 2010, Silence and Silenced: Implications for the Spirituality of Survivors of Sexual Abuse.  Feminist Theology, April 14.

Disch, Estelle PHD and Avery, Nancy, MSW, 2001.  Sex in the Consulting Room, the Examining Room, and the Sacristy: Survivors of Sexual Abuse by Professionals. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 71 (2).

Faith Trust Institute, 2008. (follow “About the Issues” hyperlink, then follow “Clergy Ethics and Sexual Abuse by Clergy” hyperlink; then follow “Q&A” hyperlink.)

Fortune, Marie, 1999.  Is Nothing Sacred? The Story of a Pastor, the Women He Sexually Abused, and the Congregation He Nearly Destroyed. Eugene, Oregon: WIPF & STOCK.

Garland, Diana R. and Argueta, Christen, 2010, How Clergy Sexual Misconduct Happens: A Qualitative Study of First-Hand Accounts. Forthcoming with final edits in Social Work & Christianity.

Garland, Diana and Chaves, Mark, 2009, The Prevalence of  Clergy Sexual Advances Toward Adults in Their Congregations.  Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 48 (4); 817-824.

Lief, Harold I., 2001, Boundary Crossings: Sexual Misconduct of Clergy, Journal of Sex Education and Therapy, 26 (4).

Rauch, Mikele, 2008.  Healing the Soul After Religious Abuse: The Dark Heaven of Recovery.  Westport, CT: PRAEGER.

Rediger, L.G., 1990. Ministry and Sexuality, cases, counseling and care.  Minneapolis, MN: Fortress.

Rutter, P., 1989, Sex in the Forbidden Zone. New York: Fawcett Crest.

Simpkinson, 1996, Soul Betrayal, Common Boundary, November/December.

Wells, Ken, 2003, A Needs Assessment Regarding the Nature and Impact of Clergy Sexual Abuse Conducted by the Interfaith Sexual Trauma Institute, Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 10:201–217, 2003.

Written by a former Rigpa student

Ethics and Safety


It was heartbreaking to read of the recent tragic events at Diamond Mountain University (DMU), the center run by Michael Roach in Arizona …

It is difficult to unravel the events which unfolded over the past year to result in bizarre spousal abuses and stabbings, followed by the death of Ian Thornson by dehydration in an Arizona dessert.   Matthew Remski gives a detailed account of what he is able to discern about the events and Michael Roach himself, in his open letter, gives a detailed account of efforts the DMU presumably made to handle the situation responsibly.  We probably will never know exactly what happened.  It is fairly evident, however, that the tragedy was the result of two individuals failing to receive the psychiatric care that they needed.

Like Matthew Remski, I want to ask how such tragedies can be prevented.  Many of us are feeling a lack of confidence in the safety standards even in mainstream dharma centers these days.  Tragedies such as this one give us a sense of urgency about the need to improve these standards.  The case here with DMU is most disturbing because Michael Roach has already been severely chastised by mainstream Tibetan Buddhists.  In fact, HH Dalai Lama censured Michael Roach in 2006.  Matthew Remski is asking that they do so again.  Indeed, this censure by His Holiness served as an important warning to students that Michael Roach could no longer be considered as acting within the boundaries of authentic Buddhism.  In that regard, it was a critical move and protected many potential students.  However, the censure also served to place Michael Roach in a position where he was no longer answerable to anyone in authority, if indeed he ever felt accountable to others in the first place.  I question whether further censure would serve any purpose.

Before reading of the events at DMU, I had personally been doing much writing and thinking about what would be critical ingredients of a safe dharma center.  I had concluded that a strong, supportive community and a strong program of study could be pillars of a dharma center that insured safety.  The irony is that it appears Michael Roach and the DMU board appear to have worked hard to cultivate a very strong community structure, with extensive support systems, as well as a rigorous study program.

However, most will agree that the community Roach has built and the program of study he has created are deeply flawed.  Can we probe deeper into these flaws and learn important lessons from the tragic events at DMU?  In my mind, it’s too easy and comfortable to say the word, “cult”, as if there’s a clear demarcation between cult and noncult—between DMU and our own, mainstream dharma centers.  I think we need to shake up that comfort a little and be very honest.

I would suggest that there are two key features of DMU which make it an unsafe and unhealthy community.  The central feature is that it lacks a sound ethical base.  Michael Roach, as an ordained monk who engages freely in sexual relations, has broken the vinaya in clear ways.  From this shaky foundation he has created teachings that justify, explain and make a high practice of his misconduct, such as calling his relations with women “spiritual unions”.  I suggest that the combination of his ethical infractions and the creation of a new age dharma to support it could be at the core of the couple’s dangerous psychiatric difficulties, at the core of what is clearly a psychologically unsafe community at DMU.

Of central concern is the relationship between ethics and safety in our own dharma centers.  HH Dalai Lama observes that a strong ethical outlook is an essential ingredient of a strong, healthy mental outlook because it is grounded on a valid cognition.  Surely then the same could be said of a healthy community.  A strong ethical outlook could be a critical component of a strong dharma community as well.

HH Dalai Lama also observes that unethical conduct and non-virtue are founded in an invalid cognition and so ultimately they are weak states of mind.  They have a shaky foundation.  Extrapolating from that viewpoint, I suggest that once members of a group are asked to accommodate non-virtue and unethical behavior as part of a higher purpose, then those members are living with a deep moral conflict within themselves.  Their mental states then become compromised.  This places their mental health at risk.

If you add high tantric practices to that mix, then you are placing them further at risk.  Matthew Remski suggests that one possible cause for Lama Christie stabbing her husband was the fact that they were practicing Vajrayogini, who was visualized as wielding a knife herself.  While this can never be verified, I would like to assume that it is nonetheless within the realms of a likely explanation.  Michael Roach’s sexual misconduct, breaking his root vow of celibacy and then heralding it as a spiritual practice, forced all of his followers to stuff their minds around an impossible mindset, calling his conduct virtue.  It is possible that this, combined with a lethal dose of high tantric practices, are primary causes of the psychological breakdowns in both Christie and Ian and the subsequent tragedy which unfolded in Arizona.

I am concerned that even in western, mainstream dharma centers, there is a dangerous lack of concern over ethics.  Even in mainstream dharma centers, ethics come second to the higher purpose, which is usually the lama.  Nine years ago, I sat in a Woodstock Town Board meeting and listened while officials of HH Karmapa’s upstate New York monastery lied to the town board about the numbers of guests we were housing for teachings.  They were applying for a building permit to place a large extension to the monastery.  The town was concerned that the extension would increase traffic, so monastery officials were doctoring the numbers of guests in order to fit in with the town’s demands.

Officials had been haggling with the town for months over the details of this permit, but this was the only board meeting I had attended.  I was registrar at the time and I knew the numbers the administrators were lying about.  I knew how we crammed people into the library, turning it into a dorm during big teachings.  I knew how frequently we went over the numbers officials were quoting.  I sat silently through that Town Board meeting, however, silently reciting mantra, om mani padme hum, om mani padme hum, om mani padme hum, listening to the lies and wondering if my lamas had approved them– but they were sitting quietly at the meeting as well.  So I chanted mantra and did something I had never done before in my life; I contorted my own mind in order to approve of an unethical deed.  It is no wonder to me today that my relationships with those lamas should eventually break down.  At 50, I was simply too old to change my moral code, although I did try and the effort to do so nearly killed me.

In the scriptures, we are advised to respectfully speak up when asked by the lama to do something that does not seem ethically correct.  While I am confident that I could not have been persuaded to lie myself, I nonetheless lacked the courage to speak up about the lie that I had witnessed.  This sits heavy in my heart.

At a teaching with a kagyu high lama during that time, I vividly recall the brave, local woman who did stand up and ask how it could be that our lamas could lie.  I wasn’t clear on the details she was referring to, but I know that they had something to do with the town, probably similar to my own experience.  There was a stunned, horrified silence in the room after the woman asked her question.  Then the high lama replied to her by relating the story of the bodhisattva who lied to the hunter in order to save the deer’s life.  The woman was clearly distressed both by the courage that it took to ask the question and by the lama’s response.  Later that day, I helped to organize an interview for her with her lama.  I was confident that he would resolve things for her and reassure her, comfort her.  However, she left that interview looking positively tormented.  I was to leave the monastery a few months later looking just as tormented, stumbling off like that woman, hoping only to find some way out of my confusion.

I have less fear and confusion today, but it’s taken me many years in exile to regain my dignity and my perspective.  I am deeply concerned about this readiness to compromise ethical standards for the higher cause of bringing a great lama to the west.  I suggest that perhaps this higher cause needs to be a beacon of truth, not a series of compromises.  I strongly suspect that the few ethical infractions which I saw during my time at the monastery were most likely just a glimpse of everyday occurrences there.  Certainly, I was not privy to any of the inner workings of the monastery.  In fact, I was told to transfer all calls from the town board to monastery officials and answer no questions myself.  Sometimes the atmosphere of fear and secrecy surrounding the higher corporate structure of the monastery was palpable.

Once while I was working in the front office, there was an amusing electronic error.  The statement of my boss’s salary was sent to my email account by mistake.  I was a volunteer and had no interest whatsoever in looking at this statement, no interest in nosing into his personal finances.  However, my boss was very worried about the statement being seen.  I told him to relax, I would delete it, I wouldn’t look at it.  However, when I entered the office the next morning, he was at my computer, making sure it was deleted.  He looked furtive, like a criminal, fumbling with my computer.  It was sad because his need for me not to see his salary far surpassed my need to ever see it. This nontransparent fear culture permeated the monastery and made lots of unnecessary trouble.  Surely in a transparent, open, honest dharma community, the salaries of every official would be made available.  Why not?  Why the secrecy?

At the time I was there, everything was about building the big new extension for HH Karmapa.  There was already a beautiful large, traditional Tibetan temple, with a large, attractive upstairs area for housing HH Karmapa and visiting lamas.  However, within the lovely temple, there was a fractured community, with members constantly bickering and gossiping.  Once I received a call from a long time member of the community.  She had hurt her back badly and needed help; she couldn’t walk.  I passed the word around, but I was the only one from the dharma community finally to come to her assistance and help get her to the doctor and shop and cook food.  Rinpoche’s wife came the next day and another day as well– but the attitude of the rest was largely indifferent.

I frequently wondered about all that hurry over the extensions.  Surely the building that already existed, with some renovations to the guest house, would suffice until the community grew stronger and His Holiness came and began creating his own vision for the West.  Two attitudes seemed to predominate.  One was clearly stated by the lamas, in fact: His Holiness would not come until the extensions were completed.  This was what we needed to do in order to bring His Holiness to the west.  The other attitude was that any infractions committed in this endeavor, any harm to the local community was far outweighed by bringing the blessing of HH Karmapa into their presence.

I question some of the unspoken assumptions underlying these attitudes.  The first is that material offerings to the high lama are more important than offerings of basic practices within the dharma community, such as generosity, kindness, honesty, patience and meditation.  Material offerings can occupy a community’s focus at the expense of focusing on supporting its members during times of need.  Another assumption is that the end justifies the means.  HH Karmapa’s presence in the community justifies any non-dharmic actions that are needed to bring him.  Still another assumption is that dharma is primarily about the high lama.  If an individual has the fortune of seeing or knowing HH Karmapa, then his/her fortunes are insured.  No further actions are needed.

I also question another assumption.  From my understanding of the Buddha’s teachings, if the obstacles which prevent a person or organization from undertaking an activity are so great that the only way to overcome them is to behave unethically, then surely this is a call to look more closely at the obstacles themselves.  The obstacles could be seen as valid indicators that now is not the time for the particular activity.  At one point while I was at the monastery, the trouble with the town over obtaining the permit was so great that corporate officials held a meeting with the lamas in order to seek advice.  The advice from the lamas came back loud and clear: continue with the plan to build the extensions.  Don’t give up.  I was not privy to those meetings, but I cannot help but wonder if that was the moment where officials decided to begin crossing ethical boundaries.

I suggest that if we want to draw a definitive line in the sand between mainstream dharma centers in the west and dangerous, fringe centers such as DMU, if we want to insure psychological safety for dharma students in the west, then we need to look more closely at all these assumptions.

We had an outbreak of bedbugs at the monastery during my last months there.  I was sharing the front office work with another staff member at the time.  He quit the job, however, because they asked him to lie to the guests about the bedbugs.  Then it was just me in the office and either they forgot to tell me to lie or they knew it was no use.  So I made sure that every guest knew about the problem and asked them to tell me if they were bitten so we could address the situation better.  I found that guests had no problem with this at all. In fact, it helped a little in community building because I was bringing guests on board to help with the problem; they felt a part of a common effort.

The plan to lie to the guests was not only unethical, but unskillful and unnecessary as well.  It seems that secrecy and deceit can become something of a way of life, without anyone stopping to look closely at what is really best for the situation.  Nothing disenfranchises members of a community more than non-transparency.  Within a transparent, ethical outlook, however, not only are community bounds strengthened, but problems are solved more skillfully as well.

I was fired from my jobs at the monastery shortly before the building permit was acquired so I have never seen the huge new monastery extension.  However, I do know that it was seen as an offense to the monastery’s closest neighbor, a small Christian group who worshipped at a tiny, historical monument which sat directly below the monastery.  During the time that the extensions to the monastery were being made, the leader of this group waged a campaign to stop the work.  He wrote:

“When this monstrous building project was proposed to the Town of Woodstock Zoning Board, the Church of the Transfiguration of Christ on the Mount had just received Federal and NY State historical Status. Why then, you might ask (as I do) did the Woodstock Zoning Board approve such a gigantic fortress-like monstrocity of a hotel, which if ever allowed to be completed, will completely overshadow one of Woodstock’s most cherished Historical Monuments to the Artistic Counter-Culture – Father Francis’ “Church of the Transfiguration of Christ on the Mount”?”

I remember once taking a call from this man. He complained to me that monastery officials had broken their promise to him about where new electricity lines would be placed as they crossed his church’s property.  I apologized to the man and then passed his complaints on to a monastery official, who was quite unconcerned.  In fact, he replied with sarcasm, “Was he drunk?”

Even at the time, I found his attitude alarming. Indeed, it is possible that this man’s personality posed difficulties.  Certainly, to a casual observer, the little building on the hill might seem insignificant.  Wikipedia describes this Christian shrine as “a modest, single-room, hand-built wooden church near the summit of Meads Mountain in Woodstock, New York, originally constructed c. 1891.”

However, I question the merit of any Buddhist project which deeply offends its neighbors, be they Christian or any other religion.  Surely, there should be a strong spirit of respect for mainstream, western religions and western culture in the means by which any dharma center is built in the west.  Building a huge, imposing, traditional Tibetan Buddhist monastery, on a hill above a Christian monument, dwarfing this small Christian community of worship, could be bordering on deep disrespect.

HH Dalai Lama says that he has two commitments in his life now: promotion of human values and promotion of religious harmony.  HH Karmapa stands poised to inherit HH Dalai Lama’s position of spiritual authority in the world.  I suggest that any project with the goal of establishing HH Karmapa’s work in the world might consider adhering to strong principals of ethics and respect for other religions.  Perhaps those two principles could be at least two of the pillars supporting HH Karmapa’s new monastery in the west.

There are many who will say that I should not speak out like this, that I cannot understand the actions of higher beings, that I am breaking samaya.  I say that my shame is in not speaking sooner.  At the time that I sat in the town board meeting, I believed that my lamas knew best, that the lies were indeed justified for the higher cause of HH Karmapa.  That may well be still true from the perspective of the lamas.  Indeed, I do not question the great blessings of His Holiness.  Nor do I question the motives of any of the lamas involved in bringing his lineage to the west.  It is possible that the greater community of Woodstock could feel honored and gladdened to have the monastery there, with HH Karmapa visiting regularly.  It is possible that monastery community members have made friends with their Christian neighbors.  It is possible that Woodstock, being of good hippie history, could be proud to have North America’s most authentic Tibetan temple.  All of this could be true.

However, I am still deeply concerned about western students in our dharma centers who are learning to compromise their ethics as they take their first steps on the Buddhist path.  Surely this is a dangerous practice.   Just as I raised my children to stay true to strong values and right, moral conduct, so surely our dharma centers need to be leading students in the same ways.  By sitting silent through the town board meeting, was I not complicit in the lying?  Was I not shaming my better self that I could never speak out and question?   Was devotion that asked me to remain silent a true practice of dharma?

So my karma now is my own responsibility. If young Kalu Rinpoche can find the courage to speak out about these distressing matters that lie heavy in his heart, then I will follow his example.  Certainly, after reading of the tragic events in Arizona, failure to speak out and question now would be a deep transgression of my vow to protect all beings.  Until we decide to shine a beacon of impeccable honesty and ethical discipline within our dharma centers, particularly those centers which are to house our highest examples of the Buddha’s teachings, I question whether there is safety for any being inside them.

Where are we to draw the line between mainstream dharma centers in which ethical boundaries are uncertain and fringe dharma centers with the same, uncertain boundaries?  Where?  This isn’t a rhetorical question; I would really like to know how we westerners can be confident that the line has been drawn somewhere.  How are we to judge the actions of those in power in our dharma centers, whether they be lamas practicing crazy wisdom or corporate enterprises manipulating local community concerns?  Where and how can we draw the line and know that dharma centers are truly safe for all?

The author of this essay, Drolma, wishes to be anonymous but is known to the blog owner.

Sogyal Rinpoche and the Silence of the Tibetan Buddhist Community and the Dalai Lama

Many of the problems Buddhism is currently facing in the West have arisen because this is an early stage of the transmission of the Dharma to Western countries, and there is the opportunity for charlatans and unqualified people to teach. However, as Buddhism becomes more rooted in the culture and people understand it better, they will know how to judge teachers’ qualities and will protect themselves. This is part of a natural process as Dharma takes root. – HH the Dalai Lama in an interview in 1993

A person doesn’t come to a Buddhist community to grow through a sexual relationship with a teacher. They come to a Buddhist community to study Buddhism. So in a teacher-student sexual relationship, the primary purpose of that relationship has been subverted. – Grace Schireson in Tricyle “Sex in the Sangha … Again

»Hear nothing, see nothing, say nothing.«

“Hear nothing, see nothing, say nothing.” (Melong XXVI, 1, June 1959, 6. See also Tharchin’s One Man War with Mao [PDF], p. 197.)

Some days ago I received an email from Mary Finnigan, a journalist, who sent two links “for your website”:

Since I had watched the video by the young tulku of Kalu Rinpoche (YouTube) and linked it already together with a forceful statement by the Dalai Lama[1] given during the concluding ceremony at the Global Buddhist Congregation in India in December 2011, and because I had no time to read the suggested blog “Behind the Thankas”, and also because the blog is anonymous, I hesitated to read it. However, these two videos, together with In the name of enlightenment: Stephen Batchelor interview were linked. I had also sent the documentary Sex Scandals In Religion – In The Name Of Enlightenment by Cogent/Benger to some people, including some journalists, Tibetologists and the German Buddhist Union, a congregation of Buddhist organisations in Germany which understands itself as an umbrella organisation for Buddhists in Germany.

In April, 2011, based on scandals with respect to power and sexual abuse within Buddhism, the members of the German Buddhist Union voted unequivocally to create a Buddhist Council or authority within the German Buddhist Union. This body would provide people with support, advice, information or a listening ear, and would offer qualified support in cases of emotional, financial or sexual abuses and abuses of power. Based on this vote, there formed a group within the German Buddhist Union to work out an Ethical Charter and an Ethics’ Council. There have already been two working meetings. The meeting for working out the Ethical Charter (16.–18 March 2012) was very inspiring, and I found the contribution of the people who participated very differentiated and clear. I felt it to be a meeting “in the spirit of the Dharma”. We had also the shared conviction that sexual relationships between teachers and students lead to harm and that it is a must to avoid that. (In Germany it is illegal and chargeable if psychologists, medical doctors or therapists have sexual relations with their patients, and Rutter has shown the devastating harm sexual relationships in unbalanced power situations can create for both sides. So why should Buddhist teachers, who preach compassion, non-violence, the faults of desire and not harming others, engage in such relationships? Some claim it would be for “the student’s benefit” and a “practice” but why then are people damaged, and why do they experience pain and suffering after this “benefit” [through often highly manipulative methods] of having sex with their teachers? Even if there is an extremely rare case of no harm or even benefit, one could expect that there also wouldn’t be someone who would report about the sorrow, lamentation, suffering, distress, and agitation they have gone through.)[2]

This Sunday I found time to read the summery of the Sogyal saga “Behind the Thankas” by Mary Finnigan. It made me utterly sad.

I find it also questionable that the Tibetan Community, including His Holiness the Dalai Lama, just don’t speak up and allow, by their silence, that what appears to be an egomaniac, damaging behaviour[3] can continue. It could be that Rigpa and their officials have been successful in spreading the pacifying image that Sogyal has “settled, having a woman and a child now.” It could be that this led towards a spiritless state of mind where Buddhists and Buddhist leaders alike started to relax, thinking the old stories are past and the issue was resolved by a change in Sogyal. But it appears that it has not settled and that the abuse continues. I think, it is not the time to further support this by continuing the silence. A collective silence is an action, and such an action allows the continuation of these harming actions. That’s why I would like to encourage everybody to read the report by Mary FinniganBehind the Thankas” and to watch the documentary Sex Scandals In Religion – In The Name Of Enlightenment by Cogent/Benger. If there is awareness that such behaviour is unacceptable and highly damaging, this could create a shift so that the continuation of it is halted and finally stopped. Another possibility is that further court cases against Sogyal could be a means to stop him.

It is unacceptable for me that the spiritual friend (Kalyanamitra) who has been described by the Buddha of having the function to release the disciple “from being subject to aging, sickness, death, sorrow, lamentation, suffering, distress, and agitation” could do the opposite, and burden the disciple with “aging, sickness, death[4], sorrow, lamentation, suffering, distress, and agitation” in the name of Buddhism.

Having heard from what I believe to be reliable sources, I am struck by the fact that Sogyal has even had sexual relationships with the partners of some of his students.

It is difficult not to fall pray to the idea that Sogyal’s behaviour is accepted widely in Tibetan exile and Western Buddhist communities alike also because his organisation is financially a highly successful money machine and many people have benefited from that money or are captivated by their awe of Rigpa’s success. (Of course these cannot be the only reasons, and there are other reasons and also genuinely well motivated reasons too but …) Similar tendencies seem to have been present when Geshe Michael Roach received supportive letters from Sera monastery authorities (which approved his “pure ethical discipline”) when it later came out that he as a fully ordained monk had a female consort and he had announced being a yogi, having realized emptiness etc, and being beyond worldly conventions. A fully ordained nun, whom I appreciate highly for her wisdom and clarity, commented that this is a sign of corruption. And I think it is. Also the Geshe title of Michael Roach is questionable because he received the Geshe title mainly as a tribute for his very generous money donations. He studied altogether only for four years at Sera. Similar tendencies to ignore certain destructive aspects or developments can be observed in other cases of abuse like in the case of the Pagode Path Hue in Frankfurt, Germany (Thich Thien Son) or within the NKT leadership (Kelsang Gyatso with respect to Neil Elliott and Steven Wass). However, in the case of Michael Roach, at least some higher Buddhist authorities like Lama Zopa Rinpoche (see page 16-18 in Lama Replies) or His Holiness the Dalai Lama dealt straightforwardly and skilfully with the issue and I would be happy if there is a straightforward and skillful response also with respect to Sogyal’s behaviour from other Buddhist masters or authorities.

For neutral academic information, I recommend that readers write to INFORM, a renowned research institution at the London School of Economics.

See also

New books, articles or further sources


[1] It’s note worthy to see that while the video gives a full account of what His Holiness said the manuscript of his speech at the Official website of HH the Dalai Lama has been “cleared” of his frank and critical statements.

[2] Usually at this point most Tibetan Buddhists or persons who have some knowledge about Tibetan Buddhism have in mind that there is a secret tantric rite which involves the unification of the two sexual organs. However, though a qualified Vajaryana practitioner can rely on a qualified action-mudra at the path of accumulation when he/she is practising the generation stage, it is unsafe to do so.

“The purpose of a seal is to generate bliss and the realization of emptiness of the generation stage, thereby acting as the special ripener of the roots of virtue that generate the realization of the completion stage. When meditating on the methods for penetrating the vital points of the body of the completion stage, there are many purposes such as that of easily gathering the winds, however a fully qualified supporting object is very rare. Because of this, if one does not unite with a consort properly, it will become a cause of falling into the lower realms. For example, there are people who think that they are tantric practitioners and engage in this conduct inappropriately, as a result of which they are later reborn in the lower realms. Due to breaking the tantra vows and pledges, one can take rebirth even in the hell of Unrelenting Torment (Avichi). Therefore, it is better to culminate the coarse and subtle generation stages by relying on a wisdom seal rather than an action seal, whereby one can penetrate the vital points of the body. In other words, there is no danger when relying on a wisdom seal, that is, on an imaginary consort. By relying on an wisdom seal one can generate the isolation of mind, after which one can rely on an action seal without any risk of faults. This is because, having achieved the isolation of mind, even if one kills, steals, and so forth, one will do so free of faults. […] In short, relying on a real woman while on the stages of the isolation of body and the isolation of speech can bring problems, whereas when one reaches the isolation of mind there is no longer any such risk.

In short, by relying on a wisdom seal one can culminate the coarse and subtle generation stages but not the completion stage. On the completion stage one progresses through the isolation of body and isolation of speech, and when one reaches the isolation of mind one can rely on an action seal and achieve the all-empty that is clear light.” (Geshe Jampa Gyatso)

John Powers, a university professor and Buddhist practitioner, states:

Tantric texts stress that practice with consorts is not a form of sexual indulgence, but rather a form of controlled visualization that uses the special bliss of sexual union. It is restricted to very advanced practitioners, yogins who have gained control over the emanation of a subtle body and have awakened the mystical heat energy, or “dumo” (gtum mo, candali). Those who have not advanced to this level are not qualified to practice with an actual consort; people without the necessary prerequisites who mimic tantric sexual practices thinking that they are practicing tantra are simply deluded, and may do themselves great harm. Sexual union is only appropriate to advanced levels of the stage of completion, and so those who have not developed sufficient realization and control over subtle energies are unable to generate the blissful wisdom consciousness realizing emptiness that is the basis for this practice. They may succeed in fooling others—or even themselves—but they will be utterly unable to use sexual energy in accordance with the practices of highest yoga tantra.

According to the Dalai Lama, only a person who views all the phenomena of cyclic existence with complete impartiality is qualified to engage in tantric sexual practices:

“Truthfully, you can only do such practice if there is no sexual desire whatsoever. The kind of realization that is required is like this: If someone gives you a goblet of wine and a glass of urine, or a plate of wonderful food and a piece of excrement, you must be in such a state that you can eat and drink from all four and it makes no difference to you what they are. Then maybe you can do this practice.”

When asked to name any lamas who he thought were at this level, he admitted that he could not. He mentioned that there are well-known stories of great teachers like Tilopa who had transcended all attachment to conventional thinking and so were able to engage in sexual practices without harming themselves or their students, but he added that such exceptional individuals are very rare.

(John Powers, “Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism”, Snow Lion Publications, 1995, p. 252.)

Then there is another common response by Tibetan Buddhists to accusations of alleged sexual abuse: the women reporting this are said to be jealous, telling lies, only imagined this or act out of a feeling of revenge or are somewhat disturbed. The point is, this can actual be the case. One finds similar wrong accusations in the story of Angulimala, and also nowadays such wrong accusations exist. Also personally I had contact with a woman who claimed wrongly for a long time of having been abused by a renown Tibetan Gelug Lama living in Swiss. (I didn’t believe her, the story was too inconsistent, and some years later she admitted that the story was untrue.) Therefore one should be careful and one should take time to check the case thoroughly – and of course there is always the danger of being deceived or getting and judging the things wrongly. However, such a careful approach shouldn’t lead one to close the eyes if there are multiple accounts of such stories with respect to the same person which show a similar pattern and one should be open to investigate into all directions. Actual this should be the task of an independent institution or experts or the legal laws, but the problem is, although the legal laws in most countries are clear in the case of educated psychologists and medical doctors (professionals in the health sector) and their patients or university professors and their students and school teachers and their pupils, these laws mostly do not consider the situation of spiritual teachers and their spiritual students or in Germany even the relation between non-medical practitioners and their patients. So there is a legal gap or legal loophole although the situation is quite similar. Another problem is in Tibetan Buddhism that there is no higher authority or council one can approach in case one has been abused or spiritual damaged. The victims are left alone, nobody cares of feels in charge to help them. I think it is really time that this changes.

Another argument I heard in that context is, that the Tibetan Buddhist lama would have been properly qualified for the tantric sexual rite but they only realised later that their western consort was not, and that they had too high expectations with respect to their capacities for Tantra. If this were true it follows the lama was also not qualified because of being unable to see what is right and what is wrong. And I think then it would be the practice of a Bodhisattva to honestly excuse oneself in order to limit the harm one has done unintentionally.

Some people also claim since the women are adults and the lama is an adult it would involve only free will for having sex with the lama (or the proper tantric rite) and it would be their choice. However, I find this approach ignorant because it neglects the dynamics and power difference in such a relationship. I would like to suggest first to get some knowledge about the dynamics of abuse and manipulation which undermine a person’s freedom of choice and which bring persons into a situation where they do something they didn’t want to do. There are reasons why there are laws that prohibit educated psychologists and medical doctors and their patients or university professors and their students and school teachers and their pupils to have sexual relationships with each other. Rutter’s text Sex in the forbidden Zone or Scott’s Sex and the Spiritual Teacher, as well as to listen to persons who report abuse could be useful as a start. Also The Guardian article about the FWBO founder Shantarakshita shows the dynamics and devastating effects of these manipulations. Some people had to experience the same pattern as reported in this The Guardian article under the Frankfurt abbot Thich Thien Son in Germany. (At least he was expelled from the head organisations of Buddhist monks and nuns in Germany and they published an official statement.)

[3] Of course this is my personal judgement. But all the reports summarised by Mary Finnigan in “Behind the Thankas” and documented by Cogent/Benger in the documentary Sex Scandals In Religion – In The Name Of Enlightenment suggest to see it that way. So far neither Rigpa nor Sogyal have contributed with a substantial refutation. And it might be really difficult to explain what type of Dharma (Buddhist teaching) it is to order a young and pretty female assistant to “Undress!”. Due to the strict libel laws in UK Mary Finnigan could be easily sued for what she has been reporting if she wouldn’t have evidence; and Rigpa has good lawyers who could do that. Also the patterns and signs one can observe from an outside perspective do not really disapprove any of the things which are reported there. So far three women reported personally to me that they experienced strange things with respect to Sogyal, and what they reported fits well in what Mary and the documentary report. It should be also noted that Sogyal starts these relationships with young women who are new to the Dharma therefore the women will quite likely not have the necessary spiritual experience and qualifications to be qualified spiritual consorts. Even if, from his side, he was engaging in ‘tantrically correct’ behaviour …

On the other hand, as a Buddhist “it is important to keep in mind that if one does not have clairvoyance then there is never completely certainty about what another person intends. Even if somebody has a loud voice and says something harsh, we can’t be certain that they really have a nasty motivation. The best we can do is to have a correct assumption about the other person’s motivation. So even when we have a correct assumption we can never establish the pervasion in order to have an actual inferential cognition. This is the case because we can never establish the pervasions that would allow us to generate an incontrovertible inferential cognition. For example, there is no pervasion that everybody who says harsh words with a loud voice and a red face is necessarily angry.” (quote taken from Ven. Birgit’s Abidharmakosha teachings at the ILTK; Pomaia/Italy) There are a lot of cases in Indo-Tibetan Buddhist history where Buddhist masters and practitioners alike judged the behaviour of someone wrongly. However, if the person they judged wrongly had really exceptional qualities, this person corrected their wrong assumptions by the performance of extraordinary actions of body, speech or mind, which led to the collapse of these wrong assumptions, and the critics were able to develop faith in that wrongly judged person’s (really existing) qualities. (See for example Atisha who expelled a yogi-monk from a monastery or the monks who tried to get rid off Shantideva, even trying to deprecate him, and other stories like Drugpa Künleg, the nun Gelongma Palmo etc.)

If in the past a capable Lama performed questionable actions based on so called “crazy wisdom” it led finally to a tremendous benefit for the individual towards it was directed and it was a teaching to the public showing them a mirror of their limited minds. However, if a person who claims to act out of “crazy wisdom” leaves the individual and the public in a state of hurt, suffering, confusion, distrust and anger this is clearly not a sign that this person has realized a level of spiritual attainment that allows him to act out of “crazy wisdom”. (For more see also: Questioning the Advice of the Guru by H.H. the XIV. Dalai Lama)

[4] Harsh, aggressive or hurtful speech which makes others unhappy weakens their life power and can be seen as a type of killing.

[5] Here it is note worthy to see that the article starts with an image of a faithfully prostrating nun and an image capture “An exiled Tibetan Buddhist nun prostrates around the main temple and the residence of Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.” In the light of the headline I feel this to be manipulative. First of all the Dalai Lama is not abusing anybody and also there is no report that nuns are abused. I wonder what drove The Guardian to follow such an tabloid approach …

[6] The note and email address were added with kind permission from the author.

Last edited by tenpel on September 23, 2014 at 10:53 am

Update March 28, 2012

I added documents related to the Geshe Michael Roach controversy. Though Roach was ordained as a fully ordained monk and Sogyal Rinpoche is a lay person and not a monk, in the glorious past of Tibet masters who shook the faith of people restored it my performing extraordinary powers and miracles which proved their tantric realizations. This is the advice Lama Zopa Rinpoche gave to Geshe Michael Roach. (see page 16-18 in Lama Replies) A more recent example is the story of a Gelug lama at the time of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, he felt he can do the sexual tantric rites and asked the Dalai Lama for permission. The Dalai Lama answered him to prove his powers, and it is transmitted that this lama did it by making knots into Yak horns. Of course these are examples from the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism but even if one looks on the root example of the Nyingma school: Padmasambhava is said to have performed a lot of miracles and his tantric consorts, e.g. the famous Yeshe Tsogyal, were also female tantric teachers who composed tantric texts. However, this seems to be quite dissimilar to a situation where a lama has “a host of ‘Dakinis'” who are all very new to the Dharma, who have not similar qualities to those female tantric practitioners and who quite likely have neither the necessary spiritual experience nor the necessary conditions (except of being young) to be qualified tantric consorts.

Also according to the tantric rituals usually a qualified tantric consort is either pointed out by a qualified lama or by dreams with special signs at a certain point of one’s spiritual development. Such a case is usually treated with great care. A Nyingma lama I know who meditated for 17 years in retreat with one meal a day and two hours sleep a day attained higher realizations including clairvoyance. He was just skin and bones after he had accomplished his retreat, and most people who saw him were thinking ‘he is going to die’. After he had attained high realizations his female tantric consort was pointed out to him by his master H.H. Dujom Rinpoche, and she had herself high realizations (including being able to cure very sick people). This Nyingma lama spoke of her with greatest respect and in awe. (This is very different to what Mary Finnigan reports about how violently and disrespectfully Sogyal treats his Western ‘Dakinis’.) Also, so far I didn’t hear that the lama who is qualified to rely on a tantric consort chooses tantric consorts himself and has a host of them (of course Ole Nydahl does this but I don’t think he is the right example). As far as I know in the case of the great Nyingma sage H.H. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche he had to be forced to rely on a qualified tantric consort, and it were his masters who pointed out the right person. In the Vajrayogini rite it is utter complex to find the right tantric consort and one has really to do a lot of rituals and prayers to find her after having accomplished extended practices. All of this seems to be very dissimilar to what Sogyal Rinpoche is doing.

It is said that Milarepa relied on the goddess Tseringma as his consort.

Update June 29, 2012

The German Buddhist magazine “Tibet & Buddhismus” has started to address the topic of abuse in Buddhist communities in his new issue (3/2012) asking “Abuse: Not An Issue In Buddhist Communities?”. The editorial mentions explicitly the Guardian article about the video statement of Kalu Rinpoche, the Guardian article about Sogyal Rinpoche (both written by Mary Finnigan), and the expulsion of the Frankfurt Pagode abbot from the DBO. They offer the respective articles also online and free of charge (all in German language):

Update September 23, 2012

The documentary has been made available on YouTube: recently. It has been included now in the post.

Update November 02, 2012

Sadly, the German Buddhist Union is in a sleeping mode. No further meetings to work out an Ethical Charter and an Ethics Council have been announced or organized – although there was an unequivocal vote my the members that this should be done. I assume it is due to an overload of work and that this issue is not seen to be very important compared to other tasks. I updated also the post above: a qualified tantric consort must be young. For the sake of clarity I might list later this year the minimum qualifications of a qualified tantric consort.

Update March 18, 2016

A paper by Marion Dapsance about Sogyal Rinpoche and Rigpa, “When fraud is part of a spiritual path: a Tibetan lama’s plays on reality and illusion”, was published in “Minority Religions and Fraud – In Good Faith” by Ashgate. The German Buddhist Union’s magazine, Buddhismus Aktuell, published a brief article by me about sexual abuse. At the end I call again for the installation of an Ethical Charter and an Ethics Council. How important it is that individuals, groups and Buddhist umbrella organisations take responsibility show cases of sexual abuse in the Netherlands: Buddhist Monk’s Sexual Abuse Revealed. The magazine of Tibethaus Frankfurt, Chökor, published an interview with me about “Buddhist cults”. The French magazine “Marianna” made an article about Sogyal Rinpoche, Bouddhisme: l’imposture Sogyal Rinpoché. The English translation of their interview with Olivier Raurich can be read here: Sogyal Rinpoche & Rigpa – An interview with the former director of Rigpa France Olivier Raurich.

NKT Chaplaincy, NKT Business & NKT Research

Some updates:

NKT Chaplaincy in Canada

The Sumeru Books Blog wrote in June 2009:

Buddhist chaplaincy in the spotlight

By Yönten, on June 15th, 2009

Correctional Services Canada is looking for Buddhist chaplains and has $75,000 in contracts to back that up, according to a Canadian Press story released today.

Currently, Kelsang Donsang, a Westerner who is resident teacher at the Kuluta Buddhist Centre in Kingston is their only approved contact and is in line to renew the contract for 1,717 hours/year of chaplaincy services.

Kuluta is a New Kadampa Tradition center affiliated with Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. The irony is that most Buddhists do not consider New Kadampa as a legitimate Buddhist organization.

Here is the link on CSC’s website to their report in PDF format:

Buddhism and Business Ethics

Justine Elizabeth Haney, Queens University, has tried to research the NKT with respect to “Buddhism and Business Ethics”-Adaptation and Integration: An Inquiry Regarding the Matters of Business and Ethics in The New Kadampa Tradition.

NKT and Research on NKT

I just glanced through Haney’s essay and it might be—though she tried to keep a type of scepticism—she has fallen to a certain extent prey to the euphemist language NKT use so skilfully. For instance she writes: The International Temples Project is Geshe Kelsang Gyatso’s compassionate vision to have a Kadampa Buddhist Temple dedicated to world peace in every major city of the world. That it is a compassionate vision to built an NKT temple in every major city of the world is an NKT claim, it could be claimed that this aim is a megalomaniac vision too, far more as NKT is the brand product of one single person who tries at all means to keep total control over it: Kelsang Gyatso. To call it a megalomaniac vision might be indicated also by the fact that he himself said in Berlin 2000: “I, I am the NKT!” So I would claim: actually, spreading NKT is spreading Kelsang Gyatso and his 23 books. But maybe I am wrong here?

NKT is solely based on his authority and understanding of the Gelug presentation of Vajrayana and Sutra teachings. Kelsang Gyatso is the only accepted living Buddhist authority within NKT. The NKT temples are solely based on his teachings, books etc—though there are Buddha statues and thankas, and one Sutra (the Heart Sutra) these Buddhist icons can not oppose his claims about Buddhism (e.g. the NKT ordination “lineage” would derive from the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras). NKT is an organisation solely circling around one person, hence some refer to it as a personality cult. By spreading NKT temples world wide his personal vision of Buddhism and his created Buddhist brand New Kadampa Tradition is spread worldwide, it increases HIS influence, power and presence, not that of Buddhism. Though it is claimed this is only for the benefit of others, it might be it is only for the benefit of his reputation and fame. At least there might be different perspectives if establishing an NKT temple in every major city of the world and to sell the own books in “every book shop in the world” is qualified to be called a compassionate action or not. I would expect a bit more distance from a researcher with respect to such claims.

It is incorrect by Haney to claim a “Tibetan custom to charge for Buddhist teachings” and the story surrounding Yeshe Ö’s offering of gold to Atisha—which is widely explained to be an expression of his deep appreciation of Buddhist teachings rather than payment demanded by the monastery—is misconstrued by Haney to be an actual payment.  I wonder if this is now the official NKT story of the events in old Tibet or where she got that from. What I like is that she tried to be unbiased and had a certain type of scepticism but I fear NKT research requires really experienced researcher to fully get the things as they are. NKT and Tibetan Buddhism in general as well as the socialisation of Tibetans are extremely complex, the complexity is greater due to cross cultural issues, and if people are not honest in what they say or have an agenda to hide unwelcomed facts.

Sometimes I wonder how much researcher rely and even take over NKT statements without checking them against other sources or to look onto them from different angles. This can be seen in Bluck’s research, as well as in Cozort’s paper, and more recently in Bell’s research on the Shugden history, e.g. when he states on page 21:

“When Dorjé Shukden practitioners in America have protested peacefully against the Dalai Lama’s policies, individuals who have attended the Dalai Lama’s lectures have spat on them and throne bottles.”

When the NKT alias Western Shugden Society protested in New York they claimed to have done this “peacefully” and accused the Dalai Lama followers (mainly Tibetans for whom the event was organised) to have behaved like a “hostile mob“; but to accuse a person in general (or the Dalai Lama particularly in this case) to be a liar and a hypocrite, as NKT/WSS have done it, shouting these accusations loudly with megaphones over a long time is not necessarily peaceful, it could be called aggressive and “violent speech” too. It could be argued as well, the “NKT mob” aggressively provoked the Tibetans who came to listen to the teachings of the Dalai Lama, their respected leader. It is expected from Buddhists not to go to places to propound their own tenets where they are not invited because going to places where one is not invited and to teach the own views could create conflicts for the people at that place. Actual NKT has violated this Buddhist peace means. Then if some conflict arise, who’s fault is it? Nobody invited the “NKT mob” to shout loudly and over a very long time their (hostile) accusations at places where people gathered to listen faithfully the teachings of the Dalai Lama. I was rather amazed to see how easy— e..g.—the people took the aggressive provocations in Nantes, France, 2008, where the noise of the NKT protesters didn’t even stop when the people ate their meals and wished to communicate with each other… even to communicate was difficult due to the constant noise of megaphone amplified slogans shouted by the protesters in rhythms (and I think even supported by drums, when I remember correctly.)…

I think to really make a good account of what NKT is and is not, this requires a researcher with life experience, a deep understanding of Tibetan Buddhism, values in Asian and Western cultures, and also a person who has some experience with wrong truth claims as they can be found so often in New Religious Movements, and which are often just means to rewrite the history of such groups. To my opinion Kay’s research is the best account on this as far as I have seen.

Nevertheless thanks to the young researcher for their effort and hopefully there will be some good and balanced in-depth research in the future. I also do apologize that I mainly focused on some weak points I found, and that I didn’t appreciate strong points!

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