So what will be the outcome of the public revelations of abuse by Harvey Weinstein and Sogyal Rinpoche? In the non-Buddhist community, legal action is the obvious next step. It’s the way people get the perpetrator to take responsibility for their crimes, and it can be avoided, or sentences lessened, by making a heart-felt apology. Buddhists in general tend to not be focused on legal action; for them an apology would have much more power. Weinstein has, at least, apologised, but Sogyal hasn’t apologised, and, in that, his lawyers may have made a fatal mistake in misjudging just how important an apology is to some of the injured parties.
Certainly the 8 letter writers were not seeking legal action. They merely wanted to inform students of the truth. They said:” If we are wrong in what we write, please correct our mistaken view. If your striking and punching us and others, and having sex with your students and married women, and funding your sybaritic lifestyle with students’ donations, is actually the ethical and compassionate behavior of a Buddhist teacher, please explain to us how it is. If, however, we are correct in our assessment, please stop your behaviors that we believe to be harmful to others. … Our heartfelt wish is that you seek guidance from the Dalai Lama, other reputable lamas of good heart, or anyone who can help to bring you back onto the true path of the Dharma.”
Their request has not been met.
Scotland Yard has said it is investigating allegations made last month by seven women against Weinstein, some dating back to the 1980s.
Greenfield, a partner at the law firm Fieldfisher who specialises in personal injury cases, told the Guardian: ‘We have a sent a letter of claim to Harvey Weinstein’s London and New York offices. I am waiting to hear from them but I have indicated that [if it is not settled] we will be pursuing a civil claim in relation to sexual assaults by Harvey Weinstein.’
‘“Please come forward so your cases — and justice — can be pursued,” said Mike Feueron. “We take allegations like these very seriously, and where the facts support conviction, we will prosecute,” he added.
‘As more and more claims of harassment or assault by Weinstein emerge, the New York Police Department and the London Metropolitan Police are already investigating potential complaints. The LAPD has not officially started its own probe, but, as Deadline reported last week, it is seriously considering doing so.’
New York criminal defense attorney Stuart Slotnick says. “The final area is whether the company has any liability, and I think it’s clear based on recent information that there will be lawsuits not only against Weinstein but against his company as well.”
In terms of Sogyal Rinpoche and Rigpa, the lack of apology, slow pace of Rigpa management to begin the independent investigation they promised, and the rigid adherence to dogma by some lamas and, apparently, the majority of those who remain in the organisation have pushed some ex-Rigpa students to make complaints to the UK Charities Commission and the French Police. (Note that the 8 letter writers did not initiate these investigations, just as they did not release the original letter to newspapers or on social media. Other people are responsible for these events.)
The extreme statements made by Orgyen Tobyal in Paris, such as it being acceptable for a great master to kill someone, have made it clear to some that nothing less than legal action will make such lamas realise that, no matter what they believe, they simply cannot disregard the law.
The Charities Commission (who will take statements from all over the world) and the French police are therefore encouraging people to come forward to help them with their investigations. A specialist lawyer is working on the case with ADFI of Montpellier. (This is primarily for French nationals but will also include anyone who has experienced abuse on French territory)
Wake up call
In the interview with the Daily Beast, ‘Clooney expressed hope that publicising the allegations against Weinstein would serve as a wake-up call to the industry. “Hopefully, this kind of behaviour will end – or become harder and harder for it to continue,” he said. “We’ve seen this type of behaviour in politics, in Silicon Valley, and in corporate America. This is a big problem in our society, that people in power are taking advantage of people not in power – particularly powerful men with young women.”’
Exactly the same statement applies to Tibetan Buddhism, (Rigpa is only one example of a wider issue). And the issue in Tibetan Buddhism, though it is a necessary first step, will not be solved by the Band Aid solution of the installation of a code of conduct. The deeper issues of feudalism, misogyny and cultural arrogance need to be examined and addressed.
As Laura Bates said in The Telegraph, ‘Harvey Weinstein is not a “beast” or a “monster”. He is a man who has behaved like many other powerful men. The only difference is that Weinstein’s alleged offences have finally, after decades of shameful silence, emerged into the public eye. But thousands of men like him continue to operate with impunity.’
Again this applies to Sogyal Rinpoche. He is not a monster. He is a product of his upbringing and at the mercy of his delusions as we all are, but how many other Tibetan lamas ‘like him continue to operate with impunity’? If students of Tibetan Buddhism don’t stand up and say, ‘This has got to stop. Now,’ how will it ever change? Clearly the lamas will not deal with the issue unless we insist.
Push for social equity
What we need right now is for Rigpa sangha members, past and present, to join together and decry the use of derogatory terms like ‘samaya breaker’ and to push for fair treatment of victims and a deep examination of the reasons why the abuse flourished. Because what’s been created in Rigpa is an environment where it isn’t safe to come forward with a history of abuse, and this is no different from how it is in any other large organization with money and power that has status to lose. But the Weinstein company has responded by firing Weinstein, and board members have resigned, and the company is taking steps to begin to reach out to employees to address their concerns.
Rigpa has an opportunity to be a positive force for change here but they have not stepped up to accept that challenge, instead they have hunkered down behind the same beliefs that enabled the abuse.
Rigpa students, please go to your local sangha meetings and ask questions. Don’t be afraid to speak up. Rigpa and all its representatives need to be held accountable. After all, we were supposed to be a spiritual group and better than samsaric organizations, but the response from Rigpa to claims of abuse has been halting and half-hearted at best, and purposely victim-blaming at worst.
We, who devoted years and all our work and much of our disposable income, deserve better than this.
It’s not too late to turn it around, to drop the denial and face facts, but it gets harder with each passing day.
Current and previous students of Rigpa wanting personal and private support are welcome to join the What Now? Facebook group. Please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite.
Ex-Rigpa students can stay in touch through the Dharma Companions Facebook Group. The group files include lists of online courses with reputable teachers, and members can join monthly Skype meetings and retreats. If you’re interested, click the link and ask to join. You will need to answer some questions before being admitted to the group.
Be sure to check out the What Now? Reference Material page for links to a wealth of articles in the topics related to abuse in Buddhist communities. For links to places to assist in healing from abuse see the sangha care resources page.
Those of you who are interested in ‘keeping Buddhism clean’ in general could ‘Like’ the Dharma Protectors Facebook page. Links to posts on this blog will be posted there as well as links to other relevant information related to the wider issues.
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