The results of the Lewis Silkin investigation into the abusive behaviour outlined in the letter to Sogyal Rinpoche written by 8 students in July 2017 was released a short time ago.
You can download the 50 page Lewis Silkin report here and you can find the French translation on the Rigpa website along with the introductory part, including the Executive Summary and Recommendations, in German, Spanish, and Italian.
Please note that the full report might be distressing to some people as it addresses serious issues including violence and sexual misconduct. Those traumatised by such abusive behaviour may find some of the content retraumatising.
I would like to express, on behalf of all interested parties, our deep gratitude to everyone who has spoken out about the abuses and in particular to those who spoke to Karen Baxter and helped her to make a report that reflects the truth.
May this report be a catalyst for genuine progress in removing abuse and the acceptance of abuse not only from Rigpa but also from Tibetan Buddhism as a whole.
Here are just the Executive Summary and Recommendation part of the report for your quick perusal.
Whilst I have seen evidence that many people feel that they have benefitted greatly from having Sogyal Lakar as their teacher, individual experiences are very different. There are varying degrees of closeness to Sogyal Lakar, with the closest relationships regularly referred to as the “inner circle”. The experiences of some of the members of the inner circle are very different from the experiences of many of those who are less close.
Not all of the allegations against Sogyal Lakar are upheld, as explained in the body of the report below, but based on the evidence available to me, I am satisfied that, on the balance of probabilities:
a. some students of Sogyal Lakar (who were part of the ‘inner circle’, as described later in this report) have been subjected to serious physical, sexual and emotional abuse by him; and
b. there were senior individuals within Rigpa who were aware of at least some of these issues and failed to address them, leaving others at risk.”
A number of serious concerns arise out of my findings which, in my opinion, must be addressed. Recommendations and proposed action points are set out at the conclusion of this report.
I have been asked to set out any recommendations that I have for change within Rigpa as a result of my findings. My practical recommendations are set out below. Should they be accepted, there will be detailed work to be done in implementing the recommendations across the Rigpa organisation, which operates in a number of different territories. It will be necessary in a number of respects to take into account local laws, regulations and guidance in each such territory as well as having regard to the legal personality and governance structure through which Rigpa operates in each territory.
There are also a number of matters which may require further investigation before the Rigpa leadership is able to reach final decisions in relation to this overall matter. The possibility of such further investigations is referred to at various points above.
Before moving to implement the recommendations below, my view is that the leadership of Rigpa should consider first the overall effect of these findings on its mission and work as an organisation. In the United Kingdom, for example, the trustees would need to consider whether the findings of the report, the resources required to act on the recommendations and the degree to which the work and profile of Rigpa has in the past been closely associated with the persona of Sogyal Lakar, make it possible for the organisation to move past these events and operate sustainably and successfully in the future. Appropriate advice should be taken on this and it should be noted that in raising this issue for the trustees I do not seek to guide their decision either way, such guidance being outside the scope of my investigation and remit.
Assuming that the Rigpa leadership concludes that the appropriate overall course is to put in place structures and procedures to ensure that its work as an organisation can continue in the future without the risk of harm, I recommend the following:
1. Sogyal Lakar should not take part in any future event organised by Rigpa or otherwise have contact with its students;
2. Rigpa should take steps to disassociate itself from Sogyal Lakar as fully as is possible (having regard to any legal arrangements which may for the time being connect the organisation with him);
3. Rigpa leadership in each country (being the trustees or equivalent) and the Vision Board should, as necessary, be refreshed in order to ensure that;
a. its members are unconnected with the harmful events referred to in this report and so can credibly lead the programme of changes required;
b. its members are all publically committed to the concept that abuse will not be tolerated by anyone, or against anyone, within Rigpa (including teachers); and
c. wherever possible, the leadership should include some members who are unconnected with the student body, for example lay trustees as such would be recognised in the United Kingdom.
4. Professional management should be appointed at each major Rigpa centre. Wherever possible, the management team should include some members who are not part of the student body. Care should be taken to ensure that all members of management are able to perform their responsibilities and are not inhibited in doing so, for example, as a consequence of considering themselves bound to demonstrate ‘unwavering respect’ towards the guru.
5. An appropriate risk assessment addressing the whole range of the organisation’s activities should be conducted and regularly refreshed. The risk assessment should specifically address teaching practices which are, or have been, associated with the Dzogchen Mandala – careful, well guided judgments will need to be made on the future use of such practices in the organisation’s work. For the avoidance of doubt any practice amounting to abuse of a student should never be tolerated.
6. A comprehensive and written safeguarding policy should be put in place to ensure that:
a. sexual relationships between teachers and students are either prohibited entirely, or subject to specific safeguarding measures to ensure there can be no abuse of power;
b. any ‘lama care’ that is deemed to be necessary is carried out in a way which ensures the health and safety of those providing these services is adequately protected;
c. mechanisms for the confidential reporting of concerns are clear and can be easily found by those with concerns;
d. reports of any incidents and allegations are recorded and stored in a secure and proper way;
e. incidents and allegations are promptly investigated in accordance with the policy with appropriate follow up action taken;
f. consideration is given to reporting serious incidents to relevant law enforcement authorities and/or regulators; and
g. the management and leadership of each Rigpa entity is aware of and properly trained in its responsibilities.
7. An abuse helpline outside of Rigpa should be set up, in addition to the internal reporting mechanisms made available.
8. To the extent that it has not done so already, Rigpa should review its fundraising activities to ensure that these are compliant with local laws and regulations. This review should specifically include contexts in which Rigpa events such as retreats may be used as an opportunity for third parties such as external speakers to raise funds for other causes and/or invite gratuity payments on their own behalf. There should be absolute clarity on the proper uses of all such funds.
9. A clear approach to the engagement of speakers and teachers should be established which ensures that they are aware of relevant policies, including the safeguarding and fundraising policies, before having contact with students.
10. So far as is consistent with the wider financial responsibilities of Rigpa, a fund should be created to provide professional counselling to those affected by abuse.
11. An appropriate programme of communications related to the above steps should be undertaken with the letter writers, students and the wider Rigpa community. In addition to a first communication setting out Rigpa’s commitment to a safe and secure environment for all students and the steps to be taken in achieving that, regular updates should be given until the programme of changes has been completed.
12. Rigpa’s leadership should consider (taking further advice as necessary) the extent to which it is obliged to report any of the matters set out in this report to law enforcement authorities or relevant regulators in each applicable jurisdiction.
Karen Baxter, Partner, Lewis Silkin LLP
22 August 2018
Unfortunately there is no indication in this statement that Rigpa is taking a different approach to the one they have taken over the last year. The language is the same as what we’ve heard before and of as little substance. They do say that ‘Rigpa commits to act upon the report’s recommendations,’ but what they mean by that remains to be seen. Excuse my cynicism, but I have good reason for it since saying one thing and doing another and outright lying is something we’re all familiar with from Rigpa management. So far their words of healing and reconciliation have only extended to those still in the organisation. The only new thing is this ‘To acknowledge the importance of this process of healing and change, senior members of management are stepping down from their positions of governance.’ We are not given names, however. Why so vague when they have had 14 days with the report already? Plenty of time to work out who has to leave in order to follow the report’s recommendations.
Looking to the future – a message for Rigpa management
Here is an opportunity for Rigpa to truly make a fresh start. Come on my vajra family, you can do it! Find the courage of a true bodhisattva and work for the dharma, the true wisdom and compassion in Tibetan Buddhism, not the religious power structures that faciliate this kind of abuse; clean it up, remove the fuedalism and acceptance of abuse that stains the tradition so it can benefit countless future generations.
Stop acting merely to protect your status, your financial and time investment, your organisation, your religion, and your disgraced teacher. Be bigger than that; see further. And to do that you will have to stop listening to fundamentalist lamas cast in the same mould as Sogyal. Accept that the lineage is not as pure as you think it is and that the beliefs that faciliated this acceptance of abuse have no place in the modern world. Be willing to leave them behind for they cause more harm than good.
Instead show that you understand the real point of the dharma by using your own intelligence and connecting with your own deep wisdom and compassion, and give us more than vague, sweet-sounding words that you seem unable to live up to.
This is your challenge. It was always your challenge. You have failed to grasp it so far. But you can do it now if you can muster up the vision.
Current and previous students of Rigpa can participate in private discussion on this and other related topics on our What Now? Facebook Group. If you’re interested in joining, please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite.
Anyone who has left a Buddhist sangha that had an abusive teacher can join the Beyond the Temple Facebook Group. The focus in this group is not on the abuse, but on ourselves and our spiritual life as we recover from our experience and look to the future. Click here and request to join.
The What Now? Reference Material page has 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’ could ‘Like’ the Dharma Protectors Facebook page, which posts links to related articles as they come to hand.