Have you received the following letter from An Olive Branch? Can you help pass it along to any current or former members of Rigpa US who may not have received it? I’ll share the full letter in this post.
An Olive Branch is a Zen-based organization that has been hired to offer processes of healing and reconciliation for current AND former members of the Rigpa U. S. sangha.
Some people object, saying that reconciliation cannot occur unless there’s acknowledgement of harm and an apology on the part of Sogyal Rinpoche and the leadership of Rigpa. In many ways I agree.
But even without an apology, healing can occur. An Olive Branch offers current and former members of the Rigpa US a chance to be personally heard in private without judgement via their Listening Post. Feeling heard is one of the most powerful ways healing can take place or at least begin.
The Listening Post is for anyone who felt harmed in any way even if it wasn’t an experience of direct abuse, but rather stress related to the situation of abuse in Rigpa.
You could decide to participate in the Listening Post but decline involvement with the group Healing and Reconciliation meeting if you wish. The choice is yours.
However, I feel it’s possible for some degree of reconciliation to occur among members of the sangha regardless of whether a formal apology occurs from the powers that be. Most sangha members agree, at least those on the Australian and US retreats, that harm has taken place. I would hope for such an apology, but none of us have control over whether it will be forthcoming so why let that forestall healing?
Whatever you personally decide, please pass the letter on to others so they can make their own choice.
Letter from An Oliver Branch
January 15, 2018
Dear Current and Former Members of the Rigpa US Sangha:
We are writing this letter to introduce ourselves and announce that the Rigpa US Board of Directors has engaged the services of An Olive Branch to support the sangha’s reconciliation and healing in the wake of complaints that have been raised about ethical misconduct on the part of Sogyal Rinpoche. We also want you to know about the ways you can be involved in our work, if you so choose.
On December 19, 2017 a letter from us — similar to this one — was sent to the eight former and current Rigpa members who wrote to Sogyal Rinpoche in July 2017 to share their concerns about his harmful behavior. Portions of our December letter have been shared via social media so you may have already read about our work with your sangha. Our intent in this letter is to provide more detail and also to inform everyone equally.
About An Olive Branch
An Olive Branch was formed in 2011 as a project of the Zen Center of Pittsburgh. Growing out of the need for greater understanding and reduction of ethical misconduct on the part of religious leaders, we provide services to organizations in conflict after a beloved teacher has been accused of misconduct. We promote understanding and healing and work to strengthen organizations’ boards and policies to reduce the likelihood of future misconduct. We have expertise, knowledge of best practices, and standards of excellence for our services. Our consultants have complementary skills related to training, facilitation, governance, and intervention.
Questions about this project or about An Olive Branch may be directed to me, Katheryn Wiedman, Co- Director of An Olive Branch and Project Director for the Rigpa US effort: email@example.com
On October 18, 2017 Richard Snow, Treasurer of the Rigpa US Board of Directors, contacted An Olive Branch on behalf of the board. He inquired about our services and asked how we could help with the situation precipitated by the July 14, 2017 letter to Sogyal Rinpoche from eight former and current Rigpa members. The letter detailed four abusive behaviors: 1) “physical, emotional, and psychological abuse of students,” 2) “sexual abuse of students,” 3) “lavish, gluttonous, and sybaritic lifestyle,” and 4) undermining the letter writers’ “appreciation for the practice of the Dharma.”
In Ventura, CA on November 29, 2017 the Rigpa US Board of Directors met with Co-directors of An Olive Branch: Rev. Kyoki Roberts, Dr. Katheryn Wiedman, and Leslie Hospodar. The purpose of the meeting was two-fold: 1) for the Rigpa US board to describe the needs of the US sangha and to ask questions about our services and 2) for An Olive Branch to learn more about the situation within Rigpa and to determine the appropriate services to include in a proposal.
During December, we developed a proposal that includes six elements:
- Collaborating with the Rigpa US board to communicate with the sangha regarding our work together
- Making recommendations regarding the forthcoming Code of Conduct and Grievance Procedure
- Providing a “Listening Post” for individuals who have been harmed
- Leading a Community Reconciliation and Healing meeting
- Strengthening the organizational structure and board governance
- Managing the project.
The proposal was accepted by the Rigpa US board and our two organizations have been working together since December 17, 2017. The scope of this project is limited to current and former members of the Rigpa US sangha as well as the eight individuals who wrote of their concerns in July 2017; the project is designed to respond to the needs of this specific group. Other Rigpa sanghas are continuing to hold their own sangha processes, and look forward to learning from the work of An Olive Branch in the US through the investigation and reconciliation committee.
Three of the elements listed above are of importance to individual current and former members of the US sangha because they involve your participation and thus are the subject of the remainder of this letter:
- Code of Conduct and Grievance Procedure
- Listening Post
- Community Reconciliation and Healing Meeting
Code of Conduct and Grievance Procedure
Since August, an international task group has been working to develop a code of conduct and grievance procedure. Rigpa members world-wide have been informed about the process and input has been solicited. The group working on these documents hopes to share a draft with the world-wide sangha in February, 2018.
An Olive Branch is reviewing and providing recommendations on Rigpa US’s draft ethics policy and grievance procedure. Our advice is based on best practices for organizational ethics policies that define acceptable/unacceptable behavior for teachers and students and specifies fair grievance procedures. In the US, boards have a fiduciary responsibility to develop and enforce policies that define clear boundaries that protect both teachers and students in the sangha.
An Olive Branch offers a Listening Post for individuals who have been harmed, providing a way for them to tell their story to a neutral third party and to be heard in a safe, compassionate, and confidential manner. The Listening Post is available to receive the experiences of any current or former Rigpa US sangha member, as well as the individuals who wrote the July 14, 2017 letter, who experienced harm as a result of the actions of Sogyal Rinpoche or other Rigpa teacher(s). The harm may have been direct – such as physical, emotional, sexual, psychological abuse – or indirect – such as guilt from witnessing abuse but not stopping or reporting it, or severe stress related to the situation. Any current or former Rigpa US sangha member who has been harmed may participate in the Listening Post along with letter writers who are not / were not members of Rigpa US.
It is important to us that people who have left the Rigpa US sangha receive the information in this letter so they may participate in the project if they want to. If you know of such individuals, will you please forward this letter to them?
The Listening Post has three objectives: first, and most important, is to provide some measure of relief to people who are hurting; second, is to help respondents formulate any requests they would like to make to Rigpa; and third is to expose the full extent of damage to the fabric of the sangha.
To accomplish the third objective, above, a summary of the information collected via the Listening Post will be reported to the Rigpa US board and later to the sangha during the Community Reconciliation and Healing meeting, described below.
Reporters of harm have the right to remain anonymous; both An Olive Branch and the Rigpa US board respect this right. Names and identifying details of the participants in the Listening Post will be carefully omitted from all reporting, unless requested by an individual reporter.
Current and former Rigpa US sangha members and letter writers who want to participate in the Listening Post should contact Dr. Barbara Gray via email: Barbara@an-olive-branch.org. You may request a private, confidential telephone interview or submit your personal experience via email message and make any requests you may have of the Rigpa US board.
Community Reconciliation and Healing
The Rigpa US board and An Olive Branch will collaborate on the design of a two-day, face-to-face Community Reconciliation and Healing meeting at a date and time to be determined. Members of the Rigpa US sangha and leaders of Rigpa sanghas in other nations will be invited. We currently envision the following components:
Led by An Olive Branch, there will be opportunities at the meeting for attendees to:
- Hear the summarized information gathered in the Listening Post
- Process the events (raise additional concerns, share residual feelings, etc.)
- Learn about the new US sangha’s Ethics Policy and Grievance Procedure
- Receive training on the misuse of power in spiritual relationships.
Led by Rigpa, there will be components such as:
- Spiritually-based opening and closing ceremonies
- Traditional ceremonies of reconciliation, forgiveness, and peace-making.
Underlying our proposal is the intent to help return the Rigpa US sangha to health and balance. We believe that through working together with open hearts and minds everyone can learn from this situation, strengthen the sangha, and restore peace and stability to the Rigpa community.
Katheryn D. Wiedman, Ph.D. Project Director
Co-director of An Olive Branch firstname.lastname@example.org
You Deserve to Heal
I hope you’ve already begun your own process of healing, however that looks for you. Perhaps this invitation from An Olive Branch can deepen your healing. And, if you still feel torn apart, perhaps this could be an opportunity for your healing to begin.
Right now these services are only available to current and former members of the Rigpa US sangha. I don’t know why they aren’t being offering in other Rigpa sanghas and if they ever will. Some people suspect the motivation behind limiting the scope of this opportunity. I see let the healing begin or deepen, at least for current and former members of the Rigpa US sangha.
I’m concerned that the people who need to see this, won’t. Right now, there’s no systematic way to reach out to former members of the sangha, so please pass this invitation along to anyone who might benefit. Thank you.