Understanding and Healing Abuse in Buddhist Communities

A Chance to Be Heard: An Invitation to Current & Former Rigpa US Students

An Olive Branch

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: katheryn@an-olive-branch.org


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.

Listening Post

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 katheryn@an-olive-branch.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.



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Latest News: Investigation and New Rigpa Vision Board


Response to Bernie from Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche


  1. Karma Tshering

    The Moral Authority of the Dalai Lama
    In the controversy over Sogyal Rinpoche, the Dalai Lama’s voice has been constantly invoked during the past six months as the senior and most authoritative source of guidance.
    Indeed, it is almost a given these days that the Dalai Lama has the highest authority in matters of morality and ethics, and of course he is widely known as a man of peace who always promotes non-violence. His influence in the Buddhist world is even greater and in Vajrayana Buddhism it is enormous. Indeed he is regularly referred to as “spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists.” In some countries, like India for example, ordinary people often know nothing about Buddhism aside from its association with the Dalai Lama.
    At the same time, His Holiness has advised and insisted time and again that we must carefully scrutinize and analyse our teachers. So perhaps this is the time also to scrutinize and analyse the advisor himself – both his past and his present.
    The past – spiritual history
    Hardly anyone knows of the Dalai Lama’s own spiritual history and it remains carefully concealed for good reason. Thus, some may be interested to know that the Dalai Lama has four spiritual masters from the Gelugpa tradition.
    The first of these, Reting Rinpoche, is the one who actually found the present Dalai Lama after the death of the 13th Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama’s second guru, Tagdrag Rinpoche, ordered the assassination of his first guru, Reting Rinpoche in 1947. Even though the Dalai Lama was only about 12 years old at the time, he could – by his own admission – have intervened but did not. In his autobiography, he writes:
    “[L]ooking back, I sometimes wonder whether in this case I might not have been able to do something. Had I intervened in some way, it is possible that the destruction of Reting monastery, one of the oldest and most beautiful in Tibet, might have been prevented.”
    In the attack on Reting Rinpoche’s monastery, about 80 monks were killed. And although the Dalai Lama writes that Reting Rinpoche “died in prison”, it is accepted that he was poisoned on Tagdrag Rinpoche’s orders.
    Bestowing the Hayagriva empowerment at Sera-Jey Monastery in Karnataka in December 2017, the Dalai Lama said: “I received the empowerments for this collection from Tagdrag Rinpoche when I was boy.” What he doesn’t say is that he could have stopped this same guru from murdering his first guru who had actually made him the Dalai Lama.
    Nor does the Dalai Lama admit that all four of his gurus were students of Phabongkhapa, who used his political power to destroy Nyingma and Kagyu monasteries, to ban hosts of non-Gelug commentaries like those of the great Sakyapa scholar Gorampa, to order Guru Rinpoche statues to be thrown into the river, and to imprison Tibetans just for chanting the Vajra Guru mantra. Phabhongkhapa even asked the Chinese to wage war against all the other Tibetan Buddhist schools that flourished in eastern Tibet.
    These are not exaggerations. In fact, this is just a small glimpse of what any unbiased student of Tibetan history can verify and of what can be found in Phabhongkhapa’s own collected works. Please refer to the older edition of those texts, as important details may be omitted from newer editions published since 1959, in the interests of political correctness to conform to the Dalai Lama’s non-sectarian policies.
    And the past haunts the present
    It was the Dalai Lama’s third guru, Trijang Rinpoche, who gave the teachings of Dorje Shugden, the protector practice that the Dalai Lama has vigorously condemned. The Dalai Lama went so far as to ban Dorje Shugden practitioners from his teachings, and so intimidated Tibetans that they stopped patronizing stores and restaurants of Dorje Shugden practitioners who quickly lost their jobs and livelihoods.
    No wonder many Tibetans are quietly laughing as naïve westerners righteously quote the Dalai Lama’s recent remarks that one does not have to obey one’s Vajrayana master. Those Tibetans know the Dalai Lama is trying to justify his own actions in disobeying his own Vajrayana master. It is even more ironic that the Dalai Lama enforced his anti-Shugden edicts with the same argument now being used to cover up Sogyal Rinpoche’s misdeeds — namely that his life will be shortened if people disobey him.
    What westerners don’t realize in their naiveté is the impossible bind into which the Dalai Lama’s clever phrasing put true Vajrayana practitioners who know one has to obey one’s guru wholeheartedly. On the one hand, others who also received Dorje Shugden teachings from the Dalai Lama’s third guru, Trijang Rinpoche, know the Dalai Lama is not above the Buddha and has no authority to change the most basic Vajrayana command. On the other hand, the reality of Tibetan society is that one’s life is finished once outcast by the Dalai Lama.
    Typical is the tragic experience of the present Trijang Rinpoche Tulku, now 35 years old, dogged by threats, fearing bloodshed, and forced into exile and to cut off all ties with loyal disciples because he can neither disobey the Dalai Lama nor implement the Dalai Lama’s ban on Dorje Shugden.
    The purpose of writing this now is definitely not to create discord but the opposite. The truth matters and if we excise it from the history books as is already happening, we will be condemned to repeat the grievous faults of the past. These truths have to come out into the open while the Dalai Lama is still alive, so that people start to question the mortal danger of mixing religion and politics that has proved so deadly, destructive and bewildering in the Dalai Lama’s own lifetime.
    In the absence of such questioning, the confusion continues unabated to this day compromising and undermining the integrity of both due political process and of the true Buddhist teachings to say nothing of personal probity. Let’s look at the present evidence.
    Of politics, money and character today
    It’s said that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” In the world of Tibetan Buddhist politics, there is no question of the Dalai Lama’s supreme and unquestioned authority. And so it is only fair to assess the nature and character of his influence in that political world.
    In 2011, headlines around the world proclaimed: “Dalai Lama Cedes Power”, “Dalai Lama Gives up Political Role”, “Dalai Lama Retires from Political Life.” While westerners readily swallowed and never questioned the news, Tibetans know well it simply isn’t true and never happened in practice. In fact, all major decisions are still made by the Dalai Lama.
    As one example among very many, the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA or Tibetan Government in Exile) is supposed to have a democratically elected Sikyong (or President) and Parliament. As executive authority is vested in the President, he theoretically has power to appoint his own Cabinet.
    In fact the Dalai Lama has directly intervened to nominate rivals to the present Sikyong to key Cabinet posts and as Speaker of the House. And such intervention is constant.
    Western government and private donors who donate millions to fund the CTA, including USAID that in 2016 gave $23 million, should open their eyes and check present myths about the Dalai Lama. Indeed, they should check the Dalai Lama’s own reserves and resources.
    Tibetan sources say the Dalai Lama has enormous personal wealth, including huge quantities of gold he brought out from Tibet, all of which could do so much for Tibetan welfare if it were spent. Instead, only the foreign aid is spent. A very rare 2010 investigation by Australian journalist Michael Bachman noted that the CTA does not acknowledge millions received in private donations or reveal their sources.
    A key reason the Dalai Lama’s personal wealth is so carefully hushed up is that it might reflect on the supposedly impeccable moral and ethical image of the Dalai Lama so assiduously cultivated in the west. Yet close associates of the Dalai Lama refer to him as stingy and very envious and jealous by nature. Thus the Dalai Lama is known to be jealous of anyone else in the Tibetan Buddhist world who has some sort of fame and respect.
    While painfully aware of such stains, these same associates have no choice but diligently to conceal them from the outside world if only to protect their own privileged positions and to ensure the continued flow of foreign donations.
    And a disservice to Buddhism itself
    Despite the Dalai Lama’s supposedly non-sectarian stance, these same close associates report him to be deeply sectarian – not surprising in light of the volatile mixture of politics and sectarianism in the Dalai Lama’s own history and upbringing.
    There is reliable speculation that, contrary to popular beliefs about the 17th Karmapa Trinley Dorje’s “escape” from Tibet, the entire episode was in fact engineered and closely monitored by the Dalai Lama. This Karmapa, after all, had been endorsed by Chinese strongmen Ziang Zemin and Xi Jinping — not for any spiritual reason but for their own political agendas.
    But the Dalai Lama knew as well as the Chinese that the Karmapa lineage is much older and more influential than the present Dalai Lama dynasty and he therefore had a direct interest in having Tibet’s most influential man in his own hands, especially as he himself aged. This, say influential Tibetan observers, explains the Karmapa’s years of virtual “house arrest” after arriving in India under the Dalai Lama’s watchful eye. The wisest of these observers still express disbelief that Tai Situ Rinpoche so completely fell into the Dalai Lama’s manoeuvre to bring the Karmapa under his control.
    While this view of the Karmapa’s escape has not been definitively proved, other sectarian interventions by the Dalai Lama are more blatant and widely acknowledged among senior Tibetan observers. For example, the Dalai Lama’s controversial 2015 recognition of Trulshik Rinpoche’s reincarnation in Nepal seemed deliberately designed to cause disharmony in the Nyingma lineage.
    Even more provocative was the Dalai Lama’s ploy to break the powerful influence of the abbots of Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok’s Larung Gar Serthar monastery by recognizing a reincarnation of Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok, who had specifically instructed his disciples that he would not reincarnate and not to recognize any supposed reincarnation. Yet, such is the influence of the Dalai Lama that Tibetan society cannot oppose his decisions.
    Countless other examples abound into the present day, including talk of the Dalai Lama’s unspoken and informal alliance with the extreme Hindu nationalist RSS in refusing to support millions of Indians eager to be Buddhist but who would be out of his own control. It is not difficult for readers to discover and learn this for themselves if they are willing to look.
    But perhaps the Dalai Lama’s greatest disservice is to the essence of Buddhist philosophy and practice itself. As he cajoles scientists, secularists and the western media with his “secular ethics”, mind-life dialogues and humanitarian goodwill ambassador, the Dalai Lama is subtly eviscerating and undermining the profound spiritual basis of Buddhism.
    The Dalai Lama recently went so far to declare that he longer believes in prayer. “Thousands of years we pray, pray, pray, pray. Nothing happened”, he said. If nothing happens, one wonders why his monasteries and schools under the Central Tibetan Administration are still required to recite the Dalai Lama’s long life prayers.
    Some of the Dalai Lama’s increasingly secularist approach seems aimed at persuading sceptical, rationalist westerners who know nothing about Buddhism that it is not a “religion”. He is even supposedly creating a non-religious version of the Buddha’s basic Kangyur teachings. But the Dalai Lama seems neither to understand western culture nor to recognize that he is putting Buddhism in grave danger of losing its very essence and its spiritual heart that are its most profound offering to the world.
    Though many knowledgeable Tibetans and Buddhist masters long ago lost their respect for the Dalai Lama, the purpose of this analysis is certainly not to create discord or disharmony. Rather, it is a simple and necessary wake-up call:

    Unless westerners and blind Tibetan devotees inform themselves of past and present realities, they will uncritically continue to swallow every remark the Dalai Lama makes about the Sogyal Rinpoche affair as if it is the gospel truth. And unless they ask the basic questions raised here while the Dalai Lama is still alive, serious dangers await both the Tibetan community and the future of Buddhism itself after the Dalai Lama passes.

    The Dalai Lama has urged us to analyse, examine and question other teachers and leaders according to the highest standards. He is surely not exempt.

    • Catlover

      While criticism of the Dalai Lama should be open for discussion, (if he has done something to warrant criticism), Karma Tshering’s post is nothing but New Kadamapa Tradition propaganda. I would characterize it as just a long NKT rant. The same post, (which was later removed by the mods), was posted the another blog (“What Now?”) and the author just copies and pastes it to spread the NKT agenda. This is not just expressing an opinion.

      • Solenodon

        Yep, Shugden, the sower of discord and chaos.

        Just mentioning it creates strife and disharmony and poisons the mind of everyone who is getting involved in any way. Post should be deleted and the discussion of that unholy deity should be categorically banned.

  2. matilda

    Sandra, as to your concern that some of those Rigpa/ex-Rigpa students who could benefit from these healing processes may not be aware of them, have you posted this on the DharmaWheel forum? There’s a thread on “the new Rigpa letter” or words to that effect, or you could just start a new topic. Maybe Lions Roar could feature this, if they haven’t already?

  3. alex

    There is an unknown group that has experienced stress, harm, feelings of powerlessness and sadness. They are not rigpa members or have been rigpa members. The sisters, brothers, fathers and mothers who experienced a loved one who was abused or who became spiritual egos in the rigpa. I humbly ask the rigpa sangha to have some practice and recognition for that group. To heal all those unknown ripples.

  4. yana

    Nothing going on here. What happened?

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