A woman who spent several years as a member of the Dzogchen Retreat Center in Eugene, Oregon, has filed a lawsuit alleging sexual misconduct by the center’s leader. The suit also claims that the center’s board of directors failed to protect students.
The Dzogchen teacher, Master Choying Rabjam, also known as Dzogchen Khenpo Choga Rinpoche, or Choga, 58, is accused of sexual battery and sex trafficking after allegedly using his position as a teacher and manipulating Buddhist concepts and practices such as karma and tantra to abuse a student.
The lawsuit claims that Choga pursued a close relationship with Rachel Montgomery, 31, after she began practicing at his retreat center when she was approximately 20 years old. Over time, the relationship became more intimate, including what Montgomery believed were special tantric practices, which were sexual in nature.
According to the lawsui, Montgomery details an experience in which she alleges that she was pressured by Choga to give up her non-alcoholic drink at a party on 12 December 2013. Choga then gave her wine, repeatedly filling her glass until she had finished a bottle,
“He told her that drinking alcohol would help her achieve spiritual connectedness,” the lawsuit alleges, noting that Montgomery had a history of substance abuse issues, which was known to Choga. (Daily Beast)
It was at this point, when Montgomery was barely conscious, that Choga raped her, according to the lawsuit filing. Following this, Montgomery sought answers from other followers to what had happened but was instead pushed out of the community.
Carol Merchasin, a lawyer who specializes in cases involving sexual misconduct in religious and spiritual communities and is representing Montgomery said: “Rachel [Montgomery] never ever, ever thought that she was raped. She found out that she was raped from another woman who’d been in a Dzogchen Buddhist community, who was also subjected, along with four or five or six other women, to a kind of ‘sit on my lap naked’ empowerment.’” (KLCC)
Soon after, the lawsuit details, Montgomery found out that she was pregnant. It is alleged that Choga at first tried to convince her to keep the pregnancy and that the baby would be an “enlightened being.” (Daily Beast). Eventually, however, Choga agreed to pay for an abortion as long as Montgomery kept it a secret and would agree to having a child with him in the future, according to the lawsuit.
Months later, the lawsuit says that Montgomery reached out to the board of directors at the Dzogchen Sri Singha Foundation, which was “founded to assist His Eminence Dzogchen Khenpo Choga Rinpoche in the transmission of the authentic teachings of the Dzogchen Lineage to the West,” according to their website. (Dzogchen lineage) According to the lawsuit, the directors responded that they did “not have any official powers of oversight in regard to Choga’s personal life.” (Daily Beast)
However, according to Merchasin, the board should have taken immediate action once this kind of allegation came to their attention: “Under the laws of the United States and most countries, boards of these kinds of organizations have a fiduciary duty and they have a legal duty that they did not follow.” (Daily Beast)
The lawsuit includes the Dzogchen Shri Singha Foundation and six individuals who are accused of negligence and vicarious liability for sexual battery and sex trafficking.
The reason for the lawsuit now, nearly a decade after the alleged events, is that after years away from the community, Montgomery began hearing stories about other former students experiencing similar abuse in Buddhist communities. In January 2021, Montgomery filed a report with the local sheriff’s office, but the claim did not move forward due to a lack of evidence at the time.
According to Merchasin, Montgomery’s experience is not unique. Many victims of abuse in spiritual and religious communities do not realize immediately that they have experienced abuse. “I hope that her voice is heard. I hope that she feels satisfaction that a court of law heard her voice, and I hope that these organizations are held to some kind of accountability.”
“I feel like Buddhism was weaponized to take advantage of me,” Montgomery said. “I don’t want to say that it gets weaponized for everyone. But for me, it was weaponized.” (Daily Beast)
Choga now resides in Taiwan and has been served notice of the lawsuit there.
Buddhist center in Eugene sued over rape accusation against master guru (KLCC)
Guru Accused of ‘Mystical’ Baby Plot in U.S. Rape Case (Daily Beast)
About the Foundation (Dzogchen Lineage)
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