A new website has been created to facilitate the discussion of abuse allegations that have been leveled against His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje. The website, “Healing Our Sanghas,” was created over the summer of 2022 by Karma Kagyu practitioners and includes a timeline of allegations, a map of concerned practitioners who have written in, and an opportunity for contributors to anonymously share experiences and information relating to the allegations.
The website is associated with Buddhist studies scholars Dr. Ann Gleig, associate professor of religion and cultural studies at the University of Central Florida, and Dr. Amy Langenberg, associate professor of religious studies at Eckerd College, also in Florida. The two have worked extensively on projects and initiatives focusing on abuse within Buddhist communities.
BDG reached out to Gleig and Langenberg, who shared:
Our role is to give support and legitimacy to the site given our considerable research into this devastating topic. The situation of the Karmapa is sensitive because he is head of a transnational community but also of great political importance to an occupied nation. While we are fully aware of the vulnerability of the Tibetan diaspora, we don’t believe in a zero-sum game in which one set of pressing concerns erases another set of valid concerns. Given that Buddhist communities are transnational, it is important to find ways to discuss these multiple different legitimate concerns across boundaries.
Of the allegations against the Karmapa, the issue that has gained international media attention involves Vikki Hui Xin Han, who was training to become a nun. According to Han, the Karmapa sexually assaulted her at the beginning of her three-year retreat at a monastery in New York in 2017. The allegations were made public as part of a court case filed in British Columbia, Canada, in May 2021.*
Two other women have since shared allegations, publishing them on blogs and on YouTube. According to Healing Our Sanghas:
At this time, the Karmapa has not publicly denied these allegations. This report and others of sexual misconduct and assault have also been met with a deafening silence by nearly all Buddhist leaders. With this site, we are not expressing a position regarding the truth or falsehood of these allegations. However, we acknowledge that there has been no independent investigation and no public response from the Karmapa. And that this silence, as well as the allegations, has created an environment that leads to uncertainty, doubt, and confusion.
Nearly all our Dharma communities have upheld a strong stance against discussing these concerns. The possibility that a lineage head in whom we have taken refuge has misused his position of power and influence over his students, and there is no discussion or attempt to get at the truth, has profound implications for the entire Dharma community worldwide.
Some of us have struggled to maintain our practice, many have had to redefine, reorient or reinvent our commitment to the Dharma, and find our communities no longer feel like healthy or safe spaces. This website offers conditions of anonymity and is offered as the safe space that our local centers may have failed to provide and that we need now more urgently than ever.(Healing Our Sanghas)
Discussing the request for their support, Gleig and Langenberg write:
We agreed because our research has consistently found that the institutional and community response to allegations of abuse is the determinative factor in the process of healing for victims/survivors as well as the community members who support them. In fact, many victims/survivors of abuse have reported that negative institutional and community responses—such as denial, silence, shaming, and shunning—has been as traumatizing for them as the abuse itself.
Similarly, our research and the testimonies on this site show that denial and silencing also causes a secondary harm for many in the wider Buddhist community. Hence transparency is a crucial component for all communities across lineages that are dealing with sexual abuse allegations.**
The Karmapa is the head of the Karma Kagyu lineage in the Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. The institution of the Karmapa, a tulku or intentionally reborn spiritual master, is the oldest such lineage in Tibetan Buddhism, dating to the life of the first Gyalwa Karmapa, Düsum Khyenpa (1110–93). The current Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, is 37 years old and spent the first 14 years of his life in Tibet before traveling to India through Nepal. While in Tibet he was recognized by the Dalai Lama as the reincarnation of the 16th Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje (1924–81).
In October 2017, the Karmapa traveled to the United States, where he underwent a number of health checks. He went on to say that the checks showed no serious health problems. Nonetheless, he remained in the US, making several public appearances, including presiding over the 9th North American Kagyu Monlam in New York City in 2018.
That year, the Karmapa also spoke to followers at the annual Kagyu Monlam in Bodh Gaya, India, through a video feed about personal struggles and pressures associated with his role.*** He did not mention any particular incidents, but did express uncertainty about his role as Karmapa. Nonetheless, he has continued his work, including offering prayer sessions at the outset of the pandemic.****
* Karmapa Sued for Spousal Support by Woman Who Claims “Marriage-Like Relationship” (BDG)
** Popular American Buddhist Teacher Lama Surya Das Admits to Sexual Relationships with Students (BDG)
*** The Karmapa Reveals His Struggles with Leadership and Division in Video Address (BDG)
**** The Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, Announces Daily Prayer Sessions amid Coronavirus Pandemic (BDG)
Healing Our Sanghas
Religion & Sexual Abuse Project
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