Following media reports this month about allegations of sexual misconduct against the prominent Tibetan Buddhist teacher Dagri Rinpoche, the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT) suspended him from their list of teachers, the international Buddhist group said in a statement on their website on Tuesday. The following day, ten senior Buddhist nuns—including Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo, the founder of Dongyu Gatsal Ling Nunnery, and Thubten Chodron, the abbess of Sravasti Abbey in Washington—sent a letter to FPMT calling for a third-party investigation into the accusations.
Dagri Rinpoche—a tulku [reincarnated master] in the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism and a touring teacher who regular visits centers in the United States, such as Sravasti Abbey, where he had been listed as a spiritual advisor—was suspended after being accused in a formal complaint of molesting a woman onboard an Air India flight on May 3. Following media reports of the charge against him, a former nun, Jakaira Perez Valdivia, posted a video on YouTube entitled “Dagri Rinpoche is indeed a serial molester,” in which she claims that Dagri Rinpoche molested her ten years ago while she was living in Dharamsala, India. Soon after, another woman, Shin Young Sun, stepped forward, writing in a Facebook post on May 13 that Dagri Rinpoche groped her breast while she was a student at Sarah College in Dharamsala between 2005 and 2009.
Dagri Rinpoche has denied any wrongdoing.
In their letter to FPMT, the senior nuns said there are even more women who have remained anonymous, “Some of us personally know other Western nuns who have reported that they were molested by Dagri Rinpoche,” they wrote. The letter continues:
We urge the FPMT to commission an independent, third-party investigation into these allegations, and to make the conclusions of this investigation public. This investigation should be conducted in such a way that plaintiffs and/or witnesses feel safe to come forward and tell their stories confidentially—and anonymously, if they so wish . . . Holding an independent investigation sends a clear message that this behavior will not be tolerated and there will be repercussions for perpetrators. This is crucial in order to ensure an environment in which students’ trust can be rebuilt.
Along with the letter, a group of practitioners and nuns have also started an online petition to urge FPMT to “find the truth.”
In a statement released on May 13, Dagri Rinpoche reasserted his innocence. In the case of the Air India flight, he said he was only steadying himself on the armrest of his accuser, who was sleeping at the time. When she woke up, she “appeared angry” and said something to him in a language he did not understand, he wrote. He was later told that she had filed a complaint to the police.
In his interaction with Perez Valdivia—whom Dagri Rinpoche characterizes as “a nun who experienced some physical and mental problems”—he wrote that he only “performed Jabtru, a water purification ritual, and Kakgo, a ritual to remove obstacles” to help with her with those issues. He adds, “After about three years, she used these rituals as a reason to accuse me of inappropriately touching her.”
Perez Valdivia responded in a statement sent to Tricycle on May 16, saying, “instead of apologising he’s blaming and discrediting the victims, the oldest method proved effective to get away with abuse.”
She added that he has spent his “entire life getting away with molesting students and devotees around the world due to the silence and complicity of some institutions and of the Tibetan system itself.”
In her social-media post, Shin Young Sun also described a culture of ignoring or silencing women whom teachers have allegedly abused, saying that those in positions of power have turned a blind eye, including the office of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. She explained that although she has personally forgiven Dagri Rinpoche, she chose to speak out in solidarity with Perez Valdivia. “I write this post for other victims. Because they . . . still experience the hardships,” she said.
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FPMT head Lama Zopa Rinpoche, meanwhile, has received criticism for an open letter he sent to Dagri Rinpoche’s students. He wrote:
Dagri Rinpoche is a very positive, holy being—definitely not an ordinary person . . . Therefore, I want to tell the students who have received initiations and teachings from Dagri Rinpoche that you should definitely one hundred percent rejoice, no matter what the world says, no matter if some people criticize him. Even after Buddha became enlightened, he showed the aspect of having pain in his foot when a piece of wood went through it. Buddha said that the suffering was the result of sexual misconduct with a woman in one of his past lives, a long time ago.
In her statement, Perez Valdivia called the advice “embarrassing and outrageous” and said it “excuses the abuser from any ‘appearance’ of misconduct that he may manifest.”
Update (5/20): More nuns, including Geshe Kelsang Wangmo, the first woman to be awarded the geshema degree (the Tibetan Buddhist equivalent of a PhD), have signed the letter urging FPMT to investigate Dagri Rinpoche’s conduct. See the updated letter here.
Correction (5/17): An earlier version of this article stated that FPMT suspended Dagri Rinpoche “after becoming aware” of allegations against him. However, as the group said in a statement, they had prior knowledge of at least one allegation against him. We regret the error, and the article has been updated to correct it.
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