According to New York State Supreme Court documents, in October 2022, former Buddhist nun Vikki Hui Xin Han voluntarily opted to discontinue what is known as a pre-action petition related to a potential civil case against Karma Triyana Dharmachakra Monastery, the North American home of the 17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje, and the Karma Kagyu Institute. Han had previously alleged that the Karmapa, one of two claimants to the title of the 17th Karmapa in the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism, had raped and impregnated her.
A civil case may be discontinued for a number of reasons, including a financial settlement between the parties. But the cause for the discontinuation of this action is not public, and it is not clear whether Han might later file a civil lawsuit.
Dr. Ann Olivarius, who represented Han in the proceedings, said in an email that she was “ethically barred” from commenting on the case or providing further information about the reason the action was withdrawn. Michael Murphy of Barclay Damon law firm, who represented Karma Triyana Dharmachakra Monastery, said in an email “we will not make any comment or respond to any questions on the matter.”
In June 2022, Han filed a petition saying she intended to seek damages and was trying to determine who was financially responsible or liable for physical injuries and emotional distress resulting from the Karmapa’s alleged assault. In response, the Karmapa’s lawyers filed with the court a list of the legal names of KTD’s board of directors and primary address. The voluntary dissolution of Han’s pre-action petition in October occurred several months after this exchange.
Han first filed a lawsuit against the Karmapa in May 2021 in Canadian court. Tricycle previously reported that Han alleges the Karmapa raped her while she was a nun on retreat at Karme Ling Retreat Center in Delhi, New York, in 2017. Han said she became pregnant during the nonconsensual encounter in her bedroom. At a private audience a month later, Han told the Karmapa she was pregnant, and though he denied responsibility, he gave her his phone number and email address, and Han said the two continued to communicate as a couple in a relationship until January 2019.
In the New York State proceedings, Han’s petition, filed in March 2022, alleges that Han was raped while on a 39-month monastic retreat at Karme Ling, and that the forcible act took place in the women’s quarters, where men are not allowed. The petition noted that the Karmapa “functioned outside these rules,” and that “staff, trainee nuns, and attendees in the women’s quarters would likely have seen him enter” Han’s room.
In an affidavit included in the court file, Lama Lodro Lhamo, KTD’s president and the monastery’s retreat master, wrote, “the Petitioner has made many false, defamatory, and damaging statements about KTD, its mission, and its operations. These claims seek to jeopardize the important work and mission of KTD.”
Documents filed by Han’s attorneys also show large deposits in her bank account in 2018 totalling approximately $800,000. According to Canadian court documents, Han gave birth to a girl in June 2018, and Han told the court she had received a total of $770,000 (Canadian) for the delivery and postpartum care, the first year of the child’s life, a wedding ring for Han, and a home.
The Karmapa has not publicly addressed the accusations by Han. His office did not respond to a request for comment.
In the same month that the action was withdrawn, a new initiative, called Healing Our Sanghas, launched to address the “allegations of misconduct by the Karmapa and the silence surrounding it.” The site includes a timeline of allegations against the Karmapa and a function where practitioners can share their personal experiences, which are then mapped. The site currently includes accounts from anonymous users from around the world, including North America, Europe, southeast Asia, and Australia.
The project was initiated by a group of anonymous Karma Kagyu practitioners who partnered with Dr. Ann Gleig and Dr. Amy Langenberg, Buddhist scholars who are associated with the Religion and Sexual Abuse Project.
Gleig and Langenberg told Tricycle in a recent interview that they were approached by the group and decided to partner with them because their research “supports the aims of the project” and finds that the voices of those in embattled communities need to be amplified as a way to prevent further harm and trauma.
“We also spent a lot of time with this group of practitioners,” Langenberg said. “We did our due diligence on their motivations; it wasn’t like we just had one email exchange … we put a lot of thought and care into this.”
Gleig said that their advocacy of the project adds legitimacy to those who don’t want to be in the public eye, and also aligns with a feminist, post-colonial orientation in which “ethnographers give back to the communities they’re working with.”
Gleig and Langenberg said there are a number of initiatives connected to Healing Our Sanghas, including a forthcoming academic book and multidisciplinary workshops on abuse in religious communities.
Pointing to the Han case, Gleig and Langenberg said that they often hear testimonies from Karma Kagyu practitioners that allegations aren’t discussed openly in the sangha because of the idea that the “truth will come out when the court investigates it.”
“But when a case is settled out of court, under nondisclosure as a part of that, the truth doesn’t come out. That’s a problem,” Gleig said.
Though Healing Our Sanghas was specifically created for the Karma Kagyu community, Gleig and Langenberg said the organizers designed the website and project in a way that could be adapted by other religious communities.
“Ideally there would be structures in place on the community level, and people wouldn’t need to create anonymous websites,” Gleig said. “But right now, that’s just the sad reality of where we’re at.”
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