Editor: It causes me great pain to have to write this, but the truth has come out (yet again) about abuse and corruption at the top of the Tibetan Buddhist food chain. Most of my readers have heard by now that a woman from Vancouver, British Columbia, Vikki Hui Xin Han, who aspired to be a Buddhist nun, was sexually assaulted by the 17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje while on retreat in New York State at his retreat center. She became pregnant as a result of that assault, had the child, but continued to have an emotionally intimate relationship with the Karmapa for several years, seeing him in person on only four occasions. The woman has brought a case in British Columbia suing for spousal support, alleging that they had a marital relationship.
But if you thought that was the end of the story, you would be wrong. Of course, Vikki Hui Xin Han was not the first or only woman with whom the Karmapa has had non-consensual sexual relations. Two other women, Jane Huang from Taiwan and Wu Hang Yee from Hong Kong, have revealed that each of them had a non-consensual sexual encounter with the 17th Karmapa while in India. Please listen to their stories in the video below.
Behind the sexual assaults of the Karmapa, which is shocking enough, is another hidden story of Dzongsar Khyentse, that Dzongsar was instrumental in grooming and pushing these and other women to the Karmapa for his sexual exploits. Dzongsar Khyentse was acting as the Karmapa’s pimp. This is a pattern of predation and exploitation that is very similar to those alleged about the Sakyong and the Shambhala organization, that it groomed women for sexual exploitation by the highest ranking teachers. In fact Jane Huang from Taiwan was a student of Dzongsar Khyentse, not the Karmapa, and was not interested in the Kagyu lineage. She was duped and pushed to serve as a translator for the Karmapa at Dzongsar’s request, through which she became the Karmapa’s victim.
The hidden backstory of Dzongsar Khyentse’s acting as groomer and pimp for the Karmapa goes a long way to explain why Dzongsar has vociferously defended other abusive Lamas, such as Sogyal, and defends the whole system of samaya-guru relationships.
The revelations of the two women from Taiwan and Hong Kong challenge yet another false perception and sham defense of the Tibetan tantric system—that these kinds of assaults only happen to “western” women in western sanghas, and are the result of their own ignorance as “privileged western” women. The truth is that this kind of exploitation happens not only to “western” women, but to Asian women as well, in Asian countries, and to women of Asian descent in western countries.
Why is this difficult for me to write? Well, because, once again, I had felt a connection with the 17th Karmapa as a teacher when I was first leaving both Shambhala and Nalandabodhi six years ago. I saw the Karmapa as “different” from the other Lamas, more relevant and socially engaged. I had read a book by the Karmapa at that time and found it very consoling and inspiring. In fact, at the beginning of this blog, Engage!, I wrote several blog posts based on that book. So that’s my personal connection and disappointment with the 17th Karmapa. The revelation of his exploitation and abuse of power leaves me sickened and disgusted.
Nearly every Buddhist leader I have looked up to and sangha I have joined has been involved in some kind of abuse or sex scandal, to whit: Shambhala (CTR, Sakyong), Refuge Recovery (Noah Levine), Dharma Treasure (Culadasa), Triratna (Sangharakshita). And now, the 17th Karmapa.
I left behind my formal connection with Tibetan Buddhism in 2015, and continue to move further and further away from any institutional connection to any sangha. I don’t regret becoming a Buddhist, I regret joining Buddhist organizations. But at the time, that was the only way that one could make a good start in learning the dharma and the practice of meditation.
There seems to be no end to this systemic misogyny and abuse of power, and it has happened in all Buddhist lineages. The only answer is to leave abusive organizations and stay out of them altogether. My advice to people who are interested in Buddhism is to get involved with a Buddhist organization just long enough to get started, then get out on your own as soon as you can. Learn whatever you can about Buddhism on your own, through books and online media. You’ll learn the dharma better if you learn it yourself, with the help of a few friends.