Tantric Buddhism, vows, sex and women – the importance of love, respect and consent

  ‘Only the united beat of sex and heart together can create ecstasy.’-Anais Nin

This article is an attempt to clarify some of the information and misunderstandings surrounding monasticism, sex, women, consorts in Vajrayana (or Tantric) Buddhism.  It also discusses the issue of religious abuse of tantra and sexuality and my own recent experience of it with a senior Karma Kagyu monastic teacher. It does not claim to be comprehensive or in-depth, but hopefully will be of benefit in one way or another at educating and preventing others from abusive and unethical conduct by so-called ‘spiritual teachers’!

Monasticism and sex

During the past fifteen years I have spent studying and practising Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism, in predominantly Tibetan Buddhist communities, I have witnessed a tendency of some ‘cultural’ Buddhists (a term for people ‘born into’ Buddhism who may not have studied the philosophy, practice the rituals and so on), and even non-Buddhists, to think the main vow for a monastic to maintain is not having actual physical sexual intercourse, and that apart from that, they are free to do whatever they like (with the caveat that they can purify it later with Vajrasattva if it is a secondary breach).  It is generally accepted to be a breach of the root vows if a monk or nun has actual physical sexual intercourse (in any orifice) and they are supposed to disrobe after having done so. However, that does not then give a green light to any other ‘sexual activity’ (like Bill Clinton saying about Monica Lewinsky,  ‘I never had sex with that woman’, thinking that somehow meant his other sexual activity with her was somehow permissible, and thus, he had not been unfaithful or dishonest to his wife).

Monastics and Buddhist lamas are supposed to have reduced (or be actively reducing) their own desires for sexual arousal and pleasure for temporary, worldly reasons. Therefore, any activity that leads them, or any person they have contact with, into more attachment and interest in worldly sexual pleasure and desire would be considered to go against the general spirit of the Vinaya (the general rules of discipline for Buddhist monastics).  For more on the Vinaya and its application to women, see this article by Devdutt Pattanaik here, ‘There’s a misogynist aspect of Buddhism that nobody talks about‘.

There is no denying that monastics are also often cultural Buddhists (and ordinary human beings, with sexual desires and so on), but it’s the general principle that is important to remember. Monastic root vows also include not stealing and not lying, so it’s not just about reducing sexual desires and attachment. Therefore, if a monk or nun regularly lies (or is actively deceptive) and appropriates things or property from another, they can also be considered to have broken the five main root monastic vows, and are supposed to disrobe.

Aside from the sexual aspect of Buddhist ethics and discipline though, a Buddhist teacher (I refer to teachers here because they are supposed to have more developed inner qualities than that of a student), and especially a teacher who gives Vajrayana empowerments and teachings, is also supposed to maintain three sets of other Buddhist vows: the Individual Liberation Vows (or Pratimoksha vows), the Bodhisattva Vows and the Vajrayana Vows (or root downfalls).  None of these are that easy to maintain and if they are breached, must be purified correctly and genuinely.  Turning to the subject of women though, how, if at all, do these three types of vows have a particular reference, or application, to women?

A foundation of love and compassion

First, to be able to hold pure Vajrayana vows it is essential to maintain the root vows of Individual Liberation and Bodhisattva.  The Individual Liberation vows are based on genuine renunciation of samsara (the cycle of suffering) and the origins of samsara. Thus, a person with genuine renunciation would no longer seek genuine happiness in worldly, temporary pleasures (such as orgasms) for oneself alone, recognising such egoistic desires and attachments to be the source of much suffering (long and short term).  The foundation of the Bodhisattva vows is the wish to bring all beings away from suffering and to a state of genuine, lasting happiness. So, if a teacher suddenly loses interest, shuns, ignores or lacks love or compassion for any being, for example someone who displeases them, or insults them or makes them angry etc. it would be a sign that they do not have genuine love and compassion for that being.  Taranatha explains clearly that patience, love and compassion are essential qualities of any Vajrayana teacher.

Respecting and not disparaging women


To be a Vajrayana teacher one must not only maintain those two sets of vows well but also the vajrayana commitments (or samaya).  One of the fourteen Vajrayana root downfalls  (rtsa ltung bcu bzhi)[1]is that women should not be disparaged, abused, insulted or degraded, either as individual women and/or generalising about women as a group. So, casual sexist jokes or generalisations about women, e.g. ‘blonde women are stupid’ jokes etc. would be considered a sign of such a general lack of respect. I once challenged a well-known lama who told such a joke that it was sexist and he could not understand why. I said ‘replace the word ‘blonde women’ with ‘black people’ and maybe you will understand’. He still didn’t seem to get it. Sexism is often not recognised because it is still  the invisible norm in many spheres of life.

The reason why women are mentioned here, and not men, is because from the Vajrayana viewpoint, the winds and channels yoga of tantric practice, biological women (their biological physical bodies and channels) are considered the nature of wisdom in the union practice of method (male) and wisdom (female), for more on that issue see here.  In addition, due to the pervasive nature of afflictive mental states and impure perception, sentient beings cannot always know, or see, who (or who is not) an actual dakini/enlightened female being. For that reason, it is also considered important not to degrade, insult or disparage women. You might be insulting a wisdom dakini!

What is a ‘consort’?

A tantric consort is not neccessarily a girlfriend or wife of a Buddhist lama.  Although, that is how the term has often incorrectly come to be used.  In fact, being a consort has nothing to do with such a relation and is often ‘secret’ (the term in Tibetan is sangyum (gsang yum) literally meaning ‘secret mother’).  It is someone who engages in physical (or energetic mental union) with a Buddhist master focusing on visualisations and breathing and yogic exercises for the purpose of enlightenment, without excessive attachment or desires.

The enlightened master, Guru Rinpoche had five principal consorts (not many lamas can claim to be at that level though).  Tertöns (treasure-revealers), in particular, are said to require a consort who is considered to be an indispensable aid to the discovery and decipherment of termas (concealed treasures). Also, a spiritual consort might at times be recommended in order to rejuvenate and prolong the life-span of the male practitioner, or remove obstacles in his life, especially his health, and to promote his enlightened activities.  Female practitioners can also take a male consort, as in the case of Yeshe Tsogyal who took Acharya Salé as her consort.

Of course, a consort could be both a romantic partner of a lama as well as engaging in actual consort practice, and conversely, a girlfriend or wife might not be a consort at all.   Monastics (those with monastic vows, be they fully ordained or not) are not allowed to marry or have ordinary sexual relations. However, they could engage in a consort relation without breaching their celibacy vows (depending on their motivation and qualifications). This is why HH 17th Karmapa, Orgyen Trinley Dorje, recently recommended, it is important for non-monastics not to wear the monastic robes (or similar clothes) because it confuses people who might then think that such people can have girlfriends and wives and so on.


The secondary Vajrayana root vows also refer to the downfalls about women in the context of consort (or Karmamudra) practice. In the last few decades, there has been more written recently in the English language (by women) about women and consort practice, such as Passionate Enlightenment by Miranda Shaw, Travellers in Space by June Campbell, the Love and Liberation: Autobiographical Writings of Sera Khandro by Sarah H. Jacoby and a recent academic article by Holly Gayley, Revisiting the Secret Consort (gsang yum) in Tibetan Buddhism .  Shaw, in particular, effectively claims that a genuine consort lama relation should be mutually fulfilling and equal.  However, judging by recent sex scandals of male Buddhist lamas ‘abusing’ and ‘using’ female students (including nuns) for casual sexual encounters and pleasure, it is clear that the ‘consort’ relation (and even the term itself) is still too often misunderstood and misused.  Even though I have not read his new book about the tantric sexual union practice, Karmamudra: The Yoga of Bliss: Sexuality in Tibetan Buddhism and Medicine, the author Dr Nida Chenagtsang states that the reason he wrote it, was to educate and inform people about what an actual Karmamudra practice is and is not, in order to protect people from worldly and abusive relations.

As I stated in a prior article ‘Monastic Abuse: The Tragic Case of Kalu Rinpoche’, consort practice is a very particular kind of physical (and/or energetic union) that is undertaken for the sake of enlightenment and not for sexual pleasure only. It is also an activity that involves a high level of yogic competency and expertise on the part of the lama, and in addition, the female consort is supposed to have certain qualities, such as intact vows, an understanding of emptiness and empowerments.

How is the sexual union itself beneficial for attaining enlightenment? That is a huge and profound topic that requires time, practice and study, but is also something that finally can only be transmitted secretly and privately between master and student.  There are four states in worldly life that are generally considered ‘gateways’ into the luminous-empty nature of mind: sleeping, waking, intermediate state between death and birth and orgasm.  As HE Thrangu Rinpoche once replied, when asked for an example on the ‘non-existent’ nature of mind (in On Buddha Essence: A Commentary on Rangjung Dorje’s Treatise, p 127), the example is of a woman orgasming during sexual intercourse. This was an example given by Marpa and other great masters. Why? because ‘you cannot locate this bliss or find what it is; the nature of it is empty – but it is there, you can’t say there is nothing there because there is bliss. That is the example.’

The energy of orgasm and ecstatic sexual bliss, in particular (the life-blood of tantric practice) is the energy and nature of the ultimate nature of mind  and thus used as a tool by practitioners to become more and more connected to, merge with and reveal that ever-present state.  This is why, ironically for those who don’t understand, great tantric practitioners are actually celibate (which is not just about sexual penetration but means someone who does not have sexual intercourse for worldly pleasure or orgasm).  The sexual energy needs to be preserved to be used in spiritual and yogic union practice.

Consent and ‘force’

The secondary root Vajrayana downfalls state that the Vajrayana master or teacher, should not pick unqualified consorts and also must not force a consort. These terms are not so clear either, but generally speaking the texts and tantras refer to the woman (or consort) having a certain minimum level of attributes, for example, a woman that has no vows, no stable practice, or has wrong views or not much understanding of emptiness etc. would not be suitable.

But what is meant by ‘force’ here? Certainly, physical rape, coercion or blackmail would be examples of forcing someone. But what about when a lama uses visualisations and mantras, and their own tantric yogic tsa-lung practice to literally overpower and intoxicate a woman to feel very sexual and thus do sexual things towards and with that lama, they might not normally do? This kind of experience happens more often than people might know or be aware of.  I also experienced this kind of ‘subtle body rape’ and ‘force’ (see below for details).

For example, some deity practices like Kurukulle, if done by a practitioner with certain skills, would allow them to gain access to a person in this way, like putting a drug in their drink, so that they lose all ability to think clearly and become totally overwhelmed with sexual desire and arousal.  I have certainly been subjected to this experience.  Yet, as one article says about Kurukulle: ”Despite depictions of her magnetizing powers as “magical,” they are not for the corrupted purpose of attracting a mate, or money, or luxuries.  Like other emanations of Tara, she is about the “activities” of compassion, in this case attracting and enchanting.”

Buddha Vajravarahi

However, it is also said that  tantric masters have mastery of the four siddhi activities of pacifying, enriching, magnetizing, and subjugating and thus perhaps ‘overpowering’ a woman in this way might be seen as that kind of legitimate enlightened activity.  Also, the sexual thrill of being ‘dominated’ or ‘overwhelmingly seduced’ could legitmately be part of the role play and energy union of the couple, to generate the desire and arousal, depending on what turns a person on.

However, generally speaking, if it is not based on genuine love, respect and compassion, and not based on the wish for enlightenment, and/or used for power and sexual pleasure, then it could be considered forced and non-consensual. If the woman (or women) feel ‘used and abused’ by it, that is a ‘red flag’ that there was a lack of clear and mutual consent or adequate qualifications on the part of the master or consort, or both. For example, if a relation is based on lies, deception and disrespect/force (as I personally experienced) then it is like rape, because the consent is not really there (and never was from the start).  Bliss, love, happiness, respect and realisation of  shared spiritual goals could be considered signs of authenticity and success in such intimate relations.

Je Tsongkhapa on ‘Force’ and gross downfalls in relation to consorts

595 tsongkhapa

Here is a quote from the Introduction on Tsongkhapa’s writings on the Tantric vows. It stems from Tsongkhapa, Je. Tantric Ethics: An Explanation of the Precepts for Buddhist Vajrayana Practice (S.21-22). Wisdom Publications. It was posted recently online in relation to another article about abusive conduct in Tantric contexts.
First gross downfall
As stated earlier, gross downfalls are in essence root downfalls lacking in certain branches.
The first gross downfall is “violently appropriating a wisdom woman.” Tsongkhapa cites another short codification of gross downfalls said to be by Aśvaghoṣa that explains this as enjoying a knowledge woman where the woman has faith in tantra but has not been properly given access to the necessary consecrations and teaching that would allow her to understand and keep pledges. The gross downfall occurs when, within such an unbalanced relationship, you make fun of the woman or put the woman down.
This is similar to the Prātimokṣa code. For example, in the Prātimokṣa, full sexual relations entail expulsion. Traveling unaccompanied with a person of the opposite sex, sitting alone in a room with the windows closed with a person of the opposite sex, conveying a love note between a couple, and so on, are infractions that are gross, but do not entail expulsion. Similarly, in the tantric code, if a tantric adept keeping tantric pledges despises a woman because she is a woman, it entails expulsion. If the adept countenances any abusiveness toward a timid, unlearned pledge woman with faith, it is a gross downfall but does not necessarily entail complete expulsion.
The second gross downfall in the list, “violently appropriating her nectar,” is similar. Even if the two pledge persons were equally consecrated, and had equal knowledge, pushing the knowledge woman into the activity at an inappropriate time, in front of people without faith, and so on, would be gross, but would not entail, as it were, the expulsion that the true prejudice of intellectual misogyny in a person who should know better entails.
From Chapter 6 “Gross Downfalls, and the Downfalls in the Kālacakra System”
The Explanation of the Gross Downfalls
Second, the composition of the explanation itself has eight parts. About the first gross [downfall] it says, “Violently appropriating a wisdom woman (prajñā)…” [Sā 2a]
This is to be construed with, “These are the eight gross downfalls,” which comes later. “Prajñā” means a woman. “Appropriate” means to resort to her as a knowledge woman [i.e., partner]. “Violently” means to resort to her as a knowledge woman just through your own power, without thoroughly training her. To thoroughly train is to ripen the mindstream with consecration, make an array of the pledges and vows, and teach mantra and tantra well. The master Aśvaghoṣa says [in his Gross Downfalls], “Enjoying a knowledge woman without pledges violently, and also abusing her, is said to be the first downfall of this yoga.”
The Commentary to this says there are three gross [downfalls] here — when a woman without pledges is unripened by consecration, or if consecrated, is sick, keeping particular vows to do with marriage or the propitiation of a particular deity and so forth, or timid, it is a gross [downfall] to resort to and pressure her while she does not assent, to abuse her from the standpoint of limbs and so on, and to ridicule her so that she becomes upset.
The Ornament of the Vajra Essence Tantra says [501] resorting to a knowledge woman without pledges is a gross [downfall]. The earlier text [Sā] does not make a separate mention of the absence of pledges, so construe the meaning of violence as before, and also construe it more generally as does the later explanation.
Second Gross Downfall
“Violently appropriating her nectar…” [Sā 2b]
Violently appropriating the nectar of that knowledge woman is a gross [downfall]. Here Aśvaghoṣa says, “… also resorting to nectar in just those stages not spoken of in the tantras.” The Commentary to this says that:
“Enjoying without divine pride, without having been blessed, in front of those without faith, and other than at special times is a downfall. It is resorting in stages prohibited by the tantras.”
Tsongkhapa, Je. Tantric Ethics: An Explanation of the Precepts for Buddhist Vajrayana Practice (S.134-135). Wisdom Publications.

As HE Mingyur Rinpoche says in his article, When a Buddhist Teacher Crosses the Line, on the issue of abusive or unethical conduct by Buddhist lamas:

The most important thing to know about these unusual teaching styles is that they are meant to benefit the student. If they are not rooted in compassion and wisdom, they are not genuine. Actions that are rooted in compassion and wisdom—even when they appear odd, eccentric, or even wrathful—do not instill fear or anxiety. They bring about a flowering of compassion and wisdom in the student.

In other words, the results of genuine “crazy wisdom” are always positive and visible. When a teacher uses an extreme approach that is rooted in compassion, the result is spiritual growth, not trauma. Trauma is a sure sign that the “crazy wisdom” behavior was missing the wisdom to see what would truly benefit the student, the compassion that puts the student’s interest first, or both.

However, considering Mingyur Rinpoche  is one of the Kagyu lamas (together with his root lama Tai Situ Rinpoche) who were recently informed of the deceptive and abusive conduct of a senior Kagyu lama, and he has not responded at all, it is difficult to know if these are mere empty words or not (for more on that see ‘my experience’ below).  

Gender empowerment and the #Metoo movement

The increasing empowerment, education and gender equality of women globally, has led to an increased sense of concern and injustice at the many gender inequalities in the religious context, including Buddhism. Efforts have been made to improve the status of Buddhist nuns by Tibetan lamas such as HH 17th Karmapa, British nun and acclaimed teacher, Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo, the first Geshema Kelsang Wangmo, Malaysian nuns Dr. Tenzin Dadon and Karma Tashi Choedron and Buddhist feminist academics, like Rita M Gross and Holly Gayley. In addition, there are now Geshemas and nuns who are teaching at Buddhist nunneries in India, such as Dolma Ling, and more prominent female lamas and practitioners from all cultures and traditions.

Some argue (like Miranda Shaw) that the consort-lama relation (done genuinely and with mutual respect and consent) was never unequal or sexist in principle, and that it has become that way due to patriarchal and sexist cultural norms. Whatever the case may be, the empowerment of women also means them having more access to the information available on consort practice and being able to educate themselves about it. The #Metoo movement and  recent Sakyadita conference held in July 2019, as well as the formation of the Alliance of Buddhist Ethics, are signs that progress is being made on this issue, with more women speaking out and (importantly) supporting each other.  Knowledge is power and with more translations and publications becoming available on this topic as well, women are able to inform themselves before entering into a relation with a male lama and hopefully to ensure that it is one based on genuine love and compassion and of wishing to be of genuine benefit to others and oneself.

My own personal experience of gross misconduct

I myself have had significant personal, direct experience of misuse of tantra and siddhi power to intoxicate and seduce into non-consensual relations which have [unsurprisingly] later turned bitterly sour due to the teacher’s lack of love, compassion and respect for myself, and other women. I know the difference between a sacred, spiritual union and practice and one which is undertaken out of lust, sex addiction and power. 

For example, having recently experienced and spoken out privately about the emotionally and sexually abusive, deceptive and hypocritical conduct of a well-known, senior Karma Kagyu teacher (Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche, who is from Bhutan but based in Nepal, and is a self-declared fully ordained monk), I know how difficult (and even dangerous) it is to speak out privately about such incidents (never mind publicly).

Consent by deception 

My intimate relation that started in September 2018, when I first met the teacher at a Dharma teaching (which I attended to ask for oral transmission of some Dharma texts to translate) was based on a fundamental deception and lies he told me from the outset, which seduced me into thinking the relation was a genuine, honest romantic love and that he swore and promised he had not treated other women in a similar way.


Even though this was very difficult to believe, because he swore to Buddha and Tara that he was not lying I decided to trust him.  Particularly, as he was also personally helping me with translations of his texts, which I had freely offered to do.

However, as time and our close relation went on, and more women I randomly met at Dharma events and centres spoke to me about their negative traumatic experiences of him, I realised that he had been lying to me, to those women and about them. Whenever I asked him about their allegations, he would call them mad, bad or liars. In addition, he was even lying about other things, such as staying in a hospital in Singapore (later telling me so when I discovered that he was staying in an expensive hotel paid for unknowingly by sponsors in Tibet who thought he was there getting medical treatment). In hindsight, I also realised that our ‘energy’ unions were not spiritual or karmamudra but based on sex, power and domination and a misuse of tantra to intoxicate and force me to do things sexually.

That persistent and gross dishonesty meant that the consent I gave to participate in the romantic relation (that was also sexual in nature, with sexual photos and videos being requested and shared), was never present because it was based on a root deception and a lack of genuine love and compassion.

A Pattern of Abuse and Exploitation – other reports

Other women have made independent reports to myself and other senior Tibetan Buddhist teachers expressing their concerns about his disrespectful and derogatory conduct towards women for years. However, it seems nothing has been done to stop him, or he refuses to change.

For example, one woman (a devout follower of Tai Situ Rinpoche) reported to me that ten years ago,  her daughter, also a Buddhist, was coldly told by the same teacher never to attend his teachings or contact him again, after she refused to engage in such communications and relations with him. He also allegedly told her that he would not give any more teachings at the Dharma centre they managed in New Zealand either.

Another European woman (who also recently reported his conduct to Tai Situ and Mingyur Rinpoche) verbally told me she cut off all contact with him when, after only just meeting her at a sacred Dharma event (and him personally giving her his email address when she gave him a katag at the end of the event), he bombarded her with romantic and sexual messages and photos (including of himself) while she was on holiday in South India.  She told me she found him ‘creepy, obsessive and dangerous’ . It is not clear what if any action has been taken by Tai Situ Rinpoche regarding her and my complaint about him, as there has been zero response.

Another woman, who is a female enabler, reported verbally (and in writing) that the teacher knew her from the age of 9 years old but when she was a teenager he started to make her think about him sexually and he told her he was in love with her. When she reciprocated he then abruptly dumped her telling her there was no future in it.  When she recently was informed about similar things he had done to other women (and their more serious cases) she excused it and said she thought he had gone mad due to lead poisoning by Tibetan medicine (even if this is true, it is even more reason to stop him). However, he had managed to convince her that her feelings for him were her fault and that he had had nothing to do with it. This is a classic example of how the vulnerable and powerless victims are ‘coached’ to think they somehow seduced the abuser or were at fault. It is called Reversing the Victim status in the DARVO response (of Deny, Attack and Reverse Victim Status).

There seems to be a pattern of befriending and grooming female children he meets via devout Buddhist parents whom he then maintains contact with  on whatsapp/wechat later to then seduce them as teenagers/adults, if he desires. For example, his messages to me were full of juvenile, teenage stickers and he even bizarrely asked me ‘if I was a virgin’,  which suggests he is either totally delusional or regularly in contact with very young women.

Two women also independently reported similar experiences with him to a senior female Buddhist nun and teacher, one of whom reported she felt very traumatised by his conduct. This is probably just the tip of the iceberg.

The fact that he presents himself as a celibate and pure monk makes it even worse, but even if he were not a monk, such conduct is sexually and emotionally abusive. He is not doing this to women who consider him to be their Vajra teacher, but to women he has only just met and who follow Buddhism. Some deluded people even seem to think such women are his consorts, but that is a total misunderstanding of the sacred consort relation (as described above).

Retaliation  – bullying, defamation, impersonation, blackmail

This teacher  continually told me that if what these other women were saying were true, he would not continue to teach and would be afraid of being publicly exposed etc. However, after speaking out internally about him, I soon discovered that the reason it has never become more public, and that  he does continue to teach without fear, is not because these women (or I) are lying.  It most likely due to the same aggressive bullying, intimidation, impersonation,  slander I (and some of my friends/supporters) were subjected to as retaliation, such as:

No response and disappearance. As soon as I complained about him privately to his monastery and relatives, the teacher (who had been messaging me daily) immediately cut off all direct contact with me and never responded again to explain his actions or to try and resolve the issues. He had been planning to meet me the following month to continue the translation of his text, but never returned to Nepal as planned.

Silencing. Actions were taken to silence and censor my online presence (my Facebook account ‘Adele Zangmo’ that had been active without issues since 2007, was suddenly disabled without explanation at the same time). I have been unable to recover it since and lost all my personal photos and data in it. I was also unable to create a new one without it being disabled. I have been told that this can be done if several people report the account at the same time.

Cyber-bullying and fraudulent and defamatory actions. My email was logged into by unknown devices. It is possible my password details may have become known after staying at his monastery guesthouses and using their shared internet network there without any VPN. There was also an onslaught of online bullying, impersonation (messages and posts were sent to people on Facebook and emails claiming to have been written by me) and misogynist, ageist and sexist slander online accusing me of being a ‘slut’ and being ‘ugly’ and chasing after monks etc.

Blackmail threats were made online by anonymous emails/FB messages that my intimate and sexual photos, which I had shared only with that teacher at his persistent request, would be shared publicly and with others if I continued to speak about the matter. The teacher himself had also threatened to share these photos directly, whenever I challenged him on his deception.

No investigation by the monastery or connected centres. The only official response I got from the monastery chairman to my formal complaints was a full 6 months after my original complaint. They also completely ignored attempts by a woman from the Alliance of Buddhist Ethics to have a meeting about it.  The lama disappeared from contact and public view in September 2019 and they issued their letter to me when he returned to the monastery in February 2020. The letter banned me from the monastery and any of their connected centres , refused any meeting or investigation, saying that I did not ‘deserve it’ as I had ‘offended the feelings of thousands of their community members’.

Sylvester Lohninger, manager of the Maitreya Institut centre associated with the lama (in Austria), whom I informed about my and others’ allegations, mistakenly sent me an email (intended for two women I have never met) in which he was discussing their plans to inform the British embassy/local authorities about me. When I told him of his mistake, his reaction was one of denial and accusations, again without having seen or heard any of the evidence, nor having directly asked the teacher personally about it. He even criticised me for publishing attractive photos of myself as being evidence that I was fake and a liar about this case, inferring that I was actually ugly and old, even though it is completely irrelevant. His daughter, Taisha (now an adult in her 20s), has also known the same  lama since a child and told me that he also regularly contacted her on messaging apps (but not her parents) . Confirming that the lama does befriend female children he meets via their parents and maintains that close contact as teenagers and adults, sometimes then later approaching them sexually.

A vindictive, false and misleading letter that caused significant loss of reputation and funding was sent by Carina Bleicher-Kramer, representing the lama’s monastery trust, to the Khyentse Foundation which caused me to lose precious time (I had already spent with the teacher  on translating his text) and prestigious Ashoka Grant funding

The letter falsely stated that I did not have permission to translate the lama’s text. However, he gave me verbal, written transmission and over ten hours of personal instruction on that text (and others) of which there is audio and written evidence to prove it. His monastery are also fully aware that the lama was meeting me for hours alone in Nepal in May 2019 to specifically give instructions on the text, there are audio recordings of all these meetings and several monks witnessed them.

False accusations about 17th Karmapa. I was even falsely accused by these same ‘anonymous’ people online of being part of a team of people trying to destroy the Karmapa and Karma Kagyu (which I absolutely deny). Such messages warned me that I would not be able to attend any more Karma Kagyu teachings, that I would be ‘kicked out’ if I tried, and that HH 17th Karmapa was aware of my concerns and did not care about it. This accusation is significant because this lama himself had undermined the 17th Karmapa in private messages to me (in 2018, within the first couple of months of our meeting, saying that the 17th Karmapa, Orgyen Trinley Dorje, was NOT his root lama and that he did not trust him). When I challenged him on his comments, he blocked me on his wechat and told me to ‘go to hell’. A few days later, he added me back with the same account, and I told him never to say such disrespectful things about my root lama again. He also spread negative gossip about HE Thrangu Rinpoche and his family members being corrupt and that HH 17th Karmapa had told him so.

A misogynist and hateful petition was published about me this year (using a very unflattering photo of myself that I had never given permission for anyone to take or be posted/shared which had been taken during a sacred Vajrayana empowerment in 2020) as retaliation for a petition that had been launched on Change.org about this teacher. My petition about him was deliberately not widely shared or publicised and gained seventy-six independent signatures despite that. However, when the teacher and his enablers found out about it, it was bombarded with defamatory, misogynist messages and comments, and another counter-petition was launched by them attacking and naming me personally. Despite the fact that their counter-petition was clearly launched in retaliation for the petition about this lama, they never referred to him at all in it. Instead making the whole issue about my personal character, sexuality and physical appearance. This is a typical response of people in power to women who try to expose their lies and unethical conduct.

False, defamatory and misogynist emails were sent with pseudonyms from unknown ‘people’ to my friends and supporters within the Dharma community (some of whom are well-known translators or teachers) , stating that I was ‘crazy’ or ‘evil’ and demanding that my translation work stop (or be ignored) and that I not be allowed to attend any more Dharma teachings or empowerments at all.

Such retaliation from the teacher and/or their enablers is often more stressful and damaging than the original conduct by the teacher.    In addition, even though he has had nothing to do with it, my ex (and father of my young son) was phoned up anonymously, and threats were made to harm me if I didn’t shut up about it. This is illegal activity.

The conduct of this lama has been reported by myself, and by other women, to several senior Kagyu lamas (such as Tai Situ Rinpoche and Mingyur Rinpoche) who have also been asked to tell HH 17th Karmapa about it. One of the Karmapa’s personal translators, David Karma Chophel has also been informed directly about it. As of yet I have received no formal, private response from any of these teachers. A representative from the Alliance of Buddhist Ethics also reached out to the teacher and his monastery enablers early last year to discuss the allegations. Her email was never responded to. The strategy being one of disappear for months without any contact, no response, no investigation in the hope the woman will walk away and forget about it all and bully and silence her online. That is how such conduct continues for years.

My view is that the truth, and what is ‘honest’, is paramount in such situations. If mistakes have been made, they need to be admitted and amends made with love and compassion. The reconciliation and peace that happened in Europe after the second World War with Nazi countries did not happen without justice and communication.  Silence is not always the best answer. Covering up, ignoring, demonising, bullying, slandering and threatening powerless women who speak TRUTHFULLY about matters of abuse, injustice and hypocrisy by powerful people, is not honest or ethical (never mind Buddhist) and needs to stop.

Like continually sweeping dirt under a carpet, hoping it will go away, it will not . In fact, the dirt heap will eventually become so big and smelly that when someone finally lifts the carpet up it will be an even bigger mess to clean up than if they had just cleaned it up properly at the start. As HH Dalai Lama has recommended, such teachers who continually break the precepts and show no sign of remorse or changing should be openly criticised and exposed in order to stop them causing more harm to themselves and others (see images below).

Conclusion and dedication

I will say and write more about this topic in due course. For now, I hope that these matters can be resolved in a way that is just and compassionate to all. This article is dedicated to all those females (and their friends and children) who have suffered at the hands of selfish, male teachers using Dharma for power, control,  sex and money.  In particular, for those who have even abandoned the path and the Dharma as a result of such teachers’ actions. This article is to say, ‘don’t give up’, Dharma is perfect but humans are not. We do not need to ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’. We can expose such conduct with love and compassion without having to abandon Dharma or the path. We can and will survive and will share the wisdom from doing so to protect and help other beings and the Dharma. It is a message of hope and ‘taking back the power’ within the darkness. Please spread the light too.

May this article be of benefit in helping people understand what is a genuine sacred consort (or teacher-student) relation and thus avoid those that are not. May teachers who lie, abuse, deceive, disrespect and bully women be swiftly stopped from doing so!

Adele Tomlin, originally written and published in November 2019, updated on 4th October 2020.

3 thoughts on “Tantric Buddhism, vows, sex and women – the importance of love, respect and consent

  1. My heart goes out to you. You are so very brave for speaking out. I hope it’s ok to share your story on Facebook so people can know about this terrible conduct you’ve had to endure. You seem to be a very knowledgeable and sincere Buddhist and I pray and hope a suitable resolution manifests. Although having been a westerner who is a Tibetan Buddhist for some time, I’m not generally impressed with the way ‘native born’ or western Buddhists handle allegations of unethical conduct.
    It often feels like those who stand up for ethics and what’s right are banging their head against a brick wall. But eventually things will change. These Lamas are slowly learning there are consequences. Especially when the scandals become public.
    All my best wishes to you. 🙏🙏🙏

    1. Thank you for your kind words and support Lily Pearce! Of course you may share it, thank you for asking The more women (and men) that are informed of the dangers and risk of such types of conduct, the more likely they can protect themselves from it, as and when it happens. Yes, it can be like a massive brick wall, and sometimes, worse like a criminal mafia gang! It requires courage and sacrifice for any woman to stand up (and many don’t for fear of bullying and retaliation). However, the danger of allowing such lamas to continue is too high for the image of Dharma, for women and for those teachers themselves. After all, the ones who suffer the most from misuse and abuse of tantra and women, are those teachers and men who do it.

    2. Many thanks Lily for your kind, compassionate support and comments here. Indeed it is often a ‘deafening wall of silence (and in this case, combined with anonymous intimidation/threats/blackmail’ but if we don’t persist then such things will never change. I do think, as HH Dalai Lama has stated, that such teachers and their enablers, will often only change if they are exposed publicly. As he said, if they were concerned about Dharma or women, they would never act like that in the first place. But when it comes to their reputation, name and sponsors, then they care.

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