‘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. The first half discusses the monastic vows and rules on sexual relations, the role and meaning of a consort, and the essential qualities of love, compassion and respect when engaging in relations with women in such a context and the issue of male misuse of their privileged status, tantric techniques and the use of lies and deception to dominate and gain mental and sexual power (without the requisite love and compassion) over females.
In the second half of this essay, I speak of my own recent experience of such misconduct during (and after) a one year close relation as a translator (that quickly became romantic and sexual in nature), with Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche, a senior Karma Kagyu monastic teacher,which I had initially assented to, that later developed into a fully non-consensual one (after discovering it was based on deception and total disrespect of myself and other women). This withdrawing of my assent to the relationship, which was never consensual as it was based on lies (for the difference between consent and assent, see this NY Times article here) , and alerting people around me to the conduct, then led to a second wave of abuse of bullying, slander, intimidation, impersonation, fraud and threats to myself, friends and supporters by the teacher and/or his enablers online and in emails. In some respects, the second wave of cover-up, denial and attack, was more extreme, dishonest, misogynist, unethical and aggressive than the original misconduct. This outright aggression and fraud convinced me even more that this was not some minor, trivial ‘playing around’ with women’s emotions and lives, but deeply unethical, sexist, misogynist and sadistic, and contrary to the whole spirit and letter of Buddhism and Vajrayana. (UPDATE: since writing about this, the lama has been listed one this website page re Controversial Teachers).
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’!
Part I of this essay deals is a general discussion of women, consorts and monks and what makes it a qualified, genuine and beneficial consort relationship and not one of black magic and domination.
Part II is my first-person, direct testimony (not hearsay or gossip) of what happened to me in relation to this lama and his enablers.
Music? Although this is not really a fun or laughing matter, to maintain the wisdom element, I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor, Survivor by Destiny’s Child, I’m Still Standing by Elton John.
Written and compiled by Adele Tomlin, 1st December 2020.
PART I: WOMEN, CONSORTS AND MONKS
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?
UPDATE January 2023: For more on monastic vows, sexual activity and the roots of Vajrayana, see the video recording of my presentation at the Vajrayana conference in Bhutan in October 2022, here.
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)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 Karma Kagyu lama, Ringu Tulku, 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 and instead informed me verbally that is was ‘feminists’ like me who were the problem. 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 necessarily 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.
Sexual Union as Method of Enlightenment
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.”
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 legitimately 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.
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 this 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 personal experience’ below).
PART II: PERSONAL EXPERIENCE OF MISCONDUCT AND ABUSE
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 (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 – romantic messages, sexual photos and personal gifts
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 sexual attraction, and that he swore and promised he had not treated other women in a similar way. I fell in love with him based on his words and actions and because I also quickly developed strong feelings and trust in him.
The teacher’s main gift to me was him time and attention, he messaged me as a friend and romantic lover, daily on his personal Wechat, mainly written and audio messages but also voice calls. In addition, he gave me personal instruction on the translations of his texts, generally long-life prayers and praises to himself. When I was in Nepal in 2018, staying at the Benchen monastery guesthouse, he gave me a white mala (he told me he had blessed with White Tara mantra, and his penis and had slept with it the night before). I took this as a major blessing because at that point our relation was romantic and sexual in nature. In December 2018 also kindly offered me free accommodation at a 4 star hotel in Buddha Park, Sikkim when I attended the Sikkim Monlam he was leading. In March 2019, I went to Bhutan for the first time on a guest visa he had helped arrange (via the travel agent sister of Kalu Rinpoche yangsi, whom he knew personally) to attend his two-week teaching and empowerments and arranged accomodation for me there too. While I was there, he gave me a significant donation for the translation work I was doing and for travel expenses in Bhutan (given via cash in his personally handwritten envelope). After that in May 2019, while staying at the Benchen monastery guesthouse, he met me many times in person for hours to give personal instruction on a philosophy text he had given me express verbal permission to translate. He also personally arranged and booked a guesthouse room at the Benchen Swayambu Guesthouse for me, for the month of October 2019, for his forthcoming teachings there (these teachings were subsequently cancelled after I made my first official complaint about him in September 2019).
Due to his declaration of love, his kindness, gifts, time and his swearing to Buddha and Tara that he was not lying, I fell in love with him and trusted 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 very similar and 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 and that their allegations were ‘baseless’.
In addition, he appeared to be even lying about other things, such as staying in a hospital in Singapore during Summer 2019 (he admitted he had not been staying in a hospital (when I discovered this was a lie) and told me 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 virtual sexual ‘energy’ unions (which even though very orgasmic and blissful, were also time-consuming, often 2-3 sessions per day) 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 in front of him and via messaging.
That persistent and gross dishonesty meant that the assent 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 really consensual because it was based on a root deception and a lack of genuine love and compassion. As soon as I discovered this deception, I withdrew my assent and told him I was unhappy about it, but he persisted and told me that he wanted to continue our relation. However, I was not happy to continue with it if he was continually lying to me, and about other women, and told him so many times.
A Pattern of Abuse and Exploitation – other reports, from women who met him as children and teenagers
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 SN 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 SN 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), SN 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. (UPDATE: Tai Situ announced in December 2022 that he would be hosting SN as a special guest of honour for a long-life ceremony for his 70th birthday. After I and others wrote letters complaining about the planned event, it never happened and there was no explanation given for his lack of attendance/cancellation.)
Another woman, who is a female enabler, reported verbally (and in writing) that the teacher SN 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, impersonation 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 by accounts called ‘Jacky Jacky’) and misogynist, ageist and sexist slander online accusing me of being a ‘slut’ and being ‘ugly’ and chasing after monks etc.
Even members of his immediate family, spread false accusations on FB about me, without any evidence or investigating the allegations, such as Sherab Zangmo, the wife of the Rinpoche’s brother, who publicly and falsely accused me on FB of using several pseudonyms on FB to attack him and message others, and that my allegations were untrue. There were other aggressive online attacks from FB accounts such as Akela Akela (which appears to be the same monk working at Benchen Monastery, Nepal who had verbally shouted at me on the phone calling me a ‘bitch and a dog’ in person when I had stayed at Benchen monastery, which SN then insisted he apologise to me for), Lamsha Gyatso and accounts using pseudonyms such as Zhiwa Khandro.
More passive-aggressive enablers within the Benchen community include French scholar-translator called Thierry Lamouroux; SN’s translator, Sean Price, Julie Campbell, and Kalu Rinpoche’s sister (who had arranged the visa for me to visit Bhutan on behalf of the Rinpoche) who rather than acknowledge or show any concern about my and other women’s allegations chose to privately denigrate and/or ignore me.
I do not name these people out of a wish to harm or seek vengeance, but to show people that the roots of the corruption, enabling and dishonesty go deep into the teacher’s family and monastic community. Either these people refused to even entertain the possibility that the allegations were true, or were just very used to denying them and ignoring the women who complained about him.
—Blackmail threats were made 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, Tempa Lama to my formal private complaints was in February 2020, 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 himself 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.
As a response, without meeting or speaking to me personally or investigating any of the allegations by myself and other women, 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’ falsely alleging that I had ‘offended the feelings of thousands of their community members’. It even went so far as to assert that every single soul’ in the Benchen community stood in solidarity against me. Bizarre language for a Buddhist community to use, when it is supposed to be about peace, friendship, love, compassion and conciliation. Furthermore, that I, a lone woman was a threat to the Buddha Dharma and ‘discriminating against Buddhism’ (whatever that means), which of course it so ridiculous, it is comical. It also suggested I take legal action against them if I wanted it dealt with. Something that most survivors, including myself do not have the time, energy or money do do. Legal action should always be a last resort in any case.
-European enablers of the abuse. One of the main European enablers of SN’s conduct, Sylvester Lohninger, manager of the Maitreya Institut centre associated with SN (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 as their response to the allegations. 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 SN since a child and told me verbally that SN 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.
Later, I was told that Lohninger had even been falsely telling people, who are members of Buddhist Unions in Europe, that he had investigated these complaints himself and found no case to answer. Such a claim is not only false but unethical. An enabler, and/or person with a vested interest in the accused/lama can never have self-appointed authority or independence to investigate such allegations and would need access to all the evidence and interview all the women and the accused himself verbally in person, with other witnesses present.
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.
UPDATE JANUARY 2023: Tai Situ Rinpoche and his Sherab Ling monastery have announced that Sangye Nyenpa will be their guest of honour next month with him giving a long-life ceremony for Tai Situ. This is yet more evidence how such lamas completely ignore and dismiss honest Buddhist women’s voices, concerns and experiences about male lama misconduct, hypocrisy and dishonesty without any investigation, concern or meeting the women themselves to discuss and resolve their concerns about a lama.
UPDATE MARCH 2023: The announced event with Tai Situ and SN did not happen. No cancellation or explanation was given. One can only hope it was due to private pressure not to go ahead with the event.
–A vindictive, false and misleading letter that caused significant loss of reputation and funding was sent (in February 2020) by Carina Bleicher-Kramer (ex-wife of the Nepalese director of Benchen Monastery, in Nepal), 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 I had been awarded for the second year running.
The letter falsely and misleadingly stated that I did not have permission to translate the lama’s text FROM THEM, the monastery. However, the teacher had given me express verbal permission and transmission and over ten hours of personal one to one instruction on that text (and others) of which there is audio and written evidence to prove it. His monastery staff are also fully aware that he 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 Rinpoche 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. He told me the reason why he did not trust the 17th Karmapa was because the Karmapa had given lots of praise to 12th Gyeltsab Rinpoche for his handling of Rumtek during the dispute over it, but had not praised him enough, even though he felt he had done a lot, so he felt resentful of that attention he was getting from the Karmapa. Again, hardly the kind of thing one would expect to hear from an accomplished Buddhist practitioner, more from a young child/teenager.
–A misogynist and hateful petition was published about me (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 Silguri, India 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 this other counter-petition was launched by them attacking and naming me personally. It made many wild accusaion of ‘public masturbation’ and trying to ‘destroy the Buddha Dharma’.
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. It was also quickly translated into German too, which suggests it was done by an enabler who was a native German speaker.
—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’, ‘evil’ or ‘difficult’ 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. I have been unable to get any external funding from Khyentse Foundation since that time.
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.
Conclusion and dedication
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).
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, hypocritical 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.
UPDATE JUNE 2021: Since writing and publishing this article, I have been shocked and distressed to read and hear of three Asian Chinese women accusing my root lama, 17th Karmapa Orgyen Trinley Dorje (whom I have been devotedly following since 2005) of deception and sexual misconduct. The Canadian court case (see here) in particular, involving allegations of sexual assault and an unplanned child (with substantial financial payoffs) is heartbreaking. As a survivor and a woman, I cannot and will not ignore or pretend these allegations do not exist (as many Karma Kagyu followers appear to be doing). Samaya does not mean becoming blind to crimes and unethical conduct, samaya means maintaining love and compassion for all. I hope that the 17th Karmapa will soon give a clear statement on it and that truth, justice and compassion will reign supreme. It is time that women’s first-person voices and experiences are heard and that the Vajrayana foundation of respecting all women is applied.
11 thoughts on “TANTRIC BUDDHISM, VOWS, SEX AND WOMEN – the importance of love, respect and consent and what happens when a woman speaks out about lama misconduct”
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. 🙏🙏🙏
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.
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.
Wel, well, well . . . What to say? Horrific life experiences for you. Just today I’ve read this piece for the first time. Of course I had already obtained the gist of the tale through my own ‘research’ some time ago and established independently who the offending party was. It is a very dangerous karmic topic with inevitably explosive consequences. But until today I did not realise that you had finger-pointed the robed offender and more or less spelled out The Name. This is an enormously courageous and indescribably difficult thing to do for any victim of abuse. I offer my profound respect, admiration and support for your efforts in bringing the truth to light and exposing such gross physical and spiritual abuse. Speaking as one who once upon a time, in what now feels like a previous lifetime, was a practising clinical psychologist in the forensic psychiatry department of a major mental hospital for the criminally insane, the actions of the maroon robed gentleman that you describe so clearly above have all the hallmarks of a high-performing unrepentant pathological serial abuser who is in serious need of clinical help. You are lucky to have “gotten away” and not been dragged in even deeper. Protectors at work on your behalf, I guess!
This is the type of stuff that has shaken the Catholic and other churches to the very foundations and has led to so many people losing their faith and searching further afield for spiritual meaning, purpose and guidance. Buddhism has provided just such direction to so many seekers here in the West. But again and again we see these scandals bubble up ever more frequently. If the issue is not addressed in a more outspoken fashion by lineage leaders, heart sons etc etc the consequences over time will be catastrophic. Many a Lama has pointed out to me that 80% of dharma participants in the West are women. They should Wake Up and ponder the implications . . .
So sorry, Adele, that you have to go through all of this and travel that lonely, dangerous, challenging path in search of truth, justice and vindication.
Indeed, be careful Adele.
My prayers go with you 🙏 . . .
Thank you dear Paul. Your supportive and kind comments here are welcome and valuable. You say he is ‘a high-performing unrepentant pathological serial abuser who is in serious need of clinical help’ that sounds exactly right and that is why he needs to be stopped from harming himself and others around him more. The ‘second wave’ of abuse, the sexist and misogynist name-calling, bullying, threats, defamation, shunning, slander, impersonation in some ways were worse than the original conduct and then seeing so called Buddhists (including women) deny, cover up and enable it etc. Very sad and as you say enough to make many people walk away from the Buddha Dharma altogether, which is one of the worst things to happen for any sentient being.
It has been lonely, challenging and dangerous at times yes, but there have been friends, supporters, allies who have been a strong source of support and courage too. Sadly, those people are often not willing to raise their heads publicly above the parapets either though. And who can blame them when faced with such an onslaught in response?
Yes, I ‘got away’ but the battle for truth and justice continues. The truth will never ‘go away’ no matter how many people disbelieve and ignore it. It is astonishing the lengths people are willing to go to avoid facing the truth about themselves and others. No one wants to hear their ;father’ is a serial abuser with zero compassion or love for the people they use and abuse, but what’s the alternative, head in the sand denial that harms the survivors and perpetrators even more? Some of these women are mothers, so it harms their children too.
Thanks again and may truth and justice for women (and their children) harmed and disrespected by male religious teachers with power and influence reign supreme. Personally, I don’t think women or children should spend too much time around most male, celibate monastics unless they really are 100% sure they have the inner qualities of love and compassion for all.
These are degenerate times indeed.
There are many reasons why “bad” things happen to “good” people. You mention in the elephant article you wrote that perhaps Kalu Rinpoche’s experiences in this life might be the ripening of karma from his previous life. This always needs to be a consideration when reflecting on situations in this life. We are quick to attribute positive things to good past karma, and slow to appreciate that negative karma ripens too. It is also said that when bad things occur in this life, it may be because the next rebirths will be in places where it is not possible to experience bad karma.
Not making excuses, not being an enabler. Glad you have taken steps that will help other practitioners be more aware and protect themselves. Have been in similar situation and had a similar response. Wishing for all of us the wisdom and compassion to make the right choices, and the merit to lead ourselves and others to enlightenment.
Thank you for sharing your view on that 😁💎
This is the first time I’m on your website. It is resourceful and well crafted. Thank you for your work.
But, my main intention to write this comment is to verbalise the shared feelings that you vocalised here.
First, I ask sincere apologise for whatever happened to you. I feel saddened and bad. I feel as if I relieved your agony. I wish you sincerely a future that you like.
I’m very new to buddhism but old soul in these spiritual life, institutions etc. I have seen and lived many different ways of spirituality. I have observed an ugly pattern. A pattern of utter disgust by cis men who are in power positions like Guru, Teachers etc. First these cis men take advantage of female (even male) followers, use them to core, when questioned the maltreatment, these female survivors are made to live hell on earth.
I appreciate your bravery to step up. I seen these things too many times, I’m tired. Always survivors/ victims are given hell fire on earth but these culprits are protected, praised and applauded for degeneracy. I wish I was not human. I can’t see anyone suffer.
I am sorry. Sending well wishes, healing and pure love. God bless you
Ff”s sake — that is so sad. That poor woman needs help. xM
On Fri, 21 Apr 2023 at 15:47, Dakini Translations and Publications
Thanks Advaita for your kind words of love, support and encouragment.