Revisiting the “Secret Consort” (gsang yum) in Tibetan Buddhism
1. Tantra and Sexual Union
2. The Secret Consort
3. Tantric Partnerships
4. Gurus and Secrecy
The letter calls attention to the disjuncture between Sogyal Rinpoche’s public face and private actions, the “massive efforts” to hide abuse, and the organizational culture of “absolute secrecy.”99We have received directly from you, and witnessed others receiving, many different forms of physical abuse. You have punched and kicked us, pulled hair, torn ears, as well as hit us and others with various objects such as your back-scratcher, wooden hangers, phones, cups, and any other objects that happened to be close at hand. We trusted for many years that this physical and emotional treatment of students—what you assert to be your “skillful means” of “wrathful compassion” in the tradition of “crazy wisdom”—was done with our best interest at heart in order to free us from our “habitual patterns”. We no longer believe this to be so. We feel that we and others have been harmed because your actions were not compassionate; rather they demonstrated your lack of discipline and your own frustration. Your physical abuse—which constitutes a crime under the laws of the lands where you have done these acts—have left monks, nuns, and lay students of yours with bloody injuries and permanent scars. This is not second hand information; we have experienced and witnessed your behavior for years.98
Conflicts of Interest
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This tale comes from the biography of Lingza Chökyi, a female revenant, as translated and discussed by Bryan Cuevas in Tales of the Netherworlds (Cuevas 2008, pp. 48–50). Yama is the figure believed to weigh one’s positive and negative deeds and pronounce judgment in the bardo or “intermediate state” (bar do) between death and rebirth.
Cuevas states that the author of Lingza Chökyi’s biography is unknown, though the level of personal detail in it makes it credible to think that the author heard accounts of the delok’s visionary sojourns directly from her (Cuevas 2008, p. 54).
The first days of “#MeToo” in social media around the world are chronicled in “The #MeToo shockwave: how the movement has reverberated around the world” by Louise Burke in The Telegraph, published 9 March 2018 (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/world/metoo-shockwave/).
The authors of the letter included a former Rigpa U.S. Board Member, the Head of Household in the U.S. for Sogyal Rinpoche, Director and Co-Director of Rigpa educational and technology units, and several monastics and personal attendants of Sogyal Rinpoche. A link to a PDF of the letter was published on the Buddhist blog, Lion’s Roar, on 20 July 2017 (https://www.lionsroar.com/letter-to-sogyal-rinpoche-from-current-and-ex-rigpa-members-details-abuse-allegations/).
Prior to that, there had been online accusations, news reports, and even a documentary attempting to bring Sogyal Rinpoche’s behavior to light, but no official response from the Rigpa organization acknowledging and addressing the issue head on until after the publication of this letter. An early example is the Guardian article by Mary Finnigan, “Lama Sex Abuse Claims call Buddhist taboos into question,” published on 1 July 2011 (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2011/jul/01/lama-sex-abuse-sogyal-rinpoche-buddhist). The documentary, In the Name of Enlightenment—Sex Scandal in Religion, aired on Canadian television in 2011 was later posted to YouTube on 21 September 2012; it had received 215,920 views by the time of finalizing this article (https://youtu.be/yWhIivvmMnk).
This term was coined by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche and appears in the title of the book, Crazy Wisdom (Trungpa 1991), containing talks he gave on the eight manifestations of Padmasambhava in 1972 at two different “Crazy Wisdom Seminars,” one in Jackson Hole, Wyoming and the other at Karme Chöling in Vermont. See (DiValerio 2015, pp. 237–42).
See Ann Gleig, “The Shadow of the Roshi: Sex, Scandal and Secrecy in American Zen Buddhism,” for an overview of sex scandals in American Zen Buddhism, published on 14 September 2015, on Sweeping Zen (http://sweepingzen.com/the-shadow-of-the-roshi-sex-scandal-and-secrecy-in-american-zen-buddhism/).
This was reported on Tricyle Magazine’s blog on 27 July 2017 (https://tricycle.org/trikedaily/kagyu-thubten-choling-monastery-working-sex-impropriety/).
For assessments of the respective arguments in these works, see Adelheid Herrmann-Pfandt’s review of Traveller in Space in Numen 45/3 (1998): 329–30 and Liz Wilson’s review of Passionate Enlightenment in History of Religions 36/1 (1996): 60–4.
Together these make up the Buddhist canon in Tibet, which is divided into two main sections. The sūtras and tantras constitute the Kangyur (Tib: bka’ ‘gyur) or sermons considered to be the words of the Buddha or equivalent, translated into Tibetan, while the translated commentaries are found in the Tengyur (Tib: bstan ‘gyur).
In references to the samaya vow, throughout this article, I draw on “three vows” (Tib: sdom gsum) literature, primarily as found in Book V of Jamgön Kongtrul’s Treasury of Knowledge (Shes bya mdzod), published as Buddhist Ethics (Kongtrul 1998a). As a magnum opus from nineteenth-century Kham, this would be one of the relevant sources for Kagyu and Nyingma circles from eastern Tibet in recent history. According to Kongtrul, the first root downfall is to disrespect one’s vajra master, including harming him or her through body, speech, or mind (i.e., striking, criticizing, or harboring contemptuous thoughts). The third is, out of anger, to harm one’s spiritual siblings through body, speech, or mind, referring especially to those who have received initiation from the same master. The fourteenth root downfall is to disrespect women, especially to speak about them disparagingly. See (Kongtrul 1998a, pp. 256–64; Sparham 2018).
This relates to the seventh root downfall: “to disclose secrets to immature persons” which include worldly people, non-Buddhists, as well as the śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas of the so-called Hīnayāna. This is reiterated in a list of secondary downfalls and includes showing secret articles such as images of tantric deities, ritual implements, hand gestures, and tantric texts to the uninitiated. See (Kongtrul 1998a, pp. 261, 266, 486, n. 197).
Per Kvaerne reviews translations of this term in (Kvaerne 1977, pp. 37–38).
While “union” (Tib: sbyor ba) in this compound refers to ritual practices involving sexuality, the term “liberation” (Tib: grol ba) here describe exorcism rites that seek to destroy harmful spirits or adversaries of various kinds and “liberate” them into a pure land. On violence in Tibetan ritual, see Jacob Dalton (2011).
See (Davidson 2005, pp. 360–67).
Traditionally there are four types of ritual acts (Tib: las bzhi) in Buddhist tantra: pacification (Tib: zhi) for healing illness or pacifying obstacles, enrichment (Tib: rgyas) for promoting longevity, protecting crops and livestock, and the like; influence (Tib: dbang) for extending dominion, and subjugation (Tib: drag) for exorcising evil spirits and forces.
Jacoby provides a thorough description of each of these three goals and the associated practice in (Jacoby 2014, pp. 196–222).
See (Khyentse 2008, pp. 95–101), and “Dilgo Khyentse Tashi Peljor” by Alexander Gardner, published on the Treasury of Lives in December 2009 (https://treasuryoflives.org/biographies/view/Dilgo-Khyentse-Tashi-Peljor/8825). His consort’s name was Khandro Lhamo and they had two daughters together.
The only room that is typically off-limits to pilgrims (especially to women) is the shrine dedicated to protector deities, featuring wrathful and violent imagery.
See examples of tsakali cards for various ritual cycles on Himalayan Art Resources: https://www.himalayanart.org/search/set.cfm?setID=668.
These correlate to the reading transmission (Tib: lung) and explanation (Tib: khrid) in the three-fold transmission process that begins with initiation or empowerment (Skt: abhiṣeka, Tib: dbang). Traditionally all three must occur for the transmission of a set of esoteric teachings to be complete.
The Rigpa Shedra has published a helpful online genealogy, “Dudjom Rinpoche’s Family Lineage” (http://www.rigpawiki.org/index.php?title=Dudjom_Rinpoche%27s_Family_Lineage). See also Dongyal (2008) and Norbu (2014).
While his sons were renowned Buddhist masters, his daughters are lost to the historical record according to family genealogy found in (Pad ma ‘od gsal mtha’ yas 2003). The prefix to his consorts’ names indicates their clan, so Traza is the lady of the Tra clan (Khra bza’), Keza is the lady of the Ke clan (Ske bza’), and Akyabza is the lady of the Akyab clan (A skyabs bza’).
Among Dudjom Lingpa’s children, the most famous were Jigme Tenpai Nyima (1865–1926), the third in the eminent Dodrupchen line of reincarnations, affiliated with Dodrupchen Monastery in Golok, and Drime Özer (1881–1924), a visionary in his own right to be discussed below. Prominent among Dudjom Rinpoche’s children was Thinley Norbu Rinpoche (1931–2011) who settled in New York and Shenphen Dawa Rinpoche (1950–2018) who taught internationally.
With respect to Khandro Tsering Chödrön, Alak Zenkar stated, “Without Khandro-la, Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö’s life would have been much shorter. If his life had been shorter then not so many high lamas would have received these extraordinary teachings, in particular the Damngak Dzö.” Posted on 11 June 2011 on the blog “In Memory of Khandro Tsering Chödrön” (https://khandrotseringchodron.org/2011/06/11/alak-zenkar-rinpoche/).
His biography can be found in (Khyentse 2017) and on the Treasury of Lives, published by Alexander Gardner in December 2009 (https://treasuryoflives.org/biographies/view/Jamyang-Khyentse-Chokyi-Lodro/P733).
A brief account of her life can be found in Chapter 12 of Dakini Power: Twelve Extraordinary Women Shaping the Transmission of Tibetan Buddhism in the West (Haas 2013).
“Thoughts from Sikkim,” posted 6 July 2011 on the blog “In Memory of Khandro Tsering Chödrön” (https://khandrotseringchodron.org/2011/07/06/thoughts-from-sikkim/).
An assortment of public eulogies can be found on the blog “In Memory of Khandro Tsering Chödrön” (https://khandrotseringchodron.org/). Sakya Trizin presided over the consecration in July 2014. This event is described in (Haas 2013, pp. 272–74). Note that Tsering Chödrön is the aunt of Sogyal Rinpoche and spent the final years of her life at Lerab Ling.
Several Tibetan terms for “consort” use a feminine ending (such as Tib: rig ma and shes rab ma, literally “awareness lady” and “knowledge lady” respectively), echoing the association of the feminine with transcendent knowledge (Skt: prajñā, Tib: shes rab) in Buddhism. A gender neutral terms is “friend” (Tib: grogs), which can connote a “lover” in ordinary contexts and also “companion” or “consort” in tantric ones; it can take a masculine or feminine ending. In addition, “spiritual consort” (Tib: thugs kyi gzungs ma) is gendered female, but there is also a corresponding gender-neutral term, “spiritual support” (Tib: sems kyi rten); see (Gayley 2016, p. 142). In Indian tantric literature, the relevant term is karmamudrā, which literally means “ritual seal” (Tib: las kyi phyag rgya). It can refer to a female consort or consort practice more generally.
This has been translated in (Padmakara Translation Group 2002). See (Gyatso 2006) on the historicity of Yeshe Tsogyal. The source that Janet Gyatso introduces in her article, a biography of Yeshe Tsogyal revealed in the fourteenth century by Drime Kunga, has recently been translated by Chönyi Drolma in The Life and Visions of Yeshé Tsogyal: The Autobiography of the Great Wisdom Queen (Drolma 2017).
This description can be found in (Padmakara Translation Group 2002, chp. 4).
For example, with respect to Yeshe Tsogyal, the contemporary author Pema Ösal Thaye boldly states:
In comparable terms, with reference to Tsering Chödrön, Khandro Rinpoche asserts that “the wives of these great lamas are not just called sangyums … but they embody everything you see in the teachers themselves, they are equal in their practice, their realization, capability, and love” (Haas 2013, p. 287).
In medieval India, the ḍākinī was elevated from her status as a flesh-eating demoness who haunted the charnel grounds to a semi-wrathful enlightened deity, symbolizing wisdom. In Tibetan Buddhist art, she is both fierce and seductive, dancing naked in open space, wearing bone ornaments from the dismantling of ego, and carrying a hooked knife in one hand and a trident with freshly severed heads in the other. See Janice Willis (1989), Janet Gyatso (1998), and Judith Simmer-Brown (2001) for insights into various dimensions of the ḍākinī.
Jetsün Khandro Rinpoche presides over an international Buddhist community with retreat centers in India and North America. A biographical sketch can be found in Chapter 1 of (Haas 2013), and her official website is: https://www.khandrorinpoche.org/. Note that Jacoby (2015) discusses a different Khandro Rinpoche in eastern Tibet.
See (Gayley 2016) for a study of her life and correspondence with Namtrul Rinpoche (1944–2011). My translation of the source material for this study is forthcoming from Shambhala Publications.
Haas (2013) dedicates Chapters 6 and 7 to these figures. Sangye Khandro (Nancy Gustafson), who served as the consort of Gyatrul Rinpoche, is also included in the anthology (Chapter 4), but she has decided to remain primarily focused on translating rather than teaching. Note that Chagdud Rinpoche’s wife spells the second part of her name “Khadro” rather than “Khandro” as I do throughout the rest of this article. Her given name is Jane Dedman.
The sangyum were empowered in 1985, just two years before Trungpa Rinpoche passed away. Their names and a description of the ceremony to empower them can be found in an article by Valerie Lorig (Sangyum Drukmo Tinkar), “Sangyum Anniversary Recollection” on the Shambhala Times, 14 May 2010 (https://shambhalatimes.org/2010/05/14/sangyum-anniversary-recollection/). See also (Midal 2012, pp. 448–51).
Note that their dates do not easy align into an emanation sequence, since Tāre Lhamo was born in 1938 and Sera Khandro passed away in 1940.
My translation of their life stories and love letters, Inseparable across Lifetimes: The Lives and Letters of the Tibetan Visionaries Namtrul Rinpoche and Khandro Tāre Lhamo is in press with Shambhala Publications.
Jacoby makes this argument in Chapter 4 of her book; see especially (Jacoby 2014, pp. 222–36).
Sera Khandro’s treasure corpus (gter chos) survives in four volumes, whereas the corpus of Drime Özer’s revelations, which she compiled has yet to be recovered as far as I know.
Her two main teachers died around this time as well, Rigdzin Jalu Dorje (1927–1961) in prison and Dzongter Kunzang Nyima (1904–1958) of natural causes.
Monasteries in Golok were closed for nearly twenty years, but a group of eight were permitted to reopen between 1962 and 1966. (Don grub dbang rgyal and Nor sde 1992, p. 106).
The information in this sentence and the next comes from oral sources and her life story, Spiraling Vine of Faith: The Liberation of Khandro Tāre Lhamo (Mkha’ ‘gro tā re lha mo’i rnam thar dad pa’i ‘khri shing) in (Pad ma ‘od gsal mtha’ yas 1997).
Their letters are divided by author into two collections: Adamantine Garland: The Collected Letters by the Lord of Refuge, Namtrul Jigme Phuntsok, to the Supreme Khandro Tāre Lhamo (Skyabs rje rin po che nam sprul ‘jigs med phun tshogs kyis mkha’ ‘gro rin po che tā re de vī mchog la phul ba’i zhu ‘phrin phyag yig rnams phyogs bsdus rdo rje’i phreng ba; Mkha’ ‘gro Tā re lha mo ca. (2003)) and Garland of Lotuses: The Collected Letters by the Mantra-Born One, Khandro Tāre Lhamo, to the Supreme Namtrul Jigme Phuntsok (Sngags skyes mkha’ ‘gro rin po che tā re de vīs nam sprul rin po che ‘jigs med phun tshogs mchog la phul ba’i zhu ‘phrin phyag yig rnams phyogs bsdus padma’i phreng ba; Nam sprul ‘Jigs med phun tshogs ca. (2003)). For this reason, here and elsewhere, I refer to individual letters by their sequence in each collection, so their initial letters would be KTL 1 (hers) and NJP 1 (his) respectively. Page numbers come from the facsimile edition to their treasure corpus. See note 83 below regarding the published versions of their correspondence.
KTL 8: 84.6–85.2. Note that Khandro Tāre Lhamo used a scribe. Having received an esoteric training in youth but not a scholastic one, she could read but not write Tibetan.
NJP 11: 34.3–4.
KTL 7: 83.4–5.
This is an Amdo love song (Tib: la gzhas) from NJP 9: 26.4–28.6. The lines mentioned here can be found on 27.5 and 27.6–28.2.
On the metaphor of healing in their correspondence, see (Gayley 2016, pp. 176–82).
These include their jointly-attributed corpus of treasure teachings (Tib: gter chos), the compilations of their biographies into a single volume, and audio-visual representations of them together in posters, photographs, and video footage used in VCDs (video compact discs) featuring devotional songs. For more details, see the introduction and epilogue to (Gayley 2016).
His life story, Jewel Garland: The Liberation of Namtrul Jigme Phuntsok (Nam sprul ‘jigs med phun tshogs kyi rnam thar nor bu’i do shal) and hers, Spiraling Vine of Faith: The Liberation of Khandro Tāre Lhamo (Mkha’ ’gro tā re lha mo mchog gi rnam thar dad pa’i ‘khri shing) were published together in a single paperback volume in Padma ‘od gsal mtha’ yas 1997, commissioned by the couple and published in cooperation with the County Office of the Bureau for Cultural Research.
When I visited Nyenlung for the first time in 2004, Namtrul Rinpoche gave me a facsimile edition of their correspondence (a limited edition published by Nyenlung Monastery ca. 2003) that served as an addendum to their treasure corpus. It was more fully integrated in the paperback version published in vol. 12 of (Nam sprul ‘Jigs med phun tshogs and Mkha’ ‘gro Tā re lha mo 2013).
On the different ways Tāre Lhamo’s life has been framed in the available biographies of her, see my article, “Gendered Hagiography in Tibet: Comparing Clerical Representations of the Female Visionary, Khandro Tāre Lhamo,” in a forthcoming anthology edited by Karma Lekshe Tsomo, Buddhist Feminisms and Femininities.
See Chapter 6 in (Urban 2003); quotations are taken from p. 208.
(Urban 2003, pp. 208, 204, respectively).
Trungpa Rinpoche had already disrobed and married in 1970 before coming to North America later the same year. His widow and students do not seem concerned with white-washing his legacy regarding his affairs; see (Mukpo and Gimian 2006), (Midal 2012), and also the film, Crazy Wisdom: The Life and Times of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, directed by Johanna Demetrakas (2011).
(Trungpa  1987, p. 25). In her autobiography, his widow Diana Mukpo recounts, “Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism was published in 1973, and sales of the book were taking off. It came onto the spiritual scene in America at just the right time to spark tremendous interest. It sold more than a hundred thousand copies in the first two years, which was a lot of books for that time. It spoke to the counterculture of that era in a direct, intimate way” (Mukpo and Gimian 2006, p. 160).
See (Trungpa  1987), chapters on “Surrender” and “The Guru.” Diana Mukpo elaborates, “When Rinpoche first came to America, he was careful not to create a barrier between himself and others. He wanted to experience fully the world he was entering and meet people at eye level. He gave up his robes because he did not want to create an exotic impression where people would indulge their fantasies about him. He wanted them to see him not as a mystery man from Tibet but as a human being” (Mukpo and Gimian 2006, p. 177).
Timothy Leary’s famous phrase became somewhat of a mantra for the drug culture of the late 1960s and into the 1970s, whereas early on Trungpa Rinpoche dissuaded his students from smoking marijuana, casting it as a form of self-deception. See interview with Christie Cashman in (Demetrakas 2011, 34:44–35:51).
This approach crystalized through the development of Shambhala Training and publication of Shambhala: Sacred Path of the Warrior (Trungpa 1984).
The AIDS crisis in the late 1980s was an important factor in changing attitudes and behaviors around sexuality. In a scandal from this period, Trungpa Rinpoche’s regent Ösel Tendzin (Thomas Rich) infected at least one of his students with the HIV virus through unprotected sex before passing away on 25 August 1990. See article in the LA Times by John Dart, “Buddhist Sect Alarmed by Reports That Leader Kept His AIDS a Secret” published on 3 May 1989 (http://articles.latimes.com/1989-03-03/news/mn-245_1_american-buddhist).
These quotations are transcribed from the first in a series of eight videos from the conference found on the Meridian Trust website (http://meridian-trust.org/category/conference/?sub-categories=the-western-buddhist-teachers-conference); see 12:40–14:55. The Dalai Lama discusses the complications that arise with the samaya vow at 20:30–21:56, suggesting students distance themselves from the teacher if abuse occurs.
For example, Mary Finnigan, “Lama sex abuse claims call Buddhist taboos into question” published in The Guardian on 1 July 2011 (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2011/jul/01/lama-sex-abuse-sogyal-rinpoche-buddhist). See also a timeline in The Telegraph article below (note 97) and “A Brief History of Abuse Allegations in Rigpa” on the blog, How Did It Happen? Understanding and Healing Abuse in Buddhist Communities by Sandra Pawula, published on 17 September 2017 (http://howdidithappen.org/history-abuse-allegations-rigpa/).
The incident is mentioned in a footnote in the letter and described in an article in The Telegraph by Mike Brown, “Sexual assaults and violent rages … Inside the dark world of Buddhist teacher Sogyal Rinpoche,” published on 21 September 2017 (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/thinking-man/sexual-assaults-violent-rages-inside-dark-world-buddhist-teacher/).
The public letter to Sogyal Rinpoche from former Rigpa leaders, dated 14 July 2017, was posted as a PDF on The Lion’s Roar on 20 July 2017 (https://www.lionsroar.com/letter-to-sogyal-rinpoche-from-current-and-ex-rigpa-members-details-abuse-allegations/). The quotation comes from the third page.
See note 98 above; this quotation comes from the second page.
The documentary was posted to YoutubeYouTube on 21 September 2012 (https://youtu.be/yWhIivvmMnk).
An interview by Julia Mourri with Mimi, a young women in his inner circle, was later published in le Plus de l’Obs on 11 June 2016: “Ferme la porte à clés.” J’ai été dévouée à un grand maître bouddhiste, avant de m’enfuir" (http://leplus.nouvelobs.com/contribution/1577666-ferme-la-porte-a-cles-j-ai-ete-devouee-a-un-grand-maitre-bouddhiste-avant-de-m-enfuir.html).
Mimi’s testimony in the documentary, In the Name of Enlightenment: Sex Scandal in Enlightenment (see note 100 above), begins from 2:28–4:50 and is interspersed throughout.
See the white paper on “Clergy Sexual Misconduct and the Misuse of Power” by the Olive Branch, founded in 2011 by Rev. Kyoki Roberts of the Pittsburgh Zen Center to offer trainings, mediation, and intervention for spiritual communities and non-profits dealing with situations of conflict and misconduct. The white paper, prepared by Katheryn Wiedman and Leslie Hospodar in December 2017, is available at: https://an-olive-branch.org/sites/default/files/An%20Olive%20Branch%20White%20Paper%20on%20Clergy%20Misconduct%20and%20the%20Misuse%20of%20Power.pdf.
The response from the Rigpa organization was posted on The Lion’s Roar on 21 July 2017 (https://www.lionsroar.com/rigpa-press-release-responds-to-allegations-of-abuses-by-sogyal-rinpoche/).
Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche (b. 1961) is a prominent Nyingma lama, the son of Thinley Norbu Rinpoche and a recognized reincarnation of Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö, as well as a Bhutanese film-maker. His response was posted to his Facebook page on 14 August 2017 (https://www.facebook.com/djkhyentse/posts/2007833325908805). In the opening of the letter, he asks that it not be edited or pieces excerpted so, out of respect for his wishes, I have not used any quotations here and try to summarize its main argument fairly. For his teachings on the guru-disciple relationship, see also Dzongsar Khyentse (2016).
More recently, he addressed this possibility in a public talk, “Buddhism in the West: The Challenges and Misunderstandings of our Times” at the Rigpa Center in Paris on 8 March 2018, posted to YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mlSdoVKO5o8); in particular, see 106:32–1:11:30. He also clarified the responsibility of the guru toward his or her students, starting at 55:45.
The Dalai Lama made a similar point back in the 1993 conference discussed above. Here Kongtrul quotes an earlier authority on this point, the great thirteenth-century scholar Sakya Paṇḍita: “The lamas who cling to enjoyments, are careless, use harsh words, and are endowed with desiring the objects of the sense faculties—those people should be rejected by intelligent disciples, as if rejecting hell as a cause for complete awakening.” This topic is treated in Part III: Chapter 4 of (Kongtrul 1998b) with the quotation on p. 138. Note that I removed a parenthetical providing the Tibetan term for sense faculty (Tib: dbang po).
(Kongtrul 1998a, p. 257). The student’s motivation is also important; it is a samaya breach if criticism is made out of selfish concerns rather than for the benefit of others.
An American-born lama who completed the traditional three-year retreat (twice) and founded the Natural Dharma Fellowship, Willa Miller initiated the effort to confront sexual misconduct by Lama Norlha and shares her story in the latest issue of Buddhadharma (Summer 2018). In the article, she grapples with competing terms and frames of reference for the “painful and disempowering” situation she found herself in during her early twenties as a recently ordained nun. These include “consort” or “partner” in tantric terms and “victim” or “survivor” in the current literature on sexual misconduct. With respect to secrecy, she highlights its effects on the community as follows: “In most sanghas where misconduct is occurring, there is a circle of people in the know, but incredibly they may not be aware of each other. In other words, there is not just a secret; there is a culture of secrecy. Acts of deception, enabling, and dissimulation sometimes become so habitual that they seem perfectly normal, like brushing your teeth. If a community is going to heal from misconduct, it is important not just to address the misconduct but also to unveil the underlying culture that enabled it.” Published online on 15 May 2018 at: https://www.lionsroar.com/breaking-the-silence-on-sexual-misconduct/.
Quoted in (Haas 36). Khandro Rinpoche continues, “Apart from the obvious misconduct of using force, taking advantage of your own position and the naïveté of a student is abuse and very painful to see. Abuse is when there is pretense, conceit, or lying. Pretending someone has more realization than they actually have and thus misleading the student is very, very harmful. There is no shortcut to enlightenment … and anyone who offers one should be treated with suspicion.” Elizabeth Mattis-Namgyel also emphasizes discernment and questioning in her book, The Power of an Open Question (Mattis-Namgyel 2011); see especially Chapters 19 and 20 on devotion and the teacher-student relationship.
Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche (b. 1975) is one of Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche’s illustrious sons who teach across the Kagyu and Nyingma traditions and leads the Tergar Meditation Community. His article, “When a Buddhist Teacher Crosses the Line,” was posted to Lion’s Roar on 26 October 2017 (https://www.lionsroar.com/treat-everyone-as-the-buddha/).
On 12 February 2018, the governing body of Shambhala International, called the Kalapa Council, released a statement on Facebook acknowledging “instances of sexual harm and inappropriate relations between members and between teachers and students” in its history (https://www.facebook.com/Shambhala.org/posts/1999897840264640). Different perspectives on this history were presented in a CBC podcast featuring Andrea Winn (Project Sunshine) and Joshua Silberstein (Chair of the Kalapa Council) on 23 May 2018: http://www.cbc.ca/listen/shows/information-morning-ns/segment/15546103.
The #MeToo movement has shown the pervasiveness of the problem in various institutional arenas: sports organizations, the entertainment industry, college campuses, business and non-profits, as well as religious groups. Within Religious Studies as a discipline, Robert Orsi is pioneering an approach that investigates systemic factors specific to a tradition (in his case Catholicism) that permit and perpetuate abuse. For example, see Chapter 7 in (Orsi 2016).
Interview conducted by Andrew Cooper and Emma Varvaloucas, published in the Fall 2013 issue of Tricycle and available online at http://tricycle.org/magazine/sex-sangha-again. Their choice to select teachers from different traditions acknowledges that the issue of sexual misconduct cuts across Buddhist communities. See also the interview, “Confronting Abuses of Power,” posted to Lion’s Roar on 20 November 2104 (https://www.lionsroar.com/confronting-abuse-power).
I borrow this term from Ann Gleig in her article, “The Shadow of the Roshi: Sex, Scandal and Secrecy in American Zen Buddhism,” published on 14 September 2015 on the blog, Sweeping Zen (http://sweepingzen.com/the-shadow-of-the-roshi-sex-scandal-and-secrecy-in-american-zen-buddhism/).
Specific recommendations in the Tricycle interview include: fostering honesty when teachers make mistakes, providing mechanisms for peer feedback, handling cases of misconduct through an independent process outside the institutional hierarchy, creating forums for reconciliation and healing, and taking collective responsibility for the safety, health, and education of the community.
There is even a newly published set of teachings on karmamudrā that introduce a more outer version of the practice, explicitly dedicated to those who have suffered from sexual abuse, titled Karmamudra: The Yoga of Bliss (Chenagtsang 2018) by Dr. Nida Chenagtsang.
© 2018 by the author. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
Gayley, H. Revisiting the “Secret Consort” (gsang yum) in Tibetan Buddhism. Religions 2018, 9, 179. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9060179
Gayley H. Revisiting the “Secret Consort” (gsang yum) in Tibetan Buddhism. Religions. 2018; 9(6):179. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9060179Chicago/Turabian Style
Gayley, Holly. 2018. "Revisiting the “Secret Consort” (gsang yum) in Tibetan Buddhism" Religions 9, no. 6: 179. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9060179