Update on the Independent Investigation

What Now received the following update on the Lewis Silken independent investigation from someone who has been supporting the process of negotiation around the investigation. The writer is not one of the 8 letter writers and does not represent all those involved in negotiations, so the following should be taken only as one viewpoint.
Since the investigation commissioned by Rigpa from London law firm Lewis Silkin was announced, five months ago, not much has been said in public about its progress. The reason for this is that there has been a protracted period of negotiation back and forth via the Lead Investigator, Karen Baxter, between those who would like to participate and the Rigpa “Investigating Committee”. This committee consists of trustees Rich Snow and Liz Acosta in the US and Russell Blakely and Susan Burrows in the UK. Although in contact with the Rigpa leadership, to fulfil their obligations the Investigating Committee has to act with independence from them and their decisions in relation to the investigation are final.
The areas of negotiation have been around who participates and how, protection of confidentiality, protection from prosecution and the publication of the report.


When Rigpa announced the investigation, they presented it as being centred around the eight letter writers and announced that these would be participating. However, there had been no discussion with these eight people about whether they wished to participate and, if so, on what terms. Furthermore, all of the issues raised in their letter had already been raised multiple times over past decades, so it seemed important that people with a historical perspective on these issues should also be included to give a more rounded and nuanced picture. Meanwhile there were other current and former students who wished to share their testimonies about experiencing or witnessing abuse or financial misconduct. So, it was agreed that the investigation could be broadened to include a greater diversity of contributors. It was also agreed that whilst the preference of Karen Baxter, the Lead Investigator, was to meet people face to face where possible, people could contribute in whatever way they felt comfortable with, including giving written submissions.


The kinds of information and stories that people wish to share are difficult and often traumatic. Victims feel a variety of emotions about discussing their experiences – including fear, shame and anxiety – and many would not wish to be identified as this would add to their trauma. For this reason, it was agreed that each person who participated could chose to what extent they were identifiable or anonymised in the final report. No information about the participants would be shared with Rigpa, unless permission was explicitly given. This means there is the possibility of sharing testimony to provide context, that would be useful in giving the Lead Investigator a clearer picture, with the proviso that none of it can be used directly in the final report, if that’s what people prefer.


Another reason that people have felt inhibited about coming forward with their experiences is the concern that what they say may be used against them by Rigpa and they may be threatened with being sued for defamation, despite telling the truth – an intimidatingly costly process for most people to defend. The Investigating Committee offered guarantees that this will not happen. Immunity from prosecution by Rigpa was offered to the letter writers but, on request, the committee has extended that and has stated in recent days “We confirm that no legal action will be taken by or on behalf of Rigpa against any of the 8 letter writers or against any other victim of abuse who comes forward, as a result of their providing witness evidence to Karen [Baxter] as part of the investigation.”


The final, and initially insuperable, obstacle to many people’s participation in the investigation was that Rigpa would not agree to publish the full report once it was completed – and furthermore, neither the letter writers nor any other participants would be allowed to see it. They would only commit to publishing the “recommendations”. Understandably, many people felt this was totally inadequate and that after decades of failure to deal with these issues or even talk about them openly, this would constitute more of the same and sounded like a cover-up, so participation would be a pointless exercise in which victims were effectively being mistreated yet again. For this reason, many people who had initially offered to participate no longer wished to. Fortunately, there was a change of heart by the Investigating Committee and/or the Rigpa leadership and they recently released the following statement via Karen Baxter, the Lead Investigator at Lewis Silkin:
The investigating committee has asked me to highlight to you that its members wholeheartedly share your desire to ensure that your concerns are investigated and addressed thoroughly. The committee has absolutely no desire to facilitate a whitewash and its members are clear that that cannot be allowed to happen. There is a need to balance a desire for an open and transparent process against the highly personal, sensitive and confidential nature of the information that might be provided; where witnesses come forward on condition of anonymity or confidentiality, that needs to be respected.
As a result, the investigating committee has agreed to commit to making a copy of the final report available to each of you and to the public. This is on the understanding that I will be asked to ensure that any highly personal or confidential information is redacted, anonymised or otherwise dealt with in a way which respects these sensitivities in the final report. It has been agreed that the way that this is done will be left to my discretion and not determined by the investigating committee or Ripga.”
So, the report will not only be available to participants but also to anyone else who is interested. As a result, the people who had withdrawn their cooperation are now participating and the process of the investigation has begun in earnest. The Rigpa “Vision Board” have stated that they hope the report will be ready “by the summer”. This seems quite a tight deadline, given the work that needs to be done. Although it is understandable that all parties would like to see it as soon as possible, it is more important it is done as well as possible.
Inevitably, some people will still feel wary of being involved in the investigation, given things that have happened in the past. Ultimately it is a question of trust – on both sides. But beyond that, given what the Investigating Committee and the Rigpa leadership have committed themselves to, any attempt to renege on these promises would leave the individual members of the committee, the Rigpa leadership and even Lewis Silkin open to damaging legal action – so it is unlikely.

Why participate

The more people that come forward with compelling evidence and information, the more specific and thorough the final report can be. The investigators can only draw conclusions from the information they are given.
Hopefully this set of assurances will encourage others to come forward who may have felt reluctant until now. If you have experienced or witnessed anything that you feel would be relevant to the investigation, please contact Karen Baxter at Lewis Silkin, via this email: karen.baxter@lewissilkin.com
I have posted this article in good faith after being assured that the information is accurate, but it may not give a full picture of the situation because these assurances are probably not legally binding. I  advise anyone participating to only give evidence that is completely accurate, such that you would feel comfortable testifying to its truth in court. 
Details on other investigations of Rigpa that you may wish to participate in can be found on our Details of Investigations page.

Private discussion on this and other related topics can be had on our Secret Facebook Group. Is is only for current and previous students of Rigpa, however, and we do moderate it closely. If you’re interested in joining, please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite.
Ex-Rigpa students and their Rigpa dharma friends who want to move on from the discussion of abuse in Rigpa can stay in touch through the Dharma Companions Facebook Group.
The What Now? Reference Material page has links to a wealth of articles in the topics related to abuse in Buddhist communities. For links to places to assist in healing from abuse see the sangha care resources page.
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Investigation Details Released

Merry Christmas!

On the 22nd December Rigpa International Investigation & Reconciliation Committee sent the long-awaited communication to the sangha about the investigation along with two attachments, one from An Olive Branch and the second an agreement with Lewis Silken lawyers. I mentioned the announcement of Rigpa US engaging An Olive Branch in a previous post, now let’s look at the rest of the letter.

A shift?

My first impression was that the letter included points that could indicate a shift in attitude.
In mention of where their concern lies, the authors of the letter are specifically included in the community as a whole, and saying “we are all still very much connected to each other” indicates a breaking down of the ‘us and them mentality’. An Olive Branch’s involvement is certainly a shift, and proof of their commitment to true healing and reconciliation would be inviting all those who have left to the An Olive Branch sessions.
I found this part encouraging, “It has become clear that we need to work together to understand how, over the years, we got to where we are.” This kind of examination is what I’ve been asking for. Only action will show how deeply this will go, but least the intention is now there to actually examine.
The Rigpa US board appeared to have a shift after meeting with one of the US authors of the letter at the Ventura retreat. They also sent a letter to the 8 authors in which they presented the details of the investigation and asked them to participate. In this letter they mentioned regretting not reaching out sooner and admitted that their confusion about what to do had obscured their ability to genuinely help. They also made further admissions that I don’t feel at liberty to mention here that were a major step forward and indicated a new honesty in communication.

Or not?

However, they have not made these admissions public, and the communication to the worldwide sangha from the Rigpa International Investigation & Reconciliation Committee had no such admissions and lacked the honesty and compassion evident in the US letter. It came out one day after the 8 received details of the investigation, giving them no time to respond before it was made public, and it gave no indication that their participation was voluntary, thus colouring the sangha’s perception of the situation and subtly coercing the 8 into complying. This along with the fact that they were never consulted about the planned investigation, were given only 10 days to make a decision, and it all happened at the busiest time of year gives this initiative the feeling of “compelled disclosure”.
University of Oregon trauma psychologist Jennifer Freyd, a pioneer in the fields of “institutional betrayal” presents, with good evidence, that victims are further harmed when the institutions that betrayed them play a leading role in any “fact-finding” or reconciliation process. Such a process, she suggests, continues the power imbalance, recast as healing.
Though Rigpa international is not the client in the investigation (Rigpa UK and US are), they were responsible for booking it without consultation with the 8 authors and presumably had a say in setting up the terms and scope of the investigation.
The language in the newsletter goes from invitation:
“We are offering the eight letter writers the opportunity for a compassionate forum to share their observations and experiences in an unbiased and confidential interview.”
to coercion:
“The scope of the investigation is international and will include all eight complainants.”
The assertion that the 8 will participate the day after they were introduced to the idea is an extension of the consent violations upon which the culture of abuse was built.
The continued use of the word ‘allegations’ is significant also for those harmed. It is used when an accused is denying wrongdoing because it has not been proven to be true, and yet those who have set up this investigation are implicated in covering up the actions and KNOW THEM TO BE TRUE. They have never denied them and have even been so audacious as to hide behind statements characterizing them as beneficial, blessings and training rather than various forms of abuse of power. Stating that they need to gain a full understanding of what has happened and who was involved or aware of it is an insult to those harmed.
Thus, once again, the way this has been handled by Rigpa international could be a cause of re-traumatisation.
The language in the letter of introduction from the lawyer to the 8 was not like this, nor was the letter from the US Board that they received. The lawyer clearly understands that the process might be traumatic for the 8 and gives personal assurances of her integrity, and the US Board letter acknowledges that the investigation might raise doubts and be uncomfortable, and both asked rather than assumed participation. However, the Rigpa International newsletter to the sangha exhibits the same behaviour that we have continuously called out and continues to cause divisiveness, lack of trust, fear, and unwillingness to participate in any forum of “healing”. Without honesty and admission from those who know the attestations are true, their words will continue to be met with suspicion.
This difference between Rigpa US’s communication to the 8 authors and the International letter to the sangha reminds us that ‘Rigpa’ is not one thing, but many people with many different views, and the national boards and individuals do not necessarily feel the same way as Rigpa International. If International and other national boards took the same honesty and compassion as showed by the US board in their recent communication to the 8 authors and made those admissions public, real change might still be possible.


The communications give many assurances about the investigation, and students are given an email address, a new one, so we can ask questions about the investigation. The letter to the 8 from the lawyer makes it clear that she will only act in an objective and impartial manner with due respect and sensitivity, mentioning how important this is for her own personal and professional integrity, and there appear to be adequate safeguards to assuage concerns regarding legal and confidential matters.

The report

The letter to the sangha from Rigpa International says: “The outcome and recommendations of the report will be shared, in a manner to be determined, with the Boards of all Rigpa organizations worldwide.” The letter to the 8 from the US Board, however, says that the report will also be shared with the 8. So which are we to believe, the private letter or the public one? Neither letter says they will share it with sangha or the public.
Here’s the kind of report we can expect. This is a link to the Lewis Silken report on the Kevin Spacey case for the Old Vic Theatre https://cdn.oldvictheatre.com/uploads/2017/11/THE-OLD-VIC-PRESS-STATEMENT-FINAL-16.11.17.pdf
As you can see it is pretty light weight and non-conclusive and Rigpa could ignore the recommendations if they wish. Is this going to actually help in achieving the overall goal of “restoring peace and harmony”? These lawyers cost a great deal of sangha members’ money, money that could be better spent elsewhere.

A concern

On the surface the letter to the sangha and the terms of the investigation seem all very reasonable, and granted to not investigate may be damaging to Rigpa in regard to maintaining their charity status in some countries, but we need to be clear that this is only an investigation “to ascertain in more detail the specific allegations.” It is not an investigation of Sogyal Rinpoche’s behaviour or of the organisation that supports him, only a mission to get more detail on the allegations. But the letter from the 8 is quite clear. What more is there for them to add?
The Lewis Silken agreement sent to the sangha says that people other than the 8 such as senior management will only be interviewed if the lawyers “deem it appropriate” and if it is “achievable within the fee budget”. There is no mention of Sogyal being interviewed at all. This seems to be a gross oversight.
Lewis Silken found in their investigation of the Kevin Spacy case for the Old Vic: “It has also not been possible to verify any of these allegations, and it is important to note that Kevin Spacey has not commented on them. The review cannot therefore make any findings of fact about the alleged misconduct.”
Without interviewing others apart from the 8, because only one point of view is being heard, it is not possible to verify anything and so impossible to make any findings of fact. An outcome such as this is not guaranteed, because they may interview management, but the actual terms of the investigation as stated in the agreement appear somewhat skewed towards finding no ‘proof’.
The letter of introduction to the 8 from the lawyer, however, says that is likely that the investigation will move on to interview other members of Rigpa and even Sogyal Lakar, so which is correct? Rather than reassure, this discrepancy only creates more confusion and distrust.

The assumption

The huge assumption is that the 8 will participate in this compelled disclosure, but why should they?

Current and previous students of Rigpa wanting private support are welcome to join the What Now? Facebook group. Please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite.
Ex-Rigpa students and their dharma friends can stay in touch through the Dharma Companions Facebook Group.  
The What Now? Reference Material page has links to a wealth of articles in the topics related to abuse in Buddhist communities. For links to places to assist in healing from abuse see the sangha care resources page.
Those of you who are interested in ‘keeping Buddhism clean’ could ‘Like’ the Dharma Protectors Facebook page. 
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