Minding our own business – and Rigpa’s unfinished business…

Despite the recommendations of The Lewis Silkin independent investigation into Sogyal Rinpoche’s abuse and the ruling of the UK Charity Commission, Patrick Gaffney is teaching an online retreat for Rigpa.

The event is, perhaps aptly, called ‘Minding our own business’.

It’s a relevant question for us: why do we, who stepped away from Rigpa, still mind Rigpa’s business? Why not let them do their thing and get on with our lives?

The answer is simple: because Rigpa is still passing on the harmful beliefs that enabled the abuse that took place during decades in Rigpa. That’s the bottom line. If your belief is harmless and only concerns yourself, there’s no problem. However, if it could harm or endanger others, then there is a big problem.

How is it that Patrick Gaffney is teaching again? He – or Rigpa for that matter – never expressed any apologies for covering up the abuse. Nor did he or Rigpa International show any sign of understanding that covering it up was wrong. As far as I’m aware, Patrick never said something like: ‘I realise now that I have harmed people by letting Rinpoche carry on with his abusive behaviour, even though I was  aware of it – multiple times people came up to me and shared their experiences and concerns and sometimes I was present while the abuse took place. I was blinded by the belief in a ‘perfect’ teacher. I now realise that real harm has happened and that I have dodged my responsibility – not only as a Buddhist, but as a human being – to care for and protect my fellow human beings.’

No. He has not done that.

And yet he teaches Buddhism, a religion that has the doctrine of non-harming at its core.

The finding of the Charity Commission for England and Wales

The Charity Commission for England and Wales found that, “Mr Gaffney had knowledge of instances and allegations of improper acts and sexual and physical abuse against students at the charity. Mr Gaffney failed to take appropriate action in response to this information and is therefore responsible for misconduct and/or mismanagement in the administration of the charity.” 

As a consequence, Patrick Gaffney has been disqualified from being a trustee or senior manager of any charity in England and Wales. 

The Lewis-Silkin report’s findings and recommendations

The Lewis-Silkin report on the abuse mentions Patrick’s name (‘witness P.’) over a hundred times. Pages 25, 36, 43, and 45 give a good impression of his role in relation to Sogyal Rinpoche’s abuse. Here Karen Baxter, who conducted the research, speaks of manipulation of students, telling others that complainants should not be believed and pro-active covering up by Patrick.

The Lewis-Silkin report recommends, among other things:

“Rigpa leadership in each country (being the trustees or equivalent) and the Vision Board should, as necessary, be refreshed in order to ensure that its members are unconnected with the harmful events referred to in this report and so can credibly lead the programme of changes required”

Rigpa’s highest leadership role

In Rigpa the most senior role is that of teacher. By continuing to have Patrick Gaffney in such a high profile position – as one of the organisation’s main teachers – Rigpa is ignoring the Lewis Silkin report’s recommendations. This is despite a statement at the very top of the ‘Moving Forward’ page on the Rigpa website that says, ‘We acknowledge the gravity of the independent report and have committed to act on its recommendations.’ This, and the rest of the words on the page, suggest that they are following the recommendations, but Rigpa is clearly saying one thing and doing another.

Patrick Gaffney taking a teaching role in Rigpa seems like a complete denial of the seriousness and extremity of the abuse that took place. It is hard to take seriously their stated desire for ‘learning’, ‘healing’ and ‘reconciliation’ when there is such a blatant disregard for the report’s very-well-considered recommendations.

Another nail in the coffin of restorative justice

A few months ago, someone from Rigpa contacted Karen Baxter of Lewis Silkin, who did the independent investigation into Sogyal Rinpoche’s abuse and wrote the report, and asked her to invite all those who participated in the investigation to participate in a Restorative Justice program.

Restorative Justice is a theory of justice that emphasizes repairing the harm caused by criminal behaviour.’ Sogyal Rinpoche is dead and so cannot repair the harm he did to his victims, but Patrick and the other senior Rigpa people mentioned in the Lewis Silkin Report as actively covering up the abuse are still alive. But they and Rigpa international have never admitted their and Sogyal Rinpoche’s criminal behaviour.

Requesting our participation in a program based on repairing the damage done by a crime without admitting that any crime occurred heaped further hurt on Sogyal Rinpoche’s victims. It appeared that – like with most of Rigpa’s actions since Sogyal Rinpoche’s abuse was revealed – the initiative was designed merely to make them look good. Patrick Gaffney’s teaching with blatant disregard for the LS report’s recommendations that Rigpa professes to be ‘implementing’ is a further insult. Especially with the chosen title suggesting that people (who might be inclined to comment) ‘mind their own business’.

A restorative justice program aims to get offenders to take responsibility for their actions, to understand the harm they have caused, to give them an opportunity to redeem themselves and to discourage them from causing further harm. For victims, its goal is to give them an active role in the process and to reduce feelings of anxiety and powerlessness.

Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Restorative_justice

There can be no restorative justice without admission that a crime has been committed or while Patrick Gaffney or any of the others implicated in the cover up of Sogyal Rinpoche’s abuse has a teaching role in Rigpa.

Minding our own business

Some of the What Now? group wrote a letter to the Vision Board explaining all this. Fifteen (mostly ex-) Rigpa members signed it. The problem in getting more signatures wasn’t finding people who agreed with the content of the letter, it was finding co-signers who wanted to engage with Rigpa. Most people now have come to the conclusion that Rigpa isn’t really listening and isn’t really changing, and so it’s futile to engage with them anymore. People are stepping back.

The only thing left for us to do is warn others to stay away from Rigpa.

So now we’ll mind our own business again…until Rigpa’s unfinished business needs calling out again. 

Article by Sel Verhoeven and Tahlia Newland

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay