The Investigation: How Reassuring are Those Assurances?

When the details of Rigpa’s ‘Independent’ investigation were released last December, I posted an article on the matter, and we heard nothing more until I was given the update on the investigation I posted last week.  The contents of that blog post were the opinion of one person, who had nothing to do with writing the letter revealing the abuse and was never a Rigpa student. I have also been informed that he had no actual role in the negotiations over the investigation. 
 The comments on that update raised issues about the assurances reported and reminded me of issues around the investigation that we’ve pointed out here before, that haven’t changed and that should not be forgotten when evaluating the function and usefulness of the investigation. This follow up is to clarify some points and remind us of the questions we need to keep asking.
New assurances have been made via email, but to date none of the new assurances have been shared publicly by Rigpa or Lewis Silken, so it’s questionable how useful these assurances are. Have they come from an entity that is vested with the authority to speak for all official Rigpa entities? If so why not produce written proof that is legally binding? Even if it is proven that the Investigating Committee can make binding agreements for all Rigpa entities worldwide I suspect that wouldn’t include a group of individuals like the Rigpa community in LL who are currently suing an attorney who said something they didn’t like. 
The original agreement between Lewis Silkin and Rigpa US and Rigpa UK has not changed. This includes this part relating to confidentiality: “We have agreed that all interviews conducted as part of the investigation will be protected by confidentiality and not shared with Rigpa, or anyone else unless the witness specifically agrees to this, or we are required disclose this information by law.”
So Lewis Silken will not share your name with Rigpa or anyone else unless a judge in a legal case in the UK asks for the info. In that case LS would have to hand over whatever the judge requested for him or her to use in the proceedings in what ever way he or she saw fit.
It seems to me that since the report will not use anyone’s names without their permission, it’s unlikely that anyone would take someone to court over the report, because how would they know who to sue? But a judge on a related legal case – were there to be one – could ask for the information if he or she deemed it relevant. So it’s possible your information and name may end up with a judge, but as far as I can tell it’s pretty unlikely.
Don’t forget that an Olive Branch does guarantee anonymity, however,  so perhaps students wanting a more reliable result from an investigation could demand that the Olive Branch investigation be expanded to take testimony from all countries?
The aim of this clarification is not to put you off participating in the investigation, it’s just to make sure that you see the full picture.
  Questions to remember
·         Who chose Lewis Silken?  Answer: From an email from Kathryn James on Thursday, September 14, 2017 Subject: personal thoughts, updates and some information; she wrote to Rigpa members in Australia, ” The investigation – Philip Philippou has started interviewing potential investigators.”
·         Who, apart from Sogyal, has the most to lose from a report unfavourable to Rigpa?
·         Why are Rigpa investigating something that those in the inner circle, and many in upper management, already know to be true?  We were told that it was because they had to have an investigation in order to retain charitable status in the UK and US, but it’s been verified that no such law exists in either country.
·         Why hire such a high profile and expensive firm?
From the Lewis Silken website: “I help my clients to deal with any employment law challenges which come their way and aim to make the process as smooth as possible for them.”
·         Who are the client? Answer: Rigpa US and Rigpa UK. Not you, the person who has suffered abuse. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that KB is working for you. She is working for her client, and regardless of her professional standards, which I am not calling into question, she will still do her best for them, not for you.
·         If you expect the report to expose the truth then ask yourself; why would anyone pay what might amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars for their own downfall?
·         Is an investigation into abuse where the investigating team is hired by and paid for by the perpetrator ever truly independent?
·          Given their 40 years’ experience of covering up the abuse, do you think that this isn’t part of their PR game plan?  They have hired high powered PR firms in the past, it’s logical to assume this ‘campaign’ is being planned by professionals.


For me it comes down to the issue of trust. It would be nice to think that we could trust Rigpa management and Sogyal, but they have broken our trust. Can they ever get it back? 

Other investigations are happening, so consider giving your testimony to them. Click here for contact details for all of them.

Private discussion on this and other related topics can be had on our Secret Facebook Group. It 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.
Those of you who are interested in ‘keeping Buddhism clean’ could ‘Like’ the Dharma Protectors Facebook page.

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:
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.
Those of you who are interested in ‘keeping Buddhism clean’ could ‘Like’ the Dharma Protectors Facebook page.

Tough Questions for the Investigators

A truly objective third-party investigation if done fully and with transparency by a respected agency should bring closure to the turbulent events in Rigpa and bring much healing to a great many shattered lives.
However, this will not happen, if it’s not begun soon and if it’s not undertaken as extensively and transparently as required.
Who does it, and how wide their terms of reference are will make a huge difference, but anyone doing the investigation, if they’re truly seeking something comprehensive, need to ask the tough questions.
The questions listed below are like doors off a corridor. How many doors will the investigators look into? How many will remain firmly closed? And if the questions are not being asked, then what does that say about the Rigpa of the future?

Questions the investigators need to consider:

  1. Why did misconduct continue even after a legal case was filed and resolved out of court, with a large financial payment, by Janice Doe in the USA, 1993?


  1. Who were, and are, the past and present members of Rigpa management that enabled physical, emotional and psychological mistreatment to continue over decades?


  1. Will the individuals revealed in question 2, who have been complicit in mistreatment or abuse, be removed from the organisation, or not permitted to remain in roles as instructors, managers or other influential positions?


  1. Why did Rigpa Management repeatedly deny mistreatment and abuse, indicating that they felt there was no problem with Sogyal Lakar’s behaviour, despite being approached by dozens of highly regarded senior instructors, directors and Buddhist practitioners over many decades?


  1. Why did Rigpa Management and directors hire management consultancy firms to provide training on how best to deny allegations of abuse and mistreatment by Sogyal Lakar?


  1. Why did Rigpa Management set-up training programmes for qualified therapists to deal with the excessive numbers of victims and the increasing recurrence of people having mental anxiety, depression or neurotic behaviour directly as a result of their relationship and contact with Sogyal Lakar?


  1. Did these therapists have a hidden agenda to try to encourage their clients to see that their discomfort around Sogyal Lakar’s behaviour lay with them and not with Sogyal Lakar?
  2. Why were physical assaults committed by Sogyal Lakar, which were witnessed by many people, neither investigated nor reported to the police by Rigpa managers?


  1. How will victims of abuse or mistreatment be vindicated by this investigation? How will they be able to receive compensation or redress?


  1. How will victims be given assurances that they will not receive further or additional harassment after the investigation reaches its conclusions?


  1. How will the investigations findings be permissible in legal cases filed in courts against individuals or Sogyal Lakar?

Perhaps these questions could be forwarded to the investigators, once we know who they are. Let’s face it, those culpable are not going to ask the investigators to ask these questions, are they? But aren’t they the questions that really need addressing here?

Be sure to check out the What Now? Reference Material page for 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.
More personal and private support for current and previous students of Rigpa can be found in the What Now? Facebook group. Please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite. Please use the email address you use on Facebook.
For students who have left Rigpa and don’t want to talk about it anymore, but would like to stay in contact with other ex-Rigpa students, we have created the Dharma Companions Facebook Group. Click the link and ask to join. You will need to answer some questions before being admitted to the group.
Those interested in ‘keeping Tibetan Buddhism clean’ could ‘Like’ the Dharma Protectors Facebook page. Links to posts on this blog will be posted there as well as to other relevant information related to the wider issues involved.