The Guardian from London, Greater London, England on January 10, 1995 · 39
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The Guardian from London, Greater London, England · 39

London, Greater London, England
Issue Date:
Tuesday, January 10, 1995
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Women THE GUARDIAN Tuesday January 10 1995 In California, a woman known only as Janice Doe is taking her teacher to court. The charges are sexual harassment, coercion and abuse. The man in the dock is a Tibetan lama with a worldwide following. Can a guru-disciple relationship ever be free from danger? Mary Finnigan rlHE TIBETAN lama Sogyal J "Rimpoche is being sued I I for $10 million in the I I United States by a woman LJ who alleges sexual harassment, coercion and abuse. Sogyal (Rimpoche is an honorary title meaning Precious Jewel) has been teaching Buddhist meditation for more than 20 years, with a worldwide following and meditation centres known as The Rigpa Fellowship in London, France. Ireland, America and Australia. He is the author of a bestseller, The Tibetan Book Of Living And Dying, and appeared in Bertolucci's film Little Buddha. The Rigpa Fellowship in London has issued a letter informing its members that a suit has been brought against Sogyal Rimpoche. Although he is not a monk, and has not taken vows of celibacy, he is accused of using his position to obtain sexual favours. Allegations like these threaten to blow a hole in the aura of asceticism and austerity surrounding Buddhism in the West In the late 1960s, western hippies seeking spiritual enlightenment were drawn to the Tibetans' exuberant, colourful style. Tibet was seen as a Buddhist Shangri-la a far cry from the reality of a country under repressive Chinese occupation. In the seventies, rumours started 'Before long, my guru had persuaded me to start a sexual relationship with him9 Emma Drooker EUGION AND sex, says or Liz Puttock, a specialist on women in new religious move- menu, is a potentially explosive combination. "The idea of spiritual transformation through sex has always existed in the Tan trie tradition, which is strong in Tibetan Buddhism." Historically, Buddhism took off in the West in the 1900s at a time of great sexual experimentation; inevitably the two sometimes converged. Puttock believes cultural misunderstanding has contributed to some cases in which sex abuse has been alleged against gurus. "Some of the lamas came over from Tibet with R to circulate about other globetrotting Buddhist gurus, who were said to be seducing their students and behaving more like feudal barons than spiritual mentors, exercising droit du seigneur among their followers. The late Trungpa Rimpoche was one of the first high-ranking Tibetan lamas to learn English, which he studied at Oxford in the mid-sixties. He fathered a child while still a monk, discarded his robes and settled in America, where he gained a reputation as an inspired meditation teacher. He became a role model for others, including Sogyal Rimpoche. He was also an alcoholic and notorious woman-iser. He died of drink in 1967. Before his death, he chose Osel Tenzin, an American student, as his successor. Osel died of Aids, after passing the HTV virus to several of his students. Although not all Tibetan teachers are monks many have renounced their vows and some are from non-celibate traditions if a sexual relationship arises, the unbalance of power in the teacher-pupil relationship can lay the student open to abuse. Many Buddhists see this as a contravention of the moral code which frowns on all actions that cause harm. At a conference of western Buddhist teachers in India last year, the Dalai Lama urged delegates not to be afraid of criticising corrupt gurus. "If you cannot find any other no experience of our culture, not even speaking the language, and when eastern ideas are mediated by eastern gurus, westerners can be susceptible. Spiritual and sexual energies can become confused. ' ' One British expert, who wishes to remain anonymous, is sceptical about many abuse allegations. "What goes on in new religious movements is very close to what goes on in life. Male bosses take advantage of female subordinates; some psychotherapists sleep with patients as a way of 'curing' mem. It's a grey area. People can be turned on by the idea of sleeping with their guru. It makes them think they are special, men they feel used when they realise they're not. That's one end of the Sogyal Rimpoche: accused of using way of dealing with the problem," he said, "tell the newspapers." Last year, an American woman and former pupil of Sogyal decided to bring a civil case anonymously, and was allowed by the court in Santa Cruz, California, to use the pseudonym Janice Doe. She says in her suit that she approached Sogyal at a time of confusion, shortly after her Cither's death. According to the suit, Sogyal told her that "through devotion and his spiritual instruction, she could purify her family's karma". The woman alleges he seduced her the next day, claiming that she would be "strengthened and healed by having sex with him". However unconvincing such an spectrum; at the other are vulnerable people who have been exploited. " Alex Jones, a 40-year-old journalist, belonged for four years to an extremist Buddhist sect originating from Japan. "I became involved, with my husband, when I was 28. I was interested in meditation, like most hippies then, and at first it just involved chanting every day. "They seemed very gentle people but after a while it became apparent that they were horribly old-fashioned in their attitudes to women. The idea of women as property seemed to be Implicit: my marriage was going badly and senior members of the group suggested to my husband that this was because I was not sufficiently spiritually his position to obtain sexual favours argument may sound, the Zen priest Yvonne Rand, who is counselling Janice Doe, points out that the relationship between guru and disciple is one of power and submission. People who seek guidance from a spiritual master want to believe what he or she tells them. "Many women who seek out spiritual teachers come from dysfunctional families. They may have experienced physical andor sexual abuse, had no father or bad father relationships, so are looking for a good father. This creates blind spots in their perception of a teacher." Rand is emphatic that such high-risk relationships rarely benefit both parties. This opinion is shared attuned to him and he should therefore find another partner. "By that time, our commitment to the organisation had grown considerably. When I announced that I was stopping chanting, a fellow member threatened me with a knife and tried to rape me. I found out he actually had raped two other members. I tried to encourage them to press charges with me. but the pressure on them was too intense and they backed out. Eventually my husband found a younger, more 'attuned' woman to replace me, and I managed to walk away from it, though not without the odd threatening call." Mark Dunlop spent 12 years in a community founded by a very successful Buddhist guru. "I joined in 1972. 1 was a bit of a hippy, interested in meditation. I didn't feel especially vulnerable, though my tether had recently died. I was just Interested. "1 moved into the community after a few months and before kmg, my guru had persuaded me to start a sexual relationship with him. He told me all men are bisexual and I had to break through that barrier to by other women who have has sexual liaisons with their gurus. "I was touched by his need for me," says one, who had a lout relationship with a lama, "but it wag difficult and strange, in no way a normal relationship. It fuelled n fantasies about having special quail ties, but he debunked them. I Ml empowered by him, but though he treated me with respect, I was always aware he had other lovers Another woman speaks of the confusion that arose from being first e humble devotee, then an exalted sexual partner, then back in the ranks again. "I felt used,'' she saya "He put his needs above mine." More recently, a young English woman attended a residential retreat. She thought she had bean singled out for special attention, only to discover that she was being invited to join a harem. "At first i was flattered, and very open and trusting. He encouraged me to fall in love with him but I realised ha was toying with me. I noticed several other young, pretty women going in and out of his apartment, when I confronted him with this, ha dropped me and ignored me for the rest of the time I was there." Did she learn anything from bar intimacy with the guru? "He gave me some good advice, but I am left with a hangover of pain and confusion. I also have doubts around Buddhism. If anything, I have learnt to be more cautious." Rand and the British Buddhlat teacher Ngakpa Chogyam Rimpoche share the view that the majority of westerners sign up too quickly with their gurus and find themselves in a much more intense relationship than they had bargained for. This la especially true of Tibetan Tan trie Buddhism which, at an advanced level, incorporates sexual union into spiritual practice. Rand believes that westerners often fail to make the distinction between a teacher who helps along the way and a guru who is regarded as an enlightened being. "Some Tibetan lamas do not sea themselves as accountable in the western sense of the word," saya Ngakpa Chogyam. "They get blown off-centre by too much adulation.' This potential for adulation makes it vital that teachers accept responsibility for the well-being of their students. Responsibility must include, if not celibacy, then extreme care with sex. According to psychologist Deborah Clarke, every one who enters into a spiritual or therapeutic relationship is vulner able to exploitation. "I'd be furious if a guru made a pass at me," she says. "They should all know by now that people with that sort of power have a moral and ethical duty not to abuse it." achieve spiritual enlightenment. I'm not gay and I hated it, but it carried on for four years. He wasn't even charismatic, I just believed him. He was very promiscuous and had lots of other liaisons. The group was against relationships with people from outside. I started seeing a woman I really liked and was told to stop. I knew then I had to get out." Dumop's allegations are known to Ranald Maddox. general secretary of the Buddhist Society. He describes the guru in question as "clever and successful, but he's an elderly man and I don't think much of that sort of thing goes on now. " DM yea conceive Ms baby wttneat an pernnanea ? Doss a nan have a right to ssy no tot baby? were you s child who Ml uawantd ? Sktn youracpafeaot oa HwaM Barren 752 450

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