Report to the Boards of Trustees of Rigpa Fellowship UK, and

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Re: Report to the Boards of Trustees of Rigpa Fellowship UK,

Postby admin » Sat May 04, 2019 5:59 am

Findings

On the basis of the evidence available to me, it is clear that a number of senior individuals within Rigpa management have been aware of serious concerns about the behaviour of Sogyal Lakar since, at least, the mid-1990s.

Witness P appears to have had the most knowledge of the allegations of impropriety as Witness P handled the Janice Doe claim, attended the UK trustee meetings in the mid-90s, attended the meeting called by Witness B and was involved in the issues surrounding Student 27. It is also Witness P who was understood to have raised these issues with Sogyal, according to Witness N.

I conclude that Witness P’s devotion to Sogyal Lakar has resulted in Witness P refusing to accept the possibility that anything Sogyal had done might have been wrong. In my view, it appears that Witness P has made no meaningful efforts to establish whether or not the allegations are true. I believe that this reaction arises out of his view that students who are unhappy should simply leave quietly – Witness P was not really concerned about whether these things happened, but seems to have been prepared to accept that Sogyal intended no harm, regardless of what happened.

I asked Witness P whether Witness P thought a guru could ever be bad, to which Witness P responded “if it [I] said never you would think I have been brainwashed”. Witness P agreed that mistakes may have been made “due to cultural differences”, but I was not able to understand what Witness P understood those cultural differences to be.

Witness P’s letter to Witness D was, in my view, designed to manipulate Witness D into dropping his concerns about Student 27. I believe this demonstrates a proactive cover-up, not just a failure to deal with things adequately. I also find Witness P is responsible for telling others that complainants should not be believed, for example, those of Janice Doe and Student 27.

Witness O went to some length to deny holding any management responsibility that could cause Witness O to be responsible for anything that has happened, yet Witness O was clearly heavily involved in the issues raised during the 1990s – it was Witness O who was tasked with investigating them and devising the relevant policy documents to protect against these concerns. Witness O was involved in relation to denying what had happened to Student 27 and Witness O had a pivotal role in the “representing Rigpa” training.
Witness O said to me “there has been a lot of rumour and innuendo, a lot of people talking on behalf of people, a lot of exaggeration and gossip – we can’t act on that as an organisation. Why in the space of forty years hasn’t anyone complained?” I found this to be an extraordinary statement from someone who was aware of Janice Doe and Student 27, as well as the complaints brought to their attention by Witness B, which I do not believe can reasonably be dismissed as mere gossip or rumour.

At the start of my meeting with Witness O, Witness O said [about the letter writers] “I’m not blaming them, [Vajrayana] is subtle and complex, but what they say shows something fundamentally hasn’t clicked … there are grains of truth in [the Complaint] but they are exaggerated and distorted”. But Witness O later said to me “we don’t believe that [Sogyal] abuses people, it’s not the [letter writers’] understanding either – it’s a mystery for me why in this letter they have changed their mind”. Witness O also described it as “pretty heart-breaking to see these friends turn against everything; I don’t believe [Sogyal] has been harming people like this”.

In my opinion, Witness O is not prepared to accept that Sogyal has done wrong; I believe that has always been the case and this seems to be why Witness O has not been prepared to take any complaints seriously over the years. In my view, Witness O’s mind is closed even to the outcome of Rigpa’s own investigation.


I remain somewhat perplexed as to Witness N’s role. Many witnesses who spoke to me were adamant that Witness N would have known about all of the abuse that was going on, but when pressed were not able to provide me with clear evidence to demonstrate this. It is apparent that Witness N attended the meeting with Witness B in 1994, but it seems Witness N was not involved in the follow-up to that meeting involving the Charity Commission and Inform. I am concerned, however, that Witness N did not tell me about this meeting, which I think would be hard to forget in this context, notwithstanding the passage of time.

I received evidence from some witnesses that Witness N had provided real and valuable help to some individuals; Witness F felt that Witness N was supportive when Witness F left Rigpa, and Witness E understood that Student 5 considers that she would have “gone under” if it wasn’t for Witness N’s help. During our interview, Witness N was prepared to acknowledge the experience of the letter writers – for example, Witness N said:

“I was very shocked to read [Witness F]’s experience, I don’t want to say that [Witness F] didn’t experience this. [Witness F] is a very sincere person and evidently [Witness F] did. Something has gone awry”.


On balance, I believe that Witness N knew that some people were being harmed by their involvement with Sogyal Lakar. I conclude that Witness N did not take sufficient action to stop this or prevent future harm being caused, but did made some efforts to intervene to help specific individuals.

There are other individuals who held management positions and, it is alleged, had knowledge of the allegations against Sogyal. This includes, for example, Student 21, Student 22, Student 23 and Student 24. I recommend that their knowledge should be investigated further if they are to retain management roles or positions of influence in future.

I am satisfied that the organisation had several opportunities to realise and address the extent of the harm that was being caused, but failed to take these. The efforts made to investigate these issues and protect students in future were, in my assessment, entirely inadequate and, in some cases, there is evidence that proactive steps have been taken to discredit those raising concerns.

That said, I recognise that a number of the witnesses I spoke to and who have now left Rigpa had also seen things that they knew were wrong but had felt unable to speak up for a long time. It is clear that, by speaking out, these individuals feel that they have to leave behind the ‘Rigpa family’ and their support networks. In addition, they have had to lose their relationship with their teacher and, to a degree, their beliefs. Speaking out appears to require a willingness to ‘step off the path to enlightenment’, and many are not ready to do that. It should not, therefore, be overlooked, that the Rigpa management witnesses referred to above are also students of Sogyal and will have likely faced huge difficulties in speaking out against him, assuming that they felt that there was a need to do so.

As a final note, several of the witnesses expressed their unhappiness at the way Rigpa had responded to the Complaint. As this issue strictly falls outside the scope of this investigation, I will not address this further in this report but it is right to acknowledge their concerns.
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Re: Report to the Boards of Trustees of Rigpa Fellowship UK,

Postby admin » Sat May 04, 2019 6:02 am

Further allegations

Throughout the course of this investigation I have been contacted by a number of additional people who have further stories of abuse. Regrettably, the scope of this investigation has had to be limited to investigating the Complaint and there came a point when it was not feasible to conduct further interviews.

I have assured those who raised concerns with me that I would alert Rigpa to the fact that there are more concerned students and former students who would like the opportunity to be heard.

To ensure a proper investigation is undertaken, any such process needs to be truly independent of the influence of those individuals who I conclude have been involved in failing to deal with concerns for many years.
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Re: Report to the Boards of Trustees of Rigpa Fellowship UK,

Postby admin » Sat May 04, 2019 6:04 am

Recommendations

I have been asked to set out any recommendations that I have for change within Rigpa as a result of my findings. My practical recommendations are set out below. Should they be accepted, there will be detailed work to be done in implementing the recommendations across the Rigpa organisation, which operates in a number of different territories. It will be necessary in a number of respects to take into account local laws, regulations and guidance in each such territory as well as having regard to the legal personality and governance structure through which Rigpa operates in each territory.

There are also a number of matters which may require further investigation before the Rigpa leadership is able to reach final decisions in relation to this overall matter. The possibility of such further investigations is referred to at various points above.

Before moving to implement the recommendations below, my view is that the leadership of Rigpa should consider first the overall effect of these findings on its mission and work as an organisation. In the United Kingdom, for example, the trustees would need to consider whether the findings of the report, the resources required to act on the recommendations and the degree to which the work and profile of Rigpa has in the past been closely associated with the persona of Sogyal Lakar, make it possible for the organisation to move past these events and operate sustainably and successfully in the future. Appropriate advice should be taken on this and it should be noted that in raising this issue for the trustees I do not seek to guide their decision either way, such guidance being outside the scope of my investigation and remit.

Assuming that the Rigpa leadership concludes that the appropriate overall course is to put in place structures and procedures to ensure that its work as an organisation can continue in the future without the risk of harm, I recommend the following:

1. Sogyal Lakar should not take part in any future event organised by Rigpa or otherwise have contact with its students;

2. Rigpa should take steps to disassociate itself from Sogyal Lakar as fully as is possible (having regard to any legal arrangements which may for the time being connect the organisation with him);

3. Rigpa leadership in each country (being the trustees or equivalent) and the Vision Board should, as necessary, be refreshed in order to ensure that;

a. its members are unconnected with the harmful events referred to in this report and so can credibly lead the programme of changes required;

b. its members are all publically committed to the concept that abuse will not be tolerated by anyone, or against anyone, within Rigpa (including teachers); and

c. wherever possible, the leadership should include some members who are unconnected with the student body, for example lay trustees as such would be recognised in the United Kingdom.


4. Professional management should be appointed at each major Rigpa centre. Wherever possible, the management team should include some members who are not part of the student body. Care should be taken to ensure that all members of management are able to perform their responsibilities and are not inhibited in doing so, for example, as a consequence of considering themselves bound to demonstrate ‘unwavering respect’ towards the guru.

5. An appropriate risk assessment addressing the whole range of the organisation’s activities should be conducted and regularly refreshed. The risk assessment should specifically address teaching practices which are, or have been, associated with the Dzogchen Mandala - careful, well guided judgments will need to be made on the future use of such practices in the organisation’s work. For the avoidance of doubt any practice amounting to abuse of a student should never be tolerated.

6. A comprehensive and written safeguarding policy should be put in place to ensure that:

a. sexual relationships between teachers and students are either prohibited entirely, or subject to specific safeguarding measures to ensure there can be no abuse of power;

b. any ‘lama care’ that is deemed to be necessary is carried out in a way which ensures the health and safety of those providing these services is adequately protected;

c. mechanisms for the confidential reporting of concerns are clear and can be easily found by those with concerns;

d. reports of any incidents and allegations are recorded and stored in a secure and proper way;

e. incidents and allegations are promptly investigated in accordance with the policy with appropriate follow up action taken;

f. consideration is given to reporting serious incidents to relevant law enforcement authorities and/or regulators; and

g. the management and leadership of each Rigpa entity is aware of and properly trained in its responsibilities.

7. An abuse helpline outside of Rigpa should be set up, in addition to the internal reporting mechanisms made available.

8. To the extent that it has not done so already, Rigpa should review its fundraising activities to ensure that these are compliant with local laws and regulations. This review should specifically include contexts in which Rigpa events such as retreats may be used as an opportunity for third parties such as external speakers to raise funds for other causes and/or invite gratuity payments on their own behalf. There should be absolute clarity on the proper uses of all such funds.


9. A clear approach to the engagement of speakers and teachers should be established which ensures that they are aware of relevant policies, including the safeguarding and fundraising policies, before having contact with students.

10. So far as is consistent with the wider financial responsibilities of Rigpa, a fund should be created to provide professional counselling to those affected by abuse.

11. An appropriate programme of communications related to the above steps should be undertaken with the letter writers, students and the wider Rigpa community. In addition to a first communication setting out Rigpa’s commitment to a safe and secure environment for all students and the steps to be taken in achieving that, regular updates should be given until the programme of changes has been completed.

12. Rigpa’s leadership should consider (taking further advice as necessary) the extent to which it is obliged to report any of the matters set out in this report to law enforcement authorities or relevant regulators in each applicable jurisdiction.
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Re: Report to the Boards of Trustees of Rigpa Fellowship UK,

Postby admin » Sat Jun 15, 2019 7:18 pm

Charity Commission disqualifies trustee from Rigpa Fellowship: Trustee failed to protect people who came into contact with the charity
by The Charity Commission
Published 13 June 2019

A trustee has been disqualified from all charities for a period of 8 years as a result of an ongoing Charity Commission inquiry into the Rigpa Fellowship charity.

Patrick Gaffney was serving as a trustee of the charity, which is based in London and has objects to advance the Buddhist religion.

Evidence uncovered by the Commission shows 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.

He was entered onto the list of disqualified trustees on 12 April 2019.

Amy Spiller, Head of Investigations Team at the Charity Commission, said:

We are continuing to investigate concerns about this charity via our ongoing statutory inquiry. However, the safety and wellbeing of beneficiaries and those that come into contact with the charity, must always be a priority for the trustees and staff of a charity. This trustee has been disqualified with immediate effect for failing in his duty to protect those who came into contact with the charity.

The public rightly expect charities to be safe places, where people are free from harm. Where we find charities that are failing in this essential duty, we will take action to remove those responsible.


The Commission has been engaging with the charity since August 2017 over serious concerns about adult safeguarding. Concerns escalated during this engagement, prompting the opening of a statutory inquiry on 8 November 2018.

It is the Commission’s policy to publish a report at the conclusion of the case.44

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