The following results are from the research project TransTibMed and provide contemporary witness reports
Testimony by a person who was monk for 18 years and disrobed
"I was a Buddhist monk for 18 years and most Western monastics receive little to no support. The most I got were free or discounted teachings. The west does not support its monastics well and a lot of them end up disrobing as a consequence." (ABY45T)
"People were instructed not to speak to certain students or ex-students and were told to spend all their time and money at the center outside of work" (ABY45T)
"I tried to be cheerful and accommodating within reason, but they expect way too much from people. At a certain point after working between 8-10 hours or if I got injured, I started telling people I was going to bed. They looked shocked like someone slapped them. Those who worked to exhaustion were seen as the most devoted until they could no longer complete tasks. After I threw my back out building the foundation for the lama's cabin, I refused to do work that would harm me physically (I already had back problems from excessive manual labor during formative years)" (ABY45T)
"In my experience, the teacher works with students by chastising them for their behavior and teaching them mantras and practices. A lot of the work was exploitative where the teacher worked hard to ingratiate himself to students with money or those who were attractive." (ABY45T)
"I wasted almost 2 decades of my life as a monk. I missed out on many normal life experiences because I was stupid and idealistic. I regret everything. I miss my other friends." (ABY45T)
"I no longer identify as any type of Buddhist as a result of the harm that has befallen people I love at the hands of abusive clergy and a corrupt and complicit hierarchy and laity, but I was ordained as a monk in the Drikung Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism for 18 years [...] and have practiced and studied Nyingma and other lineages as well as Chinese and Japanese Buddhism." (ABY45T)
Testimonies concerning children in Buddhist centers
"we were told not to take outside teachings and not to ever discuss teachings from outside the lineage, including the Buddha's words. My first teacher wanted to force me to give up my child and send her to a monastery. I refused and went over his head and said I was out if this was required. the teacher I appealed to agreed with me" (MO997P)
"I didn't adhere to the edicts and rebelled I was shocked when my teacher asked me to give up my child. There was no way in hell I would do that. He was just jealous and wanted complete control." (MO997P)
"Beware of the way that abuse is framed in karmic or spiritual terms and the way that spiritual bypassing is used to obfuscate the atrocities committed by those people trusted to lead them out of suffering and into enlightenment. [...] The abuse of children in monasteries and centers is rampant. It needs to stop." (RT74C)
"Purifying" childhood abuse though further abuse
"My first lama told my best friend that the sexual abuse he perpetuated against her could heal and purify her childhood sexual abuse trauma" (VT55A)
Testimonies from organisations
Testimony on the Ratna-Shri Drikung Kagyu center in Berkeley, one center and lama in Oregon and on the Tulku Shenpen Rinpoche
"I separated from my first guru (from the now-defunct Ratna-Shri Drikung Kagyu center in Berkeley, California) because he sexually violated my best friend. The lama chose her because she was mentally ill and had a history of abuse. He told her he could heal her trauma through sexual acts. I separated from another center and lama (Dzogchen/Nyingma) in Oregon because students were being worked to exhaustion, financially exploited, and discarded. They were told if their minds were pure, they would not need much sleep and their bodies would not get injured from backbreaking labor. People were told the world was ending and they should use their credit cards and savings to make donations because the merit they would get would be incalculable. This place was run like a cult. The teacher also was very controlling and made homophobic comments. [...] One of the students worked so much, she had a nervous breakdown and ended up in an institution. No one from the sangha visited her and they banned her from the center I practiced on my own for years after this until [...] after I discovered that my best friend's child had been raped by the lama/tulku Shenpen Rinpoche, in addition to other children. I had been struggling with my faith for years prior to this [...] I could no longer represent an organization or faith that did this as a monk. I lost my faith in Buddhism completely after seeing that the historical Buddha subjected rape victims to interrogation and expulsion if their mindfullness during an assault was deemed insufficient. That's not compassion. I also was offended by The Buddha's misogyny in general. I don't even know what enlightenment means anymore." (XVA197Z)
"The lama Shenpen who raped my friend's kid is connected to bad people. He sent thugs to harass a nun he screwed out of a lot of money." (XVA197Z)
Testimony on Rigpa
"I saw directly that while they present a very acceptable public image behind that is a lineage of pure violence. They believe they are accountable to no one and are quite capable of taking someone's head off believing they are above any law. They also use remote viewing to injure people." (46TU9)
"I left immediately I heard about the abuse because I knew one person who highlighted it and knew they were honest and reliable. No help with the decision, didn't need it. I was already separated from the group or organisation so leaving was easy." (46TU9)
"There was a subtle pressure to only take teachings in the group. If people went outside and some did the teacher could mention them publicly at teachings. The people who did go outside the group for teachings just ignored the lama." (46TU9)
Testimony on Pathgate
"PY claims that he is a long-time disciple of the late HH Pema Norbu Rinpoche (the 3rd Penor Rinpoche) of the Tibetan Nyingma Palyul tradition. He claims to have received many precious transmissions from the HH and other senior teachers of the tradition. He implied that he is qualified to teach, but there is no official affiliation between Pathgate and the Palyul tradition. He has not completed the formal education required by teachers in the tradition. He has never completed a 3 year retreat. He explains this away by saying that 'some masters complete their retreat in the world', or 'some masters complete their training in past lives'." (AZL56Y)
"We were expected to clean, translate, and work on projects that advance PY's / Pathgate's cause. The work is expected, we were obliged to contribute, otherwise we would be reprimanded by PY and outcasted by sangha members." (AZL56Y)
"I have seen PY limit his students' choices of personal relationships. I have seen him cause family relationships and romantic relationships to degenerate. He has also manipulated young students' choices of study in university, or their choices of career. I have hardly talked to them about it because PY openly warned us against communicating personal issues with one another, because that is 'disturbing one anothers' minds', and 'creating unnecessary karma'." (AZL56Y)
"I made contact with other ex-students locally, who left Pathgate due to various reasons. PY has warned us against communicated with them. But having heard their stories, I understood that PY wanted to prevent us from knowing his bad behaviour from these ex-students. Understanding what they had went through to cause them to leave Pathgate and PY convinced me that my decision was right." (AZL56Y)
"I did not experienced violence towards me personally. I saw PY verbally abuse students on multiple occasions. I saw him humiliate students publicly several times. I saw him physically strike a female student on 1 occasion. On these occasions the students were upset and crying after. I felt uncomfortable but I justified PY's abuse as 'crazy wisdom', that the teacher was using skilful methods to teach the students and 'purify their negative karma', Now I realise that there was no wisdom in PY's methods, he was simply abusive and there was no justification for it. Many students are so brainwashed and fearful of PY that they are conditioned to accept the abuse." (AZL56Y)
"Professionally, I have not been in a stable job for 6-7 years because PY has discouraged his students to detach from mainstream society." (AZL56Y)
Quotes from contemporary witnesses (from Germany)
These quotations show issues beyond groups and provide insights into contemporary testimonies (Anders, 2018).
Missing friendships due to subtle playing off group members against each other
"[...] that no real friendships were possible there, always mistrust, competition - [...] played us all off against each other, very subtly."
"The action always originated from the Master [...], who could very subtly drop comments or force a wedge between people. One doesn't actually notice it because it often happens in the context of a relationship or a process / work with another person - I have reconstructed this afterwards."
Levels of manipulation
by the example of the organization Pagode Phat Hue (Buddha's Way) Frankfurt am Main:
"Unfortunately, I often didn't know the truth. For example, when I wrote the speech to remove his robes and the entire presentation on the outside, I was called to Frankfurt to write everything, and nobody, not even anyone from the Sangha, who had been friends and had visited me [...] privately, told me that the reason Thay had given me (I want to take a new spiritual direction, adapted to Western society) [was incorrect]. For the actual reason, as I understood 1.5 years later, was that a legal investigation had been initiated against him."
by the example of the organization Rigpa Germany:
"Typical public methods at Rigpa: public humiliation, abuse, exposure, exaggerated false praise, promoting or degrading people in the "Rigpa Ranking". Promoting and exploiting intrigues, power games and denunciation among students. Encouraging a sense of value within the collective and for the individual by cleverly presenting the Lama and his organisation as unique, exceptional, significant, superior to others, more advanced, etc. and then reducing the pupils to pocket size by public speech. I have called this attracting and domestizing. Secrecy as a measure to create unofficial, subtle, non-formal structures within the so-called "sangha". Ideologically, this is justified by the selective use of specific parts of texts from the canon of Tibetan Buddhist texts, partly in a quite subtle and manipulative ways. Encouraging unhealthy ambitiousness and worldly interest by publicly displaying students' diligence, dedication, working enthusiasm, readiness to donate, etc. by setting up a gold standard in devotion. Great "devotion" = greater progress on the path, thus also greater appreciation by the collective, thus higher ranking. The longing for alternatives for family and social belonging is being exploited to a very great extent."
"Very often utterly incompetent individuals were employed, I got the impression the permanent chaos associated with that allows for better manipulation."
Failure of ethics and publicly presenting individuals as "psychologically peculiar"
"My person [...] was ridiculed accordingly, portrayed as psychologically " strange ". Generally, this happened with most "dissidents", this was one of the reasons to leave, any form of ethics was missing completely. True was what was in the master's mind or what was considered so. One could call it a "general refusal to dialogue".
Methods of defamation and slander
by the example of Rigpa Germany:
"It was striking that Rigpa wanted to find out if and which other teacher I would turn to. [...] When I first came to a seminar, rather soon after I had left, I met a "senior student" of Rigpa, we knew each other. He was a bit uneasy about me. He had already conveyed messages from Sogyal Lakar to other Lamas on several previous occasions, as I knew. Anyway, as Rigpas' representative, he paid his respects and handed over a letter. Then the Lama intensely looked at me, and upon parting he told me to come again, in a compassionate tone. I cannot prove it, but I know of similar cases where lamas were informed that student xyz would come, he/she would have difficulties, or too much lung or something similar. At this point I would consider that as a precaution against negative information about Sogyal Lakar which ex-disciples could tell."
Non-verifiable qualification of teachers and demanding blind trust
"The lamas were already qualified by definition, the problem for me was that it had to be trust in advance, and thus also the door opener to blind trust. By definition, in this case: it was never questioned. Many lamas mention their time here and there with this and that master, this and that Geshe and other titles, but that is not verifiable, and therefore rather theoretical. [...] That of course is opening the gates to all charlatans."
The method of intransparency
"Everything is completely intransparent, and a lot happens because one knows the right people and is then integrated in a network of favors, obligations, etc. From a certain amount of donations, acquaintance level, there are certain privileges, with the danger of being brought back to normal zero."