By Tenzin Dharpo
DHARAMSHALA, Nov. 19: “Dagri Rinpoche did engage in a pattern of intentional and inappropriate sexual behaviour that persisted over many years towards women who were in his company due to his position as a trusted incarnate lama and teacher,” the Foundation for the Preservation of Mahayana Tradition (FPMT) said in a statement released on November 13.
Dagri Rinpoche was as a senior spiritual teacher at FPMT, a Buddhist establishment founded by two well known Buddhist teachers Lama Thubten Yeshe and Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche.
The statement from the leading Buddhist foundation in the west comes after multiple allegations of sexual misconduct against the Tibetan Buddhist teacher. FPMT said that “witness interviews, statements and corroborating evidence” from an independent investigation led to the determination.
“Despite multiple requests, Dagri Rinpoche did not meaningfully engage with FaithTrust Institute’s investigation. However, when he received a detailed summary of multiple victim statements from FaithTrust Institute, he emailed a written response asking for forgiveness,” FPMT’s statement read. The foundation said it has unanimously decided to permanently remove Dagri Rinpoche from the list of registered FPMT teachers and consequently FPMT centers, projects, and services, cannot invite the Tibetan teacher to give Dharma teachings at the center.
The foundation added that the allegations against Dagri Rinpoche dated as far back as 2008 including complaints from women of “groping, sexual harassment and sexual assault, both within FPMT centers and elsewhere. Some women reported they were assaulted for years. Some were ordained nun”.
On May 3, 2019, an Indian woman alleged that the 66-year-old Tibetan religious leader groped her during a flight from Delhi Airport to Gagal Airport. A First Information Report (FIR) was filed against him at the Gagal Police station near Dharamshala.
Days later a Spanish woman posted a video where she said that in 2008, Dagri Rinpoche molested her on the pretext of giving her blessings when she was a nun studying Buddhism in Dharamshala. Jakaira Perez Valdivia claimed that when she visited Dagri Rinpoche’s apartment near Namgyal monastery for advice and blessing for her back problem (herniated disk), the Tibetan Lama molested her.
Valdivia in her statutory declaration stated that the Tibetan lama asked her to remove her robe, touched her breasts and sat on her buttocks while she laid face down on the floor. The former nun said that the whole incident took place while Dagri Rinpoche chanted mantras and continuously drank and applied an alcoholic drink over her belly which he claimed was a “very holy substance”. She said that she sent copies of the declaration to the private office of the Dalai Lama and the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT), where Dagri Rinpoche is one of the senior religious teachers.
In her video posted on YouTube, she said that an apology from Dagri Rinpoche during a meeting set up by the private office of the Dalai Lama, prevented her from reporting the case to police.
Dagri Rinpoche released a statement in May 2019 where he denied any wrongdoing in both the incidents. The Tibetan lama also said years after he helped Jakaira who he claimed was “physically and mentally troubled” with blessings, she had accused him of molestation and consequently sat down for a meeting with witnesses. Dagri Rinpoche made no reference whether the meeting was set up by the Dalai Lama’s private office other than that the meeting helped “clarify the truth”.
Dagri Rinpoche belongs to Sera Jey’s Tsawa khangtsen based in Bylakuppe Tibetan settlement in South India, one of the largest monasteries in Tibetan Buddhism. He is the 5th reincarnation of Dagri Kyenchen Gyatso Thaye, a highly respected yogi and scholar. He is a holder of Geshe Lharampa, the highest order of the Gelukpa’s scholastic hierarchy.
The Buddhist world’s encounter with incidents of sexual misconduct by spiritual teachers towards students is not new; high profile cases like that of the late Sogyal Rinpoche and Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche have come to light in the recent past.