Thousand hands of Avalokiteshvara

Learning from the FPMT in the case of Dagri Rinpoche

On Thu, 17 December, 2020 - 16:50
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ECA Safeguarding

Post updated 11th February 2021; see final paragraph.

November saw the publication within the Tibetan tradition FPMT (Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana) of a report on allegations of sexual assault carried out by Dagri Rinpoche. Dagri Rinpoche is not a member of FPMT, but is a visiting teacher ordained in the same lineage.

Whenever such reports are published, the ECA’s Safeguarding team looks carefully to see what we in Triratna can learn from others’ experience. In the spirit of learning rather than criticism, we’ll list below some points which stood out for us.

This report was commissioned by the American charity FPMT Inc, one of the charities within the worldwide FPMT, who engaged Faith Trust Institute (FTI) in America to undertake “an unbiased third party investigation into allegations of misconduct by Dagri Rinpoche”. This non-legal investigation was to discern whether the allegations were credible and whether they breached FPMT’s own ethical and Safeguarding codes.

The report is marked ‘draft’ because FPMT Inc felt that the report showed FTI had significantly misunderstood FPMT’s governance structures and had not given FPMT Inc the opportunity to clarify these with FTI before finishing the report. Nevertheless FPMT Inc decided in good faith to publish the report. You can see the points they disagreed with here and we’ll say more about them at the end of this post because they are relevant to Triratna.

Read FPMT Inc’s announcement, including the report itself.

In May 2019 Dagri Rinpoche was reported to the Indian police by an adult female member of the public who alleged he had sexually assaulted her on a plane. Subsequently there were further complaints against him from several women in the FPMT. He was immediately suspended from FPMT’s Tibetan Teacher list.

In October 2019 FPMT Inc engaged FTI to conduct an investigation and provide Safeguarding training to FPMT leaders.

The independent process followed by FTI used the standard of proof ‘on the balance of probabilities’ (known in America as ‘on the preponderance of evidence’), the standard used in civil court cases, also used as standard in such non-legal hearings/disciplinary processes in north America, the UK and many other countries. This means that it must be found more likely than not that the behaviour did occur as alleged; ie there must be enough evidence to show at least a 51% likelihood that what is alleged did take place.

Once FTI determined that Dagri Rinpoche had sexually assaulted and/or harassed at least five women, it was FPMT’s responsibility to act on FTI’s Finding. He was permanently removed from FPMT’s Teacher list and reported to the Dalai Lama.

Some points we noted

Complainants were treated very badly
FTI say complainants who spoke out publicly had been subjected to public condemnation within FPMT, online harassment and threats and experienced a loss of community. Priority was therefore given to protecting their identities.

All the complainants expressed mistrust that FPMT would take them seriously, several saying they had contacted leaders several times before any action was taken.

Disproportionate support for the accused
In the course of their work FTI say they received 39 emails in support of Dagri Rinpoche and several “describing the complainants as mentally unstable, lying or misinterpreting Dagri Rinpoche’s actions”.

FTI say that when a teacher is found to have caused harm people are often most concerned with the impact the decision has on the teacher. “This may result in minimizing the reality of the abuse, and the desire to lessen the terms of accountability. This natural instinct to show compassion for a revered teacher must be tempered by an ethical resolve to show care and compassion for the victims of abuse, and for the integrity of the organization.”

FTI say there is no need to choose between supporting complainants and supporting the accused. Both need different kinds of support: taking the complainant seriously and (where the allegation is upheld) “supporting the accused through accountability or restoration”.

Hindrances to Safeguarding
​More generally, FTI found that Safeguarding in FPMT was hindered by, for example

  • a belief that “sexual abuse doesn’t happen here.”
  • not having overall Safeguarding policies or Safeguarding officers
  • a lack of understanding of FPMT’s policies on ethics and Safeguarding or that they were relevant in all local centres, even the smallest and most remote.
  • confusion about who was responsible for addressing complaints, leading to them being ignored or passed up the ‘chain of command’.

FTI urged attention to the following when looking at an allegation:

  • if there are multiple complaints about the same teacher this is convincing evidence. However one complaint is enough cause to pursue the matter.
  • Look out for patterns of behaviour.
  • The process of being investigated and questioned may be extremely painful for an accused teacher, but this is not victimization.
  • When it becomes a matter of the complainant’s word against the accused’s, a judgement must be made based on the “preponderance of evidence” [or balance of probabilities] and based on the possibility of future misconduct by that teacher. An organisation’s first obligation is to protect those who are vulnerable to teacher misconduct.

The report also notes that the language and principles of Safeguarding may challenge the beliefs and practices of some more traditional and conservative teachers and spiritual leaders.

FPMT Inc were advised to

  • Issue a public apology acknowledging inadequate institutional responses to allegations and create an abuse hotline or external reporting mechanism to encourage disclosures by those who may not feel safe or comfortable reporting to FPMT.
  • appoint a member of FPMT Inc’s Board of trustees with responsibility for organisational oversight of Safeguarding and an operational Safeguarding lead at executive staff level.
  • make mandatory the acceptance of Safeguarding policies in all centres and Safeguarding training for all FPMT trustees, staff and volunteers.
  • Set up a reporting service for misconduct, maybe an external reporting service for those who don’t feel comfortable reporting to FPMT.

FPMT Inc has stated repeatedly that it deeply regrets what happened and apologises to those harmed. It does not dispute the allegations or the need for improved Safeguarding.

However, FPMT Inc says FTI has misunderstood FPMT’s worldwide structure, in assuming that this particular charity has authority over the FPMT worldwide (and also associated Tibetan monasteries in the same lineage but not run by FPMT) and would therefore have any powers to enact the above recommendations beyond the sphere of its own activities.

FPMT Inc are also concerned that FTI makes references to “leaders’ ” failure to act but does not differentiate between actions of leaders at local centre level, who, they say, in some cases acted very properly on allegations, and the failure on the part of leaders at a higher level,  or Dagri Rinpoche’s spiritual superiors in  his lineage but outside FPMT, to whom the concerns were passed.

Like Triratna, FPMT is a worldwide network of legally independent charities each of which is legally accountable for its own governance, including Safeguarding. One charity is not permitted to take responsibility for complaints of misconduct said to have take place in the activities of another, or outside the activities of any charity.

Likewise each Triratna charity or other legal entity has responsibility for preventing and addressing harm caused in the course of its own activities - and this is particularly enforced in UK charities by the Charity Commission for England and Wales and the Scottish Charity Regulator.

However, given that our Order itself has no legal existence and much of Triratna life takes place outside the activities of any charity, the only way to prevent and address harm more generally in Triratna is through each of us being personally committed to Safeguarding. Here at the ECA Safeguarding team we see Safeguarding as a practical outworking of the precepts we took at ordination, which themselves are an expression of our Going For Refuge to the Three Jewels.

Read more about this in ‘Why is Triratna’s Safeguarding internal?’

See also
Learning from the Catholic Church
Learning from the Church of England

If you have questions or comments or wish to discuss an ethical concern that has arisen in Triratna please email us at the ECA Safeguarding team. at safeguarding [at] triratna.community.

Update 11th February 2021
FPMT Inc published this update on 5th February 2021, on improvements to their Safeguarding policies and how offences alleged to have taken place in the course of the activities of other charities and bodies beyond FPMT Inc’s own remit were being passed to the relevant bodies to be addressed by them.