Venerable Tenpa Bejanke has spent the last nine years in a tumultuous relationship with Buddhism. In late 2003 she ordained as a nun in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. In mid-2005 she moved interstate to Canberra, Australia to further her learning and by Christmas that year, had the realisation that to make a real and lasting difference within herself she would need to make a wholehearted commitment to her practice. She therefore decided to undertake a three and a half year solitary retreat commencing in November 2006 and exiting at the end of April 2010.
While the retreat offered plenty of opportunity to grow, it was re-entering into society that would provide the biggest challenge. She is one of the women who recently reported to the Canberra Times the unethical behaviour of a highly respected teacher named Lama Choedak, a Rinpoche, (precious one) the Spiritual Director of SLCD and the founder of Sakya International Buddhist Academy. Lama Choedak is the Spiritual Director or visiting teacher at fifteen other Tibetan Buddhist communities in various states of Australia as well as a community in New Zealand.
NDM: What are your thoughts on His Holiness the Dalai Lama's letter from 1994?
He says: "Our first responsibility as Buddhists is to work towards creating a better world for all forms of life. The promotion of Buddhism as a religion is a secondary concern. Kindness and compassion, the furthering of peace and harmony, as well as tolerance and respect for other religions, should be the three guiding principles of our actions"
Ven Tenpa Bejanke Duim: I am practicing kindness and compassion as best I can in a pastoral capacity. I volunteer at a large hospital on what is called the General Team; I visit those patients who have no specific religion, as well as any Buddhist patients. The Hospice is Catholic and I visit those patients who wish to talk irrespective of religion, and I don’t especially visit as a Buddhist, I am there as the spiritual friend who walks beside the patient. I try to have no agenda except to be as present as I can be and to listen emphatically.
The teacher who has guided me to further develop my spiritual insight over the last eight months is a Catholic woman. I gained an understanding of guru devotion in retreat; however, it is to her as my teacher in Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) that I first had an experience of guru devotion. As I walked beside her trying to thank her for all her hard work, I realised that I was experiencing what was within me, she was this wonderful role model who was allowing me to know myself. I know she doesn’t want my devotion, so I silently appreciate her for what she is teaching me, and this is that all beings are my guru/teacher. Everyone has something to teach me about myself if I am present and aware.
NDM: Ok, on the next part of this letter, he states:
In the West, where so many different Buddhist traditions exist side by side, one needs to be constantly on one's guard against the dangers of sectarianism. Such a divisive attitude is often the result of failing to understand or appreciate anything outside of one's own tradition. Teachers from all schools would therefore benefit greatly from studying and gaining some practical experience of the teachings of other traditions.
Ven Tenpa Bejanke Duim: I’m all for interfaith communication and where possible I attend the Interfaith Forum meetings in my area. I have spoken with a monk from the Thai Forest Tradition about staying with their community for a brief visit to get some advice on my meditation, he was very helpful. One friend has been to sit with a Zen community, she really enjoys it, and I too would like to pay them a visit and just sit. Christian friends on the Pastoral Care Team also recommend places such as a Benedictine Monastery, where, they reassure me, I would be welcome to sit for a while in a sacred place.
NDM: Ok, What about this part on teachers?
Teachers should be open to beneficial influences from secular and other religious traditions. For example, the insights and techniques of contemporary psychotherapy can often be of great value in reducing suffering experienced by students. At the same time, efforts to develop psychologically oriented practices from within the existing Buddhist traditions should be encouraged.
Ven Tenpa Bejanke Duim: For myself, and what I recommend to others are the psychology books by long term western Buddhist practitioners who understand the Buddhist concepts and translate it for the western way of thinking. The book by John Welwood,Toward a Psychology of Awakening I’ve had for many years and more recently from Tara Bennett-Goleman Emotional Alchemy, because for myself, I have never accepted that the dharma was the be all and end all panacea for everything. I feel that western psychological help combined with Buddhist mindfulness practices from an experienced professional can be beneficial in promoting well-being and spiritual understanding. And what an individual needs for growth is very personal. I found in retreat at the 2? year mark the thing that helped me the most to get grounded was The Lord of the Rings, it was the only non-dharma book that I read. For a month during breaks in my practice, I read and watched The Lord of the Rings continuously, there was friendship, steadfastness, justice, morality, fear, anger, pathos and love, it blew my mind. Tolkien said to never give up as you never knew what was around the corner, and his words kept me going.
There are many other books that I have read along the way, such as Jack Kornfield, PemaChodron, Sharon Salzburg, Surya Das, Bhikkhu Bodhi and so on, and for me they bring the dharma to life in my mind, I understand it better. I use these books for the healing and understanding of myself, I suppose this is my way of trying to be the dharma, about Buddhism itself, I know very little beyond the basics.
NDM: And this part on students selecting a teacher?
An individual's position as a teacher arises in dependence on the request of his or her students, not simply being appointed as such by a higher authority. Great care must therefore be exercised by the student in selecting an appropriate teacher. Sufficient time must be given to making this choice, which should be based on personal investigation, reason and experience. Students should be warned against the dangers of falling prey to charisma, charlatanism or exoticism.
Ven Tenpa Bejanke Duim: Yes, this is true and there is a lot more to Lama Choedak’s (LC) background than what I know of. Suffice to say that there are some people who knew him 15-20 years ago who are very disappointed in his actions today, but they don’t tell anyone.
LC is a charismatic teacher, he also appears as modest and sincere, and many people were and still are very happy with what he teaches and how he teaches. I found a lot of what he communicated very beneficial and I don’t deny that it did help me to understand the dharma to a certain degree.
Over time I observed how other students related to him and many were very reverential. I couldn’t do that to their extent, something in me just rebelled at giving over that much of myself. And quite frankly, I did work my guts out for Sakya LosalChoeDzong (SLCD) and the dharma; however, it was on my terms, I was respectful but stubborn. I knew so little about Buddhism, I just knew it was where I was supposed to be. So I did investigate as best I could, there were all of these respectful monks and nuns and many lay people doing his bidding, so it all looked good to my beginner’s eyes.
I visited the Centres in Melbourne and Canberra and I also went on a retreat and pilgrimage to India and Nepal with LC, and I observed his work ethic at these times. There was not one whiff of scandal in Australia; however, there was a monk in Nepal in 2004, who told me that LC was, “Bad news and that I should leave SLCD.” I was nonplussed and mentioned this to a nun, she said, “Don’t worry about it he’s just being silly,” so I jumped on board for the ride.
And then it is so hard to warn people once you have exposed the dark side, the “cult of personality,” as I have heard it called. You are not to gossip and if you do you are told that you will be cast into one of the lowest hells for causing a schism. So people leave, they just walk away from SLCD to another tradition or as some people have done, from Buddhism altogether.
I had a conversation with one woman who brought LC’s state of affairs to HHST when he was here in Australia in 2009, and she told me, “He just didn’t want to know.”
So how do you warn the vulnerable when the hierarchy is unable or unwilling to help? Is this too big a problem even for the Tibetans? Do we, as new practitioners of Buddhism, not want to see the faults because we think that at last we have found the perfect salvation for our lives? Are we so starry eyed from HHDL’s halo that we become too trusting? Do our wounded hearts push all cautions aside in the wish to belong to a faith that comes from Shangri-La?
NDM: What about the next part on the sexual misconduct of teachers and scandals?
Particular concern was expressed about unethical conduct among teachers. In recent years both Asian and Western teachers have been involved in scandals concerning sexual misconduct with their students, abuse of alcohol and drugs, misappropriation of funds, and misuse of power. This has resulted in widespread damage both to the Buddhist community and the individuals involved. Each student must be encouraged to take responsible measures to confront teachers with unethical aspects of their conduct. If the teacher shows no sign of reform, students should not hesitate to publicize any unethical behaviour of which there is irrefutable evidence. This should be done irrespective of other beneficial aspects of his or her work and of one's spiritual commitment to that teacher. It should also be made clear in any publicity that such conduct is not in conformity with Buddhist teachings. No matter what level of spiritual attainment a teacher has, or claims to have, reached, no person can stand above the norms of ethical conduct. In order for the Buddhadharma not to be brought into disrepute and to avoid harm to students and teachers, it is necessary that all teachers at least live by the five lay precepts. In cases where ethical standards have been infringed, compassion and care should be shown towards both teacher and student.
Ven Tenpa Bejanke Duim: LC’s behaviour was first brought publicly to light in mid-2009, when he mistakenly sent a text message to a nun instead of one of his lovers. What followed then were lies and cover-ups as some of LC’s students then, as they have now, convinced him not to admit to anything.
LC emphasises the Ngondro practices to his students, he stresses that they are vitally important. The entire Ngondro practice is done every Sunday morning at the Centre and in part with Chenrezigon a Wednesday evening at the Centre. I completed my Ngondro commitment in retreat, and knowing how much the Ngondro practice meant to LC, I decided to transcribe and edit together two Easter Ngondro Retreats into a book as a further part of my retreat practice, it took two years or thereabouts to complete. LC talked extensively at those retreats on vows and commitments and has then failed to live by those vows himself.
A Teacher/Lama who sits upon a high throne and actively advocates the dharma, has I feel, an obligation to make a serious effort to live by the Buddha’s precepts. If he/she fails to do so, then, in my belief, they should humbly ask for forgiveness from those that feel betrayed, instead of trying to hide their initial misconduct with ongoing lies. As one of LC’s friends said to me, “I have known the man for fifteen years,” and I replied, “And he has lied to you for seven of them.”
A conversation between a committee member and a concerned observer in November 2010:
“A Committee member then went on to talk about it being inappropriate to judge LC by the same standards of behaviour that we generally expect of others. I asked why – was this because he was enlightened, because he had declared that he was not. The committee member couldn’t answer the question.”
NDM: Lama Choedak Rinpoche said that “we all needed to consider what was in the best interests of his three children”. What are your thoughts on this?
Ven Tenpa Bejanke Duim:LC has mentioned that he would like his privacy and that of his children respected. I only wish he had thought of their interests before he began his secret affairs, because it is believed by some members that LC has used his family as an excuse not to have these affairs revealed. LC said at both the ChenrezigTsog and at a committee meeting, “That people needed to refrain themselves from further attempts to hold him accountable because of his children.” We are to refrain ourselves from speaking out and seeking clarity, although LC has appeared to make no attempt to restrain himself from participating in multiple concurrent sexual liaisons.
LC had the chance in 2009 to confess to all three relationships, (he only confessed to two at this time) apologise, make amends, and then take a sabbatical, he didn’t. He continued in his activities and now we are still dealing with this matter two years down the track. And I will say here, it is LC’s actions that are being criticised and not his teachings.
Myself and the many other people that I have spoken to have said, “If only LC had apologised genuinely for his unskilful actions right from the beginning, I would have accepted his apology.” No one is perfect and if LC’s marriage was unhappy he does have the right to move on, albeit not with his students. However, it was due to his lack of true remorse and ownership for his actions that some of us felt compelled to press for a more meaningful apology on behalf of ourselves and those that had experienced such great disillusionment and disgust.
NDM: When you say “us”, how many of you felt this way? Was it a couple of you or more? Did the men/monks also feel this way or was it just primarily the nuns?
Ven. Tenpa Bejanke Duim: It was a fairly radical group to begin with, as we were all hurt, disappointed and angry to some degree. We always left the door open to welcome anyone else who was concerned about the direction SLCD was taking.
Gradually over the months, some people dropped out and others came in. In the end, there was a core group of mainly women, and I being the only ordained member, who would regularly get together to discuss what could be done to make SLCD more transparent, open and communicative. I am the only nun in Canberra who is still residing with SLCD and who is openly questioning LC’s behaviour. Some western nuns, not here in Canberra, have withdrawn their support and remained nuns, others have disrobed and left and at least one nun that I know of actively supports LC.
We became a good support group for each other, and there was always some form of emotional support for someone who was struggling. This support was extraordinarily beneficial, as it allowed members, as the need arose, to express their emotions in a safe and mostly understanding environment. We also brought different ideas and divergent views. This at times was challenging, and we learned to negotiate through our differences, not always skilfully, but we heard each other out and remained friends.
At a recent meeting between ‘the group’ and SLCD, one gentleman said that he was ‘disgusted’ at the behaviour of LC and as a man he found his actions' disgusting.’ He would attend the Centre but never again to hear LC teach. He is the first man that I know of that has openly expressed this kind of opinion about LC to the committee. I am not privy to any calls or correspondence that has been sent to SLCD. And in some instances, correspondence concerning this issue that has been sent to the committee to be discussed has not been tabled, as it has been deemed ‘irrelevant,’ ‘possibly inappropriate,’ ‘unnecessary, and ‘it would cause too much work.’
Part of one such letter that was asked to be tabled and wasn’t in October 2010.
“Let us remember what is at stake. Your organisation is attracting many beginners to the spiritual path. These people are just warming to spirituality in many cases. It does not take much to push them back into the world with a disgust for spirituality and it may take a very long time (even lifetimes) to recover and seek the source anew. I know I would not want to be responsible for something like that.
Having said all this, please know that the local non-Buddhist community is perceiving current SIBA (Sakya International Buddhist Academy) events with despair, disgust or great amusement, depending on where they are coming from.”
I have other male friends who have found his behaviour to be beyond the pale, they have left SLCD and have sought spiritual guidance elsewhere.As far as I am aware only one monk has publicly withdrawn his support, there may be others that I am unaware of.
NDM: Why do you feel that there was no remorse and ownership for his actions? Why was he laying blame on others? Can you please give me a specific example of him doing this?
Ven Tenpa Bejanke Duim: What confirmed my belief that there was no true remorse or ownership of his actions was at a committee meeting where LC’s actions were brought to the attention of the members. When questioned about his misconduct one answer from LC was, “Well what was I supposed to do women keep on throwing themselves at me.” One woman who had heard something about his past actions stated, “I’m so glad you lied to me, I don’t think I could’ve handled the truth.” I know of others that he has lied to and when confronted with the evidence of his lying he has still continued to deny any wrongdoing.
When I said to LC,“ I no longer consider you as my teacher,” he replied, “I don’t have any students.” I know of people who have asked him especially to be their teacher and he accepted that role.
From a member at a committee meeting 27th October 2010
“LC then said that I was perhaps confused about the teacher - student relationship. After all, he wasn’t actually my teacher. He said he never asked anyone to become his student. That he did not have a student – teacher relationship with me. He then pointed out that there would not even be a SLCD if it weren’t for him.”
NDM: If you and the others did not want his family to be hurt, then why did you contact the Canberra Times?
Ven. Tenpa Bejanke Duim: There was no wish for LC’s family to be hurt, so there was a long debate about the best approach on how to address his behaviour. And this was difficult, as we were all very different in what we wanted. Eventually, a couple of members undertook separately, to settle on an article with the Canberra Times with the belief that this was a respectable newspaper that was not into scandal for scandal’s sake. There was also the thought that a letter outlining LC’s misconduct should be written and then sent to the members of SLCD.
The story could possibly have been taken and published in a more notorious newspaper but it was felt that this wasn’t appropriate. There was also the idea of taking it to a current affair type TV show, there was a lot of information and so it could have been chased fairly easily, but there was a great reluctance to go down this path, as there was his family and the wider Buddhist community to consider.
After months of doing the leg work for the newspaper article and getting no answer as to its publication date, the general consensus was that an article was not going to be published. I then decided after much reflection that I would write a letter to all members and send it out. It would be more discreet and at least the members would be made aware of the true state of affairs within SLCD.
It has been a common goal of the group that the members of SLCD would be made aware of the facts of the situation. Then the members would be able to make an informed decision on whether they would participate in any future activities with SLCD. People have responded very generously to LC when he has asked for loans and donations to finance SLCD’s building programs. There are people who have told me, “They would not have donated $10,000’s of dollars if they had known of LC’s secret activities.” My concern is that SLCD wants to build a Stupa/Centre in Canberra, and I felt that people needed to know that LC is capable of lying in order to conceal any activities that others may deem as questionable or inappropriate so as to raise funds for SLCD. There has also been some misrepresentation by some SLCD members about LC’s personal financial needs.
From a letter sent by a member, March 2010:
“Senior students told me that LC lived very simply with his wife and children and that the family depended on our financial generosity to survive. One of the SLCD nuns even told me that if you had money to spare you should not give it to charity yourself, but you should instead give it to your Lama, who would know where best to direct it.
I would often eat two minute noodles for the last few days before pay day and got many overdue notices about unpaid bills, but I always came up with the expected contributions to the Lama and fees for Buddhist retreats and courses.”
I also set up a website that contained ‘the letter’ sent to members, personal letters that were sent to me and other information. People were very animated in their opinions, and although I moderated all comments, I wasn’t there to censor, I copped some flak as well as thanks. As there was to be a discussion between members of SLCD and ‘the group’ before the upcoming Annual General Meeting, and as I wanted to be conciliatory so that we could work together as committed practitioners to honesty and transparency, at the behest of the SLCD committee and with a desire to be cooperative, I closed the website.
NDM: Lama Choedak Rinpoche said that he had never pretended to be a monk, but was just a householder?
Ven Tenpa Bejanke Duim: This is true, LC has always said that he is a householder and not a monk.This was a plus for me as I believed that being a householder with a wife and family he would have more of an idea of the travails of the world than what a monk would. I knew that he had been ordained for some years but had left the monastery some time ago.
At about the two year mark of my retreat, I snuck up to the house at four in the morning to get some books, I came across the Yogic deeds of the Bodhisattvas. After the completion of my first session I had a flip through the book and I came across the words, “women are nothing but dripping sewers and that you had to be careful meditating on this as hatred may arise," well did this blow my mind or what.
As it was light and people would be up I couldn’t return the book, it then had to sit in my hut until I could return it early the next morning, it was like living with a piece of filth. Here I had been every day thinking and praying for all mother sentient beings and Aryadeva is calling half of the population dripping sewers.
My disgust was so great with Tibetan Buddhism that I nearly left there and then, retreat, ordination and Buddhism. I argued with myself, how can Tibetan Buddhism talk about loving all sentient beings as your mother when people (monks) are taught that their mothers are dripping sewers, I agonised for weeks.
NDM: Yes, he was talking about ridding oneself of the attachment to the pleasures of the physical body. These types of meditation exercises are also practiced in Theravada Buddhism?
Ven Tenpa Bejanke Duim: Yeah, well they suck, what’s wrong with seeing everyone equally as a skeleton!!
NDM: Did you do anything about these feelings that were arising on this dripping sewer matter?
Ven Tenpa Bejanke Duim: Every day I had recited the Four Immeasurable Thoughts as part of my practice.
May we have happiness and the cause of happiness May we be free from suffering and the cause of suffering May we have the happiness that knows no suffering May we dwell in equanimity free from attachment and aversion to those near and far
I had recited this over and over, for myself, family members, friends and difficult beings, and as I did so I worked through many difficult emotional areas of my life, I began to experience peace and acceptance and I changed. I dug deep and I had to question everything, what in the hell was I doing in a religion that advocates this way of thinking, wasn’t I here because LC and HHST were decent married men, they must obviously care for their family. And surely His Eminence Chogye Trichen Rinpoche (HECTR) was just too kind to think that way.
I recalled the moments of respect that I had witnessed by long term students towards LC, the fact that yes, he was married, he even had a daughter, and surely he wouldn’t think of his daughter like that. And HECTR was such a kindly wonderful man surely he wouldn’t think of women like that, HHST was married he must love his wife. My mind raged. How do you live with, women/mothers are dripping sewers and yet you love all beings as your mother/dripping sewer?
NDM: Did this make you question your beliefs in Buddhism?
Ven Tenpa Bejanke Duim: I questioned my beliefs and why I was there, the hardest part was to keep my practice going and to have no one to discuss this with. Eventually I decided I had to trust, from what I had witnessed by other long term students I concluded that LC was a worthy spiritual guide, he was associated with and respected by HHST and HECTR and the deciding factor was that he was a family man a householder. He had published the book Healing Relationships and the back of the book says, he lives with his wife and family in Canberra, I hadn’t met his wife but I had met his children, we picked LC up from the family home, and I acknowledge that one nun said that there were marriage difficulties, but that’s true of many marriages, you work through it, and after all he published a book on it.
So I wrote and had this letter passed on to him, near Rinpoche
I hope you are well.
I am writing to let you know how things are going.
A while ago I had a great crisis in faith, I thought of not only leaving retreat but also Buddhism altogether. My world shattered and I found myself in a hole of confusion and despair. However, my foundations were strong and so with determination I examined what I was left with, as I was determined not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Fortunately I had for the first time read the Dhammapada, I loved it and I cried, I was also working on my Introduction to Buddhism course and working on the life of the Buddha. By looking at his life and reading his words I left all other things aside and put my faith in his teachings, specifically the four noble truths. I also considered my 16 joys, the four noble truths, the four common foundations, the four seals and the four immeasurables.
Next was yourself, I finally had to admit to myself do I put my trust in you or do I just skirt around the issue. So I examined and saw that in the short time that I have known you, how you conduct yourself personally has been beyond reproach. I have never felt belittled in your presence and your teachings have been in accord with the Buddhas. I have determined that I am most blessed and fortunate to be able to consider you, as my spiritual guide and that you are certainly most worthy of my trust and respect (I hope this doesn’t sound rude). With this I have set about rebuilding my faith and beliefs in a way that is firm with conviction in my 16 joys but also flexible and realistic to support further growth. It is challenging but I feel I am coping well.
NDM: Do you think this letter was na?ve, particularly after how you had seen the way he behaved towards these women?
Ven. Tenpa Bejanke Duim: The above comments were written two years into my retreat, I was in isolation. I had no news of the outside world, I only spoke to LC every couple of months or so, and then it was about my practice and so I had no knowledge of any sexual misconduct or lying that he had been engaged in.
LC can be described as amiable, helpful and polite, but as I began to really listen to some of his teachings, and as I was transcribing them, I realised that he’s not always so polite, he can at times, be quite disparaging, and some of his comments really surprised me. So I may be considered somewhat na?ve, possibly stupid, as I put my trust at that time in someone that I didn’t really know. I was transcribing his teachings and I knew that something just didn’t sit quite right with me, something niggled. So there were issues here, but I felt I had to let go of mistrust and step into something new.
It was a horrendous time, there was doubt and confusion and I wanted to be able to trust, others trusted him so why not me. It’s been a good lesson and I learned it the hard way.
NDM: So what did you learn from all of this?
Ven Tenpa Bejanke Duim: That it takes time to come to terms with a feeling of betrayal and also the very strong sense of disbelief. Where was the spiritual teacher who stressed so much the benefits of living by the dharma, when he did not do so himself.
That when you have devoted so much energy to a cause (SLCD/Teacher) it is very hard to step away. It took me six months to get the information, to assimilate it and make a decision, and even then it was hard until I actually witnessed LC’s behaviour at the committee meeting, I just found it so hard to believe that he could be so evasive. I was helped by the fact that I had begun to distance myself by undertaking training as a crisis line volunteer and as a pastoral carer.
That for some people it takes a long time to leave and that others leave and go back, and that’s ok.
That we all mourn differently. We may never understand the ins and outs of another’s grief, but however they express their grief it is still valid and worthy of respect.
That wisdom with discernment is the key, be wise, be compassionate, meditate and listen to your inner voice, be resilient and know that we all struggle. Everyone is worthy of being loved, respected and forgiven, and this doesn’t mean that you should collude with or condone their unskilful actions.
And to achieve the above, as Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo said, we need sandpaper.
Or as Sant Keshavadas said,Go ahead, light your candles and burn your incense and ring your bells and call out to God, but watch out, because God will come and He will put you on His anvil and fire up His forge and beat you and beat you until He turns brass into pure gold.
I am constantly being beaten and rubbed raw. And it is only by becoming fully present to my internal and external conflicts that I will grow and become more aware. It is through compassion and understanding that I try to be skilful in creating as little harm to self and others. And this is not to say that there weren’t times when I ranted and raved at the mess I found myself in. I learned to listen to my anger and fears, acknowledge them and then let them go, as there is no fear when being present.
What helped with this were the twice weekly supervision interviews I underwent in Clinical Pastoral Education. I found it totally confronting to have my work questioned at a group or one on one interview. It's very difficult to hide when someone else is kindly but firmly pointing out your faults. So I gave up squirming and I went for it, I let my defences down and I didn’t die of embarrassment.
NDM: What about projecting a golden shadow (perfection), on to a teacher or having unrealistic expectations of perfection?
When I did decide to come to Canberra, I made the decision that it was for the teachings and not for the man, not to be swept into the charisma. LC is charismatic, but the dharma was of more importance to me. And it was important, I quit my job, sold my house, gave away my possessions and pets, and I left my family, I left my son, to move interstate.
I did not expect LC to be perfect, and I did not believe that he was a bodhisattva or a Buddha. I believed him to be an honourable family man who lived by the dharma he was teaching. I did think that he probably had some kind of realisations, though if you had asked me what I believed realisations to be, I would not have been able to give any specific answer. I was truly ignorant, I knew there was something I was searching for and yet, I didn’t know what.
I saw the movie The Matrix in 1999 and I was truly stunned. Immediately, I knew what was wrong with me, I had to wake up, even though I didn’t know what that meant or where I would go, I was willing to leave everything behind just to wake up. I cried for weeks because nothing happened, life went on and then three years later in 2002, I walked into a gompa and I was home.
Eventually, I purchased the book by John Welwood,,Toward a Psychology of Awakening and later After the Ecstasy the Laundry by Jack Kornfield. These books helped me to understand what realisations were, sort of, and it helped me to keep any ideas about realised beings under check, and that a realisation does not a fully enlightened being make, as it is a lifetime path. For me, I just wanted someone who would teach me what I needed to know.
NDM: What about the argument that some could raise such as he had sex with three mature students (consenting adults)? They were not underage children or he did not force them so to speak?
For anonymity: Girl Friend 1/2/3 (GF1/2/3)
Ven Tenpa Bejanke Duim: As LC said in the Ngondro teachings on Bodhicitta in 2005 and 2007, There is so much argument about this, and the best thing that happened at this time was the book by Scott Edelstein Sex and the Spiritual Teacher. I and a couple of others bought a copy and we shared it amongst ourselves. If anyone raises that question, I tell them to read the book.
I will say that they were all consenting adults, however, each woman was told to keep the affair secret and I ask, would they all have agreed to sharing him at the same time, I think not. Therefore, was it skilful and helpful to these three women students to be his secret concurrent lovers? And how can it be skilful and helpful when months later one of the women said, “That at times I felt suicidal.”
And why don’t you have sex with your students, because the community goes into an uproar. Many could understand the philandering, “yes well, ho hum, another one who couldn’t keep it in his pants etc.,” and isn’t this attitude bad enough. However, it was for many, the secrecy and the ongoing lying that caused the greatest hurt.
So we can get hot under the collar and argue the sex issue to death and then bypass the deceit and deception that accompanies the action. And this has left me in the position of how can I believe LC the spiritual teacher when he has been questioned and has then answered evasively or lied. And why did LC need to be pressured to come to some sort of understanding about the hurt his actions have caused, and does he truly empathise with the hurt a large part of the community has experienced.
As LC said in the Ngondro teachings on Bodhicitta in 2005 and 2007, “The generation of Bodhicitta is very simple in terms of the practice itself, but it is important to understand the breadth and depth of the teachings of Bodhicitta. The Commentary says, "The direct cause of the attainment of Buddhahood is Bodhicitta." We can call it the enlightenment thought because enlightenment is a thought and that thought is altruism. Even if one has the amazing concentration to shoot a target without missing and even if one does all sorts of other things with great concentration, so what if it has a lowly purpose." The highest concentration is the concentration that brings the realisation of enlightenment. However, the cause of enlightenment is not just concentration. It is concentration on the right object, which is the benefit of all sentient beings and a concentration that empowers us to stay altruistic. The highest of all concentrations is having an altruistic motivation, and the motivation is not only the intent but it also continues to remain as a content of our action that follows the intent, and this is why the direct cause of the attainment of Buddhahood is Bodhicitta.
Thinking of another's wellbeing instead of our own makes us selfless, and it is only through the selfless act of working for the sake of others that we become selfless. When we act selflessly, we benefit not only those for whose sake we are working but also for ourselves, thus, the most productive and profitable way of working for ourselves and others is the generation of Bodhicitta. If wishing for our own happiness was more profitable than generating Bodhicitta, we should have reached that highest result by now. Therefore, from having embraced Bodhicitta we will receive many inestimable benefits, too many to even imagine by the ordinary mind.”
From an email sent September 2010:
“Dear […], Further to our phone call this morning I think that GF3 should not be allowed to attend any of our retreats until she has demonstrated that she can be trusted and that she is there for the right reasons and not otherwise.
We very trustfully allowed her to attend medicine Buddha after she had been physically violent with Rinpoche at Vajrayogini. She dramatically abused that with her carefully orchestrated performance that she timed for maximum effect with an unwilling audience. She clearly was never here for any other reason and sat up the front of the group never paying a moments attention to the teachings. We just cannot sit there and allow her to attack Rinpoche again.
If GF3 just arrived here during a retreat with Rinpoche I would not allow her on the property. I would physically remove her from the property. I would involve police if necessary. She has threatened, however indirectly, a lot worse than what she has already done to Rinpoche.
It is too soon and there is no reason to believe that she has had a change of heart. She has demonstrated nothing to make us believe otherwise.
Maybe you visit her. With most people my instinct would be to talk with them rationally, but she has not displayed that quality for a moment so far. Maybe a letter or simply an email to the effect that the society will not allow her to attend activities with Rinpoche while she cannot be trusted not to physically attack Rinpoche, and at the very least, disrupt the programme. We need to be completely satisfied that she is here only to receive teachings.
[From a committee member].”
NDM: It said in the document you sent me that he said that "unfortunately his household had collapsed. He said that most people, having considered his apparent misconduct, had come to the conclusion that it was not such a big deal after all.”
What are your thoughts on this? Did others think it was not such a big deal?
Ven Tenpa Bejanke Duim: I was in retreat when this first erupted in Melbourne, and I subsequently heard that the Melbourne Centre nearly fell apart as the committee resigned en masse and many people left and another Centre removed LC from the position of Spiritual Director.
From a letter I was sent.
“A sound Dharma relationship is built on mutual trust and your secret actions of the past years has broken my faith that you are a man of your word. The news of your long-term sexual relationship with one of your students has broken my heart. I always believed you were one of those rare people who could really ‘walk the talk’. But now my trust in you is shattered. And so it with great sadness that I need to tell you that, at this stage in my life, I can no longer support your work as a Buddhist teacher. I will therefore resign from my membership and active involvement with this Buddhist Centre, and other Centres under your leadership.”
I came straight out of retreat into this, and I had absolutely no idea about what was going on. I was told by a nun,“That LC had been treated appallingly by the people in Melbourne and if we all just stuck together things would be ok.” I was stunned, as I was very much in an otherworldly retreat mode.
It took months before I could begin to get my head around some of this stuff. I had friends in Melbourne and I was led to believe that they and others were," Unkind, nasty and vindictive, as well as being emotionally unstable.” Then I began to ring around and I began to hear a different story, people were shattered. There was also disbelief and feelings of disgust and betrayal when I began to reveal LC’s actions to friends.Betrayal, that the Society had kept it quiet for so long and that certain people had kept on actively promoting LC as a happily married family man for well over a year when he wasn’t.
I finally confronted my demons at a committee meeting on the 6th October 2010 where I witnessed LC’s manoeuvrings. I would not have believed that he was capable of such dissembling unless I had seen it myself. I felt betrayed by LC and those people in SLCD who had not brought him to task earlier, and I felt sorrow for those members who had tried to bring him to task with very little support, who had failed and then left.
From a letter by a former committee member:
“Buddhism is a beautiful religion; however, like all religions it can be corrupted and misused. This experience has shaken, but not destroyed, my belief in Buddhism and the “Triple Gem”: the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. As a relatively new religion in Australia, I believe that it is important that future students be reliably informed about where they can study, and which teachers are ethical. I believe that those students who are aware of unethical and immoral teachers have a duty of care to ensure that vulnerable students are not placed at risk. A bad teacher does not equate to a bad religion. By exposing LC, I do not seek to bring the Dharma into disrepute.”
From an email sent by a former member:
“I have not practised Buddhism in a formal sense since that committee meeting in October 2010. I continue to be kind to my neighbours, my friends and all I would meet. I try to keep to “right speech”, though in times of stress I am still prone to flashes of anger! My faults, of course, are many. I am still too wary to attend any teachings in any organisation. This is what I believe to be the greatest harm that LC has done: to turn people away from the Dharma. I am not alone in this.”
From an email sent by a member:
“In October 2010 a bomb landed in my lap. One of the nuns, who had given me many teachings, told me over the phone that she had left SLCD and moved to Sydney. I was amazed. She had always been devoted to LC and had urged all of us to be likewise, praising his merits to the sky. I asked her why on earth she of all people would suddenly leave her beloved LC, her precious guru. Then she told me. LC had had affairs with his female students, whom he had sworn to secrecy.
I felt like I was going to be sick. I was dizzy and had to sit down. I didn’t believe her. I asked her to prove it. I rang half a dozen other people close to LC and asked them. They all confirmed it, though the true believers among them excused the behaviour. They told me LC had female students throwing themselves at him all the time, so it was only to be expected that he would sometimes give in to temptation. But he’s supposed to be a bodhisattva, I thought. He’s told me all about bodhisattvas. They have mastered earthly desire. They never surrender to selfish impulses at the expense of others. A bodhisattva would never take advantage of a woman who prostrates at his feet in religious devotion. The true believers also told me that no matter what his personal conduct, LC’s teachings were fantastic. Yes, I thought. I had found the teachings fantastic. But how could I sit through one more teaching on selflessness and kindness, on protecting the weak, knowing that the teacher didn’t believe in his own teachings enough to practise them.
I felt shell shocked. The bottom had dropped out of my world. For a few days I felt numb and did very little.”
From a condensed email sent 5th October 2010:
“I no longer know where the truth lies. There have definitely been many lies. Who knows about the truth? I personally know, if I stay, there would be a profound lack of personal integrity on my part which would not be healthy. We are all baby beginners who need care and guidance on this precious path, loving kindness and compassion. Our teacher must exemplify this. These teachings are from the Lord Buddha, are so rare and beautiful and for Rinpoche to make a mockery of his position is dreadful. We all trusted him and where can that trust now be.
It is all quite disgraceful and disrespectful to us all who have given so much. This path starts with seeing all as our mothers and inducing respect. I am shocked and baffled and feel duped. And feel so unbelievably sorry for our students.
I am not angry. Rinpoche definitely has done a lot of good and for those who just take the teachings and disappear - wonderful… … As for all the women involved - it is dreadful. I advise everyone to spend 3 hours with GF3, and look through her anger, listen to what she is saying and see her hurt. This is not a time to keep our heads in the sand. We need, as the Buddha suggested, to find all the information and then use the wisdom of discrimination.
My heart bleeds for SLCD. I truly have respect for so many of my fellow dharma practitioners - they are my family - VRC and SIBA my home - but how can Rinpoche abuse his position in this way. I tolerate and forgive but now move on.”
NDM: What were the repercussions of this? How did the Buddhist centre respond to this?
Ven Tenpa Bejanke Duim: SLCD very much tried to keep a lid on things. LC said," That if we all stopped talking about it it would all go away.” Also from members, “This is LC’s Society, as he had created it,”and LC himself said at the 6thOctober 2010 committee meeting, “If it hadn’t been for me SLCD wouldn’t exist.” And this is, in part, a lie, as SLCD in a different form had already been in existence under the auspices of HHST, before LC was invited to come and teach. It is also, in part false, as LC has forgotten about the teachings on interdependence, as he was dependent on students and members in order to build SLCD,which supports him and his activities.
From a letter by a former committee member October 2010:
“During this discussion, LC did not volunteer the information that he had sexual relationships with his students; instead, he only answered questions when challenged. Throughout the course of the discussion he did admit to having three concurrent sexual relationships with his students, two of whom were present. One was distressed.
LC did not appear to understand his accountability and a lengthy discussion occurred. I made it quite clear that there was an imbalance of power in his relationships with his students. He stated to me that the women were consenting adults and so therefore there was no problem.
LC also stated that ‘conflict of interest’ and ‘transparency’ were Western terms. He stated clearly that the women he had sexual relationships with were not vulnerable. He refused to believe that having his domestic partner on the Committee had the potential for conflict of interest.”
From an email sent by a member attending an October 2010 committee meeting:
“One of the women LC had slept with, who is physically impaired, became distressed and began protesting LC’s behaviour in a rather incoherent manner. Nearly everyone in the room laughed at and mocked her, including LC, a monk and a nun. LC called her a liar. The woman demanded that LC tell the truth. He replied that the only real truth was the Four Noble Truths, which tell us of the unsatisfactory nature of life in samsara. I remember looking at him while he said this, noticing the beneficent face of His Holiness the Dalai Lama beaming down at us from the wall above him.”
There was also the attitude as time went on, “That if you don’t like it leave,” and “This is LC’s Society and he should be able to run it as he sees fit, as he knows best.” To me this implies that those members who have helped to build and continue to support SLCD and who would like to see some healthy change take place, may have very little say in SLCD’s future direction.
And these 2 condensed responses from GF3:
“On 20 January 2011, I received a phone call from [a committee member] informing me that I was now banned from attending retreats as a result of a SLCD committee meeting on 19 January. i was heartbroken at this unexpected news. I have been a student of Lama Choedak’s for over 24 years, his only surviving original student, & one of the few life members.
[8th February 2011] I would like to seek clarification in writing (not email) of the grounds for me being banned, as i am entitled to do –to date I have only received very communication of the Committee’s decision.
Why am I being denied the ability to follow my religious observances? At whose direction did the ban occur?
Why was I given no opportunity to appeal?
LC & i both attended the Confession Tsog& prostrated. Why is it that his misconduct was purified & mine was not?
Please send me the minutes of the SIBA residents’ committee asap. Who was present when this decision was made?
I am forwarding an email copy of this letter so that it can be dealt with promptly at the next committee meeting. Perhaps there may be some ideas in the Healing Relationships book – apart from the shocking unDharmic ostracism of banning. Yours faithfully, [GF3]
NDM: How so? What comments were made?
Ven Tenpa Bejanke Duim: The usual comments from the pro-LC supporters were, “These women are emotionally unstable," They have an axe to grind,” “She is jealous because she secretly wanted to sleep with LC and he had refused her." Rumours also began to circulate about the mental health and emotional stability of anybody who spoke out and expressed their concerns.
There were also the comments about, “Our deluded perception,” “That this was a teaching and due to our impure perception we were unable to understand it,” “That the truth is relative,” as well instruction and admonishment on the ‘emptiness’ of all things.
NDM: What other comments were made?
From a letter by a former committee member October 2010:
“I have watched this man deliberately deceive, manipulate and mock those who have given not only financially but spiritually to him. Discrediting those who would speak out against him, including accusing a Nun of making sexual advances towards him, and that her motivation for speaking out was due to him refusing her.
Religion (whether it be Christian, Judaism, Islam, Hindu, Buddhism or any other ethnic belief system) often attracts those who are in vulnerable states. Several members of SLCD have known mental health issues. When an organisation cannot act in an ethical manner those who are the most vulnerable also become the most at risk.
Those who seek to join a Buddhist group come with open hearts and minds trusting in the integrity of the organisation and those individuals who deliver the Buddhist teachings. When you have a Spiritual Director such as LC delivering teachings on Mindfulness of Speech, there is the assumption that the man follows these teachings.”
From a condensed personal email sent to me:
“Your letter concerning Lama Choedak Rinpoche's private life was forwarded to me by a friend as I respect and know the man very well. I was compelled to write to you as it may help you to clear your own stuff and those others who you have drawn inspiration to go to the length of disparaging your own teacher and all the things that is now violating your own vows, if you have any left.
I have not been able to attend Rinpoche's precious teachings as much as I have want to. I have never found a teacher so inspiring when he teaches and I would have never become Buddhist if I did not hear him. In 1990s I went on a pilgrimage to India with him. He never stopped inspiring me through his dedicated Dharma work.
You call yourself as former student! How do you cease to become a student if you know what you are talking about. You call yourself venerable and call this ethical Buddhist discussion group. You say you are training in pastoral care work. Well, it is very obvious that you will fail to become one. Did you also fail to become S.4 (lover 4) and then decided to join into this wasteful time to disparage this eminent teacher here in Australia? I think you are making a serious mistake by wasting your time in slandering anybody let alone the teacher and organisation that has helped you to do the retreat. Is this your thanksgiving mandala offering? Slandering is one of the ten negative karma as is holding wrong view. And if you consider yourself as nun, these misdeeds are even more serious. Also your misdeed of writing the slanderous letter constitutes one of the five heinous crimes as you try to cause schism in the sangha about someone's private life. You should stop once and for all move back to your home, to your father or a husband that Rinpoche cannot be for you. You should apologise to Lama Choedak Rinpoche and I am certain he will forgive your misdeeds.
However good your intent is when you wrote the letter, I can see very clearly you have been listening to disgruntled women who are infatuated with Rinpoche and you think you can take up this as a good cause. You all love him, don't you? When you have no wisdom, even love turns to poison. So, do not waste your time and bring shame on Australian Buddhist nuns, who Rinpoche worked so hard to help. Well, if you are not happy where you are, go and join the nun's community in Perth or somewhere with Theravadins and you will see how they treat you as woman. After all, I can see why the Buddha spoke the faults of women, because you are expressing all of them for us. I am ashamed by you. It is true why women's scorn earns them a place in Avici hell. Also hate never ceases hate. Love and compassion is the teachings you should turn to.
By the way, Lama Choedak Rinpoche is not a monk and he is a lay man, like Padmasambhava is. Please remember these are all teachings for each of us, if you know the nature of your mind. What you see is only what you think, nothing else is real. Even ethical Buddhism is an illusion! Even compassion has to be practiced with wisdom knowing empty of inherent existence otherwise it becomes poisoned.
I pray that your negative states of mind are illusory as are your convictions! May you reclaim your inspiration from Lama Choedak Rinpoche and become a reformed student!
NDM: Were the meetings that the group held about this done in the open or kept secret?
Ven Tenpa Bejanke Duim: Can we clarify this, were you meaning our group or their group?
NDM: Their group of monks, lamas, SLCD members and so on?
Ven Tenpa Bejanke Duim: The society meetings concerning LC and his actions were usually kept very quiet as indicated below The Melbourne meeting in mid-2009 was kept very quiet and many people in Canberra had no idea about what was going on.
The first thing I heard on exiting retreat at the end of April 2010, was,“LC is having an affair with GF1 and we aren’t telling X our housemate as she doesn’t need to know.” And then,“Well yes, there is GF1 and also GF2 as well, however if we all remain strong SLCD will get through this.” So we were not to gossip.
LC and GF1 cemented their relationship by jointly purchasing a new house March 2010 in Canberra, however, LC had not told GF3 and she only found out about his new living arrangements several months later. At my Fire Puja in June 2010, GF3 wanted to alert and warn people to what had been going on. So at the Puja she made it known, quite dramatically, with a single slap that she was unhappy about LC’s actions.
Incredibly, these events still remained quite secret, the Spiritual Director was co-habiting with the President/GF1 of SLCD and there were still some committee members who did not know this.
From a former committee member October 2010:
“The first I heard about LC's behaviour came in an e-mail early October 2010, which I had access to due to my role as a committee member. It was very discreet and I had to delve deeper to understand its meaning. The following two days saw me make a flurry of phone calls trying to get to the bottom of what on earth was going on. On the basis of my increasingly more disturbing discoveries, I asked for LC's behaviour to be placed as an agenda item at the committee meeting.”
For Canberra, it all started coming to light in October 2010 and in the end, as far as I can recall, the president, the secretary and an ordinary member, at that time resigned. And there are other people who have left/leaving or who are hanging in there hoping that things just might change at the upcoming Annual General Meeting, and if it doesn’t change they are out of there.
NDM: What about your group meetings?
Ven Tenpa Bejanke Duim: We weren’t secret, people found their way to the meetings and we made them welcome. We had some people come for a meeting or two and then return to the Society or they moved on in a different direction. And it was such a hard slog to hold it all together and to keep it going, so I suppose for some people it was all too hard and it was easier to just walk away. There was also disagreement on how to hold LC as well as SLCD accountable. Some people were more comfortable with one approach and not another. Moreover, I think we did extraordinarily well to have worked and waited together over the months, through the strain of trying to bring accountability to SLCD, I applaud us all.
NDM: In the minutes of the meeting you sent me it says, “For this reason, the meeting to be held on this misconduct issue would not actually be a meeting, but a solemn tsog ceremony.’ What did this mean?
Toward the end of a very long committee meeting, LC finally agreed to send out a letter to all financial members that outlined his sexual misconduct and lying, everyone was happy with this. At the next committee meeting the minutes were changed and LC, with backing from the current committee, had instead agreed to do a ChenrezigTsog in December 2010. However, many members would not be able to come to the Tsog due to distance and money constraints, this meant that only about a third of SLCD’s members would know what was going on.
From a former committee member 6th October 2010:
“Once it had become clear that the mood of the majority of the members present at the Committee meeting was “Team Rinpoche” and that it would be impossible to get a general meeting of all members passed, I settled for LC writing a letter of apology to all financial members of SLCD. Another financial member present at the meeting sought clarification of its contents and LC confirmed that it would contain an apology about his sexual misconduct and his lying.
As it was after midnight at this point, I did not ask any further questions. I did, however, make it clear that those who sought to have teachings from LC had the right to make an informed decision. This informed decision related to being aware of his sexual misconduct and previous lying. If potential students were comfortable with his behaviours, then I had no issue with him teaching them.”
Official SLCD Minutes 6th October 2010:
“Two committee members proposed calling a special General Meeting of SLCD’s members to consider a response to allegations of sexual misconduct against LC. In response, LC apologised and promised to improve his behaviour in future. He agreed to an alternative suggestion to send a written apology to financial members of SLCD.
The meeting expressed satisfaction with this response if apology covers sexual misconduct and lying.”
So the committee eventually got LC to agree to send out a letter to all financial members about his sexual misconduct and lying and then three weeks later the minutes were changed.
From a SLCD member at the 27th October 2010 committee meeting:
“The meeting then moved to the issue of LC’s letter of confession to members. LC declared that the record of the last meeting contained in the draft minutes was incorrect. He had never agreed to write a letter of confession to members. He had only agreed he would write a letter if necessary. And that many people had since told him that it was not in fact necessary. He said that a meeting to discuss the issue would be better and that he had therefore decided there should be a Tsog offering in four weeks time. LC said we all needed to move forward, stop overreacting to his so-called misconduct and put the Dharma first. He then praised the committee for their positive handling of the matter. The minutes of the previous meeting were amended to reflect LC’s preferred version of what had occurred. There was no opposition to this action as the committee members opposed to LC’s behaviour had resigned since the last meeting.”
The details of the Tsog ceremony were quite secret. A formal letter of invitation to the Tsog ceremony was sent out to all financial members, it spoke about the teachings LC had given over the last 25 years, the death of LC’s father and how it was an appropriate time to come together to dedicate, rejoice and to give thanks. The letter also mentioned that LC wished to make a public statement.
One monk was told, “Be here as it is going to be really special.” I didn’t go, as an ordained person I didn’t want to be seen supporting LC, I just couldn’t do it, as in my opinion, LC wasn’t sincerely sorry and the minutes had been changed on his request.
While SLCD was organising the Tsog, ‘the group’ was trying to raise awareness and support. One of our members made the effort to speak with HHST’s wife, GyalyumChenmo in India.
Notes from a phone conversation with H.E. GyalyumChenmo on the 27th November 2010: