A woman who spent several years as a member of the Dzogchen Retreat Center in Eugene, Oregon, has filed a complaint alleging sexual misconduct by the center's leader. The lawsuit also claims that the center's board of directors failed to protect the students.
Dzogchen teacher, Master Choying Rabjam, also known as Dzogchen Khenpo Choga Rinpoche, or Choga, 58, is accused of sexual assault and sex trafficking after allegedly using his teaching position and manipulating concepts and Buddhist practices such as karma and tantra to abuse them. a student.
The lawsuit claims Choga continued a close relationship with Rachel Montgomery, 31, after she began practicing at her retreat center when she was around 20. Over time, the relationship became more intimate, including what Montgomery believed were special tantric practices, which were sexual in nature.
According to the lawsui, Montgomery details an experience in which she alleges she was pressured by Choga to give up her soft drink at a party on December 12, 2013. Choga then gave her some wine, repeatedly refilling her glass until she had finished one bottle,
“He told her that drinking alcohol would help her achieve a spiritual connection,” the lawsuit alleges, noting that Montgomery had a history of substance abuse issues, known to Choga. (Daily Beast)
It was then, when Montgomery was barely conscious, that Choga raped her, according to the prosecution file. Following this, Montgomery sought answers from other followers to what had happened, but was instead kicked out of the community.
Carol Merchasin, an attorney who specializes in sexual misconduct cases in religious and spiritual communities and represents Montgomery, said, “Rachel (Montgomery) never, ever thought she was raped. She discovered that she had been raped by another woman who had been part of a Dzogchen Buddhist community, who was also subjected, along with four, five or six other women, to a kind of empowerment "sitting naked on my knees ". (KLCC)
Shortly after the details of the trial, Montgomery discovered that she was pregnant. It is alleged that Choga initially tried to convince her to maintain the pregnancy and that the baby would be an "enlightened being". (Daily Beast). Eventually, however, Choga agreed to pay for an abortion as long as Montgomery kept it a secret and agreed to have a child with him in the future, according to the lawsuit.
Months later, the lawsuit says Montgomery contacted the board of directors of the Sri Singha Dzogchen Foundation, which was "founded to assist His Eminence Dzogchen Khenpo Choga Rinpoche in transmitting the authentic teachings of the Dzogchen lineage to the West”. according to their website. (Dzogchen lineage) According to the lawsuit, the trustees responded that they "had no formal power of oversight with respect to Choga's personal life." (Daily Beast)
However, according to Merchasin, the board should have taken immediate action once this type of allegation was brought to its attention: "Under the laws of the United States and most countries, boards of directors Directors of this type of organizations have a fiduciary duty and they have a duty that they have not followed. (Daily Beast)
The lawsuit includes the Dzogchen Shri Singha Foundation and six people charged with negligence and vicarious liability for sexual abuse and sex trafficking.
The reason for the lawsuit now, nearly a decade after the alleged events, is that after years away from the community, Montgomery began hearing stories about other former students experiencing similar abuse in Buddhist communities. In January 2021, Montgomery filed a report with the local sheriff's office, but the claim did not move forward due to a lack of evidence at the time.
According to Merchasin, Montgomery's experience is not unique. Many victims of abuse in spiritual and religious communities do not immediately realize that they have been abused. “I hope his voice will be heard. I hope she is happy that a court has heard her voice, and I hope these organizations are held to account.
"I feel like Buddhism has been weaponized to take advantage of me," Montgomery said. “I don't want to say that it becomes a weapon for everyone. But for me, it was a weapon. (Daily Beast)
Choga now resides in Taiwan and has been notified of the trial there.