Lawsuit Alleges Decades of Sexual Assault at Tibetan Buddhist Monastery in New York (Buddhistdoor Global)
Initiated by three women identified as Jane Doe 1, Jane Doe 2, and Jane Doe 3, the lawsuit details their distressing experiences, notably during three-year retreats at the monastery, where they claim to have suffered sexual assaults, harassment, and emotional manipulation. Their accounts indicate that the alleged abuse was condoned and facilitated by KTC leadership, stating that the monastery orchestrated circumstances for the assaults to occur and ignored reports of these incidents.
Allegations against Lama Norlha are central to the lawsuit. The women accuse him of using his position to manipulate and control them, reportedly assaulting them on multiple occasions beginning in the 1980s. The lawsuit further asserts that Lama Norlha’s actions not only inflicted severe trauma on the alleged victims but also violated ethical and legal boundaries.
Rev. Kyoki Roberts of An Olive Branch, a Buddhist nonprofit that investigates ethical misconduct, told BDG in 2017: “Almost always the student is new to the practice, far younger, and struggling with life issues. The student came seeking help and then the teacher uses the student’s vulnerability to seduce him/her.”
The legal action, filed on 17 November in the Southern District of New York, points to violations of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act and falls under New York’s Adult Survivors Act, allowing civil sexual assault lawsuits beyond the statute of limitations.
The attorney representing the women, Carol Merchasin, condemned the alleged acts and criticized the lack of accountability within Tibetan Buddhist organizations, alleging a cover-up culture that shielded leaders from repercussions.
In response to the lawsuit, KTC has denied the allegations, stating its commitment to resolving the issue truthfully and compassionately. Despite an investigation in 2016 by An Olive Branch, the monastery has not publicly acknowledged wrongdoing regarding Lama Norlha’s reported sexual misconduct. The monastery’s website lists Lama Norlha as the founder and describes him as “an accomplished meditation and retreat master,” listing a number of his accomplishments. The website does not mention the accusations or public findings that have arisen against Lama Norlha over the years. (Palpung Thubten Choling)
The lawsuit stands as a significant development in the ongoing reckoning within Buddhist communities regarding sexual misconduct. Experts have emphasized the need for accountability within these institutions to prevent recurring abuses.