Eye on Southeast Asia: Chagtrul Thupten Thinley Rinpoche Accused of Severe Sexual Misconduct

Senior Vajrayana teacher Chagtrul Thupten Thinley Rinpoche (b. 1982) has been accused of a serious case of inappropriate and harmful behavior by a former student, including sexual assault and rape. The alleged victim, alias Sally, alleges that incident dates back to 17 February, 2017 and occurred in Kuala Lumpur.

The accusation raises concerns that other women may have been similarly harmed by this teacher, and that there is a culture of silence and intimidation when matters like this arise in Malaysian Buddhist communities. According to recent enquiries to the Malaysian Immigration department and a subsequent investigation, there are also concerns that Chagtrul Thupten Thinley Rinpoche that he may be engaged in fraudulent activity in the country, including overstaying illegally for two years and misrepresenting his purpose of being in Malaysia. 

Based on current investigations, there are signs of encouragement for other women like Sally to come forth with their stories of sexual abuse, but also filed a request for an investigation into visa and immigration violations by their ex-teacher.

“I have taken so long to come out with this for various reasons: for fear of being ostracized by my family, who I know will blame me for being involved with these gurus in the first place, and also for the fact that I tried my best to move on with my life,” Sally said in a video recording her recollection of the incident. She says that she has filed a police report against Thupten Thinley Rinpoche.

Thupten Thinley Rinpoche, formally known as HE the 3rd Gesar Chagtrul Thupten Thinley Rinpoche, teaches the heterodox idea that King Gesar is no different to Padmasambhava or Guru Rinpoche. Nevertheless, he counts among his root gurus several recognizable names, including Orgyen Trinley Rinpoche, Do Drupchen Rinpoche, Khenpo Munsel, Yangthang Rinpoche, Namkha Drimed Rabjam Rinpoche, Khenpo Ahchuk, Penor Rinpoche, and Khenchen Pema Lodro Rinpoche.

The alleged victim has come forth in a video detailing the incident. Sally stated, “I had been going to Buddhist centers for some time before I had met my attacker, and I had been going to his center specifically for almost one year before the incident occurred.” She was never close to Rinpoche, although she had taken refuge under him with a friend.

After a Dharma ceremony, she accompanied him and others to dinner in the evening at 11 p.m. to dinner, where she alleges that he grabbed her hand and put it near his groin area. “I was immediately paralyzed with shock and confusion, unable to understand what was happening. My mind went blank, and I pulled my hand back, placing it on my lap as if to protect myself,” she said.

In the early morning hours of 2 a.m. to 3 a.m., he followed her to her car and forced her to drive to a secluded location, with the five-minute drive feeling like “an eternity, filled with dread and panic. My mind went blank, but I could find no way to escape him,” she recalls.

In the secluded spot, where he began to sexually assault her and demand that she love him and him alone, Sally attempted to escape by pointing out that he risked the ire of her husband. He allegedly dismissed her concern, claiming that he could chant a mantra to ensure her husband could not react to their affair. “He then recited unfamiliar Tibetan prayers and made strange gestures. The prayer seemed absurd and horrifying in the context of what was happening,” recalls Sally. She alleges that he then raped her, the traumatic conclusion of a night that she has tried to forget until recently.

“My faith in the Dharma has been shattered,” she said in the video. “My trust in masters and gurus is non-existent.” Sally maintains that she has heard, over the last 7 years, more stories of him allegedly hurting and pursuing other women. She believes that despite how hard it is, there is a moral responsibility to share what has happened. “I will be the first to admit that these are only anecdotes that I have heard, but I hope that they will speak out. I realize that I have to lead by example, so I am sticking my neck out first in the hopes that they can muster the courage to do what I have done.”  

She added: “Belief in religion and the Dharma is all about trust, and when that trust is shattered, what is left of belief? But I have decided that Rinpoche’s lack of remorse – indeed, his seeming revelry in how he can get away with whatever he wishes – deserves my coming forth with my story. I demand justice, even if it is only in the form of a public acknowledgment and apology.

“But he doesn’t need to come out in front of cameras. I honestly don’t wish to see his face.”

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