# Board's Response to Allegations of Abuse in Dharma Ocean ``` Date: Wednesday, 9 Oct 2019 From: The Dharma Ocean Board of Directors <board@dharmaocean.org> To: Dharma Ocean email contact list Title: Allegations of Abuse in Dharma Ocean ``` > Dear Sangha, > > An open letter was sent to the Dharma Ocean board of directors yesterday alleging abuse in Dharma Ocean. The allegations are serious and, while there are few specifics, we are writing to you to acknowledge the existence of the allegations and want to tell you about our initial steps in responding. The open letter can be viewed [here](https://dharmaocean.us10.list-manage.com/track/click?u=fc7fbf57a2d40a6c3a3587727&id=51943a8fad&e=729c02a1dd) . > > As the letter mentions, and as many of you are already aware, similar allegations were posted over the summer on the discussion website Reddit, as well as on Facebook over the last year. We have reflected on everything we have read and have taken a number of steps, and are planning more, to address the concerns that have been raised. First, given the nature of the allegations, Reggie has recused himself from participation in all board activities, and the board will continue to work independently. The board has also recommended to Reggie that he suspend public teaching while the board takes action in response to the allegations, and he has agreed. We understand that this will be disappointing for some, and regret any suffering that it may cause to practitioners, but we do not see any other way to go forward at this moment. > Dharma Ocean is built upon the teachings of complete openness, compassion, and respect for all. Everyone in the Dharma Ocean community strives to embody these qualities. These principles serve as the foundation of the board’s assessment of and response to the allegations and will take priority over any organizational roles, structures, or norms. There is no place for abuse in the Dharma Ocean community, and it will not be tolerated in any form. Abuse includes but is not limited to shaming, lying, manipulation, bullying, transphobia, homophobia, and racism. It does not include instances of disagreement, direct feedback, setting boundaries, assertiveness, and other situations that, while potentially uncomfortable, are part of healthy spiritual relationships. > > We wish to acknowledge the importance of a number of the issues raised in the open letter and thank the group who authored the letter for raising these issues. > As described in the open letter, Dharma Ocean has not had a formal process for making or investigating complaints about conduct. We agree that this is very much needed. The development of a formal grievance process has been underway over the past few months and is near completion, as well as a related code of ethics and conflict resolution and restoration process. Anyone who has observed or experienced misconduct will be strongly encouraged to utilize one or more of these resources. These processes, informed by best-practices among similar organizations, ensure that concerns are handled with integrity and thorough attention. > > While these processes have been in development, in June we established an ombudsperson role to provide confidential and informal assistance to people when issues or concerns arise that can’t be resolved through working with mentors, meditation instructors, or other leaders. The ombudsperson, Monique Rees, can be contacted at [ombudsperson@dharmaocean.org](mailto:ombudsperson@dharmaocean.org) . Because Monique is a student within Dharma Ocean, we have also invited Lane Arye, Ph.D., to serve as a resource to Monique to help ensure neutrality and to offer more assistance as needed. > > Further, the board has had several conversations with two external organizations, An Olive Branch and Faith Trust Institute, and we are currently working with them to determine how best to engage their resources and guidance. One of An Olive Branch’s services that we will be utilizing is a listening post to support current and past sangha members who wish to confidentially share specific concerns. We feel the listening post will be particularly valuable as the new processes come online, and in order to ensure that people feel they can come forward confidentially if they wish to do so. We are also in conversations with Faith Trust Institute about training for board members, teachers, meditation instructors, volunteers, and other leaders focusing on healthy boundaries in positions of power and in teacher-student relationships. > > We acknowledge that authority has been highly centralized on the Spiritual Director (Reggie) in Dharma Ocean, in some cases creating frustration, inefficiency, and hurt. The board has initiated a series of recommendations, and in some cases already adopted them in response: > 1. Amending Dharma Ocean bylaws such that the board holds final decision-making authority and its decisions cannot be vetoed by the Spiritual Director; > 2. New board members are selected by the board, rather than the Spiritual Director; > 3. The board will be increased in size and function; (new board members have been continuously invited over the past 2 years), and > 4. There are no longer direct reporting lines between the staff and Spiritual Director. > > Additionally, with the recent empowerment of 13 senior students as “acharyas” (Sanskrit; “those who lead by conduct”) an additional source of leadership is available to the board and larger community. To ensure that those holding teaching roles have adequate support, feedback, and accountability, a co-teaching model has been adopted in recent programs. > > We want to affirm the importance of creating an inclusive environment. It is an area requiring ongoing growth and development for Dharma Ocean and indeed our larger culture. We also acknowledge the pain and confusion that resulted from the removal of the inclusivity committee. We have a new draft inclusivity statement and commitment that is in review by senior students, and we will continue to offer trainings for volunteers and to seek guidance and training from respected people in the larger Buddhist community. > > As referenced in the open letter, senior members of the community have left, sometimes frustrated that their voices have not been heard. This needs attention. Dharma Ocean needs a culture in which healthy dissent and feedback are welcomed, considered, and acted upon, and sangha members can trust these processes. Again, the Ombudsperson and Listening Post will help to address this need. To address issues of organizational culture such as these, Lane Arye has also been coaching Reggie for the past year. > > While there are several areas, described above, where the board is in agreement with the open letter, in some other cases, the allegations are not specific or reference private communications with Reggie, and further details are needed for an informed response. Again, the Listening Post, Ombudsperson, and grievance process will all be ways in which such details can be reported and properly considered. As a community, we need our members to make use of these resources for the wellbeing of all. In other areas of the open letter, we have received very different accounts from various community members, have our own experiences, and as a board, disagree with some of what is presented. Examples include: > * Extreme statements about a ubiquitous absence of receptivity to feedback and change at Dharma Ocean are inconsistent with the readily observable situation. > * The notion that those in positions of leadership within Dharma Ocean do not express doubt or criticism of Reggie or the organization, or openness to doubt or criticism from others, is absolutely false. The community is filled with teachers, meditation instructors, and staff who make it their path to speak their hearts’ truth, and openly consider others’ experiences, no matter how uncomfortable. Confidentiality is highly respected in internal conversations and is expressly required under the commitments of everyone in a leadership role. > * While we are open to Dharma Ocean investigating with integrity all credible allegations of misconduct or abuse, the letter’s allegations that abuse is occurring at every level of the organization are grossly inaccurate. > * We also feel that comparisons to the types of abuse and assault that have occurred within Rigpa and Shambhala are irresponsible and highly misleading. > > In our commitment to integrity and accuracy, we are holding the entirety of this complex and painful situation: the genuine truths and insights raised in the open letter, those areas that remain uncertain and need to be informed by further detail, and those that we feel have been distorted and wrongfully represented. > > We will send further information about the listening post this week and provide updates as they become available. > > While our aspiration is to bring the fullest integrity to our actions, since they emerge from human minds and hearts, they will not be perfect or acceptable to everyone. We invite feedback from the community regarding this communication and future communications. > This letter is being sent to all who are currently on Dharma Ocean’s email contact list. We will share this response with the authors of the open letter as well, and beyond that it is important to us that people who have left Dharma Ocean receive the information in this letter so they are aware of our activities and may—if they would like—be in touch with us or the Ombudsperson or use the Listening Post when it becomes available. If you know of such individuals, please forward this letter to them. > > We remain committed, from the depths of our hearts and our practice, to the ancient ways of insight, love, and embodiment, and to helping Dharma Ocean be a healthy, and ever-developing vehicle through which these profound ways can be of benefit to all. > > With love in the lineage, > > The Dharma Ocean Board of Directors > > (alphabetical) > > David Iozzi (ex officio) > > Michael Mischke-Reeds > > Caroline Pfohl > > Bryn Rees