In Dharma Ocean abuse of spiritual authority runs deep. Although they’re often seen as lone predators– charismatic cult leaders, strict authoritarians– manipulative spiritual leaders cannot function without enablers. Enablers are those who support abusive leaders by excusing their behavior, legitimizing or normalizing abuse, and/or abusing others to preserve a leader’s power. You may have heard enablers referred to as flying monkeys.
Enablers cause harm in abuse fallout. Common behaviors include keeping up appearances, assuring that conditions are normal or no harm has been done, aiding in character assassination and distrust of people who have chosen to leave the sangha or speak out about abuse, and recruiting new members.
Enablers, while often victims of the same abuses as other group members, may receive more rapid cycles of love bombing and shame/punishment, be given increased power and social standing from their enabling, or derive their sense of identity from being able to handle such a temperamental or difficult leader.
Enablers play a unique role in community, as they both receive and perpetuate abuse. When an enabler leaves an abusive group, they must often go through a difficult, two-fold process: first, addressing the ways in which they were abused by the leader or group, then coming to terms with the harm they perpetuated.
How to spot an enabler in Dharma Ocean
Enablers often conform to a general pattern of behavior. Be on guard for:
Victim blaming: Are those who have come forward with their own abuse stories being blamed in some way for causing the abuse? Being called a nuisance or a distraction from the true Dharma? Or even being blamed for the pretend downfall of Dharma Ocean?
Character assassination: Similar to victim-blaming, character assassination portrays survivors as being fundamentally flawed. Is someone being labeled as untrustworthy, a bad meditator, overly negative, or insane, simply because they’ve spoken out about dysfunction? Or as neurotic, because they’ve deviated from the group? Are American students inferior to European students?
Making excuses for the leader: Painting abuse as a side effect of genius. Enablers will refer to Reggie Ray’s gift of extreme sensitivity and explain that it is the power of his practice that makes him erratic or paranoid, or that his particular genius makes him less capable in his relationships. They may compare him to Chogyam Trungpa to legitimize his behavior.
Love bombing: One of the core elements of control and manipulation, long-term abuse is not possible without demonstrations of affection, even love, meant to influence or sway the abused. Enablers may elevate you in contrast to previous students, telling you that you and/or your group is special, more mature, ready for the teachings, or different from the old Dharma Ocean students.
Gaslighting: A tried and true method of perpetuating abuse, gaslighting undermines a victim’s account by making them doubt their own experience, i.e., “this sounds suspicious to me,” “are you actively working with your paranoia?,” “are you projecting onto the teacher?”
Dismissive apologies: Using some apologetic language without taking accountability, acknowledging that actual harm was done, or actually apologizing, i.e., “I regret that in the end some people felt they did not have a good experience,” “I’m sorry that people feel they were hurt by Reggie,” “I’m sorry you were offended,” etc.
Dharma-splaining: Using variations on Dharma teachings to help an abuser avoid accountability, i.e. crazy wisdom, pure perception, sacred outlook, telling people that Reggie Ray is the wrathful protector of the practicing lineage and is simply feasting on their egos.
Eliciting sympathy (for themselves or for the leader): Shifting the conversation to what a burden it is for the enabler to manage, be in relationship with, or work closely with the leader, or how hard this event has been on the leader.
Control of information: Making it seem dangerous, unnecessary, or unacceptable to hear multiple perspectives about an event or situation. Enablers may subtly discourage you from speaking with victims or past sangha members about their experience or even discourage you from researching the history of Dharma Ocean abuse. Enablers have also worked hard at Dharma Ocean to hide community conversations about abuse in accord with the wishes of the spiritual directors — deleting the Vajrasangha Facebook group, The Practitioner’s Circle, and stripping students who spoke out about abuse of their sangha membership and website access.
Citing their own experience to dismiss abuse: To promote the image of a harm-free Dharma Ocean, some enablers refute abuse claims (“That has not been my experience”)– even when they have, indeed, been abused by a leader in the organization, and even if many others have witnessed it. If you encounter a teacher, staff, or volunteer using themselves as an example to minimize abuse, do some research. Is it true? Or is it an act of loyalty to the leader?
Inaction: Enablers stand by and do nothing as others are abused. They may be afraid or be spiritualizing the abuse, but they do not intervene, challenge, protect, or stop harm from happening.
Enabler’s investment: Consider what this enabler has to gain. Are they being promised retreat teaching positions, fame, paid employment, inheriting a lineage, or a stronger spiritual resume? A closer bond with the leader? Have they recently been elevated by the leader in some way with a new board position, volunteer position, empowerment, or sangha leadership?
“With cult dynamics, the main principle is that nobody abuses alone” –Matthew Remski