Why The Dalai Lama's Potential Heir Is Being Sued For Spousal Support By A Woman He Never Married

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Karmapa Lama

An official of British Columbia's Supreme Court has ruled that the Karmapa Lama, one of the potential heirs to the Dalai Lama — can be sued for spousal and child support by a woman who claims to have been in a “marriage-like relationship” with the Buddhist monk.

Ogyen Trinley Dorje — known to his millions of followers as His Holiness, the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, or simply the Karmapa Lama — allegedly fathered a child with the woman in 2017.

Vikki Hui Xin Han claims she and Dorje were in a conjugal relationship that was in essence a marriage, or as close to one as they could get given Dorje’s Buddhist obligations.

The case, which will be heard in British Columbia, Canada, treads on new legal ground that challenges the definition of marriage within the context of spousal support laws, and could create an interesting precedent on what constitutes a “marriage-like relationship.”

Can Buddhist monks marry?

Though rules vary across monastic communities, Buddhist monks generally do not marry.

As monks are expected to devote themselves entirely to Buddha’s path to enlightenment, most take vows of celibacy and relinquish ties to family, except obligations to their own parents.

In Dorje’s home country of Tibet, there are some non-celibate lineages of Buddhism that permit marriage but these are uncommon.

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Dorje’s inability to marry appears to have fuelled Han’s decision to make a case for spousal support.

Elwood acknowledges the changing state of relationships in the modern world may make Dorje and Han’s virtual coupling more credible.

But he says, “Almost all of the traditional factors are missing” from their relationship.

He says courts define the right to spousal support around 22 factors including, “Shelter, sexual behavior, services inside the marriage, social and societal activities, economic support and children.”

Han’s claim fails on each of these counts as the couple never lived together, they never engaged in consensual sex, they never intended to have a child, no one except for Han’s mother knew about their relationship and they never assisted one another in domestic chores.

Elwood says the court may take interest in Dorje’s offering of financial support.

"A trial judge may find on the facts alleged by Ms. Han that the parties loved one another and would have lived together, but were unable to do so because of Mr. Dorje's religious duties and nomadic lifestyle," Elwood added.

Why is the Karmapa Lama is being sued for spousal support if he and Han never married?

Vikki Hui Xin Han claims to have met Dorje just four times but engaged in a relationship that she has likened to marriage.

Han began a three-year residence at a U.S. monastery in 2016 after meeting Dorje two years earlier and being inspired to become a nun.

Han claims Dorje sexually assaulted her at the New York monastery in 2017 and says she became pregnant after this encounter.

Han alleges that what started as a nonconsensual relationship then “evolved into a loving and affectionate relationship."

"Mr. Dorje initially denied responsibility; however, he provided Ms. Han with his email address and a cellphone number, and, according to Ms. Han, said he would 'prepare some money' for her," says Bruce Elwood, the Supreme Court official who granted Han’s application.

The pair communicated over text messages with Dorje allegedly sending money to Han on at least two occasions.

In the months leading up to the child's birth in June 2018, Han claims Dorje transferred $420,000 US and $350,000 CDN to her, including money for a home and a wedding ring.

Later, he allegedly told Han, "Taking care of her and you are my duty for life."

Dorje and Han lost contact in January 2019 and Han sued, initially for child support, the following June before later requesting spousal support.

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Han is not the only woman to claim they were sexually assaulted by the Karmapa Lama.

In October 2020, a woman named Jane Huang came forward with her own story.

"Watch out for the Tibetan lamas, especially those renowned ones because their true faces are terribly ugly." she wrote in the description of a video she posted on YouTube. "They use Buddha Dharma or Tantra teachings as excuses to fulfill their desires, abusing the disciples’ awareness and devotion. Dzongsar Khyentse is simply a hypocrite and I will keep disclosing his unseen/untold stories in the future."

She was joined in the video by another woman named Wu Hang Yee, who said she was standing up "to say Me Too to support Jane Huang to expose Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje's misbehavior."

Dorje is a potential successor to the Dalai Lama.

Dorje is one of two claimants to the title of Karmapa Lama, a controversy that has created divisions amongst their Buddhist followers.

Dorje is seen as a potential heir to the Dalai Lama, which could make him the 15th spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism.

However, the contentious issue of who will succeed the current Dalai Lama has no conclusive answer.

China’s atheist government has expressed intentions to choose the next Dalai Lama, declaring that 92 reincarnated Living Buddhas had been identified and approved for the rule.

Meanwhile, many contend that the judgment on who has been reincarnated as the next Dalai Lama should lie in the authority of the Tibetan people and Buddhist leaders.

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Alice Kelly is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Catch her covering all things social justice, news, and entertainment. Keep up with her on Twitter for more.