Investigative journalism

Your reporter at work

I began this project by using Google to find everything negative that anyone has said on the web about Ngakpa Chögyam or the Aro gTér. That database was the starting point for detailed inquiry. I wanted to find out, for each thing claimed, whether it was true.

I assumed that there must be fire where there is so much smoke. (The database has 190 entries so far.) I soon found that the only questions that had any substance concerned Ngakpa Chögyam’s relationships with his lamas. The rest evaporated quickly when examined. That left his personal history as the main topic of investigation.

I have not met any of Ngakpa Chögyam’s lamas. When I started this project, I knew little about them, or his history with them.

I have no dog
in that fight

This ignorance gave me an open mind. There is an American expression, “I have no dog in that fight.” I cannot be entirely neutral, since I am an Aro student. However, I did not care what his lamas thought about him. That is because I had no opinion about those lamas. I knew most were famous; but there are famous lamas whose opinions I do not respect at all. That meant that confirming the gossip that his lamas rejected him would not bother me. I have personal knowledge of Ngakpa Chögyam, and my opinion of him would not change if I found that all his lamas said he was a bad guy.

I was prepared to publish whatever I found. Ngakpa Chögyam told me it was fine with him for me to make public anything I discovered, unless it would violate the privacy of people outside the Aro sangha.

Questions

I contacted as many people as I could find who knew Ngakpa Chögyam and saw him with his lamas. I asked them many questions—and asked them if they knew of anyone else who could answer.

I also politely contacted many of the people who had posted negative historical claims on the web, to clarify details or to ask where their information came from, if they were not eyewitnesses. Understandably, many were uncooperative; but others were very helpful. I am grateful for their courage and generosity in aiding someone they could have regarded as an enemy.

An investigative journalist ideally wants two witnesses for any event. Ideally, they should not know each other. Next best is that witnesses should not have a personal stake in the event.

  • For the key historical question, “was Ngakpa Chögyam authorized to teach,” I have located many eyewitnesses, including some who do not know each other, and who have no stake in the matter, having never been students of Ngakpa Chögyam.
  • For some other significant events, I have only one witness apart from Ngakpa Chögyam. In those cases, the witness was never a student of Ngakpa Chögyam.
  • Finally, there are events I report for which I have only one witness. In most cases, that witness is Ngakpa Chögyam himself.

the possibility
that he was lying

When I started this investigation, I was open to the possibility that he was lying about his history. There were many honest-sounding reports on the web that contradicted what Ngakpa Chögyam said. I had no specific reason to think him dishonest, but I was trained as a scientist, engineer, and businessman. That makes me habitually skeptical. You do not go far in business if liking someone makes you believe everything they say. So it seemed that some of the contradictions might be due to mis-statements by Ngakpa Chögyam.

I have been able to check the majority of what Ngakpa Chögyam has told me against other witnesses. In all those cases, what he said was confirmed by the others, except occasionally in insignificant details. Most of the honest-sounding but contradictory-seeming web postings were honest, too. They accurately described what someone said—but what the person said was either untrue, or did not mean what the poster thought. I discuss this in detail here and here.

The minor inaccuracies in Ngakpa Chögyam’s accounts were mainly getting years wrong. (This is not surprising. I have a definite memory of getting my university degree in 1989, and also a definite memory of getting it in 1990. I probably tell people one or the other at random.) I will describe some dates vaguely, like “the late 1970s,” when I am unsure which year it was.

The main events occurred two, three, or four decades ago. There are details from then that no one can remember; so there may also be minor details all my witnesses remember inaccurately.

the magic
of the moment

No one expected then that anyone would care about such details decades later. If anyone had anticipated historical questions, they might have documented things better. (“Wow, Rinpoche, what you say about this being a terma is amazing—now could you give me an official certificate, sealed in triplicate and counter-signed by the Dalai Lama, so in 35 years internet trolls will have to find something better to do?”) At the time, what mattered was the magic of the moment—the distant future was a total non-issue.