So much of this thread is conjecture. I always felt a weakness of the internet threads on this woman was how few people speaking on them had ever met her. And therefore claims that she was deliberately deceiving people for money, fame, power, etc - these were nothing more than educated guesses.
I spent the last 14 years of my life as a student of hers. From the very first few months when she began public teachings in 2001, up until earlier this year. I was a monk with her most of that time. Truthfully, stories like my own are what I feel is missing from these threads. Not so much to help people who are outside her fold - most people outside her group have no trouble concluding her claims are false. It is the people who are in her organization that need a higher quality of critique - because the doubts they have only came after time, after they became deeply involved in some cases, making the idea of leaving feel very difficult and loaded. They need to hear from fellow (ex)members - people who made an informed choice not to follow her, based on observation of her - to help them in their decision to stay or go.
There is so much I could say, it's hard to know where to start. To begin, the implications made by a couple people that Ven Lozang Gyaltsen was being deceitful in how he presented himself - using a false name, etc - were completely baseless. He is not a student of Tara's (he was ordained by a different Gelug lama), but he did attend a weeklong retreat with her in 2008. As you can tell, he still considers himself a friend of her and her organization. I consider him a personal friend. Let's leave behind this black-and-white thinking that because he believes in her there must be something wrong with him or his credentials, or that he harbors ulterior motives. This unnecessary combativeness just weakens the otherwise valid parts of the arguments here.
I met her when I was 17, and became a monk with her just over a year after that. In retrospect, I recognized a common trait between the young me and the vast majority of the students she's had over the years. Almost all of us had little-to-no experience with Tibetan Buddhism - and particularly Tibetan lamas - when we met her. So we didn't know what a normal Tibetan lama was like.
She does know a lot about Tibetan Buddhism - but her claims to great scholarship are hard to swallow, since she rarely displays much familiarity with the finer points of traditional Buddhist philosophy. She much more often teaches "creatively for the Western mind," using new analogies (which are admittedly well thought of) and touching on Buddhist concepts in a broader conceptual way. She had been a practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism for 30 years before the Tibetan Domo Geshe Rinpoche passed away, and before the "transference" occurred. I didn't see any knowledge or concepts from her over the years that couldn't have plausibly been gained from 30 years of study and practice. Especially because many of the concepts she described as secret or the highest concepts of Tibetan Buddhism - and therefore not something we could verify in any Buddhist books! - in retrospect were usually New Agey.
(For (ex)students of hers I submit for consideration her teachings on actual being / inner being / practitioner being, mandala matrix, higher principle, etheric grid, world grid, etc. Even though she created them, her own usage of these concepts was imprecise and occasionally contradictory over time. And whenever asked a question about them she didn't want to answer, she could always say "You're not ready to hear that yet - just keep doing your practice.")
In the first year of studying with her, she moved things along quickly. In the first series of teachings I attended with her, halfway through she gave an empowerment into the unique meditation practice she created, without any warning. She just said "Make sure to be here next week, it's very important." I would later learn it was supposedly a highest yoga tantric practice...yet there was no explanation of what the bodhisattva or tantric vows or the commitment to the meditation would be - just make sure to be there! (Because she always knew what was best for us anyway, right? Why let our samsaric mind get in the way?)
In the next several months I showed myself to be a devoted student, and she began to call me her spiritual son in our email communications.
I sure liked hearing that - and had no idea what an inappropriate thing it was for her to say in the position of power she held.
Those same emails were signed by her simply as "Guru." Especially in the early years, she constantly used the term Guru in relationship to herself. If I had known anything about what a healthy teacher was like, that would have been yet another red flag. And not just Guru. She explained how she could grow out her hair in violation of the monastic rules because she was a mahasiddha - a name she used for herself many more times over the years. In addition, she talked about being the reincarnation of some of the most seminal enlightened figures of Buddhist history in India and Tibet - Shariputra, Thönmi Sambhota, Milarepa, Dromtönpa, Khedrubje. This latter claim is a recorded part of the Domo Geshe lineage. However, I doubt the actual Domo Geshe Rinpoche's ever spoke about it the way she did.
At other times, she said Pabongkha Rinpoche was speaking through her. At one time, it was even Je Tsongkhapa himself.
Have you head the Tibetan expression that if someone tells you they're your guru, you should run the other way? I wish I'd heard this before meeting her. Recently listening back to one of the first teachings I heard from her (from September 25, 2001), she said the following - making it clear people should take the "marvelous opportunity" to study with her and not delay:
"Should a grand Guru come up to you and say, 'I think that you have qualities and I want to teach you everything I know. Would you please by my student?' and he places his hand on your hand and you fall down. And you say, 'This is the most marvelous opportunity that I have ever come across. I must grab it.' Every student that I’ve ever had has thought that way. 'This is the most marvelous opportunity and I’m not going to let it pass by.'
However, in my American body I have come across those who have said (affects a whiny voice), 'Ehhhhh, I don’t know… I’m gonna think about it and see where these things go. I’m gonna look at it… Ehhhhh, well if you wanna tell me something, OK. But don’t go on too long because I’ve only got 15 or 20 minutes.' ...
In that way, I’m OK. Whatever. I learned that from Americans - "whatever." And I can say it perfectly - whatever. And do I mean it? No, I don’t mean it. Because I truly love you all more than you love yourselves.”
How about that last line? She always viewed things relationally. That one did become a red flag for me over time - the apparent emotional dependence she had on her students. One way it manifested itself was in things like the above. As part of her inner circle of students, it became clear over the years she wanted us to spend the holidays with her, rather than with our families. (I can only imagine because we were the only family she had). Years later, when I visited her at her new home in Central Wisconsin, she literally said, "You don't come up here very often. Don't you love your Guru?"
Another example of this was in how quickly she ordained people who requested to be a monk with her in the early years. Her first monk was ordained within 24 hours of the first time they asked! Another was ordained within a week. And when they did, they were told they needed to move to California, to live closely with her so she could properly train them.
Throughout my time with her she emphasized how she cared for her students. She cared for us in particular on the "inside," by sending blessings and enlightened attention and guidance to us. This is one thing that kept me in it so long - I was afraid for the future of my spiritual well-being without receiving her "inner care."
This inner communication / inner vision of her students also came out in her frequently saying things to myself and other students about how we were doing on the inside. This mostly happened on retreats or when she was staying at our monastery. She'd say something like, "You seem distressed inside" or "You had disturbing dreams last night." This was in front of other students, by the way. And I'd have no idea what she was talking about - but just chalked it up to not being sufficiently in touch with my deeper layers. Having talked to other people who've left since, they describe many times she was off-base in the unsolicited statements she'd make about their inner mental states.
All this is connected to another unique aspect of her approach. She gave what she called "inner guru" transmission to her students when they received the meditation practice she gave. She described this as an extremely rare and secret transmission that in Tibet was only given to the highest Lamas. Why would she give this to beginners when it was only given to the highest yogis and practitioners in Tibet? She said Westerners didn't have as much time to meditate and therefore needed stronger methods to help them achieve enlightenment. This is someone who was supposed to have been a Lama of 65 years in their past life - and an enlightened Guru for lifetimes before that (she claimed 35,000 years in 2003). This person was giving not only highest yoga tantra empowerments, but this even higher "inner guru" transmission, to beginners who often had no previous Buddhist practice!
Yet she would often congratulate herself during her public teachings on how well this approach was working. About a year after she started teaching she shared with her inner circle that one of her students was enlightened. And soon after, she said the same thing at a public teaching - except that now it was more than one! If you know anything at all about the Tibetan tradition, you'll know how incredible a claim that is. Of course, we didn't. Neither of those students is still with her. As far as I know she continues saying how well her approach is working, despite how many students have left over the years, and how small her group continues to be.
I gave back the monk's vows about a year before formally releasing her as my teacher. For years before then, I knew I didn't want to remain a monk. It didn't feel authentic anymore. Why did I carry on so long as a monk with her? There was clear pressure from her not to disrobe. To that point in time, she had 10 other students ordain as monks or nuns with her - 6 of whom had given back the vows. I'd seen how unhappy and upset she'd been with them.
She told us that once given back, the vows couldn't be taken again. This was a strange position to hold, since it is found nowhere in the vinaya - the Buddha himself said monks could give back and retake the vows 7 times! Ven Lozang shared with me that when his teacher ordained him, he said "If this ever doesn't feel like the right path for you, you can release the vows. Don't keep them for anyone else's sake." What a different message than what my teacher was saying! I could write several chapters in a book on all the ways she modeled and facilitated a culture of codependence.
Ultimately, I hesitated to give them back because she said the main difference between her ordained and lay students was how much inner care she offered them. I.e. her ordained students received more inner blessings so they could reach enlightenment faster. This was one of her unique interpretations of what it meant to be a monk, and again, it made me hesitate in what I wanted to do out of concern for my inner spiritual well-being. In her model, giving up being a monk was a very fatalistic thing. Luckily, I finally had the courage to follow my own intuition - something which had to be suppressed during my time with her - and have gradually found my way all the way out over the past year.
Is she in it for fame, money or power? I lived with her in California and briefly after she moved to her place now in Central Wisconsin, and have been there many times since. If she has many expensive possessions, I haven't seen them. As far as I can tell she believes her claims to be Domo Geshe Rinpoche, so it isn't deceit. Fame or power, I can't speak to.
Several people have left over her continual fundraising efforts and asks for money. These are all apparently for expansion at her retreat center. It seems to always be in need of new expansions each year or so, and so the calls for money don't settle down. Since I haven't seen her personal finances, I can't verify how the money raised is being used, but can say the expansions she's fundraised for in the past have happened.
Are her claims to be Domo Geshe Rinpoche true? She has not been recognized by any Tibetan lama, although in 2002/2003 she travelled to India to get an appointment with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. She never got a meeting, and so she changed tactics and met with administrators and personal friends of Tharpa Choling outside Darjeeling - monastery of the previous Domo Geshe Rinpoche. These included people who knew Domo Geshe Rinpoche personally, and they didn't accept her claims. One of them asked for the names of his (Domo Geshe Rinpoche's) parents. She couldn't answer. Nor could she speak in Tibetan with any of them, even though before she left on this trip she told her students she was practicing her Tibetan to be ready to speak with all these people! Oops. At that point the story became that the Tibetan's ability to speak Tibetan had to be "put away" during the arisal into this new life, so that he could master English and thus teach Westerners.
In 2008 another opportunity for recognition arose. As a result of effort made by her students, she got connected with Namkha Rinpoche. He said she was "who she said she was" - but didn't go so far as to recognize her. He tried to help her get an appointment with HHDL (but it never happened). There was one weekend retreat where he taught and she sat to his side. That was an interesting experience. He made a statement at one point that students needed to speak up to their teacher, to say when they’re doing something wrong - explicitly saying we needed to this with her. She literally rolled her eyes. Clearly she didn’t agree. (Again - students are unenlightened and confused - the guru knows best!) He also made it clear he was giving her the initiation as well - because she needed it. After changing bodies, she’d need to receive all her empowerments again. Clearly she didn’t agree. After not getting an appointment with HHDL, things began to fizzle, and she stopped making effort to stay connected with Namkha Rinpoche.
What makes this a really interesting case - what gives it all these shades of grey - is that she has some genuine spiritual insight and realization. What the source of it is, I can't say. But she clearly is a gifted teacher, and has some amount of insight in her personal work with students. This is undoubtedly why I stayed with her and why other people continue with her - along with our lack of experience with Tibetan Buddhism when we met her and got hooked. I'm just sorry to see the dependence she cultivates - no matter how many times she says she doesn't do it, she does - and the damaging and hurtful effect it has on students.