REFUGE RECOVERY AND FOUNDER NOAH LEVINE

As members of the new Refuge Recovery service board, we feel it is important to discuss our experience with, and our relationship to, Refuge Recovery founder and author Noah Levine.

This is important because in the last two years, there has been some controversy and misinformation about Noah. Our intention is to be as straightforward as possible.

We want to acknowledge that for some of you, this may be hard to read. We know that the truth about Noah’s situation will lead to different responses in our recovery community.

Our personal experience regarding Noah is that of witnessing a person dedicated to service, to study, to teaching, and to creating positive change in this world. We never have seen, or been aware of, Noah intentionally causing harm to anyone. We also have found Noah to be a person of unusual integrity — a person practicing radical honesty.

From Dharma Punx to Refuge Recovery, Noah’s writing and influence has been the cultural intersection of recovery and Buddhist practice. In twenty years of creating and leading meditation centers, creating the Refuge Recovery organization and related treatment programs, leading meditation retreats, teaching the dharma to groups and individuals, and training other dharma teachers, Noah has helped tens of thousands of people to heal and recover. Noah is speaking the language of addicts across the board. His work has reached people of diverse populations, including many addicts who normally would never set foot in a Buddhist center.

Noah’s book, “Refuge Recovery: A Buddhist Path to Recovering from Addiction” (the copyrights and royalties of which he has freely donated to the Refuge Recovery non-profit organization), created the foundation for our worldwide program.

In important ways, Noah Levine’s story is the RR story.

So why was there controversy around the RR founder? Here are what we understand to be the relevant facts:

In 2015, Noah and his wife divorced on amicable terms, agreeing on joint custody of their two children. Noah later started online dating — an experience that was new to him, even though it had become so prevalent among singles by that time.

In October of 2017, a woman Noah was dating, who was not his dharma student or a member of Refuge Recovery, but who was a Zen student who had her own teachers and lineage, text messaged him that she wanted to discuss consent with regard to an aspect of their sexual relationship. Noah did try to communicate with her about this, but after a couple of text messages, she did not return his calls or respond to his attempts to talk with her about what she was referring to. Noah immediately notified his colleagues at Against the Stream.

In February of 2018, there was a totally unrelated incident. Noah informed his ATS colleagues that he had fallen short with regard to the third precept of Buddhism, by having a one-time, consensual sexual experience with a married woman who, according to her subsequent statement, was not a dharma student or a member of Refuge Recovery.

Around the same time in February of 2018, Noah became aware that the woman he had been dating the previous October had filed a police report. He learned for the first time that her previous questions about consent had been turned into an accusation of sexual assault that she had reported to the Los Angeles Police Department. In particular, she claimed that one of the aspects of her multiple consensual sexual encounters with him was without specific consent. Noah has always made it clear that he never engaged in any sexual assault. The Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office, in conjunction with the LAPD, conducted their own investigation of the matter. They concluded there was no basis for bringing charges against Noah.

ATS and Noah agreed upon a course of action that addressed both Noah’s admitted single breach of the Buddhist precept barring sex with a married woman and Noah’s self-reported concerns of the other woman in relation to specific consent. ATS and Noah agreed that the response should include a period of celibacy, therapy, and greater accountability in relation to his colleagues. Noah participated fully in this this process.

In March 2018, four months after Noah had notified his colleagues about the police report, a letter was sent from a Zen teacher to Refuge Recovery, Against the Stream, Spirit Rock, and to other non-profits Noah was associated with or had founded, telling these communities about the single accusation and requesting action.

After receipt of the letter, and even though the ATS leadership had been aware of the issues for four months and already had agreed to a process to address them, the ATS Teachers Council suddenly forced Noah to take a leave of absence from teaching, and from his position as President of the ATS Board of Directors, while they allegedly investigated the situation.

Noah issued a public statement addressing the situation, acknowledging that although he may have been unskillful in some ways, the accusation of non-consent was completely false.

In the process of the ATS investigation, which lasted for five months, there were several additional complaints solicited by ATS against Noah. Although there were no further accusations of assault, there were several complaints and judgments about his attitude and general behavior. For example, two women reported that they felt uncomfortable about their consensual sexual experience with him. However, both women reported that Noah honored all communicated boundaries.

The very public nature of this investigation, and the unusual length of time it took to complete, damaged Noah’s reputation. The resultant gossip and slander caused harm to the sanghas of Against the Stream and Refuge Recovery.

No women ever came forward publicly with any claims against Noah. No alleged investigation, whether by Spirit Rock or ATS or any other organization or person, has resulted in any conclusion that Noah ever has engaged in any sexual assault or sexual harassment. Instead, ATS and Spirit Rock concluded that it is more likely than not that Noah had caused some harm through his sexual conduct. This vague and undefined charge of likely having caused some harm is not something Noah could dispute. Harm is a vague term that could mean anything from offending to attacking. Buddhism asks us to look at the intention of our actions. This is what creates karma. Noah admitted to, and repeatedly apologized for, unintentionally causing harm, while maintaining that his conscious intentions and volitional actions were not unwholesome.

The former Refuge Recovery Board of Directors voted initially to refrain from taking action without any evidence of wrongdoing. However, the Executive Committee of the former board changed its mind and took action to convince Noah to take a leave of absence, without a board vote in favor of this, creating further perception of Noah’s guilt among some members of Refuge Recovery. The Chairman and Executive Director at the time both stated that they did not believe the accusations against Noah, but that it did not matter whether he was innocent or guilty, because in any case, the “optics” were bad.

The Executive Committee of the former RR Board waged a campaign against Noah, including removal of board members who disagreed with the committee’s actions, using RR official social media to spread false information about Noah (including a post on the RR Facebook page by the then-Chairman of RR, linking to a scandalous article from a notorious tabloid site), and censoring RR’s social media to delete and prohibit any comments or posts favorable to Noah. All of this had the plainly apparent goal of forcing Noah out of RR and pressuring him to turn over the legal rights to the Refuge Recovery book, name and logo to a board of directors not committed to the original vision and principles of Refuge Recovery.

In January 2019, this campaign culminated in a lawsuit brought against the Refuge Recovery founder by the then-current board, after the board refused to engage in mediation that Noah had proposed to take place the following month. As part of their decision to choose litigation, the former board incurred legal fees of at least $80,000. They used donations from the RR membership, who never were consulted about the lawsuit, and who had no idea that their donations to the sangha would be used to sue the founder of RR and the author of the RR book. The statements and accusations made against Noah by the former board were proven false in the litigation.

In February of 2019, one of Noah’s long-time teachers, Jack Kornfield, from the Spirit Rock Meditation Center, made a statement to the effect that he believed Noah had caused harm. Kornfield posted a statement that he was revoking Noah’s authorization to teach. Noah reported that in a conversation, Kornfield admitted that he had no specific information about alleged harm caused, and that his action was in part a political move to protect the Spirit Rock establishment and donor base. Kornfield also told Noah that it was partially motivated by resentment toward Noah and his long-standing critique of Spirit Rock teachers for their failure to adhere to the Buddhist precepts involving drugs and alcohol and sexuality with students. In any case, Noah never relied upon any teaching authorization from Kornfield, who himself was never authorized to teach. Jack Kornfield was only one of Noah’s teachers who had encouraged and supported him in teaching. Encouragement to teach had also come from his father Stephen Levine, Noah’s teachers in the Thai Forest tradition (who continue to encourage him to teach), and from his students (who continue to seek out his teaching).

By April of 2019, the former Refuge Recovery board was faced with substantial and valid counterclaims filed by Noah’s pro bono legal team, together with overwhelming evidence disproving the allegations in the board’s lawsuit. The evidence against the former board included 13 sworn statements submitted to the Los Angeles Federal District Court by three of the four original RR board members, a facilitator of two of the first three RR meetings, the Incorporator of RR, as well as members of the RR community from around the country.

To read the counterclaims and sworn statements filed by Noah’s lawyers:

https://www.dropbox.com/…/a7cw2n…/AABMXtdo6sGWXscTlfIKN0Bna…

The former RR board then dropped their lawsuit, gave up all of their claims, and headed for the exits. They disbanded the original non-profit that Noah had created, unlawfully absconded with financial and other assets belonging to Refuge Recovery, and used those assets to start a new organization. Noah had the option of re-opening the litigation to seek a court order against their theft of assets. He chose to move on instead, and to focus his efforts on helping Refuge Recovery.

Working together throughout this difficult experience has allowed each of us to witness Noah demonstrate strength of character in the face of unsubstantiated and undeserved attacks, while showing a steadfast refusal to allow gossip, lies, and pressure tactics to destroy Refuge Recovery.

It has been two years since what have turned out to be unsubstantiated accusations were made against Noah Levine. It has been over a year since Spirit Rock Meditation Center chose to place fear of public opinion over fair treatment. It has been ten months since overwhelming evidence against the former RR board’s lawsuit forced that board to abandon their campaign against the founder. As the Refuge Recovery World Services Board, we believe that, in standing with the RR founder, we chose the ethical path forward. In spite of pressures to punish anyone accused, without necessary evidence or process, this was simply the right thing to do.

As the new RR service board, we are taking action to prevent similar situations from arising again:

  • RRWS by-laws and board policies are being written in order to take any allegation of misconduct seriously, while doing so in a manner that provides fairness to all concerned.
  • Since August, our main social media pages and groups have been moderated according to the Refuge Recovery Guiding Principles.
  • In May, the board issued clear social media guidelines for all RR groups.
  • This month has seen the release of strengthened Guiding Principles. Included in the revised version are principles intended to help keep our groups free from controversy.
  • As the service board we are dedicated to creating conditions that allow our groups to focus solely on helping each other recover.

We are honored to have Noah Levine as a part of our team and as a spokesperson for Refuge Recovery. We believe the goodwill extended to our fellowship by Noah, including his willingness to speak, to write, and to teach as the author of Refuge Recovery is invaluable. Noah’s ability to speak about his experience, and the benefits of the Refuge Recovery program, were the source of much of the enthusiasm for our initial four years of growth. As the truth surrounding the events of the last two years becomes more evident, we see this enthusiasm being re-kindled.

If you have been a part of Refuge Recovery, it is our hope that this full explanation of the events of the last two years is clarifying and offers reassurance. We are grateful for your understanding of our need to sort out a complex set of circumstances and your patience with the time it has taken to provide this more complete picture. If you are new to Refuge Recovery, please do not allow the fact that conflict occurred in the past to deter you from being involved and finding your recovery in our sangha. All successful recovery groups have gone through similar episodes in their early years. Those that responded with mature and principled policies and traditions are the programs we all know the names of today. Every member of Refuge Recovery can know that as a recovery program, we have not only survived a difficult episode, but that we have emerged stronger on the other side.

In service,

Joseph Souhrada

Rachael Savage

Russell Smith

Refuge Recovery World Services Board of Directors

Refuge Recovery Founder Noah Levine Donates Refuge Recovery Book, Name and Logo to Non-Profit Refuge Recovery World Services…

The new RR Board is pleased to announce the transfer of ownership of the book, Refuge Recovery: A Buddhist Path To Recovering From Addiction, from author and copyright holder Noah Levine to the non-profit organization, Refuge Recovery World Services. In addition, ownership of the name Refuge Recovery and the three jewels RR logo have also been transferred to the non-profit organization.

This week’s transfer fulfills the longstanding intention of the Refuge Recovery author and founder, stated since 2014, to, over time, give control of all RR intellectual property over to a trusted non-profit service board committed to developing the democratic voice of the Refuge Recovery groups, consistent with the Refuge Recovery program established ten years ago. This transfer of ownership of the book and other intellectual property to RRWS is a victory for the entire RR community, going beyond the asset-sharing agreement sought by the former RR board and marking the beginning of a powerful new phase in the development of the revitalized Refuge Recovery non-profit organization and program.

The Refuge Recovery World Services Board of Directors was formed in August of 2019.  Our Board brings a diversity of experience, skills and perspectives which mirror the diversity of our global sangha. The Board is entrusted with managing the legal and fiscal health of the Refuge Recovery non-profit organization, supporting the development of a comprehensive network of Refuge Recovery groups, offering training and education for our sangha members as well as the general public, and doing fundraising to support collaborative projects.

Rachael Savage-Seattle Washington Sangha

Russ Smith- Los Angeles California Sangha

Joseph Souhrada- Seattle Washington Sangha

Noah Levine-Los Angeles California Sangha

Much gratitude and appreciation to our Board for this generous act of service.

From the Executive Director

Hi Sangha- this month we’re exploring the Precepts and what it looks like to take them to the streets. We are not monastics so understanding and living the Precepts as householders in recovery can be (at least for me and maybe for you) an ongoing process of discovery and returning again and again to the practice. Just like Tyler, I have “started and fucked up a thousand times.”  We are an abstinence-based program; what does that mean to each of us? How do you establish your bottom lines?  We’re also looking at recovery and yoga; many thanks to Sarit, one of the founders of Refuge Recovery, for sharing some of her story and insights with us.

Dan is continuing to take our website to the next level, organizing resources and enhancing our guided meditation offerings.  We get about a thousand downloads a day (wow!) and it’s exciting to have new voices coming forward to lead meditations. Many thanks to the folks who are sending us their meditations for posting and please keep ‘em coming.

We have 597 meetings today and our non-profit organization continues to be focused on being of service to sangha. Our infrastructure of regional and inter-sangha groups continues to form. We have now had two regional conferences- Southeast and, just a few weeks ago, New England- both were inspiring and demonstrated how connectivity builds and deepens recovery. Got a suggestion? Please feel free to send any and all ideas to refuge recovery. Much appreciation to all of you.

Executive Director

Hi Sangha- hope this Newsletter finds all of you well and, for those of you in the Northern Hemisphere, enjoying the summer. I’m pleased to report that our annual conference, referred to as RefCon, went beautifully this year.

Major props to our Planning Committee, which was composed of Regional Representatives from around the US and Canada, and local arrangements, managed beautifully by the Los Angeles team. They all did an incredible job, both in the planning stages and supporting the conference participants throughout the weekend. RefCon4 was a celebration of sangha, with speakers who helped start Refuge Recovery all those years ago as well as folks who are newer to our community. A whole lot of spirited folks in one place lifting the building off the ground. This was our first year live-streaming and I want to acknowledge one of our crew in Canberra, Australia for suggesting we give it a try. We’re posting a link to each session on the Refuge Recovery website so you can check them out if you were unable to attend or catch the live streams.

Our first Annual Report was summarized at RefCon and that is now posted on the website as well as our 2017 tax return.  The Refuge Board of Directors is well aware that sorting through the various entities tagged as Refuge Recovery can be confusing. Just to be clear,

Thanks so much for everything you do to make our turbulent world a refuge. I look forward to seeing you soon on the Sangha World Tour; next stop is Dover, NH for the first-ever Region IX Conference!

From the Office of the Executive Director

 

Hi Sangha- lots to report this month re: planning the annual RR Conference, scheduled for June 8-10, 2018 in Los Angeles.

Speaking of RefCon4, it’s on, people!!! The planning crew is getting organized and it should be quite an event. As usual, we’ll have a combination of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha in more or less equal measure. Our logistics will be different this year as we won’t have the small rooms available to us, so we’ll have lots of cozy togetherness. The recent Southeast Conference in Nashville was mostly held in one room and it seemed to work fine so no reason it can’t work in L.A.! We have reserved 20 beds at the Melrose Hostel to help make this affordable for everyone; you can find the hostel at https://melrosehostel.com/. Just make sure you let them know you’re a part of Refuge. Oh, and one other thing, some of the dharma will be coming by way of Josh Korda from Dharma Punx NYC. He’ll be giving a teaching on early attachment and addictive behaviors- using the Refuge tools to heal early emotional wounds.

We’re launching our new website soon and deep bows to Sanja Rogers, Dan Oliverio and Josh Reisner for their beautiful work. Registration for the Conference will happen on the new site (any day now!).

Finally, our theme this month is renunciation. In pondering that, I bumped across a forum in Lion’s Roar from April 2017 that I’m sharing here for folks who haven’t yet read it: https://www.lionsroar.com/forum-the-beauty-of-renunciation/. The introduction to the forum talks about renunciation as “the beautiful realization that you already have everything you need.” May all of us have everything we need as we turn away from greed, hatred and delusion.

 

Jean Tuller
Executive Director

Hello Sangha!

Our theme this month is metta- the gift of loving kindness and friendliness. Several months ago, we began taking on the issues of cultural competency in our organization. This reflected an urgent need to begin fostering more metta in our worldwide sangha to all members.

Thanks to skillful work by Jaisee Alexander from Charleston, SC and Chance Krempasky of Brooklyn, trans-phobic language in the Refuge Recovery book is being eliminated. The process of looking at the book, as well as concern for member safety in some of our communities, prompted the Board to collaborate with sangha members to develop a statement on diversity and inclusion. When we say “All are welcome,” we need to mean it. To that end, I am pleased to announce that, at its February Board of Directors meeting, the Board approved the statement that you will soon see on our website and social media. We still have a long way to go and discussion at the recent (and AMAZING!!!) Southeast Regional Conference about the work ahead was thoughtful and energizing.

Here’s the statement:

“As a peer-led recovery program using Buddhism as the path to freedom from all addictions, Refuge Recovery is a community that embraces all people regardless of age, race, class, culture, nationality, ethnic origin, religious/spiritual background, gender, gender identity, sexual/affectional orientation, marital status, family structure, social identity, physical ability or appearance, mental health, legal standing, and educational or socioeconomic status. As such, we strive to speak to each other in a compassionate way using wise communication and avoiding hate-speech, intimidation, and violence of any kind. If you seek refuge in our community, we hope you feel welcome and safe.”

Now on to RefCon4 planning and designing our regional infrastructure. Folks, we’ve got this!

Hope to sit with you soon on the Sangha World Tour,

Jean

Jean Tuller
Executive Director

Hello Sangha!

Our Newsletter this month is devoted to intentions. What are your intentions for the coming year? How will you make them happen? 2017 was a year of geo-political-social challenges (hmmm… maybe “nightmare” is a better description!), for sure, and so

how do we as a global sangha continue to carve out safe space? How do we hold a lantern for those seeking refuge? Recovery is always dynamic; the support we provide one another strengthens each of us and our sangha as a whole.

Speaking of strengthening, in June 2017, we had 260 listed meetings. We are now at 447 on our new and improved meeting listings web page. This is incredible growth and demonstrates how all of you have made Refuge Recovery a place to come home to. Also, we are on track to build our regional infrastructure, with the plan being that most of our regional representatives will be identified by January 31, 2018. I’m pleased to announce the following representatives:

Region II: (AB, MB, SK, WY, MT): Erin Gail
Region III: (UT, CO, NM, NV, AZ): Ray Rosales
Region V: (SD, ND, MN, MO, KS, NB, WV): Jim Joedicke
Region VII: (LA, AL FL, NC, SC, MS, TS, KY, GA): Taunia Kellerby, George Beecher, Beau Patrick Coulon
Region VIII: (ON, QC, NB, NS, PE, NL): Louise Goodman
Region IX: (ME, VT, NH, MA, CT, RI): John Burns and Joel Osterman
Region XI: (International): Jerry Sulonen
Region XII: (Online Meetings): Kris Roehling;
and Women’s Recovery and Refuge Online: Erin Dunn

Beginning in February, the Representatives will start designing and building the functions and structure of the regions as well as provide assistance in planning for our annual Conference, scheduled for June 8-10, 2018, in Los Angeles.

Please thank these folks for their service above and beyond the call!
And deep bows to all of you as we travel together into the coming year.

Hope to sit with you soon-
Jean

Executive Director

Hello Sangha!

Generosity. Some folks associate that word with the season we’re in. In Refuge, generosity is an everyday occurrence. The generosity of starting and supporting meetings. The generosity of serving as mentors. The generosity of giving your phone number to someone who just walked in the door.

The generosity of your donations. The generosity of our incredible volunteer, DIY spirit, which gets this newsletter published, manages our social media presence, and serves on local sanghas and our Board of Directors. All of these things happen and all because of you. Last month, I announced our new Instagram team, lead by Dan Oliverio, which has a couple of new members- Brent Borresson and Scott McNemar. These folks are giving a major jump to our presence on Insta; please send them some metta when you have a moment. This month, I’m pleased to announce that Hillary Hildebrand will be overseeing our entire social media portfolio, working closely with Dan and Co. as well as other Refugees active in our social media world. Hillary is genius for this work and I look forward to seeing how she raises our game. Please extend your gratitude and generosity to her as she takes on this new responsibility. And please accept my gratitude for everything you do every day to give our chosen friends and family a refuge. Hope to see you soon on the Sangha World Tour.

Hope to sit with you soon,
Jean