Randy Sogyal Rinpoche, Best-Selling Lecher

The impulse to believe the absurd when presented with the unknowable is called religion. Whether this is wise or unwise is the domain of doctrine. Once you understand someone's doctrine, you understand their rationale for believing the absurd. At that point, it may no longer seem absurd. You can get to both sides of this conondrum from here.

Re: Randy Sogyal Rinpoche, Best-Selling Lecher

Postby admin » Wed Dec 20, 2017 3:25 am

Why I Quit Guru Yoga: Does elevating the guru to the same status as the teachings themselves set the stage for teacher-student abuse?
by Stephen Batchelor
Tricycle
Winter, 2017

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The mahasiddhas Tilopa and Naropa; Central Tibet, 16th century, pigment on cloth | Courtesy Rubin Museum of Art
“If I had a disciple worthy of the name,” said the 11th-century Indian tantric adept Tilopa to his student Naropa, “he would jump off the roof of this building.” Naropa immediately jumped and ended up in agony on the ground. Tilopa then explained to Naropa how his suffering was due to attachment to conceptual thought. This well-known story is cited as an example of how students of Vajrayana Buddhism should practice devotion to their guru. Now imagine a contemporary teacher—let’s call him “Rinpoche”—asking the same of his disciple Mary today. As a result Mary jumps off the roof of a dharma center in San Francisco and fractures her spine. Fortunately for Naropa, Tilopa was able to heal him through his magical powers. Mary is hospitalized and may not walk again.

How are we to understand such accounts of guru devotion? Am I to believe that the story of Tilopa and Naropa actually took place? Can I imagine Buddhist societies in India or Tibet that did not object to religious teachers behaving in this way? Or should it be read as an inspiring fable to strengthen one’s faith? Is it any different from the biblical account of Abraham being told by God to sacrifice his son Isaac? Like Naropa, Abraham obeys the command. Yet just as he is about to cut his son’s throat, Isaac too is spared by magic, in this case the intervention of an angel and the appearance of an unlucky ram. Did this event happen in a historical time and place? Or is it too just an allegory?

Both stories emphasize how the kind of faith needed to embark on the path to enlightenment or salvation must be as unwavering as that of Naropa and Abraham. Yet the point is not to imitate the outward behavior of Naropa or Abraham but to emulate their heartfelt inner commitment to the dharma or God. The stories graphically illustrate how remaining true to one’s deepest values is the most important consideration. This is what makes the difference between a person who practices mindfulness in order to realize her ultimate goals in life and someone else for whom it is a means to improve his golf handicap.

After eight years as a student of Tibetan Buddhism, I chose to leave that tradition and pursue my training elsewhere. One of the main reasons for this decision was that I could not accept the doctrine of guru devotion. From the outset, I was uncomfortable with the practice of taking refuge in the lama (the Tibetan equivalent of Sanskrit “guru”) in addition to the conventional triple gem of the Buddha, dharma, and sangha, for it raised one’s teacher to the same status as the three traditional jewels. Tsongkhapa, the 14th-century founder of the Gelug tradition, opened one of his best-known poems, The Ground of All Excellence, with this praise of the guru:

You, kind Lord, are the ground of all excellence, Right devotion to you is the root of the path.


His magnum opus, The Great Exposition of the Stages on the Path, likewise places guru devotion at the very beginning. The late Nyingma teacher Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche affrmed that “devotion is the essence of the path, and if we have in mind nothing but the guru and feel nothing but fervent devotion, whatever occurs is perceived as his blessing.” As much as I loved my own teacher Geshe Rabten, no matter how hard I tried, I could not surrender my will to him in these terms.

My difficulties were exacerbated by having already received higher tantric initiations from Serkong Tsenshap Rinpoche before I began studying with Geshe Rabten. As a condition for receiving those initiations I had to accept Serkong Rinpoche as my Vajrayana guru, promise to recite the sadhanas (prayers) of certain deities every day for the rest of my life, and take vows of allegiance (samaya) to him, the first of which is “never to disrespect the Vajra master.” To break any of these vows, I was told, would result in my being reborn in Vajra hell.

I was encouraged to take these initiations at the age of 21, at the height of my youthful enthusiasm for everything Tibetan. I greatly admired Serkong Rinpoche but did not know him well. I was reassured that even if I were unable to practice such advanced teachings in this life, the initiations would plant seeds in my consciousness that would result in a fortunate rebirth in the next. In retrospect, at that point in my life I had insufficient experience in dharma practice, was spiritually idealistic and immature, and was quite unprepared psychologically to take such a step. The traditional requirement that the student first thoroughly investigate the qualities of the guru before receiving an initiation was ignored.

Because I knew about the centrality of guru yoga in the Tibetan tradition, my inability to practice it in a heartfelt way made me feel fraudulent, burdened by negative karma, and effectively barred from making much progress in this life. I recognized that my resistance to this practice stemmed from an upbringing in a secular, democratic culture that privileged independence of mind, reason, and personal responsibility. I also recalled the injunction of the Buddha, often cited by Tibetan lamas, to “examine my teachings as carefully as a goldsmith would assay gold, and not to accept them just out of faith in me,” which had inspired me to pursue my training in philosophy and dialectics with Geshe Rabten. I had likewise memorized the Tibetan text of the Four Reliances, a pithy four-line verse from the sutras about what to rely upon in one’s practice. The first line says: “Rely not on the person, rely on the teaching.” I was equally aware that in Shantideva’s Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, which I was translating from Tibetan at the time, guru devotion played no significant role at all. What I was being taught seemed to be pulling me in two opposing directions.

Eventually, these tensions inside me reached a point where something snapped. I clearly recall the moment when I was rapidly chanting the various tantric sadhanas and mantras I was obliged to recite daily and it struck me with irrefutable force: this is ridiculous. At that moment I stopped. I never again spent an hour or more of my day intoning my “commitments.” I was relieved to have recovered my own authority for living my life. I realized that I had been intimidated by a culture of fear. I no longer needed to ask my teachers’ permission for what I could and couldn’t do with my mind. If this means that I will go to Vajra hell, then so be it.

The validity of a teaching has nothing to do with the qualities of the teacher. All that matters is whether, when put into practice, it can effect a real change in the way you live.


I then spent four years as a monk in Songgwang Sa, a Son (Zen) monastery in South Korea, under the guidance of my teacher Kusan Sunim. Compared to Tibetan Buddhism, Korean Son had an entirely different feel to it that I found difficult to put my finger on. On the surface there were many obvious differences: the form of meditation practice, the philosophy that underpinned it, the Chinese-Taoist flavor of much of the teaching, the organization of monastic life, and so on. Affectively, though, what made the crucial difference for me was the way in which students related to the teacher.

I found it curious that everyone at the monastery related to each other as though they were members of an extended family. This was quite explicit. My teacher was my “father,” his “brothers” were my “uncles,” and so on. Once I was accepted into the monastery I became part of this family and was warmly received and cared for. But I also found myself tied by a strong sense of familial allegiance to which my individual preferences and desires had to be subordinated. My first duty was neither to myself nor my teacher but to the family. I was once told in all seriousness: “If the assembly of monks decides to go to hell, then you must go to hell too.”

It was never once suggested that I had to devote myself to Kusan Sunim as if he were a buddha. At no point did I have to make an oath of allegiance to him in order to receive instruction. Everyone in Songgwang Sa nonetheless held him in high esteem. The monks acknowledged the depth of his insight, respected his authority as the “grandfather” of the monastery, and accepted his guidance as a Son master. I slowly came to realize that what made the affective difference for me was that Korean Son had evolved and was embedded in a Confucian rather than a feudal matrix of values.

Confucianism is an ethical and political philosophy based on the principle of maintaining harmony within five core social relationships: between ruler and subject, father and son, brothers, husband and wife, and friends. For harmony to prevail, each person must understand their place in the social order and behave accordingly. In this way, authority and responsibility are more widely distributed throughout society rather than being concentrated in a single figure or elite group. The Tibetan (and Japanese) traditions, by contrast, evolved and were embedded in a feudal society, where unquestioning loyalty and obedience to the feudal lord were of paramount importance in maintaining social order.

As Buddhism has moved from one culture to another in the course of its history, it has come to adopt the social frameworks of its new hosts. Neither a feudal nor a Confucian model is thus intrinsically more suited to the practice of the dharma. If we go back to the time of the Buddha in 5th-century BCE India, we can see how Gotama sought to found his community on the republican model of society that still prevailed in the Vajjian confederacy of clans rather than adopt the new form of imperial monarchy that was emerging throughout the Eastern Gangetic basin. The history of Buddhism in India, however, shows that over time it adopted increasingly monarchic and feudal models of organization, particularly as Mahayana and Vajrayana forms of the dharma became more widespread.

Before he died, Gotama told his followers: “After I am gone, do not think you will have no teacher; the dharma will be your teacher.” Unlike a king, he did not expect any one person to be his successor. Instead, he envisaged a community that would be governed by the impersonal law of the teachings he had delivered, just as a republic is ultimately governed by a rule of law rather than any individual ruler. In the Discourse to the Kalamas, he explicitly warns against believing something “because my guru said it.” The validity of a teaching has nothing to do with the qualities of the teacher. All that matters is whether, when put into practice, it can effect a real change in the way you live.

While the concept of the guru was present in the Upanishads that predated the advent of Buddhism, Gotama rejected it in favor of finding a good friend (kalyanamitta), whose role was to help you enter the eightfold path and thereby become independent of others in your practice of the dharma. Yet for Vajrayana Buddhists, these teachings belong to an “inferior vehicle” (hinayana) for people of middling capacity.

The student is still required to pass through these Hinayana stages of practice, but for the sole purpose of advancing to the superior Mahayana and Vajrayana teachings that can lead those of great capacity to complete enlightenment in a single lifetime. And for that, devotion to the guru is indispensable.

By the time Buddhism made its way to Tibet in the 8th century CE, it had fully incorporated the guru model of spiritual authority that prevailed in the Indian tradition. As Buddhism further evolved in Tibet, the doctrines and practices of the Vajrayana were merged with feudal structures of power, which together produced the distinctive teachings and institutions of Tibetan Buddhism that we know today. This resulted in the emergence of a Buddhocracy (initially called “Lamaism” by scholars), where, for the first time in Buddhist history, dharma and politics were fused and a monk became head of state. Coupled with the system of reincarnating tulkus, a spiritual aristocracy emerged whose autocratic rule extended into every valley, village, and town of the land.

The problem is systemic. It lies in the synergy of tantric doctrines and feudal structures that allow a teacher to legitimate abusive behavior to himself and his students.


In 1993, I was invited with 21 other Western Buddhist teachers to a conference in Dharamshala with the Dalai Lama. By this time I had disrobed, was married, and lived in an experimental Buddhist community in Britain. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss how to address issues of ethical misconduct among Buddhist teachers. The Dalai Lama was concerned about the number of letters he had received from Western students who claimed to have been mistreated by Tibetan lamas. In most cases, this had to do with alleged sexual abuse. One of the teachers mentioned in this regard was Sogyal Rinpoche, who in August 2017 was forced to resign as the head of the Rigpa community because of these and other allegations. Although Sogyal had been invited to attend, neither he nor any representatives of Rigpa came to the gathering. Only three other Tibetan lamas were present, none of whom was prominent in the West.

At the beginning of our three days together, the Dalai Lama made the point that it is meaningless to consider anyone a teacher unless they have students. He emphasized how it is thus the student who invests the teacher with authority. For the teacher then to use that authority to take advantage of the student for his own personal ends constitutes a profound betrayal of the trust invested in him. In the Vajrayana, where you are required to devote yourself completely to the guru, the degree of vulnerability (on the part of the student) and potential for abuse (on the part of the teacher) are ratcheted up considerably. Since you have vowed not to criticize the guru and have been instructed to regard whatever he says or does as the enlightened activity of a buddha, there is nothing, in principle, that he could not ask of you. Were he to tell you to jump off the roof of a building, you should jump.

In reality, however, this kind of thing rarely if ever happens. As long as student and teacher treat each other with mutual care, trust, and respect, which is generally the case, the guru-disciple relationship in Vajrayana works well enough. The problem is systemic. It lies in the synergy of tantric doctrines and feudal structures that allow a teacher to legitimate abusive behavior to himself and his students. The lamas can thus behave like princes or kings who expect unquestioning loyalty from their subjects. Old Tibet was a society that tolerated serfdom and cruel and unusual punishments; there was little if any freedom of religious or political expression; and the authority of the lay and clerical aristocracy was absolute and largely unaccountable. The Dalai Lama has condemned these features of pre-1959 Tibet. I can imagine that few Tibetans today would seek to restore them as they once were.

Inevitably, the raison d’être of any culture forced into exile from its homeland is the safeguarding of its threatened traditions, which in the case of Tibet includes its unique form of Buddhism. Since preservation has become the priority, loss of self-determination as a nation-state has constrained the freedom of Tibetans to adapt their religion to the changing conditions of modernity. The Dalai Lama speaks passionately about the need to reform elements of Tibetan religious culture, but in practice he has little power to enforce much change. And when he does try to impose his views—as in the case of condemning the Gelug protector deity Dorje Shugden—he risks unleashing a conservative backlash that arguably makes the situation worse.

At the conclusion of our meeting in Dharamshala, an open letter was drafted to address the issue of misconduct among teachers. “Each student must be encouraged,” it says, “to take responsible measures to confront teachers with unethical aspects of their conduct. If the teacher shows no sign of reform, students should not hesitate to publicize any unethical behavior of which there is irrefutable evidence. This should be done irrespective of other beneficial aspects of his or her work and of one’s spiritual commitment to that teacher. . . . No matter what level of spiritual attainment a teacher has, or claims to have reached, no person can stand above the norms of ethical conduct.”

The publication of this letter had little effect at the time. Neither the Dalai Lama nor any of the other Tibetans present at the meeting signed it. Now, nearly a quarter of a century later, it is being cited to support the eight students who in July 2017 published a detailed account of the “crazy wisdom” of their teacher Sogyal Rinpoche. In the interim, however, many senior Tibetan lamas, including the Dalai Lama himself, appeared in public with Sogyal Rinpoche and taught at his centers. For many Western students, the ongoing presence of these teachers was taken as an endorsement of Sogyal’s behavior and lifestyle and thus as a slap in the face for those who had complained of abuse. Among the responses to the students’ allegations, both Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche and Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche appeared to be more concerned about the students breaking their oath of allegiance (samaya) to their teacher than about the suffering of those who said they had been mistreated. Khenchen Namdrol Rinpoche has denounced them as agents of demonic forces, accusing them of the heinous sin of causing schism in the sangha, which is morally equivalent to killing one’s parents, killing an arahant, or drawing the blood of a buddha.

If I were a Tibetan lama I would not appreciate being lectured to on these topics by an apostate like me. It is not my responsibility to reform Tibetan Buddhism; that belongs to the lamas and their students alone. In his own response to these allegations, the Dalai Lama has said: “I feel some of these lama institutions have some sort of influence of the feudal system. That is outdated and must end—that feudal influence.” It is encouraging that the Dalai Lama identifies feudalism as one of the roots of the problem, but he offers no suggestions as to how it might be ended. In practice, can the “outdated” influence of feudalism be removed without a fundamental restructuring of Tibetan Buddhism itself?


Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche’s response to the crisis suggests one way forward. He explains that the only reason for seeing one’s teacher as a buddha is in order to recognize how the same awakened qualities permeate oneself, other human beings, and the very world in which we live. The guru, in this sense, ceases to be exclusively identified with one’s flesh and blood teacher. The teacher’s role becomes that of helping his or her students see every single life situation as their true teacher. Such a perspective, Mingyur argues, is the “life-blood” of the Vajrayana tradition and the “very highest ethical standard” to which practitioners can aspire.

The eight students who wrote to Sogyal concluded their statement with these words: “Our deepest wish is to see Buddhism flourish in the West. We no longer want to indulge in the stupidity of seeing the Guru as perfect at any cost. The path does not require us to sacrifice our wisdom to discern, our ethics and morality, or our integrity, on the altar of ‘Guru Yoga.’” In the light of these concerns, it may be helpful to reconsider the Four Reliances:

Rely not on the person, rely on the teaching.
Rely not on the words, rely on the meaning.
Rely not on what’s cryptic, rely on what’s clear.
Rely not on opinion, rely on wisdom.
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Re: Randy Sogyal Rinpoche, Best-Selling Lecher

Postby admin » Wed Dec 20, 2017 4:23 am

Buddhist temple of the Hérault: confidences of the former right hand man
by Sophie Guiraud
Midi Libre
October 8, 2016

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The former right arm of Sogyal Rinpoche, Olivier Raurich, confides on the revelations about the Buddhist temple in Lodeve. He warns about what he calls a "sham".

He was the French voice of Sogyal Rinpoche, an echo familiar to the flow of words of the lama during the teachings given to Lerab Ling. For thirty years, Olivier Raurich, a graduate of the Ecole Normale Supérieure and Associate of Mathematics, mixed his teaching activity in "prep" at the grandes écoles and the teaching of meditation at Lerab Ling, an unwavering commitment to Rigpa France, whose presidency he will hold for a time while working closely with his spiritual director. "I always had a professional life in parallel, I had the impression to do a good job ... I was never attracted by the personality of Sogyal Rinpoche, it is the message which interested me", indicates this "privileged witness" who now warns about the "deception perpetrated by Sogyal Rinpoche".

"I tried to believe for years"

"When I came to Buddhism, it seemed like Sogyal Rinpoche was one of those who could bridge the gap between Tibetan Buddhism and modern wisdom, and he was one of the few English-speaking lamas, which bothered me because I thought that bigger things were being played. I tried to believe for years," says Olivier Raurich. What did he "put aside" before understanding that there is "deception" on a character "hungry for sex, power and money"? "Sogyal Rinpoche has always been authoritarian and a bit brittle. We knew he was a man who loved women, but we were not aware of the manipulation."

"I finally realized that the relationship with Sogyal Rinpoche was not a factor of spiritual evolution, but rather of long-term infantilization."


"Little by little", "unacceptable things" appeared. Olivier Raurich has collected "testimonies", explicit, which tell "how he uses his position of grandmaster and what is the "sacred" to "obtain sexual favors". There is also this strange scene, at the end of a retreat that brought together 800 students in August 2014 in Roqueredonde, where Rinpoche asked "very abundant offerings, in cash, thick envelopes where you had to mark your name". Earlier in the summer of 2011, this uneasiness when Lerab Ling followed him, "a training not to answer the embarrassing questions of journalists," after the publication of a critical article in the weekly Marianne. He still chooses to stay.

A "factor of infantilization"

"Maybe Sogyal got into his game, he believes in his own story," says Olivier Raurich, who came back from organizing "the Tibetan institution as a religious institution," with "wonderful people and black sheep, which the institution covers ". Has he himself been blinded by the concept of "crazy wisdom" that allows great masters to "break the ego" of others to bring them to spiritual "awakening"? Marion Dapsance recalls that Olivier Raurich invited the students to "not to be critical", "to accept all that will be said and done by Sogyal Rinpoche as a teaching", to integrate that "a great teacher is not a human being like the others", but a "special "being."

The "crazy wisdom" and its excesses: "I finally understood that the relationship with Sogyal Rinpoche was not a factor of spiritual evolution, but rather of infantilization in the long term". End of the story: "When I tried to talk to Sogyal Rinpoche, I felt like I was facing a dictator. He did not listen to me, it was me who "thought badly," and you had to be "wary" of me ... "Olivier Raurich received no threat, no physical constraint, everything is in the grip", he insists. "I hope that the languages ​​will be untied, I hope that Sogyal Rinpoche will be at least discredited, if not sued," continues the former right arm of the lama. Who wants above all "that the people who attend the temple know what is going on there".
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Re: Randy Sogyal Rinpoche, Best-Selling Lecher

Postby admin » Wed Dec 20, 2017 4:54 am

Part 1 of 2

Sexual assaults and violent rages... Inside the dark world of Buddhist teacher Sogyal Rinpoche
by Mick Brown
The Telegraph
September 21, 2017

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Sogyal Rinpoche as a guest speaker at a healing seminar in Melbourne in 2004 CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES

In August last year, Sogyal Rinpoche, the Tibetan lama whose book The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying has sold more than three million copies around the world, and made him probably the best known Tibetan Buddhist teacher after the Dalai Lama, gave his annual teaching at his French centre Lerab Ling.

Sogyal’s organisation Rigpa - a Tibetan word meaning the essential nature of mind - has more than 100 centres in 40 countries around the world, but Lerab Ling, situated in rolling countryside in L’Hérault is the jewel in the crown. Boasting what is said to be the largest Tibetan Buddhist temple in the West, it was formally opened in 2008 by the Dalai Lama, with Carla Bruni Sarkozy, then France’s first lady, and a host of other dignitaries in attendance.

Sogyal is regarded by his students as a living embodiment of the Buddhist teachings of wisdom and compassion, but a man who teaches in a highly unorthodox way, known as ‘crazy wisdom’.

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Sogyal Rinpoche

At Lerab Ling, more than 1000 students were gathered in the temple as he walked on stage, accompanied by his attendant, a Danish nun named Ani Chokyi. Sogyal, who is 70, is a portly, bespectacled man who requires a footstool to mount the throne from which he customarily teaches. Approaching the throne, he paused, then turned suddenly and punched the nun hard in the stomach.

‘I guess the footstool wasn’t in exactly the right position,’ says Gary Goldman, an American student of more than 20 years standing, who was seated in one of the front rows. ‘He had this flash of anger, and he just punched her - a short gut punch. It just stunned me. I thought, what the hell’s that about? Everybody around me kind of sucked their breath in. She started crying, and he told her to leave, get out, and then he started to talk.'

‘To see the master not as a human being but as the Buddha himself,’ Sogyal has often told his students, ‘is the source of the highest blessing.’ Those attending his teachings are cautioned not to be surprised or to draw ‘the wrong conclusions’ about the way he might behave. Apparently irrational, even violent conduct, it is said, should be viewed as ‘mere appearance’.


But punching a nun in the stomach... ‘Afterwards, everybody was trying to make sense of what had happened,’ Goldman says. ‘People were very upset.’ It was customary for students at the retreat to email any thoughts or questions they might have on the day’s teachings to Sogyal’s senior instructors.

As a young man, Goldman was a US Army Ranger who served in Vietnam. ‘We all wrote something up,’ he says. ‘I said, I understood his methods were unconventional but punching Ani Chökyi was knocking the ball out of the park.

'I’ve seen this kind of thing in the military and we don’t do that anymore - at least not legally. But on the other hand, if this was another part of his ‘crazy wisdom’ teaching, we seriously needed to talk about it...’

The next day, one of the Rigpa hierarchy addressed the doubters. Sogyal, he said, was upset that people should be questioning his methods. If people didn’t understand what had actually happened, then they probably weren’t ready for the promised higher-level teachings, and Sogyal would not teach again during the retreat.

‘This is what he does,’ Goldman says, ‘when something comes up he’ll very skillfully manipulate his students to get them back in line. I just thought, I’m done with this...’

A catalogue of damning allegations

Largely thanks to the benign, smiling example of the Dalai Lama, Tibetan Buddhism has grown enormously in popularity in the West over the past thirty years, largely escaping the scandal that has dogged other religious institutions - at least publicly.

Within the Buddhist community, however, Sogyal Rinpoche has long been a controversial figure. For years, rumours have circulated on the internet about his behaviour, and in the 1990s a lawsuit alleging sexual and physical abuse was settled out of court.

Yet his position as one of the foremost Buddhist teachers in the West has remained remarkably intact - until now. In July, eight senior and long-standing current and former students sent a 12-page letter to Sogyal. ‘Long simmering issues with your behaviour,’ it began, ‘can no longer be ignored or denied’, going on to list a catalogue of damning allegations against him.

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The Dalai Lama and Sogyal Rinpoche, talks with French Foreign Affairs minister Bernard Kouchner during the inauguration of the Buddhist Lerab Ling temple CREDIT: PASCAL GUYOT/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Sogyal’s habitual physical abuse, the letter alleged, had ‘left monks, nuns, and lay people students of yours with bloody injuries and permanent scars.’ He had used his role as a teacher ‘to gain access to young women, and to coerce, intimidate and manipulate them into giving you sexual favours’. Students had been ordered to strip, ‘to show you our genitals’, ‘to give you oral sex,’ and ‘to have sex in your bed with our partners’.

Sogyal, it went on, had led a ‘lavish, gluttonous and sybaritic lifestyle’, which had been kept secret from the large body of his followers, and financed by donations by students ‘who believe their offering is being used to further wisdom and compassion in the world.’

‘If your striking and punching us and others, and having sex with your students and married women, and funding your sybaritic lifestyle with students’ donations is actually the ethical and compassionate behaviour of a Buddhist teacher, please explain to us how it is.’


Copied to the Dalai Lama, and Sogyal’s most senior students, the letter quickly went viral, shaking the foundation of Rigpa to the core. For Sogyal Rinpoche himself it was the prelude to the most spectacular fall from grace.

From Tibet to Cambridge

More than just a sordid story of an errant spiritual teacher, the case of Sogyal Rinpoche is a symptom of the perils that may arise when Westerners fall in thrall to esoteric spiritual teachings they may not fully understand, and when Eastern teachers are exposed to the glamour and temptations of celebrity worship.

Sogyal Lakar was born in Kham, in the east of Tibet, into a family of traders. Among his followers, he is believed to be the reincarnation of Sogyal Terton, a Tibetan lama who was a teacher of the 13th Dalai Lama (the present Dalai Lama is the 14th). But according to Rob Hogendoorn, a Dutch academic and Buddhist who has researched Sogyal’s background, the only authority for that claim appears to be Sogyal’s own mother. Sogyal had little formal Buddhist training, and it is notable that few in the Tibetan community have ever attended his teachings.

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Sogyal Rinpoche pictured with Buddhist teacher Joan Halifax and Richard Gere in Switzerland, 1985 CREDIT: JOAN HALIFAX

When he was six months old, his mother put him in the care of her sister, Khandro Tsering Chodron, who was the young consort - or spiritual wife - of an eminent Tibetan lama, Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro, who became Sogyal’s effective guardian.

In 1954 the family fled from the invading Chinese army to Kalimpong in West Bengal, where Sogyal was educated at a Catholic primary school, St Augustine’s. Jamyang Khyentse died when Sogyal was around 10 or 11, and his education continued at an Anglican school, St Stephen’s College in Delhi. In 1971 he arrived at Trinity College Cambridge, taking a course in theological and religious studies, although he never graduated.

It was in Cambridge that he met Mary Finnigan, then a young Buddhist student, now an author and Sogyal’s fiercest critic, who has been assiduous in her chronicling of his alleged misdemeanours.

At that time there were only four Tibetan lamas living in Britain. ‘There was nobody teaching in London and there were no centres,’ Finnigan says. She arranged Sogyal’s first teachings, in the squat where she was living in London, and would remain his student until 1979.

Approaching the throne, Sogyal Rinpoche paused, then turned suddenly and punched the nun hard in the stomach.


Sogyal was an exotic presence; a Tibetan who could speak fluent English and seemed to know what he was talking about. His following rapidly grew, and with a £100,000 donation from a well-known English comedy actor he was able establish his first centre in London.

Assuming the honorific Rinpoche (it means ‘precious one’) Sogyal set himself up as a teacher in the Vajrayana
, or tantric, tradition - a deeply esoteric aspect of Tibetan Buddhism, through which, it is believed, a student can unshackle the chains of ego and attain enlightenment in a single lifetime - ‘the helicopter to the top of the mountain’, as Sogyal has put it.

It involves the student giving total obedience to the lama in the belief that whatever the lama does, no matter how irrational or incomprehensible it may seem, is for the student’s benefit. Whatever doubts might arise in the mind of the student about these methods is due to ‘impure perception.’

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Sogyal Rinpoche in Germany in 2014 CREDIT: DPA PICTURE ALLIANCE / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

Tibetan Buddhist lore is filled with stories of great masters - or mahasiddhas - bringing their pupils to enlightenment by methods that appear to verge on madness. One of the most famous involves the 9th century mahasiddha Naropa, whose teacher Tilopa subjected him to a series of ordeals including leaping from the top of a temple and breaking his bones, jumping into fire and freezing water, and giving his wife to Tilopa as an offering.

According to these stories every time Naropa was broken or near death, Tilopa would heal him with the wave of a hand, giving him an instruction that would bring Naropa’s mind to a more advanced level.

Fundamental to this relationship between master and disciple is the bond of samaya, or trust, in which the pupil not only vows total obedience to the guru, but the guru vows to act only for the benefit of the pupil. Breaking samaya is held to have the most grave consequences, including banishment to ‘vajra hell’ and an infinity of unfortunate rebirths.

Wearing robes you have one arm bare, and he touched me there, as if I were sexual object. It made my skin crawl. I saw that the way he related to me could change completely


‘Once you enter into the hermetic world of Tibetan Buddhism, you somehow burn your bridges to Western rationality,’ says Stephen Batchelor, an English Buddhist teacher and academic who was himself a Tibetan Buddhist monk for eight years. ‘You enter a world that appears to be entirely consistent internally; everything makes sense; the structures of power seem to be in the service of these high ideals of enlightenment, and the relationship with the guru is the key element in your capacity to follow this path in the most effective way.’

But the Vajrayana is recognised as a particularly hazardous path, particularly to Western students without the deep grounding in Tibetan culture.

In characteristically light-hearted style, the Dalai Lama has spoken of his own caution in discussing the Vajrayana path. ‘I have to be careful what I say in teaching, as there are some seekers who might take the Naropa story literally and jump off a cliff, thinking the guru was hinting about it. Not only do I not have the ability to heal the broken body with a wave of my hand, but here in Dharamsala we don’t even have a proper ambulance service!’

The Dalai Lama has cautioned putative students that a good test of a teacher who is beyond attachments and the temptations of self-gratification is whether they can eat a piece of excrement with the same equanimity as a piece of food. Asked which Tibetan teachers were of a sufficiently high level of self-realisation to do this, he replied ‘Zero.’

In… Christianity and Buddhism terror and nausea are a prelude to bursts of burning spiritual activity… ecstasy begins where horror is sloughed off. A sense of union with the irresistible powers that bear all things before them is frequently more acute in those religions where the pangs of terror and nausea are felt most deeply. [28]


“St Catherine of Sienna, when she felt revulsion from the wounds she was tending, is said to have bitterly reproached herself. Sound hygiene was incompatible with charity, so she deliberately drank a bowl of pus.” [29] The self-proscribed magical ordeals that were Crowley’s focus in the summer of 1920 were motivated by a similar impulse, and were designed to have a similar effect. Bataille notes that “the underlying affinity between sanctity and transgression has never ceased to be felt. Even in the eyes of believers, the libertine is nearer to the saint than the man without desire.” As flagellation, starvation and the dark night of the soul are the mystic’s prelude to the experience of God, so Crowley’s experiences at Cefalù, including the proliferous sickness, his coprophagy, the affair with the goat, his daughter’s death, and the extreme financial trouble he found himself in, were the prelude to his attaining the grade Ipsissimus (the highest possible Grade in the Great White Brotherhood of Light) and experiencing Samadhi. [30] There is a relationship between the lowest physical degradation and the highest spiritual attainment. The horror must be experienced that one may rise above it; indeed the horrific and nauseating are the most potent ways of accessing the divine. Crowley himself saw the process as parallel to psychoanalysis. In the tourist brochure he produced for the Abbey at Cefalù, Crowley wrote the following description for La Chambre des Cauchemars, the very room in which he performed his night of coprophagy, and many of the other sex magical acts in which he engaged in the summer of 1920.

Those who have come successfully through the trial say that they have become immunized from all possible infection by those ideas of evil which interfere between the soul and its divine Self… they have attained permanent mastery of their minds. The process is similar to that of “Psycho-analysis”; it releases the subject from fear of reality and the phantasms and neuroses thereby caused... [31]


The experiments in the chamber were thus an attempt to free his soul of all the last vestiges of fears and inhibitions – the ones he had “sunk so deep,” for he believed that only through this process could one actualize the divine self.

For Crowley, the excesses and abysses into which he plunged himself served in particular one key process; the mastery of mind over matter. Crowley wished to free himself from natural physiological reactions to physical matter, to prove that his will was stronger than his animal self. Crowley, the paradigmatic figure of libertine excess, was in fact pursuing the ascetic ideal. “Thou strives ever; even in thy yielding thou strives to yield and lo! Thou yieldest not. Go thou unto the outermost places and subdue all things, subdue thy fear and thy disgust. Then – yield!” [32] Crowley felt himself flawed by the sense of sin and disgust, so did all he could to evoke these feelings that he might overcome them. He thus describes how playing Leah’s lesbian slave “revolted even my own body, and made me free forever of my preference for matter, made me Pure Spirit.” [33] The summer’s magical ordeals were Crowley’s experiments with different ways of bringing to the surface that which had been repressed, laying bare the most insidious of his negative emotions, the deepest of his hidden weaknesses. They also represented his attempts to cross the line of the animal, and prove his will stronger than his own physicality; to uncover the places where instinct and physiology were still stronger than his theology, faith or will. Although Crowley is popularly portrayed as the poster-boy of physical excess, his description of the coprophagic act does not suggest a celebration of the physical world but a refusal to acknowledge its power and further shows a resentment of humanity as a physiological existence. Crowley understood that the thin air at high altitudes imposed physical restrictions upon the mountaineer; however he refused to accept that coprophagy similarly imposes physiological conditions upon the body. Although disgust at feces is a learnt (or rather taught) reaction, it is not an arbitrary one, and when one does force oneself to break this taboo there will be physiological consequences.

Crowley believed that it was his doubt and his spiritual failure that caused the coprophagic act, about which he had fantasized so lengthily and waxed so eloquently, to remain so horrific. He refused to recognize the naturalness – and practical necessity – of the physiological reaction to coprophagy. He conceived of the coprophagic act as a sacrament; thus the consuming of feces would be an outward sign of his elevated inward grace. In his Magical Record of the Beast, in an entry for 5 July 1920, Crowley declares “In my Mass the Host is of excrement, that I can consume in awe and adoration.” [34] It would be easy to declare such statements simply the ultimate form of sacrilege, but Crowley’s concept of the excremental host has far more significance than this. It is not, in fact, a matter of taboo or sacrilege, but the taking to its logical end The Gnostic Mass’s claim that ‘There is no part of me that is not of the gods.’ The Eucharistic host is the body of god; excrement may bear this title as much as any other physical thing.Thus we can understand Crowley’s frustration when his non-divinity was proven; he was unable to understand why that which appeared to be ambrosia to Leah’s tongue burnt and ulcered his. It could only be through the failure of his will.

-- Aleister Crowley and Coprophagy: The Limits of Transgression, by Georgia van Raalte


A guru who drank like a fish

In 1976, Sogyal visited America to meet with another Tibetan lama, Chogyam Trungpa, who was regarded as the most extreme exemplar of ‘crazy wisdom’ teachings. Trungpa drank like a fish (he would die in 1987 from complications arising due to alcoholism), openly slept with his students and ran his organisation like a feudal court, surrounding himself with an elite bodyguard, sometimes amusing himself by dressing as a Grenadier guard. ‘The real function of the guru,’ he once said, ‘is to insult you.’ ‘Sogyal looked at what Trungpa had,’ says Mary Finnigan, ‘and said “That’s what I want.”’

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Tibetan lama, Chogyam Trungpa, who was regarded as the most extreme exemplar of ‘crazy wisdom’ teachings CREDIT: REXFEATURES

Like Trungpa, he adopted an unorthodox, often jokey, teaching style, but he was a compelling orator, with an ability to hold an audience in the palm of his hand and convey the Buddhist teachings in a clear and understandable way. ‘There are three kinds of people who show up for spiritual practice or information,’ Gary Goldman says.

‘You get the intellectuals who are curious and want to learn something about it; you get the people who are actively seeking truth, and looking to figure out what life and the world is about; and then you get the people who are totally psychologically f-d up; they’ve been abused; terrible things have happened to them. Sogyal was able to satisfy all three groups, very well and very compassionately.’

The book that made Sogyal a celebrity

In 1992 he published The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, a book that presented traditional Tibetan teachings on a happy life and good death for a Western audience. Clinicians, hospice workers and psychologists applauded it for the comfort it brought to the terminally ill. John Cleese, an early supporter, described it as ‘one of the most helpful books I have ever read.’

It was a runaway success. But quite how much Sogyal himself had to do with it is debatable; according to those close to the project, most of the work was done by ghost-writers - Sogyal’s closest student, and now his right-hand man, Patrick Gaffney, and the author Andrew Harvey.


What used to be called simply, "The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying" is now a trumpet being blown by a Narcissist: "The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying: A New Spiritual Classic from One of the Foremost Interpreters of Tibetan Buddhism to the West," by Patrick Gaffney (Editor), Andrew Harvey (Editor), Sogyal Rinpoche (Author)

Oh puleeeez, what hogwash! It should be called, "The Tibetan Art of Lies and Lying."

As far as I know from "Jane Doe" and others who contacted me in 1993, and 1994, Andrew Harvey wrote most of the book and Sogyal put his name on it. Andrew is an ex-cult devotee of Sogyal's who opted OUT.

-- Letter to Tiger Lily by AmLearning [Victoria Barlow], January 13, 2004


The book made Sogyal a celebrity. He appeared in Bernardo Bertolucci’s film Little Buddha, and he travelled the world, establishing new centres. The combination of Sogyal’s charisma - a purveyor of ancient wisdom in touch with the modern world - and the mystique of Tibetan Buddhism proved a potent lure for new followers. Those signing up for his courses had little idea that, as one former follower puts it, Sogyal was ‘using meditation as a gateway drug into a cult of personality.’



But the first storm clouds were already gathering. Sogyal is not a monk, and there is theoretically no prohibition on him marrying or having sexual relations. But his sexual conduct was becoming a cause of increasing controversy in Buddhist circles - not least his surrounding himself with an effective harem of young women, whom Sogyal described as his ‘dakinis’ - a Tibetan term meaning spiritual muse.

In 1994, an American student using the legal pseudonym Janice Doe brought a suit against Sogyal, alleging that using the justification of his spiritual status he had sexually and physically abused her, turning her against her husband and family.

By sleeping with the teacher you get a closeness to him which everyone is hankering after


This, the charge alleged, was merely one example of a pattern of abuse against a number of women. The Telegraph Magazine published a cover story on the case in which two English women spoke about their own sexual encounters with Sogyal.

‘You’re chosen, which makes you feel special,’ said one woman. ‘Because he was my spiritual teacher I trusted that whatever he asked was in my best interests… You want to progress on the spiritual path, and by sleeping with the teacher you get a closeness to him which everyone is hankering after. I saw it as part of the teachings on the illusory nature of experience and emotions. But in fact it caused me a lot of pain that I wasn’t able to dissolve.’

Another spoke of her distress at discovering, shortly after he initiated a relationship with her, that Sogyal was also having sex with three other students. Sogyal, she said, had ‘used the teachings to attempt to keep me in a sexual relationship with him - one that I did not want to be in.’


Physical abuse and verbal humiliation

The Janice Doe case was settled quietly out of court. And in an age before the internet, most readers of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying remained happily oblivious to any hint of scandal. Rather, the book was to prove a powerful medium in bringing him new followers.

Among them was a young Australian woman, who would later become a Buddhist nun, taking the name Drolma.

Drolma first read Sogyal’s book as a 21-year-old. ‘I thought that’s all very nice, but I don’t need this, and put it back on my bookshelf.’ Two years later, with her life ‘falling apart’ following an abortion and the break-up of a difficult relationship, she attended a retreat where Sogyal was teaching in New South Wales..

‘My life was at a point where I had no understanding of the suffering I was going through, and this provided some answers, and some practical steps, like meditation.’

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The Lerab Ling temple in Roqueredonde, Hérault, in southern France CREDIT: PASCAL GUYOT/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

She became more involved in Rigpa, travelling to Lerab Ling for retreats and facilitating study groups. In 2002 she turned her back on a flourishing career as an artist to become a nun. ‘There was this aspect of devotion for the teacher that I felt very strongly. I felt it as the fire of the love of God. And I chose Buddhism because I felt I’d met an authentic example, someone I could follow.’

Even before taking monastic vows, she had witnessed an example of Sogyal’s ‘crazy wisdom’ when he publicly humiliated a male attendant during a teaching session. ‘He’d forgotten to put a full stop on the travel plans or something; Sogyal got him to kneel at the foot of the podium and then run backwards and forwards across the tent. And he did it with his tail between his legs. I felt terribly uncomfortable but I also thought he was very fortunate to have such close attention from the teacher.’

Sogyal made Drolma his personal assistant, handling his schedule. She would later become responsible for caring for his mother and aunt, Khandro, when they came to live at Lerab Ling. Her duties entailed maintaining a careful rapprochement with the inner-circle of Sogyal’s dakinis.

‘Their lives were incredibly pressurised,’ she says, ‘There was lots of jealousy, lots of secrets. If one of them was unhappy or in a mood, then all of us would feel the repercussions, so we also had to do our best to keep them supported.’


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Sogyal Rinpoche and Lama Yonten conduct a ceremony at the opening of the Sukhavati Spiritual Care Center in Bad Saarow, Germany, May 2016 CREDIT: ALAMY

The first time Sogyal hit her hard on the head with the backscratcher that he carries everywhere, Drolma says, she accepted it as part of his ‘wrathful’ training. ‘I thought, wow, he really trusts me...’

It was the beginning of years of physical abuse and verbal humiliation. ‘If he became anxious about his mother, or over a relationship with a girlfriend or some financial thing, he would slap me across the face, or hit me over the head with his backscratcher.’ On one occasion he pulled her by the ear so violently hard that it drew blood.

The first time he punched her in the stomach was in the ante-room of the temple at Lerab Ling, where Drolma was preparing his ritual objects prior to an important ceremony for a visiting lama and his retinue of monks.


Like Trungpa, he adopted an unorthodox, often jokey, teaching style, but he was a compelling orator, with an ability to hold an audience in the palm of his hand and convey the Buddhist teachings in a clear and understandable way


‘He got out of the car, furious for some reason, slammed the door and just punched me. Then he got dressed in his robes and we went in. I was walking behind him in tears, feeling completely humiliated, with these Tibetan monks there, thinking “Flakey Western nun…”’

Such incidents of violence and abuse were common for those closest to Sogyal, explained away by senior instructors within Rigpa as the lama employing ‘skillful methods’.


‘There was definitely a very well thought-out structure within the Rigpa system that would block the perception of abuse, either by using those historical stories, or making you feel really special if this was the attention you were getting,’ Drolma says. ‘People would say “please train me, Rinpoche.”’

The Telegraph has been given numerous accounts of similar abuse meted out to Sogyal’s closest students: a woman being beaten violently around the head with a backscratcher. A man being kicked, punched in the face, pinned against the wall by Sogyal with his hands around his throat, and hit so hard on the head with a hardbound practice book that he fell to the floor.

‘One goes back to one’s room at the end of a day of it, thinking what the hell was that about, but still hanging on to the trust that this is part and parcel of the purification of negative karma,’ said one man, who was a student for 20 years.

The thought of reporting Sogyal to the police, he said, never crossed his mind. ‘These are criminal acts. But the problem is we’ve been complicit, we’ve allowed it, and he keeps doing it.’

In this environment, everything would be rationalised and accepted as ‘a teaching’. Several people told the Telegraph how Sogyal would sometimes address his closest students while defecating - like a Tudor monarch, ordering his ‘dakinis’ to perform the appropriate ablutions as a demonstration of ‘service’.

The analogy with a monarch is not misplaced. It is further alleged that among his inner circle, Sogyal frequently practiced a sort of droit de seigneur, taking the wives or girlfriends of his most loyal male followers as his sexual partners, either openly or covertly. Men were expected to accept this is as part of the teaching. When one complained, Sogyal told his partner the man was ‘possessed by demons’. The eight-signatory letter further alleges that on at least one occasion, Sogyal had offered one of his female attendants to another lama for sex.

For a woman to be chosen by Sogyal as a sexual partner was regarded as ‘an honour,’ Drolma says. ‘It meant they had dakini qualities, and you’re said to be prolonging the life of the master.’


Travel, excess spending and 'a modest life'

The offerings expected from followers maintained Sogyal in a lifestyle of profligate extravagance. At Lerab Ling, he lived in a chalet, decorated with cedar wood panels, which overlooked his own heated swimming pool. There was a giant television on which he enjoyed watching his favourite American action movies. In the ‘lama kitchen’ attendants were available day and night to provide his favourite dishes at a moment’s notice.

Attendants and his inner circle were worked to a point of physical exhaustion serving him. In the months that Sogyal was at Lerab Ling, or whenever she travelled with him, Drolma worked 14 hour days, six days a week. ‘It was always about survival and addressing his most immediate needs for fear of the repercussions if you didn’t.’

On foreign trips, he travelled first class, his retinue with him. Oane Bijlsma, a Dutch woman who joined Rigpa in 2011 going on to become one of Sogyal’s attendants, describes how for an Easter teaching in Britain in 2012, Rigpa took over Haileybury, the public school in Hertfordshire. Sogyal was installed in the music teacher’s house.

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The Dalai Lama and Carla Bruni-Sarkozy with Sogyal Rinpoche, at the inauguration of Lerab Ling temple, 2008 CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES

On his instruction, his students carefully photographed each room, then moved every stick of furniture into storage, replacing it with furnishings more suited to Sogyal’s tastes, including a large flat-screen tv with satellite connection. At the end of the six day teaching, the rooms were restored to their original state. Oane, who was in charge of provisions, was instructed to visit local butchers, taking photographs of the best joints of meat, which she had to submit for Sogyal’s approval, before buying them.

‘I was shopping for groceries with hundreds of pounds in my pocket in cash. I was buying ridiculous amounts of the best meats I could get. And the wine and the roses and the chocolates... And then people in the inner-circle would be on stage at the teachings talking about Sogyal living a modest life, and keeping nothing for himself. It was totally obscene.’

'In Tibet a lama would have been under much more control,’ one former follower told me. ‘The system would have curbed his excesses. But Sogyal has been surrounded by Western followers who believe that everything he says and does is perfect. It’s a disaster for him, and a disaster for everybody else. He completely lost touch with reality.’


Reaching saturation point

For some within Rigpa, the paradox between being beaten and abused while being told it was for their benefit was causing predictable problems. ‘It creates split personalities in people,’ one student told told me. ‘People feel a loyalty to the teachings which is constantly being contradicted by Sogyal’s behaviour; their hearts are split in two.’

MKUltra used numerous methods to manipulate people's mental states and alter brain functions, including the surreptitious administration of drugs (especially LSD) and other chemicals, hypnosis, sensory deprivation, isolation and verbal abuse, as well as other forms of psychological torture....

Another MKUltra effort, Subproject 54, was the Navy's top secret "Perfect Concussion" program, which was supposed to use sub-aural frequency blasts to erase memory....

Physical methods of producing shock and confusion over extended periods of time and capable of surreptitious use....

-- MKUltra, by Wikipedia


In 2007, Sogyal introduced a programme that he called ‘Rigpa Therapy’, in which a number of qualified psychotherapists, who were also Rigpa students, were assigned to treat those entertaining doubts about the teachings. Drolma was among them.

‘The crux of every session,’ she says, ‘was exploring how what Sogyal did related to other past relationships in my life. It was all about that, and how my difficulties were nothing to do with Sogyal, and how his blessing was letting me go back to that time and work through it. Basically, the therapists had been been brought in to stop people leaving.

Meanwhile Dr Lawrence had been given highly unusual instructions by Gabriel to attend all of the appointments of community members whenever they were able to see any doctors outside the community. While this would give him a needed education regarding these various medical practices, he would also know exactly what was going on with each patient/community member, which would be reported, like everything else, to Gabriel Niann, and the community psychologist, giving them a considerable advantage over the individual, and greatly contributing to their ability to be in control. I was always disturbed by the fact that there was never a "doctor-patient confidentiality agreement", since all medical records are shared by Lawrence and Cunningham, (the psychologist), with Gabriel and Niann. (It reminds me of the required detailed 'confessions', sometimes requested in writing a comprised list of all the negative things that the member thinks they may have done, not only in this life, but how they may have offended Gabriel, or others, in past ones. This compounded information places the subject-member in a compromising and susceptible situation, and gives those who have placed themselves in a position over them further control. Blackmail, would not be an inappropriate definition.)

-- Follow-Up Article Re Question 10, by John Thurstin
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Re: Randy Sogyal Rinpoche, Best-Selling Lecher

Postby admin » Wed Dec 20, 2017 8:32 am

Part 2 of 2

If he became anxious about his mother, or over a relationship with a girlfriend or some financial thing, he would slap me across the face, or hit me over the head with his backscratcher

-- Drolma


At around the same time, Drolma appeared in a German film about Sogyal, Ancient Wisdom For the Modern World, discussing her relationship with him. ‘Sometimes he’ll be like my father, like my mother, like my boss, like my friend - like my enemy, because he pushes my buttons,’ she said. ‘But I know always his heart and his motivation is so pure.

'He’s always showing me who I am and who I’m not. The buttons he presses are not who I truly am. The buttons he presses are what needs to be removed. Sometimes there’s a joy when they’re pressed, because it’s showing what needs to be peeled away. Whenever there’s any pain that’s not the real me hurting; that’s the ego that Rinpoche is trying to eradicate.’

Senior instructors congratulated her on her appearance. But her doubts were hardening. ‘I’d reached saturation point.’ She confided her feelings to a visiting Spanish nun. ‘I’d always been trained to keep everything secret from anyone outside; but I ended up telling her everything. She said, “that’s straight out abuse. You’ve got to leave.”’


Dechen borrowed her mother's white minivan the next morning and drove to the town house in Darnestown where the Monk was living with five other monks. She parked on the street and went inside. "I'm going to see Khenpo," she told the Monk, "and I think you should come, too."

On the drive together there were long periods of silence. When directly confronted on the phone, Dechen had told Alana about the affair. And when Dechen insisted that she had not "broken her vows"--meaning her root vows--Alana had accused her of obnoxious hairsplitting. "You were together alone on a bed in a hotel, and you say you didn't break your vows?" There were several rounds of this until Alana simply said, "I can't talk to you anymore," and hung up. Dechen then called the Monk and told him what happened.

"You told Alana?" he said, in horror.

But later that night Alana called again to say that a meeting with Khenpo Tsewang Gyatso had been scheduled for noon the following day and that Jetsunma would see her in the evening. Nobody had suggested that Dechen bring the Monk along. That was her idea.

The drive to the temple seemed very long, and dreadful. Now she saw that it was a mistake not to have confessed. This was the worst possible outcome -- to be found out by Alana and dragged before Khenpo, the venerable Tibetan scholar. She had memories of India, of having gone before the very same man once before with news like this. The irony staggered her.

Dechen and the Monk walked inside the temple together and found Khenpo upstairs, in a suite of rooms he always used when visiting. He ushered them inside and sat down on a purple sofa in his bedroom. Khenpo was a short man with a small mustache and a perfectly round head. He was younger than most Tibetan scholars -- still in his fifties -- and while he seemed easygoing and simple, he was also known for having one of the best minds in the Nyingma school. There didn't seem to be an esoteric point that he couldn't elucidate or a question he didn't have an answer for. More than anyone, the Monk had been awestruck by Khenpo's intellect and wisdom, by his subtlety and clarity. The Monk had hoped to stay by Khenpo's side and keep working on translations with the scholar. As a teacher he was revered in both the United States and India, where he ran the monastery in Bylakuppe and the large university as well. For the last couple of years he'd been coming with greater frequency to Poolesville to give teachings and instruction. For a while now the Monk had suspected that Khenpo's trips to KPC were designed to keep Penor Rinpoche informed of the students' progress there, and--in light of some of the New Age overtones to Jetsunma's teachings--make sure that her students were also offered something more traditional.

Dechen sat at Khenpo's feet. The Monk sat farther behind, in a display of great humility and modesty. Khenpo seemed to want no further details--he'd already heard enough from either Jetsunma or Alana--and launched immediately into an angry diatribe. His face looked pained.

"How could you do this?" he said to the Monk. "You've been a monk for twelve years! . . . You may have some realization, but without moral discipline you have nothing."

"And you!" he said to Dechen. "You knew! You knew you needed to confess!" She looked back at the Monk. He said nothing.

Khenpo explained that it was true: their root vows had not been broken. They had broken a branch vow, which would now remain forever broken. But he was clearly appalled. "The hiding! The secrecy!" If they had come forward and confessed, the negative karma could have been purified. But because they didn't come forward and were found out after a confrontation, the vow would forever be broken, and forever unpurified.

Dechen listened very hard for instructions and advice from Khenpo during the twenty-minute meeting. "Do Vajrasattva practices," he finally said, but he didn't suggest an amount. They could try to purify the karma, but, basically, "Nothing can be done at this point."

Driving home, Dechen said, "I won't say I told you so."

"Good, " said the Monk. They said nothing else.

Dechen didn't mention the meeting she had scheduled that evening with Jetsunma. She assumed it would be one on one, and assumed she'd be reamed out. The Monk came from another school of Tibetan Buddhism, and it wasn't really Jetsunma's place to reprimand him. He had already pondered this himself. Technically, Khenpo was the only person in Poolesville--besides perhaps Alana-who should ever know what had happened between the Monk and Dechen. When vows were broken it was a private matter. If it became public it would be an insult to Khenpo, suggesting that his advice alone wasn't enough--and showing a lack of respect for his ability to handle the situation properly.

Still, the Monk had a bad feeling about this vow breakage. He had a feeling it wasn't going to remain a private matter. Jetsunma didn't seem to care about doing things in a traditional way. And Poolesville wasn't like the other Dharma centers; it didn't feel like the other Dharma centers. It was the kind of place where anything could happen.

***

After she dropped the Monk at the town house, Dechen began the drive back to her mother's. She felt small behind the wheel of the lumbering minivan, and the burgundy robes felt heavy on her skin, a demanding weight that engulfed her small body. She drove on Quince Orchard Road and began thinking about whether she should remain in Poolesville. But she worried. If she couldn't make it as a nun at Kunzang Palyul Choling, the largest concentration of Tibetan Buddhist nuns in America, where could she?

The sky was dark, the color of fresh wet concrete. It was about two o'clock on the afternoon of February 9, 1996. She made the left-hand turn onto Longdraft Road and never noticed the small beige car in the oncoming lane. It was going fifty miles per hour. When the two vehicles collided, the minivan was totaled. So was the other car -- its front end was flattened up to the windshield.

Dechen was dizzy when she squeezed out of the minivan, and she brushed the broken glass off her robes. She stepped over to the small beige car. "Are you okay? Are you okay?" she asked. The driver was a middle-aged blond woman in a business suit. She looked dazed. "I can't really feel my leg," the driver said. Dechen stood next to the car and worried--until other cars began to stop and their drivers told Dechen to get back into the minivan. Her face was covered in blood. When the paramedics came, they put her in a neck brace and carried her to the ambulance, where the driver of the other car was already stretched out. Together they were taken to Shady Grove Hospital in Gaithersburg. The driver of the car had a sprained leg and a bruise on her shoulder. Dechen had lacerations of the face and head from the broken windshield glass--she had forgotten to wear a seat belt--and after receiving fourteen stitches and being given Vicodin for pain, she was told that she was still in shock and needed to rest.

Sherab and Dawa arrived at the hospital--they'd driven by Quince Orchard Road and recognized the crushed white minivan as Ayla Meurer's. At first the two nuns assumed that Ayla had been in an accident, but once they realized that it was Dechen who'd been driving -- and that she was going to be okay -- both nuns turned critical. "How could you get in a car accident?" they asked her. It was more evidence of the negative karma that Dechen had been accumulating lately. They immediately called Alana from Dawa's cell phone. Dawa spoke with Alana for a moment, then handed the phone to Dechen.

Alana's voice was cold and stern. "Don't think that this means you can get out of tonight's meeting," she said quickly. "Jetsunma says you aren't hurt that badly."

By the time Ayla arrived at the hospital, her daughter was being released. As they drove, Dechen felt her shame and despair drifting into numbness. Scattered around her face and short, dark hair were shaved marks and cuts, and the thread of the stitches. " I already heard that you're fine," Ayla said, "so I can say that I'm really mad at you. How could you break your vows?"

Ayla handed Dechen a folded bundle of yellow robes -- the robes the ordained wore for ceremonial and special occasions. She'd been called by Alana and instructed to get her daughter out of the hospital, give her the yellow robes, and take her directly to Ani Estates. There was going to be a meeting. In the car with her mother, Dechen stared straight ahead at the road. A meeting. She felt nothing. She never got hysterical when unexpected things happened like this. Her reaction was always delayed. And, anyway, the last thing she was going to do was cry.

"You know," Ayla said as she dropped Dechen off, "you're in serious trouble."

It was about four-thirty when Dechen arrived at Ani Estates, the large, beige stucco-and-wood tract house on Spates Hill Road where five nuns--Dawa, Dara, Aileen, Alana, and Dorje--lived. Dechen walked into the house alone and saw that activity had already begun. Several nuns were in the kitchen washing large offering bowls. Atara was standing in the middle of the living room, repeating Jetsunma's instructions. "Jetsunma says there should be chairs lined up in here, like this," she was saying. "And Jetsunma says there should be an offering out for the ordained" -- so pretzels and chips and other refreshments were to be set out. The table in the dining room was to be removed, "and under here," where the dining room table was, "Jetsunma says there should be two chairs."

Dechen had been inside the house many times, for all kinds of reasons. She'd come frequently to borrow movies there from Aileen's video library. She'd exercised on the Health Rider. She'd helped with some Tibetan translations there. She'd even lived there for a week once, when she had no other place to live--and she had cleaned the house to make money. When Jetsunma and Sangye got together, their Consort Engagement Party had been there. And over the summer Dechen had attended the meeting of the ordained at Ani Estates where everyone was asked to sign a paper relieving the temple of any responsibility for taking care of them. But never had Dechen--one of the mousiest of the nuns -- been the center of any attention like this. She sat on the floor in the corner and watched the preparations. She watched Atara stage- direct and everybody follow her orders. She noticed that the vertical blinds were drawn.

The house grew darker as night fell. As the monks and nuns began to trickle in, it was clear most of them had very little idea of why they had been called to Ani Estates. The meeting was mandatory for all ordained. Only Sangye Dorje--later admitting that he had a sense of what might transpire--quickly volunteered to take the prayer shift and remain at the temple. As the rest of the nuns and monks arrived, they saw a table of food and began picking at the snacks. Dechen had moved to a spot on the carpeted stairs that overlooked the room and tried to keep her head down. She was feeling a bit woozy. She kept touching the stitches on the top of her head, and it was weird that they didn't hurt. One cut on the left side of her face kept tickling her. She overheard whispers among the monks--they were always the most clueless. "What's going on? Do you know?"

The Monk was among the last to arrive. He came with Konchog and was told to sit away from Dechen until the meeting began and not to speak with her. He sat on the floor in the front hallway and furtively looked up to the stairs, trying to catch Dechen's eye. She only looked away.

Then Atara led them to the dining room and told them to sit on the chairs under the lights. Dechen found herself looking around the room, and at the monks and nuns in the chairs lined up facing her. One by one she looked at their faces. She had known many of them a decade, since she was seventeen. She had sat beside them, prayed beside them, learned to prostrate beside them, been ordained beside them. It felt like they'd been through the wars together. They'd followed the voice of Jeremiah, made the move to Poolesville, enthroned their lama, watched Michael's leaving, built the stupa garden, and seen Jetsunma marry Karl. They'd done all-night prayer rounders together, floated through the exquisitely beautiful White Tara retreat and the amazing Rinchen Ter Dzod, and sat together through last summer's Nam Chu empowerments. They'd kept a twenty-four-hour prayer vigil going, without a break, since it started in the dark basement of the little brick house in Kensington ten years before.

Here was the largest collection of Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns in America. They were kind people, good people. Dechen admired so many of them, for wanting to dedicate their lives to something good, for building such a beautiful Dharma center. For trying to live by their ideals.

A broken vow wasn't a small matter. The results would be profound and long-lasting. The bad karma would spill inevitably into the path of everyone in Poolesville and create obstacles. It would cause ripples that would produce more suffering. Dechen and the Monk had not just betrayed themselves and their own Buddha nature but defied the guru and hurt the entire sangha. Why hadn't Dechen been able to see that all along? Why hadn't she come forward months ago?

Most of the lights in the house were dimmed. And the lights in the living room were shut off. Only the lights over Dechen and the Monk were kept brightly lit. Alana was wearing burgundy robes and stood in the dining room before her fellow ordained.

"There has been a vow breakage," she said.

The room became utterly quiet. "Nobody is ever to speak of what happens here tonight. And remember, everything you see is compassionate activity." Alana looked squarely at the Monk. "You are not to speak--either of you--or defend yourselves in any way."

Some headlights flashed behind the windowpane in the front door. Dechen saw that Jetsunma had arrived. The front door flew open, and the room of ordained rose to their feet. Jetsunma quickly pulled off her black overcoat in the foyer and tossed it to Atara. Underneath she was dressed entirely in black, too-black wool and black leather.

"You fool!" she shouted at the Monk, as she ran toward him, then struck him hard on the head with her open hand. The Monk lost his footing and staggered momentarily. When his balance was regained, he realized that his wire-rimmed glasses had been knocked to the floor and he couldn't see.

Jetsunma studied him briefly. With his glasses off the Monk looked like a mole-soft and blind. "Sit down!" she yelled. The Monk and Dechen began to drop onto the seats of their chairs, and Jetsunma yelled again. "No! Sit on the floor! You don't deserve to sit on the same level as these other ordained!"

Dechen sat on her knees. The Monk sat cross-legged on the ground, with the large lights swinging overhead. "I brought you into our hearts!" Jetsunma yelled at him, then bent down to punch the Monk again hard on the side of the face. "We took you into our homes! And this is how you repay our kindness? I should throw you through that sliding glass door but you don't have the merit."

The ordained were quiet, barely moving in their chairs. Dechen looked out into the living room; in the shadows she could see the outlines of a few nuns who were holding their stomachs. One monk had his hand over his mouth.

"This is a stain on all of us--and has harmed all ordained forever." Jetsunma yelled, continuing to punctuate her comments with blows to the Monk's head. "This has shortened my life, the lives of our sangha, and made it harder for all future ordained to keep their vows. And it's shortened their lives as well. They worked so hard to keep their vows purely, and now you've made it so hard!"

Dechen looked up again and heard Tashi sobbing.

Jetsunma turned to face the little nun. Dechen stared up at her. "And you!" she yelled. She struck Dechen across the side of her head with the heel of her hand, not far from a few stitches. "I've taken you into my heart! I've done everything I could for you!" She slapped her again on the forehead." There are words for women like you, but I won't use them!" she yelled. "It disgusts me to see you in those robes. It disgusts me to see your face!"

Dechen looked up into Jetsunma's face and never broke her gaze. Jetsunma had a look that Dechen never remembered seeing before. She was almost. . . smiling. But it wasn't a smirk as much as a leer. "What you said happened to you in India before, what you told me," Jetsunma shouted, "that isn't what really happened, is it? You lied to me." She backhanded Dechen again.

Jetsunma began listing instructions for Dechen to follow. The young nun felt herself focusing on all of Jetsunma 's words, all her advice and instructions, hoping to remember every moment. Dechen was never to look at or speak to the Monk again. She was to put her yellow robes on her altar and prostrate to them every day. She needed to get a job and payoff all of her debts. She had to stop "leaning on" the other ordained. She needed to do one hundred thousand Vajrasattva practices, but Jetsunma wasn't sure that was enough. As a punishment, she and the Monk were going to clean the temple every day--the bathrooms, the floors, the kitchen. And every moment that Dechen wasn't either cleaning or working to pay off her debts, she was to be practicing. As for reading or TV or any other "enjoyments," there were to be no more than four hours per week. She talked about how little remorse Dechen had. "You have never done a single thing that I have ever told you to do," Jetsunma yelled angrily, "so I have no confidence that you'll do it now."

Dechen followed her lama's eyes. She soaked up her lama's words. These were blessings, she told herself. Each word was a great blessing. Each slap and slug, a great, great blessing. Dechen tried to be as submissive as she could be and tried to find a posture of accepting all the blessings as they came her way. This wrathful display--as it was called--would only help to purify any negative karma that had been created by her contact with the Monk.

The Monk had been very still, but he turned slightly to see if Dechen was okay. She was cowering. She was humiliating herself: He wanted to yell at her, "Get up! Get up!"

Jetsunma turned to him again. "You may keep your robes but not wear them," she said, "and if you were in better health, I'd make you clean every toilet at the temple eighteen times a day with a toothbrush." She pointed to the crowd in the chairs. "Their toilets!"

Dechen was to clean toilets, too, she said. "I can't tell you not to come to teachings, but if you do, sit behind an umbrella or something. I don't want to see your face. . . . And I've talked to Khenpo Tsewang Gyatso about this--you may not keep your robes!"

At this Jetsunma walked out.
The room remained perfectly still. Alana returned to center stage. She announced that Jetsunma wanted the ordained to tell Dechen and the Monk how this evening had made them feel--sharing their anger and outrage would help Dechen and the Monk "with their remorse."

Ani Rene spoke first and addressed her comments to the Monk, with whom she had studied. "Driving in the car with you one time," she said, "you criticized some lamas and poisoned my mind with gossip!" she said, shaking with rage. "I felt sick for an hour, and I could have just ripped you apart. " Tashi was so overcome with emotion that he could barely get the words out. He was horrified by what had happened, particularly by the fact that Jetsunma's life would now be shortened. Then came Konchog, the young monk who did press relations for the temple and who was a scholar. He also addressed his remarks to his friend, his housemate, his fellow monk. "I had so much faith in you, " he said, fighting back tears. "You kept your vows for so long. And you talked about how the Dharma texts were more important than Jetsunma, and you almost turned my mind away from my teacher."

The nuns of Ani Farms each spoke to Dechen. Palchen said that Dechen needed to face her total irresponsibility and lack of thought for anyone but herself. Alexandra mentioned Dechen's thoughtlessness. She had never contemplated how her breakages would affect anybody but herself. Sherab was the angriest. "You're always rebellious, and everything has to be Dechen's way!" she yelled. Another nun talked about how she'd helped Dechen out when she broke her vows last time, how supportive she'd felt. This was different. "Countless sentient beings," she said, "will be hurt because of this."

But most of the comments were directed at the Monk, and they continued for forty-five minutes after Jetsunma's departure. In the following ten days there were two more meetings--where Dechen and the Monk were required to confess the details of their affair to the entire ordained sangha. At one point, as Dechen tried to give an account of exactly what had transpired between them sexually, the Monk began shouting; "Shut up! Shut up! It's none of their fucking business!" And it was this attitude, his indignation and pride, which seemed to fuel the anger of his peers. One by one in all three meetings, the ordained told the Monk how they really felt about him, how egotistical he was, how deluded, how he lorded his knowledge of Tibetan and all his studies and retreats and expertise in Tibetan Buddhism over everybody and made them feel bad, how he'd tried, with all his talk of tradition and other teachers and other Dharma centers, to turn them against their lama. He had taken many empowerments, but he'd somehow missed the boat.

The Monk didn't know these people well--he had been in Poolesville only eight months--and it shocked him that they would have such intense hatred for him. It also surprised him that Jetsunma should feel so strongly--to scream at him, and slug him, to threaten to throw him through the sliding glass door. He had refused to give her instruction in some high teachings, and he'd ignored what he felt had been her romantic advances: was that the explanation for her rage? But what had he done to the rest of these people to make them so angry? The attacks on his character were personal, and brutal. This is like something out of the Spanish Inquisition, he was thinking. He knew what Jetsunma would say, of course, that to strike a student was to give him a great blessing. There was a long tradition of teachers hitting students in Tibetan Buddhism. He had heard that in Tibet students were sometimes beaten unconscious with logs and clubs. Penor Rinpoche himself, the legend went, had cured one of his students of cancer by beating him to a bloody pulp--then collapsed outside on the grass and sobbed. But hitting a student in this country, wasn't that a great risk? Was this monastery life in Tibetan Buddhist America?

-- The Buddha From Brooklyn: The Great Blessing, by Martha Sherrill


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Sogyal Rinpoche CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES

In 2010 she travelled to Taiwan with three other nuns from Lerab Ling for monastic training. She returned to France, but not to Lerab Ling, hiding out in Paris, ignoring Sogyal’s telephone calls, ‘ranging from “Dear Drolma, I love you, we can talk about this”, to “where the f-k are you and you’re making me really angry, and you’d better come back otherwise you’re going to hell...”’

She fled to India, living in a nunnery, before finally going home to Australia. In 2011, she summoned her nerve to go back to Lerab Ling, for the cremation of Sogyal’s aunt, Khandro. ‘It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,’ she says. ‘I was in nun’s robes and still keeping my precepts.

'Wearing robes you have one arm bare, and he touched me there, as if I were sexual object. It made my skin crawl. I saw that the way he related to me could change completely.’ The cremation over, she returned to Australia, and gave up her robes.

‘Looking back,’ she says, ‘I think I’d lost all faculty of being able to discern clearly what was going on. He absolutely ground me down. I’m generally someone that’s very trusting of people. And he really took advantage of that.

‘And I felt ashamed to leave my friends, ashamed to go back to my family and say I’d made a mistake.’ She pauses. ‘There’s so much shame in all of this.’


Secrecy, denial and further allegations

Within Rigpa, a culture of secrecy and denial prevailed among Sogyal’s inner circle, the worst excesses of his behaviour kept hidden from the thousands of more casual followers who would attend retreats and teachings.

‘It’s like an incestuous family, where you keep the secret in the family,’ one woman who claims she was sexually abused by Sogyal told me. But, inevitably, allegations of impropriety began to leak out on the internet.

In 2011 Mary Finnigan, the English author and former student, published a document Behind The Thankas, charting Sogyal’s history of alleged sexual abuse, and claiming that there was a sub-sect within Rigpa known as Lama Care, set up specifically to make sure that women were available for sex with him wherever he travelled, and that ‘dakinis’ had been pressurised against their will to take part in orgies.


Tibetan culture is such that it will never criticise another lama, especially one within your own group
-- Stephen Batchelor


In the same year, a Canadian documentary called In The Name of Enlightenment was broadcast with more allegations of sexual abuse by former devotees.'


-- In the Name of Enlightenment


In 2015 the President of Rigpa France, Olivier Raurich, resigned, explaining in an interview to the French magazine Marianne that ‘I had come for teachings on humility, love, truth, and trust, and I found myself in a quasi-Stalinist environment and permanent double-talk’. Sogyal, he said, ‘did not hesitate to brutally silence and ridicule people in meetings. Critical thinking is prohibited around him. Negative feedback never reaches him - only praise is reported because people in the close circle are afraid of him.’

Within Rigpa, students were allegedly instructed to kneel before Sogyal and swear they would not listen to Raurich’s accusations. He was denounced as an opportunist who was simply seeking publicity for his own career as a meditation teacher.

The following year, a French academic Marion Dapsance published a book, Les Dévots du Bouddhisme, containing further allegations of abuse, and the ‘cult-like’ behaviour of Sogyal’s inner circle.

A response posted on the Lerab Ling website described her portrayal as ‘extremely prejudiced’ and ‘unrecognizable’, invoking the Tibetan teaching of training the mind in compassion, called lojong, with its core principle of ‘give all profit and gain to others. Take all loss and defeat upon yourself.’


In this context, the letter went on, Sogyal, following the example of ‘great saints of the past’ would never respond to such allegations.

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Sogyal Rinpoche visits Paris CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES

Ignoring the scandal altogether, in November 2016, Patrick Gaffney instead wrote to members of Rigpa, explaining that another lama, and close friend of Sogyal’s, Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche, believing that the next few years represented ‘a critical period in [Sogyal’s] life’ had consulted ‘a unique clairvoyant master’ in Tibet for advice on what should be done to avert ‘any obstacles to Rinpoche’s life, health and work.’

The ‘clairvoyant lama’ had recommended a number of different ritual practices to remove these obstacles. The most important was for Sogyal’s followers to ‘repair any impairments of the samaya’ - their vow of trust between guru and student - by embarking on an intensive practice of reciting mantras. The goal, Gaffney wrote, was to accumulate 100 million 100 syllable mantras every year - a practice that would require 3,000 students chanting for 40 minutes a day.

‘If the practices he recommends are done,’ Gaffney went on, ‘then there is every chance that Rinpoche will live until at least the age of eighty-five.’

Some saw it as a subtle way of dampening the growing scandal, and coercing doubting students back in line. ‘It was shifting the responsibility for the consequences of Sogyal’s actions onto the students,’ one former student told me.
‘To turn your back on the guru is the worst thing you can do. No-one wants to go to Vajra hell.’

Sogyal's open response

In July, as the eight-signatory letter spread like wildfire, Sogyal wrote an open response to members of Rigpa. He had spent his whole life, he wrote, ‘trying my best’ to serve the Buddha’ teachings, ‘and not a day goes by when I am not thinking about the welfare of my students.’ But in light of the controversy, and following the advice from his own masters about the obstacles arising for his health and life in general, he now intended to enter into retreat ‘as soon as possible.’

He would also, he went on, ‘pray and practice for healing and understanding to prevail, and in the spirit of the great...masters of the past, take the suffering upon myself and give happiness and love to others.’

Through all the years of rumours and revelations about Sogyal’s behaviour, one group maintained a conspicuous silence. His fellow Tibetan lamas. Sogyal’s large following and considerable wealth made him a powerful figure within the Tibetan Buddhist community. Over the years he has been generous in his donations to monasteries in Nepal and India, and other lamas have frequently given teachings at Lerab Ling, their visits lending authority to Sogyal’s credentials.

‘Tibetan culture is such that it will never criticise another lama, especially one within your own group,’ Stephen Batchelor says. ‘But the root of the problem lies in the tantric, aristocratic structure of old Tibetan society that they are seeking to preserve in exile. They’re in the business of holding on to their traditions, not reforming them.

‘The problem facing other lamas is that if they accept these criticisms they are basically accepting criticism of the whole system that in a way underpins their own authority; and if they say nothing they know they will be perceived as turning a blind eye to what looks, quite blatantly, like abusive behaviour.

‘It’s a terrible thing if this discredits Tibetan Buddhism, because Vajrayana is a very rich part of Buddhist heritage. But at the same time these abuses have to be addressed. And the Tibetan tradition has to come to terms with that.’

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Carla Bruni-Sarkozy And The Dalai Lama Inaugurate The Lerab Ling Temple On August 22, 2008 CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES

The Dalai Lama has frequently condemned unethical behaviour among Buddhist teachers, and urged students to speak out against it - ‘through the newspaper, through the radio. Make public’ - while never specifically commenting on Sogyal by name. But last month, speaking in Ladakh, he talked of the need to reform the ‘influence of the feudal system’ in Tibetan institutions. Followers, he said, ‘must not say, “this is my guru, whatever my guru says I must follow.” That’s totally wrong.’ If a teacher is behaving unethically there was a duty to make their behaviour public.

‘Now recently,’ he went on, ‘Sogyal Rinpoche, my very good friend, but he is disgraced....’


To the outsider it might have seemed a fleetingly incidental reference; to the Buddhist community it was tantamount to excommunication.

Just a few days after the Dalai Lama’s speech, Sogyal announced that he was ‘retiring’ as spiritual director of Rigpa, citing the ‘turbulence’ the allegations around him had caused. There was no acknowledgment of abuse, and no expression of apology or regret.

While no longer spiritual director, he said, he would continue as their teacher. ‘Please understand that I am not and never will abandon you! I have a solemn commitment to help bring you to enlightenment and I will never renege on that!’


Everybody wants to be happy in life. So you join an organisation; you feel good, people are nice, you start to participate more; you invest a lot of time, perhaps a lot of money


The Telegraph magazine contacted Rigpa with a detailed list of the allegations contained in this article, asking for a response. The organisation replied saying they had no comment to make on the allegations. Instead, they referred The Telegraph to the press release announcing Sogyal’s retirement as spiritual director.

Having sought ‘professional and spiritual advice’, that statement went on, Rigpa would be setting up an investigation by ‘a neutral third party’ into the various allegations; launching a consultation process to establish ‘a code of conduct and ‘grievance process’ for Rigpa members; and establishing a new ‘spiritual advisory group’ to guide the organisation.

Rigpa declined to specify what form this independent investigation will take, and also whom the ‘spiritual advisory group’ is likely to be comprised of, saying only that ‘independent professionals will be engaged to lead the internal investigation and this will probably commence mid-autumn.’

Sogyal’s last public appearance was on July 30, in Thailand, speaking at the Seventh World Youth Buddhist Symposium. His speech, on the subject of meditation and peace of mind, made no mention of the scandal that had engulfed him. ‘If your mind is relaxed and at ease,’ he told his young audience, ‘no matter what crises you are facing you will not be disturbed. Even when difficulties come you will be able to turn them to your own advantage.’

Quite how he could that now do that is open to question. Following submissions from former Rigpa members, The Charity Commission has opened a case on The Rigpa Fellowship to assess whether a full investigation into the affairs and governance of Sogyal’s organisation is required. At the same time former students are exploring pressing criminal charges.

Recognising 'this is abuse'

One leaves a spiritual organisation, Drolma says, with a mixture of feelings - relief, shame, guilt for those left behind.

‘I haven’t turned my back on the Buddhist teachings,’ she says, ‘but it was important to let people know what was going on. Sogyal is an abuser, he’s delusional, and he has created real, deep harm for people, and that’s not right in any place at all.’

‘It’s like the Buddha said,’ Gary Goldman says, ‘everybody wants to be happy in life. So you join an organisation; you feel good, people are nice, you start to participate more; you invest a lot of time, perhaps a lot of money. At some point it becomes interwoven into your psyche. It’s a part of who you are. And to give that up is incredibly difficult and painful. I saw [Sogyal] as a friend, and on some level I still admire him as an accomplished teacher; but he’s lost his way, and it’s very sad.

‘Right now, I’m very unhappy. There’s a hole in my heart. But a lot of people just can’t give it up; they’re tied to him; they’d be giving up an authority figure, probably a father figure; psychologically, it would be a huge loss.’

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Carla Bruni-Sarkozy with Sogyal at the opening of the Lerab Ling Temple On August 22, 2008 CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES

In July, as the furore over the damning letter from the eight students gathered pace, stories circulated on Buddhist sites of the incident in 2016 when the nun, Ane Chokyi, was punched in the stomach. In response, Ani Chokyi posted a reply on a closed Facebook page, saying that Sogyal’s teachings at the retreat had been ‘loving beyond any ordinary description,’ and the punch to the stomach was ‘taken out of a greater context.

‘I have agreed to the skillful means of my master to purify and transform my delusions into clarity and uproot my attachments,’ she wrote. ‘Sometimes these means can be wrathful and not always a pleasant experience, but that is what I need to be able to see through all the layers of ignorance that keep me blinded and stuck.’ Sogyal, she went on, ‘was definitely not in a fit of rage, there was just a single moment of wrath, which manifested in a soft punch, but it was neither violent or abusive, at least not to my feelings.’

Drolma posted a reply. She could understand Ani Chokyi’s perspective completely, she wrote, because that was how she had once justified Sogyal’s behaviour to herself. ‘If the student getting this kind of “special training” has a history of abuse in other relationships in their life (as seems to be the case of many of us, including myself), then it is so much more natural, even comforting to receive wrathful attention from someone who is also telling us they love us deeply.’

But then, she wrote, ‘just like the flick of a switch, I recognised that “this is abuse”. And with that, I started to reflect on all the ways in which I had allowed it to happen. It was like in The Wizard of Oz, when the curtain is finally pulled back and you realise there is no “all-mighty Oz”, there is just a little man shouting into a microphone…’


A history of abuse allegations Sogyal Rinpoche

HTTP://HOWDIDITHAPPEN.ORG/HISTORY-ABUSE ... ONS-RIGPA/

November 1994
A $10 million civil lawsuit was filed against Sogyal Rinpoche and Rigpa by an anonymous plaintiff, who was given the name “Janice Doe” to protect her identity. The complaint alleged infliction of emotional distress, breach of fiduciary duty, and assault and battery.

1995
Mick Brown’s 1995 article in the Telegraph Magazine, called “The Precious One,” looked at the abuse allegations against Sogyal Rinpoche and shared anonymous allegations of sexual abuse from two additional women.

2011
The Canadian company Cogent/Benger produced a television documentary with new allegations of abuse against Sogyal Rinopche called “In the Name of Enlightenment.” It aired on Vision TV in Canada.

2016
Senior student, instructor, translator, and former director of Rigpa France, Olivier Raurich, left Rigpa in 2016. In an interview in the French magazine “Marianne,” Raurich spoke of secrecy in the Rigpa organization, manipulation of information, and rumors of sexual abuse. He said Sogyal Rinpoche’s dictatorial side and anger worsened after a 2011 exposé in “Marianne.” He also claimed that Sogyal Rinpoche brutally silences and ridicules people.

August 2016
Sogyal Rinpoche hit a nun in the stomach in front of 1,000 students during a teaching session at his retreat center, Lerab Ling. More than a year later, following abuse allegations made by eight long-time students, which mentioned the incident, she issued a statement describing what happened as a soft punch. She says it was not abuse because she had agreed to let her teacher work with her in this way, and that it helped her move through a blockage.

However, several students sitting within a few feet of the incident perceived it differently. They heard the wind knocked out of her, saw her immediately double over, and witnessed her running off the stage in tears. They felt deeply disturbed by the incident.

Some of them sent letters of complaint to Sogyal Rinpoche via his feedback system. He responded in the teaching the next day by saying anyone questioning his teaching methods was probably not ready to receive the Dzogchen teachings.

June 2017
The Dutch current affairs program “Brandpunt” featured the testimony of former Rigpa student, Oane Bijlsma, in a program called Abuse in the Buddhist Community: This Victim Tells Her Story for the First Time.

Bujlsma made claims of abuse of power and sexual intimidation by Sogyal Rinpoche. Although Oane was not abused herself, she experienced sexual harassment and she said she witnessed other women being abused, intimidated, and exploited.

July 2017
A 12-page letter signed by current and ex-members of Rigpa details abuse allegedly committed by Sogyal Rinpoche. It was sent to Sogyal Rinpoche, a small selection of his peers, and his closest students.
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Re: Randy Sogyal Rinpoche, Best-Selling Lecher

Postby admin » Thu Dec 21, 2017 5:17 am

The Precious One
by Mick Brown
Telegraph Magazine
February 2, 1995

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NOT SO LONG AGO, THIS BUDDHIST LAMA, SOGYAL RINPOCHE, WAS THE DARLING OF LONDON SOCIETY. A BESTSELLING AUTHOR, HE WAS REGARDED AS ONE OF THE MOST GIFTED TEACHERS IN THE WEST. TODAY HE IS FACING CHARGES OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT FROM A FOLLOWER WHO IS SEEKING $10 MILLION IN DAMAGES. MICK BROWN INVESTIGATES A SCANDAL IN WHICH MUCH MORE THAN ONE REPUTATION IS AT STAKE

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THE PRECIOUS ONE

When, in 1992, a Tibetan Buddhist lama named Sogyal Rinpoche launched his book, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, in London, a celebratory party was held in a chic Kensington flat. The part was couture bohemian – thronged with the alternative intelligentsia, writers, teachers and doctors, drawn by the promise of the exotic and the wise held out by a venerated teacher speaking from a centuries-old tradition. As the lama offered a few well chosen words on the subject of compassionate living, the multitude of thirty- and fortysomethings dutifully sat cross-legged and cramped on the floor, limbs creaking and aching.

It was a small but portentous symbol of the discomforts that can arise when East meets West.

Few among the gathering, perhaps, would have predicted that the book, a contemporary interpretation of traditional Tibetan Buddhist ideas of dying, would go on to become an international bestseller. Yet three years on, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying has sold more than 250,000 copies around the world, 50,000 in Britain alone.

The book, to which the Dalai Lama wrote a foreword, struck a resonant chord in the growing Western debate about the nature of consciousness and our attitude to death.

It has been widely adopted by hospice organizations and doctors working with the dying, psychologists and philosophers have queued to commend it not simply for its insights into death, but as a complete blueprint for an ethical and compassionate life. John Cleese described it as ‘one of the most helpful books I have ever read,’ and, introducing a talk in London by the Rinpoche, hailed his own first appearance as ‘warm-up man for an incarnate lama.’

But while The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying has brought Sogyal Rinpoche international celebrity, the twinges of discomfort evident in that Kensington party have now blown up into controversy and scandal. Sogyal Rinpoche is presently on a meditative retreat, which is why he has so far been unable personally to respond to a lawsuit which has been laid in a Californian court, seeking $10 million damages on a sexual harassment charge.

The suit – which includes counts of fraud, assault and battery, infliction of emotional distress and breach of fiduciary duty – alleges that, using the justification of his spiritual status, the lama sexually and physically abused a female student, turning her against her husband and family. This, the charge alleges, was merely one example in a pattern of abuse against a number of women over the past 19 years.

It is hard to convey the gravity of the accusations. Sogyal Rinpoche is widely regarded as one of the most gifted and enlightened teachers of Tibetan Buddhism in the West and, since the publication of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, he is certainly one of the best known.

Rinpoche means ‘precious one.’ Sogyal is believed to be the incarnation of Terton Sogyal, a Tibetan lama who was the teacher of the 13th Dalai Lama (the present one is the 14th) and who died in 1926.

Now in his late 40s, Sogyal Rinpoche was brought up in a monastery in Tibet. He left for India in 1958, a year before the popular Tibetan uprising against Chinese occupation that led to the Dalai Lama’s flight into exile. He was educated by Jesuits at a Catholic School, then at university in Delhi, and at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he studied comparative religion, although he did not graduate.

He arrived in London in the late Seventies and began gathering a small group of students around him, and in 1981 the Rigpa Fellowship (Rigpa means “innermost nature of mind”) was founded to propagate his teachings. Rigpa now has several thousand followers, offices throughout Europe and North America, and teaching centres in Ireland, France and California. Sogyal Rinpoche – known as ‘the laughing lama’ because of his permanently cheery disposition – lectures around the world, and has even found fame as a film actor, appearing in Bernardo Bertolucci’s Little Buddha.

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Soygal Rinpoche in France, 1993, before charges of sexual harassment were filed.

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Sogyal Rinpoche appearing in Bertolucci’s ‘Little Buddha.’

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One of Sogyal’s predecessors, the eccentric Chogyam Trungpa, with his pupil, the beat poet Allen Ginsberg

The case against Sogyal is believed to be the first time that a Buddhist lama has ever faced public trial on sexual harassment charges. But it is merely one in a growing number of problems facing the lama’s organization. In Britain, the lawsuit has brought to a head growing concerns among some members of his organization about the lama’s sexual conduct, which have already resulted in a number of departures. In October 1992, a trustee resigned over Sogyal’s sexual conduct, after suggesting to him that he should seek help, and writing to the Dalai Lama on the matter. She subsequently gave detailed information, maintaining the anonymity of those who had confided in her, at a meeting with trustees and other members of the Rigpa community.

In America, the case has prompted a fierce debate, not only about the role of Tibetan teachers in the West, and the conflicts between an ancient spiritual tradition and contemporary standards of secular behavior, but also about the growing prevalence of sexual harassment cases in a society where people are increasingly encouraged to perceive themselves as victims of ‘abuse’ – whether by their parents, their teacher, their employees, or their religious leaders – and to seek redress in the newspapers or the courts.

On paper, the charge against Sogyal Rinpoche is a devastating one.

The accusation states that in June 1993, the woman, ‘Janice Doe’ (a pseudonym used in American court cases), in a state of bereavement following the death of her father, attended a retreat conducted by Sogyal in Connecticut. In a private meeting, Sogyal is alleged to have told ‘Doe’ that through devotion and his spiritual instruction she could ‘purify her family’s karma,’ and that she should realize that ‘he is Buddha and that all his actions are Buddha activity.’

The next evening, Sogyal invited the woman to his room where, allegedly, he seduced her. He later told her that her family had been healed ‘by his love and kindness’ and that this blessing ‘could only be maintained through her unswerving devotion to him.’

Over a period of six months, the charge alleges, the woman was subjected to ‘systematic indoctrination’ designed to separate her from ‘normal support systems,’ including her husband, family and friends, to make her completely dependent on Rinpoche and Rigpa for ‘all physical, mental and emotional needs.’ In that time, Sogyal allegedly ‘physically and mentally abused’ Doe, claiming that to be hit by a lama was ‘a blessing’ and requiring her to perform ‘degrading acts’ in order to ‘bring her closer to a state of enlightenment.’

Sogyal Rinpoche has made no comment on the allegations, although the Rigpa Fellowship says that ‘as far as we’re aware, they have no foundation.’ ‘The charge portrays Sogyal’s conduct in a light that is truly distorted,’ says Jack Friedman, the California attorney for Rigpa. ‘What we have here,’ he says, ‘is someone attempting to bring about changes in the way a religious organization conducts itself, and the religious practice itself, through the law courts.’

Among some Buddhists there is a feeling that there is more to the case than meets the eye; that Rinpoche is the victim of a campaign in which allegations of sexual impropriety and the weapon of political correctness are being used to discredit him. Furthermore, they suggest that the lawsuit is part of a concerted attack on Tibetan Buddhist teaching in a tangled internecine dispute about who has the authority in Buddhism in the West – the oriental teachers who have promulgated the teachings over the past 30 years, or their erstwhile Western pupils who have now become teachers themselves.

Accusations of the misuse of power, of sexual or financial scandal, have become a commonplace in virtually every religion. The temptations of what is known in American evangelical circles as the ‘Three Gs’ – ‘girls, gold and glory’ – have brought down religious figures as various as the Reverend Jimmy Swaggart and Catholic priests (for whom the problem is as often boys as girls).

Eastern religious teachers have been no more immune to temptation. The past three decades have been littered with accounts of self-styled gurus and swamis who have risen in a blaze of glory – and such in disgrace.

Until now, however, Buddhism has been untainted by any major public scandal.

Sogyal Rinpoche is a lama, but not a celibate monk. He is unmarried, and there are, theoretically, no constraints on his private behavior other than the third Buddhist precept not to engage in sexual misconduct.

The cornerstone of all Tibetan Buddhist practice is the relationship between an individual and a teacher. Within the Vajrayana, or tantric, tradition, to which Sogyal Rinpoche belongs, this relationship can often be one of extreme emotional and, in some cases, even physical intimacy, demanding the total trust of the pupil in the teacher’s selfless motives – and total integrity on the part of the teacher not to abuse that trust.

It is on the complicated nature of this relationship that the charge against Sogyal Rinpoche partly hinges. Was he, a teacher, taking advantage of the trust placed in him by a student? At what point does individual responsibility in any sexual relationship and end? Is any relationship between a teacher – particularly a spiritual one – and a student by definition abusive? Or was this, more simply, a relationship between a man and a woman that ended not only in tears, but, in the vexed climate of sexual politics in America, in a lawsuit?

Vajrayana is sometimes characterized as the ‘expressway to enlightenment’ – a system of teachings by which the student can attain enlightenment within a single lifetime. Questions about the merits of this teaching and its appropriateness to Western students have been a source of contention in America for more than 25 years – ever since the arrival in the west of a lama called Chogyam Trungpa, known as ‘the roaring tiger of crazy wisdom,’ and the first man to establish Tibetan Buddhist centres in Britain and America.

Trungpa, too, taught in the Vajrayana tradition. A venerated lama in Tibet, he followed the Dalai Lama into exile in 1959. He made his way to Britain, and founded the Samye-Ling meditation centre in Scotland (nowadays dignified by visits from the likes of Lolicia Aitken), and became the first Tibetan to receive British citizenship. He married an 18-year-old English girl and then, in the late Sixties, moved to America, where he founded that country’s first Tibetan meditation centre, in Colorado, and the Naropa teaching institute.

Trungpa was nobody’s idea of the ascetic and saintly holy man. He walked with a pronounced limp, the result of a car accident when he drove into the window of a joke and novelty shop in Newcastle. Explaining to his pupil, the poet Allen Ginsberg, that ‘I come from a long line of eccentric Buddhists,’ he ran his organization like a medieval court, surrounding himself with an elite bodyguard and sometimes amusing himself by dressing as a Grenadier Guard. He drank like a fish, and is said to have exercised virtual droit de seigneur over his female students – one of whom would later describe him as ‘a spiritual stud.’

Trungpa died in 1987, from complications arising from alcoholism. Before his death he appointed an American, Osel Tenzin, as his successor. Osel died of Aids, after allegedly passing the HIV virus on to several of his students.

Among many Buddhists, Chogyam Trungpa was regarded as a wayward embarrassment – a symptom of the dangers that can arise when Eastern teachers are exposed to the glamour of Western personality worship.

To his followers, however, he remains an exemplar of the tradition of ‘crazy wisdom,’ where a teacher frequently acts with an apparently cavalier disregard for any moral, ethical or social propriety – ‘completely shaking your programme’ as one former pupil of Trungpa puts it – in order to force the pupil to realize the true nature of self.

‘The real function of the guru,’ Trungpa once said, ‘is to insult you.’

Not all Trungpa’s students followed his bidding with an easy conscience. ‘A lot of people at Naropa would do anything that Trungpa told them to do without question,’ one former student remembers, ‘but they didn’t always like it.’

But if some women did feel coerced into sexual relations for fear of incurring his disapproval, their disgruntlement was never expressed in the courts; in the Seventies, the legal concept of sexual harassment was yet to come.

In the years since Trungpa’s death, there have been a number of scandals within the Buddhist community about teachers’ sexual behavior. These have almost never made the press. But they have provoked an increasingly heated debate among Western Buddhists about how Buddhism should be taught in the West in general, and about the sexual ethics of teachers in particular.

In recent years the Dalai Lama is known to have received a stream of complaints from Western women students alleging misbehavior among teachers, both Western and Tibetan, and to have grown increasingly concerned that errant teachers were bringing Buddhism into disrepute. Sogyal Rinpoche is said to have been the subject of several complaints in the past; and it is claimed that the Dalai Lama has warned him privately about his conduct.

When, in 1993, an organization called the Network for Western Buddhist Teachers met with the Dalai Lama at his home in Dharamsala, India, to discuss Buddhist teaching in the West, the sexual ethics of teachers was high on the agenda.

In the court of that meeting the Dalai Lama agreed that miscreant teachers threatened to bring the whole teaching of Buddhism into disrepute. Misbehaviour should be publicized, he said, and errant teachers made ‘regretful and embarrassed’ about their conduct.

‘As the expression goes,’ he added, ‘someone who has already fallen down cannot help someone else stand up.’

Following the meeting in Dharamsala, the Network issued an ‘open letter’ to the Western Buddhist community, laying down a ‘code of conduct’ for teachers in the West. This stated that ‘students should not hesitate to publicise any unethical behavior of which there is irrefutable evidence… irrespective of other beneficial aspects of [the teacher’s] work.’

No matter what level of spiritual attainment a teacher has attained, tkhe letter went on, ‘no person can stand above the norms of ethical conduct.’

Despite his pronouncement in Dharamsala, however, the Dalai Lama declined to give his official imprimatur to the new code.

‘I think the Dalai Lama felt any kind of code was premature,’ says Robert Thurman, professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies at Columbia University, who was an observer at the conference. ‘And the teachers were not representative of the Buddhist community as a whole.’

The new code has driven a wedge of disagreement through the Buddhist community in the West. Sogyal Rinpoche’s Rigpa Fellowship and Vajradhatu, the organization founded by Chogyam Trungpa, are among several Buddhist groups who have not been signatories to the code. They argue that they represent a Buddhist teaching stretching back hundreds of years, and do not need a self-appointed group of ‘moral police’ dictating how they should practice.

‘I doubt the motivation of those who drew up the code,’ says Judith Simmer-Brown of Vajradhatu. ‘I think there is a power struggle going on to undermine Asian teachers and put them down, and I don’t want to be part of that.’

Supporters of Sogyal Rinpoche say that in attempting to make Buddhism ‘politically correct,’ the code is actually challenging the ‘special relationship’ between teacher and student that is the very basis of Vajrayana practice; that the code is, in effect, an open invitation to a McCarthyite witch-hunt of Tibetan teachers.

This idea of a code of practice has become a central part of the court case against Sogyal Rinpoche. Theodore Philips, the attorney for Janice Doe, says that his client’s motivation for bringing the case is not simply one of personal reparation, but to force the introduction of a code of conduct for teachers, ‘to prevent future abuse.’

In Vajrayana Buddhism the relationship between the pupil and teacher demands a surrender of self that can seem anathema to Western ideas of individuality, equality and free will.

OVER A PERIOD OF SIX MONTHS, THE CHARGE SAYS, THE WOMAN WAS SUBJECTED TO ‘SYSTEMATIC INDOCTRINATION’ DESIGNED TO SEPARATE HER FROM ‘NORMAL SUPPORT SYSTEMS,’ INCLUDING HER HUSBAND, FAMILY AND FRIENDS, TO MAKE HER COMPLETELY DEPENDENT ON RINPOCHE FOR ‘ALL PHYSICAL, MENTAL AND EMOTIONAL NEEDS’

Yet as one authority, Stephen Butterfield, has written in his book on Vajrayana, The Double Mirror: ‘Without the guru, enlightenment is impossible. The guru is the Buddha. Anything that happens to you, whether good or bad, is the guru’s blessing and compassion. If it is good, be grateful to the guru; if it is bad, then it helps to wake you up and so you should also be grateful to the guru.’

It is a relationship of ‘no boundaries,’ in which sex may sometimes, but by no means necessarily, play a part.

Judith Simmer-Brown of Vajradhatu, and a lecturer at the Naropa Institute, describes the teacher-student relationship as ‘profound, groundless, and naked, whether or not it is a sexual relationship. It can be insulting, intimidating, gratifying, but it is always intimate.’

Imposing any kind of external code of ethics on such a relationship, says Simmer-Brown, is as ‘inappropriate as imposing a code on marriage.’

‘A genuine teacher-student relationship always has an element of passion in it, in the sense that it is a totally encompassing relationship,’ says Rita Gross, Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies at the University of Wisconsin.

‘There is a way in which one falls in love with one’s teacher if it really is on a deep level of connection. Therefore it is not surprising that sometimes these relationships become erotic and sexual.

‘I don’t believe the guru-student relationship is so inegalitarian that it will always be exploitative,’ she adds. ‘The question is whether a student has the wisdom to know how to handle it and for the teacher to know when the student is not capable of that level of involvement.’

According to Tibetan teachings, students should not enter lightly into such a relationship. The Dalai Lama has suggested it can take as long as 15 years for a student to determine the right teacher.

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Private warning: the Dalai Lama

‘There are certain safeguards that are built into Asian cultures that have been lost in Buddhism coming to the West,’ says Yvonne Rand, a California-based teacher of Buddhism for 20 years. ‘American “seekers” often have a capacity to give themselves away to a spiritual teacher or guide almost without question. People from Japan and from Tibet are amazed that we can be so gullible.’

The Dalai Lama has been quite specific on the subject of tantric teachings. Historically, he says, there have been teachers who may have engaged in conduct ‘which appears disgraceful, but which may have had some kind of deep realization or knowledge of the long-term benefit to the person involved.’

He has suggested that a good test of the qualifications of a tantric master who is beyond attachment and the temptations of self-gratification is whether the master can drink alcohol and urine with equal indifference. Asked recently which Tibetan teachers were of a sufficiently high level to do this, the Dalai Lama replied, ‘As far as I know – zero.’

Central to the allegations against Sogyal Rinpoche is a complex argument about the conflict between two disparate cultures. How does a religion dating back hundreds of years, and coming from a country rooted in feudalism, adapt itself to modern society where political correctness is high on the agenda?

Some Western Buddhists believe that Tibetan teachers, coming from a society which is ‘patriarchal, feudal and misogynistic,’ are inevitably so burdened by the baggage of their own cultural traditions that they cannot be trusted to be sensitive to the nuances of politically-correct America.

Others suggest that the lawsuit is evidence that nothing is sacred: that in America today everything – even religious practice – must measure up to the requirements of political correctness, in a climate where there is always ambiguity over whether sexual harassment suits are instruments of justice, or simply of revenge.

Few are surprised that in a climate where the whole question of ‘power abuse’ has galvanized America at every level of public life, and where debate rages about what sort of controls should be placed on putative ‘authority’ figures – from psychotherapists to attorneys – it should not be a Tibetan lama who is facing a sexual harassment charge. Nor does it come as any surprise to many within the Buddhist community that the charge should have been directed against Sogyal Rinpoche.

‘Rinpoche is a bachelor, and he’s free to indulge his desires to date girls,’ says Robert Thurman. ‘People knew about that, but until this incident it didn’t create any huge stink. Nobody was that concerned about it, although people were nervous it could lead to some problem, because it’s kind of careless.’

In the wake of the American lawsuit, however, women in Britain who have hitherto remained silent have now begun to talk about their experiences: ‘Sogyal Rinpoche’s need for a partner is not in question,’ says one former student. ‘Rather, the issue concerns the inappropriateness of sexual relationships with his students. In the West, it is not considered ethical to engage in sex within the confines of a pastoral or teacher-student relationship where there are clear power imbalances.

‘Within the practice, you are encouraged to view everything the lama does as a sacred act, as the actions of a Buddha, beyond good and bad. And this creates potential ground for abuse of trust, and sexual abuse, particularly when no one is quite clear what “the rules” are, because of the differing Tibetan and Western cultural norms, and where the philosophy of ‘no boundaries” is being advocated. It is questionable how far women were able to exercise free will in the matter when they felt obligated by Sogyal Rinpoche’s entreaties that he needed the inspiration of women to help with his teachings.

‘There is little room for a student to dissent, because to question the master is considered to indicate a lack of faith. In a Western context it becomes very close to a relationship of dominance and submission.’

One student told the Telegraph Magazine that when Sogyal initiated a sexual relationship with her, she felt she had no choice but to comply.

‘It’s a relationship that you haven’t chosen, agreed to or discussed,’ she says. ‘Because he was my spiritual teacher, I trusted that whatever he asked was in my best interests. You’re chosen, which makes you feel special. You want to help the teachings, you want to progress on the spiritual path. By sleeping with the teacher you get a closeness to him which everyone is hankering after. You want to be a “good student”. It’s a sort of submission.

‘I saw it as part of the teachings about the illusory nature of experience and emotions. But in fact it caused me a lot of pain that I wasn’t able to dissolve.’

Another woman described how Rinpoche would single her out for special attention at retreats and teachings over a period of some two years: ‘While I knew that he had relationships with women, I never thought that he was interested in me in any more than a fatherly way,’ she says. When, at length, Rinpoche made a sexual advance to her, she says that she felt ‘confused – surprised but flattered. I thought that somehow I was special, and that he was choosing me because of my special qualities.

‘The few women practitioners that Rinpoche had held up as a model were the wives or consorts of great and famous teachers. He made me feel that I had been chosen as his consort. Besides, I had taken him as my guru, and according to the teachings I aspired to see all his actions as those of an enlightened being. I trusted him completely, and trusted that if we had a sexual relationship it should ultimately benefit me.’

Shortly after the relationship began, however, she was distressed to hear from a friend about three other students with whom Sogyal was having relations at the same time.

‘I was surprised and hurt. But then I decided that I had to let go of such “negative emotions” and accept whatever Rinpoche was doing, since he was my teacher.’

Her understandings of the teachings, she says, did not help her resolve her confusion. But while her doubts grew, she did not feel ‘justified’ in expressing them to Sogyal.

‘I told myself that on an absolute level Rinpoche was helping beings and that what I felt was not important. Buddhist practice was the most important and wonderful thing in my life and being this close to a master was said to be an incredible blessing.’

If the teachings could not help her with her confusion, neither, she says, did the community of practitioners. ‘All of the older students, the people I went to for advice, told me repeatedly that I must “abandon my discriminating mind and use my wisdom mind” in dealing with Rinpoche,’ she says. ‘Every time I tried to do that I ended up dong what he wanted and feeling bad about it later.’

She says that although she believed in the teachings and wished to continue with her Buddhist practice, she eventually came to a point where she was unable to continue her sexual relationship with Sogyal. On several occasions, she made her feelings known, ‘but I began to see that however much he tried, he was incapable of controlling himself. The only way that I could remain in his presence was constantly to refuse to allow him to touch me – which was exhausting and demeaning.’

Eventually she felt she had no option but to leave Rinpoche and the community altogether: ‘I came to the conclusion that, in effect, Sogyal Rinpoche had used the teachings to attempt to keep me in a sexual relationship with him – one that I did not want to be in. I recognized that I was emotionally wounded, that my self-esteem was low, and that I no longer trusted myself or the spiritual path I had chosen.’

Another former student talks of the ‘deep distress and confusion’ felt by women students who have had relations with Sogyal Rinpoche. ‘The worst thing you can do is to go against the lama, or speak ill of him. The traditional teachings say that if you disobey the Vajra master’s commands, then you are breaking your spiritual link, harming the master and shortening his life which would result in endless suffering.

‘But within the Vajrayana tradition as it is taught in the West, the master is not accountable to his students, and there is no court of appeal for the students. Some people told me they were too scared to speak out within the organization about this, and those who attempted to were told it was “their problem.”’

June Campbell, a lecturer at the Open University at Napier University, Edinburgh and the author of a forthcoming book about the female identity in Tibetan Buddhism, says that the feeling of distress and confusion experienced by students who have had sexual relations with spiritual teachers can be analogous to incest.

‘Women may not speak out because they are fearful. They are scared they will undermine the community – which of course they will – like a child who fears it will destroy the family. There is the fear of not being believed; the fear of putting down a wonderful system of beliefs; the fear of being the sole voice.’

Women who find themselves in this situation, adds one former Rigpa member, ‘stop knowing how to perceive things, how to behave or how to respond; they lose their sense of reality and of personal integrity. They no longer know what the truth is. The community response to disclosure is shock and denial, because they cannot tolerate the shattering of their idealized picture of the perpetrator.

‘I know women who have had to undergo therapy because nobody inside the community would take their distress seriously. They feel an enormous sense of betrayal, both by the teacher and the community.’

One woman who spoke to the Telegraph Magazine said: ‘This is not a question of criticizing the Buddhist teachings, which have enormous depth, wisdom and compassion, not of attacking spirituality. The Dalai Lama says we should “respect the common perspective of what is right and wrong.” This is taking issue with the actions of a teacher which have brought harm to others and himself.’

Trustees of the Rigpa Fellowship in London have declined to make any comment, in light of the American court case. However, one member of Rigpa said that Sogyal ‘does not use sexual relations as part of his teachings at all. He is not married. He’s not a monk. And in many ways he lives just like an ordinary person.’ The member declined to comment on any allegations about Sogyal’s sexual relationships. ‘The Vajrayana teachings say that following a teacher closely is very important. But practically speaking, nobody is ever compelled to do anything they don’t want to do as part of the teaching.’

The member added that in the light of rumours and allegations about sexual misconduct, the Rigpa Fellowship in London was ‘actively involved in looking into these matters closely, so that people who are upset can talk about these issues and air their concerns.’

This initiative, the member said, is to help Rigpa students who may be concerned about allegations against the lama. Asked whether the initiative included people who themselves had suffered distress as a result of a sexual relationship with Rinpoche, the source replied that Rigpa was trying to find ‘the right pathway to engage the confidence of people who may feel distressed for whatever reason and encourage the process of healing.’

Sogyal Rinpoche, the member said, ‘is fully aware of everything that’s involved.

‘This whole teaching is about compassion, and I’m sure the thing Rinpoche really wants to see is for anybody who may feel upset to be able to come to resolve their feelings. His only desire would be that people find the resolution and happiness that is evading them at the moment.’

Senior students of Sogyal Rinpoche say that they fear that Janice Doe’s lawsuit in America may be part of a deliberate campaign to undermine the lama and his organization.

‘Sogyal is a very successful, very charismatic teacher,’ says one Rigpa member. ‘He’s attracted a large following – which could, in itself, be a cause of jealousy.’

They say that in recent months the lama has been the subject of an apparently orchestrated campaign of whispers spread throughout the Buddhist community, by letter and on the Internet, going so far as to allege that Sogyal is an imposter, and that the ‘real’ Sogyal Rinpoche is still in Tibet; even that he is not a Tibetan at all but an American Indian.

‘There is a group of Western Buddhist teachers who feel they should now be honoured and respected themselves as teachers, and who represent a very puritanical tendency,’ says Bob Thurman. ‘I think they’re envious of the Asian teachers, who maybe misbehave a little bit around the edges, but who are more respected than they are. I’m not saying there is a conspiracy. But there are certainly people who have been abetting this attack.’

Yvonne Rand is one teacher who has been most outspoken on the subject of Vajrayana teachings. Rand says that in her capacity as a Buddhist teacher, she has couselled ‘a number’ of women who claim to have had sexual relationships with Sogyal. While acknowledging that ‘Janice Doe’ has had the support of an informal network of Buddhist teachers in bringing her lawsuit, Rand denies that there is any conspiracy against Sogyal:

‘I would be extremely upset if that was the case. I think that the well-being of him and the community is as important as the well-being of the practitioner. But at the same time, this is a clear case of the abuse of trust by a student in a teacher.

‘I have spoken to Janice Doe. She was completely unfamiliar with Buddhism and with what it would mean to practice with a spiritual teacher. She was quite vulnerable and went to the retreat with great trust. She was very typical of women who come to spiritual practice with a certain amount of personal confusion and who are looking for healing.’

So what actually occurred between Sogyal Rinpoche and Janice Doe? Was it all a terrible misunderstanding: a religious teacher doing what he felt was necessary for the pupil, and a pupil failing to understand a relationship of ‘no boundaries’? Was it an unscrupulous man taking advantage of a naïve and trusting woman’s emotional vulnerability? Or was it simply a love affair which has ended in a bitter recrimination?

‘A lot of the behavior we see from male Asian teachers clearly comes out of a patriarchal society,’ says Helen Twokorv, the editor of the American Buddhist quarterly magazine, Tricycle. ‘It is the same behavior that women see in our own society and we don’t like it.

‘But at the same time, I do think that women over 18 are old enough to know what they’re doing. I think it is a disaster in America the way we treat grown-up people as if they are children. This thing of the “abused child within” is a bunch of bull. People have to take responsibility for their own behavior.’

Yvonne Rand disagrees. Women speaking out is not a symptom of a victim mentality, she argues. ‘A victim mentality is one where the person who feels abused remains silent.’

‘Entering into a polemic about “victims” and “abusers” can be yet another subtle way of denying the reality of harm that takes place,’ says one former Rigpa member. ‘The danger is that the people who are most likely to be forgotten in the debate are the women themselves who have experienced suffering and distress.

‘This is not about political correctness, it’s about spiritual and personal integrity. Sadly, I’m not at all surprised that Janice Doe’s only recourse for a fair hearing is the law courts.’

It is likely to be some months before an American court must rise to the complicated challenge of deciding exactly how esoteric Tibetan traditions are to be interpreted in the light of contemporary American sexual politics. ‘In the climate of American morality today, where even the Catholic church is being humiliated over sexual abuse charges, it is going to be extremely hard for a jury to buy a religious justification for sexual activity,’ says Ram Dass, an American spiritual teacher of many years’ standing. ‘In America today, there is only lust or family values.’ And the Janice Doe case, Ram Dass suggests, is about neither of these things.

In an article in a recent edition of View, the magazine of the Rigpa Fellowship, written before the Janic Doe charge was laid, Sogyal Rinpoche warns his readers how, in grasping the wrong view of things, it is easy to lose sight of where ignorance ends and truth begins. ‘Once we are wrongly convinced then we find no end of doubts, distortions and misconceptions to feed our wrong convictions,’ he writes.

‘Like a demented lawyer we obsessively marshal our arguments, weighing all the evidence in our favour and suppressing any other explanations, especially the truth… Our memory becomes selective, choosing to recall only the darkness, pain and confusion and erasing anything that …. could point towards happiness and truth. By now, our wrong views and convictions have a power and energy entirely of their own. We can no longer recognize the truth if it stares us in the face or hammers on our door.’

The truth of Janie Doe’s allegations remains for a court to decide in black and white. ‘The problem is, as one Buddhist teacher says, ‘In Buddhism, there are only shades of grey.’

Additional reporting by Claire Stobir

*********************************

RIGPA
330 Caledonian Road, London N1 1BB
Telephone (071) 700 0185 Fax (071) 609-6068

PRESS RELEASE

In California, a lawsuit has recently been brought against Rigpa Fellowship USA, and its spiritual director Sogyal Rinpoche, who is author of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. The suit alleges that Rigpa is a cult, and that Sogyal Rinpoche is guilty of fraud, assault and battery.

Rigpa is unable to comment on the allegations, as we would have wished, due to legal proceedings. However we would like to point out that Sogyal Rinpoche and his teachings have moved many thousands of people, women and men, and there are many people who can say how he has helped them transform their lives in a very positive way. Many of the most eminent lamas of Tibetan Buddhism have recognized Sogyal Rinpoche as an authentic master, and we have every confidence that this is so.

February 22nd 1995.
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Re: Randy Sogyal Rinpoche, Best-Selling Lecher

Postby admin » Wed Jan 17, 2018 1:07 am

Sogyal Rinpoche and the abuse accusations rocking the Buddhist world: Punching. Emotional abuse. Eye-popping sexual misdeeds. The accusations made against Sogyal Rinpoche – a key lama in the uptake of Buddhist principles by the West – have rocked devotees, including many in the top echelons of Australian business
by David Leser
The Sydney Morning Herald
December 1, 2017

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On a late September evening this year, a group of leading Australian business figures gathered in a Sydney boardroom to discuss a series of allegations that had scandalised the Buddhist world, and shaken their own to the core. The meeting was called by David White, chairman of business strategy advisers Port Jackson and Partners; Ian Buchanan, former lead partner with management consultants Booz Allen Hamilton; Diane Grady, non-executive director of Macquarie Bank and chair of Ascham School; and Gordon Cairns, chairman of Origin Energy and Woolworths.

What these four had in common was a long-standing involvement in Practical Wisdom, a series of business retreats held in Sydney over the past 15 years with Sogyal Rinpoche
, the Tibetan Buddhist teacher and author of the 1992 international bestseller The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.

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Sogyal Rinpoche: “Harvey Weinstein has nothing on this person,” says one of his former students. Photo: JOEL ROBINE/AFP

These retreats were now up for review, as Rinpoche stood accused by eight of his former senior students of decades of physical, psychological and sexual abuse.

"There is such a deep sadness over what has happened," Buchanan tells Good Weekend. "Whatever the facts turn out to be post investigation, this will inevitably be a tragedy. That this should come from an organisation that has done so much good, and from an individual who has done so much good, is very sad."

The Practical Wisdom group had formed in 2002 as a way of making available to leaders in Australian business, public health, government and defence "authentic Buddhist teachings on meditation, compassion and wisdom"
from arguably the most famous Tibetan in the world after the Dalai Lama.

Sogyal Rinpoche had first started visiting Australia in the mid-1980s, nearly a decade before his book was to become a spiritual classic. Regarded as a master of the great Tibetan oral traditions, Rinpoche's book had managed to lay out in simple, eloquent terms various Buddhist concepts on impermanence, karma, rebirth, compassion for the dying, and the benefits of training the mind through meditation. In so doing, he slaked a spiritual thirst and inspired millions.

Comedian John Cleese described the book as the most important he'd ever read, while the San Francisco Chronicle called it a "magnificent achievement" and an "inestimable gift". Around the world, hospitals, health institutions and palliative care centres began adopting the book as an invaluable aid in dealing with the sick and dying.

But on July 14 this year, Rinpoche's world came crashing down, and soon thereafter the faith of thousands of his devotees and admirers. That was the day he received a 12-page letter from the eight former senior students accusing him of years of violent and abusive behaviour.

"This letter is our request to you to stop your unethical and immoral behaviour," they wrote. "Your public face is one of wisdom, kindness, humour, warmth and compassion, but your private behaviour, the way you conduct yourself behind the scenes, is deeply disturbing and unsettling."

The letter then laid out in spectacular and shocking detail the nature of the Tibetan master's alleged abuse: "We have received directly from you, and witnessed others receiving, many different forms of physical abuse. You have punched and kicked us, pulled hair, torn ears, as well as hit us and others with various objects such as your back-scratcher, wooden hangers, phones, cups and many other objects that happened to be close at hand."

"Your physical abuse – which constitutes a crime under the laws of the lands where you have done these acts – have left monks, nuns and lay students of yours with bloody injuries and permanent scars.
This is not second-hand information; we have experienced and witnessed your behaviour for years."

Among the letter's co-authors: his Australian IT expert Ngawang Sangye, and his personal assistant, an Australian artist turned Buddhist nun known as Drolma, who fled Rigpa – the organisation Rinpoche founded – in 2010 after what she claims was nearly eight years of abuse.

You use your role as a teacher to gain access to young women, and to coerce, intimidate and manipulate them into giving you sexual favours.

-- Excerpt from letter written to Rinpoche from eight former students


"His behaviour was often wildly unpredictable and irrational," Drolma tells Good Weekend in a Skype interview from London, where she now lives. "If anything went wrong and his anxiety got the better of him, he would take it out on me. One of those times he grabbed me by the ear and it was torn all the way along the back. There was blood pouring down my neck."

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Sogyal Rinpoche lectures to a captivated audience in Sydney in 2011. Photo: Mayu Kanamori

According to his accusers, the mistreatment went far beyond the physical. "Your emotional and psychological abuse has been perhaps more damaging than the physical scars you have left on us," they wrote. "You have threatened us and others, saying if we do not follow you absolutely, we will die 'spitting up blood'. You have told us that our loved ones are at risk of ill-health, or have died, because we displeased you in some way."

Then came a range of alleged eye-popping sexual misdeeds. "You use your role as a teacher to gain access to young women, and to coerce, intimidate and manipulate them into giving you sexual favours."

"Some of us have been subjected to sexual harassment in the form of being told to strip, to show you our genitals (both men and women), to give you oral sex, being groped, asked to give you photos of our genitals, to have sex in your bed with our partners, and to describe to you our sexual relations with our partners."

"You have for decades, and continue to have, sexual relationships with a number of your student attendants, some who are married. You have told us to lie on your behalf, to hide your sexual relationships from your other girlfriends.
Publicly you claim that your relationships are ordinary, consensual and proper because you are not a monk. You deny any wrongdoing and have claimed on occasion that you were seduced."

The letter was an incendiary device dropped in the heart of one of the world's major religions. It was sent not just to Rinpoche, but also copied to the Dalai Lama, a select group of Tibetan Buddhist teachers, and a number of Rinpoche's senior students.

It was leaked almost immediately, going viral on social media and creating the kind of uproar we've become accustomed to seeing lately in Hollywood, or indeed the Catholic Church, but seldom in the serene, do-no-harm world of Buddhism.

Here was the spiritual director of a global organisation, Rigpa – the name is a Tibetan word meaning an awareness of the innermost nature of mind – being accused not just of physical, psychological and sexual misconduct, but also of maintaining a "gluttonous" lifestyle that had been funded by – and kept hidden from – his thousands of students for decades. And this from a man who had taught so masterfully on how to find inner peace and contentment.

"I have a complex PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] that comes from long-term devaluation, neglect and assault," Ngawang Sangye tells Good Weekend.

"I was a monk for 14 years and that's why I had very close access and saw things like Sogyal punching women, men, slapping, hitting with objects. There is an element of shame in how long it took me to break [away] because I thought it wasn't as bad as it looked. "It was much worse than it looked. Harvey Weinstein has nothing on this person."

Sogyal Rinpoche was six months old when he entered the monastery of his spiritual master Jamyang Khyentse in the wild, mountainous Kham province of eastern Tibet known as the "Land of Snows". For centuries monasteries had provided Tibetan children with their main source of education, occasionally finding among their young charges the reincarnations of great masters who had passed away.

By his own account, Rinpoche was one of these select children. Although born into a family of traders known as the Lakars, he was given the name Sogyal by his master, who recognised him as the incarnation of the great 19th-century visionary saint, Tertön Sogyal, a teacher to the 13th Dalai Lama, predecessor to the current Dalai Lama.

At the time of Sogyal Lakar's birth in 1947, Tibet was under the nominal protection of India, but soon to become one of the world's most troubled countries following the Chinese invasion in 1950. In 1954, Sogyal escaped with his family over the mountains to India, five years before the Dalai Lama fled the country and more than a decade before the full horrors of the Chinese genocide began to reveal themselves.

As American author John Avedon describes in his celebrated book, In Exile from the Land of Snows: "The obliteration of entire [Tibetan] villages was compounded by hundreds of public executions, carried out to intimidate the surviving population. The methods employed included crucifixion, dismemberment, vivisection, beheading, burying, burning and scalding alive, dragging the victims to death behind galloping horses and pushing them from airplanes; children were forced to shoot their parents, disciples their religious teachers. Everywhere monasteries were prime targets. Monks were compelled to publicly copulate with nuns and desecrate sacred images before being sent to a growing string of labour camps."

Like all Tibetans of his generation, Sogyal Lakar almost certainly carried the traumas of his ravaged country into exile. After being schooled in India and attending university in Delhi, he arrived in London in the early 1970s to study comparative religion at Cambridge University's Trinity College. He soon assumed the honorific of Rinpoche (meaning "Precious One") and began establishing himself as a teacher, finding a receptive audience among young Westerners searching for the kind of spiritual enlightenment Buddhism seemed to offer.

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Sogyal Rinpoche became a Buddhist superstar after the release of his book, which has sold more than 3 million copies worldwide. Photo: Mayu Kanamori MKZ

Buddhism's appeals were manifold. It taught that true happiness could never be achieved while humans were governed by negative emotions such as attachment, pride, jealousy, hatred and ignorance. This ignorance related to the ego's perception that reality was solid and permanent when – according to Buddhist precepts – the opposite was true. Everything was impermanent – thoughts, feelings, judgements, opinions, life itself – and it was only through training the mind that the true nature of reality could be discovered and suffering ended.

Buddhism had first come to Tibet in the seventh century as a complex philosophical and ritual system known as Vajrayana Buddhism. This form of Buddhism emphasised transforming the mind through "skilful methods"; and this was what Sogyal studied from childhood.

Vajrayana Buddhism was no easy path. In order to slip the shackles of the ego, a student needed to give total obedience to the teacher, no matter how unreasonable or irrational the teacher's behaviour might seem. "Crazy Wisdom" was the name given to this form of instruction, where a guru could employ all sorts of outlandish methods to challenge a student's ego.

Tibetan Buddhism is filled with such stories and Sogyal Rinpoche cited a perfect example of one in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. He described how a Tibetan master, Patrul Rinpoche, was introduced to the nature of mind by being knocked unconscious by his own master, Do Khyentse:

"As Patrul Rinpoche approached, prostrating all the time, Do Khyentse hurled pebbles and then larger rocks and stones at him. When he finally came within reach, Do Khyentse started punching him and knocked him out altogether."

"When Patrul Rinpoche came to, he was in an entirely different state of consciousness. Each of Do Khyentse's curses and insults had destroyed the last remnants of Patrul Rinpoche's ordinary conceptual mind, and each stone that hit him opened up the energy centres and subtle channels in his body."


In Sogyal Rinpoche's case, the "channels in his body" were less than subtle, according to British journalist Mary Finnigan, who was to spend nearly two decades trying to expose him. "I'm one of the people who launched Sogyal on his career as a teacher in London in 1973, when he was very young and very inexperienced," she told a Canadian documentary team in 2011. "There was just this continuous stream of seductions. He didn't even hide it in those days. He was absolutely flagrantly promiscuous. He would pick girls up – usually vulnerable, needy – and entertain them for a short while and then dump them."

One of those young women, American Victoria Barlow, first met Rinpoche in New York in 1976 after grappling for years with her own childhood sexual abuse. Rinpoche was visiting Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, the pioneer of Tibetan Buddhism in the US, and Barlow wanted Sogyal Rinpoche's advice on the dharma, or Buddhist teachings.

"He opened the apartment door without a shirt, holding a bottle of beer," Barlow recalls now in a written response to Good Weekend. "I [had] just turned 22 and I arrived in an almost floor-length dark brown tent dress that I had made a few months before in Calcutta.

"I thanked him for taking the time to see me and was in the process of asking him my question when he reached over and touched my cheek. He said, 'I think we have a special connection.'"

"My face flushed. I had just been touched by a lama. This was such a blessing … but as I spoke, he reached toward me and literally mashed my face with his face. He was literally slobbering all over me.

"He roughly put his hand up my long dress, groped my privates, unzipped himself and lay on top of me, literally grunting for the minute or two until he released. Immediately, he got up, said he had things to do, that he was getting ready to travel across America."


Barlow was mortified, but still willing to believe that – in the spirit of "Crazy Wisdom" – Rinpoche had just transmitted a powerful "source of enlightenment".

In the following months, she received several calls from him, including one from Trungpa's spiritual centre in Boulder, Colorado, where Rinpoche "spoke with amazement about how Trungpa had girls lined up outside his door like a rock star and that he wanted that, too. I thought he was joking and only later realised that was his actual aspiration, to have a conveyor belt of groupies."

Despite growing doubts, Barlow allowed her spiritual mentor to convince her to fly to Berkeley, California to receive teachings from another Buddhist master. She was invited to stay with an American couple, both Tibetan Buddhist students who showed her a room with two beds. "They said, 'That's Sogyal's bed next to yours. He told [us] to put you in here.' I felt a combination of shock, shame, humiliation, defeat and anger."

"Within a minute of his arriving in the room, Sogyal said he'd had a fight with his girlfriend in London. He made it apparent that he wanted sex with me, so that made me just some lay he'd arranged to use in Berkeley." Barlow concluded then that Rinpoche was a "charlatan"; that she needed to get away as soon as possible. "Eight weeks later," she says, "I miscarried his child."

The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying became a spiritual cause célèbre almost from the moment it was published, eventually selling more than three million copies worldwide and being translated into 34 languages in 80 countries. In a world dominated by greed, cynicism and personal grandstanding, the 1992 book presented a compelling philosophy for modern life, drawing deeply from ancient Buddhist teachings.

Rinpoche was suddenly a Buddhist superstar, soon appearing in Bernardo Bertolucci's 1993 film Little Buddha, and travelling the world establishing new centres for Rigpa, the organisation he'd set up under the patronage of the Dalai Lama.

After starting out in a London squat in the early 1970s, he was on his way to building a global organisation with 130 centres in 41 countries, including Australia, relying mainly on the generous donations of his growing legion of students.

In 2007, the then Irish president Mary McAleese opened his spiritual care centre in south-west Ireland. The following year the Dalai Lama, together with France's first lady at the time, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, attended the inauguration of his $12 million temple, named Lerab Ling, in Roqueredonde in southern France.

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Sogyal Rinpoche (right) in 2008 with the Dalai Lama and Carla Bruni-Sarkozy. Photo: AFP

Through his efforts, millions of people were becoming exposed to the wise and gentle teachings of Buddhism; hospitals, palliative care centres and healthcare practitioners were beginning to adopt Buddhist methods in tending to the dying and their families; international conferences were being held on ways of creating more compassionate societies.

"Mindfulness" was becoming the new buzzword, in no small thanks to this Tibetan son of traders.

In 1989, Rigpa established itself in Australia, with hundreds of people flocking to the first of its annual retreats on the shores of Myall Lakes, north of Sydney. (Rigpa would later spend more than $1 million having a Glenn Murcutt-designed home built for Rinpoche at nearby Blueys Beach.)

The Tibetan lama's appeal was self-evident. Not only did he have a great command of English and a mischievous sense of humour, his teachings were lucid and accessible. "If you really know how to take the teachings to heart, happiness is in ourselves," he told his rapt audience during one retreat.

"It's the way we think. And there we can think of what Buddha said: 'We are what we think, all that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world.' "

For the purposes of disclosure, I attended a few of his retreats in the early 2000s. I wanted to learn how to meditate, but also to understand better how Buddhism could be integrated into modern life. In 2001, I reported on a historic meeting at the Commonwealth Bank's Sydney headquarters where 200 Australian business leaders – chief executives, bankers, brokers, management consultants, investment advisers and fund managers – met with Rinpoche to explore ways of bringing "wisdom" and "compassion" into their businesses.

Two days later, the Tibetan teacher spoke to leaders of the future at the Australian Graduate School of Management about "values-based leadership". Rinpoche had been urged to do so by Ian Buchanan, one of Australia's leading management consultants, who, in turn, had been asked to become involved by Sue Pieters-Hawke, the eldest child of former prime minister Bob Hawke and his wife Hazel. Both Buchanan and Pieters-Hawke were students of Tibetan Buddhism.


Buchanan had been introduced to The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying nearly a decade earlier after being told he was dying from an incurable illness. (He underwent three years of treatment for what he describes as "a cross between tuberculosis and leprosy".) Based in Singapore, Buchanan flew to Sydney to attend a Myall Lakes retreat and then, after, relocating to Sydney in 2000, visited the retreat on a regular basis to receive more of Rinpoche's teachings. The two men developed an instant rapport.

"I'd been advising government and business for many years," he explains now, "and so I started to talk to Rinpoche about what I thought was a desperate need of business leaders to get into meditation, given that they had few ways of letting go of their stress. Rinpoche said, 'I don't know anything about business. Will you teach me?' And so we pulled together a small group and we became his business coaches."

From this initiative, the "Practical Wisdom" leaders' retreat was born in 2002. It was the business offshoot to Rigpa and, uniquely, it involved a select group of Australian business figures meeting annually with the Tibetan teacher to learn how to apply Buddhist principles to their personal and professional lives.

Gordon Cairns, currently the chairman of both Origin Energy and Woolworths, became one of the organisers while serving as chief executive of Lion Nathan Breweries. He'd just finished reading The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying and was attracted to its themes of interconnectedness and the requirements of acting with compassion.

"I've always believed we have to find the answers to the big questions: Why are we here? and What's the meaning of life?" he tells Good Weekend. "It was more than running a beer company or being the chairman of Woolies. To me it was the whole [Buddhist] principle of bodhicitta – which is loving-kindness.

"I think [these teachings] helped me change in ways for the better: from being a tough perfectionist, internally competitive, nothing-is-ever-good-enough chief executive, to one who is humanistic, encouraging, inspiring."

Over the 15 years that Buchanan and Cairns helped convene the "Practical Wisdom" retreats, there was nothing in Rinpoche's behaviour to suggest scandal. Yes, there had often been questions about his inner circle of beautiful young women, and how it was that a teacher of loving-kindness could so often publicly humiliate his senior students. But never a hint of physical or sexual abuse.

According to Drolma, his former personal assistant, that was because the abuse only ever happened behind closed doors. "Sometimes he would just lay into me in the stomach and I'd be winded and he'd bring me to tears," she recalls now. "Then he would sometimes follow up with a slap … but I had to help him put on his ceremonial robes and get ready to put him on stage with all the other Tibetan lamas and monks. Sogyal would then walk on and be part of the ceremony and I would have to follow him, holding his ritual objects, with tears streaming down my face. Nobody else had seen it.

"I'd always thought it was due to my imperfections, that this was my fast-track to enlightenment … but when the humiliation and abuse didn't stop, that's when I started thinking, 'This is just an abusive man, it's not an enlightened person working on my spiritual wellbeing.' "

Barbara Lepani, a senior policy officer with the federal Department of Communications and the Arts, poses a different view. As a senior student of Rinpoche for nearly 35 years, she knows what it's like to be on the receiving end of his "crazy wisdom".

She remembers once being whacked over the head with a wooden umbrella after failing to distil his teachings. "My first reaction was anger: 'How dare you?' But then the story of Do Khyentse knocking Patrul Rinpoche unconscious came to mind, and I thought, 'Hang on, is this what's going on here?' Because Rinpoche didn't do such things with just anyone. He always checked to see whether you were 'with him' and could take him on as a Vajrayana master."

This was the point that another Buddhist master, the filmmaker and writer Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, tried to make recently after being asked to comment on the scandal. "Frankly," he said, "for a student of Sogyal Rinpoche who has consciously received abhisheka [initiation into any Vajrayana teaching] – and therefore stepped onto the Vajrayana path – to think of labelling Sogyal Rinpoche's actions as 'abusive', or to criticise a Vajrayana master even privately, let alone publicly and in print, or simply to reveal that such methods exist, is a breakage of samaya [the sacred spiritual bond between student and teacher].

"[But] if no proper warnings and no fundamental training were given prior to the Vajrayana teachings, then Sogyal Rinpoche is even more in the wrong than his critical students."

Dzongsar Khyentse seemed to be having a bet each way. He also expressed puzzlement that "intelligent" students hadn't better analysed their teacher before signing up. "I really don't understand why they waited 10 or even 30 years before saying anything. How come they didn't see all these problems in the first or second year of their relationship with Sogyal?"

For those who wanted to look, the signs had been on the public record for more than two decades. In 1994, an American student – using the pseudonym Janice Doe – filed a lawsuit in the Superior Court of California seeking $US10 million in reparations from Rinpoche for sexually and physically abusing her. The case was settled out of court and, in those pre-internet days, the matter quietly faded, although not without a number of outraged devotees deserting ship.

The following year, the UK's Telegraph magazine published new allegations of sexual abuse by two more women. In 2011, a Canadian documentary In the Name of Enlightenment aired, with Victoria Barlow going public, as well as a young Frenchwoman, "Mimi", who described years of Stockholm Syndrome-like abuse. "You are locked up in this tiny environment," she said, "where someone is beating you up every day, but he's also the person who's giving you [your] only emotional attention."

The dam finally burst last year at Lerab Ling in France, when Rinpoche punched Ani Chökyi, a Danish nun, in the stomach in front of 1000 students.

Ani Chökyi later issued a statement insisting that Rinpoche had been "loving beyond any ordinary description" and that the blow was a "soft punch". Not according to Gary Goldman, a former US army ranger and long-term Buddhism student seated up the front. "I guess the footstool wasn't in exactly the right position," he told the UK Telegraph. "He had this flash of anger and he just punched her – a short gut punch."

That was enough for Goldman to leave Rigpa and put his name to the letter accusing Rinpoche of abuse. Four days after receiving their letter, Rinpoche replied, expressing his sadness and distress, but claiming his conscience was clear.

"From the bottom of my heart I humbly ask your forgiveness," he wrote. "Since reading your letter I have been thrown into deep reflection and I'm finally resolved that if this is the way that my actions are perceived, then I do need to take real action. If I am the problem, that can be solved. There's no need to bring everything down. I implore you to keep this bigger picture in mind."

Less than four weeks later – on August 11 – Rinpoche announced his decision to retire as spiritual director of Rigpa, while also reaffirming his decision to enter a three-year retreat. That same day, the international Rigpa board announced the establishment of an independent investigation by a "neutral third party" and a new "code of conduct and grievance process".

The Dalai Lama himself made it clear he was in no mood for equivocation. At a Buddhist seminar in northern India's Ladakh, he declared emphatically – and not for the first time – that ethical misconduct was often caused by Tibet's traditional feudal system and that students should never follow their guru unquestioningly.

He then said his "very good friend Sogyal Rinpoche" was "disgraced" and he encouraged all such misconduct to be made public. It was a devastating rebuke from Buddhism's most revered figure.

While no charges had been laid at the time of writing, a number of complaints have reportedly been filed with police in various countries, including France and England, and the Charity Commission in the UK has begun a preliminary investigation. Sogyal Rinpoche has also been diagnosed with colon cancer and undergone surgery on two tumours.

On that late September evening in the Sydney boardroom of Port Jackson and Partners, 10 weeks after the abuse allegations were first made public, 22 business leaders convened to vent feelings ranging from "shock and anger to dismay and confusion". Some were so visibly moved, they cried.

As Ian Buchanan recalls now: "A number of them said, 'I will never be able to watch the videos of him teaching again.' And I said, 'Well, I will.' It's not that he might not have let us down very badly, but the teachings and the way he teaches them are invaluable and precious, and for me have been of incalculable value in having a relatively peaceful, stable life in the face of some near-death experiences."

While not defending the alleged abuses, Buchanan voices his sorrow at Rinpoche's stunning fall from grace – a man who has given his life to bringing Buddhism to the West after fleeing his country as a child refugee. "He's done a wonderful job of sharing the teachings, but that does not preclude him having that damage as a human being."

Jillian Broadbent, a former member of the Reserve Bank board and currently chancellor of the University of Wollongong, agrees with Buchanan. "I have found the teachings of mindfulness most valuable, both in difficult times and in my daily living," she tells Good Weekend.

"They have similarly brought value and contentment to many others for more than two millennia. I certainly see merit and increased effectiveness in a wider adoption of Buddhist ethics across the Australian business community. I am aware of the allegations against Sogyal Rinpoche [but] I remain appreciative of my own learnings and benefit from the teachings, and respectful of their long lineage. It would be really disappointing if these allegations damaged the teachings and the benefits their adoption can bring."

Gordon Cairns echoes these sentiments, acknowledging how deeply he has been influenced by Buddhism and how important it is now not to conflate the teachings with the teacher. At the same time, he urges his colleagues to separate from Rigpa and find another Buddhist master (a position the group has since adopted).

"This teaching has had a wonderfully profound effect on the West," he tells Good Weekend. "It's had a wonderfully profound effect on business leaders here in Australia, and a wonderfully profound effect on me."

The chairman of Woolworths then offers a Buddhist parable to sum up his sympathy, not just for Rinpoche's alleged victims but for Rinpoche himself: "When you see a man beating a dog, you feel as sorry for the man as you do for the dog."

In a perfect world, that is a wonderful testament to forgiveness
, but for Sogyal Rinpoche's strongest critics, perhaps not in this lifetime.
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