Sogyal Rinpoche was born in Tibet, and raised as a son by a famous Tibetan spiritual masters, Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö. After Jamyang Khyentse passed away, He continued to study with Dudjom Rinpoche, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, and many other masters. He went to university in Delhi and Cambridge, and began to teach in the West in 1974. Rinpoche is the founder and Spiritual Director, along with H.E. Dzogchen Rinpoche, of RIGPA, (why do all these Tibetans start their own organisations? there seems a remarkable lack of ability to co-operate under one organisation) an international network of centers and groups that follow his teachings.
In case you think I might be telling a "porkie" about Sogyal I recommend you watch what the Dalai Lama says: "His Holiness the Dalai Lama calls Sogyal Rinpoche "disgraced" and stresses that nobody should follow the teachings of any lama without question - not even from himself - stressing that they must live up to the teachings of Buddha and what society expects. He also reiterates his advice from 1993 that lamas who behave badly should be exposed in the media."
It's not as if Sogyal is a singular scandal. In fact the majority of Buddhist teachers in the West have had sex with some of their students (see Kornfield) and there'd probably be more except for the advanced age of many of them.
He has lived and taught in the West for more than twenty years and travels widely in Europe, North America, Australia and parts of Asia, leading retreats and trainings based on his book, which offer spiritual care for the living and the dying.
He has had remarkable success with 'The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying', of which over 900,000 copies in 25 languages have been published worldwide. He has had a co-starrring role in the Hollywood move "Little Buddha" which tells a romanticised story of the "discovery" of a "reincarnated Rinpoche" in the US. He played the genial, "Friar Tuck" role as befits a man of his physique. He was considered by many as having a special role to play in the future of Buddhism, both in the West and in the East.
That is until he was a victim of the Buddhist "outings" of the 1990's when some of his former female devotees told of his sexual and alcohol abuses. He has attempted to ride these out with legal settlements yet RIGPA still has centers all over the Western world. I suspect that many more of his devotees see movies than read "Tricyle" or other serious Buddhist publications.
In an attempt to minmise the publicity a web site detailing the story has been accused of being an attack site. I wonder who did that?
With the blessings of the Dalai Lama, a group of American Buddhist women have been running a campaign to expose the alleged sexual misconduct of a prominent Tibetan lama and best-selling author. Sogyal Rinpoche, author of the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, was originally accused of "physical, mental and sexual abuse" in a $10 million civil suit filed in 1994 in Santa Cruz County Superior Court. According to the lawsuit, an anonymous woman identified only as "Janice Doe" came to Rinpoche for spiritual guidance last year at a retreat sponsored by the Rigpa Fellowship meditation center in Santa Cruz, but was "coerced into an intimate relationship" with the Tibetan guru. "Sogyal claimed (she) would be strengthened and healed by having sex with him and that to be hit by a lama was a blessing," the lawsuit states. The suit also charged that the Tibetan lama has "seduced many other female students for his own sexual gratification."The suit was settled out of court and Sogyal denied allegations of abuse.
Last week, fresh accusations against Sogyal were recently aired in an investigative documentary called In the Name of Enlightenment, broadcast on Vision TV in Canada. A young woman identified as Mimi described an abusive sexual relationship. She was the first person claiming direct experience of Sogyal's exploitative attentions to go public since the 1994 lawsuit. In this show, Sogyal was described as: "absolutely and flagrantly promiscous" and one interviewee stated, "it was inconceivable to imagine that this teacher who was supposed to teach me how to be enlightened would be out for a quick lay". A third, pictured to the left in a darshan, related, "if you were close to him, you were considered to have very good karma, and we were allowed into that circle when we showed that we would do absolutely everything…"
Also, another woman allegedly abused by Rinpoche, Victoria Barlow of New York City, said in an interview with the Free Press that she is "disgusted by the way the Tibetans have manipulated the reverence Westerners have for the Buddhist path." Barlow, 40, said she first met Rinpoche in the mid-1970s, when she was 21, and that she was sexually exploited by him during meditation retreats in New York and Berkeley. "I went to an apartment to see a highly esteemed lama and discuss religion," she said in an interview with the Free Press. "He opened the door without a shirt on and with a beer in his hand." Once they were on the sofa, Barlow said, the Tibetan "lunged at me with sloppy kisses and groping. I thought I should take it as the deepest compliment that he was interested and basically surrender to him," she said.
Jack Kornfield, founder of Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Marin County, was among a group of two dozen Western teachers who discussed the sexual misconduct of Buddhist teachers with the Dalai Lama last year in India. According to Kornfield, the Tibetan Buddhist leader told the Americans to "always let people know when things are wrong. Put it in the newspapers if you must do so." Sources say the Tibetan Buddhists were trying to handle this issue within their community but decided, especially after the Dalai Lama made the comment about going to the press, to go public now.
Sogyal is the leader for a Tibetan Buddhist organization called Rigpa, which has a worldwide reach with 130 centres in 41 countries. He has a bestselling book and he starred alongside Keanu Reeves in the movie Little Buddha. Sogyal is a formidably successful guru – probably the best known Tibetan after the Dalai Lama. His trajectory into Buddhist superstardom suffered only a temporary setback following the Janice Doe lawsuit – and we must remember that everyone should be presumed innocent before considered guilty. Sandra Pawula, spokeswoman for the Rigpa Fellowship of Santa Cruz, one of many meditation centers in the United States, Europe and Australia, declined to comment about the allegations, but said that Rinpoche is not married and does not claim to be a celibate monk.
There was a mealy-mouthed comment from RIGPA. At least Chögyam Trungpa was open about his alcoholism and sexual abuse!
Consistent with the Buddhist values that Sogyal Rinpoche upholds, Rinpoche respects and cares for all of his students past and present, without exception. Rinpoche is deeply saddened to learn of anyone who has less than good memories of their time as a student – even if they are only few in number.
We [Rigpa] do not consider it helpful to enter into a public debate via a television programme about the experiences of any individual.
We have full confidence in the sincerity, authenticity and conduct of Sogyal Rinpoche as a Buddhist teacher. We have only ever seen him act for the benefit of other people, and with their best interests at heart.
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