Sex and Violence in Tibetan Buddhism: The Rise and Fall of Sogyal Rinpoche

As most of you probably know, the book about Sogyal written by Mary Finnigan and Rob Hogendoorn is available now .
The book description follows:

This book is the story of how a penniless Tibetan refugee with fierce ambition managed to establish himself in the West as a renowned Buddhist lama and hoodwink thousands of people, including show business luminaries, tycoons and politicians, for more than 30 years. 

Sogyal Lakar left his birthplace in eastern Tibet aged eight when his family fled the Chinese invasion to seek refuge in India. Arriving in England in the early 1970s, he brought with him traditional ideas and attitudes rooted in a culture whose spiritual sophisticated was coupled with near-feudal social norms. 

His transition was spectacularly successful. Sogyal Rinpoche, as he became known, was a charismatic multi-millionaire, credited as the author of a best-selling book. He starred in a Hollywood movie and his Rigpa Fellowship attracted followers across the globe. At the peak of his fame he was the most powerful and best-known Tibetan holy man after the Dalai Lama. 

But, as revealed here, it turns out that Sogyal was a charlatan who was never trained as a lama. He stands accused of financial and sexual misconduct, physical violence and fabricated credentials. Now seriously ill, he is a fugitive rumoured to be in Thailand beyond the reach of police and civil investigations. 

This book does not sensationalise the perverse behaviour that caused profound suffering to scores of devotees. Based on interviews with victims and eyewitnesses, together with detailed research and first-hand experience, it echoes the feminist perspective highlighted by the Me Too and Time’s Up movements. It is also a story about the culture clash that occurs when the misogyny of old Tibet is greeted with naïve acceptance and adulation by spiritual seekers in the West.

If you’ve read it already, please let us know what you think.

24 Replies to “Sex and Violence in Tibetan Buddhism: The Rise and Fall of Sogyal Rinpoche”

  1. This is an important piece of work; responsibly and fairly handled. For anyone who has been standing on the sidelines aghast at the way several Rinpoches have been destroying the excellent work of their peers and leading their students up the garden path, it is an essential read. I think that along with Thalia’s “Fall Out” it will be a huge contribution towards bringing sanity back to a desperately confused and twisted Lama scene that in some quarters has brought Tibetan Vajrayana crashing onto the rocks. I very much hope that Tibetan Lamas and Western teachers will take note. It is a salutary tale in which a wider cast of players whether directly or indirectly have played a part.

  2. Thanks for posting Tahlia!

    Our publisher Jorvik Press now offers an English translation of the article on Sogyal Rinpoche in the French magazine Charlie Hebdo: ‘Buddhism and Traditions: The rather earthly Nirvana of the rapist lama’ (June 5, 2019, see https://www.dropbox.com/s/0ycby5w5xcxhf74/Ardid%20-%20Bouddhisme%20et%20Traditions-%20Le%20nirvana%20bien%20terrestre%20du%20lama%20violeur%20%28Charlie%20Hebdo%205%20June%202019%29.jpg?dl=0). On our book’s page on the website, scroll down to ‘News & Views’ for the translation.

  3. Its very well done, balanced and fair, very thorough research. Even longtime Rigpa devotees could stand reading that book.

    We ordered two more books and send them on a “roadshow” to Rigpadevotees who are to short with money to buy it, together with a little read wallet, a selection of pieces about Sogyal and Rigpa.

    Hopefully that wallet will not end to soon in the dust bin….

  4. Thank you Toria and Adamo for your encouraging comments. Rob and I had intentions to honour victims and whistle blowers..and also hopefully help restore diaspora TB to the moral and ethical high ground.

  5. I just finished reading this, and thought it was excellent. It brings the reader right up to date on developments, including the disqualifying of Patrick Gaffney as a trustee. What I found most interesting was the picture it paints in the beginning of Khyentse Chokyi Lodro. Here is a lama who is usually considered one of the greats of the 20th century, but who seems to have been a vicious sadist (ordering 500-lash floggings, for example) and a man troubled in his older years by violent rages and severe psychological problems. I have to wonder how much Sogyal, who was “raised” by him, imprinted on him as a role model.

    1. Sounds like it. I’m reading Tahlia’s book now and have read about the vicious sadism of Soygal. He must have been treated very cruelly as a child. I’m wondering about how children in Tibet are treated in general.

  6. If you want to help the book ‘Sex and Violence in Tibetan Buddhism’ and my soon-to-be-published book ‘Fallout: Recovering from Abuse in Tibetan Buddhism’ get to people who are interested in Tibetan Buddhism, then follow these steps.

    Go to Amazon. Type in Tibetan Buddhism. The best selling book in that category will appear at the top. Go to that book’s page by clicking on the link.

    Then go to https://geni.us/majpS (the page for ‘Sex and Violence in Tibetan Buddhism’) and straight after that go to the ‘Fallout’ page https://geni.us/x2fYP .

    What this does is help the books show up as linked in the ‘Customers who viewed this also viewed ‘ section. So anyone who clicks on the best seller in the Tibetan Buddhism category is likely to see both these books as well.

    You don’t have to buy the book, just follow those steps.

  7. Today, reporter Nico Hines of the ‘Daily Beast’ reports exclusively on our book ‘Sex and Violence in Tibetan Buddhism: The Rise and Fall of Sogyal Rinpoche’.

    Hines went to see my co-author Mary Finnigan in Devon and interviewed her there.

    “The Daily Beast delivers award-winning original reporting and sharp opinion in the arena of politics, pop-culture and power. Always skeptical but never cynical”. The Daily Beast reaches more than 1 million readers a day and has 17 million monthly unique browsers.

    https://www.thedailybeast.com/inside-tibetan-buddhisms-rape-and-abuse-scandal

    1. This article is a brilliant summary of the abuse that is exposed in “Sex and Violence in Tibetan Buddhism”.
      I recommend both the article and the book.
      May they open the blind devotees’eyes and keep potential new victims, youth and children for example, from the fire of Rigpa and Lerab Ling.The harm has to stop.

    2. May that article give the blind devotees food for thought, I mean the reckless who are courageous enough to read it without being afraid of breaking their so called samayas and going to hell.

  8. I’m currently revising and updating my paper ‘The Making of a Lama: Interrogating Sogyal Rinpoché’s Pose as a (Re)incarnate Master’, which I’ve presented during the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion in 2018. That’ll be the next long-read published on Openbuddhism.org.

    Here’s the link to a still from the video of an interview I used in my presentation at the time: https://www.dropbox.com/s/f91hvjwxhzx61nb/Interview%20Sogyal%20Lakar%20%281989%29.jpg?dl=0

    (I’m not sure yet, but I may include a timeline with audiovisuals.)

    This video demonstrates a certain ‘creative’ tension between Sogyal’s claims about himself. I’d have to agree that, at the very least, he’s a master of the power of suggestion.

    Education and training were ‘very important’ in 1989, but he’s clearly referring to himself as the kind of ‘incarnation’ who ‘suddenly remembers’ and ‘does not have to study very much’.

    Even so, at this time at least, Sogyal demonstrated a modicum of modesty in saying about himself that he was ‘really not’ this ‘very great master’—Tertön Sogyal Lerab Lingpa, that is.

    In 1989, apparently, Sogyal only had ‘a little bit, his blessing.’ It’s funny how a couple of years (and a bestselling book) can make a huge difference!

    1. Congratulations, Rob, for such a documented work.I am looking forward to reading the updated edition of “The Making of a Lama”.I admire your determination in exposing Sogyal Lakar’s behaviour with a view to warn potential future victims against the danger of joining such an organisation as Rigpa.

  9. Tahlia Newlands book should be recomemmened as well strongly. Its breathtaking as well as the book of MS and RH, even if one the story around Sogyal quite well.

    I recommend both books for schoolclasses as top-read.

  10. I have not read the book yet (waiting for kindle to come out). However, this quote from the book has come my way and I find it disturbing. Statements such as these compromise what little safety survivors and whistle blowers have in coming forward in what is still a very hostile world. And I fear that this statement undermines trust and confidence in the community of those of us who are working to end abuse within Tibetan Buddhist organizations.

    Here is the statement (page 119-120):

    “So let’s face the bare truth for a moment: the signatories themselves accuse Sogyal of ‘crimes under the laws of the lands where you have done these acts.’ I’m sure they understand what that means, because they use the observation as a threat.
    And indeed, the signatories themselves present a long list of facts that are each criminal misdemeanours and felonies. Moreover, the signatories state that they’ve personally suffered and witnessed these misdemeanours and felonies for years, and covered them up. They admit that until now each signatory has been willing to hide these crimes from the public view. Also, they’ve not reported these crimes to the police, leaving the victims of these crimes out in the cold. Why don’t they report these crimes right here, right now?
    All would be over for Sogyal within weeks, for he would be arrested. Are the signatories, perhaps, acting under the assumption that they are laws unto themselves? That it’s up to them to decide which crimes are to be reported and prosecuted, and which are not? Has their stack of hubris not been depleted, yet? Do they realize that there’s a world outside Rigpa that deserves to be protected against their very way of doing things, enabling abuse and battery?”

    Rigpa has been undermining and attacking these eight for years. Do we need to add to that?

    If Rob and Mary read the literature on cults and the psychology of abuse, they wouldn’t need to question the actions or motives of the eight because all the reasons why people stay in cults, why they engage in actions they later regret, are explained extensively. And it is fact that the percentage of survivors who report to the police is very low (1 in 7 in Australia). This is because the experience is traumatizing—because survivors are confronted with people who make up statements like this one to undermine their credibility.

    The literature is clear: those who remain in situations of abuse are not enablers—they are cult survivors and domestic abuse survivors and sexual assault survivors. Not enablers. And it is rarely the survivors fault—and those who work with survivors make sure that they convey the assurance that it is NEVER the survivors fault because survivors themselves already struggle with strong feelings of self-recrimination.

    Sogyal is a very sick man, living in a country beyond extradition orders for criminal action. I don’t believe that any of us know exactly who has filed what criminal actions. That is usually confidential. Perhaps it’s best, in the interest of survivors everywhere, to let this one go. Perhaps it could even be removed from the next edition of the book?

    1. I agree Joanne, that part of the book was completely unnecessary and really quite cruel to people who have suffered enough themselves at the hands of a sick man. I honour their courage in doing what they did. Unfortunately, they opened themselves up not only to abuse from Rigpa devotees but also from those who won’t be satisfied until they see Sogyal behind bars. It’s very sad and tedious. If we must make enemies, let set our sights on the real problem, and that’s not the truth-tellers, it’s the abusers and the religion that stands by and lets them continue.

  11. Definitely not. Rob’s style could be seen as abrasive but his intention in this statement is clear
    . He and I want to see an end point to all forms of abuse in Buddhist organisations. There is no doubt about this. Just as there is no doubt that some of the 8 signatories were complicit in Sogyal’s behaviour. I suggest you read the book before you jump to conclusions. Especially the dedication.

    1. Mary, I am not worried about style. I am worried about holding the line against a “blame-the-victim” environment. We are not going to get along with everyone or agree with everyone, but we can surely agree on certain principles that will ensure that abuses can end. One of those principles is to protect the environment for survivors, make it easier for survivors (who choose!) to come forward and speak out.

  12. I have no problem with that Joanne. I do however have a problem with the cult indoctrinated attitude that presumes teachers like Sogyal and organisations
    like Rigpa to be exempt from the law. Rob’s comment in SVTB is flagged as “trenchant .It is in response to a dismissive reaction by Joanne Standlee. It has subsequently emerged that she regards me as unhinged and that she has an irrational dislike for journalists. I think you need to see this extract from the book in context before rushing to judgement.

  13. I agree that the tone against the “whistlblowers” is by way to harsh. I think Rob Hoogendorn is able to reflect about his approach towards victims who turn into uncoverer.

    Yes, I think protection of victims comes first, but not neclect prevention in the future plus bringing light as much as possible in the darkness.

    What I personally think is we all have a tendency to give away to easy responsibility for what happens to us and around us .
    I realized that I accepted -among other things- a untruthful way of communication- even that I sometimes joint into it- and I am not proud of it.

    So I think it might be my duty to bring not only light and help into the battlefield Sogyal left back- even I cannot contribute much- but to maintain a critical and supportive view to my own doings and notdoings.

    Maybe this is not a popular point of view, but I can see by the example of Rigpa and other buddhist clusters -such as Shambala- what happens when the so called eight worldly dharmas take over.

    Its for the sake of all of us to learn not only from others failings but from our own failings as well.

    I dont want teach and educate others but plead those who feel spoken to to keep a vigilant eye on the part of individual responsibility.

    I started to visit -after leaving Rigpa back- other tibetan buddhist clusters in Europe in order to find eventually an other way of practicing tibetan buddhism.

    I found out that from my point of view a big majority of followers have a strong tendency to fall prey to patterns of behaving that have almost nothing to do with buddhism but with all kind of other stuff.
    Unfortunately seems many tibetan Lamas travel around – advertised as understanding western culture, bringing happiness and whatever is promised- without any idea what happens in the head of their followers and what kind of “pottage” they cause.

    1. Yes, Adamo, everyone of us in Rigpa was an enabler. Everyone of us has had to address that in our own journey out of the cult. But that journey is a deeply personal one for each survivor and can’t be imposed on anyone. Sogyal took power away from all of us, in varying ways, using cultic dynamics and distorting the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Taking back power is only something that each survivor can do for him/herself.

      My concern with this passage in the book, and also particularly with Rob’s statements on Facebook and in the Tricycle comment section, is that it insinuates something sinister to the actions of the signatories. Rob suggests that the signatories of the letter had an ulterior motive, perhaps even an illegal, ulterior motive, for wanting to withhold the letter from public viewing– instead of their stated motive of wanting to work on reform from within Rigpa itself. This has created an atmosphere of suspicion that is very damaging to the environment of safety necessary for survivors and whistle blowers to come forward. It is similar to the “blame-the-victim” culture Rigpa has created. So now we have it coming from two sides and I am calling for it to stop. That’s all.

      1. You’ve explained it well. People don’t come forward for many reasons and one is fear of the repercussions from those who, for whatever reason, disagree with us or misunderstand our motives. And clearly that can come from all quarters – I know, I’m a target for some (and perhaps many in private). If we want an environment where people feel free and supported to speak out, I think it’s best we don’t publicly attack abuse survivors and their supporters.

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