By JO GREEN
In the first part of this post we saw how, in a new video from Lerab Ling to the sangha, Rigpa are continuing to construct a false narrative about the cause of their current difficulties. In this part we see how they are trying to erase the word “abuse” from all discussion.
LOJONG LEADS TO LAWYERS
Apparently, the events of 2016 were not the end of the problems caused by Lerab Ling’s local newspaper. A year later, in August 2017, Dominique Side says Midi Libre published a full-page article “which advocated Lerab Ling should be shut down”. This is an interesting interpretation of that article. It’s an interview with Dominique Cowell, one of Sogyal’s closest and most trusted assistants until 1995, who left when she saw for herself that sexual abuse was happening. She recounts an absolutely horrific incident where Sogyal led a naked woman about by a rope around her neck, making her bray like a donkey. At the end of the interview Cowell does say “We must send the gendarmes to Lerab Ling, close the centers,” and that Sogyal Rinpoche should be brought to justice. But this is a quotation of her words: it is not the main thrust of the article and it is not what the newspaper itself advocates.
Dominique Side cites this article as an example of “people acting against you”. She then goes on to restate the principles of lojong, that Sam Truscott had also explained in his letter the previous year, as being the reason why they had never reacted to negative media coverage. She says this as if this is some great noble thing: to not refute accusations of abuse against a person who has, in fact, abused people.
She explains, “You don’t judge. You don’t immediately set out to attack the other person. This is part of a compassionate Buddhist stance.” Now I find this a surprising attitude from Dominique Side. Not long after The Letter had come out, one of its authors included her in an entirely innocent mailshot about something which had nothing to do with Rigpa. Dominique fired back an angry, insulting response within minutes. Let’s just call that “the gap between theory and practice”.
She goes on to explain that “the turning point” was a December 2017 article in the same newspaper when they interviewed Jean-Baptiste Cesbron – a lawyer who had been gathering accounts of abuse committed by Sogyal Rinpoche, with the aim of bringing criminal proceedings. But what principally concerns Dominique, Sam and the rest is that they feel he characterised Lerab Ling as a cult.
Once again, the Lerab Ling leadership are framing things in a very misleading way. In fact, the lawyer Cesbron never called Lerab Ling “a cult” in that article. If you read it and watch the video interview that accompanies it, he never once spontaneously mentions Lerab Ling. He is asked a question about whether the centre should be shut down and answers “No.” That’s all. He makes clear he is not against Buddhism as a whole. His criticisms relate specifically to Sogyal Rinpoche and the effect his behaviour had.
Nonetheless, Dominique Side has framed his words as a specific attack on the Lerab Ling community: an attack so serious that lojong goes out of the window and you bring in the lawyers.
WHY SUE NOW?
I can’t say I follow her logic. Why could they not issue a statement rebutting the article, yet not launch legal actions? Why could they not focus on acting in such a clearly non-cult-like way that the accusation becomes ridiculous? Apparently, their lawyers said they HAD TO prosecute the newspaper, the journalist and the interviewee. Oh, and 133 people at Lerab Ling have coincidentally decided to take their own joint action against the newspaper (it’s not clear if Dominique is one of them). So that’s four writs out there. But they still really believe in lojong. Honestly.
It seems to me that Dominique, Sam, Lerab Ling and their lawyers have not had it fully explained to them how newspapers work, and I would like to save them some trouble, so here’s a quick guide:
- Newspapers report news stories;
- Journalists research and write those stories;
- To do that, they interview people;
- The journalist reports what interviewees say;
- The newspaper edits and publishes what the journalist writes.
So, if a journalist reports the racist statements of a politician, that obviously doesn’t make the journalist or the newspaper racist and one would therefore not normally prosecute either for racism. The only exception would be if there was editorialising by the paper, supporting these views. In the case of Midi Libre, there was no editorial comment, just reporting of events and statements – by Rigpa and others.
I mean, if they really want to sue this lawyer for what he said, they can try it – although, given how completely unperturbed Cesbron appeared after they started their action, I’d say they’re on a hiding to nothing – but it seems barking mad to go after the newspaper and journalist. Or is it? Dominique commented that “It has already had an impact, although the suit has not been tried. The press coverage is much more balanced than it has been previously.”
In other words, they may have successfully intimidated the newspaper into not publishing anything more about the abuse. It’s not a huge newspaper, perhaps they can’t take the risk of the financial consequences. Maybe that was the main intention of the suit, to gag the press, in which case it worked. Or perhaps the newspaper is biding its time – I note that they have now taken all their articles about Sogyal and Lerab Ling out from behind the paywall, so everyone can see them.
SO, WHAT’S REALLY GOING ON?
I’m still a bit confused about something, though. Lerab Ling say they now believe they need to take the legal route to protect their reputation, but that’s not what they’re really doing. On 24th January France 3 Television, in their region, did a report on the legal action being taken at Lerab Ling and the events that caused it. They interviewed the father of “Mimi”, also the lawyer at Lerab Ling who is bringing the group action, and the lawyer Cesbron – who correctly points out that no one in Lerab Ling has denounced the abuse – plus Dominique Cowell, who unequivocally states that Sogyal rapes women. The video and accompanying article are still online, and there is an English subtitled version.
As we have seen, Rigpa defended Sogyal Rinpoche from the allegations of ‘Janice Doe’ against him, with Patrick Gaffney taking a central role, whilst Sogyal stayed away. We’ve also seen that Rigpa rebutted allegations on behalf of Sogyal when criticised by Marion Dapsance, but they have not given any such defence of him with regard to the behaviour outlined in the letter of July 2017 written by 8 concerned students. Instead they are manipulating their members’ perception by sidestepping the main issue – the abuse committed by Sogyal, which is what is really harming Rigpa and Lerab Ling – and focusing on the ‘we are not a cult’ smokescreen they have created.
A LIE UPON A LIE UPON A LIE
The leadership at Lerab Ling has weaved a multiple fiction. Firstly, that Cesbron went out of his way to characterise Lerab Ling as a cult. He did not – he criticised Rigpa as a whole and Sogyal specifically.
The second is that there is some distinction between the notion of Rigpa being cult-like and the allegations against Sogyal. This is like arguing that your cough has nothing to do with your emphysema. Cesbron’s points are clear:
- He has compelling evidence of abuse committed by Sogyal.
- Sogyal’s idea of “crazy wisdom” was used to justify everything from public humiliations to sexual abuse, and one could not really be part of Rigpa without accepting it.
- This group mindset led to the creation of a cult-like environment in which it was very hard for anyone to speak up.
Without the actions and ideas of Sogyal, there is nothing that could be described as cult-like. Rigpa cannot meaningfully fight the notion that they are a cult whilst refusing to discuss Sogyal’s actions.
Thirdly, in the new video Sam Truscott speaks of how relations with the local council, tourist board and neighbours have suffered as a result of what was published. I have no reason to doubt this. However, in their version of events, apparently local people were more or less OK with years of rumours, then serious allegations and national scandal around Sogyal hitting and humiliating students, sexually abusing women and embezzling money, and that this was happening on their doorstep with some of their neighbours and fellow parents at the school gate implicated in it all. But, when they heard the word “cult”, that was too much for them and relations went bad. Is there anyone outside Rigpa that buys that idea?
It is a lie upon a lie upon a lie. And these are the lies that are being fed to the remaining students through internal communications.
According to publicly-available testimonies, Sogyal beat people unconscious, made them bleed, compelled women to do sexual acts they found degrading or raped them, and punched nuns. So, Dominique, if you’re still struggling to pinpoint the cause of Lerab Ling’s current problems, I can provide clarification: Sogyal did this. If you don’t accept that, then please call up those journalists you’re so upset with and demand to be allowed an interview where you categorically deny that Sogyal ever harmed anybody. Tell them you are 100% sure that he never abused anyone sexually or physically, that he never committed a rape or misused funds. Actually, why don’t you get Patrick Gaffney and Philip Philippou to join you and make a definitive statement on his innocence that all Rigpa students can get behind?
In fact, why don’t you mount a media campaign about it?
Thanks for your articles, Jo.
I think it’s really important that people become aware of how Rigpa international leadership is manipulating (or attempting to manipulate) their perception, particularly with the results of the independent investigation coming out soon. We can be sure that whatever that report finds, Rigpa will find a way to spin it to their advantage. It is not a time for students to be niave and trusting of those who have known about the abuse for decades and have already had much practice at covering up the truth. Will they ever come clean? The deeper they dig themselves into lies, the harder it will be for them to do so.
Private discussion on this and other related topics can be had on our What Now Facebook Group. It is only for current and previous students of Rigpa, however, and we do moderate it closely. If you’re interested in joining, please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite.
People from other sanghas can join the Beyond the Temple Facebook Group . It’s a support group for anyone who has left their Buddhist sangha after hearing revelations of abuse by their teacher or after experiencing such abuse. It’s for people who see ethical behaviour, love, compassion and introspection as the core of their spiritual path. The focus is not on the abuses, but on ourselves and our spiritual life as we recover from our experience of spiritual abuse and look to the future. Click here and request to join.
The What Now? Reference Material page has links to a wealth of articles in the topics related to abuse in Buddhist communities. For links to places to assist in healing from abuse see the sangha care resources page.
Those of you who are interested in ‘keeping Buddhism clean’ could ‘Like’ the Dharma Protectors Facebook page, which posts links to related articles as they come to hand.