by Mimi, former Dakini
Sogyal Rinpoche is a Tibetan Buddhist master supported by the Dalai Lama. He is the author of the best-selling “Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.” He heads the Rigpa Association, a network of centres spreading the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism throughout the world. Mimi’s experience at his side has been partly retold in the anthropologist Marion Dapsance’s investigative book, “The Devout Buddhists” (Max Milot). In this article, Mimi complements the description contained in the book with a more personal account.
Buddhism, as it is taught in Europe, conveys the teaching that we are all able to create an ideal society, perfectly just and compassionate. That we must free ourselves from the capitalist machinery that has separated us from our true nature, which is fundamentally good. Adolescence can nourish the desire to deeply live such an ideal. At least that was the case for me.
When I was 14 years old, my father became a disciple of the great Buddhist master Sogyal Rinpoche. I accompanied my father to retreats to spend time with him. That made him happy. After a few years, during a retreat in Germany, Sogyal Rinpoche noticed me and asked me to come see him. He declared that I had good karma and that I could get intimate access to him directly.
Every night for a week, he invited me into his room to massage his hands while he watched TV. I didn’t refuse; his inner entourage let it be known that his speaking to me was a privilege, an opportunity to touch this incarnation of the divine.
My father was proud, and I knew that I was making him extremely happy. The image that I had of the master was heightened by his own. At the end of the retreat, as the master was getting into his sedan, he gave me his schedule for the coming year and said to me:
You can come find me wherever you want. I would like to see you. I will be teaching in Australia for a while.
I was 22 years old at the time.
Girls followed him everywhere
I met up with him and was received like a princess. Sogyal Rinpoche had rented some vacation houses by the ocean. The place was deserted; I spent my days at the beach. I participated in the prayers without being too eager. I saw the master only for a few hours a day during the meals. He was accompanied by two men, his chauffeurs, and maybe eight women whom we called dakinis. These women are supposed to help the master have revelations. They followed him everywhere. It was at this time that I also discovered his first fits of rage. I was sharing a house a little distance away with one of the girls. She had a child. I thought the master was the father.
During this retreat, my boyfriend sent me flowers for Valentine’s Day. The girls jumped on me, saying
Whatever you do, don’t say that a boy sent you these flowers! Offer them to the master, he will think they were for him.
That night, he organised a Valentine’s Day dinner. The two chauffeurs were not invited. He was alone with us, the girls. I thought that was strange, but I felt relatively free. There was nothing at stake: my father had paid for my airfare and so I had maintained my financial independence from him. I could leave whenever I wanted.
Everything changed a few months later, when I lost my grandmother. Her death came as a shock and I fell ill. Sogyal Rinpoche came to visit me at my mother’s, accompanied by three girls. I had just caught rubella for the second time and had been bedridden for three weeks. He invited me to spend the whole summer at his side at the centre in Lérab Ling, in l’Herault, to receive his teachings in person. I accepted.
As soon as I arrived, everything went very quickly. It usually took other dakinis several years to reach the position that I was given that summer. After a few weeks, I found myself supervising the entire team of girls. He assigned me the walkie-talkies and mobile phones, and I ended up being at his side 24 hours a day.
I accompanied him everywhere, except when he was teaching. At those times, I had to organise the cleaning of his rooms, get his clothes washed, arrange his papers and his cabinets, order his meals and reserve his transportation, prepare his bags, fulfill his lists of demands …
I was exhausted but I was passing the tests. His demands became more and more excessive, but I didn’t say anything. The rule was that one had to be devoted in order to achieve enlightenment. Most of all, I think the fact that I didn’t have time to reflect gave me emotional relief. I was in mourning, and I thought that these responsibilities were helping me keep my mind on more important things. But in fact I was extinguishing myself.
“Lock the door!”
The first time we touched sexually, I was cut off from a certain consciousness of myself. He told me to lock the door. There was a whole delegation waiting in the cars. The only ones missing were him and me.
I had been sleeping very little for two months. I had gotten used to being abused by demands and words. We accepted everything. I no longer listened. I did what I had to do, no longer asking any questions. I was running on the adrenaline of constant desperation and fatigue. After the first sexual relations, he made very explicit threats, prohibiting me from talking about it to anyone.
All the dakinis knew about it, but we were not allowed to bring it up. And yet we covered for each other in monitoring the house when one of us entered the master’s room. Nobody was allowed to approach. The older the girls got, the more they sensed that the end was near. They got anxious.
Loyalty to the group
At the end of the summer, I had a period of amenorrhea and feared I might be pregnant. I talked about it to a disciple who was a doctor. Since I was the girl closest to Sogyal Rinpoche, it was impossible for me to have had any other relations. This doctor ordered a blood sample without asking a single question. In the Rigpa centres, loyalty to the group trumped everything else.
And yet, the community consisted of people who were often educated: doctors, magistrates, lawyers, businessmen or pilots … Buddhist masters don’t go looking for Tibetans living in India on three dollars, but rather for white people with money, in the West.
The adults submerged in this environment have to readapt reality in order to survive. They talk of compassion all day long while witnessing public humiliations. They question and repress every form of instinct or feeling. They share a common resentment and anger at living a life of unresolved deceptions. In order to ease this frustration, the master encourages them to eliminate their empathy for their families and immediate friends. And he then fills that void with a different form of compassion, for a state of humanity reduced to a concept: abstract and distant.
I thought I would die
I distanced myself very progressively from the group, by making excuses. I think that the rupturing process was confirmed to me once I started taking singing lessons. A singer had heard me and decided to give me free lessons once a month. She called me and insisted that I come. I thus started to relive my emotions.
For several years I had been incapable of admitting what had happened. It took the fact that my dreams and my health were being taken over for me to react. I was having nightmares every night, and I started getting asthma and fevers. I thought I would die if I kept all of this to myself.
On a whim, I went to London at the master’s invitation. One of his chauffeurs came to pick me up, and I asked him,
You know very well that all the girls sleep with him. Do you think that’s normal?
You would all be prostitutes and drug addicts if you hadn’t found this master. Consider yourself lucky, you have nothing to be angry at him for.
This reaction reassured me that I was making the right decision. When I arrived, I offered the master a drawing that I had made the night before. I had drawn him in the centre, with me on top of him in the lotus position. All around us, in a circle, I had written the names of each of the dakinis. He understood right away and asked me if I wanted money. I left.
The real rage behind the false compassion
My departure started a panic. The power is in the group, not the master. Sogyal Rinpoche is neither cultured nor particularly intelligent. What he does have is hundreds of thousands of people who allow him to assert his sovereignty. I am not even sure that he himself believes what he says. He repeats what the people need to hear.
All of sudden the group was afraid of being called into question, of revealing itself. That the world might realise that these disciples spend all day prostrating themselves and kissing the feet of a master who never went to school, and who strolls around with a bunch of glamour girls that he humiliates. That people might notice all the rage that actually drives this community – behind a front of compassion.
For a long time, I thought that I was alone in being crazy. How was it possible that so many people around the world so adored Sogyal Rinpoche, and that I was the only one disgusted by his presence?
The threats that I received after leaving reassured me: I was doing the right thing.
It is possible that, in a somewhat twisted way, Sogyal Rinpoche might have been in love; I don’t know. Even if he trapped me, even if only his pleasure mattered. I don’t know how he felt – or still feels – in such situations. I think he can get attached, because he is extremely isolated emotionally.
In any case, he was able to establish a form of confidence and emotional rapport with us, which enabled him to constantly abuse us, both physically and psychologically.
Sogyal Rinpoche beats the dakinis and proudly shows off their scars. The humiliations always occurred in public. I remember one time when we were grouped around him in his private garden. One of the girls was raking leaves. She was moving slowly, a bit like a Brazilian girl. He grabbed her by the hair and dragged her along the ground, before throwing her against the wall to punish her for having “too much ego”.
An incestuous relationship
In my case, and certainly that of the other dakinis, our relationships to our fathers were difficult. They handed us over to a man with the idea that we could do everything for him, and that we should do everything for him. My father was happy that I had a privileged relationship to this older and more authoritarian master. He knew that I was isolated, that we slept in the same room, but he didn’t ask any questions. He didn’t warn me: “be careful …”
Today I have severed the ties to my father. I think he takes me for a fool, someone who is too emotional. He thinks that the master’s only mistake was to not have sufficiently taught me about “crazy wisdom” (the idea that the master’s very craziness makes him a sage, freed from social constraints).
I have no faith in justice
I didn’t want to attack Sogyal Rinpoche through the courts. One of his dakinis did so in California several years ago. She still regrets it to this day. It destroyed her marriage and her family; she had to restart from scratch. I also have no faith in the justice system. My testimony never sparked any legal proceedings. As for Marion Dapsance, author of Buddhist Devotees,* she sent a file several times to the governmental anti-cult agency Mission interministérielle de vigilance et de lutte contre les dérives sectaires (Miviludes). They never responded.
If Sogyal Rinpoche no longer existed, someone else would take his place. This face of Buddhism seems really difficult for some people to accept. Many will continue not to believe it. They will think that it was I who betrayed the master, that I can be bought. On the other hand, if one of them does start to doubt, she might realise that she is not alone: that other information is available and circulating.
A former centre director (who also, like many other top Rigpa officials and stars, benefitted from numerous privileges during his tenure, including, for some, rights to sex) has, this year, unexpectedly turned against Sogyal Rinpoche,** and explicitly admitted the effects of the psychological control and violence that the latter subjected his entourage to, most notably the women. He also denounced the sexual favours and a type of domination that uses infantilisation.
Cruel, bad, torturous
The most important thing for me, today, is not having betrayed myself. These events have left me with the feeling that the inner balance within each of us is fragile. That we have to always be vigilant, to leave no place for doubts, and to especially avoid delegating the responsibility for dispelling them to other people.
It is a very real feeling for me. In every person I meet, I now see someone capable of becoming cruel, bad, even torturous, depending on his capacity to accept who he is emotionally and his need to be accepted by a group.
I see the best and the worst, in the choices to resign or love oneself.
Interview by Julia Mourri
Originally published on le Plus de l’Obs “Ferme la porte à clés.” J’ai été dévouée à un grand maître bouddhiste, avant de m’enfuir, 06.11.2016. English translation by Christopher Hamacher.