When those teachers—suppose they already practice the Buddhadharma—still do not behave properly, it indicates that they have a lack of shamefulness on their part. They do not care about the negative consequences for their own future life or within this life. The other thing, like our conference: make your voice heard. Give them a warning: we no longer tolerate you behaviour, as Buddhist Dharma friends who equally take into consideration the Buddhadharma and the benefit of sentient beings. – H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama
The Dutch current affairs program “Brandpunt” (can be translated as Focal Point) featured the testimony of a Dutch woman, Oane Bijlsma, regarding Sogyal Rinpoche and abuse of power as well as sexual intimidation on Tuesday, 13th June 2017, Misbruik boeddhistische gemeenschap.
At the end of this post you’ll also find the translation of two separate e-mails, originally written in Dutch, that Rigpa sent to its members before the Brandpunt report was aired. A solid source reports that Rigpa Amsterdam has had a special session with members, to deal with the fall out of the Brandpunt report. According to this report, many people were crying. With respect to the family background of Sogyal Rinpoche, a detailed clarification was added. (see footnote 1) There is also a Brandpunt interview with Mary Finnigan.
The documentary also includes the case of “Lama Kelsang Chöpel” (Gerhard Mattioli) who has been accused of having abused several women in his community and who reportedly is working in Germany now.
(NOTE: The subtitled video embedded above is a replacement of a non-subtitled version. The replacement was made on 14 Nov 2017.)
Here is the English manuscript of the documentary.
Sogyal and Rigpa on Dutch TV (Brandpunt 13-06-2017)
Sacha de Boer
And now: abuse within the Buddhist community. A peaceful, cuddly religion. Incense, meditation, monks that are fond of laughing, and, above all, very ‘zen’: that is our idea of Buddhism. But it has a very different side as well, which is hardly ever discussed. A world of abuse of power, sexual abuse, and violence. How is it possible that a religion that is thought to be so peaceful, enables monks and gurus with wrong ideas?
People assume that any person from Asia wearing yellow ochre robes is respectable. And that is just not true.
He said: “Look! Look!”, as he showed an image of a Tibetan deity with an enormous erection, a fat, veined erection, forcing me to watch.
This is Sogyal. Sogyal abuses a number of young female members in his entourage.
The system is such that the bad Lama can do anything: he can ask money, sex, he can ask anything.
Over here, it’s very easy to pose as a teacher. Nobody knows what you did in Tibet or Japan: perhaps you were a butcher on the next corner.
There’s a lot of dead wood.
Indeed, a gross abuse of power.
At thirty, Oane Bijlsma is not quite sure what to do with the rest of her life. A friend suggests that she might join a meditation course.
At first, it did not mean much. But I was looking for something, and the idea of learning more about meditation and practicing meditation appealed to me. I thought the first night was really good.
Very quickly, Oane immerses herself completely in the practice of meditation. She starts here, at the Buddhist organization Rigpa in Amsterdam. Because she wants to intensify her meditation practice, she spends time at Lerab Ling, Rigpa’s headquarters in the South of France. There, she meets Rigpa’s great spiritual leader: Sogyal Rinpoche.
He is a Tibetan Lama with a portly build, who has certain mannerisms and a quaint accent, which suggest that he is somehow different.
And that is thought of as inspiring?
Yes. At first, you might believe him to be wise because of the one-liners and stock phrases he uses. His stories suggest much of what is thought of in the West as being Buddhist wisdom.
In France, Oane is inspired by her spiritual leader. She is not alone. Sogyal has thousands of followers worldwide, some of whom come from the Netherlands. At the end of May, they gather in this venue near Amsterdam. Sogyal is leading the yearly Amsterdam City Retreat.
Good morning madam, can I ask you a question?
Why are you here?
Sogyal Rinpoche, the retreat.
What does he mean to you?
Very much. Good advice, and wisdom.
To me he is a spiritual teacher who is very great help in day to day life.
He is a very inspiring man.
It makes me glad and happy, and he has a great part in that.
Enjoy yourself, bye.
Back to Oane: She enjoys life in Lerab Ling a lot. She starts to volunteer. Moreover, she has a relationship with one of Sogyal’s confidants. This gives her direct access to the spiritual leader, so that she can observe him behind the scenes.
How does he behave?
He is a real tyrant. He behaves as if he has a natural right to demand anything, anytime—no matter if it is in the middle of the night, or from the other side of the world. His will alone is the law.
Who is this Sogyal Rinpoche? Why does he behave like a tyrant? The answer comes from researcher and publicist Rob Hogendoorn. He is a practicing Buddhist, and he has been researching Buddhism and spiritual leaders for years. Sogyal Rinpoche is one of them.
Sometimes Sogyal takes some food in his mouth, chews on it, and hands that bite to a follower who is expected to chew on it some more. It has been documented that Sogyal gathers members of his entourage around him while he is taking a crap.
Sogyal has been active in Europe since the 1970s. Dozens of lectures are available on the internet.
Then the trouble with us, is that we have so many stories. Stories, stories, stories.
There are two Sogyals. According to Sogyal himself, he is a highly realized Tibetan master, who has been spoonfed on enlightenment, so to speak, which is supposedly why he behaves as enlightened as he does. The Sogyal of the facts on the ground, however, is a son of a family of traders.¹ After his flight from Tibet, this Sogyal was first trained by French friars, and later by English Anglicans. He does not know the Tibetan tradition from the inside out at all.
According to Hogendoorn, Sogyal is nothing but a merchant’s son from Tibet who has set himself up as a spiritual leader with a YouTube channel and meditation centers in 40 countries.
Apparently, some day he found that he could launch himself as a Lama, and he did just that.
It is there when you are happy. It is there when you are sad. It is there when you are lonely.
He is not a monk, but he is wearing a garb that hints at a monk’s robe. This appeals to the perception and appreciation of all things Asian and exotic. Because this film offfers no journalistic perspective, viewers would never surmise that something is wrong.
But there is definitely something wrong. Clearly, Sogyal likes to surround himself with attractive young women. They are called ‘dakini’s’ and form an inner circle. Here, they appear during a ceremony in Lerab Ling.
Sogyal surrounds himself with an entourage of followers and he abuses young women that belong to that entourage.
At the time, several people told me that Sogyal enters into a ‘contract’ with members of the inner circle. Whoever asks him ‘work with me’, allows him to demonstrate unacceptable behaviour towards him or her. From then on, Sogyal has ‘permission’, so to speak, to beat you, have sex with you.
Whenever and however he likes?
Supposedly, his sexual relations with these young women fall within the scope of ‘tantra’. Another excuse would be ‘guru devotion’, a submission to the teacher that is supposed to accept anything he does, without protest. And his behaviour is also legitimized with the notion of ‘crazy wisdom’. This would be a form of wisdom that is beyond the ken of ordinary mortals, looks crazy, and is supposed to assist Sogyals followers on their spiritual path. This then would turn beating a student from being downright crazy into wise.
During our investigation, we receive rather risqué photographs from an anonymous source. These photographs, that were never shown in public before, show ‘dakini’s’ in provocative clothing and partly nude. They also show Sogyal in a way that is unfamiliar to most people. We showed the photographs to Oane.
I know both of these girls. They belonged to the inner circle at the time when I met them first in 2011, and still do. To be frank, these photographs confirm the image of Sogyal having a harem and actually living this way.
As far as we can see, what is shown in these photographs is not illegal. But according to Oane, all of this is miles way from Buddhism as she understands it.
I have always considered it to be perverse. It does not feel healthy. It does not look healthy. He might as well be a wealthy little business man with a prediliction for certain women and cigars. He is not alone in that, but if that is the case do not call yourself a Buddhist organization.
Shortly after the photographs were taken, one of the ‘dakini’s’ accuses Sogyal openly of sexual abuse. She has left Rigpa and tells her story in a Canadese documentary.
So there was this moment when I was alone in his room with him, and then he said: ‘undress’. And having been for only two months working as an attendant for him, I just considered it to be another test of devotion.
Before that, Sogyal had already been discredited. In the 90s, a woman files a complaint for damages caused by sexual harassment. By reaching a settlement , Sogyal does not have to appear in court.
Did his organization or Sogyal argue against the charges being made?
No, and that is typical: Sogyal and his organization do not deny that he does these things, they merely deny that he brings harm to others.
Meanwhile, in Lerab Ling, things become clearer to Oane: this is not right. During breakfast, she herself is confronted with the perverse behaviour of her spiritual leader.
At that time, he asked me: ‘Did you have a good fuck?’
This is what he asked, this Tibetan Buddhist teacher?
Yes, in front of everybody. He asked this during breakfast in the morning, with everyone present. People giggled and laughed, finding it hilarious, waiting to see how I would respond.
Did you find it degrading?
Yes. It is shocking and gripping, to say the least, because it hurts people’s integrity.
Yours as well?
Yes, mine as well.
By this time, we would like to hear what Sogyal and Rigpa have to say about this. We ask the spiritual leader for an interview. The retreat in Amsterdam seems to be a good occasion to speak with him, and we await his response to our request. Within the Netherlands there are more than 50.000 practicing Buddhists and some 350 persons who call themselves Buddhist teacher. One of them is Ron Sinnige.
Where could I check if you are any good?
Nowhere. I cannot tell you that.
There is no register, for instance?
Sinnige, who works for the trades union FNV, gives guidance to a small group of Zen Buddhists in Utrecht. He regularly witnesses charlatans and fake-guru’s popping up around him.
Over here, it is very easy to pose as a teacher. Nobody knows what you did in Tibet or Japan: perhaps you were a butcher on the next corner. And people will in fact join you. When you say things that seems deep or wise, people will find it wonderful.
Before you know it, you have a class of your own?
Before you know it you will have a class of your own, yes.
While drivelling on a bit?
Yes, I do know a few of those.
Does this worry you?
Well, it is not good PR, of course. In fact, it is very bad. I think people still believe that Buddhism is a fairy tale, an island of uniqueness and quiet, and of immaculacy and purity: these kind of things, these kind of things! It is not like that! We are all human! We are all human! And those who pronounce most loudly that they are a ‘teacher’ or a ‘master’: well, look again. I would look again, if I were you.
Those, you would have to mistrust them?
I would be careful, to be sure.
According to researcher Hogendoorn, many people in the Netherlands have no clue as to what might be expected of a Buddhist teacher—and what not.
Once, I got a telephone call by a man whose wife had visited a small Buddhist temple in some town. During the first visit, she was asked to undress. She did, upon which the teacher undressed himself and began stroking and touching her, ever more intimately. This man called me, feeling completely insecure, and asked: ‘Is this normal? Does this go with it?’
Apparently, he thought it did.
So, it was left to me to say: ‘What you are telling me is not normal, and it does not go with Buddhism.’
Good night. Abuse cases: usually, this makes us think of the Catholic Church. But now victims of sexual abuse within Buddhist circles step forward. The past months, the NOS spoke to several victims. At least eight Buddhist teachers are said to have been responsible for dozens of sexual abuse cases. This is the first time that victims speak out openly.
In 2015, research by Hogendoorn brings to light a large abuse case within the Buddhist community of Waalwijk. It was reported first by the NOS Eight O’Clock News.
At some moment, he reaches over and pulls your pants down, telling you: ‘I am doing this for you. Do not think of girls. Try to just feel it.’
There was publicity in 2015, but at that time the exact nature and scale of the abuse was not brought out fully into the open. One of the reasons I know this, is because after that I have been approached by new sources, new victims, and new bystanders.
According to Hogendoorn, he is working on 17 files on Buddhist teachers who are or were active in the Netherlands and went too far, for example in Middelburg.
This is footage shot by Omroep Zeeland of the community of ‘Lama Kelsang Chöpel’, who had previously been known as the Austrian Gerhard Mattioli. He used to be a skipper writing books on pleasure cruising.
And he abused people?
Yes. He has abused several women in his community. The wounds are very deep. It has cost people their marriage. It has cost children the marriage of their parents.
Did the police or judicature intervene?
Some of the victims in Middelburg have talked to the police, but so far they did not report a crime.
Why did they not do that?
They were very afraid of this Lama. He had them believe that he was capable of performing ‘black magic’, so that he could harm them from a distance with certain ailments, etcetera.
Did they really believe that he could?
Some did. I have spoken to people who still believe that this man posesses such powers, even though they have known for some time now that he was a charlatan.
After he was accused, Mattioly flees the Netherlands. Reportedly, he is working in Germany now. Shortly after the first incident, Oane, once again, is confronted with Sogyal’s unacceptable behaviour. She was working in Sogyal’s appartment at the time.
He grabbed my head from behind, and pushed me towards an image he held in his hand, saying: ‘Look! Look!’. It was a drawing of a deity with a very huge, fat, veined, larger than life erection in his hands. And I thought: ‘OK?’
Right before the retreat, Rigpa let us know that there would be no interview with Sogyal. Supposedly, he did not have the time. In an attempt to get some response, we visit the retreat.
We cannot film here?
This is a private retreat. You have not been invited and you have to leave.
And you are not willing to answer my questions?
We are busy doing other things. We are busy with a retreat, not with a television programme. So, once again, I request you to leave.
And if I remain here?
Than I will in fact have you removed.
Rigpa and Sogyal refuse to answer direct questions about the abuse. We get in touch with Olivier Raurich, former director of Rigpa France. He tell us that this has been a deliberate strategy for years.
Rigpa paid quite a lot of money to train some of the main people, including myself, because I was really one of his main spokesmen in France, to learn how to answer questions like: ‘Your guru is accused of sexual abuse, what is your answer?’ So, I began to be trained in that. They told me not to answer at all, and instead to say things like ‘The Dalai Lama is supporting Sogyal Rinpoche one hundred pecent’, and repeat that, only that, without answering ‘yes’ or ‘no’. And at that time, I began to understand that there really was something fishy about this, so I decided to quit.
Raurich leaves, as does Oane. By that time, she has spent almost a year within Rigpa. She visits Rigpa’s headquarters in Amsterdam to talk about the abuse.
I got no answers.
Answers that go to the question why and how?
I got answers like: ‘This is beyond your ken. It is tantra. People ask for it. They want to be worked with,’ these types of answers. Like: ‘Nobody is unhappy. Nobody considers this abuse.’
In the end, Rigpa sends us a statement. The organization writes that any form of abuse is thought to be ‘unacceptable’, and that complaints are taken ‘seriously’. Supposedly, Oane had every opportunity to share her story. Rigpa writes: ‘We are not familiar with the facts that Oane reported, so we can not respond to them.’ The full statement is on our website. In 2015, Oane also reports to the complaints office for sexual abuse in Buddhist circles, which had just been founded.
I reported to the complaints office.
What did that get you?
So far, it got me nothing, because they do nothing beyond registring stories.
What use does that have to us?
No use at all: that is why I share my story with you.
Last Saturday: Oane meets former Rigpa members who have turned their back on the organization because of the continuing reports on sexual abuse.
Hey hello, I’m Eremita!
I did not know it was you!
A teacher having sex with someone who is his student, is unacceptable to me. It involves so much power. You cannot say: ‘Well, it is up to them. It is their own responsibility.’
What do these two ex-members make of the photographs?
Are these connected to Sogyal?
These were probably taken during one of his yearly visits to Australia. Apparently, anything goes while he is there. This is not normal.
This is horrible. It is very confronting that this is possible.
This blond woman looks very unhappy.
Rigpa must stop! Such a club should not exist. But they are very powerful.
In the West, Buddhist teachers are often soloists, with no oversight. There is no central organization or hierarchy. When a Catholic priest abuses a child or an adult parishioner, everyone knows that that is not right. Within Buddhism, powerful voices say about sexual relations between teacher and student : ‘That depends.’
This is the mysterious, unique and wise Buddhism from Shangri-la, which is so very beautiful. The idea that there is no abuse of power or sexual abuse because it is Buddhism, is naive.
I support the unambiguous standard: sexual relations between teacher and student are taboo, full stop.
¹ To clarify and be precise: Sogyal is a member of the Lakartsang, or Lakar family. Lakartsang was a family of traders in the Rongpatsa valley in Kham. Sogyal still carries their name. His personal name is a contraction of Sonam Gyaltsen.
From around 1932 until 1954 the family lived in territory controlled by the Kuo Mintang and the People’s Liberation Army of the Chinese communistst, some 200 kms. away from the Tibetan border.
Witness her family history, Sogyal’s mother takes great pride in her family’s business acumen. Before Sogyal launched himself as a ‘Lama’ and ‘Rinpoche’, he went by the name Sogyal Lakar, which, like his brother Thigyal Lakar, he took from his mother.
Sogyal himself has a son: Yeshe Gyaltsen, who’s mother is Marianne Jurgaitis.
Many contemporaries who knew Sogyal in Tibet simply referred to him as Sogyal Lakar. According to the Dutch Chamber of Commerce, Sogyal still used that name in 2011, when he was last registered as a board member of the International Campaign for Tibet in Amsterdam.
So, my reference to him being a son of a family of traders is factual. The remark about him being ‘a merchant’s son’ wasn’t mine, but does allow for the fact that female members of a Tibetan traders family can be reckoned to be merchants too.
Sogyal’s mother, Tsering Wangmo, is the sister of Khandro Tsering Chödron, who, by complete surprise, wed Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lödro when she was around eighteen years old, to ‘prolong his life’. He was around 56 years old at the time.
Sogyal’s biological father’s name is Jamga. Besides this name, little else is known about him. Tsering Wangmo later (re)married with Tsewang Paljor, secretary of Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lödro.
Matrimonial alliances such as these were very common at the time. Since time immemorial, Tibetan clans in Kham sought to be associated with royal or aristocratic lineages, with incarnation lines or monastic sects, and other wealthy or powerful families.
Such relationships served as a means of political and religious legitimation, evoking the desired historical associations and bestowing prestige.
– Rob Hogendoorn, June 25, 2017
Translation of two separate e-mails in Dutch that Rigpa sent to its members before the Brandpunt report was aired
Probably all of our memories of the fantastic four-day retreat in Amsterdam are still fresh. Thursday morning, some of you may have witnessed a film crew of the KRO-NRCV programme Brandpunt near the entrance of the venue. Now there is a follow up to that. Tuesday night, a report by Brandpunt will be aired, which explores the relation between religion and abuse. The report will involve a critical perspective on Sogyal Rinpoche. The Brandpunt website already shows the announcement with an interview, and a brief statement by Rigpa. Attached you will find the more comprehensive statement Rigpa made in reply to Brandpunt’s questions.
It is important to us to make you aware of this before others do. We would like to stress that the doors of Rigpa in the Netherlands have been open to a wide audience for decades. Rigpa subscribes to the Buddhist virtues of respect and compassion, and within our community there is no room for abuse of any kind.
If you wish, you can devote your daily practice to the well-being of all beings, wishing that the report does no harm.
If you wish to discuss the Brandpunt report further, you can do this with your own instructor, or with Gisela Prager (*.******@hetnet.nl, Daan Meerburg (********@me.com) or Saskia Bloemen (**@rigpa.nl). You can approach Saskia by telephone as well: **-********.
Just to be complete: early this year a confidential adviser was appointed. Here you will find more information. An independent complaints offfice supports victims of sexual abuse within the Buddhist community, which can be reached through http://www.meldpuntbg.nl. (At present, this website is very unresponsive, which we have reported.)
Approaches by third parties
If you are approached by journalists, we wish you to respond FRIENDLY, because they are only doing their job. Do not answer at all, and refer the journalist to one of our external spokespersons, Patricia Strooper (*********@gmail.com) and Gisela Prager (*.******@gmail.com). Do not give telephone numbers to these people yourself.
We will keep you posted on new developments.
Dear Ngöndro and Dzogchen Mandala student,
In addition to the previous e-mail about Brandpunt: we received a clear advice on practice from several Lama’s, among whom OT Rinpoche, Tseringma and Dodrupchen Rinpche. Those of you who are familiar with it, are being advised to practice Riwo Sangchö. As always, you can devote your practice to the well-being of all beings and to the wish that this media attention will bring no harm at all.
Naturally, of you are not familiar with the above practice, you can devote your daily practice to this as well.
- Misbruik in de Boeddhistische gemeenschap: dit slachtoffer vertelt voor het eerst haar verhaal (“Abuse in the Buddhist community: this victim tells her story for the first time”) – Door Cas de Jong / Brandpunt (09 June 2017)
- Boeddhistische misbruikplegers zijn niet uniek (Interview with Rob Hogendoorn by The interreligious Dutch webmagazine Nieuwwij.nl (= new we) (27 June 2017)
- “Lock the door.” – I was devoted to a great Buddhist master, and then I quit. – Julia Mourri (le Plus de l’Obs, interview with Mimi)
- Sogyal Rinpoche & Rigpa – An interview with the former director of Rigpa France Olivier Raurich 2016/03/09
- “When fraud is part of a spiritual path: a Tibetan lama’s plays on reality and illusion” by Marion Dapsance in “Minority Religions and Fraud – In Good Faith” (Ashgate/Routledge)
- In the name of enlightenment: Stephen Batchelor interview by Cogent/Benger
- Sex Scandals In Religion – In The Name Of Enlightenment by Cogent/Benger
- A statement from Rigpa
- Behind the Thankas by Mary Finnigan.
- Lama sex abuse claims call Buddhist taboos into question by Mary Finnigan in The Guardian
- The Precious One – by Mick Brown, Telegraph Magazine (PDF, 2 February 1995)
- Best-selling Buddhist author accused of sexual abuse – by Don Lattin (PDF)
- A podcast by the journalist Mary Finnigan who first met Sogyal Lakar aka Rinpoche in 1973. Mary recounts how she helped him during his early years as a teacher — and how she subsequently investigated his “corrupt activities”. – Mythicist Milwaukee
- Submission, devotion and sexual abuse: my investigation of Buddhism in France – Julia Mourri (le Plus de l’Obs, interview with Marion Dapsance) – French original here; Dutch translation here.
- “Ferme la porte à clés.” J’ai été dévouée à un grand maître bouddhiste, avant de m’enfuir by Julia Mourri (le Plus de l’Obs, interview with Mimi) – Dutch translation here.
- Les dévots du bouddhisme: Essais – documents by Marion Dapsance (Max Milo Editions, preface Charles Ramble) // Kindle version
- Bouddhisme: l’imposture Sogyal Rinpoché by Elodie Emery (»Marianne« magazine)
More from this blog
- Rigpa Students in a Quandary: What to Do When Seeing Your Guru Punch a Nun in the Stomach Crosses a Line? 2017/06/28
- Reflecting on my Time in Rigpa and with Sogyal Rinpoche 2016/09/28
- Rigpa, Cults, The Catholic Church and HH Dalai Lama – A Pep Talk 2013/03/17
- Thoughts on Leaving Rigpa 2013/01/16
- A former Rigpa student’s thoughts and cultivating discernment … 2012/12/23
- What Is A Rigpa Student To Think? 2012/06/15
- The Dalai Lama and Sogyal Rinpoche: A Roaring Silence? 2012/04/28
- One Year With Rigpa – A Testimony 2012/04/23
- Sogyal Rinpoche and the Silence of the Tibetan Buddhist Community and the Dalai Lama 2012/03/27
Update July 2017
- Letter to Sogyal Rinpoche from current and ex-Rigpa members details abuse allegations 2017/07/20
- The Letter to Sogyal (Lakar) Rinpoche 2017/07/14
Update March 2020
- My Time in Rigpa – Oane Bijlsma