Abuse: Letter To Sogyal Rinpoche From Long Term Rigpa Students


We now see clearly the many ways that you betrayed our trust, manipulated and abused us and our Dharma brothers and sisters.

On July 14, 2017 eight long term disciples and Rigpa students – with a Rigpa affiliation ranging from 14 to 33 years and positions of power (some working directly for Sogyal Rinpoche) – sent a twelve-page letter to “Sogyal Lakar”. Lakar is the family name of Sogyal Rinpoche, “Rinpoche” means “the precious one”. The letter was also sent to the Dalai Lama, some senior Tibetan Buddhist lamas and to about 1,000 Rigpa members of the “Rigpa Dzogchen Mandala”. Rigpa is an international network of centers and groups founded by Sogyal Rinpoche in 1979.

About the background and motivation of the signatories, the letter says:

Those of us who write to you today have firsthand experience of your abusive behaviors, as well as the massive efforts not to allow others to know about them. Our concerns are deepened with the organizational culture you have created around you that maintains absolute secrecy of your actions … Our wish is to break this veil of secrecy, deception, and deceit. We can no longer remain silent.

Our deep and heartfelt hope is that this collective note might yield a more tangible result than any of our individual discussions with you have. We hope that long lasting and sincere changes may come about rather than short-lived pledges.

The letter lists four main areas of concern:

  1. Physical, emotional and psychological abuse of students.
  2. Sexual abuse of students.
  3. Lavish, gluttonous, and sybaritic lifestyle.
  4. Actions which have tainted the appreciation for the practice of the Dharma.

1. Physical, emotional and psychological abuse of students

We have received directly from you, and witnessed others receiving, many different forms of physical abuse. You have punched and kicked us, pulled hair, torn ears, as well as hit us and others with various objects such as your back-scratcher, wooden hangers, phones, cups, and any other objects that happened to be close at hand.

The signatories distance themselves from claims that such abuse by Sogyal Rinpoche is a wholesome ethical means – or “skillful means” of “wrathful compassion” in the tradition of “crazy wisdom” – with disciples’ best interest at heart in order to free them from their “habitual patterns”.

We no longer believe this to be so. We feel that we and others have been harmed because your actions were not compassionate; rather they demonstrated your lack of discipline and your own frustration. Your physical abuse – which constitutes a crime under the laws of the lands where you have done these acts – have left monks, nuns, and lay students of yours with bloody injuries and permanent scars. This is not second hand information; we have experienced and witnessed your behavior for years.

The letter references accounts of physical violence, including the incident posted here recently on the blog: “Sogyal gut-punched a nun in front of an assembly of more than 1,000 students at Lerab Ling in France, August 2016″.

About emotional and psychological abuse – which is listed in some details – the letter states:

Your emotional and psychological abuse has been perhaps more damaging than the physical scars you have left on us.

The so called “crazy wisdom” is pointed out as:

… a method of control, a blatant means of subjugation and undue influence that removed our liberty. You have threatened us and others saying, if we do not follow you absolutely, we will die “spitting up blood like Ian Maxwell.” You have told us that our loved ones are at risk of ill-health, or have died, because we displeased you in some way.” At public teachings, you have regularly criticized, manipulated and shamed us and those working to run your retreats. You have told us for years that this is part of your unique style of “training” students and that this shaming is part of the guru-disciple relationship. We no longer believe this to be so.

The results of genuine “crazy wisdom” are always positive and visible … the result is spiritual growth, not trauma. Trauma is a sure sign that the “crazy wisdom” behavior was missing the wisdom…, the compassion…, or both. – Mingyur Rinpoche
The letter shows also that trained, practising therapists indoctrinated traumatized Rigpa students by negating the validity of seeing Sogyal Rinpoche, the instigator of the abuse, as the source of the trauma and instead these therapists instructed the victims of abuse “to see old family relationship histories as the issue.”

The letter continues:

In effect, our very tangible and clear discernment of seeing you as an abuser was blocked and instead we were blamed and made to feel inadequate. On the occasions when the “therapy” did not result in a student changing their view of you, you shamed the therapist into feeling that they weren’t doing their job properly and were not skilled.

2. Sexual abuse of students

I have no reason to doubt the truth of these facts and testimonies, which describe the abuse that various people have suffered at his hands. I know two of the authors of the letter and I consider them honest and trustworthy. – Matthieu Ricard

Allegations of sexual abuse have been long lasting. Recently the cases of Mimi and Oane have been made public. The letter states about this topic:

You use your role as a teacher to gain access to young women, and to coerce, intimidate and manipulate them into giving you sexual favors. The ongoing controversies of your sexual abuse that we can read and watch on the Internet are only a small window into your decades of this behavior. Some of us have been subjected to sexual harassment in the form of being told to strip, to show you our genitals (both men and women), to give you oral sex, being groped, asked to give you photos of our genitals, to have sex in your bed with our partners, and to describe to you our sexual relations with our partners. You’ve ordered your students to photograph your attendants and girlfriends naked, and then forced other students to make photographic collages for you, which you have shown to others. You have offered one of your female attendants to another lama (who is well known in Rigpa) for sex. You have had for decades, and continue to have, sexual relationships with a number of your student attendants, some who are married. You have told us to lie on your behalf, to hide your sexual relationships from your other girlfriends. …

3. Lavish, gluttonous, and sybaritic lifestyle

There have been allegations that Sogyal Rinpoche skillfully pressures or manipulates students to donate money. The letter briefly indicates this and states:

Much of the money that is used to fund your luxurious appetites comes from the donations of your students who believe their offering is being used to further wisdom and compassion in the world.

After listing examples of the “lavish, gluttonous, and sybaritic” lifestyle – e.g. providing a “continual supply of take-out restaurant food; drivers and masseuses on call 24-hours a day to serve you and deliver you and your companions to theaters, expensive restaurants, venues to shop and secretive places where you can smoke your expensive cigars” –, the letter continues:

With impatience, you have made demands for this entertainment and decadent sensory indulgences. When these are not made available at the snap of a finger, or exactly as you wished, we were insulted, humiliated, made to feel worthless, stupid and incompetent, and often hit or slapped. Your behavior did not cultivate our mindfulness or awareness, but rather it made us terrified of making a mistake. You tell your students that you spend most of your time engaging in Buddhist study and practice, but those of us who have attended you in private for years know this is not the reality.

4. Actions which have tainted the appreciation for the practice of the Dharma

From the point of view of spirituality such violence, abuse and extreme coarse and rude behaviour harms the students’s faith in the Dharma (the teachings of the Buddha). Consequently, the signatories write:

Please understand the harm that you have inflicted on us has also tainted our appreciation for and practice of the Dharma. In our decades of study and practice of Tibetan Buddhism with you, we trained our minds to view you as the “all embodied jewel” and the “source of all the teachings and blessings” of the Buddha-Dharma. We trusted you completely. Yet, we struggled for years because your actions did not square with the teachings. … Often when we sit down to meditate and practice, we feel polluted with trauma from our experience with you; some of us relate to the Vajrayana with deep suspicion; and some of us are at work rebuilding from scratch the foundations of our study and practice recognising that your manipulation was intermingled with all that we were taught.

With respect to existing criticism online and the signatories’ own responsibilities as senior Rigpa members, the letter states:

In closing we want to acknowledge that most of the public critique of you that is found on the Internet is factual. Some of us, who have held positions of responsibility within Rigpa, struggle with our own part in having covered for you and “explained” away your behavior, while not caring for those with traumatic experiences. Our past motivation to see all the actions of our tantric teacher as pure obscured us from seeing the very real harm that you are inflicting. We are each taking a long and serious look at our own behaviors, trying to learn from them, and supporting each other on our journey. We can no longer stay silent while you harm others in the name of Buddhism. Our deepest wish is to see Buddhism flourish in the West. We no longer want to indulge in the stupidity of seeing the Guru as perfect at any cost. The path does not require us to sacrifice our wisdom to discern, our ethics and morality, or our integrity, on the altar of “Guru Yoga.”

The signatories also set up a web site and blog to help process the discussions and healing within Rigpa. There is also a closed Facebook group where Rigpa members can discuss these severe issues.

Reply by Sogyal Rinpoche

Sogyal Rinpoche sent a letter to his students, replying to the letter: A Letter From Rinpoche to the Sangha.

In this reply Sogyal Rinpoche doesn’t really take responsibility for his actions but instead suggests or claims: 1) “this news has given rise to a certain amount of pain and confusion within our community. I cannot begin to express to you just how much all of this saddens and distresses me.”, 2) that he has a pure motivation and no selfish motives, 3) he only briefly acknowledges some pain (without any excuse for his behaviours)—”a number of people do feel very disappointed and hurt”, 4) he claims “according to astrological predictions, this year and the next two years are a period when obstacles can arise for my health and for my life in general” – which sounds as if the letter of the eight concerned disciples is the result of a disharmonious star constellation rather than his very own actions and seems to include a subtle threat to the critics and his devotees that his health and life are at risk. He also claims he will go into retreat.

According to journalist Mary Finnigan, Sogyal Rinpoche also claimed that he would enter a retreat after the US lawsuit 1994 – but he never did. According to the US lawsuit, an anonymous woman identified only as “Janice Doe” came to Sogyal Rinpoche for spiritual guidance – after her father had died – 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 Telegraph reported about this case and about other women who had been abused and who spoke out publicly. Senior Rigpa students, however, suggested to The Telegraph that the court case “may be part of a deliberate campaign to undermine the lama and his organisation”. According to Marion Dapsance, the lawsuit accused Sogyal Rinpoche of fraud, assault and battery, infliction of emotional distress and breach of fiduciary duty and also charged that the Tibetan lama has “seduced many other female students for his own sexual gratification.” The US lawsuit was settled out of court.

Reply By Rigpa

On Friday afternoon, July 21, Lion’s Roar – who reported on July 20 about this letter – received from Rigpa a press release in response to this letter. The press release claims that Sogyal Rinpoche will “step back” as the community looks into next steps and will “enter a period of retreat and reflection”.

However, this sentence might be a slap in the face – if not pure mockery – from the perspective of sexual abused, faithful young women:

We would like to state clearly that there is no place for abuse in our community and we are conscious of our responsibility to provide a safe, welcoming and supportive environment for our members and the public.

For decades Sogyal Rinpoche and Rigpa have created a very unhealthy, manipulative structure, exploiting the insecurities, needs, faith and openness of young women or spiritual seekers to feed the sexual desires of Sogyal Rinpoche. These are empty words, phrases, which have been already used in the past without any constructive change:

Nonetheless any allegations of inappropriate behaviour are taken very seriously by the organization.

Because nothing has been taken seriously and victims of abuse were even indoctrinated by practicing therapists in “Rigpa Therapy” the writing of the letter was utterly needed and I fully applaud and appreciate the bravery and compassion of the eight writers.

Reply By Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche to one of the signatories

Two of the signatories of the letter to Sogyal Rinpoche are monastics. The monk Sangye Ngawang received a reply by Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche. The letter – like those from Sogyal and Rigpa – does not express any compassion to the victims of abuse but rather attacks the signatories as Samaya breakers, basically saying, they will go to hell. For an analysis and comment on this, see this post by Joanne Clark.

See also


Statements by National Buddhist Unions

Results of the investigation by Lewis Silkin LLP (Sept. 5, 2018)

The Charity Commission investigates Rigpa Fellowship

Header image: Sogyal Rinpoche (2010), © Pedro Rocha(CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)