Report to the Boards of Trustees of Rigpa Fellowship UK, and

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Re: Report to the Boards of Trustees of Rigpa Fellowship UK,

Postby admin » Sat May 04, 2019 3:25 am

Findings: abusing young women

It is alleged that Sogyal used his position to coerce, intimidate and manipulate young women into giving him sexual favours. There is a significant weight of first-hand evidence which leads me to uphold this allegation. By way of illustration, Witness K, referred to above, who became upset when asked to strip gave evidence to me that she had first been sworn to secrecy with a threat to her karma and that of her family in the event that she broke this promise. This promise was extracted from her within a week of first coming to work as a helper in the lama kitchen as a teenager, having come to a retreat by way of respite from a period of depression and self-harm. Having broken down and refused to strip, she alleges that she was subjected to aggression and anger and she says she was also hit with a backscratcher.

On the balance of probabilities, I do not believe that Witness K freely participated in sexual activity with Sogyal Lakar. These interactions were against her will and took place after Sogyal had shouted at her after she had first said no to him. She was vulnerable and not in a position to refuse him: in my view she submitted; she did not consent.

I also conclude that Sogyal Lakar attempted to use his position of authority to obtain sexual favours from Witness L and I am seriously concerned about the ability of Student 15 to provide consent freely against the backdrop of physical abuse alleged to be directed towards her which is outlined in the confidential annexe.

Whilst one of the witnesses may initially have enjoyed Sogyal’s attentions, and may even have been flirtatious with him, I do not accept that she consented to the sexual relationship that developed and the use of threats of Samaya breakage and bad karma towards her demonstrate that the relationship arose out of an abuse of power.

I am unable to make a clear finding in relation to the experiences of Witness A; this allegation arises out of a different sort of relationship (Witness A describes herself as a former-girlfriend of Sogyal). There is simply not enough direct or corroboratory evidence to enable me to uphold this allegation.

I do not believe that Sogyal Lakar could reasonably have believed that Witness K, Witness L or Witness I consented freely to his actions. When a significantly older man, who is responsible for a student’s spiritual development, and who uses physical force against that student, tells that student to perform sexual favours for him, I cannot accept that there is any basis upon which this could be said to be a consensual act.

I should make clear that I do not conclude that all of the sexual partners of Sogyal are the victims of sexual abuse. There are some individuals who appear to be treated quite differently, are looked after by Sogyal and consider themselves to be his girlfriends. I spoke to one such individual who had a relationship with him in the 1970s and said he was a “loving and gentle man”.

I do not think that the same can be said when it comes to the vulnerable people working in the lama care team, who are required to attend to Sogyal’s every need around the clock. It is entirely possible that Sogyal has allowed himself to believe that these women choose to be his sexual partners but I cannot accept that there is any legitimate basis for that conclusion on the evidence I have heard.
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Re: Report to the Boards of Trustees of Rigpa Fellowship UK,

Postby admin » Sat May 04, 2019 3:30 am

Requiring students to lie to cover up relationships with him

Witness E told me that Sogyal Lakar would often be having a relationship with five or six women at a time. Witness E would, for example, be expected to drive Sogyal to a hotel where one female student was waiting for him in the hotel room. Witness E would then be instructed by Sogyal not to tell another student, who was known to be his girlfriend.

Witness E explained that a number of Sogyal’s sexual partners were based in the same city and there would be times when one girlfriend was visiting Sogyal via one staircase as Witness E was escorting another girlfriend out of the building, via another exit.

Witness E accepted that most of the girlfriends knew about each other and would discuss it amongst themselves.
This does not, therefore, appear to be wrongful behaviour on Sogyal’s part per se
, aside from expecting a Rigpa volunteer to give up time to facilitate his exclusively personal arrangements.

Whilst I accept the evidence of Witness E, I cannot uphold this allegation as an act of abuse or similar wrongdoing on the part of Sogyal Lakar.
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Re: Report to the Boards of Trustees of Rigpa Fellowship UK,

Postby admin » Sat May 04, 2019 4:07 am

Groping students, photographing attendants and girlfriends naked, and forcing others to make collages of the images

Witness G alleges that, on one occasion, Sogyal walked up to him in front of eight or nine of his attendants and grabbed Witness G by the testicles; it is alleged that Sogyal squeezed Witness G’s testicles and made a lewd comment about whether or not Witness G was aroused. Witness G says he tried to laugh this off, but felt violated by this act and continues to look back on this as a “damaging and traumatic event” and a moment of “abject humiliation”. Witness G believes that this was an assertion of authority on Sogyal’s part, as opposed to being sexually motivated. Witness G spoke of Sogyal being very concerned about the size of other men’s penises, and how his own compared. Witness E made similar comments, and told me that Sogyal would often ask male students to show him their penises. As set out above, Witness K also gave evidence of Sogyal groping her.

On the balance of probabilities, I conclude that Sogyal Lakar did grope Witness G and Witness K against their wishes; whether this was sexually motivated or a display of power does not, in my view, make a difference as to the harm done to the students in question.

It is alleged that Sogyal required one of his students to photograph attendants and girlfriends naked, forcing others to make collages of the images for him which were then shown to others. Several witnesses confirmed to me that they understood that a student who was a photographer was required to take naked photographs of Sogyal’s girlfriends and attendants.

Witness L gave evidence of an occasion when four female students were called upstairs, and Witness E was then asked to go upstairs to take photos in Sogyal’s personal shrine room. Witness L said “I went upstairs a day or two later and saw photos of them all posing naked in the shrine room. I felt shocked to see it”. .

Witness G also saw intimate sexual photographs of Student 3 in Sogyal’s possession and alleges that he saw Sogyal share these with another lama. I have been provided with evidence
(which is addressed in the confidential annexe) which confirms the existence of these photographs.

I have also been provided with evidence
(which is addressed in the confidential annexe) which confirms the existence of some of the video footage that Witness E says he was asked to film or was given by Sogyal to edit. This includes a video of two young female attendants who are asked by Sogyal to dance for him. One starts dancing in a bikini until he simply tells to her: “take it off”. She complies with the instruction. In my opinion, the student who is dancing looks uncomfortable and awkward. I was told that this footage was filmed by Witness E, at Sogyal’s request. Another of the videos includes a student being told by Sogyal that she can stop what she is doing when she wants to, but when she immediately asks to stop she is told by Sogyal to repeat what she was doing “one more time”.

Multiple witnesses confirmed seeing naked pictures of “Sogyal’s girls” in his accommodation and to there being huge blown up collages with naked images of one of his girlfriends in his private rooms, to which only the inner circle were granted access.

Witness E, who took many of the photographs, explained that Sogyal would ask him to crop and enlarge the images that he would take so as to focus only on the genitals of the women in the photographs.

I am satisfied that Witness E, in particular, was asked to photograph attendants and girlfriends naked. Whether there is anything wrong in this conduct depends primarily on whether the photographs or videos were taken of people who did not consent to them being taken or shared in the way that they were.
I have not spoken to any of the women in the photographs so cannot determine whether they were consented to this on the evidence available to me. This could be investigated further if they women in the photographs were willing to provide evidence in future.

I have not heard direct evidence of anyone being “forced” to make collages of the images for Sogyal, as is alleged, but there is evidence to support at least one student being asked to do so. There is also a significant volume of evidence to support the conclusion that saying no to Sogyal Lakar was not easy to do. Witness E, however, confirmed that taking the photographs was not the problem in itself, it was more about the relationships Sogyal was having with these women that was the cause for concern for this witness.
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Re: Report to the Boards of Trustees of Rigpa Fellowship UK,

Postby admin » Sat May 04, 2019 4:23 am

Offering attendants to other lamas

It is alleged that Sogyal offered one of his female attendants to another lama for sex. I heard evidence that this happened on more than one occasion.

Witness E told me that he had heard Sogyal Lakar on the telephone to another guru on two occasions and that during the phone calls Sogyal ‘offered’ a student to the guru.
This account is dealt with in the confidential annexe.
I was not able to corroborate this account independently; however, another witness spoke of a similar experience, as set out below.

Witness K

“Another lama was visiting and Sogyal made comments in front of others asking me if I would sleep with the lama. I thought he was joking and trying to get a rise out of me. I jokingly replied “yes, of course” and Sogyal then said “good you can be his attendant” he also told me to go and buy condoms. … On the second day of attending the lama, he led me to a bedroom and started kissing me. I suddenly realised it was not a joke and I froze. The other lama realised I was not consenting and stopped. He asked if I was OK and let me go back to the house.

I realised I was in over my head and locked myself in a bathroom and broke down. I didn’t have anywhere else to go – I was 20, had nowhere else to live, no money and no food. I was very scared. There was no way out but I felt very unsafe.

Someone found me and I was crying hysterically. I had to meet with Sogyal and the other lama; Sogyal said he was sorry as he thought that [offering me to the other lama] would be good for me.

Witness E then took me to a bus stop and put me on a bus to [the city], even though I had nowhere to go when I got there. No one contacted me or checked I was safe”.

Another witness provided a similar account to me, but did not wish for details to be included in this report.

Based on the evidence available to me, on the balance of probabilities, I uphold this allegation.
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Re: Report to the Boards of Trustees of Rigpa Fellowship UK,

Postby admin » Sat May 04, 2019 4:26 am

Emotional and psychological abuse

As set out in the section above entitled “Sogyal Lakar’s teachings”, I consider that there are aspects of Sogyal’s teachings which are designed to push a student’s buttons psychologically. In his letter to me, Sogyal Lakar states:

“I believe it is common in many traditional cultures and disciplines – such as education, art and sport – that the teacher encourages the student to go beyond his or her limits and sometimes this kind of training can be confronting. It is in this spirit that at times I have tried to train my own students, especially when I see great potential in them. I believe this is very much in keeping with the culture of training that we find in Tibetan Buddhism. I have never had the feeling that I was obliging someone to do something that was against his or her own will, and that was not aligned to their inner development”.

It is alleged, however, that Sogyal’s techniques went beyond legitimate teaching and crossed the line into emotional and psychological abuse. Some specific examples of this allegation were included in the Complaint. These examples were:

a. Comments about Ian Maxwell

b. Telling people their loved ones would be at risk / died because they displeased Sogyal

c. Pushing students to the verge of emotional breakdown

d. Use of Rigpa therapy

I deal with these in turn below.
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Re: Report to the Boards of Trustees of Rigpa Fellowship UK,

Postby admin » Sat May 04, 2019 4:30 am

Ian Maxwell comments

It is alleged that Sogyal Lakar referred to a senior student, Ian Maxwell, as an “asshole” during a live streamed teaching from the unfinished temple at a time when Ian Maxwell was dying in hospital.

I have been able to obtain a copy of the December 2015 live teaching in a temple during which Sogyal Lakar spoke about Ian Maxwell, who was terminally ill at the time. Sogyal does refer to Ian Maxwell as “a bit of a stubborn asshole” in this teaching and says “so I kick his arse”, but in my view this comment appears to be to be an attempt at a comic aside in the middle of a longer commentary which talks about the positive impact that Ian has made, how “crucial” he has been and asking everyone to “think of him very strongly”.

Rigpa management Witness P acknowledged that these comments had been made but felt that they were taken out of context. Witness P said “I was shocked when I heard it, but he was doing it to wake people up again”.

It is also alleged that, after Ian Maxwell died, Sogyal Lakar told students that Ian had “died spitting up blood” because he had defied Sogyal in the past, and that Sogyal would ask students “do you want to die spitting up blood like Ian for defying me?”

Witness E confirmed that these comments were made in his presence
and he understood this to be a reference to Ian Maxwell and Sogyal not seeing eye-to-eye in relation to the cultural side of Tibetan Buddhism. Witness E said that Ian Maxwell just wanted to benefit from the teachings and did not want to deal with the rest of Sogyal’s behaviour.

Rigpa management Witness N was not aware of the specific comments alleged to have been made about Ian Maxwell but confirmed that there was some tension in the relationship between Ian and Sogyal. Witness N also confirmed that Sogyal would say deliberately provocative things at times.

On balance, I accept that these comments about Ian Maxwell were made, but the comments made in the temple appear to have a context which makes them less shocking. The comments made about dying spitting up blood being the fate of people who do not follow Sogyal are distasteful and add to the overall concerns that I have of people being put under great pressure not to question Sogyal’s actions. However, I do not believe that these comments can, on their own, be described as emotional or psychological abuse.
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Re: Report to the Boards of Trustees of Rigpa Fellowship UK,

Postby admin » Sat May 04, 2019 4:33 am

Telling people their loved ones would be at risk / died because they displeased Sogyal

The Complaint refers (at footnote 3) to one of the letter writers being told that his partner got sick because the letter writer had shouted at him. I understand that this was during a telephone conversation between only the letter writer and Sogyal Lakar.

This complaint is consistent with evidence received from Witness K and Witness I that they were told that there would be negative karmic consequences for them and their family members if they spoke about their dealings with Sogyal.

Witness P commented that Sogyal had devoted a lot of time to the letter writer and his partner during her illness, that he would pray for her and showed incredible kindness to them. Witness P confirmed that Sogyal:

“… probably did say these things – it was all about disturbing thoughts, provocation, startling things that woke people up. It’s easy to get the wrong perception”.

However, I do not believe that I have sufficient evidence to uphold the specific complaint about the comments Sogyal is alleged to have made about the letter writer’s partner.
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Re: Report to the Boards of Trustees of Rigpa Fellowship UK,

Postby admin » Sat May 04, 2019 4:35 am

Pushing students to the verge of emotional breakdown

A number of the witnesses that I spoke to gave evidence of the serious impact of their involvement with Sogyal Lakar on their health.

In addition to numerous examples of witnesses working very long hours, with little sleep, for long periods of time, the following specific examples of long-term harm being caused were given to me:

a. Witness F gave evidence of being forced to undergo elocution lessons because Sogyal would refuse to understand anything said by Witness F, insisting that Witness F must speak in a received pronunciation, English accent. Witness F says that this went on for months and months and meant that “my tongue was taken away from me” and that “it was like being gagged”. Witness F felt that this was an effort to break Witness F’s attachment to Witness F’s own country and family. Witness F reports being left with chronic fatigue, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.

b. Witness K reported that she suffered from hallucinations and suicidal thoughts and still suffers from chronic insomnia and anxiety. Witness K says she has spent thousands on therapy since leaving Rigpa.

c. Witness J reported having suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and extreme anxiety. Witness J described being terrified of the phone ringing and explained how this anxiety had negatively affected Witness J’s relationships. Witness J felt able to start therapy after several years of processing what had happened and the therapy is ongoing.

I was informed that there are a number of other students who suffered breakdowns as a result of their involvement with Rigpa. I was not able to corroborate this information with those individuals.

Overall, based on the information available to me, I conclude that Sogyal did indeed push some of his students to the verge of emotional breakdowns.
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Re: Report to the Boards of Trustees of Rigpa Fellowship UK,

Postby admin » Sat May 04, 2019 4:42 am

Use of Rigpa therapy

It is alleged that Sogyal Lakar introduced ‘Rigpa therapy’ for his closest students and that trained therapists were “given the task of dealing with the pain that was being stirred up in the minds of those [he] was abusing”. It is alleged that therapists were used to ensure that the students did not see Sogyal as an abuser, but instead blamed old family relationships.

Witness N accepted that there was a period when four or five students, who were also therapists, were looking at how modern therapy techniques could have confluence with Buddhism. Witness N stated that one of these therapists also saw some students privately, but that this was not a Rigpa offering.

Witness P also told me that there was a therapist (Student 20) who would see people, but described this was an individual thing and not arranged by the organisation. Witness P said that people would choose to see Student 20 and it was private and confidential, there was no official organised therapy.

Witness O agreed that there had been some work done by a group of therapists to see if they could develop a Buddhist inspired therapy technique, but that this had not been able to make much progress. Witness O confirmed that there was some completely informal therapy with a therapist (Student 20) who would informally support students with any problems during the three-year retreat. Witness O stated that this would be confidential and Witness O’s sense was that the therapy was used to get to the bottom of what the cause of any problems might be.

Witness K told me that she was “assigned” to Student 20 for therapy. Witness K said that this was not a great experience. Witness K says that Student 20 “made it all about your relationship with your parents”. Witness K says that Student 20 was caring but she felt that the key message was that Witness K should keep Sogyal’s behaviour under wraps and not make a scene. At one point, Witness K says she was told to see Student 20 for therapy twice a week. Witness K says it was a relief to be able to speak to someone, so Witness K did not say no. Witness K continued seeing Student 20 for therapy via Skype for some years but now sees this as a means of keeping Witness K tied up in the Rigpa way of resolving these issues instead of going to the police.

Witness F describes Rigpa therapy as a strategy of psychological abuse, saying that Student 20’s job was to mop up the mess created by Sogyal, which enabled him to push them all further and Student 20 would catch them. Witness F agrees with the account of Witnesses N, O and P as to how the therapy discussions started, but says that the idea of one-on-one therapy with Student 20 came from Sogyal himself. Witness F was “sent” for Rigpa therapy around the time that Witness F started to develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Witness F says that the idea of the therapy seemed good at the time. Witness F described the therapy as a chance to relax and not be on-call for an hour. Witness F says that during the therapy, Student 20 was told by Witness F about the beatings and other concerns. Witness F says that Student 20’s focus was that the behaviour of Sogyal was purifying Witness F’s relationship with Witness F’s father. Witness F describes this therapy as their one chance of finding help, and that it was abused.

Witness F alleges that Student 20 once told Witness F “the things these girls tell me – if they happened in the real world I’d have to report them”.

I have heard a recorded public teaching in which Sogyal asks for Student 20 to share something that has come out of Witness F’s therapy sessions. Student 20 then shares information coming from those therapy sessions with Sogyal and the rest of those present. This is clear evidence of the misuse of these therapy sessions and the confidential information shared therein.

Witness L confirmed that she was aware that Witness F and a number of the young women in the lama care team were seeing Student 20 for therapy. Witness L alleges that those undergoing therapy reported back that Student 20 would persuade them to blame their families, or their karma from past lives, instead of holding Sogyal responsible for his actions towards them.

I must make clear that I have not received any testimony from Student 20. There is, however, a significant volume of evidence to support the allegation that (whatever Student 20’s intentions were) the therapy sessions held by Student 20 were encouraged or sanctioned by Sogyal Lakar and caused harm to those who participated in them.

On the balance of probabilities, I uphold the allegation that therapy sessions were improperly used.
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Re: Report to the Boards of Trustees of Rigpa Fellowship UK,

Postby admin » Sat May 04, 2019 4:59 am

Lavish, gluttonous and sybaritic lifestyle

It is alleged that Sogyal Lakar demands money from his students to fund his lifestyle, which involves a steady supply of sensual pleasures: personal chefs, entertainment, cigars, drivers, masseuses, and expensive restaurants. It is alleged that he demands free labour.

It is apparent that Sogyal has a taste for the finer things; he does indeed have a staff available to him around the clock, including masseuses, drivers and chefs. Many of these people, however, appear to donate their time, without charge, as part of a personal offering, or people worked in exchange for free accommodation and food on retreat. Some witnesses explained that there is an expectation within Tibetan Buddhism that a high lama would have these things. Whilst it was understood that some lamas would reject such trappings and live a simple life, it was acknowledged that Sogyal is not one of them. He was described as being from an old school, aristocratic family with certain expectations.

Several witnesses spoke about Sogyal having very specific, and expensive, taste when it came to meals that were cooked for him and restaurants that were frequented. It was accepted by Rigpa management Witness N that the cost of such hospitality would be met by the local Rigpa group, not by Sogyal personally. It is not clear to me the extent to which these costs were met by the Rigpa entities or by individual students within the local sangha; it appears that there was a mixture of both.

Several witnesses described the fact that at the end of a retreat, students are invited to give a financial offering to Sogyal Lakar. The offerings were encouraged through a speech known as the ‘offering pitch’ in which a senior student or monastic would explain that the money people had already paid was to pay for the infrastructure of the retreat, accommodation and food. It was explained that Sogyal did not personally receive any of this money and that there was now an opportunity to express gratitude to him for the teachings and to ‘accumulate merit’. It would be explained that the teachings were priceless but this was nonetheless an opportunity to make a gesture. Students would be informed that they could donate by cash or cheque. This speech would then typically be followed by a statement from Sogyal about the fact that he did not keep the money for himself (although some witnesses suggested he would indicate that he might keep a small amount to cover daily necessities), but would use it to donate to worthy Buddhist causes, such as supporting monks in Tibet who were in retreat, or to help build temples.

Some of the witnesses I spoke to were involved in collecting the offerings. They told me that the money collected would be counted up by Rigpa staff and kept in personal safes within Sogyal’s living quarters at the relevant Rigpa centres. Witnesses that I spoke to were involved in providing detail to Sogyal of exactly how much had been donated and they confirmed that this would run to many thousands of pounds.

Two of the witnesses that I spoke to confirmed that Sogyal would ask for some of the money (typically 500 euros per person) to be put in envelopes and delivered to his mother and to two of his girlfriends. Witness E explained that they had been asked to deliver significantly larger sums to two girlfriends of Sogyal.

Several witnesses also told me that when they travelled overseas they would be asked to carry 10,000 euros in cash in order to move Sogyal’s money across country borders.

There is a significant amount of evidence to suggest that Sogyal enjoys what has been described as a “five star existence”, however, based on the evidence provided to me, there is nothing wrong with that in and of itself. The problem arises if he is doing so using money which has been donated for a different purpose. Most significantly, it seems to me that it is essential that the money should not have been donated on the understanding that it would be used for benevolent purposes, if it was, in fact, going to fund Sogyal’s chosen lifestyle.

I have received evidence that people working for Rigpa are the ones who count, account for, store and move the money that is offered at the end of a retreat. Despite this, the Rigpa management witnesses displayed a lack of knowledge about what happens to that money and what it is for. Witnesses gave evidence that there are safes located at various Rigpa centres which are believed to contain significant amounts of cash (said to be in excess of £0.5 million each). Some of Sogyal’s girlfriends are alleged to receive payments of around £50,000 per year out of these cash reserves. The cash is also alleged to fund their yoga retreats in Thailand, botox and expensive lunches, though I did not see any direct evidence of this.

Whilst I have not found evidence to support the allegation that Sogyal Lakar demands money from his students to support his lifestyle, it appears to me that there is at least the potential that money has been collected by or for him under false or misleading pretences, or that the money received has not been fully accounted for by him. I do not have sufficient evidence to make a definitive finding about this and, subject to the points below, I consider that this requires further investigation
, particularly in relation to the role that Rigpa students are alleged to play in explaining what the donations will be used for.

Close consideration should also be given to the extent to which (if at all) charitable money has been used to fund extravagant personal expenditure when local Rigpa centres host Sogyal. I do not have sufficient information to reach my own findings on this point.

The UK trustees have explained to me that there has recently been a process of enquiry, investigation and accounting to the Charity Commission (in the UK) about the UK Charity’s fundraising and I am told that “this has been gone through meticulously with the auditors and solicitors for the UK and disclosed to the Charity Commission”. As a result of this process, I am told that the UK trustees are satisfied that all money received by the UK charity has been properly used and accounted for. I am not in a position to assess any aspect of this financial investigation or the conclusions that were reached, so I would simply invite the UK trustees to review the findings of fact and areas for further investigation which are set out above (particularly in relation to what is said during the offering pitch) to ensure that this does not impact upon the advice that they have received or the position detailed to the Charity Commission.

To the extent that it has not been done already, it seems that a similar process of enquiry, investigation and accounting should be undertaken in all of the other relevant jurisdictions in which Rigpa operates to ensure that appropriate financial practices have been adopted.
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