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

The impulse to believe the absurd when presented with the unknowable is called religion. Whether this is wise or unwise is the domain of doctrine. Once you understand someone's doctrine, you understand their rationale for believing the absurd. At that point, it may no longer seem absurd. You can get to both sides of this conondrum from here.

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

Postby admin » Sat May 04, 2019 1:26 am

Sogyal Lakar’s teachings

Over the course of this investigation I have heard a great deal about the witnesses’ understanding of ‘path to enlightenment’, which was described as a graduated path, starting with basic meditation and working up to the Vajrayana and, ultimately, the Dzogchen teachings.

What is set out below reflects the information that was provided to me by witnesses about their experience of these teachings with Sogyal Lakar as their teacher. I recognise that not everyone will agree that this reflects their own experience, and fewer people may agree that this is an accurate description of Buddhist teachings more widely, but this context is important in terms of setting out the experiences of the witnesses that I spoke to.

The Dzogchen teachings were described to me as “the fast path to enlightenment”. Witness B explained that the Dzogchen teachings are like taking Concorde to enlightenment instead of getting there on horseback. Witness N explained that one part of the Dzogchen teachings involves your teacher working with you and ‘pointing out’ aspects that you need to work on. Witness N explained that if, as part of these teachings, Sogyal Lakar felt that someone’s thinking or emotional response showed a lack of openness, he would seek to intervene.

Witness P provided me with a variety of texts which seek to explain the permission granted by a student to his or her teacher to work with them. The paragraph I found most helpful to understand the purpose of this technique comes from Dzogchen Ponlop’s “Rebel Buddha” text:

“Essentially our spiritual friend has our permission to turn up the heat, to push our buttons, to add fuel to our fire of wisdom so that it blazes more intently and burns up our self-clinging. We trust our teacher to do this and also to make sure that the fire doesn’t get out of control and become destructive. In this sense, it’s like a controlled burn in a forest to make it more healthy and productive”.


Several witnesses told me that Sogyal Lakar uses a technique known as ‘crazy wisdom’ or ‘skilful means’ as part of his teachings. This has been explained to me as a means of pointing out egocentric tendencies and different understandings that a student might have. This was described by Witness O as “a last resort, when conventional methods don’t work”.

Witness P explained as follows:

“The connection between a student and a master is undertaken consciously; you request to be a student and would then give permission to your master for them to help you wake up, even if this would mean some direct guidance of their attention. You get into a situation where permission is granted to a master to take care of your spiritual enlightenment and they will use all sorts of different ways to help them get over their self-defeating patterns – ego, delusions …

For example, he would give me jobs to do which seemed pointless – eventually the penny dropped. He was trying to show me that I was doing the work based on self-regard. It would sometimes be absurd things, he would ask you to do repeatedly”.


Other examples of crazy wisdom that were given to me included asking someone to run to the top of a mountain to see whether the sun had set, asking a student repeatedly to find answers to questions that they already knew the answer to, or asking someone to build a tower then take it down and rebuild it over and over again. I was told that the student is meant to watch their reaction to the seemingly impossible or pointless question or task and use this as an opportunity to “look into their mind”. It was accepted by almost all witnesses that this process is not intended to be easy or comfortable, but challenging and, at times, difficult to understand.

Rigpa management Witness N acknowledged that there is an expectation that people will progress to the highest levels of the teachings, but Witness N agreed that, due to the challenging nature of these teachings, “some people truly should not”.

Witness O described the concept of crazy wisdom as “a wisdom entirely for the student’s benefit; not crazy, mad or out of control, but unconventional”. Witness O accepted that Sogyal could, on occasion, be wrathful as a means of achieving this, but that it was “not ordinary anger as a gut reaction to a situation, it was anger as a method of showing people something, it was not uncontrolled”.

I note that Rigpa’s new Code of Conduct expressly states that: “if a guru asks you to do something and you cannot do it for whatever reason, you should know that you are allowed to say no”, however, this document did not exist until after the Complaint.

Some of the witnesses that I spoke to had a significantly more negative take on Sogyal Lakar’s teachings and the ability of students to say no or question what they were taught. For example, a former instructor, Witness U, told me:

“We were taught to see these daily displays of anger not as anger but as kindness, specifically as wrathful compassion, as ‘cutting through ego’. I was never comfortable with these displays as I couldn’t see why they couldn’t be done in private, but we were told that they were a teaching for us—activity teachings teaching us how to be better workers, to be more efficient and more aware … Sometimes [Sogyal] would spend the first hour of a ‘teaching’ finding fault with those who served him, sometimes sending someone into tears. These ‘activity teachings’ are not Buddhist teachings, they’re Sogyal’s own made up speciality.

A mark of our devotion was our ability to see these outbursts in a positive light, and we needed to show our devotion if we were to be allowed to receive the highest teachings, the Dzogchen teachings which we all sought.

In various sessions we were asked how we saw these ‘teachings’ and I, like everyone else, did my best to see them in a positive light. I took his ‘grumpiness’ as part of the package - if I wanted the Buddhist teachings Sogyal imparted, I had to take the bad along with the good, so I did, but I did my best to make sure I would never be on the receiving end of his verbal attacks—when offered a [management role], I turned it down, knowing that anyone in a major role opened themselves up to this kind of attack. He picked his targets though; he didn’t do it to everyone.

We were also taught that any attention given to you by a lama was good attention, even if it felt bad at the time. The situation is similar to a child with an abusive parent in that, for the student, the abuse is better than being ignored. (I likened the attitude we were taught to take about this as similar to my father strapping me for being naughty while saying that he did it only because he loved me.) The fact that Sogyal gives you any kind of attention at all is seen as an indication that he cares for you, and students on the receiving end of the public humiliation or ‘dressing downs’ said they felt ‘blessed’ by getting this kind of ‘wrathful compassion.’

One meditation instruction is to ‘let go of your risings’, meaning to let go of any thoughts or emotions that arise. This is not a wrong instruction, but in this instance we were taught to see our natural disgust with the public humiliation as ‘just a rising’ and we were taught to let it go without giving any consideration for the possibility that what we were letting go of was actually something we should be paying attention to. The instruction became a way to ignore, or suppress our instincts.

I see now that all of this was a form of brainwashing that desensitised us to his behaviour. The longer we stayed the more this attitude became programmed in”.


I recognise that the above description may not be accepted by those who remain students of Sogyal Lakar, but this context is important in order to understand the perception of many of the witnesses I spoke to.

I listened to a recorded public teaching delivered by Sogyal Lakar in which I heard evidence of the fact that senior students are taught to have pure faith and pure trust in Sogyal as their master. In this teaching, Sogyal said:

“With trust you can relax, with faith you can have peace. When you have trust and faith, for example with my masters, then you can really receive the blessings.

When you don’t have trust, you diminish the blessings because you doubt and you think this and that. You get yourself confused, you begin to mistrust things. This cleverness only brings you more suffering and confusion …

I do everything for your benefit.

Don’t resist; trust. If you resist, you’re very stupid”.


It was explained to me that, in theory, students only progress through the nine levels (or yanas) of Buddhism when they are ready and once they have gone through a specific initiation process at each stage. Before I met with any of the witnesses, I conducted some initial basic research into the nature of the Samaya relationship and I understood there to be a long process of introduction to the basics of Buddhism before students would be ready to embark upon the Vajrayana path. Many of the witnesses that I spoke to, however, did not appear to have undertaken any meaningful initiation which would have enabled them to understand the true nature of this relationship, and the potential ways they might be tested, in advance. It is evident to me that many of the students I met did not truly understand what might be involved until they had already embarked upon the journey and, in their view, there was no going back.

Within Sogyal Lakar’s teachings, there appears to be a very informal approach to these initiations in some cases. For example, Witness N had started off by attending Buddhist courses and meditation practice and received an initiation around two years later. I asked whether Witness N felt that Witness N understood what this meant at the time, to which Witness N responded “probably not”.

Witness N explained:

“It was generally not a quick transition to go from being new to Buddhism to being a Vajrayana student, but not always. Some people go quickly - Buddhists would say there were past life connections. It’s akin to falling in love and the situation where most people do it slowly but some people might get married within a week. The teacher should have a good sense of where they are, and some people don’t really get there in 30 years”.


Witness D, a Dzogchen student, told me that Sogyal would give initiations quite freely; “you turn up to a retreat and you’re part of it, you discover bit by bit what you have let yourself in for.”

Several of the witnesses did not consider that they had undergone any form of initiation.

Witnesses explained to me that, once a student has asked a teacher to teach them and has been accepted by that teacher, there is said to be ‘Samaya’ between them. The meaning of Samaya is an area where there is considerable divergence of views. At its simplest, I am told that the meaning of Samaya is described (by Mingyur Rinpoche) as “to maintain unwavering respect towards the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, and in the case of Vajrayana, the guru”.

Several of the witnesses that I spoke to described to me their understanding, which is that when a student agrees to enter into the Vajrayana path of Buddhism they enter into an agreement whereby they are permitting their teacher/master (in this case, Sogyal Lakar) to help them on the road to enlightenment by whatever means he believes will help them. In return, they understood that the student is bound never to criticise their master in public and is encouraged to have absolute trust that what their master is doing will help them on their path. They told me that it is meant to be understood that the means employed by the master will push the student’s boundaries and that this may not be an entirely comfortable process.

Several of the witnesses I met told me that they were taught the consequences of breaking Samaya (which they understood included criticising or speaking out against your teacher). Witnesses told me that Sogyal Lakar’s teachings describe a Samaya breaker as being condemned to Vajra Hell; I was told that this is described at length in historic teachings as the worst of the eighteen hells and a place of eternal torture. I heard evidence that breaking Samaya is taught by Sogyal to be the worst thing a student can do; it is said that it will damage their own health, the health of their family and cause harm to the teacher / damage his long life. Many witnesses considered that there was pressure on them to keep their Samaya.

For completeness, I was also told that the teacher is said to be bound by Samaya as well, and it is said that if a teacher breaks Samaya, they too are said to be bound for Vajra hell.

The fact that many of the witnesses I spoke to considered that they are, or were, bound by Samaya, and felt that they would be said to be breaking that vow by speaking to me, has been a particularly challenging aspect of this investigation. It is also a factor which I have had to take into account when assessing the credibility of the evidence available to me.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 28296
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

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

Postby admin » Sat May 04, 2019 1:27 am

Findings

I turn now to the specific allegations against Sogyal Lakar as set out in the Complaint, and my conclusions in respect of them.

The allegations broadly fall into the following categories:

a. Physical abuse.

b. Sexual abuse.

c. Emotional and psychological abuse.

d. Living a lavish, gluttonous and sybaritic lifestyle.

e. Tainting appreciation of Dharma.

I deal with each of these in turn below, but I think it is helpful initially to reiterate that there are varying degrees of closeness to Sogyal Lakar, with the closest relationships regularly referred to as the “inner circle”. I heard a great deal of evidence about the fact that Sogyal Lakar’s inner circle includes a team of students who provide assistance and personal care to him, typically working without pay in exchange for food and board. The level of care that Sogyal requires is extreme; this is not just about people booking his travel, driving him around, delivering his bags and cooking his meals. Sogyal requires round the clock assistance from the ‘lama care’ team, which is required to meet his every need, as and when he it arises; they dress him, massage him to sleep and even attend to him in the toilet. Some members of the lama care team described having to sleep on the floor of his room, being on call through the night, and many were surviving for weeks at a time with around three hours’ sleep a night. The experiences of Sogyal Lakar’s inner circle are very different from the experiences of those who are less close.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 28296
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

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

Postby admin » Sat May 04, 2019 1:43 am

Physical abuse

It is alleged that Sogyal Lakar physically abused the letter writers by slapping them, punching them, kicking them, pulling their ears, hitting them with a backscratcher, phones, cups and hangers. It is alleged that a student was knocked unconscious by Sogyal and that monks and nuns were left bloodied and scarred. It was specifically alleged that a nun was “gut punched” by Sogyal in front of hundreds of people in August 2016 at Lerab Ling.

I started the investigation in the belief that it was alleged that there had been a handful of such incidents, however, I received corroborated evidence from several witnesses that people in the inner circle were beaten on a daily basis. Witness F claimed to have been beaten by Sogyal Lakar more than two hundred times.

Of the twenty two witnesses whose direct evidence I received, thirteen of them confirmed that they had been hit by Sogyal Lakar (this includes people who are currently senior students of Rigpa). The witnesses gave evidence that (between them) they were aware of a further twenty people who were regularly subjected to physical abuse.

Of the thirteen witnesses who said that they had been hit, the degree to which they said this happened varied considerably. By way of illustration:

Witness P (Rigpa management):

“He might tap someone on the head with a backscratcher; he did it half a dozen times that I saw. It was not violent … he might shake somebody … with me, he once pretended to punch me in the stomach, it was a non-event. He would kick people up the bum, very publically”.


Witness N (Rigpa management):

“He might shake you or pull your ear or tap you with a backscratcher, this was all in the context of surprise. He never hurt me or went too far. He has punched me. It was not full force and I laughed.

I did witness Sogyal punching a nun. She said it was experienced differently”.


Witness O (Rigpa management):

“He would occasionally [use physical force], not often. He once hit me on the knuckles with his backscratcher … I didn’t like it … but there was a context – I had made a mistake of some kind.

I’ve seen him hit [students] with a backscratcher a few times – a handful - I can’t recall who, it is not a clear memory”.


Witness C:

“Sogyal would walk along a line of students and hit us all in the stomach. [On one occasion], he came up behind me and hit me in the back. It was no worse than a game of rugby, I wasn’t very concerned. I’m aware of others who were badly affected. At a 1992 retreat a woman was brought to the front with 300 people there and he slapped her in the face. This clearly didn’t help her.

Most violence happens within the small inner circle, occasionally he would slip and do it in public. His punches were not soft, but not totally furious. He was like an enraged drunk on the street, on the edge of being out of control”.


Witness L:

“I was hit by Sogyal a couple of times with his backscratcher. He hit me three times and left me with a lump on my head. It was painful and was in anger. He would also kick me up the backside and slap me over the head … it was usually about food. There was one time when Witness E and I both got hit because we hadn’t put food in the car for him. He called us both in, called us idiots and hit us both.

Witness J did something and Sogyal beat him a lot with the backscratcher. We [approximately 9 students] were all practising in the lounge room. Sogyal came in and was furious about something Witness J was doing. He was throwing the remote control and hitting Witness J over the head. He was furious with Witness J”.


Witness L also gave evidence of witnessing physical abuse against a female student on more than one occasion because she had been “too slow to do something”.

Witness J:

“There was a lot of verbal and physical abuse that went on and I developed high anxiety. I slept on the floor next to the phone and would have panic attacks whenever the phone rang. Physical abuse was quite common, he would use a backscratcher to hit people over the head or hand or back. If he couldn’t reach them, he would pick something up and throw it at them e.g. a phone.

In private, every day was random and you wouldn’t know what mood he was in. He could be demanding things and then hitting, throwing objects and pulling hair. He would focus on me, Witness E, Witness F, [and six other students].

Mid-way through the retreat there was a major event – Buddha’s birthday. We had to practise all day and had been preparing for several days. We took everything to the house and practised together – it started around 4pm and went on until around 2am. During this, Sogyal was the most wrathful I have ever seen. Everything and everyone was annoying him. He was hitting everyone, pulling hair. Witness E and I were his main targets and he hit us repeatedly with the backscratcher and with leather bound parchments. My scalp was bleeding and my ear ringing from having been hit on the side of the head. He hit me 10 or 15 times and there was nothing soft or painless about it. It stings, it hurts, it knocks you over. If you try to move away he will call you out and make you come closer. I was in complete shock and petrified.

I was in a state of anxiety – my instinct was to run but those around me were convincing me to stay. I felt I had no choice. My brain stopped working – it was damage control to try to stay alive.

We were on call, day and night. We would try to pre-empt any scenario that would anger him and do anything to try to avoid irritation.

I saw Witness F being beaten a lot … Witness F was regularly hit - he would use his backscratcher to hit her.

… it was unnerving to watch [another student being beaten]. You would have a sense of relief that it’s not you and you would be terrified. Stepping in would make it worse for both of you”.


Witness F:
“On one occasion he was hitting me, [and three other students] with a broken wooden hanger. He hit each person repeatedly and was so tense that he bit through his own lip while doing it and drew blood. My initial assumption was that the blood on his face had come from one of the people he was hitting. [One student] was knocked unconscious.

If one of his girlfriends was at their limit, he would hit me instead.

Between 2006 and 2010 I was beaten over two hundred times; if he was in a bad mood he would beat me every day, or more than once a day. At one stage he had fallen out with [his girlfriend] – he would meet her daily at her chalet, come back to his chalet, slam the door and punch me in the guts. He was just taking out his frustrations; it was nothing to do with me. He did the same thing every day for ten days.

On one occasion I asked him if he had remembered to take a calendar that he wanted to give as a gift. He responded by grabbing me by my ear - it ripped all down the back and was bleeding”.


I was provided with a recording of a teaching delivered by Sogyal Lakar to Witness F. During this teaching, Sogyal can be clearly heard to state:

“It’s like each time I hit you, I want you also to remember that you’re closer to me, closer to me. And the harder I hit you, the deeper the connection. And if this breaks it means that all the barriers of communication are gone. But, however, frankly speaking I don’t want to resort to that”.


Witness E:

“I saw him crash [two students] heads together so they both collapsed.

He lined [three female and three male students] up, grilling us about something, in his house. He started slapping and punching me, and kneed me in the stomach. He then grabbed a thick practice book and slammed it down on my head, breaking the spine of the book on my head. I fell to the floor … he grabbed his glass and threw its contents in my face, then grabbed a metal stupa and went to hit me in the head with it. He stopped and backed off. I thought if he hit me with that, I’m going down – I thought I might never get up.

His favourite thing to hit us with was his backscratcher [which he would hit his male and female attendants with] … he would hit us four or five times on the head and he wielded it heavily – it was wooden with teeth on the end and he would hit with the teeth end.

At one point, the beatings were daily; it could be several times a day. I would be left bruised and sore. He would come across as utterly ferocious and would seem to have lost control. The blows were aimed at my head and were serious, real blows.

I saw Witness J start to take the flack – Witness J received gruelling, ferocious, constant beatings … it was like a mauling, slapping Witness J over and over until Witness J was reduced to a frightened jelly-like person.

He would grab your ear and twist it whilst pushing your head down and dragging you along.

He punched me out of the blue, a full punch to my jaw while I sat in the driver’s seat and him in the passenger seat because I forgot a torch.

There was a correlation between being hit and Sogyal having fallen out with his girlfriends; out of the blue we would be screamed at for nothing.

He hit me over the head and made me bleed, there were around twelve people sitting around the table when it happened”.


Witness K:

“He realised an offering had been removed and he got apocalyptically angry – he was screaming and shouting down the phone. It was nothing to do with me but he threw a shoe at somebody and then got out his backscratcher and hit us all on the head - he whacked all of them, and me, really hard on the head. I felt very shocked and didn’t understand.

I got hit several times with the backscratcher. I saw that if you argued back or drew a boundary it got worse. He was hitting [another student] with the backscratcher and she pushed back and said it was abusive. He was berating her for calling it abuse and said she was an idiot and not a good Buddhist for calling it that. Arguing against it doesn’t help”.


Witness M described a female student who “received severe beatings”. Details are set out in the confidential annexe to this report.

Witness G described witnessing a female student being beaten by Sogyal with his backscratcher because a document was in the wrong font. Details are set out in the confidential annexe to this report.
Witness G said “I asked her if she needed help and she said “forget it, leave it”. That bothered me; a man shouldn’t beat up a woman with a stick”. Witness G also recounted another experience, as set out below:

“On another occasion, I had to leave a retreat early to get back to work. I knew he wouldn’t be happy if I left without telling him, so told [another student] that I was leaving and asked her to tell Sogyal. When I was about to leave I checked with her that she had told him and it turned out she had forgotten. We went to find him and [the other student] told him that my friend and I had to leave early. He blew up saying “what do you mean you have to leave?” He went into a rage and someone in the corridor was holding a huge binder. He grabbed it and whacked us both over the head with it.

In 2016, I was sitting 10 metres from the stage at the temple at the Dzogchen retreat. Sogyal came out and went to get up onto his throne – Student 19 has to bring him a stool. Student 19 put the step stool down for him. He steps up, then turns around and punches her. I heard the air explode out of her and she doubled up. I could see she was crying and she ran off stage. I thought it was totally fucked up. I was restraining myself and wanted to stand up and challenge him. The punch was the type of punch you use to get control of someone. If someone was out of control in a bar it’s what I would do to enable me to grab them and cuff them while they’re disabled. He’s a strong, stocky guy; it was akin to a one inch punch that you see in martial arts.

The next day Witness P read out a letter from Student 19 which said ‘it’s all OK, just part of my training – sometimes I don’t pay enough attention’.”


Several of the other witnesses I spoke to were present when Student 19 was punched in the stomach by Sogyal at Lerab Ling in August 2016, in front of several hundred people. Witness H corroborated the account of Witness G above, telling me that:

[Sogyal] quickly, aggressively and forcefully hit her in the stomach. I was close enough to hear the exhalation. She doubled up, burst into tears and disappeared for several hours … when she reappeared she had reddened eyes, a facial expression of defeat and upset, a downturned mouth and a slumped body.

The next day she appeared on the stage and had to confess her own failings and agree that this had been highly beneficial and privileged event … she had the appearance of a prisoner of war stating how well the North Koreans had treated her”.


I have seen a statement issued by Student 19 since the incident in the temple has come to prominence in which she says:

“The day of the incident, the 25th of August, there was a smaller mishap, but [Sogyal] Rinpoche was definitely not in a fit rage [sic], there was just a single moment of wrath, which manifested in a soft punch, but it was neither violent or abusive, at least not to my feelings. Even though I was in tears and crying afterward and the situation easily could have appeared and seen as me being punched very hard, the fact is that I cried because of a complete different reason, which had nothing to do with the actual situation. The incident just sparked open an inflammation of a mental wound I was in the middle of experiencing”.


The language used by Student 19 is strikingly similar to that used by the current senior students who confirmed that when they had been hit by Sogyal this had been a “soft punch”, not something that caused them real pain. It gives me the impression that this is the ‘party line’ on the issue; the striking of people cannot plausibly be denied, but its significance can be minimised.

On hearing these accounts, I wanted to understand why people had ‘allowed’ themselves to be hit; why hadn’t they complained, why hadn’t they hit him back? This was explained to me as follows:

Witness G told me that it was “a source of eternal shame” that Witness G had not spoken up when Student 19 was punched. Witness G told me “I sat in abject denial of what my eyes were seeing; the whole room did … we were conditioned to belonging for so long that there was not a peep of protest. Even more disturbing is that over the course of the next two days we were excoriated [by Sogyal and Witness P] for even thinking something had happened … we were a brainwashed group, myself included.”


Witness E told me that he understood that a teacher slapping you is a training; as a student Witness E believed that you should see it as pure, carry on and not react. Witness E said that, “as a newcomer, you look around you at the other senior students who it happens to and they don’t react, so you think that it must be doing some good as they tolerate it without complaint, and the students would even tell you that it is a training and is helping them in their practice”. Witness E said that “you kind of let go of your common sense when it comes to boundaries and you’re prepared to believe it might wake you up faster”.

Witness F made similar comments and explained that Sogyal would start by hitting you once, to see how you would react. Witness F said that “if you took it, he would then continue, gradually building up the severity”.

Witness I (who alleges both sexual and physical abuse) spoke about the need to adopt a coping mechanism where she would close her mind to what was going on and pretend it did not exist. Witness I spoke of feeling ashamed and unable to tell anyone about it.

Witness J said “your mind leaves your body, it’s a skill to protect yourself. [The abuse] has a numbing effect”. Witness I believed that Sogyal likes to be surrounded by people who had experienced trauma, abuse or neglect, and felt that he was easily able to identify such people. Witness J explained how being involved with Rigpa left Witness J disconnected from friends and family in the outside world and that the thought of leaving is very difficult because it means leaving the whole “Rigpa family” behind too, Witness J said “I didn’t have the strength to walk away”.

Various witnesses talked to me about not being ready to turn their back on something that they had been so devoted to for so many years, and not being ready to accept that it was not what they thought and hoped it was.

Witness K said that you start off being told by everyone around you that you are lucky to be singled out by Sogyal for special attention; you feel special because of this. Witness K said that she had witnessed other people push back or try to draw a boundary and things got worse. This had been Witness J’s experience too.

Witness K said she was told by another student to look at how well the people around Sogyal were doing and trust his process. Witness K said she was told that it is not an easy path, but it is the quick path to enlightenment. Witness K acknowledges that, technically, it was possible to leave, but doing so would have damaged the relationship between Witness K and a close family member, who was a committed member of Rigpa, and Witness K felt she had nowhere else to go.

In his letter to me, Sogyal Lakar says:

“It is clear that a number of people feel that they have been hurt, and hold me responsible. That is something I have to acknowledge and face up to. I am truly sorry if anything that I have said or done has caused anyone offence or harm and I ask in all humility for their forgiveness.

At the same time from my side I find it very hard to recognize myself in the descriptions in the letter, and the picture that it paints. It distresses me that my actions and intentions could have been misunderstood and characterized in this way.

I am a human being doing my best to follow the Buddha’s teaching and I have never knowingly set out to harm anyone, which would be against the most fundamental precept that I follow, as a Buddhist. Nonetheless I would be the first to acknowledge that I have faults, and I am always striving to work on myself, to become a better and more compassionate person. That’s why it is so troubling that anyone could be left with the impression that I am acting merely out of impatience, irritation or anger”.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 28296
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

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

Postby admin » Sat May 04, 2019 1:46 am

Findings: physical abuse

Based on the evidence that I have heard, a number of witnesses gave credible evidence about physical abuse that they have personally suffered and witnessed. Several of the accounts were corroborated by other witnesses, and where there is a lack of corroborative evidence, the facts complained of are very similar, even from witnesses who were at Rigpa at very different points in time and locations in the world.

On the balance of probabilities, I conclude that Sogyal Lakar has subjected a number of his closest attendants to repeated physical violence by assaulting them with his own hands, his backscratcher or with items that he could throw or hit them with. Whilst some of the physical abuse might be described as being part of a teaching, it is clear that on many occasions the reason for the violence was Sogyal’s own frustrations – for example, he would hit attendants for no particular reason following an argument with one of his girlfriends. I have heard compelling evidence that he effectively used several of his attendants as a punching bag to vent his own frustrations and anger.

It is also clear to me that, on the balance of probabilities, even if Sogyal’s violence towards his students was intended to help them on the path to enlightenment, the physical abuse caused real harm. I heard evidence of an individual being knocked unconscious, several people were left with bleeding wounds and one received a concussion which lasted for days.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 28296
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

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

Postby admin » Sat May 04, 2019 1:48 am

Sexual abuse

It is alleged that Sogyal Lakar:

a. Used his role to gain access to young women and to coerce, intimidate and manipulate them into giving him sexual favours and has had decades of sexual relationships with students, including underage girls.

b. Instructed students to strip, show him their genitals, take photos of their genitals and show them to him, give him oral sex, have sex with their partners in his bed and describe sexual relationships to him, as well as lying to cover up relationships with him.

c. Groped students and asked 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.

d. Offered a female attendant to another lama for sex.


These allegations are dealt with below.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 28296
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

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

Postby admin » Sat May 04, 2019 1:50 am

Allegations with no supporting evidence / insufficient evidence

In relation to some of these allegations, I did not receive any evidence to support them and therefore cannot uphold them. Specifically, nobody gave evidence to me that they had been required to take photos of their own genitals and show them to Sogyal.

I heard some evidence in relation to relationships with girls under the age of 16, but I do not consider there to be sufficient proof of such relationships on the basis of the evidence provided to me. I do not therefore uphold this allegation.

No witness gave evidence to me that they had been asked to have sex with their partner in Sogyal’s bed. One witness spoke of being invited to use a room in Sogyal’s chalet to have ‘make-up sex’. There was no suggestion that this was forced upon the couple, albeit that there is a general theme from all witnesses that they could not say no to Sogyal. I cannot therefore uphold this allegation.


I did, however, receive a significant volume of evidence in support of the other allegations, which I deal with below.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 28296
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

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

Postby admin » Sat May 04, 2019 1:53 am

Allegation that Sogyal Lakar used his role to gain access to young women and to coerce, intimidate and manipulate them into giving him sexual favours and has had decades of sexual relationships with students, including underage girls

Sogyal Lakar is open about the fact that he has sexual relationships; he is not a monk and is not required to remain celibate. He is known to have often had girlfriends who are significantly younger than him and to have had more than one girlfriend at the same time. There is nothing wrong with this, if they are consenting adults.

Sogyal Lakar is also known for being attended to by a number of beautiful young women, who form a significant part of the lama care team. Again, on the surface there is nothing wrong with this,
however, several witnesses shared their experiences of this role with me and their evidence was very troubling. I am particularly concerned about the vulnerability of the individuals who gave evidence that they were called upon to provide sexual favours to Sogyal Lakar and the apparent abuse of Sogyal’s power over them.

It was again striking how many similar accounts were provided by different witnesses spanning a considerable time period – it supports a conclusion that Sogyal Lakar has a particular modus operandi when it comes to securing sexual relationships with his students; particularly young women.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 28296
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

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

Postby admin » Sat May 04, 2019 3:06 am

First-hand accounts

Witness K shared the following information with me:

“When I was 18 or 19, he asked me to come and meet him at his personal shrine in his house. He said he had had a dream about me and it would be good if I worked for him as an attendant. He asked if I wanted to and I said yes. I understood it would be like a PA but the uber rich version, bringing him anything and everything he might need including food, laundry, cleaning and carrying his bags. He said it’s really important that you never talk to anyone about anything that goes on while you’re working, especially don’t tell [a family member also in Rigpa] as it will damage [that person’s] view and relationship with the dharma. I said OK. I didn’t expect this to mean there would be anything awful, but I understood I would have information about what he spent his money on and what he did which he would want to keep private. I was very young and emotionally vulnerable; he knew this.

One day he showed me some sexy photos of [another student] on the beach to see if I was shocked. I wasn’t.

Within three months of me arriving, I was helping him one evening to get ready for bed with [another student]. I had to bring his hot water. He suddenly asked me to lick and touch his genitals. He said it in a jovial way and I wasn’t sure if he was serious. [The other student] smiled and said “yes, do it”. I tried but I freaked out and he said “oh, that’s OK” and he dismissed me. The next day I felt very uncomfortable and said I was not well and stayed in bed. A couple of hours later I was called and told he wanted to see me in the garden straight away. I went to the garden reluctantly and he started screaming abuse at me, saying “you think I’m attracted to you, why would I be?” He was aggressive and it was terrifying, I was not used to being yelled at. I started to cry and felt panicked. I said I didn’t think that, but felt bad because I had failed him and his test. He immediately turned nice and said “oh no, you did well”. I felt shaken and was not OK with it. I had no one to talk to.

I then went to [another country] with him [as part of the lama care team] and I was leaning over to give him something. He put his hand down my top and touched me. He said my nipples were young. I felt shocked.

[Some time later], I attended a retreat and was feeling better and more on track. I was alone with him in the shrine room and he asked me to give him a blow job. I tried to be a good Buddhist and see it as a teaching. It was an out of body experience. I didn’t want to do it but I did.
I didn’t do it for long and he then dismissed me. It felt like a power play, he didn’t seem particularly aroused”.


Witness L recounted the following experience which took place when Witness L was aged around twenty:

“Sogyal asked me to take my clothes off. It was just before he was about to teach and I had been ironing his clothes in the lounge area of his hotel room. He was on the bed in his underwear and called me into his bedroom. I laughed and made a joke about not wearing nice underwear. I think my reaction made clear that I wasn’t going to do it. I felt shocked, nervous and vulnerable. He dismissed me and I went back to ironing his robe, my heart was pounding and I wanted to run”.


Witness I also reported first-hand experience of this, which is set out in the confidential annexe.

Witness A was a former girlfriend of Sogyal, who confirmed that she had been in a consensual sexual relationship with him. She gave evidence, however, that on one occasion she had experienced a non-consensual sexual act by Sogyal. Details of this are set out in the confidential annexe.

The Rigpa management witnesses, Witness N, Witness O and Witness P accepted that Sogyal had girlfriends, and sometimes more than one at a time, but all considered these relationships to be consensual and denied ever seeing or having knowledge of him behaving inappropriately, or using the teachings to persuade people to have sex with him.

Very significantly, however, Witness P had witnessed a female student, being instructed to take her clothes off by Sogyal Lakar. Witness P stated that the response of the student was to burst into tears but not to comply with the request. Witness P says that Sogyal Lakar did not press the issue and changed the subject. Witness P was not concerned by this instruction and considered it to be an example of Sogyal Lakar having an agreement with the female student to “intervene in [her] thought pattern by saying this”.

Rigpa management Witness N had also witnessed Sogyal telling a female student to strip and reported that she then removed one item of clothing.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 28296
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

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

Postby admin » Sat May 04, 2019 3:10 am

Further evidence – second hand accounts

I also received further, second hand accounts of similar, inappropriate sexual behaviour by Sogyal Lakar from Witnesses B, C, E, M and S, the details of which are set out in the confidential annexe because they relate to people who have not consented to that information being included in this report.

Because I did not speak to the alleged victims first-hand, these accounts necessarily must carry less weight in my assessment of the evidence than the first-hand accounts that I have referred to above. For the avoidance of doubt, I would have upheld the allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour without these additional accounts, but they add further credibility to the accounts that I have heard and reflect the potential that there are further victims who have not yet come forward.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 28296
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

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

Postby admin » Sat May 04, 2019 3:19 am

Consent

A number of individuals with whom I spoke told me that they did not want to participate in sexual activities with Sogyal and were not, therefore, consenting adults. I have given careful consideration to the question of whether, despite this evidence, Sogyal Lakar could reasonably have believed that they were participating as consenting adults.

It is apparent that some of the witnesses who gave evidence of performing sexual favours, or being intimately touched by Sogyal against their will did not expressly say no to him; quite often the evidence is that they complied with a request or a demand from him without outward complaint but because they felt they had to.


Some of the witnesses who spoke to me talked about that fact that when Sogyal first started to show them attention (although not sexual attention) they saw this as a blessing and a positive thing for their development as a Buddhist. Witness K, for example, spoke about initially feeling special to be singled out to work for him.

According to the UK’s Crown Prosecution Service, under the UK’s sexual offences legislation consent is only given when someone agrees by choice to participate in the activity and has the freedom and capacity to make that choice. The word consent should be given its ordinary meaning, but there is a difference between consent and submission. Consent is required for each and every sexual interaction; consent can be freely given for one interaction and not given for the next.

Some witnesses spoke about the apparent promiscuity or sexual openness of some of the alleged sexual partners of Sogyal, in particular the Rigpa management witnesses all made this point about one of the students. Witness O provided evidence to support this assertion in the form of a video of this student speaking openly about matters of a sexual nature. The Rigpa management witnesses all suggested that this student had been a willing sexual partner / girlfriend of Sogyal and that she had, in fact, “seduced” Sogyal.


There is no suggestion, however, that Witness L was a willing sexual partner of Sogyal Lakar.

In his letter to me, Sogyal Lakar makes no express mention of his sexual relationships with his students; he makes more general statements about never having any intention to exploit or take advantage of students:

“My abiding aim in life has been to transmit the Buddhist teachings as fully and completely as I can, to benefit as many people as possible. I cannot say I am entirely selfless, and I have no wish to exaggerate, but the way in which my character has been portrayed – as self-interested and pleasure seeking – is far from the truth.

The welfare of my students has always been paramount in my mind. My intention towards them has always been characterized by compassion and by love. I have always sought to ensure that they make a deep connection with the core of the teachings, and come to a personal understanding…

It has never been my intention to exploit or take advantage of students. I respect them deeply and have only sought to benefit them. Whatever I have said or done when interacting with my students has been with the aim of helping them to awaken their true inner nature. Nonetheless I see this intention has been misunderstood and my action have been judged otherwise. For some, this way of training may not have had the desired outcome. I must accept my own responsibility in this, and apologize to anyone who feels this way”.


Sogyal’s statement - “whatever I have said or done when interacting with my students has been with the aim of helping them to awaken their inner nature” - causes me concern if and to the extent that it relates to sexual relationships. He is not saying, I thought that these were ‘normal’ consenting adult relationships. A sexual relationship which is designed to help awaken the inner nature of a student is, necessarily, a sexual relationship between a student and a teacher; it is not a relationship between equals. In that context, if such a relationship can ever be consensual (which is a controversial question in itself), I consider that the requirement for clear and unequivocal consent is paramount. That point is made even starker in a situation where the student considers that she is not permitted to speak out against her teacher and has been taught to see everything their teacher does as enlightened behaviour.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 28296
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

PreviousNext

Return to Religion and Cults

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 3 guests