More than a year after Sogyal Rinpoche resigned as the spiritual head of Rigpa, the international network of Buddhist centers that he founded, following accusations from students and staff of multiple instances of abuse and misconduct, Rigpa yesterday published the results of an independent investigation into the allegations by British law firm Lewis Silkin.
The detailed 50-page report explores multiple accusations against the renowned Nyingma teacher, examining the circumstances of specific incidents in which he was allegedly involved, and reviewing the supporting evidence. Lewis Silkin highlights numerous serious concerns based on the findings of their investigation, and lists a series of recommendations and proposed action points and safeguards for moving the Rigpa community forward. The report also recommends that Sogyal Rinpoche not take part in any future events organized by Rigpa or otherwise have contact with its students, and that Rigpa should take steps to disassociate itself from its founder “as fully as is possible.”
An international network of more than 100 practice centers and groups in 23 countries, Rigpa has been struggling to cope with the fallout from the increasingly public scandal, although many of the accusations of abuse are not new—for several years they have periodically made their way to the public sphere and the media. Rigpa’s official explanation has traditionally been to cite the “crazy wisdom” tradition of spiritual development characterized by unconventional teaching methods aimed at breaking down the preconceptions and mental barriers of students. “Crazy wisdom” is considered by its adherents to be an accelerated means to open the eyes and mind of the practitioner to the true nature of the Dharma.
In July last year, a detailed letter signed by eight senior and former members* of Rigpa was circulated within the organization. Addressed directly to Sogyal Rinpoche, the letter** detailed various abuses allegedly committed by the Rigpa founder and highlighted four main concerns: the alleged physical and psychological abuse of students (which Sogyal Rinpoche has asserted are an expression of his “skillful means” and “wrathful compassion”), the alleged sexual abuse of students, alleged excesses of Rinpoche’s lifestyle funded by Rigpa, and the impact these alleged actions have had on the students’ trust in their teacher and their appreciation of the Dharma. A subsequent press release from Rigpa dated 11 August 2017 stated that Sogyal Rinpoche had decided to retire as the spiritual director of Rigpa and related organizations with immediate effect.***
In the summary of their investigation report, Lewis Silkin states:
Whilst I have seen evidence that many people feel that they have benefitted greatly from having Sogyal Lakar as their teacher, individual experiences are very different. There are varying degrees of closeness to Sogyal Lakar, with the closest relationships regularly referred to as the “inner circle”. The experiences of some of the members of the inner circle are very different from the experiences of many of those who are less close.
Not all of the allegations against Sogyal Lakar are upheld . . . but based on the evidence available to me, I am satisfied that, on the balance of probabilities:
a. some students of Sogyal Lakar . . . have been subjected to serious physical, sexual and emotional abuse by him; and
b. there were senior individuals within Rigpa who were aware of at least some of these issues and failed to address them, leaving others at risk.
While 71-year-old Sogyal Rinpoche, born Sonam Gyaltsen Lakar, has not refuted any of the allegations against him, he stated in a letter to the community dated 20 July 2017 that “I am clear in my own mind that I have never, ever, acted towards anyone with a motive of selfish gain or harmful intent.”**** Before stepping down as Rigpa’s spiritual director, Sogyal Rinpoche taught in Asia, Australia, Europe, North America for more than 30 years.
In a statement published alongside the release of the Lewis Silkin report, Rigpa made the following observations:
We acknowledge the gravity of the independent report that Rigpa commissioned last year following allegations of misconduct by Rigpa’s Founder and former Spiritual Director Sogyal Rinpoche, and thank the investigator and the witnesses.
We feel deeply sorry and apologise for the hurt experienced by past and present members of the Rigpa community. We are contemplating on our role as an organisation, and how we may have contributed to this situation. We will do everything we can to reach out to, and support everyone who has been affected, and take full responsibility for ensuring that Rigpa provides a safe environment for all. These are our heartfelt commitments.
The findings in the report will affect many people. It will take time for all of us to reflect on the report’s contents.
Rigpa commits to act upon the report’s recommendations. We will move forward in consultation with our community.
Rigpa has also stated seperately that it “is committed to continuing the process of healing, reconciliation, and change. To acknowledge the importance of this process of healing and change, senior members of management are stepping down from all their positions of governance.” (Rigpa)
Throughout this period of change, Rigpa continues to focus on its vision to offer the Buddhist teachings of meditation, compassion and wisdom to the modern world. Its centres around the world continue to offer courses, programmes, seminars and retreats led by Rigpa teachers and instructors, as well as and visiting teachers and lamas, especially from the ‘ancient’ Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. (Rigpa)
* All of the letter’s authors, six of whom resigned from Rigpa after the letter was circulated, had been students of Sogyal Rinpoche for more than 15 years.
*** Press Release from Rigpa (Rigpa International)
**** A Letter from Sogyal Rinpoche to the Sangha (WHAT NOW? In the Wake of Revelations of Abuse in Rigpa)