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A disgraced Buddhist guru, Sogyal Lakar, known as Sogyal Rinpoche, died at age 72 last week in Thailand. Rinpoche had been hiding after allegations that he enjoyed a luxury lifestyle surrounded by a harem of beautiful women. He was the best known Tibetan Buddhist teacher after the Dalai Lama. The guru has also written a book The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, which sold more than three million copies. Rinpoche founded the Rigpa Fellowship in 1979, which runs a Buddhist centre in Islington, north London. He also served as the charity’s spiritual director before he “retired” in August 2017 following the allegations.
On July 20, 2017, Buddhist publication Lion's Roar published an article with excerpts from a letter written and sent to Sogyal Rinpoche by current and former senior Rigpa students, filled with details of accusations. The eight students were all long-serving Rigpa members, many holding senior positions within the Rigpa organization, including directors, a former board member, and personal assistants to Sogyal Rinpoche. The twelve page letter, dated 14 July 2017, explicitly describes sexual, physical, and emotional abuse of Rigpa students by Sogyal Rinpoche, extending over a long period. The letter attests that they were beaten severely, asked to perform sexual acts and then lie so as to conceal Sogyal's misbehavior.
An investigation conducted by the legal firm Lewis Silkin (commissioned by the fellowship) concluded last year that “some students of Sogyal Lakar … have been subjected to serious physical, sexual and emotional abuse by him.” The investigation added that “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.”
Now the controversy about Sogyal Rinpoche’s abuse has deepened further because a trustee of the Rigpa Fellowship, Patrick Gaffney (the guru’s right-hand man), covered up the Buddhist guru’s abuse. According to the Times, the investigation commissioned by the fellowship uncovered evidence that Gaffney had “knowledge of instances and allegations of improper acts and sexual and physical abuse against students.”
Announcing its decision in June, the commission said: “Mr Gaffney failed to take appropriate action in response to this information and is therefore responsible for misconduct and/or mismanagement in the administration of the charity.” The fellowship said: “Patrick Gaffney was a trustee of the English charity but resigned last year. We have adopted a new grievance procedure that includes an independent council, who can receive complaints brought by members and the public.”
Amy Spiller, the head of the commission’s investigation team, spoke of Patrick Gaffney: “We are continuing to investigate concerns about this charity via our ongoing statutory inquiry. However, the safety and well-being of beneficiaries and those that come into contact with the charity must always be a priority for the trustees and staff of a charity. This trustee has been disqualified with immediate effect for failing in his duty to protect those who came into contact with the charity.”