BUDDHIST LEADER FACES CLAIMS OF SEX EXPLOITATION MADE BY WOMAN WHO WAS ASKED TO UNDRESS
THE Tibetan spiritual director of a Buddhist Centre in Cork, has been accused of sexual exploitation by two women in a new documentary. Sogyal Rinpoche, who is in Ireland this week to lead a nine-day retreat, is the founder of the Rigpa movement, which has 130 centres worldwide. Its Dzogchen Beara centre in west Cork is listed as a tourist destination by Tourism Ireland and was visited by President Mary McAleese in 2007.
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Complaints against the Buddhist master were raised in In The Name Of Enlightenment, part of a documentary series broadcast on Canadian television last month. The allegations of physical and sexual assault follow a $10m (€7m) US lawsuit filed against Rinpoche in 1994 for alleged physical, mental and sexual abuse. In the case, which was settled out of court, an anonymous woman claimed she was “coerced into an intimate relationship” having visited Rinpoche on a Connecticut retreat following the death of her father. No details of the settlement have emerged. Rinpoche is the author of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. He also played a starring role alongside Keanu Reeves in the 1993 film Little Buddha.
A woman identified as “Mimi” in the documentary said she met Rinpoche at the age of 22 when she began working at a Rigpa centre in France in 2000 to be near her father. She became an “attendant” to Rinpoche after passing what she took to be a “test of devotion” to join a group of women close to the spiritual teacher. “Women close to Rinpoche were considered to have good karma,” she said in the documentary. “After working at the centre for two months, I was invited into his room. He ordered me to undress, which I thought was a test of devotion. “Some Buddhist masters have this crazy wisdom where they use beatings as a way to open your chakras and open your way to enlightenment.
If he beats you or has sex with you, he’s actually opening your path to enlightenment.
“He asked me to swear never to speak about it to any one. I f I talked about it, it would sever this connection. I feel very sad because I lost myself and I was in a group of girls who had lost themselves even more.”
A London spokeswoman for Rigpa said Rinpoche has been aware of the allegations in the documentary and take s them “very seriously.” “Consistent with the Buddhist values that Sogyal Rinpoche up holds, Rinpoche respects and cares for all of his students past and present, without exception,” she said. “Rinpoche is deeply saddened to learn of anyone who has less than good memories of their time as a student even if they are only few in number. “We do not consider it helpful to enter into a public debate via a television programme about the experiences of any individual. We have full confidence in the sincerity, authenticity and conduct of Sogyal Rinpoche as a Buddhist teacher. We have only ever seen him act for the benefit of other people, and with their best interests at heart. None the less any allegations of inappropriate behaviour are taken seriously by the organisation.”
In a Sunday Times article in 2009, a spokesman for Rigpa described allegations of sexual exploitation against Rinpoche as “uncorroborated and without evidence”.
Victoria Barlow, who has spoken to newspapers of her experiences with Rinpoche, also featured in the documentary. Speaking from her home in Manhattan, she said she began a sexual relationship with Rinpoche in America in 1976. She met him in New York City after studying Buddhism in Dharamsala, the Indian home of the Dalai Lama. She said she sought out spiritual guidance after encountering sexual abuse as a child and was invited to his apartment. “He sat really close to me and started stroking my cheek. Then he was lying on me. I was stunned…fool that I was, I thought that it must be a blessing. But it was not remotely tantric or meaningful. He conned me.”
Mary Finnigan, a British journalist and Buddhist, said she has been compiling a dossier on Rinpoche for 16 years because she regrets helping him to launch his career in London. “Sogyal’s promiscuity was obvious to every one in the mid-1970s in the Buddhist community and that’s what he has been doing systematically ever since,” she said. “But he puts on a good show. He offers people a dumbed-down version o Buddhism which appeals to people who want a quick fix.”
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* Sunday Times Article 2009
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