Sex and Violence in Tibetan Buddhism

book cover

The Rise and Fall of Sogyal Rinpoche

Mary Finnigan/Rob Hogendoorn

How did a Tibetan refugee with no formal religious training become the most powerful Tibetan Buddhist leader in the West and a best-selling author, while he beat, abused and humiliated his followers?

This new book finally sheds light on a decades-long story of deception and moral corruption that is the background to the life of the infamous Tibetan lama, Sogyal Rinpoche.

Co-authors Mary Finnigan and Rob Hogendoorn have traced the entire history of Sogyal, from his origins in a family of traders in rural Tibet, through their flight to India after the Chinese invasion, to his arrival in Cambridge, England, accompanied by the Prince of Sikkim. It was here that Mary, a professional journalist, first met him in 1973.

This renowned guru, who came to be revered by thousands around the world, stands accused of violating dozens of his aides and devotees over the past thirty years. The authors – an investigative reporter and a specialist in Tibetan Buddhism – have gathered all available evidence from victims and eyewitnesses to tell a tale of sexual exploitation, physical violence, emotional manipulation and relentless denigration. It was all perpetrated by a holy man with fabricated credentials and covered up by his foundation.

Now seriously ill and believed to be living in self-imposed exile in Thailand, he remains beyond the reach of police investigations and civil suits underway in five countries. His organization, the Rigpa Fellowship, is still in business, with over a dozen active centers in the West.

Early complaints from his followers were met with denials and doctrinaire obfuscations. Then in the mid-1990s, soon after publication of Sogyal’s best-selling The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, more women came forward with accusations. In the UK, the mainstream media started to take an interest. Mary Finnigan’s piece in the Guardian and her broadcast on BBC Radio 4 were followed by Mick Brown’s cover feature in the Telegraph Magazine.

Galvanized by the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, the trickle of accusations has slowly turned into a flood in recent years. His organization’s cover-up attempts wore thin after the Dalai Lama himself stepped in.

The book does not sensationalize the perverse behavior that caused untold suffering to scores of devotees. It’s a fact-based account, backed by exhaustive research grounded in decades of first-hand knowledge by two Buddhist practitioners. It’s also a story about the culture clash that occurs when an exotic émigré from a feudal, patriarchal Tibet is greeted with unwitting acceptance and adulation by spiritual seekers in 21st-century liberal democracies.

Bibliographic Data
Title:  Sex and Violence in Tibetan Buddhism: The Rise and Fall of Sogyal Rinpoche
ISBN-13: 978-0-9863770-9-9
Publisher: Jorvik Press
Publication date: July 1, 2019
List Price: US $19.95; UK £15.95; EU €17.95
Size: Trade paperback, 6 x 9 in (15.24 x 22.86 cm)
210 pages; 25 B&W illustrations

Mary Finnigan and Rob Hogendoorn

Mary Finnigan was born in Manchester, England just before the start of World War II. Marrying an older man at eighteen, she produced two children before moving to London and landing a job as a fashion writer on the Daily Mirror. Her print journalism career included feature writing at the Daily Sketch, Daily Express and freelance at the Sunday Times and The Guardian.

During a five-year holiday from the five-day week, in 1969 she met the legendary rock star David Bowie, who introduced her to Tibetan Buddhism. Her devotion to this comprehensive spiritual path has remained steadfast ever since.

Returning to her journalism career, Mary worked as a reporter, editor and producer at Visnews, Independent Radio News and the London Broadcasting Company.

Mary met Sogyal Lakar, aka Rinpoche, in 1973, helping him to set himself up as a lama before becoming skeptical about his credentials. With her journalistic training running in tandem with her appreciation for Tibetan Buddhism, she embarked on a campaign to match contemporary ethical values with the fundamentals of Buddhist view and practice.

Mary and her co-author Rob Hogendoorn pooled their skills and resources after meeting on social media. Mary lives in Devon, England with her partner Chris Gilchrist. 

Rob Hogendoorn (1964) studied law at the Erasmus University at Rotterdam, Netherlands. After graduating as a Master of Law, he worked as a coordinator for the Centre for Applied Ethics at its Faculty of Philosophy, co-editing two books on environmental philosophy.

In 1993-1994, he spent a year among Tibetan communities in India, researching law from a Tibetan Buddhist perspective. After that, he focussed his research on the Fourteenth Dalai Lama’s conversations with (mostly) Western scientists. To this end, he attended several Mind & Life conferences and summer schools and taught about Mind & Life during a Science for Monks workshop in Sera Monastery in India.

For the past six years he has researched and published on sexual abuse by Buddhist teachers, both as an investigative reporter and an unaffiliated scholar.

The last two years he has focussed on researching the formative years of Sogyal Lakar, formerly known as Sogyal Rinpoche. He presented a paper on his findings during the 2018 meeting of the American Academy of Religion in Denver, Colorado.

Rob is married with three adult children. He lives in Maasland, near Rotterdam, in the Netherlands.

Sex and Violence in Tibetan Buddhism gives a detailed insight into Sogyal Rinpoche’s place in the institution of Tibetan Buddhism. The authors show how Sogyal, supposedly an enlightened and therefore entirely selfless, sacred Vajrayana master was in fact the opposite, intent on living a high life while maintaining a “harem” of young attractive women to serve his every desire. The authors show how Sogyal was only able to maintain his exalted position because for decades, he received endorsements from Tibetan Buddhism’s highest lamas. The reader will learn of the pitfalls, in spite of their claims to owning wisdom, of unquestioningly following strictly hierarchical religious institutions, especially when they operate on a transcultural level. 
Stuart Lachs
Independent scholar and long-time Chan/Zen practitioner
A fascinating book that sums up decades of in-depth research and personal involvement in a very important and overlooked topic. Mary Finnigan and Rob Hogendoorn's work on sex and violence in Western Buddhist circles offers readers both recent information and incisive insight into the problematic situation of many European Dharma centres. Coming from Buddhist practitioners who wish to preserve their adopted tradition from ethical corruption and help prevent more suffering, this book is very welcome. 
Marion Dapsance PhD,
author Les dévots du bouddhisme and Qu'ont-ils fait du bouddhisme