Around the same time, one of Sogyal’s victims who became known as Janice Doe, consulted a San Francisco lawyer and on 2 November 1994 a suit was filed in The Superior Court of California seeking reparations from Sogyal Rinpoche aka Sogyal Lakar and The Spiritual Care for Living and Dying Network for assault and battery, infliction of emotional distress and breach of fiduciary duty.
The suit also charged that Sogyal had seduced many other female students for his own sexual gratification by preying on their vulnerability.
Three days later the story broke in several west coast newspapers, following a report by an agency journalist, Don Lattin, which included comment by Victoria Barlow:
“I went to an apartment to see a highly esteemed lama to discuss religion”, she said, “he opened the door without a shirt on and with a can of beer in his hand.” Once they were on the sofa, Barlow continued, “Sogyal lunged at me with sloppy kisses and groping. I thought I should take it as a compliment so I surrendered to him – but it had a horrible effect on me and caused a lot of depression.”
News of the lawsuit spread like wildfire across the Tibetan Buddhist grapevine. At first the Rigpa hierarchy appeared to be caught like rabbits in headlights – frozen and incapable of anything other than whimpers of denial. Later, when the shock waves had subsided, a letter was despatched to some students, acknowledging the existence of the lawsuit and containing a feeble attempt at damage limitation: “….allegations are only allegations. As far as we know they have no foundation”. Journalists who requested interviews with Sogyal were told he was “in retreat”.
In January 1995 a feature about the lawsuit by Mary Finnigan appeared in the British national daily newspaper The Guardian. A few weeks later a broadcast version of the story, also by Mary Finnigan, ran on BBC Radio 4’s Sunday programme. Sogyal was scheduled to lead Rigpa’s annual UK Easter retreat, booked to happen at Harrow School, but someone at Harrow heard the BBC item and promptly cancelled the booking.
“Rigpa was stuck with more than a hundred people and nowhere to go” says one of Sogyal’s organisers at the time . “ All we could do was cram them into the shrine room in London.”
In February 1995 the UK’s Telegraph Magazine featured a cover story on the Sogyal lawsuit by the journalist and author Mick Brown. In it, two English women spoke about their sexual encounters with Sogyal:
“Its a relationship that you havn’t chosen, agreed to or discussed”, said one woman, “Because he was my spiritual teacher I trusted that whatever he asked was in my best interests….by sleeping with the teacher you get a closeness to him which everyone is hankering after….but in fact it caused me a lot of pain that I wasn’t able to dissolve.”
Another spoke about her distress at discovering that Sogyal was having sex with three other students, shortly after he initiated a relationship with her:
“I came to the conclusion that Sogyal Rinpoche has used the teachings to attempt to keep me in a sexual relationship with him –one that I did not want to be in.”
In common with other former Sogyal consorts, this woman “recognised that I was emotionally wounded and that my self-esteem was low, and that I no longer trusted myself or the spiritual path I had chosen.”
According to one former Rigpa insider,
“An unsavoury witch hunt was launched to find out the identity of the women who spoke to Mick Brown.”
In a unique manifestation of his disapproval, The Dalai Lama withdrew from participation in a Living and Dying Conference scheduled by Rigpa to take place in California. The conference was cancelled. Sogyal also had to cancel an appearance at a prestigious event in New York, the Art of Dying conference. This time his excuse was “severe flu”. The glorification of Sogyal suffered a serious setback and in order to silence Janice Doe, Rigpa was forced to part with a large sum of money.
Just how much money was involved in the out-of-court settlement is a closely guarded secret, but it is alleged to run into millions of dollars.