It took about two years – and a huge workload for Patrick Gaffney and other members of the Rigpa inner circle — to re-establish Sogyal as a globe trotting guru.
“People left in droves” says one former Rigpa devotee. “I remember noticing there was no-one around who had been there when I first got involved, except for Patrick and Dominique Side.”
Around this time Mary Finnigan interviewed the Dalai Lama about the Sogyal lawsuit.
“He was very clear about the issue of sexual relations between teachers and disciples”, she says “he condemned it as unacceptable and told me he had advised Sogyal to settle down and ‘take a lawful wife’. “
Sogyal’s response to this was to have an affair with an American woman called Mary-Anne, who became pregnant and gave birth to Sogyal’s son
Yeshe. Asked if he would marry Mary-Anne he is said to have replied
“that would be a step too far.”
Even though by this time Sogyal had been placing the Dalai Lama at the top of his totem for many years, clearly he was not impressed by advice from the boss on his private life.
“It was window dressing” says one former Sogyal dakini, “the Dalai Lama blessed the relationship, but Sogyal was never monogamous. One of his other women – Alison — saw herself as the ‘wife’ and she would not have allowed him to stop having sex with her.”
There is no doubt that the lawsuit made the Tibetan Buddhist community in the developed world take stock of its situation. Even in 1993, before the lawsuit, a group of western Buddhist teachers held a conference with the Dalai Lama. The statement the emerged from it included these words
“… each student must be encouraged to take responsible measures to confront teachers with unethical aspects of their conduct. If the teacher shows no sign of reform, students should not hesitate to publicise any unethical behaviour of which there is irrefutable evidence. This should be done irrespective of other beneficial aspects of his or her work and of one’s spiritual commitment to that teacher. It should also be made clear in any publicity that such conduct is not in conformity with Buddhist teachings. No matter what level of spiritual attainment a teacher has, or claims to have reached, no person can stand above the norms of ethical conduct.”
Although the Dalai Lama told the meeting that sexual misbehaviour should be publicised and errant teachers made to feel “regretful and embarrassed”, significantly in the light of subsequent developments, he declined to endorse the statement.
As the reinvention of Sogyal’s credibility gathered momentum, leaks from within Rigpa indicated that he had no intention of changing his ways. Quite the contrary in fact, because in 1996 western Buddhist teachers met for the third time with the Dalai Lama and to the dismay of most of them, Sogyal was a high profile presence at the conference, holding forth vehemently about the perils of teaching Vajrayana without ‘authenticity, credentials and training’.
“His chutzpah was breathtaking” says the American teacher Yvonne Rand. “We could hardly believe what we were experiencing. It was only our respect for the Dalai Lama that stopped several of us from walking out.”
When asked why Sogyal was allowed to take part, the Dalai Lama’s private office came up with the lame excuse that they had to let all lamas know about the conference so they could attend if they wished.
Double standards perpetrated by the Tibetan diaspora headquarters in Dharamsala are becoming increasingly obvious to observers of Tibet, its religion and culture. At the turn of the 21st century the Dalai Lama had probably received hundreds of letters complaining about sexual and financial misbehaviour by Sogyal and other exiled lamas.
While some letters are acknowledged with anodyne expressions of regret, to date there has been no action on the part of the exiled Tibetan authorities to deal effectively with the alleged offenders. Apart from withdrawing from the Living and Dying Conference, the Dalai Lama has never publicly criticised individual lamas.
When asked by Mary Finnigan why Sogyal is usually a guest speaker at events with the Dalai Lama like the Kalachakra Initiation,Chhimed Rigdzin, an official in the Dalai Lama’s private office, responded “we don’t invite him”. Mary Finnigan pointed out that they don’t refuse him either.