If you ask a selection of Sogyal’s many admirers about the qualities as a Buddhist teacher that have contributed to his success, two answers stand out: his charisma and his humour. Sogyal is an accomplished public performer– that is one factor. Another is that he is credited as the author of the all-time best selling Buddhist book The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, which has sold a million copies and been translated into 24 languages.
More astringent observers of Sogyal’s trajectory into guru super stardom point in other directions: to his lucky streak, his timing, his chutzpah and his astute exploitation of zeitgeist. For example, thousands of people in the developed world were ready to embrace the exotic path to enlightenment offered by exiled Tibetan lamas and ready to address the taboos surrounding death and dying.
But beneath the surface of Sogyal’s success story there are darker strands. His status as a Buddhist lama requires him to be an exemplar of two fundamental articles of faith: wisdom and compassion. Yet in 1994 an American woman known as Janice Doe sued Sogyal for sexual assault and battery. Ever since then, allegations around his private life, financial affairs and credentials as a lama have surfaced from disillusioned former disciples – to the extent that they cast serious doubt on his status as a pre-eminent Buddhist teacher.
Those in the know about the history of Rigpa make one firm assertion: that Sogyal could not have scaled the giddy heights without the help of his long-term right-hand man Patrick Gaffney. Some former insiders, like the journalist Mary Finnigan, go further:
“Patrick is the real brains behind Rigpa,” she says, “Sogyal is merely the public persona.”
Patrick played an equal role with Sogyal during the Lerab Ling temple ceremony – highlighting his dominant position in the Rigpa hierarchy.