Neither it seems, has his insatiable appetite for sexual conquests. From Chatsworth Road, Orgyen Choling moved into short life premises in Princess Road, Kilburn. Sogyal occupied the top floor, members of his band of wannabe Buddhist yogis lived in other rooms, while the ground floor was transformed into a shrine room.
One resident recalled the steady stream of young women summoned to the guru’s abode for “private teachings”.
“Some of them would stay for a while and leave quietly, but others would flounce out shouting loud protests and slamming doors.”
People who have now left Sogyal’s entourage speak about a “sense of pollution” — how the succession of females in and out of the guru’s bedroom made them feel ill at ease. No-one at this time identified Sogyal’s behaviour as a personality disorder, but more recently health professionals have stated that he is a sex addict – an obsession as powerful as drugs, alcohol and gambling.
There was also a dawning awareness within Sogyal’s community that he was not up to scratch as a Buddhist teacher. A very reticent Englishman was an early Buddhist scholar who visited the Himalayan regions in the 1950s, searching for texts on an arcane aspect of Tibetan teachings known as Dzogchen. Sogyal proclaims himself as a Dzogchen master – but his followers noticed he played “carrot and donkey” with them – holding out the promise of genuine instructions, but never actually delivering. The reticent Englishman confirmed their suspicions:
“Apart from some stuff he picked up from his uncle Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro, he knows very little and what he does know is not Dzogchen.”
Ngakpa Chogyam also became aware of gaps in Sogyal’s knowledge:
“He asked me a lot of questions about Dzogchen”, he says, “and I was surprised by the way he’d enquire – almost, I thought at the time, as if he didn’t know the answers. I ended up talking a lot when we were alone together – but it occurred to me later that he never asked questions like this when anyone else was around.”
Later in his career, when Sogyal was an established lama, he was sitting with several Rinpoches listening to teachings by the Dalai Lama. One of the Rinpoches wrote a note in Tibetan and passed it round the group. According to a Tibetan Buddhist scholar who heard about this from one of the lamas involved
“It was obvious to all of them that Sogyal could not read it.”
In 1979 the Dzogchen master Choegyal Namkhai Norbu taught for the first time in London and members of Sogyal’s group who attended realised they were experiencing the genuine article. There was a mass exodus from Orgyen Choling, but within weeks the defectors were replaced by a new intake. The devotees who remained faithful include Patrick Gaffney and Dominique Side.