An Open Letter to Dominique Side

Written by Mary Finnigan

3 minutes

Dear Dominique,

Do you remember the first time we met in 1973? You came to a supper party at the squat I shared with Jack Taghioff and others at 56 Prince of Wales Road in London. The idea behind it was to introduce Sogyal Lakar to people who might be interested in taking Tibetan Buddhist teachings from him.

Several people including yourself, formed a group around Sogyal. We squatted a house where he could live and work on Chatsworth Road in Kilburn. For a while he lived with you as your lover. But it soon became obvious that monogamy did not figure in his agenda. You were devastated, but remained loyal to him—a loyalty that lasted for more than 40 years.

During that time Sogyal established his career as a globe trotting guru. In the 70s and early 80s Tibetan lamas willing and able to teach westerners in English were as rare as rocking horse shit. Sogyal was an accomplished showman. Because he entertained his followers as well as delivering basic Buddhism, he was very much in demand. So much so that none of us naïve neophytes thought to check up on his credentials.

Sogyal’s popularity went stratospheric with the publication of the book attributed to him—The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying (1992). It struck a chord with millions of people around the world because its message cut through centuries of taboos around death. The royalties generated by the book turned Sogyal into a millionaire.

From the start of his time in the west it was obvious that Sogyal had a voracious sexual appetite. He was flagrantly promiscuous. Many women were happy to oblige, although others were shocked and angry when he lunged at them, under the pretext of giving one-to-one teachings.

And through all this you stayed steadfast. You knew of course, as his behaviour became ever more extreme, that he was heading down a slippery slope into ruthless spoiled brat egotism. That serial sex was no longer satisfying. You knew that a harem of very pretty, very damaged young women coalesced around him.

You observed as he built an empire anchored in hypocrisy. Preaching love, compassion and selfless service to all beings on a gilded throne, wearing a fancy hat and with a cohort of cult zombies attending to his every whim. Verbal humiliations happened in public. But out of sight and sound from the extravaganzas, these people endured beatings and grotesque demands like wiping his arse after he’d taken a dump.

You suffered too. And took it, despite the distress that you (not quite) managed to keep under wraps. You suffered and you knew that others suffered, because you were right there in the inner circle. At the top of the totem in fact, alongside Patrick Gaffney and Phillip Phillipou.

You have a good brain, Dominique. So I cannot believe that you were not aware that Sogyal was totally out of his depth as a headline guru. That he was never trained as a lama and that no-one who had experienced that rigorous monastic regime would behave as he did. And you must have known that Orgyen Choling that morphed into Rigpa, morphed again into a dangerous cult, controlled by an autocratic, corrupt and violent leader.

You must have known that Rigpa’s primary function was to amass as much money as possible in the shortest possible time. And you almost certainly knew that a lot of it disappeared into offshore tax havens.

Inevitably the bubble burst. Inevitably the smart people who were attracted to the power component of Tibetan Buddhism realised that Sogyal was not the real deal. That thousands of sincere spiritual seekers were being hoodwinked by a charlatan. So eight of these people blew the whistle on Sogyal, who promptly fled into hiding in Thailand. You and Patrick were left to pick up the pieces and try to explain what had happened to a bewildered and confused community.

I don’t know at what point you decided to jump ship. But what I do know is that you cannot be allowed to sanitise your track record as you appear to be doing with You need to come clean, own up to your role in the Sogyal horror story and explain why you hung in with him for 40 plus years. If you were to do this with authentic humility, I think you might be surprised at how many people will support you into this new phase in your Buddhist life.

Yours faithfully

Mary Finnigan

Devon, England
October 2022

About the author

Mary Finnigan

Mary Finnigan is an author, journalist and broadcaster. Her books are 'Psychedelic Suburbia: David Bowie and the Beckenham Arts Lab' and 'Sex and Violence in Tibetan Buddhism,' co-authored with Rob Hogendoorn. Both are published by Jorvik Press.