Today, on International Women’s Day, Oane Bijlsma publishes a self-penned story about her time with Sogyal Rinpoche († 2019) and his entourage. Bijlsma was groomed to become a member of the inner circle of Sogyal’s international Buddhist organization Rigpa. Her first published essay captures Bijlsma’s insider’s perspective on the events she observed up close in 2011 and 2012—anecdotes that epitomize both Sogyal’s heyday and his impending fall from grace.
It is a cautionary tale, about the aberrant behaviour of a self-proclaimed Tibetan Lama and the enabling beliefs of his closest followers. Bijlsma doesn’t spare herself either. She thereby provides much-needed insight into the insidious, toxic group processes that can bring most every sincere, open-minded Buddhist seeker in the West perilously close to becoming an inveterate enabler him- or herself.
Sogyal-devotee Michael Ritman recently banned Bijlsma from speaking at the symposium ‘Power and abuses: Sexual Abuse in Buddhist Communities in the Netherlands.’ The symposium was organized by the Free University (FU) in Amsterdam and the Buddhist Union of the Netherlands (BUN).
BUN-chairman Ritman’s brash attempts to dictate the terms of her right to be heard, his board’s preferential treatment of the Dutch Rigpa Foundation, and its subsequent misrepresentation of the facts of the matter, did not deter Oane Bijlsma from speaking for herself, however.
She wrote: “It’s not up to Sogyal’s enablers to determine if I was victimized or not. It’s not up to them to decide whether my testimony is worth sharing or not. Like everyone else who took part in a Rigpa meditation course, I was mislead and lied to from the start. We were given no fair warning. There was no sign fixed next to the entrance of the Rigpa centre in Amsterdam that said:
‘The man we venerate as a fully enlightened Guru here, physically assaults his closest students; has sex with them and their daughters; and plays perverted power games. Besides, he’s an insatiable glutton, he’s addicted to smoking expensive cigars, he loves drinking cognac and whisky, and he thoroughly enjoys excessive luxury paid for with donations. And you are going to help us enable all of it.’
I call the people who held positions in the organization—paid or not—by their own true name because I hold them accountable. They are all part of the scam that is called Rigpa. At the very least, they are guilty of the institutional betrayal of sincere, open-minded people such as myself. That is: they failed to protect their own against the very real danger of being harmed.
By exposing their behaviour, I hope to encourage other women and men whose lives have been marred by toxic narcissism, violence, and abuse, to speak truth to power. I’ve come to believe that it’s vital to never ever be complicit in the normalizing of aberrant behaviour—standing by, looking away, doing nothing. And I will always regret the times that I was tempted to do so myself.”
On June 14, 2017, Oane Bijlsma denounced Sogyal Rinpoche (also known as Sogyal Lakar) on Dutch national television in the current affairs programme Brandpunt of the KRO-NRCV network. One month later, on July 14, 2017, eight prominent members of Sogyal’s inner circle signed a letter doing the same. Sogyal retired as Rigpa’s spiritual leader on August 11, 2017. He died on August 28, 2019. Bijlsma’s account of Sogyal’s behaviour is corroborated by other sources and by British lawyer Karen Baxter’s independent report ‘Report to the Boards of Trustees of: Rigpa Fellowship UK, and Rigpa Fellowship US: Outcome of an Investigation into Allegations made against Sogyal Lakar (also known as Sogyal Rinpoche) in a Letter dated 14 July 2017.’
Read Oane Bijlsma’s essay ‘My Time in Rigpa’ here.