SOGYAL Rinpoche was a charismatic Buddhist leader and friend of the Dalai Lama who taught the "fast path to enlightenment" for decades, and retreated to a luxury Myall Lakes sanctuary for summer with much younger girlfriends and female "lama care" attendants in his entourage.
He wrote the best-selling The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, had celebrity followers, and epitomised the idea of Buddhism as "the good religion", as Christianity struggled with child sexual abuse and Islamic extremists made war with their own people and the West.
The "incarnation of a Buddhist visionary saint" and founder of global Buddhist network Rigpa had a "lama care team" of young, unpaid female students who cooked and dressed him, slept on the floor in his room to be on-call at night, massaged him to sleep and even attended to him in the toilet.
Sogyal told followers in centres across Australia, including Newcastle, that "I do everything for your benefit. Don't resist; trust. If you resist, you're very stupid."
Now Rigpa is facing a fresh round of questions after seven weeks of prayers and ceremonies to mark Sogyal's death in August, aged 72, with only vague reference to the serious physical, sexual and psychological abuse scandal exposed in 2017 by eight former Rigpa followers, including some Australians.
Some of the abuse occurred at Rigpa's Myall Lakes and Blueys Beach centres. Rigpa's global leaders were on notice of abuse from as early as 1992, barrister Karen Baxter found in September, 2018 after investigating the allegations for Rigpa Fellowships in the United Kingdom and United States.
Sogyal used attendants as "a punching bag to vent his own frustrations and anger"; "used his position to coerce, intimidate and manipulate young women into giving him sexual favours"; asked a male attendant to take film and photos of young female students and girlfriends naked; offered a female student to another lama for sex and pushed students to the verge of emotional breakdown, Ms Baxter found.
A senior male Rigpa leader from outside Australia engaged in a "proactive cover-up" of abuse allegations dating back to the 1990s, she found.
"I uphold the allegation that, for many years, there has been nobody within Rigpa holding Sogyal (Rinpoche) to account," Ms Baxter found.
Her 12 recommendations include reporting allegations to police, funding professional counselling for abuse victims, serious reforms to Rigpa's governance and structure, zero tolerance of student abuse and a ban on sexual contact between "master" and student, removing leaders connected to the "harmful events" and replacing them with people who "can credibly lead the program of changes required".
An Australian woman and former nun who suffered horrendous physical abuse by Sogyal between 2006 and 2010, including having her ear torn by him as he raged about a calendar, said young victims of serious sexual abuse in Australia, and others who had been physically assaulted by him, had not come forward.
"Australia was where a lot of the sexual abuse took place because he said this was his retreat. It was sort of like a sex-fest for him," said the former nun, who was introduced to Rigpa in 1996 at the Myall Lakes retreat, and joined Sogyal's inner circle five years later as his household manager, aged 29.
By late 2010 she left Rigpa, and by 2017 she was one of eight people attempting to hold the organisation to account for what she believes were Sogyal's criminal acts against vulnerable people, where his abuse was excused, minimised and justified as the "crazy wisdom" of a "master" physically stepping in to point out a person's deficiencies while they were fast-tracked to enlightenment.
"I was like the abused scapegoat dog in the room," the former nun said after speaking at a University of Newcastle Religion and Violence conference last week.
"If one of his girlfriends was at their limit, he would hit me instead. Between 2006 and 2010 I was beaten over 200 times. At one stage he had fallen out with his girlfriend. He would meet her daily, come back, slam the door and punch me in the guts."
She told Ms Baxter she saw one student knocked unconscious during one of Sogyal's rages, and Sogyal bit through his own lip and drew blood on one occasion as he beat her and three other students.
Ms Baxter noted a recording where Sogyal can be "clearly heard" telling the former nun that "It's like each time I hit you, I want you also remember that you're closer to me. The harder I hit you, the deeper the connection."
Another witness told of a very young woman attendant "reduced to a frightened, jelly-like person" because of the "gruelling, ferocious, constant beatings" she received.
A male witness and close aide to Sogyal, who was subjected to severe and regular physical abuse at Myall Lakes, said the guru grabbed a metal stupa during one rage and "went to hit me in the head with it".
"He stopped and backed off. I thought if he hit me with that... I might never get up," he told Ms Baxter.
The former nun strongly criticised Rigpa's response to Ms Baxter's report, and said the veneration of Sogyal after his death of cancer on August 28 showed an organisation failing to recognise its role in facilitating his abuse for years. The veneration was another block to his victims coming forward and seeking help, the former nun said.
Rigpa issued a September, 2018 statement after Ms Baxter's report was made public on its websites, noting "allegations of misconduct" against Sogyal, but failing to acknowledge they were serious allegations of sexual, physical and psychological abuse, and the majority were substantiated.
Rigpa felt "deeply sorry" and apologised "for the hurt experienced by past and present members of the Rigpa community", but failed to highlight its history of knowledge of abuse by Sogyal and the "proactive cover-up" finding against one of its most senior members.
Rigpa was "contemplating on our role as an organisation, and how we may have contributed to this situation", the global network said.
The former nun compared the veneration of Sogyal after his death with the veneration and fast-tracked sainthood of Pope John Paul II, as inquiries around the world strongly criticised the Catholic leader's role in covering-up decades of child sexual abuse.
"What Rigpa has not said anywhere is that this abuse happened, it shouldn't have happened and 'We failed'," the former nun said.
"There are people in Rigpa who have actively covered this up and discredited victims. It would be really nice if Rigpa made a clear public statement saying 'Sogyal abused many vulnerable people and we let it happen for years'.
"But that's not what's happened. The moment we spoke up he was elevated even higher.
"People have identified Tibetan Buddhism as pure, that this is the one hope for religion, but that's made them blind to the fact the same things that have happened in the Catholic Church have happened here."
In her report Ms Baxter acknowledged the possibility of "many" other victims or witnesses of abuse who have not come forward.
The silence is in part due to Buddhist teachings, where speaking out against a master "appears to require a willingness to 'step off the path to enlightenment', and many are not ready to do that", Ms Baxter said.
Rigpa Fellowship Australia Inc suffered a collapse in financial support between 2017 and 2018, a report filed with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission shows.
Revenue dropped from $1.47 million in 2017 to $771,000 the following year - including a drop in donations from $507,000 to $128,000.
The Blueys Beach centre is listed in Europe as a holiday rental after Rigpa called for expressions of interest in April for the $1.5 million "sacred home", that was "blessed with the practice of Sogyal Rinpoche".
Described as "one of the most holy places of Rigpa worldwide" in a sale document, the Blueys Beach centre has been granted tax deduction status as a school building.
Rigpa Australia was "obliged to sell the property... owing to its current financial situation", the sale document said.
Priority would be given to Rigpa member buyers willing to bequest the property back to Rigpa and allow visiting lamas to stay.
University of Newcastle sociologist of religion and gender, Dr Kathleen McPhillips, said she attended a Newcastle Town Hall event where Sogyal Rinpoche spoke and "it was shocking to me to see the physical deference lay people showed to him".
"In Buddhism there's no concept of God but Sogyal Rinpoche was seen as more than human."
Excusing and minimising Sogyal's assaults as "crazy wisdom", or as part of a tradition of a "master" confronting a student to help them find a "path to enlightenment", was "really dangerous" because of the unquestioning obedience expected and imbalance of power, Dr McPhillips said.
"The way in which Buddhism is viewed is that it's the 'good' religion and the answer for people wanting to live in a material society. There's a lot invested in protecting that reputation."
Ms Baxter found a senior Rigpa leader, based outside Australia, was so devoted to Sogyal that he "refused to accept the possibility that anything Sogyal had done might have been wrong".
When abuse allegations were raised the leader, from as early as 1992 and repeatedly until 2017, "was not really concerned about whether these things happened, but seems to have been prepared to accept that Sogyal intended no harm, regardless of what happened", Ms Baxter found.
Sogyal declined to be interviewed for the investigation, but in a statement in 2018 said: "I am a human being doing my best to follow the Buddha's teachings and I have never knowingly set out to harm anyone".
Rigpa Australia chair and retired Newcastle GP Dr Kathryn James said the global network's governance structure and processes meant it could not respond to questions until next week.
After the investigation report was published Rigpa leaders in the UK, Germany and France stood down, a Vision Board was appointed, a code of conduct was published and grievance council established.
In a statement in April, 2018, before Ms Baxter's report, the Vision Board acknowledged that "Some of us remain deeply devoted to Sogyal Rinpoche and will continue to follow his teachings."