Keenie Meenie Services – the most powerful mercenary company you’ve never heard of – was involved in war crimes around the world from Sri Lanka to Nicaragua for which its shadowy directors have never been held accountable.
Like its mysterious name, Keenie Meenie Services escaped definition and to this day has evaded sanctions. Now explosive new evidence – only recently declassified – exposes the extent of these war crimes, and the British government’s tacit support for the company’s operations. Including testimonies from SAS veterans, spy chiefs and diplomats, we hear from key figures battle-hardened by the Troubles in Northern Ireland and the Iranian Embassy siege. Investigative journalist Phil Miller asks, who were these mercenaries: heroes, terrorists, freedom fighters or war criminals?
This book presents the first ever comprehensive case against Keenie Meenie Services, providing long overdue evidence on the crimes of the people who make a killing from killing.
British mercenary pilots helped Indian troops in their battle against the Liberation Tigers for Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels in Sri Lanka in the 1980s, a new book reveals for the first time.
The Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) received air support from these for-hire British pilots despite Indian diplomats publicly condemning the presence of UK mercenaries in Sri Lanka, according to the book, ”Keenie Meenie: The British Mercenaries Who Got Away With War Crimes”, authored by UK-based investigative journalist Phil Miller.
However, India”s attitudes gradually began to shift and the envoy to Colombo, Jyotindra Nath Dixit, said New Delhi had to publicly deplore the use of UK mercenaries in Sri Lanka but privately he accepted there was “a large pool of ex-military personnel” in Europe and North America who wanted to “market these skills” and if it was not KMS then it would be another “cowboy” outfit involved.
Ikram Sehgal & Dr. Bettina Robotka. Blood Over Different Shades of Green: East Pakistan 1971 History Revisited (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2019)
This book is history of the last chapter of united Pakistan in 1971. Ikram Sehgal is in a unique position to write about the separation of eastern wing of Pakistan and emergence of independent Bangladesh. His father was Punjabi and mother Bengali. He had personal relations with Bengali and non-Bengali senior political and military leaders. He understands the passions involved on both sides. In addition, he was a young army officer and served in both theaters of war in 1971. He had a front row seat to the final act of the tragedy, and he gives his side of the story candidly.
First few chapters give details of social, political and economic differences between two wings. It then highlights events that gradually widened the gulf and then details about final days of united Pakistan and emergence of independent Bangladesh. Ikram also narrates his personal experience in 1971 war and many brushes with angel of death.
This book highlights for the first time, the role of 1965 India-Pakistan war in almost complete alienation of Bengali public. At psychological level, separation was complete after the war as almost all Bengalis were shocked to see that West Pakistan risked fifty five percent of its Bengali population surrounded by India on three sides and with very meagre resources to defend itself against India for few hundred thousand Kashmiris.
Civilian and military leadership dominated by West Pakistanis never understood Bengali view point. The defense doctrine of ‘defense of east Pakistan from west Pakistan’ was never seriously evaluated in the broader context of national security. If one region of the country arrogate itself the title of ‘heart of the country’ and relegate another region as less important ‘periphery’, it is bound to have serious reservation from the entity relegated as periphery. This was the reason that this doctrine was viewed as absurd from Bengali point of view.
In discussing Pakistani 18 Infantry Division operations in western desert, authors raise the question of why Jacobabad airfield was not activated regardless of whether GHQ asked for it or not? Air Commodore ® Sajjad Haider has provided the answer in his memoirs Flight of The Falcon. Air Chief Air Marshal Rahim Khan visited army headquarter on 04 December 1971 and was informed by Chief of General Staff (CGS) Lieutenant General Gul Hassan about the attack of 18 Division in south-west towards Indian city of Jaisalmer. Air Chief protested and informed him that closest Pakistan Air Force (PAF) bases of Sargodha and Karachi were over 300 miles away. He also explained that Jacobabad airfield could not be activated due to paucity of resources and even if decided PAF needed ten days to activate the airfield. He also informed CGS that Indian Air Force had three air bases in that area that could play havoc with the advancing Pakistani troops without air cover. Army went ahead with the operation despite Air Chief warning and hence the disaster.
There is a minor error regarding U.S. base in Pakistan. It is mentioned that U-2 surveillance flights operated from Badaber Air Station near Peshawar. Badaber was only a listening post and not an airfield. It was an electronic listening facility run by National Security Agency (NSA) and project was code named ‘Operation Sandbag’. Peshawar and Lahore airfields were used for U-2 surveillance flights. There were no permanent stationing of U-2 planes in Pakistan. Detachment 10-10 based at Incirlik, Turkey flew missions from Pakistan. U-2 pilot and some ground personnel were flown in a C-130 plane to Pakistan a day before the flight. A standby pilot brought U-2 from Incirlik to Lahore or Peshawar. In four years, there were only twenty four U-2 overflights. Out of these twenty four, ten originated from Pakistan; five from Lahore and five from Peshawar. (I have written a detailed piece about these missions titled Eye in the Sky).
This book adds to the literature of 1971 Indian-Pakistan war and independence of Bangladesh by a first-hand witness. Book is a must read for everyone interested in history of Pakistan and Bangladesh.
This book is a great review of the rise and fall of classical Europe, from the earliest civilizations in Crete and Greece to the fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of Christianity. The authors are professional historians and remarkably free of either Left or Right wing cant. They provide an excellent summary of the rise of Mediterranean civilization and the origins of the notion of Europe. They manage to pack a remarkable amount of facts into this book, including quantitative data where possible (“X percent of all crockery at this site changed from Greek to Etruscan between Y and Z years” kind of thing). Greco-Roman nerds will know many more details obviously, but even they will not be disappointed with how much information and perspective the authors can fit into a small space. Well worth reading.
In the post 9/11 years, a multitude of “Pakistan experts” emerged and the bookshelves were flooded with books containing the words ‘Pakistan’, ‘crisis’, ‘storm’ or ‘battle’. In my opinion, very few writers from outside Pakistan (and even inside) have explored the country, its politics and its regional dynamics pre- and post-9/11. I consider Shuja Nawaz as one of the authors who, both as an insider and an outsider, written about Pakistan’s civil-military imbalance and foreign policy while maintaining balance and equanimity. I would like to disclose here that I have benefitted personally from Shuja Nawaz’s actions in the past. I was selected as one of the fifteen ‘Emerging Leaders of Pakistan’ (ELP) selected by Atlantic Council’s South Asia center (headed by Shuja) in 2012.
A little backstory: I was in a strange place in my life at the time. I had just finished medical school and had started my internship in internal medicine. My life was in flux. In the last year of medical school, I had drifted away from medicine and towards political science and history. Following Salmaan Taseer’s assassination in 2011, I had taken night classes at a makeshift school on political economy and history (more on ST’s assassination and my transformation here ). I had also started writing for my own blog and later for express tribune’s (ET) blogs and for Viewpointonline, a fledgling left-wing weekly. By the time I started my internship in May 2012, I had been published in ET, Pakistan Today and Dawn Blogs. During medical school, I had taken part in student politics and was aware of the brewing ‘Doctors Movement’ which was headquartered in the same dorms where I lived. In June-July 2012, there was a massive strike across Punjab and many of my classmates who were interns got arrested and were placed alongside death row inmates in Lahore. I wrote about this for ET and Dawn and engaged in twitter and Facebook wars with people who saw no benefit in our strike. A week after the strike was over, I received an email from Shuja that I had been selected for ELP and would be visiting the US in October-November 2012. I had earlier done an online interview and an in-person interview (after a typical 40-hour shift at the hospital) during the selection process. The other 14 people came from different backgrounds (Activists, NGO people, media people) and I was selected as a writer. We met General Mattis at Shuja’s house in Virginia, Lt Gen Douglas Lute (Obama’s special rep for Af-Pak) in the West Wing of White House and Chuck Hagel at the Atlantic Council. We also visited the Pentagon and Hoover Institute in San Francisco where we met George Shultz. Most of these meetings came about due to personal connections and efforts by Shuja and his staff. One of the dominant themes of our conversations was the status of Pakistan post-2014 ‘withdrawal’ of the US from Afghanistan. We also got a two-hour masterclass in US-Pakistan history from Shuja while we were stranded at our hotel in NYC due to Hurricane Sandy (and had to cancel our meeting with then-Mayor of Newark, Cory Booker). I wrote a few blogs for the now-defunct website for the fellowship that can be accessed here, courtesy of way back machine.
Personally, that first visit to the US in 2012 changed a lot of things for me in the short and long run. The fact that I’m writing this while sitting in the United States with a pretty stable life owes a lot to that selection. I have met Shuja over the years both in the States and in Pakistan and have learned a lot from him. I rate his earlier book ‘Crossed Swords’ (which I have a signed and amended-by-the-author copy of) as one of the best books on Pakistan’s military-industrial complex and its impact on Pakistan’s history.
Moving on to the next book. Shuja has been close to many of the protagonists in the book on both the US and Pakistani side. He grew up in a military family and his brother Asif was Chief of Army Staff in the early 90s, before his sudden death. He has been called the ‘Pakistan army’s man in DC’ by some people in Pakistan over the years. Having read books on Pakistan-US relations in the last decade (including but not limited to: Directorate S, The Dispensable Nation, War on Peace, India vs Pakistan, Sleepwalking to Surrender, The Wrong Enemy, The Way of the Knife), one gets a general outline of the ebb and flow of the relationship between the two countries. What Shuja’s book does is to add an insider’s narrative on the events and puts things in perspective. It starts off on the Pakistan side with the political reshuffling underway in 2006 when Musharraf wanted to sign an NRO with Benazir Bhutto (BB) and a few months before that Nawaz Sharif and BB had signed the Charter of Democracy. Musharraf wanted to share power with BB but on his own terms, as a dominant partner. BB was not interested in such a lopsided setup and was gathering allies in the US before her trip to Pakistan. Musharraf was fighting many fires in 2007, the chief one among them was ‘Lawyers Movement’, allegedly an internecine conflict involving different intelligence agencies. BB landed in Pakistan in October and faced a bomb blast in which she survived but more than 100 of her dedicated party workers perished. In December, BB was not so lucky and became the target of another assassination attempt. Musharraf had lost the plot. Fresh Elections were held and BB’s party took control of the Federal government. Musharraf tried to maneuver a role for himself in the democratic setup but had to resign in August 2008. It was a new era for Pakistan and the political class was in charge after 9 years of complete military rule. Shuja was a first-hand witness to BB’s deliberations in the US and provides an insight into her mindset and that of Zardari at the time.
There was a change of guard in the US as well. Obama was elected President on the promise of quitting the useless, forever wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the first Obama term, there was the morass known as ‘Af-Pak’ policy review with State Dept, CIA, Military on one side and Richard Holbrooke on the other. In the end, with all possible information, Obama chose to announce an exit timetable from Afghanistan alongside a surge of troops. That was a blunder, as has been acknowledged by people in the Obama Foreign Policy team. The details of this process have been documented by Steve Coll and Vali Nasr in their respective books but Shuja provides further insight gained from candid interviews with key stakeholders and policymakers including Bruce Reidel. One particular thing that caught my eye was the discussion on Haqqani Network. I have always wondered why Pakistan protected them with such rigor and passion. A ‘senior Pakistani army officer’ told Seymour Hirsch that Haqqanis had “facilitated the evacuation of ISI personnel and their friends from Kunduz” and that was why they were regarded highly. Shuja thinks its not the right answer and I tend to agree with that. I wrote about the infamous Kunduz airlift here (link) and wish more Pakistanis would know about that incident.
With the arrival of Obama, the Musharraf-Bush ‘bromance’ post-9/11 was also over. Pakistan had received generous US aid and support (Non-NATO ally status and more) as a result of that relationship. The year 2008 changed that. Things went from bad to worse in 2011 though. Shuja has reserved a major chunk of his book on what happened in that fateful year. It was the year of Raymond Davis, of the OBL operation (my first ever blog for Dawn was on the OBL raid and I remember writing about the incident in Urdu while sitting in a General surgery lecture during May 2011), Memogate and Salala. I remember being quite up to date with the news at the time but Shuja’s narrative on all of these events, particularly the Memogate and Salala has added to my understanding of how the events unfolded and divergent viewpoints of protagonists.
He devotes a chapter to the issue of Financial Aid from the United States to Pakistan. It is a complex topic that involved failures on both sides. I have talked to many friends in Pakistan about this who work in development/human rights organizations and they told me stories of how cumbersome the process of getting funds from USAID is and the need for publicity often has to be weighed against the image that the US has in Pakistan (which is overwhelmingly negative). That is the reason why some of the leading human rights organizations (e.g HRCP, Shirkat Gah) in Pakistan don’t even apply for grants and funds from US sources. There was (still probably is) a whole industry of ‘grifters’ who arose from the post 9/11 largesse by the United States. In the mid-2000s till recently, using the words ‘combating religious extremism’ was a very good way to get international aid in Pakistan, a fact that has been criticized by actual human rights activists. Many religious figures also used this opportunity to get US visas and money in the guise of fighting religious fundamentalism. Shuja writes about the much-maligned Kerry-Luger bill (in 2009) that was supposed to prioritize civilian aid to Pakistan and was disparaged from early on by the military. In the Tierney Repot in 2008, prepared by the US House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Reform, it was admitted that “US brand in Pakistan had become ‘toxic’ over time”.
The New York Times wrote an editorial in 2015 titled ‘Is Pakistan worth America’s Investment?’ which Shuja quotes (and I find very true):
“Since 9/11, the United States has provided Pakistan with billions of dollars, mostly in military aid, to help fight extremists. There are many reasons to have doubts about the investment. Still, it is in America’s interest to maintain assistance—at a declining level—at least for the time being. But much depends on what the money will be used for. One condition for new aid should be that Pakistan do more for itself—by cutting back on spending for nuclear weapons and requiring its elites to pay taxes.
Doubts about the aid center on Pakistan’s army, which has long played a double game, accepting America’s money while enabling some militant groups, including members of the Afghan Taliban who have been battling American and Afghan troops in Afghanistan”.
Military Aid and what Pakistan did with that is no different. The details about how the Navy claimed $445 per sailor from Coalition Support Funds (CSF) in June 2005 but $800 per sailor in December 2005 would be comical if not tragic. In contrast, Air Force charged $800 per person in 2004 and $400 in later years. The Army charged steadily at $200. Similarly, Navy charged $5700 per vehicle per month as opposed to Army’s less than $100 per vehicle per month.
For Pakistan-watchers and students of civ-mil imbalance in Pakistan, there are frequent nuggets of interesting information. For example, about the 2014 PTI Dharna, US Ambassador Olson told Shuja that “We received information that Zahir-ul-Islam [DG-ISI] was mobilizing for a coup in September of 2014. General Raheel Sharif blocked it by, in effect, removing Zaheer, by announcing his successor. Zahir was talking to the corps commanders and was talking to life-minded army officers. He was prepared to do it and had the chief been willing, even tacitly, it would have happened”. We also learn about the inroads made into military by Tablighi Jamaat (TJ) and the ‘Pir-Bhai’ system which distorts the discipline of army.
In my opinion, the book is recommended reading for people interested in Pakistan, its civil-military relations and how the US treats its relation with Pakistan.
A short introduction to the work of Muzaffar Ghaffar, who has published 30 volumes of classical punjabi poetry with detailed explanations and translation. Written by Punjabi writer Nadir Ali (who happens to be my father)
Muzaffar Ghaffar on Guru Nanak
BAABA NAANAK Within Reach – in MUZAFFAR GHAFFAR’S series “Masterworks of Punjabi Sufi Poetry”
In the cultural wasteland that is our homeland these days, to be a man of culture doesn’t take much effort; you do some literary chit chat or somehow get your name printed with some work people assume as cultural or creative and you become a cultural or literary figure! Having known Muzaffar Ghaffar for over thirty years, he is an honourable and notable exception to this superficial trend. He came to Pakistan with his savings and a couple of books in print, a book of English verse which has had a couple of editions published and a book On How a Government is Run . In my involvement with Punjabi we came together in the weekly “Sangat” in readings of Punjabi classic poetry held at the residence of Najm Hosain Syed and Samina Hassan Syed and I have had the pleasure of knowing him for over 30 years now.
A digression first: Najm Sahib is already famous in Punjabi literary circles in both East and West Punjab. To give you some idea I often quote a well-known Sikh scholar of Punjabi who was Head of Punjabi Department at Guru Nanak University, Amritsar. He said, “There are two categories of Punjabis – those who have studied Mr. Najm Hosain Syed and those who have not; those who have not read him do not know much about Punjabi language or literature!” To those not familiar with Mr. Najm Hosain Syed’s work, this may sound like an exaggeration. But having attended weekly meetings at his house for nearly forty years and having read his poetry and books on literary criticism, plays and poetry, I venture to share this remark. There are almost forty books of verse and landmark works of literary criticism and four books combining half a dozen plays in Punjabi to his credit. He keeps his books small so that the price remains within reach of Punjabi readers. “Recurrent Patterns in Punjabi Poetry” is his masterwork and the full text is online at apnaorg.com.
Najm is Muzaffar’s guide and inspiration for the thirty volumes of the “Within Reach” series on Punjabi Classical poetry that are available to date, all in English. But neither in the US, nor in England and rest of English speaking world abroad have I seen these books in the market, although Punjabi literature is taught in many places in institutes of repute in these countries, with considerable Punjabi speaking public. Nor do I know of anyone abroad who talks of these books. In particular the worth and value of this remarkable volume “Baaba Naanak Within Reach” on Baba Nanak’s poetry is incalculable, and it is our enormous loss that this work of M. Ghaffar remains largely unknown. Continue reading “Baba Nanak Within Reach, by Muzaffar Ghaffar”
This is an interesting book and what the author wants to say is something I have always believed and said. However it is essential to examine in detail what Mr Aqil Shah has to say and offer some humble analysis . On page- ix , would like to offer some comments on Mr Ahmad Mukhtar :–
Mr Mukhtar has been an industrialist who belongs to a town close to the military garrison town known as Kharian cantonment.He has always maintained good relations with the army like any good business man and ,frankly like most politicians in this world has no substance. Just like most generals worldwide are men without substance !
Firstly I do not agree with Aqil Shahs argument about Mr Jinnah on page-3 , nor with Aqil Shahs view that military coups and adventurism were not inevitable in Pakistan:–
We hold the view that Mr Jinnah the so called founder of Pakistan apart from British Raj , had inflicted the unkindest cut on Indian Muslims of Bengal and Punjab in 1916 and thereby by doing this had destabilized future politics of Indian Muslims for all times to come,Pakistan being the worst affected.
This was a long rolling rant I wrote several years ago while reading Pankaj Mishra’s book “From The Ruins of Empire; The Intellectuals Who Remade Asia”. The format is that I comment as I read the book. So early parts are comments on early chapters and so on. Quotes from Pankaj are in bolded italics. I am reposting today after someone complained that it still needs some editing. Hopefully this version will be easier to read.
First things first, this books is NOT about the intellectuals who remade Asia. That book would have to start with people like Aizawa in Japan, the first Asian nation to be “remade”, but that is one nation and one set of thinkers you will not find in this book. Why? because this book is not about Asia, its history or its renaissance, it (like most of Mr MIshra’s recent work) is about post-liberal virtue signaling. For details, read on..
Introduction: After being told that everyone from Orhan Pamuk to Pakistani Ambassador (and liberal feminist Jinnahist icon) Sherry Rahman is in love with Pankaj Mishra’s new book I started reading it. The first 50 pages set a certain tone. And its not a very encouraging one.
On page 18 he says: the word Islam, describing the range of Muslim beliefs and practices, was not used before the 19th century.
WTF? This is then negated on the very next page by Mishra himself. The only explanation for this little nugget is that Pankaj knows his audience and will miss no opportunity to slide in some politically correct red meat for his them. He knows that sections of the liberal academia believe that Islam is unfairly maligned as monolithic (and monolithically bad) and Pankaj wants to let people know that he has no such incorrect beliefs. It is a noble impulse and it recurs. A lot. I do not need to add that this sentence is complete nonsense. Continue reading “Review: The Intellectuals who Remade Asia (Pankaj Mishra)”
Mackintosh-Smith, Tim. Arabs . Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.
Tim Mackintosh Smith is one of those romantic Englishmen who used to go and settle in far off lands and “go native”. He lives in Yemen (apparently still there, even during the civil war) and has been writing about the region and the Arab people for several decades. This book is the culmination of a lifetime of study, a comprehensive history of a people and civilization to which he has become attached and about whom he knows more than most. It is well worth reading.
He begins by making it clear that this is a history of the Arabs, not a history of Islam. The first mention of the word Arab actually occurs in “in 853 BC (and) concerns the employment by the Assyrian state of a transport contractor, a certain Gindibu (‘Locust’), an Arab chieftain who owned vast herds of camels”. This is about 3000 years ago, and the coming of Islam lies about halfway through this history. While we know relatively little of the early (pre-Islamic) history of these people, Mackintosh-Smith wants us to be aware that the Arabs existed long before Islam did. Continue reading “Review: Arabs. A Three Thousand Year History of Peoples, Tribes and Empires”
rise and fall, hubris and nemesis, a frequent pattern in human existence .. .
Sex and Violence in Tibetan Buddhism: The Rise and Fall of Sogyal Rinpoche by Mary Finnigan & Rob Hogendoorn Jorvik Press, 199 pp. (2019)
The book benefits enormously from having twin authors — Rob Hogendoorn provides invaluable biographical and analytical material, credited to him as it occurs, while Mary Finnegan’s contributions relate, in her own voice, her experiences. Both authors are Buddhist practitioners, both have researched the sexual abuse claims around Sogyal for years — claims which have since been admitted by Rigpa, Sogyal’s teaching organization.
Mary Finnigan & Rob Hogendoorn’s book title hits two human keynotes. You’ll find them intertwined for crowd-pleasing reasonsd in Game of Thrones:
It’s a question that’s been asked of Game of Thrones as long as the HBO series has been on the air: Why so much sex and violence?
But Tibet? Perfect Tibet of our wishes? Tibet of the revered Dalai Lama? Tibet of the lamas who create intricate mandalas of colored sands — then brush them away in a gesture of impermanence and carry the dust to rivers which wash them out to sea? Shangri-La — in fact not fiction?
There’s a lot that’s wonderful to Tibetan Buddhism, and the better it looks and actually can be, the easier it is for Westerners to fall for the trap of projection — to believe, in this case, in the impeccability of Sogyal Lakar, sometimes titled Rinpoche, or Precious-One.
It’s unwise in general to speak ill of the recent dead, and Sogyal died in August 2019. Yet his story must be told, because unhappy though it is, the telling can help us avoid the illusion of a supposedly great lama — second only to the Dalai Lama in popularity in the west — who was in fact assaulting his female students sexually on numerous occasions across decades.
That’s the tale Mary Finnigan, herself a practitioner of Dzogchen — Sogyal’s own form of Tibetan Buddhism — details in collaboration with her co-author Rob Hogendoorn in this book.
The accusations against Sogyal, of “sexual, physical and emotional abuse”, led to the Dalai Lama declaring Sogyal “disgraced”. The Charity Commission for England and Wales disqualified two of the Trustees of Sogyal’s organisation, the Rigpa Fellowship, in the UK because they covered up “knowledge of instances and allegations of improper acts and sexual and physical abuse against students”..
But although sex, violence, and sexual violence are at the heart of the anguish Sogyal inflicted on unwary students, there’s another side to Sogyal’s story that Finnigan and Hogendoorn illuminate — the story of the son of a wealthy family, in contact with a senior Dzogchen lama and taken under his wing, who learned little that might have qualified him to be a teacher of that tradition, yet who managed to wangle his Tibetan nationality into the appearance of a gifted and highly educated lama on his arrival in England.
It’s a fascinating and heart-rending story — heart-rending is the word used by the New York Times in its obit for Sogyal — throwing light on Tibetan Buddhism itself, an astonishing mesh-work of visualizations and compassionate insight; the vicious politics that have long existed within the cloak of lamaism, and which the Dalai Lama has partially uncloaked; an archaic gender differential as power differential; and in general, eastern wisdom meets western credulity.
Sogyal’s wealthy family connection gives him access to a high lama, Chokyi Lodro, and his presence at Lodro’s side gives him in turn the title of Tulku, which often but not always signifies the reincarnation of some previous high lama, and is always a term of respect.
An authentically scholarly Tibetan meditation master, Dudjom Rinpoche, knows Sogyal has little to no education in the finer points of Tibetan philosophy or meditation, but considers him someone a western student might pick up some hints from — crossing the cultural divide as it were.
Sogyal , moving to the west, is on his way.
The years pass, just being a Tibetan guru in the west is sexy in the broad sense in which Lamborghinis and orchids are sexy: scholars of religion call it charisma. And when young and impressionable women become devotees of supposed high lamas — and when there are rumors, not without foundation, of Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism including tantra, or spiritual-sexual practices, feelings and expectations can get very confused.
The main thrust of Mary and Rob’s book is to tell the rise and fall of Sogyal Lakar, his rise by that wider “sexy” quality we term charisma, his fall by discovery of the abuses of both spirituality and sex he’s inflicted on so many of his students across the years. I won’t go into the details, it’s their story to tell, and they tell it with the probing integrity of journalists as well as the sincerity of practitioners.
It has to be said that young Western women stood in line to sleep with Trungpa [“a formidably intelligent iconoclast” meditation master] and were usually eager to oblige with Sogyal. They became known as dharma groupies and sex with a Rinpoche became almost as much of a status symbol as plaster casting Mick Jagger.
Oh, Mary can write!
The problem was the abuse at Sogyal’s “feudal” court.
The Heart Sutra of Mahayana Buddhism teaches something often translated:
form is emptiness, emptiness is form
where emptiness is better understood as <em>void, and void as devoid of self-establishing nature — so that these lines might be rendered:
Form is devoid of self-establishing nature, absence of self-establishing nature is form.
Sogyal — no great meditation master, it would seem — has another form of emptiness. Whatever he may have thought, he lacked that compassion which is the fruit of deep meditative practice. And so he was able to enact violence on his students.
But we may witness that emptiness in another arena, that of scholarship.
Early on in Sogyal’s time in the west, Dudjom Rinpoche is giving a talk to a hundred eager students, packed into a room intended for an average London family, and Sogyal is translating for him. Mary was there, sitting next to her then boyfriend John Driver, a linguist gifted in Tibetan, and noted that John was frowning. She writes:
During the first lunch break, John steered me into a cafe down the road. He was quite angry.
“Sogyal is not translating correctly,” he said. “Either he’s interpreting Rinpoche’s words into what he thinks is suitable for Westerners or he doesn’t understand what Dudjom is saying.”
It was a foreshadowing. Ever since Walter Evans-Wentz published an early English translation of The Tibetan Book of the Dead in 1927, the gold-embossed green cloth volume has been a choice text to set beside the Chinese I Ching in pride of place on one’s desk or shelf. Come 1992, and The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying was published, updating the timeless Buddhist classic, personalizing it with some of Sogyal’s own tales, made “accurate” to some degree by the inclusion of questions and answers from distinguished Tibetan masters such as Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and the Dalai Lama together with western masters of hospice living and dying such as Elizabeth Kubler-Ross — but, but–
As one student who was around at the time put it:
Could anyone who knew Sogyal imagine him being able to quote the German mystical poet Rainer Maria Rilke? Or the Sufi sage, Jalaluddin Rumi?
No, the “editor” who’d have provided those quotes, and much more of the content and form, indeed the very flowing language of the book, would have been Andrew Harvey, Oxford scholar extraordinaire and author of The Way of Passion: A Celebration of Rumi and other works.
So much for a great book — and it was and is great, and Sogyal deserves some, though by no means all, credit for it.
To sum up:
Sex and violence are paired in the book’s title. The problem with the sex is not that it was sex — Sogyal was no more a monk than Trungpa was, and it was often consensual. The problem was in the tirades, the humiliations, the violence, the abuse — delivered under cover of spiritual authority in violation of trust across a power and gender differential.
The scholarship is, well, Andrew Harvey’s, and Padmasambhava’s, and Kubler Ross’.
I met Sogyal once. I asked him about the meaning of “skillful means”, and he responded “not entering or leaving a room through the wall, when there’s a door available.” He seemed pleasant enough. Trungpa Rinpoche I befriended at Oxford, and took to visit friends of mine at Prinknash Abbey near Gloucester: later he wrote that the visit had shown him the possibility of living the contemplative life in the west. He opened the first Tibetan monastery in the west shortly thereafter, Samye Ling in Scotland. And Mary is an old friend from hippie days.
As I indicated above, Mary and Rob have a story to tell, and they can tell a story.
Sogyal himself is no longer with us. He has entered, perhaps, the bardo, that liminal space between lives about which The Tibetan Book of the Dead — and to some extent its Sogyal reincarnation, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying — are written.
A short review from Major Amin. I have not yet read the book, but Dalrymple’s recent books have an increasing tendency to play to the gallery. I would not descirbe this as “irrational hatred” (see review below), it is entirely rational. He knows his audience and frames his books to pander to that audience. He is a good writer and is not ignorant, but his books are spoiled by his urge to frame his story in ways that will appeal to his audience (educated Indians who are happy to hear bad things about the EIC and Westerners who want to appear virtuous). Again, I have not read this book, but his other recent books and interviews all exhibit this tendency..
Firstly English East India Company did not cause anarchy in India as Dalrymple repeatedly tries to prove.
India was in complete anarchy when the British company became a serious player.
Delhi was sacked more than 40 times between 1737 and 1800 by non British forcces, but Dalrymple is blind to this hard fact. All the bad things he sees are only to be found in English East India Company.
His military knowledge is myopic and he constantly distorts military history and uses bits and pieces to prove or disprove as he wills at whim.
As a matter of fact the company restored order in India .First three universities in Indian history were founded at Calcutta ,Madras and Bombay in 1856-57.
Outmoded customs like widow burning , infanticide etc were abolished by the company.
A hereditary class of feudal was created by Lord Cornwallis in 1792 as a result of which political stability was introduced and strengthened in India.
The company had many reformers, philanthropists and utilitarians but Dalrymple in his irrational hatred is blind to all these people.
To Dalrymple all that British East India Company did was bad and he has an extremely jaundiced and twisted vision.
Dalrymple gives no weightage to the fact that British parliament and system prosecuted Clive and Warren Hastings and tried to regulate India.
Above all Dalrymple forgets that without the driving spirit of corporate enterprise of the company the British would never have conquered India.
While personal interest has constantly dominated human conduct in history , whether it was a company or a state , Dalrymple wears coloured glasses and his perception is cloudy as well as confused.