Sexual misconduct in Buddhism

This is a sad and difficult topic, it can not be avoided because it is a real tangible matter. It is an issue as old as humanity and one that still requires sensitivity and wisdom.

Sexual misconduct in Buddhism.

At the Buddhist temple today when I sat with a group of older Tibetan women, including a Napli nun, I had a horrifying realization that every single one of us present there was sexually abused in our life. It is a very real and horrid experience to endure for any woman at any age. This knowing filled my eyes with tears that I had to shake off, as I was involved in a conversation.

Over the years of practice and yogini travels I had my share of wacky men, and even on the streets of Italy while doing my crazy-retreating, I ignored the men who were just nasty or pushy. Being mindful as a woman of dress code and also honouring my own feminine flow and Shakti is a part of a full time experience of living as a woman, that many women will attest to.

From the largest community of Tibetans in Europe – Zürich where I spent 3 months practicing at the Rikon Monastery under Gelug and Sakya guidance, I traveled to Toronto – the largest community of Tibetans in North America.

Recently I have gone through another sexual assault from a Theravada practitioner who is related to a woman practicing in a Palyul centre under a teacher who also isn’t clear about his intentions or ways in which he conducts his work and who due to a young age isn’t as well mastered in Tantras and in the western world as we would like him to be.
The Vietnamese man (who is not related to this teacher directly) decided to disregard that I am a reverend in an interfaith religion and a doctor of religion studies and that I am willingly supporting his family, instead he tried to play his game on me, along with this mentally ill Vietnamese sister from the Palyul centre.
This assault was one too many.

Involved with the police, media, safety-planning groups and remaining sensitive to the Tibetan politics and the dynamics within the Tibetan community I am teaching again from the road and addressing the vulnerable issues of women everywhere.

I am disillusioned and disappointed that the basic Buddhist 5 precepts are ignored by a lay Theravada practitioner, in a home with a huge Vietnams altar and people who try to appear good, over expensive incense and saffron water. Spiritual materialism?

Tibetan people are upset and do not want to see the oldest school of Tibetan Buddhism tarnished – Palyul, yet the lack of leadership of the teacher (I will use his initials only) TDG Rinpoche and his lack of respect towards women shown towards me combined with an inability to resolve conflicts and deal with life via common sense is a big concern. I was led to believe that he wanted to be with me, yet very quickly I knew that he and I would never ever be together, as I see us both completely incompatible.

Simultaneously this week emerged recent news speaking of Shambala’s head master Sakyong Mipham’s sexual transgressions [Only Sakyong and his wife and kids know why Sakyong needed to get in more sexual relationships] and we already have Sogyal Rinpoche in a long retreat away from his students for molestation and improper sexual conduct, Chögyam Trungpa was known to sleep with this students and married a young girl of 16 years, one of his sons is Sakyong Mipham.

This looks both frightening and exhilarating and once we open our eyes to what Buddhism really is and roads it offers we see things through lenses of reality. Each individual on the path is overcoming their individual karma and circumstances working (hopefully) diligently on their practices and meditation, while cultivating beneficial and auspicious relationships with teachers. It is said in several of the sacred Buddhist texts I read that a relationship to the guru is important in creating better circumstances and better rebirths. Seeing the mantra: Om Mani Peme Hung, is said to liberate beings instantly and to purify lifetimes of negative karma. With such promises of liberation and with such devoted spiritual approach the philosophy of Buddhism naturally inspires reverence in its followers.

Abuse is abuse, and no one is above the law.

The worst thing is that when no one is brutally raped some people look and minimize the smaller things and try to glance over them or sweep them under the carpet, yet we forget that each moment is what builds the next one and rancid behaviour once done creates circumstances for bad behaviour in the future, unless it is corrected, and more often than not it isn’t.

Why? Because women are afraid to give it voice and women need to speak up louder and clearly about the violence, aggression and the issues that are present in their lives.

While I would love to believe and see that Buddhism is a rose petalled journey of tantric feasts and dances and joy, it is really a path of realization and liberation from all that traps us in the limited thinking. The Buddhist wisdom is a wisdom of common sense and compassion in action, and also holds a wild key with which some may want to open doors to crazy wisdom.
As Buddhism points us to realize that is really a matter of our attachments, aversions and ignorance. All the time we are faced with suffering and the way to liberate ourselves from suffering is clearly outlined by the Buddha Shakyamuni.

The current problem that we face in the Dharma is the ancient wisdom meeting the modern times and modern western world and its people. Albeit dysfunctional in many ways, the western ways are shaping the way our economy and politics move around North American continent and European and asian ways are reflected more strongly in there respective places. Asian culture is driven mostly by uniformity and quick money, while European culture relies on the tradition that is many thousands of years old.

The teachings of the East and their esoteric frills and magical promises of altered states of consciousness and meditative bliss render possible the seduction of the busy westerner who is caught up in the cycle of work and bill paying and most likely does not sit on the street chanting on their malas.

While the developing countries of this world and the eastern world embrace the western models, I haven’t yet heard of a westerner abusing the eastern modalities, but I do hear and have experienced the eastern teachers failing as an example of excellence.

Besides His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and His Holiness the 17th Karmapa we have a number of progressive and evolved western Buddhist teachers as well as Nepali and Tibetan teachers. Some of them I have listed on my social media Tweeter @DrWangmo (look in Lists)

The concern for the spread of the dharma arises both out of curiosity for the ancient arts of cultivating peace and reaching enlightenment as well as for the need crated by His Holiness Dalai Lama to free his country of Tibet. Everyone is admiring the eloquent and well educated Tibetan monk who shares his wisdom of history and religion and human values with the world while patiently dealing with communist regime of Chinese government.

His Holiness as an example would like to see much more integrity and human value in all the Tibetan Buddhist teachers, yet it isn’t like this at all the time.

Sadly I have come across monks and nuns and teachers in Tibetan Buddhism who lack necessary reflection of interest in human values and matters. Sadly majority of them I found to be in the oldest school of Tibetan Buddhism, Nyingma.

Often students I meet are caught up in intellectual matters of the dharma and discussing the realities of life are ‘boring’ and unnecessary things that boil down to statements like “This is your karma”
However true, these statements without application of prior reflection or wisdom, sound redundant and we need to apply western modalities of psychology as well as evolved and progressive practices and tools of healing and mediation, conflict resolution and recovery practices and finally as a last step forgiveness.

While I do understand well what Karma is and I teach among meditation, yoga and tantra, Lamrim (a decisive guide to enlightenment in the Gelugpa school of Buddhism) I am astounded at how detached we are in the world from suffering, both our own and that of others.

The customary thing is a Tibetan Buddhist culture which is few thousand years old where each family is obligated to give one child (usually a boy) to a monastery for training. Men who spend more than 15 years in monasteries practicing furiously and with intense devotions to their masters, while they may get abused and pushed to the limit are reminded of Shantidheva’s teachings of patience. Discipline is adapted to each student. Monks & nuns are taught that anger serves no value in the world at all, and indeed it does not.

When monks & nuns graduate they are able to do just about anything they want to do, they mostly want to be loved and revered and respected and be wealthy and healthy. The pursuit of enlightenment shows us the necessity to overcome our attachments, aversions and ignorance while we remain peaceful and apply correct tools to help alleviate samsara in the world.

Some people don’t make it through the rigorous 15 years of monastic training, like my ex husband Loten Dahortsang who disrobed after a few years, and those wounds of disrobing do take time to heal. He is today a great teacher and does research in meditation and depression, yet I understand and feel clearly this decision of dropping out of monastic schooling and its effects.

The situation of sexual assault and problems with TDG present me with an experience that is painful, difficult and sad, the teacher from Palyul and the Theravada follower I am dealing with, lack common sense and human values, and show lack of integrity, almost enjoying causing suffering to anther person.

I ask myself today – do we really need this much violence and aggression to arrive anywhere in life? Or are we so obscured by our own minds and thinking that we forget to connect with he essence of the heart? Is the ego and striving for power more important then the human being that is in front of us? Or whatever is going to happen to us when we are able to embrace our feelings and what we become when we let them go?

Are changes we are making to our lives positive ones in the long term? Buddhism teaches clearly that all life is suffering and that we need to learn to embrace the joys and the pains of life, yet Buddhism does not take away common sense, as much as I would like to think that Buddhism is the positive religion of the world, it matters a great deal what linage and with what teachers you spend your time with. I am glad that Kagyu is supporting me well and from my Sakya master Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche to my ex husband Loten I am well supported.

With the feminine rising all over the world, I think we are seeing the pain that is bubbling up to the surface and asking to be healed. Women in all walks of life feel disrespected and dishonoured and often are numb and unable to connect with heir feminine and their natural shakti flow.

Do these monks and nuns in Buddhism set their own standard for their work after their graduate? Most of them do, and most of them try to make the best of their circumstances with their own teachers and their own communities. This is also another teaching of Buddhism – every human being is working out not only their karma also their circumstances.

Most of the westerns look up to Buddhism as the Holy Grail of wisdom and mastery of life & death. For me it is still the holy grail, without the thrills. Learning to practice and following the precepts, paramitas and the noble 8 fold path is as straight forward as the ten commandments are to the Catholics. Truth be told the attitude of the Asians towards their religions are equally the same as Christians have towards Christianity or Muslims towards Islam or anything else. Do we need Religion at all? Buddhism shows us that it is not a matter of religion it is a matter of life and knowing how to live a balanced holistic life, reaching for enlightenment, and helping others realize the truth of emptiness. Buddhism is a philosophy not just a Religion, which many other religious traditions reach for in the time of need.

Should we be left with more questions of should we be moving forward?

It is left for each individual to determine that for themselves. In a natural community where love and understanding reside, mutually non-exclusive, the pull of the Sangha and the pull of the family relations is like the waves on the shore that brings us the water to the dry land.

While some remain on the dry land others return back to the ocean and can rest and replenish with the water.
The dharma is evolving and Buddha Shakyamuni stated himself that each one of us has to discover the teachings and contemplate them on our own, we do not have a definitive “one holy book” that guides us all to liberation, except the Gelug, with their Lamrim 😉
Each person is reminded time and again of their limitations on the path and the joys of suffering that need to be embraced with that.

I look for the balance in the middle way and the effects of actions and decisions on the women.
Feminine psychology is very different from masculine and women need a different care and approach to meditation, reflection and community. What works for men may not work for women. Although emptiness can be realized by almost everyone and everyone has seeds of the Buddha nature inside of them, gender does not define the ultimate reach of enlightened mind. However how we go about reaching enlightenment matters both to the Buddhists and to the lay people and each gender does it in their way. Who are the ones concerned with Spiritual realizations?

What is so upsetting about Palyul and TDG Rinpoche is that with the amount of training these monks have there is an expectation that they follow and consciously practice with integrity. Karmically speaking there are several ways in which we can obtain enlightenment and each teacher needs to be able to determine where the student is at. For some the temporary goal of comfortable life may be all that they are able to achieve, while for others the past encumbrances as well as the effects of the present actions on the future lives are what concerns them, the intellectual capacity of each person is very important to the development of right action (embodied behaviour in daily life), boddhicitta as well as proper practice.

It seems the western world is driven to achieve excellence far more than east, our views are shaping and affecting the way the dharma is related to us, as well as how we interpret it. It is of most importance to be close to teachers who maintain proper and pure conduct and who do not abuse their power and know how to manage their tantras and Sanghas with care. I am glad to have these teachers in my life. They are a great resource and support. They are funny and caring and understanding.

I do not think that it is a bad fantasy for a woman to want to be with a Buddhist teacher in an intimate way both for the sake of ‘passionate enlightenment’ as well as for developing other meditative skills.

It is a problem when these relationships are not consented when men abuse women energetically while they know they do not want them and while the women desire to be with other man. It is a problem when one knows clearly what they are doing wrong and with premeditation forces themselves on another person – it is difficult to teach culture to men who are outdated (excuse me for being rude) and who are unwilling to look at women as a gift and who are unwilling to work out their won issues with their own feelings and emotions and who do not understand the simple two word ‘NO’.

Dr. Wangmo

updated & revised August 2, 2018

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