In “Buddhism, the law of silence” (JC Lattès), journalists Élodie Emery and Wandrille Lanos investigated some of the Tibetan Buddhist centers that have spread to the West over the past forty years.
They collected “the testimonies of thirty-two abused disciples, targeting thirteen different masters”, in several Western countries, leading to the conclusion that there were “serious abuses” in the practice of certain master teachers, or lamas.
Children have been taken from their parents and abused, young girls have been forced to become “dakinis”, “sex partners” of a deviant master.
Some cases cited have already been documented. This is the case of master Sogyal Rinpoche, who died in 2019, who founded Rigpa, a network of 130 spiritual centers. Accused by eight former disciples of sexual assault, among other things, he was “disgraced” in 2017 by the Dalai Lama and forced into forced retirement.
As for the Belgian lama Robert Spatz, founder of the “Ogyen Kunzang Choling” (OKC) community, he was prosecuted by the Belgian courts in particular for “taking children hostage and sexual abuse”, for events that occurred in a center in Castellane (Alpes de Haute Provence), which he disputes. He was sentenced in 2020 on appeal to a five-year suspended prison sentence, and appealed in cassation.
For the authors, who are also signing a documentary (broadcast on the Arte platform until November 11), it is not a question of “an isolated sectarian drift”, but “well a system which plagues the whole of Tibetan Buddhism”, one of the – minority – branches of Buddhism.
In question: the wait-and-see attitude, according to them, of great figures. “So far, the Tibetan spiritual authorities have ignored the voice of the victims, repeating over and over again that the subject is not their responsibility. Attempts from within to tackle the problem of sexual assault in the communities have been met with coldness or outright hostility,” they write in the book.
– no “central authority” –
The Dalai Lama’s “40 years of silence” are singled out in particular, despite being warned in 1993 of “abusive behavior by masters” on disciples, during a meeting (filmed and exhumed in the documentary) which was held in Dharamsala with European and American masters.
Pressed to have a strong public word, he will finally never sign an open letter sent which will have no effect.
Journalists are also wondering why, in their view, the Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard, French interpreter of the Dalai Lama, known for his personal development books, has seemed, over the past decade, to react little or not at all, especially about the case. Robert Spatz.
Asked Wednesday about France Inter, Matthieu Ricard, whose lawyer asked to delete the interviews with him in the documentary, considered it “exaggerated” to affirm that he had said nothing, stressing that he had “condemned without appeal” the actions of Sogyal Rinpoche or speaking on the radio about Robert Spatz.
It is “healthy, as the documentary does, to denounce (the) deviations”, he added.
Acknowledging that he had gained some notoriety, he admitted: “I spoke about it, but probably not loudly enough”.
Mr. Ricard more generally invoked the lack of “central authority” in Buddhism. “There are hundreds if not thousands of Buddhist centers in the world” and they are all “totally independent”.
“The Dalai Lama kept saying we must speak out loud and clear, we must go to court,” he said. But “he cannot be aware of what is happening all over the world”, pleaded the monk.
Finally, another explanation for the silence, put forward by the journalists: “the preservation of financial interests”. “Each of the centers established in Europe and the United States sends part of its receipts to the Asian monasteries”, for their construction or maintenance. This makes the “lamas at the head of these centers” the “custodians of a colossal power”.