Addressing current incidents in buddhist communities and self-responsibility
Reading the following document was disgusting: https://fpmt.org/lama-zopa-rinpoche-news-and-advice/advice-from-lama-zopa-rinpoche/lama-zopa-rinpoches-advice-to-students-of-dagri-rinpoche/
Here is my analysis.
Considerations on the current situation and individual responsibility
In traditional buddhist teachings the terms are well defined and the teacher makes clear at which level and from which perspective he is talking. As this talk is a mixture of several levels it serves to contribute to confusion instead of leading to clarity. Especially, if a group is challenged to deal with ethical misbehavior it is appropriate to talk about ethics, about the law of cause and effect and about the law of the respective countries involved.
In reading this I wonder who wrote or translated the text. In case a person in a leading position has overseen this wording and procedure and has put this text as a statement and reply to the current information of molestation, of offense and disrespect to women, the question of leadership quality arises.
The confusion is produced with inappropriate wording as well as confusing levels of perspective: first, the talk from the perspective of absolute view may be appropriate for those with authentic experience of Śūnyatā. And in oral transmissions of Vajrayāna it is said about those people who develop wisdom within that their behavior becomes more and more subtle, just like fine barley flour. However, there is a lack of appropriate subtlety in speech and action. Therefore, the question arises how this talk is effecting to those who read it, especially to those who have experienced harm and the many witnesses who have kept quiet, and where it will lead to.
The terminological challenges in this text are as follows: whereas when talking about the absolute level, we usually talk about illusion appearing to relative mind or the person being deluded, here we are challenged to read the medical term hallucination with the connotation of a severe mental sickness being carelessly used for the same context. But regardless of whether used out of carelessness or on purpose it has huge consequences. As nowadays it has become a pattern in so called buddhist groups that medically uneducated people in positions of power do not shy away to slander others of having rlung disease or even being crazy, just as a reply to any critique, when they feel like getting rid of a group member or even of destroying the reputation of someone who dared to simply withdraw, it is highly problematic to continue to use terms with such connotation. Actually, by using such terms and diagnosis the lack of education and understanding of terminology and connotations as well as huge overconfidence become obvious. Furthermore, using such for the purpose of denigrating others, directly or indirectly, regardless the law of countries which prohibits public slander, and in these ways more or less subtly manipulating the group will lead to conflict and schism. Why would a responsible person in a leadership position do so?
Where will it lead to manipulate the public to think that everyone who dares to share the truth is supposed to be regarded as severely sick? How much fear is induced in people coming to seminars based on such talk? And where will that fear lead to? How comes spiritual masters or their coworkers not trained in medicine and psychiatry carelessly use medically defined terms which hint at psychosis? This is just not the refined talk and behavior to be expected from someone in a leadership position and even the very wisdom implied in such a choice of words that are attributed to a meditation master could reasonably be called into question.
Moreover, the resulting fear of arbitrariness in the group is certainly not remedied through the artificial exaggeration of people by even imputing visions to them.
The molestation issue raised is an ethical one. Therefore, it is supposed to be dealt with from the ethical perspective and at exactly that level. Especially, someone wearing the robes of ordination is supposed to abide by the basic ethics of not harming. As every buddhist practice rests on that basis there is no need to make up complicated twists of motivation discourse, including the fancy well-known retrospective permission to harm which is known to be generously employed by liars for rationalising their very actions. When talking about such an ethical issue the wording that there would be no karma is just inappropriate, because it simply confuses the levels of practise and respective appropriate behavior. Moreover, this kind of wording used to influence and manipulate people in consequence causes confusion and conflict in the group. Those who want to consider themselves to be advanced in practise might feel encouraged to no longer feel bound to any rules or law and even want to enforce this interpretation of the situation on others. It even hinders every expression of natural human compassion towards the victims. People are being fooled with such ways of talk and sufficiently confused to even go against each other instead of living compassion towards the victims, taking care of their very safety and simply authentically caring for them. Why do people allow such rules of thought and manipulation to be set?
So, the question arises who fabricated this text, which differs in content and form from the very clear traditional teachings of buddhist philosophy and Vajrayāna. As such type of teaching does not address the problem, it neither solves the issue nor helps anyone to feel at ease. It might well serve to uphold the hierarchies of power for a while and the arbitrariness of those in positions of power. As long as the core point is not addressed however, it will neither serve to cure the harm to individuals nor the effects all this has already caused in the respective relationships. And it is definitely impossible to prescribe any view, the heart of which is bodhicitta, if the very bodhicitta and compassion required for reliability and appropriate respect in that context do not shine through. I would have expected some words of compassion within which the mind of bodhicitta can be seen and felt, the immediate protection of those harmed as well as clear, undoubtable actions that seek to repair the damage caused at very many levels.
Beyond the question as to whether the dominant hierarchies in buddhist centers in western countries should eventually be replaced by democratic processes, dialogues and votes, it is a minimum requirement for anyone claiming leadership as a buddhist teacher or meditation master to behave according to human rights and the law of the country. Besides, it is time for every person to take on their own individual responsibility instead of handing it over to any master. This means thinking for oneself, maintaining the freedom of self-reflection instead of being manipulated by strange, distorted concepts, joining together and sharing instead of merely assuring one's own little profits.
In times of crisis, the qualities of leadership clearly appear. It reveals whether a person wants to engage in dialogue and implements his nice sounding words. Therefore, a crisis is also always a chance for individuals themselves to take on self-responsibility and to encourage democratic processes in their groups.
© Anne Iris Miriam Anders, research project TransTibMed
We encounter the following situation: while Indian court has started investigation with the first hearing on 23rd of Mai 2019 (https://services.ecourts.gov.in/ecourtindia_v6/) the person concerned was announced to be a “holy being” in Europe in a letter of advice for his students. This testimony of indoctrination was put at the FPMT website (https://fpmt.org/lama-zopa-rinpoche-news-and-advice/advice-from-lama-zopa-rinpoche/lama-zopa-rinpoches-additional-advice-to-students-of-dagri-rinpoche-2/ , dated 24.5.2019).
There are plenty of old texts in Vajrayāna emphasizing the importance of examining a spiritual teacher (e.g. Patrul, R. 2004, Words of My Perfect Teacher. A Complete Translation of a Classic introduction to Tibetan Buddhism). Apart from proficiency, adequate corresponding education and appropriate implementation for the preached content, integrity and a clearance certificate are necessary conditions required to make a decision. This individual task of examining a spiritual teacher does certainly not stop due to another person indoctrinating the ways of thinking and feeling. Certain situations may even create a chance for collective investigation, the inevitable clarifications and necessary reforms required. The petition and its further handling could be taken as such an opportunity (https://www.change.org/p/buddhist-followers-call-for-investigation-into-allegations-of-sexual-misconduct-by-dagri-rinpoche).
In fact, every individual will have to decide for oneself. Now, in such times of turmoil, one is made even more aware of the importance of one’s own decision and its impact on all others in the group (including on those who were molested, called crazy, slandered and the like) with almost unbearable pain. The question could be posed: how will my decision affect others? And if I do not decide at all how will it affect others? And if solutions as well as protection and compensation for those severely damaged are collectively worked for, narcissistic leaders might end up like the frog from the well in Patrul’s example. Therefore, in the above case, the indoctrinated followers will now have to start to think for themselves.
The pattern of systematically denigrating women and of regarding the followers as a crowd far below oneself to get exploited until they are exhausted and then simply get exchanged for others, which is even interpreted to be for their own benefits of course, is evident in quite many Tibetan buddhist organisations. As even simply withdrawing from such groups nowadays may result in being stalked and slandered in the most cruel and horrible ways many people are fearful, because this is what they were taught in order to keep them quiet.
Where will it lead to if people’s decisions and even natural compassion for victims is being paralysed by fear and indoctrination? The capability of a decision for the greater good and the strength and courage deriving from bodhicitta was traditionally taught with the example of a bodhisattva killing a murderer to save the lives of 400 people. Nowadays, the greater good might well be regarded just the listening to those severely damaged, who do not even dare to speak, the protection of and compensation for victims and the prevention of further harm for the sake of future generations.
This second text of advice could be considered an example of the claims to dominion over disciples at a high price, as otherwise found in cults. Trying to control a mass of people instead of considering the individual development and well-being of individuals based on genuine interest and compassion is obvious. This attitude of depersonalisation, which ignores the feelings of the victims and the traumatic impact on their health and personality development, provides the basis for systematic abuse that has been observed in many Vajrayāna groups.
That advice also reveals an intermingling of interests. As the commercialisation of Buddhism has contributed to the development of the contemporary narcissistic, ideological, economic, social, emotional and sexual abuse that has become obvious, it is indispensable to establish clear standards, a separation of tasks applying clear measures as well as the legislative power of the state in case of infringement. On the condition that double standards are no longer applied, guidelines for teachers, position holders and learners could be developed to avoid these conglomerations and to change these abusive and destructive patterns. In particular, it is imperative to completely separate the spiritual from any economic level.
When looking at the hierarchies providing for exploitation and subjugation of people, sexual offense to women being a part of this behavior, happiness is rather rare in such structures. But this is simply explained being so-called bad karma of those people. The structural issues of systematic exploitation, subjugation and denigration are thus rationalised by concepts like karma-purification and it seems as if the victims were even responsible for them, because of their so-called bad karma, their bad practice and even non-positive thinking. These concepts may serve to weaken their self-confidence and strength over time, but the structural responsibility lies with the elites who have been drawing the profits.
After having taken in the prescription of training patience for very many years without any further discrimination many people think buddhism would be all about others training patience. Actually, it is up to the individual to choose how to proceed with his or her training and among very many other gradually applicable tools patience is just one of the six paramitas which can be trained in. Consequently, there is no need to collectively prescribe this even to those who have already suffered damage to their health. Much more it is the parameter of knowledge, however, which serves to clearly decide on the appropriate means and this decision is up to the individual and its responsibility. As the knowledge to discriminate when and how to speak and one’s motivation for doing so is even more important - in an analogy the former is traditionally taught to be just like eyes for a blind person - patience-only cannot serve as an appropriate means to deal with issues like subjugation, exploitation, slander, jealousy or patterns of exchanging people for each other at will. In short, the training based on self-responsibility and much more differentiated than a few simplistic decontextualised concepts in English.
During the past years some courageous people have dared to tell the truth and this has had huge consequences in several buddhist organisations. As their speaking the truth may have served to protect very many future generations from further exploitation, molestation, abuse and health damage it could well be regarded a virtuous deed. Speaking the truth may even serve to cure divisions in groups created by those who irresponsibly prescribed to others to train patience at all costs to cover up their own behavior and who did not shy back to put themselves to be the only ones to define the truth for others.
© Anne Iris Miriam Anders, research project TransTibMed