On the one hand,this is a shocking story about the moral degeneration of the Buddhist community, with supposedly celibate Buddhist monks engaging in sexual activity. The point of taking monastic celibacy vows is to show one’s commitment and intention to renounce attachment to sexual desire that, from the Buddhist viewpoint, causes many different types of physical and mental suffering.
Over the last few years, I have heard several stories of monastic sexual misconduct and abuse in Tibetan monasteries in exile. In October 2011, a famous and highly-respected reincarnate Tibetan Buddhist master, Kalu Rinpoche, posted a Youtube video in which he reveals the abuse he suffered as a young monk at the hands of adult monks in his monastery. Kalu says that when he was in his early teens, he was sexually abused by a gang of older monks who would visit his room each week. Putting aside the issue of sexual misconduct and abuse, much has also been said and written about on the everyday specter of violence as corporal punishment within Tibetan monasteries. One Tibetan man I know very well (who was a monk for 15 years from the age of 12) told me that physical beating of young monks was the norm in his monastery. For centuries, it has been the cultural practice in Tibet (which has continued in exile) to send very young children to monasteries. In Tibet, monks were almost always recruited as very young children through the agency of their parents or guardians.
Furthermore, according to Goldstein and other personal anecdotes, child monks who ran away from the monastery were generally not offered sympathy or support and typically scolded by their parents and family; with the child sent immediately back to the monastery. Born in 1929 in a Tibetan village, Tsering developed a strong dislike of his country’s theocratic ruling elite. Even in exile, many Tibetans enter monasteries as children below the age of 16, often as orphans or at a long distance from their parents’ home. Furthermore, whereas previously monastics lived in isolated places providing little contact with lay people, women or worldly activities, nowadays, the close proximity of monasteries to large towns and cities and the proliferation and easy access of internet porn and so on has no doubt increased and fed the monks’ sexual desire and frustration.
Tibetan Buddhist monasteries are, historically and currently, some of the most advanced centers of Buddhist scholarship and practice in the world today. Who can these children turn to if there is a culture of abuse, shame, silence and denial in their community?
Understandably, the Tibetan community in exile does not always respond well to criticism or suggestions for improvement, particularly when coming from non-Tibetans. It is time for the Tibetan community to stop defending those who abuse and exploit their position of trust.
If children are being left vulnerable in Tibetan monasteries, why don’t the Tibetan exile leader Lobsang Sangay and the Tibetan monastic authorities follow the Bhutanese example and call for an official report into the safety of child monastics in exile? When are we going to get a public response from the monastic authorities on these alleged cases of physical or sexual abuse, particularly that of Kalu Rinpoche? These testimonies could then be compiled into an official document and delivered to the CTA and monastic authorities to respond to.
On a positive note, Kalu Rinpoche is not just taking on the voice of a victim but also that of a pioneer, creating a school for children whose families are in financial difficulty and barring them from becoming monks until the age of 19. Adele Wilde-Blavatsky has an MA in Philosophy and previously worked as a Philosophy lecturer. Monks would be better monks if they became monks only after they had fallen deeply in love and had their hearts broken.
Let His Holiness come with some revolutionary decisions for a paradigm shift of the monk recruitment system at early age.
I used to be a monk in the Tibetan tradition and now practice as a monk in the Korean tradition. One important point in all of this, which the article doesn’t really go into, is the underlying sexual issues in Tibetan culture. Actually, the ancient Tibetan and yoga scriptures and teachings that our yoga is pulled from yet discarded, does not see your description as childish and close minded but dharmic, conscious and spiritually evolved, as our cultures is considered degraded in delusion, self dis respect, desensitized to the sacredness of the body and intimacy in spiritual ignorance. One important point in all of this, which the article doesn't really go into, is the underlying sexual issues in Tibetan culture. First, the Tibetan refugees who came to India in the Sixties were raised in a pre-modern society. Second, among the middle aged monks, nuns and Geshes, who are my friends, those who entered monasteries as children did so eagerly. Third, corporal discipline of Tibetan children is not confined to monasteries — ask any adult graduate of Tibetan Schools in India.
Fourth, physical punishment and even beating children was perfectly acceptable in the USA, the UK and other industrialized Western societies until after World War II. Of course, I don't endorse beating, any physical punishment of children, child labor or sexual abuse of any kind. You may have noticed that many traditional Tibetan lay people like to imitate the ordained in the colors or style of their dress without actually holding those vows. On the other hand, compared to Judeo-Christian-Islamic societies, female sexuality is considered as natural as that of males. The Anglo-American stereotype that the sexual urges and desires of males are greater than females is generally reversed amongst Tibetans. In addition to coming straight from the 14th century to settle in rural India, the generation of first arrivals in India was very traumatized. Lastly, your brief depiction of Tashi Tsering's The Struggle for Modern Tibet contains serious errors. Sane people want to live in a world free of violence, rape and abuse perpetrated against children, women and men.
On the other hand, I feel it's worth considering that this is a community in exile and being attacked from various angles. Why don't they follow the example of the Buddha and start their monastic life at the age of 29?
Founded as a print magazine in 2002, we went national in 2005 and then (because mainstream magazine distribution is wildly inefficient from an eco-responsible point of view) transitioned online in 2009. No matter what point you are in on your journey, you need to relax and reflect every once in a while.
Ironically, this same month, in the tiny Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan, it was reported that health authorities are making condoms available at all Buddhist monastic schools in a bid to stem the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV among young monks who are supposed to be celibate.
On the other hand, it is a positive sign of a conservative, Buddhist society opening up and acknowledging there is a serious problem of sexual misconduct in their monastic institutions.
At times it is difficult to distinguish what is second-hand gossip and what is based on facts or direct personal experience.
Rinpoche’s allegations caused shockwaves within the Tibetan Buddhist community (particularly his western students).
Stories of excessive corporal punishment and violence in Tibetan Buddhist monasteries are commonplace.
He related a story to me of how as a young adolescent he was held down on a bed by four adult monks and beaten with a heavy stick for the minor infraction of being late to morning puja.
Instead of handing him over to the police on an attempted murder charge, the monk was kicked out of the monastery and no more was said about it. The children are sent for a variety of reasons, including devout religious belief, education, poverty and a lack of family support.
It was considered important to recruit monks before they had experienced sexual relations with girls, so monks were brought to the monastery as young boys, usually between the ages of 6-12. In The Struggle for Modern Tibet: The Autobiography of Tashi Tsering there is a first-hand account of abusive treatment at the hand of monastics. He was taken from his family near Drepung at 13 and forced into the Dalai Lama’s personal dance troupe. Many children do not see their parents or family members for years; their sole place of refuge and care being the monastery. Although there are personal stories of abuse among the exile community, some people argue that they need to see more evidence; yet, there is no reason to disbelieve all these testimonies either. They have produced some of the world’s most inspiring, compassionate teachers and practitioners of Buddhism, the Dalai Lama and the 17th Karmapa being prime examples.
What is more worrying is the presence of children in the care of these all-male institutions.
Exposure of these cases and others that are widely known within our communities must be brought out of the closets. At the least, in line with their publicly-stated desire to modernize, they could establish adequate sex education and internationally-recognized child protection measures in the monasteries and schools.
If even Rinpoche’s allegations are not publicly investigated then what hope is there for a young, unknown orphan child undergoing a similar experience?
Whatever anyone might think about this issue, first and foremost (following Kalu Rinpoche’s example) we all need to think about what is in the best interests of the children. Because, as it is a religious issue no other external agency will be able to come forward, hence it has to be done from inside and only by His Holiness. While in Nepal, I witnesses child-monks being beaten with a stick, met a monk with scars on his legs from being whipped repeatedly with an electric cord, and spoke with a witness to a sexual assault committed by one 20-something tulku on a much younger tulku. This is due to the lack of unconditional love, benevolence, kindness and spiritual realizations taught in childhood, resulting in desperate souls dying to feel alive exploiting their own bodies and flesh in ignorance and self loathing, de sanctifying the body, its purity, modesty in a natural joyful manner, in a greedy desperation of using one another for fleshly thrills, temporal cycle that never ends and leads to soul craziness, a la Hollywood hypersexualization of young girls until they are crazy confused, spears, Logan.
These are the causes of these problems, so they must be addressed in any serious discussion of issues of rape or molestation in Tibetan monasteries. So the World's Imperial ruling class felt that kind of treatment was suitable for their scions. Although I was struck, not too infrequently, as a child, when I raised my own, I really realized how dumbfounding it is that anyone can hit a kid. Why do Amdo people wear their fabulous coats off one shoulder — it seems to be a homage to monastic clothing. Anthropologists have said there is no traditional society with as diverse marriage patterns as found amongst the Tibetans. On the ignorant side of that ledger, I've heard of a superstition that women who do not have sexual relations by the time they are 18 years old will pass away before they are 30. Do you, Eric and the young people reading ET realize how sexually repressed the USA was before the pill became available in the latter part of the 1960's? It is true that, being a 14th century society, he got that opportunity because of a special tax that was paid by a county (or other geographical area) sending one of its boys to the dance troupe in Lhasa. He indicates that somehow or other, the Drepung authorities were eventually able to secure his safety from further abduction so that he could returned to the city.
Let's start bringing that dream to life in our own societies before we start prescribing untested remedies for others. I feel it's a good point that monasteries could have sexual education or some type of victim rights organization.
In fact, it has been infiltrated for some time and I feel like some investigative journalism could come in handy there. Child abuse is happening all over the world, politicians, musicians, you name it, but we wouldn't think Buddhists are humans too.
I understand that they have a belief system of reincarnation and they are always searching for holy people who have reincarnated so that they can groom them for a more enlightened life but surely it would be better for these incarnates to find their own way and learn the lessons they have chosen by incarnating in the family of their choice. Yet, one might also question if this was really what the Buddha intended when he spoke about the path of celibacy? Since that time, I have not heard any Tibetan Buddhist teacher (especially those connected with Kalu Rinpoche) publicly respond to his allegations, let alone suggest there be a formal investigation and those responsible brought to account. I can also personally verify that there was a violent incident at a respected Kagyu monastery in Nepal a few years ago, where a young monk used a meat cleaver to attack another young monk about the head and body, almost killing him in the process.
On the other hand, it was not considered important what these boys themselves felt about a lifetime commitment to celibate monasticism and they were basically made monks without regard to their personality, temperament or inclination. They are then expected to keep the celibacy vow through puberty and adulthood—not an easy task for an adult, let alone an adolescent.
This is not to say that the majority of adult monks are abusing children (or that it is only a problem in relation to Tibetan Buddhists), but even if it is only a small minority it can have a devastating effect. For an adult, one of the best places to study and practice Buddhism is within a Tibetan Buddhist monastic setting. As a community, we have NO obligation to defend these people nor anything to be ashamed of. What about kick-starting a public initiative that provides both monks and ex-monks a confidential, safe platform to register and report their personal tales of abuse and neglect in the monasteries?
At the very least, setting aside legitimate concerns about violence and sexual abuse, doesn’t it make more sense for a person to take the decision to become celibate after puberty, when they are better able to make an informed, adult decision about it? Richard Shusterman and is currently working on her first collection of poetry and essays for publication. We could assume that they already had experienced making love and all of the spectrum of emotions which would turn their minds towards renunciation. The information about violence is really rather unrelated to the main point, of course people get into fights everywhere. Tibetan scriptures state that masturbation attracts unclean spirits and lust crazed after life wanderers looking for low vibes to feed on. No-one is perfect and perhaps you also need to look at your own reactions to criticism and hostility too? Some 120+ years ago in New Jersey, my mother's parents left school after seventh grade to engage in socially productive labor. To the contrary, one highly esteemed Geshe, actually ran away from home in Nepal, against his parents' wishes, to join a monastery in India, These are individuals who have dedicated their lives to developing kindness and wisdom and being of benefit. I recall that a coach, who was an assistant principal, was photographed for the local rag holding the paddle he used on the adolescent boys.
Nonetheless, I must acknowledge that it is not uncommon human behavior in civilized societies.
They no doubt have been encouraged to adopt restraints in sexual behavior as sex, like alcohol, often induces very strong afflictive emotions.
The older generations of Tibetans exiled in India have naturally had difficulty determining what elements of their culture they had to preserve to maintain their identity, so they conservatively are afraid to change anything more than they've already been forced to change.
Dalai Lama and expect normal Tibetans to be extraordinary — the Panda Bears of World Spirituality. They responded to the 13th Dalai Lama's modernizing efforts by publicly threatening and committing violence against teenagers such as that perpetrated against Tashing Tsering. We can say a universal panacea is a living a loving concern for all our fellow living creatures, great and small.
My only issue on this article is that it confuses the fact that these are preliminary circumstances, more like a summer camp for kids and they are not even allowed to be fully ordained until 20 years of age. Removing them deprives them of the love and understanding and protection of other family members. One can only hope Kalu Rinpoche’s video exposure of this serious issue has not gone to waste and been brushed under the carpet in the hope that people might forget about it. Since taking refuge with the 17th Karmapa in India in 2005, she turned away from Western Philosophy and materialism and has spent the last few years living and studying yoga, the Tibetan language and Tibetan Buddhist philosophy in India and Nepal.
Then if they truly want to renounce the world and take the vows of a monk they more than likely would be in their early 20's. It surprises me that it has taken this long for the discussion to arise in the Western press. To an outside observer who gets to know the Tibetans, they can seem quite child-like in their attitudes. Yoga scriptures teach sexual de sensitivity activities other than modesty lowers yoga progression, ones vibe in general and attuned one to mental pollution, our culture. I don't know you in a personal capacity at all, nor you me, our only contact has been online as you know. While physical punishments were not used in our public elementary schools, the parents of the children attending our local Catholic elementary bragged that their school provided superior education because of the physical discipline employed there. Although not fashionable in this fabulously degenerate era, encouraging the restraint of strong craving and hostility is baked into the cake of Buddhism. Maybe you should look it up so you can get a little perspective on the perspective of people whose parents and grandparents were raised in 14th century conditions and who've been living in India, which was isolated from the full onslaught of youth culture media until the last 15 years or so and is not exactly known for being a hotbed of sexual freedom. During the regency of the 14th Dalai Lama, they played a role in the full-scale rebellion by Sera Monastery against the government; a rebellion in which they fought the army and police. Sometimes that may conflict with promoting an internet blogging presence driven by controversy, scandal and divisive polemics. Would it not be better to simply tutor them on a regular basis whilst they are growing up at home. If we are to prepare for the post-His Holiness era, we better create a realistic and honest image of ourselves to the world.
Adele is also a mother to a very active son, a qualified yoga teacher, freelance writer, part-time translator and a passionate political activist on issues related to gender, sexism, civil liberties, Tibet and human rights.
Many years ago, I warned a lama who said beatings were the only way to discipline the kids in monasteries that if the Western press ever got wind of it on a large enough scale, all that money that goes to the monasteries would dry up in a flash.
All of the issues raised above in reference to tibetans innocent modesty about sex acts does not imply those sex acts oral, everything is ok etc is so calledhealthy sexuality because modern America, the most violent country says it is, known for sexual exploitation.
To an outside observer who gets to know the Tibetans, they can seem quite backwards in their attitudes about sex.
In addition, the comments about Tibetan exile attitudes to sex is one which requires more research and analysis than just hearsay. Also, there's a high attrition rate, at least in exile, of young people from monastic life.
Tashi Tsering has nothing bad to say about this official, whose patronage he was happy to receive and who benefited him by providing him access to further education and a government position.
After all there is no guarantee that they will want to choose an ascetic life, this life might be about learning other aspects not found in organised religion.
Recently, she worked for Free Tibet, an NGO in London and as a volunteer for the Tibet-led and staffed NGO, Tibetan Centre of Human Rights and Democracy. The strict nature, some corporal punishment, should be of no surprise as it is a tradition in training monks and nuns.
Thousands of people in convents and monasteries have lived happily celibate for centuries, modesty does nat cause repression,rape or hypo racy, crazy minds do. Tsering later married, always considered himself to be heterosexual, and describes his relationship with this official as a positive experience in his development. But also traditionally monks only became monks because of a personal choice to renounce samsara.
It's time that the Tibetan leaders stop living in and perpetuating the culture of strong denial (which pertains to almost everything in Tibetan society). But these statements need to be backed up more with first-hand accounts and empirical research, otherwise like another commenter said here, you're painting a whole race of people with one brush. Kalu’s claims of sexual abuse mirror those of Lodoe Senge, an ex-monk and 23-year-old tulku who now lives in Queens, New York. There are many cases of rape by Tibetan men, against both Tibetan women and foreign women; the Tibetan women rarely report the incidents. We should also know that monasticism is not necessarily the pinnacle of Tibetan Buddhist practice and accomplishment. Tibetan women are often harassed by Tibetan men who call them, having got their phone numbers from friends of a friend. Many many of the greatest Yogis and Yoginis were and are householders…this is a fact.
I personally would not have chosen the picture of a child monk (not even a Tibetan one) but I had no choice in the matter.
Many Tibetan people are not aware of the basics of sex education, such as the necessity of condoms, or even the basic processes of pregnancy or menstruation. Tibetan women are often harassed by Tibetan men they don't know who call them incessantly trying to hook up, having got their phone numbers from friends of a friend.
Thanks again for your support though and yes, you do have experience of the Tibetan community in exile, there is no doubt, however, sadly there still needs to be more research and first-person accounts of these matters you mention, which are issues for sure, because without that it is too easy for others (not me) to say it is just hearsay, generalising and gossip. Many Tibetan women have probably never had an orgasm, and many Tibetan men probably don’t understand love-making or prolonged sex or how to please a woman.
Many Tibetan women have probably never had an orgasm, and many Tibetan men probably have never even heard of love-making or prolonged sex or how to please a woman. With such closed-mindedness and denial about sex in Tibetan society, it’s no big surprise that a lot of Tibetan people are repressed and seeking some kind of release. Many foreigners are used for sex in a shameless way by Tibetan people (especially foreign women), but the community usually does not say anything. But when one considers the level of denial and hypocrisy in Tibetan society, it’s hardly surprising that there are going to be many victims of sexual repression, especially women and children, but adult men also.
In fact I have never heard of a serious discussion of rape or sexual abuse within the Tibetan community on any level. In general, amongst Asians, the Tibetans are arguably second only to the Indians in terms of sexual repression and dysfunction. With such closed-mindedness and denial about sex in Tibetan society, it's no big surprise that a lot of Tibetan people are repressed and seeking some kind of release. But when one considers the level of denial and hypocrisy in Tibetan society, it's hardly surprising that there are going to be many victims of sexual repression, especially women and children, but adult men also.
Hopefully Tibetan leaders both secular and spiritual will eventually stop this culture of silence and address the issues.
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