The authors of the survey on Tibetan Buddhism: “The bond with the master imposes blind loyalty”

11:30 p.m., September 10, 2022, amended to 11:49 p.m., September 10, 2022

After more than ten years of investigation, journalists Élodie Emery and Wandrille Lanos examine the underside of Tibetan Buddhism in a book (Buddhism, the law of silence, ed. JC Lattès, in bookstores September 14) and an uplifting documentary (broadcast September 13 at 10:35 p.m. on Arte). They uncover a system that allows and covers abuses, far from the benevolent image of this religion.

Your investigation reveals a dark side of Tibetan Buddhism.
Many cases taint him: sexual assault, physical violence, embezzlement… But until now, they had passed under the radar. On the one hand, the general public knows very little about this religion; this minority branch would bring together only 6% of the 500 to 700 million followers of Buddhism in the world. On the other hand, there is a real reluctance to tarnish the tutelary figure of the Dalai Lama, Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. He is the spiritual and political leader of a Tibet oppressed by the Chinese, he embodies the quest for happiness , an ecological conscience before its time. Unassailable.

Read also – The investigation which pinpoints the excesses of Tibetan Buddhism in France

How can the success of this minority movement be explained?
Tibetan Buddhism is the “last spiritual eldorado”. Its rise in the 1970s was primarily due to the Dalai Lama, to his talent for communicating about his religion and the fate of his people. Books – the stories of the explorer Alexandra David-Neel, but also Tintin – have contributed to building this image of a Tibet ” pure “, a fantasized state, especially since we weren’t allowed to go there. At the same time, we are witnessing the emergence of a quest for spirituality, in the wake of the hippie movement and against a backdrop of the decline of other religions. This New Age movement has spread to the general public. In the 2000s, this search for happiness became “mainstream”, with the boom in personal development and meditation, a great loss leader. In forty years, we have gone from 74 to 340 centers in Great Britain, from 40 to 400 in Germany, a hundred in Switzerland, 379 in France… However, the number of practitioners is difficult to know. It is the religion that gathers the most spiritual sympathizers.

It took us years and a pile of scattered cases to understand the extent of it

You believe that the outlook on Tibetan Buddhism has evolved. You, how do you qualify it?
Philosophy, way of life, it has become a ” Science of the mind “, notably under the influence of the French monk Matthieu Ricard. In fact, it is a religion that no longer speaks its name. All the experts we interviewed are practitioners and everyone agrees on that. Our work is in no way an enterprise to destroy Tibetan Buddhism. But to evacuate his dogmatism, his beliefs, his threat of hell and simply pass it off as one for one ” Science of the mind “, this is almost a sham! It is also a way of lowering the vigilance of those it attracts.

How would this violence be part of a systemic phenomenon?
It took us years and a pile of scattered cases to understand the extent of it. We thought we were investigating an isolated case when in 2011 a first witness, Mimi, told us that she had suffered physical abuse and rape for three years at the hands of a lama. [enseignant du bouddhisme tibétain]. In this case Sogyal Rinpoche, a very powerful master, close to the Dalai Lama, author of the best-selling The Tibetan Book of Life and Death, which had opened 117 centers around the world, including that of Lerab Ling, near Montpellier… Over the years, we realized that the same facts and mechanisms came up in all the cases that reached us. A lot of people in the institution knew, but that was before the MeToo era, and most of the victims were of age. Also, when a man contacted us to tell us that dozens of children had been victims of abuse, physical and sexual violence in an OKC community center [Ogyen Kunzang Chöling] near Castellane [Alpes-de-Haute-Provence]the “Castle of Suns”, we thought it was time to reveal not isolated news items, but the system that allows them and covers them.

The master does not strike at random: it is to progress on the spiritual path

You interviewed 32 people accusing 13 master teachers in the West. What are they denouncing?
Close contacts, going as far as rape, serious physical violence. Sogyal Rinpoche could throw a VCR at your head; some still have skull scars; others lost consciousness. They also denounce a spiritual fraud and the fact of having been robbed: the more you give – your time, your money – the more you have a chance of receiving. The master does not strike at random: it is to progress on the spiritual path. He is the only one who knows the path to enlightenment, the end of all forms of suffering. But Tibetan Buddhism, unlike other currents, promises to access it during a single life. This path to enlightenment, it is forbidden to question it. Some masters impose “energy transfers” between master and disciple, even sexual intercourse. This is based in particular on founding myths such as that of Yeshe Tsogyal, who is said to have lived in the 8th century; she was raped by five robbers and derived great spiritual benefit.

What do the masters implicated in your investigation have in common?
They are charismatic men. They blow hot and cold, alternate congratulations and humiliations. “Trust me, but don’t think too much. » They establish their influence all the more easily as the markers between good and evil are blurred. All of them make fun of the Western way of life, but they themselves are very “blingbling”. Money has no value for them, but strangely, many of them live in opulence, drive around in sports cars, even, like Sogyal Rinpoche, in helicopters!

How is silence enforced?
The link with the master is unbreakable and imposes blind loyalty. The student who commits owes him an entire devotion, must never speak ill of him. Breaking this oath is a karmic crime. Hell is promised to those who denounce and to their relatives; and for these practitioners, it is very serious. We repeat to them that you have to choose your lama carefully before committing yourself. It is up to the victims to bear the burden of denunciation. But without recognition of the institution, it is impossible.

If a disciple complains about a lama, he has not understood the path. It’s his problem, not the master’s, who embodies perfection

What happens to those who dare to speak out?
They are ostracized, harassed or called crazy, like Claudia, the first to file a complaint in France against the OKC community, in 1997. If a disciple complains about a lama, it is because he has not understood the path. It is his problem, not that of the master, who embodies perfection. Even more so in the case of the lamas who invoke the “crazy wisdom”, a concept justifying the most abnormal behaviors: beatings, rapes, drug and alcohol consumption, animal murders… By breaking your mental shackles, you would progress faster. Are you shocked? It’s because you haven’t worked hard enough… There’s no way out.

You claim that the Dalai Lama was informed of certain facts as early as 1993…
The first reports fall in the 1970s, but the indisputable proof indeed dates from 1993. This is the filmed archive of a meeting in Dharamsala, during which about twenty European and American Buddhist teachers, alerted by the outbursts of Sogyal Rinpoche, are received in audience. The Dalai Lama acknowledges that he too has received complaints from disciples. The group of teachers proposes to write a forum addressed to all Buddhist centers. The Dalai Lama expresses the wish not to bear the responsibility alone. When the teachers retrieve the text, his signature is no longer there. As a result, it had no impact.

He received the Nobel Prize four years earlier. Tibetan Buddhism is booming, now is not the time to expose its cracks

Why did he not denounce these abuses?
He received the Nobel Prize four years earlier. Tibetan Buddhism is thriving, now is not the time to expose its cracks. He is also a political leader. Some in his entourage may have felt that he would alienate part of the Tibetan community. Finally, he follows the rule and never criticizes the other lamas.​​

What does Matthieu Ricard, figure of Tibetan Buddhism in France, say?
He refuses to speak publicly and demanded the withdrawal of the interview he had given us. He does not respond to victims who ask for his support. He repeats that he is only a monk, that his role is not to denounce: to those who know to do so. He described what happens in some centers as “gossip of the gossip”.​​

How does the economic model of Tibetan Buddhism also block speech?
It is an economy based on charity. The Tibetans are driven out of their country, they have nothing left. The only thing that can be financially enhanced in order to guarantee the survival of their people is Buddhism. The system is based on fundraising in support of the cause, the sending – in cash or in ingots – to monasteries in India and Tibet of part of the proceeds from retreats and merchandising. In the West, some lamas are at the head of multinationals. With revenue from his bestseller, Sogyal Rinpoche has funded communities in the Himalayas. Another guru accused of rape, Robert Spatz, paid 100,000 dollars for the renovation of the monastery of Shechen, in Kathmandu, where Matthieu Ricard lives. To denounce these deviant masters would be to risk cutting off the financial windfall. There is hypocrisy in accepting this support without the ethical responsibility of how the money is raised. Especially since there is no diploma to become a lama. By associating their image with these people or places, the Dalai Lama and other figures have given them a “seal of authenticity” very convincing for beginners.

To our knowledge, only one complaint resulted in a heavy sentence in 2018

When it is seized, how does justice intervene?
The procedures are long and the sentences disappointing for the victims. In the case of the Lerab Ling center, directed by Sogyal Rinpoche, our witness Mimi reported the facts to the gendarmerie in 2012. It was not until 2017 and a letter signed by eight of the master’s closest disciples for an investigation to be opened. for acts of morality and financial embezzlement. It is still ongoing. To date, Mimi has never been auditioned! But if Sogyal died, his circle remained in place. To our knowledge, only one complaint resulted in a heavy sentence in 2018: a lama who taught in a center in Saône-et-Loire was sentenced to twelve years in prison. But in our book, we cite others who face charges and are still practicing.

And abroad ?
There were cases everywhere: Canada, Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain… In the United States, an earthquake occurred in 2019: the nun Pema Chödrön, as famous across the Atlantic as Matthieu Ricard here, publicly admitted having been alerted by victims of the abuses that the master Chogyam Trungpa had committed within the Shambala community, which he had founded – a trial is also expected in Colorado. She apologized for not hearing their suffering. However, she is among the only ones to make this mea culpa.

The authors of the survey on Tibetan Buddhism: “The bond with the master imposes blind loyalty”