I had a long conversation yesterday with a survivor from Vajrayana Buddhist abuse. I told him that I went back to our Buddhist community, now that everything is falling apart from the inner scandal exposures after #dharmametoo. I asked him if he felt that there was any hope as the community is now willing to discuss ideological and structural changes for them to stay viable. The survivor said that he had to a join number of online support groups to be able to heal from the spiritual, psychological and emotional damage of having gone through pretty significant spiritual betrayal. I didn’t ask him what the details were of his experience but many who were in unhealthy sanghas all have been hurt in different ways.
He said he didn’t think that it could be fixed because the basic structural tenets of Vajrayana Buddhism are predicated on classic, quintessential cult ideology, and they aren’t able or willing to see this. We wonder if it is a little bit like the adage “a day late and a dollar short,” if for 10 years they took steps to contract to the community, mandate loyalty, secrecy and exclusivity, and thusly estranged and hurt people, now that people have left and have been really hurt, is it too late for an apology and a “hat in hand,” begging people to come back? It’s funny about apologies, especially when teachers get exposed for their sexual and power exploitation/misconduct or in any political or social milieu like Michael Cohen- their apology, self reflection and regret would be worth a whole lot more if it were offered, *before* they got caught.
I been thinking a lot about what he said yesterday and I have gone through the list of what defines a cultish community many times. I’ve said before, I think a lot of us in the west, came into the Dharma because our original religions weren’t working or were dated or we did not have any viable spiritual tradition. We as spiritual seekers, may have come from drugs, broken families or loss or divorce or were having trauma, emotional or psychological problems. We found something that we were told was completely divine in that we can and should commit our lives to completely, and that it would result in this amazing bingo prize of attaining full enlightenment. Who wouldn’t sign up for that?
I can learn all of these amazing texts and scriptures and hang out with the most holiest and famous teachers and develop some type of self identity for where mine was broken and fragmented, by giving it all away to them. The more that I would be devoted and express submission and love, the more kudos I got and still get, from so many. I could feel like my life has meaning, as it was indeed now defined by my teachers and religious tradition. It is the Buddhist version of being saved, and now I meant something, anything, they defined and gave me value. Yes, you got it, we simply forged a culture of sycophants and co-dependency and when you use religion or a guru as a drug to hide under the cloth, cower and cover, there is zero chance of healthy spiritual evolution.
It’s funny, whenever I express warm memories of my teacher who passed away and pictures of him, I glean a huge amount of kudos and warmth from my global Dharma friends, but if I express any type of criticism of their ideology, longing for things to improve and change or call out what men in power have used to hurt us for centuries, then I become a persona non-Grata. I could spend my entire time posting pictures of Buddhist teachers and Dharma quotes as a way to glean piety by association and indeed fortify my spiritual ego- every day collecting the faux love of dharma social media likes- but how lonely really, pathetic and indeed, unsatisfactory.
A young dharma frienemy who is an ex-monk and self proclaimed teacher and “dharma expert,” now dresses in some theatrical robes and brocades. We went to Naropa together, he posts endless images of teachers, many with him as photo ops and quotes all day and lives from thousands of social media “likes.” It all seems sad, ego stoking, attention seeking and indeed, not the dharma at all, at all. Spiritual Narcissism. Even my living nemesis talks about how we should not post images of teachers to gain confirmation.
This endowed one, put up a photo of Jigme Phontsok and some loosely attributed quote about “not upsetting the minds of others,” and I made a simple and accurate cultural commentary that the Tibetan tendency to never to discuss issues of concern, has brought us/ the Tibetans to the edge of demise socially and politically. I was immediately personally DARVO attacked on his page by him and a piranha pool of people that could not withstand even so much as one tiny moment of critical thinking. It is shocking actually because we have a tradition of prestiged intellect, logic and debate. Even our founder the Buddha reportedly said “please examine in your own experience, everything I said-make and it known to you before you adopt it as true.”
In reality unfortunately, any criticism whatsoever is completely suppressed even to the point where the speaker, if they even express one contrary view would be considered demonic or a vow breaker and shunned, silenced or emotionally berated. This is the farthest thing from what the Buddha wanted, all of it- the gold gilded statues, unkindness, abuse, spiritual ego and experts, hierarchy, commoditization, idolatry and volumes of utterly tedious and dated conceptual scripture, all of this is simply not the authentic Buddhist Dharma or path, at all.
Until people can step back and clearly examine what we have adopted in this ancient culture that is unhealthy and no longer serves us, we will be unable to make the social and cultural changes needed for this tradition to survive into the next generation in the west. Very few young people are magnetized and are upholding it now, and people simply refuse to wake up. As long as we hold on to what is no longer sound… we will not survive. The next generation is indeed shrewd.
Induced Dependency – Cults demand absolute, unquestioning devotion, loyalty and submission. A cult member’s sense of self is systematically destroyed. Ultimately, feelings of worthlessness and “evil” become associated with independence and critical thinking, and feelings of warmth and love become associated with unquestioning submission. https://people.howstuffworks.com/cult4.htm
Does the need for transparency, ethical change and social updating invalidate every teacher, all of our practice and every tenet of Vajrayana Buddhism? I say absolutely not. My simple, humble, ethical Yoda-like teacher and training was amazing and the most treasured of my life. But, just like myself as a microcosm- I have a good heart and basically healthy life; I’ve done a lot of good things but there are certain blind spots in me that are really important to rout out uncover, heal and improve. Without this honest inquiry and willingness to change, it’s possible that disease could ensue, like heart disease etc.
We can’t have a closed spiritual tradition that’s unable to question, learn, grow and evolve now. So, considering the original discussion above, the ability for our friend’s tradition to survive is going to be determined by whether or not people are going to be able to see how the religion got used to uphold personal ego and arrogance, profit from people in the community financially, sexually exploiting women and children and the maintaining of religion and power to keep people silenced, owned and trapped and not really capable of making any spiritual progress.
It might be high time- can we get back to the basics of what the Buddha wanted which is… to just sit with ourselves, let all of the inner winds and complexity we’ve taken on, settle. Open our hearts and our minds in an ordinary way, and from being very clear, humble and open, we can offer qualities that would really benefit our world. This simplicity is devoid of being an administrator or upholding some type of large organization, or collecting children from families and having so much institutional complexity and harm. I feel like it’s time for us to listen to the original teachings, connect with ourselves, the earth, the elements and truly and authentically, finally become Buddhist. If we do this, what is sublime, healthy and capable of liberating- will endure.