No sound spiritual path or religion or religious doctrine frightens, controls, exploits, abuses or hurts people or children.
To my Tibetan Buddhist friends, this is a repost of years of discussion on Reddit. We should not be discussing any of this publicly, but certain teachers are publishing our secret tenets and it’s causing some confusion and harm, so please bear with me if there are things here that are hard to understand. Please forgive any faults or omissions. If you haven’t seen the 1972 film Brother Sun, Sister Moon, see it right now or again.
Do you recall the premise of the film, the when the jewel encrusted, gilded panel of those in religious control and authority, shunned and called the monk Francesco, St. Francis of Assisi, a heretic? However, they were wrong. He was by far, the open hearted, authentically spiritual, righteous one. Often those in religious authority have lost any voice of gentle wisdom, compassion or grace- whatsoever. It’s all men’s callous power and control and religion is a powerful method of submission, made up stories about some divine or unseen moral or afterlife punishments that evoke fear and instill powerful social control.
We are at an intense crossroads now of culture conflict. Tibetan Buddhism, taking its root in the west is an ancient feudal culture where they built these many magnificent nationwide religious institutions. These however are headed by one authoritarian teacher in control, that you can not question. In contrast we have the west, many revolutions against totalitarian control, absolute monarchies and the cultivation of much more transparent and democratic structures. We have therefore… a problem.
I have two close Tibetan teachers that have never harmed me, or anything that I know of. This ethical, more modern vajrayana teacher knows exceedingly well that I’m speaking out against this culture of cultural based Lama harm and agrees with most all of our concerns. His direct instruction to me as I speak was to “be very gentle” and it’s hard, for me these are intensely emotional issues, the deepest actually.
I came into Tibetan/ Vajrayana Buddhism as spiritual seeker and met him and my main teacher when I was doing a study abroad program in Nepal. I came from a really harsh bullying and abusive culture, and was so hopeful to find real love, kindness, community, decent and ethical people that I really could create a new family with. Now, again, many of us have lost this after the recent #metoo scandals, we found more control, abuse, heart wrenching scandals and covert alcoholism rampant, even in Buddhism and it’s not at all healing; we are still in the dissolution phase. This is why I’m prompted to write and reflect so often. To be clear, I do not want the Buddhist tantric tradition with it’s powerful ancient yogas to fail, I just want what is not sound to change. Anyone reading thank you for witnessing our collective pain, may it heal through awareness.
Men’s encoded doctrine aside, looking at everything with fresh eyes, I feel that real spirituality, dharma can only heal and help us. It does not evoke fear and you are not a submissive slave to anyone ever- spiritually, financially or sexually. I doubt any true Buddha or liberated, compassionate being would wish this upon us. Some teachers claim that they are Buddhas, but seem rather like covert spiritual narcissists that indeed gravitate to positions of power, the need for adoration, attention and control by emotional/psychological manipulation of their followers. These people are hardly a light forward of liberation, it’s rather, more of a personality disorder.
“The belief that your spiritual wisdom makes you more special than others is also known as spiritual narcissism. It can be used to shield yourself from criticism, to impress others, or to enhance your-self-esteem and feel good about yourself.”
Unethical men in power take what is beautiful and sound, our love, our hope, our fears of the unknown, our longing for liberation, our vulnerability and appropriate it for their own power. Some say now that we are not ready for the power and dangers of their tradition, and if we don’t like it go elsewhere. I’ll hope and aspire to never, ever be “ready” for this culturally co-opted version of “Vajrayana”- with all due respect, many teachers seem self righteous and crony-complicit. Views that are intensely orthodox, fear evoking, fire and brimstone, totalitarian, victim blaming, conservative, conduct coverup… That- to me, is not the dharma, any dharma.
Someone was talking about a senior Tibetan or Bhutanese teacher in his lineage abusing babies and being drunk. Just like these cat and dog abuse stories that have come out, so many of these men drink behind the scenes or are on dry drunks. I hope friends can see who many of these people are at their core- instead of ethical changes, culpability and creating healthy community, what is called “relational resolution,” some Lamas have doubled down and *they* split us into those who “submit without seeing” and those who do, “samaya breakers” and are shunned.
It’s funny because I see those who use religion to hurt, control and command and students who turn away from seeing the harm, especially to abused children in their gonpas as being complicit as the real “samaya breakers.” Religious abuse is the gravest of crimes because it’s done on the deepest spirit level and we are so open and trusting when someone wears robes.
Cruelty and cultural ignorance I believe, was never intended when the Buddha reportedly gave such and open and precious transmission in the secret-fourth moment of the third turning. These men co-opted this and institutionalized it and their built up this Vatican like gold-gilded culture that is just not the dharma, we’ve misconstrued the essence for the form.
And it doesn’t matter how magical, opening and tantalizing the blessing or empowerments were, if at your core you are not kind, you don’t care for children’s suffering and treat your students like dogs, none of it matters or can liberate.
With the reference to Francesco, St. Francis of Assisi, I’d sure rather be on his side than theirs, but it’s disappointing. The Dalai Lama clearly asked for change and revolution in the foundational feudal, slave and owner tenets of Tibetan Buddhism but we did not yet listen. Certain teachers, more than one, recently spoke in direct contrast to him, thwarting and reestablishing central power and control and say we can’t or won’t change anything. They often do this when they are afraid, have something to cover and are losing ground.
Examine A Teacher for 12 Years Before Empowerment
Poor conduct is generally shown to closer students after having received an empowerment where the spiritual front falls. My friend in Shambhala said “I could have come to the center and watched the teacher come, give a talk and leave for 12 years and never ever know what was hidden behind the scenes,” so this “it’s your fault” victim blaming in the male written texts is not fair, and it was designed to ultimately enable abuse, cease critical thinking and submission after empowerment, none of which is helpful.
Ready for the amazingness of Vajrayana? No, I don’t think this madness and command and control was ever what the Buddha intended at the third turning. It’s the s.o.s., men in power using samaya as a weapon, and it’s awful to do that, spiritually criminal actually. Friends, it’s not your fault if your teacher is corrupt and you have to leave. You will not be cast into Vajra hell, and yes the Dalai Lama says you should speak out.
This is what my teachers said about samaya to help us heal. I was super scared, terrified actually about what we were taught about the hells, vajra hell and samaya, he said to me gently “don’t worry about all of that scary stuff, its very simple, if you don’t practice you won’t make any progress.” His father once said to my friend who was also frightened- lovingly “there is only one true samaya” (ultimate clarity) and he said that in the moment all fear ceased.
My teacher said “there is no punisher, no crime, no one to punish.” He also said in confidence “some Lamas use samaya to keep the community together, that’s not the ‘real’ samaya.”
Dharma can not harm the mind, only help, and these warnings, secrecy dangers etc., I feel are mostly unfounded. I think much of this stuff was man-made by people with vested interests.
From The Dalai Lama
We can and must change and evolve create a much more ethical way. Some teachers already have; they are never, ever abusive even behind the scenes, look at the gentleness of Mingyur Rinpoche or Anam Thubten who doesn’t wear robes or sit on a throne but is so loving and helpful. People like that, I trust and would devote to. I would never however, cease critical thinking or intentionally use religion to hurt or harm anyone, ever and if we have, well, there’s no time like the present to wake up.
I’m going deeper into my own practice, connecting to only loving, gentle and ethical teachers and friends, calming the winds and opening the heart, trying to live a decent life. My husband said “you are free now to finally become a Buddhist.”_/\_