This has to stop. We have to deeply examine what’s going on in western sanghas that makes people vulnerable to sexual abuse. This story is almost a year old (May 2015) but it’s the first I’ve heard of this happening in Europe: Austria and the Netherlands.
Having been through the experience of abuse within Buddhist communities—verbal, physical and sexual assault—I know first hand how this happens. First Buddhism is presented in such a way that you are led to believe that “full awakening” only comes through revered gurus, lamas, monks, and lay teachers. Or it only happens within the context of a tight-knit sangha and not outside of it. Or it only develops through rigorously adhering to the program of retreats and courses laid out by a particular Buddhist organization. All of these ideas are bunk, and they are not what the Buddha taught. One of the tests of true enlightenment from the Suttas is that you are “independent of the teachings of others.” (S. Batchelor, After Buddhism). The teaching of the Dhammapada is that Buddha was not a guru in the traditional sense: ‘Buddhas only point the way’. At the end of his life, Buddha taught that your only refuge was yourself and the dharma. (S. Batchelor, After Buddhism). In the Kalama Sutta, Buddha taught his followers to QUESTION EVERYTHING. Accept no teaching or practice just because some teacher, lama, monk, guru, or long-term practitioner told you so. Test it against your own reason and experience. You are the only one who can liberate yourself, with the help of other practitioners. My experience is that if you don’t do the work yourself and find your own way, within the context of your own life, true spiritual growth becomes even more elusive. You cannot imitate or inhabit someone else’s enlightenment, whether from an ordained monk or a lay practitioner. You have to do the work yourself.
What I experienced in previous sanghas that I have been in is that I wasn’t abused in the normal course of things. I became the target of abuse when I resisted the kind of cult-like conditioning that many sanghas promote, often without realizing that they are doing so. They put pressure on members to conform, to take on every recommended practice, retreat or course, whether it works for you or not. If you don’t, you’re labeled a failure within the context of that community. I became the target of abuse when I questioned or challenged the teaching I received. If you dare to question what they teach, they attack you and silence you. That’s when I left western Tibetan Buddhism for good and began practicing as a post-Buddhism Buddhist.
We have to start teaching people to that they don’t need a particular community or a lineage to understand Buddha’s teachings and realize awakening. We have to create new communities that have flat hierarchies, no revered teachers, that work more like encuentros, peer-led self-study and support groups. We have to teach people not to be codependent, but to be co-independent with others in their pursuit of spiritual growth. This kind of practice would reduce the kind of passivity and dependence that sets people up for victimization with Buddhist teachers and communities.
Posted on May 25, 2015
A number of Buddhist monks and teachers in the Netherlands have been sexually abusing students for decades. Victims include both men and women, some of them minors. Victims are finally coming forward to tell their story.
Over the past few months broadcaster NOS, in conjunction with Buddhism scholar Rob Hogendoorn, has been speaking to some of these victims. Among these people are three men who were abused by a Thai monk. This monk arrived in the Netherlands in the 70’s and worked in a temple in Waalwijk. He sexually abused young men for at least 20 years. Earlier this month a number of this Mettavihari’s, who died in 2007, followers decided to talk about the years of “repeated inappropriate behavior” after decades of keeping silent. According to them, the reason they are coming forward now is that their own investigation has shown that the abuse was even larger than they thought.
NOS also found two other major scandals of Buddhist teacher abusing their position of power with students. In both cases victims turned to the police, but no charges were ever filed.
In a Buddhist center in Middelburg “Kelsang Chopel”, the Austrian Gerhard Mattioli, harassed and sexually abused female students in the period between 2001 and 2008. In the minutes of a meeting of the Buddhist Union Netherlands, the then president talks of a “self proclaimed lama”, or teacher, who “wreaked havoc in a horrible way”, according to NOS. The BUN sent people to speak with the victims, but no further publicity was given to the case.
At the end of 2001 Dhammawiranatha, Pierre Krul from The Hague, stepped down as monk at a monastery in Makinga, Friesland, after being confronted with the many sexual relationships he participated in with women. The victims turned to the BUN. “The stories were truly staggering, brainwashing, instigation, sexual relationships with women, but also with very young, underage girls.” a board member said to NOS. According to NOS, many of these women were mentally dependent.
Buddhist teacher Frank Uyttebroeck told NOS that there are also more recent cases. According to him, at least five people have come to him for help after being abused by different teachers in the past five years. Two of them were so traumatized that he had to refer them to get medical treatment.
Most Buddhist organizations in the Netherlands are now considering measures to stop sexual abuse in their own circles and to offer better help to victims. The BUN told NOS that it recently sent an appeal to more than 40 affiliated centers in which they point out the importance of precautionary measures. The administration warns individual Buddhists to “orientate well and think” before they join a particular organization or teacher.