We don’t want to Hear About Abuse, but What is the Price of Denial?

A guest post by Ayya Yeshe

What is the cost to Buddhism if we turn away from survivors and try to keep Buddhist hierarchies and our faith intact in the #metoo age?

None of us want to wake up each day and hear about more teachers that have been accused of abusing their students (mostly women). None of us want to engage in the in-fights as we see groups of those who support survivors of abuse, those who think we should be silent and those who choose to defend their teachers attack each other. None of us want to have to question the system of faith that brought us so much benefit. None of us want to hear a very powerful lama say that his students should visualize a teacher accused of molesting multiple women and abuse as a Buddha. Very few of us want to hear that the manager of a large centre decided to throw out a monk who instigated a report against an abusive lama out of a puja. We don’t want to hear that male managers of large European dharma centres are trolling respected female journalists who simply did their jobs in exposing abuse. Most of us don’t want to see 12 powerful lamas praising a deceased lama and known abuser and bypassing his abuse and the pain and trauma of his many victims.

Abusers don’t work alone

Seeing people in power behave this way, it’s clear that abusers don’t work alone. They are supported by systems of enablers that shore up their power. Another name for this system is patriarchy – a system that ensures male privilege and power. In the case of Tibetan Buddhism, it ensures that most of the power remains in the hands of a small racial group of males from noble or well-educated and wealthy Tibetan families or those propped up by that system of privilege. That does not mean that the lineage does not have good to offer. But it does show that all too often absolute power corrupts.

Its horrifying when you realise that men you’d seen as compassionate and awakened deny the testimonies of rape survivors and disparage open and scientific means of investigation in favour of protecting those in power. It’s a field of landmines. It’s easier just to turn away. No one wants to have to see the shadow side of their own faith. No one wants to watch the inevitable clash of cultures.

The price of turning away

But think of the price of turning away; of not holding abusers accountable; of not questioning people who kill the messenger rather than acknowledge the ugliness of the violence unleashed by the abusers. For those who appeal to survivors to be silent, what if your daughter was next? What if your lama continued to teach in centres where known child abusers are still in charge? How many more people need to be abused and lose faith because we think that keeping face is more important than protecting followers of Buddhism?

Facing the shadow side

If we don’t question the shadow side of our faith, our tradition’s good aspects will never be able to shine. Women – 50% of the population – will never have equality or safety, and there will be no justice, ethics or trustworthiness in our tradition. If you have to live in denial about women and children being raped, how enlightened is your Lama anyway? How many more people need to suffer until all that is good in our tradition just becomes an empty shell with a nice veneer, but inside is empty and hollow and full of trauma survivors and traumatised enablers? The Buddha predicted his tradition would not be destroyed by outside forces, but from inside elements, like a mighty oak eaten inside by wood worms.

The age of kings is over. Women need an equal share in resources and systems that their labour and faith have so long maintained. Rape survivors need justice, and we need to stop using the idea of faith to hide abuse. This is the only way the beauty of our tradition will survive. Not by regression and suppression.

Ayya Yeshe

20 Replies to “We don’t want to Hear About Abuse, but What is the Price of Denial?”

    1. So well said and to the point. Thank you Ayya! Ditto on all the other responses!
      The prophecy of Guru Rinpoche applies here as well…
      “Guru Rinpoche further said that in that era, many ordained monks are greedy and pursue wealth and fame. They travel everywhere to cheat on their followers. They plan and think of ways to get offerings and donations from followers and possess their own private wealth and properties, yet they do not engage in any Buddhist practices or chanting on their own. They indulge in music, dance and entertainments. They break precepts and vows without any remorse (6)..”


  1. Dear Tahlia and Ayya, am weeping with thanks over my keyboard now, thanks and my heart brim full of appreciation for your intelligent, wise essay, for it being presented here.

  2. Good post. Well made points. Particularly liked – The Buddha predicted his tradition would not be destroyed by outside forces, but from inside elements, like a mighty oak eaten inside by wood worms. So it is not the people highlighting abuse that are destroying things but the abusers carrying out the abuse.

  3. By far the best post I’ve ever read here, or anywhere else, directly addressing the most serious problems Buddhism has……problems which noTibetan lama has yet had the courage or honesty to really confront or even write about with anything approaching this degree of clarity and moral integrity.

    Patriarchy is indeed the problem, and if Buddhists can’t find a way to free themselves from it entirely and practice independently, nothing is going to change.

  4. The most powerful and succinct post I have ever read! I am most grateful to you for expressing what is true. May it awaken the Buddhist sheeple. I am posting it on my FB and will send it in emails to everyone I can think of.

  5. Thank you for this wise, insightful essay.
    You make clear that abuse inTibetan Buddhist schools is not an isolated act of a predator. It is indeed made possible by followers, that for no reason looked away or even have been fellow offenders.
    The system that is the environment of these terrible acts is only the stage of the offenders. This fact keeps the mechanisms alive to defend -against all evidence and all knowledge- these crimes.
    This involves also all collegues of the deceased lama, that are now blamed by their support. It seems they can not discriminate the teachings from the teacher. As I have stated before, this may be right, as a corrupted teacher -in my vision- can not give in-corrupted teachings.

    1. There have been two installments about Sogyal. The first one last week was Mary Finnigan being interviewed on her own. That Sunday broadcast was titled “Amazon indigenous tribes; Bishops Brexit Letter; Sogyal Rinpoche”. The broadcast that Robert Hayes mentions does not have Sogyal’s name in the title. It is “Should you break a Promise; Sacred Trees; The Legacy of Mugabe” There are 5 of us speaking and it comes at the end of the programme.

  6. This is a fabulous and succinct analysis! Thank you so much for the wake up call. It’s easy to get a bit jaded and it’s time to remember our compassion for all concerned.

  7. Rob Hogendoorn emailed the Department of Religion & Culture Dharamsala to express his concerns about their letter of condolence published on the Sogyal Rinpoche Homage page. He has published their reply on Dropbox, but I have had difficulty posting the link here. So briefly, they have asked Rigpa to remove the translation of their letter that had been sent in Tibetan from the Rigpa webpage and have clarified the Tibetan tradition of only saying good things about a deceased person. They said “It has been clear by now that our message has shocked and angered many in view of some controversies about late Sogyal Rinpoche’s personal behaviours. It was totally unintended and we hereby sincerely apologize to all those who were affected.” They did not intend the message of condolence that had originally been sent in Tibetan to be a eulogy.
    I shall try to post the dropbox link separately so you can read the whole reply.

  8. I have just checked the Homage page and Rigpa have taken down the Department of Religion and Culture Dharamsala’s message of condolence as they were asked to do.

    1. The response of the Department of Relogion and Culture is a wise response, because they clarify the differences in cultures and they are open for the notion that in the west such message could led to anger and shock. It shows also that Rigpa uses this message in a western way to glorify SR, but this was also not the intention of this message.
      It show Rigpa has not learnt anything.

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