Category Archives: Buddhism
Sectarian clashes between Muslim-minorities and Buddhists in Myanmar have allegedly angered the Islamic militant group, the Indian Mujahideen, and the Buddhist population and monasteries in India are at risk, according to intelligence sources.
India’s National Investigation Agency on Monday alerted the North Indian state of Himachal Pradesh about a possible terrorist attack on Buddhists and monasteries across the state, according to the Indian media.
After Bodhgaya in eastern India, where Lord Buddha attained enlightenment, was attacked by the terrorist group recently, the security at Dalai Lama temple in Dhramshala in north India has been noticeably tightened.
The National Investigation Agency has reportedly sent a communiqué to the northern Indian state police, cautioning them about possible terrorist attack on monasteries, especially in Dharamshala, the exile seat of the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.
Plans to attack the monasteries in North India were exposed by Obedu Rehman, an operative of the India based terrorist group, according to the Hindustan Times.
Earlier this month, a series of eight blasts occurred in and around the Buddhist shrine in Bodhgaya, injuring two monks- one Tibetan and one Myanmar.
The blasts took place a day after the birthday of the Dalai Lama.
The Tibetan spiritual leader described the attacks as “very sad” while noting that it could be an act of “few individuals” and “shouldn’t be considered serious.”
“We are thankful to the Central Government and the Government of Bihar for the security provided at the Mahabodhi Temple and express our full faith in the ongoing investigation of the serial blasts,” said Lobsang Sangay.
The Dalai Lama has sent a letter to the Myanmar opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi urging to find a way to end the sectarian clashes in the country.
Suu Kyi tlll date has taken no stance regarding the clashes. She recently expressed her wish to contest the 2015 presidential election. Many people hope that If Suu Kyi wins the presidential election; she might be able to end the clashes in the country.
The Dalai Lama was quoted as saying, “I was performing my early morning meditations as usual and sitting in the lotus position. I had just achieved a complete level of relaxation when I felt something drop. Naturally, I assumed it was my holy excrement, so I summoned my attendant to collect it for sale in Hollywood, again as usual. Imagine my surprise when I looked down and the little shit was looking back up at me.
Followers of the Tibetan Buddhist leader were jubilant upon hearing the news that there was now an heir to the ailing Dalai Lama. Incense, firecrackers, prayer wheels and flags, chanting and colourful demonstrations quickly spread around the world. However, celebrations have now been dampened by the further announcement that the baby lama is Chinese.
A spokesman for the Dalai Lama has issued a strongly worded statement blaming the Chinese government for the birth. “We have inside information that it was definitely the Chinese. Except for His Holiness’ non-political trips to America, France, Britain, Mexico, Guatemala, Germany, Italy, South Africa, Canada, Morocco, Singapore, Japan, Norway, Peru, Cuba, Poland, Russia, Turkey, Nigeria, Jamaica, Taiwan did I include America?, in the past year, the Dalai Lama has been right here in the lamasery with the other monks. And believe me, Tibetan monks know how to have safe sex without conception.”
In an unusually swift reaction, the Chinese government in Beijing has also claimed that the baby lama is indeed Chinese. Lin Hung, the young, handsome and popular Chinese appointed governor of Tibet has claimed he is the father and that he and the Dalai Lama have been having a clandestine affair for the past two years. Hung claims that the Dalai Lama has made numerous visits to their secret love nest in Lhasa disguised as a Buddhist monk.
The Dalai Lama’s attendant who was present at the birth has confirmed that Lin Hung is the likely father. “The baby lama has His Holiness’ ears, but everything else looked well Hung”, according to the attendant.
The Chinese authorities, and Tibetan Governor Lin Hung have invited the Dalai Lama and baby lama to return immediately to Tibet, and Potala Palace is being readied for their arrival. “The Chinese baby lama is a wonderful gift from the entire Chinese people to the Dalai Lama and all Tibetans. This baby will bring the peace and harmony we all so desperately want to restore”, said Chinese President Hu Jintao. Governor Lin Hong made a more emotional appeal directly to the Dalai Lama. “This was not just a dalaiance on my part. I love you and our baby lama. Please come home. If you don’t return, I will put a photo of our missing baby lama on every milk carton in China.”
In a move to ensure the return of the Dalai Lama and baby lama, the Chinese government in Beijing today issued an immediate order legalizing same sex marriage and granting partners and children of same sex relationships full and equal rights. To engender world support, the Chinese have also put in a bid for the 2012 Gay Olympics to be held in Lhasa with Governor Hung, the Dalai Lama and baby lama as official hosts. To protect the health and safety of baby lama, the Chinese government has also immediately banned the illegal melamine contamination of yak milk within 500 yards of Potala Palace and urged the Dalai Lama to breast feed.
A poll taken in Tibet by Chinese authorities immediately after the birth announcement shows that 117% of Tibetans want the Dalai Lama and baby lama to return. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 3%. “It’s up to the Dalai Lama now to prove what kind of man he really is”, quipped a street vender outside Potala Palace hawking baby lama souvenirs.
Children, Mass Monasticism and a Culture of Silence
For centuries, it has been the cultural practice in Tibet (which has continued in exile) to send very young children to monasteries. The children are sent for a variety of reasons, including devout religious belief, education, poverty and a lack of family support. As Melvyn C Goldstein explains in Tibetan Buddhism and Mass Monasticism:
In Tibet, monks were almost always recruited as very young children through the agency of their parents or guardians. It was considered important to recruit monks before they had experienced sexual relations with girls, so monks were brought to the monastery as young boys, usually between the ages of 6-12. On the other hand, it was not considered important what these boys themselves felt about a lifetime commitment to celibate monasticism and they were basically made monks without regard to their personality, temperament or inclination.
Furthermore, according to Goldstein and other personal anecdotes, child monks who ran away from the monastery were generally not offered sympathy or support and typically scolded by their parents and family; with the child sent immediately back to the monastery. In The Struggle for Modern Tibet: The Autobiography of Tashi Tsering there is a first-hand account of abusive treatment at the hand of monastics.
Born in 1929 in a Tibetan village, Tsering developed a strong dislike of his country’s theocratic ruling elite. He was taken from his family near Drepung at 13 and forced into the Dalai Lama’s personal dance troupe. Severely beaten by his teachers there for minor infractions, Tsering (a heterosexual) was then raped by a well-connected monk (and other “official monks”) in exchange for protection, becoming a passive sex-toy or dronpo (Tib: guest).
Even in exile, many Tibetans enter monasteries as children below the age of 16, often as orphans or at a long distance from their parents’ home. Many children do not see their parents or family members for years; their sole place of refuge and care being the monastery. They are then expected to keep the celibacy vow through puberty and adulthood—not an easy task for an adult, let alone an adolescent.
Furthermore, whereas previously monastics lived in isolated places providing little contact with lay people, women or worldly activities, nowadays, the close proximity of monasteries to large towns and cities and the proliferation and easy access of internet porn and so on has no doubt increased and fed the monks’ sexual desire and frustration.
With this background in mind, issuing condoms to monks may not be the most ‘pure’ or suitable method, particularly in terms of preventing rape and abuse, but it is certainly a practical one if monks are contracting HIV and other STDs. The cultural background of “mass monasticism,” combined with the lack of child protection measures, leave child monastics particularly vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse. This is not to say that the majority of adult monks are abusing children (or that it is only a problem in relation to Tibetan Buddhists), but even if it is only a small minority it can have a devastating effect. It only takes a few rotten apples to spoil the bunch, as they say.
Ruben Derksen, a 26-year-old Dutch reincarnate lama who stars in the film Tulku, has stated that is is about time that Tibetan Buddhist institutions were “demystified and the shroud was removed.” Derksen, who as a child spent three years in a monastery in India, recently drew attention to the physical beatings that are a regular practice there. “I met Richard Gere and Steven Seagal, and they didn’t see any of this,” he says. “When celebrities or outsiders are around, you don’t beat the kids.”
And therein lies part of the problem: it’s well-hidden. Although there are personal stories of abuse among the exile community, some people argue that they need to see more evidence; yet, there is no reason to disbelieve all these testimonies either.
Tibetan Buddhist monasteries are, historically and currently, some of the most advanced centers of Buddhist scholarship and practice in the world today. They have produced some of the world’s most inspiring, compassionate teachers and practitioners of Buddhism, the Dalai Lama and the 17th Karmapa being prime examples. For an adult, one of the best places to study and practice Buddhism is within a Tibetan Buddhist monastic setting.
Consensual masturbation and “thigh sex” between adult monks is not the chief concern here—albeit such activity from the monastic viewpoint is far from “pure” and, if done out of frustration as opposed to one’s sexuality, it is not particularly psychologically healthy either. What is more worrying is the presence of children in the care of these all-male institutions.
Who can these children turn to if there is a culture of abuse, shame, silence and denial in their community?
Being open and accountable on these issues will enable reform and constructive action. International children’s rights laws apply globally. This is not an issue relative to a particular culture or tradition.
Understandably, the Tibetan community in exile does not always respond well to criticism or suggestions for improvement, particularly when coming from non-Tibetans. In response to a Facebook discussion I started on this issue, a Tibetan replied that:
It is time for the Tibetan community to stop defending those who abuse and exploit their position of trust. Exposure of these cases and others that are widely known within our communities must be brought out of the closets. As a community, we have NO obligation to defend these people nor anything to be ashamed of. Their actions are not a reflection on the broader community. If we are to prepare for the post-His Holiness era, we better create a realistic and honest image of ourselves to the world. Starting now. As Tibetans, we cannot pretend all of us to be mini-Dalai Lamas. Our community is no different than any others, we have the good, the bad and the ugly. The world must see us for what we are.
If children are being left vulnerable in Tibetan monasteries, why don’t the Tibetan exile leader Lobsang Sangay and the Tibetan monastic authorities follow the Bhutanese example and call for an official report into the safety of child monastics in exile? At the least, in line with their publicly-stated desire to modernize, they could establish adequate sex education and internationally-recognized child protection measures in the monasteries and schools.
When are we going to get a public response from the monastic authorities on these alleged cases of physical or sexual abuse, particularly that of Kalu Rinpoche? If even Rinpoche’s allegations are not publicly investigated then what hope is there for a young, unknown orphan child undergoing a similar experience? What about kick-starting a public initiative that provides both monks and ex-monks a confidential, safe platform to register and report their personal tales of abuse and neglect in the monasteries?
These testimonies could then be compiled into an official document and delivered to the CTA and monastic authorities to respond to. A simple, preventative measure is to bar anyone from becoming a monk until the age of 18. At the very least, setting aside legitimate concerns about violence and sexual abuse, doesn’t it make more sense for a person to take the decision to become celibate after puberty, when they are better able to make an informed, adult decision about it?
On a positive note, Kalu Rinpoche is not just taking on the voice of a victim but also that of a pioneer, creating a school for children whose families are in financial difficulty and barring them from becoming monks until the age of 19. Whatever anyone might think about this issue, first and foremost (following Kalu Rinpoche’s example) we all need to think about what is in the best interests of the children. The reputation of Tibetans or Tibetan Buddhism has to come second to that.
Dedicated to Kalu Rinpoche and the children.
adele_wilde_blavatskyAdele Wilde-Blavatsky has an MA in Philosophy and previously worked as a Philosophy lecturer. In 2007, she co-edited a philosophy book Aesthetic Experience with Prof. Richard Shusterman and is currently working on her first collection of poetry and essays for publication. Since taking refuge with the 17th Karmapa in India in 2005, she turned away from Western Philosophy and materialism and has spent the last few years living and studying yoga, the Tibetan language and Tibetan Buddhist philosophy in India and Nepal. Adele is also a mother to a very active son, a qualified yoga teacher, freelance writer, part-time translator and a passionate political activist on issues related to gender, sexism, civil liberties, Tibet and human rights. Recently, she worked for Free Tibet, an NGO in London and as a volunteer for the Tibet-led and staffed NGO, Tibetan Centre of Human Rights and Democracy. She wrote a expose of Free Tibet’s working culture in 2012 and has also published articles in Elephant Journal, The Huffington Post, Tibet Telegraph and the Tibetan exile online publication Phayul.com.
The Rape of Kalu Rinpoche
In October 2011, a famous and highly-respected reincarnate Tibetan Buddhist master, Kalu Rinpoche, posted a Youtube video in which he reveals the abuse he suffered as a young monk at the hands of adult monks in his monastery. Rinpoche’s allegations caused shockwaves within the Tibetan Buddhist community (particularly his western students). Since that time, I have not heard any Tibetan Buddhist teacher (especially those connected with Kalu Rinpoche) publicly respond to his allegations, let alone suggest there be a formal investigation and those responsible brought to account. One can only hope Kalu Rinpoche’s video exposure of this serious issue has not gone to waste and been brushed under the carpet in the hope that people might forget about it. Rinpoche recently gave an interview in which he details the rape he suffered:
Kalu says that when he was in his early teens, he was sexually abused by a gang of older monks who would visit his room each week. When I bring up the concept of “inappropriate touching,” he laughs edgily. This was hard-core sex, he says, including penetration. “Most of the time, they just came alone,” he says. “They just banged the door harder, and I had to open. I knew what was going to happen, and after that you become more used to it.” It wasn’t until Kalu returned to the monastery after his three-year retreat that he realized how wrong this practice was. By then the cycle had begun again on a younger generation of victims, he says. Kalu’s claims of sexual abuse mirror those of Lodoe Senge, an ex-monk and 23-year-old tulku who now lives in Queens, New York. “When I saw the video,” Senge says of Kalu’s confessions, “I thought, ‘Shit, this guy has the balls to talk about it when I didn’t even have the courage to tell my girlfriend.’” Senge was abused, he says, as a 5-year-old by his own tutor, a man in his late twenties, at a monastery in India.
If that weren’t bad enough, Kalu Rinpoche’s former incarnation was himself accused of sexually exploiting June Campbell, his former female student and translator. Her story is just one in a number of cases of sexually predatory and exploitative conduct by male Tibetan Buddhist teachers towards their (mainly western) female students (see Mary Finnigan’s recent article “The Lamas who give Tibetan Buddhism a bad name”).
Putting aside the issue of sexual misconduct and abuse, much has also been said and written about on the everyday specter of violence as corporal punishment within Tibetan monasteries. Stories of excessive corporal punishment and violence in Tibetan Buddhist monasteries are commonplace.
One Tibetan man I know very well (who was a monk for 15 years from the age of 12) told me that physical beating of young monks was the norm in his monastery. He related a story to me of how as a young adolescent he was held down on a bed by four adult monks and beaten with a heavy stick for the minor infraction of being late to morning puja. I can also personally verify that there was a violent incident at a respected Kagyu monastery in Nepal a few years ago, where a young monk used a meat cleaver to attack another young monk about the head and body, almost killing him in the process.
How was it dealt with by the monastery? Instead of handing him over to the police on an attempted murder charge, the monk was kicked out of the monastery and no more was said about it. Such conduct would have resulted in a criminal investigation in the UK.
Buddhist monk Wirathu in Yangon, Burma. The 46-year-old has been blamed for inspiring sectarian violence
Radical buddhist nationalism is sweeping Burma, and at the forefront of the movement is a group more commonly associated with peace and tolerance: monks.
The most prominent among them is the controversial cleric U Wirathu, who gives passionate sermons from his Mandalay base calling on Buddhists to stand up against the “Muslim threat”.
“I believe Islam is a threat not just to Buddhism, but to the [Burmese] people and the country,” says the monk, whose boyish face and toothy grin belie the name his critics have given him: “the Buddhist bin Laden”.
The 46-year-old has been blamed for inspiring sectarian violence, which began in the long-volatile western state of Rakhine bordering Burma’s mostly Muslim neighbour, Bangladesh, but has spread to areas unused to such tension.
Hundreds of Muslims have been killed, mosques burned and many thousands driven from their homes.
Burma’s president, Thein Sein, will face demands to rein in anti-Muslim violence when he arrives on an official visit to Britain on Sunday. He has been invited by David Cameron to reward the gradual moves towards restoring democracy to Burma that began with the release from house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi, the opposition leader, in 2011.
The former general, once a part of the military junta that ruled Burma for almost 50 years, has been criticised for allowing the ethnic attacks to continue. He will also be questioned over official tolerance of outspoken figures such as Wirathu who are blamed by many for whipping up hatred against Muslims.
It is an accusation Wirathu denies, instead blaming all the religious violence on Burma’s Muslims, who make up 5 per cent of the population.
In the leafy courtyard of the New Masoeyain monastery, where he lives and teaches, billboards display gruesome images of butchered and burned monks and of Buddhist women raped and killed – alongside pictures from around the world depicting Islamist violence.
A woman walks past a burnt out area in Sittwe, Myanmar, where dozens of Rohingya families used to live until fires destroyed the homes (GETTY)
He insists he does not believe in, and has not encouraged Buddhist attacks such as the riots a year ago in Rakhine that left 200 people dead and up to 140,000, mainly Muslims, homeless. Nor, apparently, has he joined those monks who have reportedly taken part in attacks.
He has, however, previously compared Muslims to “mad dogs” and called them “troublemakers”. Monks hold considerable sway in Burma, so when they condemn a single ethnic group at a time of political upheaval and uncertainty, critics say it is hardly surprising if violence flares. The solutions Wirathu offers to the perceived threat to Burma’s Buddhist majority are certainly provocative.
“I don’t know how you tame a wild elephant in your country,” he told The Sunday Telegraph, when asked what exactly he means when he says Buddhist Burmese should “stand up for themselves”, “but here the first thing you do is take away all their food and water. Then when the elephant is starving and weak you give him a little bit of water and teach him one word. Then you give him a little bit of food and teach him some more. That’s how we tame the elephants here.”
This is his metaphor for the imposition of economic sanctions on Muslims, who are also known as Rohingya, an ethnic grouping in the northwest that has long been denied Burmese citizenship. Buddhists, he insists, should not shop in Muslim stores, nor sell land to Muslims. This principle is being promoted by a movement, which he started in conjunction with other monks from southern Burma, known as 969.
Those figures are said to represent Buddhist virtues. In the form of a logo, however, they are a badge used to help supporters identify businesses as Buddhist-run.
It adorns videos distributed by the group showing scenes of destruction and violence supposedly caused by Muslims. It is also appearing increasingly at rallies, such as one held in Rangoon last week to protest against a front cover of Time magazine which described Wirathu as “The Face of Buddhist Terror”.
Wirathu has also proposed a ban on marriage between Buddhists and Muslims. “Women should not get married to Islamic men. If one Buddhist woman gets married to an Islamic man, it’s not just one less Buddhist [because Islam requires her to convert], but they will have one more and they will have lots of children so the population balance can change quickly.”
The poet and artist Soe Wei, who was a political prisoner of the Burmese military junta for two years, says that like many Burmese he finds it difficult to criticise a monk, though he does not share all of Wirathu’s opinions. Pressed on whether he sees Wirathu as a figure of terror or a man of peace, Soe Wei shakes his head then smiles wryly.
“I don’t see him as a man of peace. I’ve never seen anyone in authority really willing to have peace in Myanmar.”
We have barely recovered from shock over the story of wayward billionaire monk Luang Pu Nen Kham Chattiko as the media digs deeper into details of his wealth and alleged crimes.
It would not be a mistake to say that it was by chance that our society found out about the wealth of Nen Kham, aka Phra Wirapol Sukphol, from Ubon Ratchathani, who ran his religious business in the northeastern province of Si Sa Ket.
As layers and layers of scandal and crime are unfolded while the runaway monk is reported to have left France for the US where he has a huge mansion, we have come to realise that one major actor is missing from the picture. Yes, it’s the Sangha Supreme Council _ the ruling body of monks.
We have not heard a word _ let alone seen a move _ from this top body of the clergy on the shameful Nen Kham since day one after the scandal was exposed by the media.
However, one may argue that the council does not see the necessity to make any move at all as the National Office of Buddhism, which serves as the council’s secretariat, has joined the investigation with the Department of Special Investigation.
Perhaps the 22-strong council may think its regional office has already pursued the case.
Is that enough? I don’t think so.
The Nen Kham scandal is a disgrace not only to the billionaire monk but sangha society as a whole. This disgraceful case reflects flaws in Thai Buddhism and also the weakness of the Sangha Supreme Council as a ruling body that fails to maintain itself as a knowledge-based institute and is gradually suffering a decline.
If the council has attempted to turn things around, we are not yet convinced.
Otherwise, commercialisation of Buddhism, the root of all evil, would not be so rampant.
Undeniably, one of the flaws is the screening (or lack of it) in the ordination process. It’s an open secret that the system is too antiquated to select quality people _ scholars or those who really want…
Please credit and share this article with others using this link:http://www.bangkokpost.com/opinion/opinion/359466/sangha-must-face-up-to-sorry-state-of-clergy. View our policies at http://goo.gl/9HgTd and http://goo.gl/ou6Ip. © Post Publishing PCL. All rights reserved.
This file picture taken on March 22, 2012 shows Thai buddhist monks looking at discounted notebooks displayed at the Commart Thailand in Bangkok. The behaviour of Thailand’s Buddhist clergy has been thrust under the spotlight after footage emerged of monks settling into a flight on a private jet, sporting sunglasses and iPods while one apparently carried on a luxury bag. — FILE PHOTO: AFP –
The case against Thai monk Luang Pu Nenkham Chattigo gets more jaw-dropping by the day.
Last month, the 33-year-old Buddhist monk hit the headlines when a video showing him sporting aviator shades and sitting in a private jet with a Louis Vuitton bag by his side made its rounds on YouTube.
Last week, the country’s anti-money laundering office highlighted suspicious activity in his bank accounts.
A few days later, another set of allegations surfaced that he had been intimate with several women, including a then underaged girl.
Now there are even suspicions of drug trafficking.
Thailand, with more than 50 million Buddhists and more than 290,000 monks, is no stranger to monastic scandals.
The National Office of Buddhism reprimanded about 300 monks and novices last year for misconduct like drinking alcohol and having sex, according to an Associated Press report. Some have been caught with drugs and pornography.
Officially, monks have to uphold 227 precepts. These include not receiving money or buying or selling anything with money. In reality, though, the relationship between its most charismatic monks and money can be ambiguous, given the sizeable trade in amulets and the other religious artefacts in the country.
This is popular Buddhism as practised by everyday people – less oriented towards scripture and spiritual growth and more interested in mortal concerns like health, wealth and physical safety.
In his book Mediums, Monks and Amulets, the late anthropologist Pattana Kitiarsa described it as “a large scale, cross-social spectrum of beliefs and practices – incorporating the supernatural powers of spirit, deity, and magic – that have emerged out of the interplay between animism, supernaturalism, folk Brahmanism and the worship of Chinese deities, and state sponsored Theravada Buddhism”.
It is common, for example, to see buyers of new cars rush to get them blessed by monks.
Buddhist soldiers on dangerous assignments wear amulets bearing the likeness of popular monks to protect them from harm.
There are stampedes for particularly “powerful” amulets. In one, five years ago in the southern province of Nakhon Si Thammarat, a woman died.
Inevitably, a lot of money changes hands, in the forms of donations or payments for amulets blessed by popular monks to raise funds for their monasteries and other causes. The value of these amulets rise in secondary markets overseas, especially when the media runs articles on the good fortune or fortunate encounters by people who wear them.
The special Chatukham-Rammathep amulets that caused a stampede in 2007 were estimated to have generated a 40 billion baht industry in that year alone.
A large portion of these tax free baht go towards good causes. One of Thailand’s most iconic monks, Luang Phor Khun Parisutto, reportedly donated millions of baht towards health services and schools.
Unsurprisingly though, the large sums of money also attract the attention of less than righteous characters.
When Luang Pu Nenkham’s private jet video first caused an outcry last month, the National Office of Buddhism’s director-general Nopparat Benjawatananun called the monk’s behaviour inappropriate but indicated that modernity had made it harder for monks to draw the line between necessity and extravagance.
He told the AP then: “When Lord Buddha was alive, there wasn’t anything like this. There were no cars, smartphones or cameras, so the rules were much simpler.” As more and more people seek monks out for luck, fame and fortune, this is a demarcation that will be increasingly difficult to make.