Full Circle

Written by Rob Hogendoorn

1 minute

In 2012, I came across the first Buddhist sexual abuse case I’ve reported. A pleasure cruising skipper from Austria turned himself into ‘Lama Kelsang Chöpel’ and began abusing his Dutch female devotees.

Shortly after that, my NOS-colleague Bas de Vries and I investigated a Thai faux monk, Mettavihari, who abused young boys and men for decades. He turned 14 devotees into Vipassana teachers in one fell swoop—while they enabled him in return.

In those years, my main objective was to persuade authoritative journalists and media to take Buddhism and Buddhists seriously enough to be critical, and report all manner of abuses by Buddhists in the same way as they would with non-Buddhists.

By the late 2010s, this objective was met, at least in the Netherlands. So I shifted gears, while changing the language of Open Buddhism from Dutch into English. I stopped my day-to-day reporting and focused on briefing (inter)national journalists instead.

To this day, I continue to receive reports on all manner of abuses by some Buddhist teacher, somewhere in the world—every three to four weeks on average. If they want me to, I liaise between sources and the (mostly) non-Buddhist professionals I work with.

I’ve grown very sceptical of the rampant, (mostly) anonymous chatter on Buddhist blogs and juice channels about alleged abuses. On my view, the prevailing culture of silence is devolving into a culture of incessant yet inconsequential chatter.

This might be worse, because the idea that abuses ‘are being talked about’ provides readers with a false sense of security. So, ten years later, I counsel victims and survivors against sharing traumatic experiences anonymously in the Buddhist blogosphere.

To me, their impact statements deserve better than to serve as a subject of online debate among self-declared Buddhist ‘experts’—quite frequently former enablers and incorrigible dilettantes—who effectively act as morbidly curious sightseers.

The prevention of further harm is better served by reporting abuse to professionals whose expertise makes an actual difference in real life: journalists, scholars, therapists, administrators, politicians, and criminal justice authorities, for instance.

In a sense, then, I’ve come full circle: these days, my main objective is to persuade practicing Buddhists to take non-Buddhist professionals seriously enough to trust their skill and expertise in dealing with abuse.

Originally posted as a long-Tweet on August 26, 2022.

About the author

Rob Hogendoorn

Investigative reporter and academic researcher Rob Hogendoorn (b. 1964) began researching the reception of Buddhism in Western society and culture in the early 1990s. His modus operandi remained the same ever since: independent, inquisitive and provocative.