How Things Get Real (And Too Real For The DBU)

Written by Rob Hogendoorn

1 minute

The German Buddhist Union (DBU) has responded to the documentary ‘Abuse in Buddhism: The Law of Silence‘ (Arte, 2022):

However, its professed empathy with victims and survivors of abuse, as well as its appreciation of the work by Élodie Emery and Wandrille Lanos are marred by the DBU’s creation of a straw man.

The DBU writes [my translation from the German]:

“Above all, the documentary focuses its criticism on two people: the Dalai Lama and Matthieu Ricard, who would not have taken sufficient action against abuse. Unfortunately, this does not do justice to the complex subject matter, because neither of them participated in a wall of silence, nor do they possess any special omnipotence in the Buddhist world—nor does it come up that the networks of silence and cover-up reach far into the Buddhist communities and unfortunately also umbrella organisations.”

They got that last part right: the abuse is endemic.

The rest is not just nonsensical, it’s a vote of non-confidence against the victims and survivors of Sogyal Lakar and Robert Spatz, who hold the Dalai Lama and Matthieu Ricard personally responsible for both their public support to them and their organisations, and for their prolonged unwillingness to help victims and survivors expose the abuse and bring the perpetrators to justice.

The DBU is clearly in denial about individual Buddhist leaders’ accountability to the (overwhelmingly non-Buddhist) public at large.

The ‘omnipotence’ the documentary-makers allegedly assumed is a red herring that serves to distract the DBU’s readers from this: Buddhist leaders—all of them, highbrow and lowbrow—are personally responsible and legally liable for the enabling of abuse, particularly when children are involved and having (fore)knowledge can amount to criminal complicity.

Evidently, the DBU-board has trouble understanding that the public endorsements by the Dalai Lama and Matthieu Ricard served to silence Sogyal and Spatz’s (underage) victims and survivors, while the DBU’s current stance denies their very agency in speaking out.

But they’ve every right to speak out the way they see fit and hold individual Buddhist enablers accountable in media—the very course of action the Dalai Lama never tires of counseling.

Evidently, the DBU rather sees Buddhist communities and umbrella organisations control the narrative than let victims and survivors to speak for themselves. This is exactly how religious believers of all denominations have turned their faiths into religions for abusers: by denying individuals’ agency altogether.

If everyone—the ‘community,’ ‘church,’ ‘institution’—is responsible, no one really is. Arte gave victims and survivors their voice back and empowered them to speak out against Buddhist enablers in public.

That’s not a complex subject matter at all—that’s how things get real.

Originally posted as a long-Tweet on September 22, 2022 (with slight edits and updated link).

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.