Noblesse Oblige: Privilege Entails Responsibility

Written by Rob Hogendoorn

2 minutes

Inveterate apologists of the Dalai Lama (b. 1935) tend to consistently overlook some easy-to-check facts. For instance: In 1947, the Dalai Lama’s first tutor, the regent Radreng Rinpoché, was murdered by the conservative faction of his successor Takdrak Rinpoché.

The Dalai Lama’s father died that same year, and family members accuse the same faction of having murdered him as well. In 1947 too, the murderous former governor of Hor in Kham, Pahla Tupten Öden, became the Dalai Lama’s chamberlain.

Between the 7th and 13th holders of the Dalai Lama’s office, only one reached his majority. The rest of them somehow died prematurely. So, while picturing the Dalai Lama’s formative years and the establishment of his rule, keep ‘Game of Thrones’ in mind.

Recent history could not but instill a strong sense of self-preservation in the Dalai Lama, and a singular focus on the efficacy of his reign. The constitution-in-exile the Dalai Lama promulgated in 1963, vested the executive power of the state in him, and declared his power and authority to be inviolable.

In the decades since, he adopted an ever more ‘pontifical’ and ‘catholic’ role as Tibetan Buddhism’s main spokesman.

By the 2000s, the Dalai Lama had broadened his power base to such an extent that Jamyang Norbu told the German magazine ‘Stern’ in 2009: “The Dalai Lama is not a bad person,but he is beginning to stand in the way of our development. We have no democracy. Much is even worse today than in 1959. In the old days there were three centers of political power: the Dalai Lama, the monasteries and the nobles.”

In 2009, noted ‘Stern,’ the Dalai Lama was the only leader left.

By ending his political role in 2011, the Dalai Lama disposed of the constitutional guardrails that kept his office in check. Before, at least in theory, he could have been deposed. Now, he’s a free agent: he alone determines if his ‘constituency’ still supports the continuation of his office.

This is the full transactional weight behind the Dalai Lama’s numerous, decades-long endorsements of Tibetan Buddhist and spiritual teachers he knew to be unqualified and abusive.

Think about it: he consistently argues that it’s the responsibility of victims and survivors of abuse to ‘out’ abusive teachers in the media at great personal risk.

However, while whistle-blowers denounce unethical, abusive, and even criminal conduct in public, bearing the brunt of airing their allegations, the Dalai Lama continues to endorse—and thereby elevate—the ‘old friends’ he is being warned about.

It’s a longstanding pattern: the Dalai Lama consistently ignores direct warnings and media reports about abusive teachers. He does not distance himself from repeat offenders unless and until his own image and office are at risk of being tarnished in media reports.

The Dalai Lama’s word against theirs: that is what victims and survivors of known abusers are up against.

His name helps sell papers—and even critiques. But it sells abusive and criminal communities too. The inconvenient truth is: the Dalai Lama’s track record as a judge of character is exceedingly poor and his association with dubious characters unabashedly transactional.

The Dalai Lama is fully accountable for any endorsement of any teacher, particularly when his favour is returned by abusive and criminal communities that offer him financial rewards, political support, and free publicity.

Noblesse oblige: privilege entails responsibility.

Originally posted as a long-Tweet on September 9, 2022 (typos corrected).

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.