Said Miriam Anders in 2019…

Written by Rob Hogendoorn

German reseacher Miriam Anders (Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich) recently published an article on the spate of scandals involving sexually abusive Tibetan Buddhist lamas and their (mostly) Western enablers. To quote from her introduction (for clarity’s sake, references have been omitted here, for those see the article itself):

“Recently, severe damage to health has been reported in Vajrayāna groups, due to economic, physical and psychological abuse. It is the testimonies of witnesses and the victims themselves that reveal a covert attitude of personal enrichment and self-centeredness on the part of authorities and their entourages in painful detail. While the narrative of Vajrayāna as being a quick path to enlightenment, and the expansion of the Dharma with Tibetan Buddhism spreading to the West, has continued, quality of care has vanished at the expense of the quantity of centers considered as status symbols. The pattern of euphemisms for the retrospective glorification of religious authorities has become interrupted by those affected joining to begin to share their own stories of indoctrination, exploitation and abuse.

This signifies a turning point in the historiography of Tibetan Buddhism. Unlike the structures and hierarchies defined in Buddhist monasteries, which were copied unreflectively into Buddhist seminar and retreat centers, the strategy behind establishing huge amounts of international centers involved appointing people who quite often were uneducated about theirpositions. They then established undemocratic group structures along with their masters, served their hidden agendas, and promoted decontextualized concepts.

At present, that decontextualization of terms can no longer be separated from the silencing of trauma and a linguistic style rationalizing this. It has been facilitated by replacing the clear definitions of technical terms of Buddhist philosophy with an oversimplification of concepts, together with illogical reasoning, replacing logical conclusions with blind faith. In this way, neologisms, distorted concepts and selective quotations are now promoted as Buddhism. While an introspective, self-reflexive attitude, and the knowledge of Buddhist philosophy being an instruction for the individuals’ path to autonomy were lost, the identification with teachers and one’s own group were widely propagated as mainstream instead.

The monetary inflow and prevalent tendency towards naively idealizing Buddhist ideals once seemed to prove the established position-holders and their entourages right, despite their ignoring the realities of people in those groups or suppressing their expression. But, over the years, enrichment based on massive processes of exploitation and submission, especially towards the feminine, and the depersonalization of group members, leading to economic, physical and psychological abuse, became evident. Beyond that, however, neologisms such as the concept of ‘karma purification’ were developed, meaning one person purifying another’s so-called ‘bad kama,’ or even part of his group implementing such an idea at his command.

This reveals a strategy of masking human exploitation and traumatization by using spiritual guises and every available means to achieve concealment. As “all the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing [ . . . and] appeals to the universal desire to see, hear, and speak no evil” these new rationalizing concepts have been supported by irresponsible authorities, making it even more attractive to “take the side of the perpetrator” or obey his orders, which, in such contexts, was even referred to with the term ‘devotion’. Now that we are facing its impact on the group dynamics of people played against each other, and on the health of individuals leaving such groups, the question arises of how these mainstream misconceptions designed to silence the unspeakable could ever be reversed, and their damage minimized inside as well as outside the established structures.

Thus, the inflation of knowledge transmission of the Vajrayāna came about due to simplified concepts, suitable for the purpose of commercialization and manipulation, and the associated decontextualization of technical terms used in Buddhist philosophy and Tibetan medicine, which were then intermingled, ignoring their unconscious aspects, and used to silence trauma. In addition to significant damage to the health of the long-term practitioners and those students, who abandoned a lot in the process of becoming involved, or were severely exploited and then exchanged for others, this has resulted in severe disappointment, due to misguided spirituality. In such settings, the misinterpretation of devotion as blind trust is just one of the manipulative methods applied. Furthermore, the unconscious devaluation of the feminine in this context, which allows one to project one’s own unwanted fantasies onto those who are denied their own voice, leads to the unimaginable social isolation of the affected girls and women, which is supposed to condemn them to speechlessness and being forgotten.”

Source: Miriam Anders. (2019). ‘Silencing and Oblivion of Psychological Trauma, Its Unconscious Aspects, and Their Impact on the Inflation of Vajrayāna. An Analysis of Cross-Group Dynamics and Recent Developments in Buddhist Groups Based on Qualitative Data’. Religions 10 (11). 2019. pp. 622-645.

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.