A worn-out cliché, falsely attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, says: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” Never mind its origins, Western Buddhists who subscribe to this view will surely agree that a community’s greatness and moral progress may be judged by the way it treats its children as well. Witness its history since the 1970s, however, the ‘greatness’ and ‘moral progress’ of Western Buddhist communities is dubitable, at the very least.
Lama Yeshe’s colossal hagiography, for instance, unwittingly, is a testament to the enabling of neglect and violent abuse of minors by the nascent FPMT-community in Nepal. Apparently, their ‘Big Love’ wasn’t big enough to include children. Likewise, Una Morera’s podcast ‘Uncoverage’ attests to the decades-long systemic abuse that befell children born or ‘proselytised’ into the Vajradhatu/Shambhala community. Evidently, Chögyam Trungpa’s nasty treatment of his own children didn’t raise red flags.
In Europe, meanwhile, a succession of Tibetan hierarchs and Western well-wishers turned a blind eye to the horrific neglect and abuse of underage members of Ogyen Kunzang Choling. Over time, a disconcerting pattern emerged: ‘self-serving interests of Buddhists practitioners in the West, triggered perhaps by an awareness of their own complicity, can enter into the equation to the detriment of the protection of sexually abused minors. If so, underaged children are the least protected of all.’ That is, even while they publicly expose and address the abuse of adults, Western Buddhist practitioners are wont to keep silent about the coterminous abuse of minors.
These sorry sights are but a tip of the iceberg. When pressed, most long-term Western Buddhists I know are able to come up with examples of their own—which they’d rather not discuss in public. Sadly, a wide-ranging, in-depth investigation of the neglect and abuse of children in and around Buddhist monasteries throughout Asia will cast an even darker shadow of silent complicity over their affiliated communities in the West.
So, if a modicum of spiritual and moral growth, not decay—never mind ‘greatness’—is to be a desideratum at all, enabling Western Buddhists of all stripes must account for their (in)action in the face of endemic child abuse: to empower its victims and survivors, redress the harm their communities have done, regain their lost sense of reality, and mourn their personal history as Buddhist practitioners.
Originally posted as a long-Tweet on April 11, 2022.