There is no factual basis for Tibetan exceptionalism

Written by Rob Hogendoorn

There is no factual basis for Tibetan exceptionalism: Tibetans are a people like any other, Tibetan Buddhism is a religion like any other. Tibetan Buddhist Lamas sexually abuse, physically assault, and squeeze dry their flock of devotees like any other religious leader does.

And, yes, Tibetan Buddhist devotees enable such abuses like any other religious community does. Since Tibetan Buddhist devotees’ imagination too is circumscribed by religious tradition, there are only so many religiously coloured ‘excuses’ and ‘justifications’ available to them to ‘whitewash’ their Lamas’ crimes and misdemeanors.

They make for easy inter-religious comparisons. As it turns out, Tibetan Buddhists in the West use the exact same types of ‘whitewash’ that other religious devotees use. Followers of convicted rabbi Eliezer Berland, for instance, ‘reasoned’ that he ‘really’ doesn’t have a body like the rest of us, and that his wisdom is unfathomable.

Quoting one such devotee, Tzanani, wrote: “With us, even to look at a woman is forbidden, certainly not to touch in such a way,” he said. “But I’m telling you there are holy men who are entirely soul; it’s not a body at all. The rabbi has no connection to these things.”

Haaretz continued: ‘The statement that Berland has no body was repeated many times during the conversation. “She needs to know: The rabbi is a complete ascetic, he has no body at all,” Tzanani said. “Sometimes he sees all sorts of things.” Berland himself has made such claims over the years, including that he is God in the form of a man. Tzanani agrees; he has said the “holy spirit” rests in Berland, a man he says has immersed in a boiling ritual bath and suffered no harm, and just a year ago revived a dead person—someone who was completely dead, and he resurrected him.” During the conversation, Tzanani said that it was preferable not to discuss the matter at all, and that if there was contact between Berland and a female follower, it was justified because it was not sexual.’

Each of these ‘arguments’ is eerily reminiscent of those made by abusive Tibetan Buddhist Lamas and their enablers. It’s vitally important, then, to make explicit silent claims of Tibetan Buddhist exceptionalism and avoid putting Tibetan Buddhist Lamas and their enablers in a league of their own, unawares. They’re not. They never were.

Originally posted as a Tweet on November 11, 2021.

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.