What Kind Of Moral Leader Are We Left With?

Written by Rob Hogendoorn

1 minute

Now that the Dalai Lama’s conduct towards victims and survivors of abusive Tibetan Buddhist teachers is at the centre of our attention, some troubling behaviour patterns emerge.

1. The Dalai Lama consistently lets the abused do the heavy lifting, admonishing them to expose and sue abusive Lamas. Meanwhile, he lets himself be fêted and lauded by Lamas and communities he knows to be abusive and violent, thereby undermining those who heed his advice.

2. The Dalai Lama consistently disregards direct warnings by concerned Buddhists, advisors and individuals, Tibetans and Westerners alike, about the violent and abusive teachers and communities he interacts with and profits from.

3. When he’s reminded of his own enabling behaviour and policies, the Dalai Lama consistently shirks his responsibility and takes to his heels by suggesting that the consequences of his own (in)actions as a spiritual and worldly leader are a shared responsibility.

4. The Dalai Lama consistently boasts about noncommittal pronouncements that he fails to meet in practice, suggesting that his paying attention to abuse momentarily, ex cathedra, is a performative act that alleviates the suffering of the abused in and of itself.

In response to critiques of the Dalai Lama’s enabling behaviour, inveterate apologists consistently deny his accountability as the highest Tibetan office holder.

Such advocates claim that he is at the mercy of circumstances beyond his control, powerless to change anything at all, even his own enabling conduct. In effect, such apologists argue that the Dalai Lama is unable of learning from his mistakes and failures.

Also, on their view, the Dalai Lama is incapable of persuading the religious leaders of all Tibetan sects who he, ‘the Great 14th,’ summons to his seat in Dharamsala on a regular basis to agree on a common policy curbing the rampant sexual abuse in their midst.

Maybe he is. But: what kind of a moral leader are we left with then? The Dalai Lama’s putative ‘helplessness’ denies his agency and flies in the face of modern Tibetan history, but if his apologists are in fact right about him: what on earth did he get a Nobel Peace Prize for?

Originally posted as a long-Tweet on September 28, 2022 (with slight edits).

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.