Enlightened Tantric Yogi? Or Abusive, Capitalist Con Artist? ~ Adele Wilde-Blavatsky

Via on Jan 5, 2012
Vivian Amsterdam

Other articles on this subject on Elephant Journal:

The Sex Lives of Monks: Confessions of Kalu Rinpoche and Sex, Death, Sacrifice & Waking Up. Comments worth the read. ~ ed.

~

Believe nothing merely because you have been told it. Do not believe what your teacher tells you merely out of respect for the teacher. But whatever, after due examination and analysis, you find to be kind, conducive to the good, the benefit, the welfare of all beings — that doctrine believe and cling to, and take it as your guide.

~ the Buddha

Rely on the teachings to evaluate a guru: Do not have blind faith, but also no blind criticism.

~ the 14th Dalai Lama

Sexual abuse is traumatic and any victim of it deserves to be heard in a compassionate and sympathetic environment.

Therefore, I was shocked and saddened to see the current Kalu Rinpoche’s Youtube video testimony a couple of weeks ago. This was not an easy video to watch for a variety of reasons. First, there were the allegations themselves of sexual abuse and violence by Tibetan monks against a well-known Tibetan Rinpoche in a Tibetan monastery. Second, there was the method and manner in which these allegations were announced. Third, there was reporting of this story by elephant journal , social media and the public reaction to it.

Here’s the video: YouTube Preview Image

For me, the tone of the story reeked of ‘exploitation’ but who was actually being exploited by who was not altogether clear.

As a Tibetan Buddhist practitioner, I am fully aware that I am wading into potentially dangerous and hostile territory to publicly question the motives and behaviour of ‘male Tibetan Buddhist royalty’ (a path nonetheless daringly trodden by many women before me). However, I am going to publicly question Kalu Rinpoche’s actions because I believe we owe it to ourselves (as students), to the Tibetans and to Tibetan Buddhism.

To be clear, I make no claims to be a great enlightened yogini, teacher, guru or spiritual practitioner. I am just an ordinary unenlightened woman trying to make sense of Tibetan Buddhism and its teachings in a respectful and rational manner.

For me, Kalu Rinpoche’s online conduct goes much further than his allegation of sexual abuse, but strikes at the very heart of the student-teacher relationship, particularly as that is understood in the Vajrayana tradition.

Ordinary view – allegations of sexual abuse

My first reaction on watching the video was it was very focused on Kalu’s pain and grievance. This was in stark contrast to the vast view and understanding of karma, impermanence, selflessness and emptiness that we are used to seeing embodied in great Buddhist practitioners.

dhillan chandramowli

Many online reactions to the confession called it ‘brave’ and ‘moving’ but I couldn’t see that at all. Without wishing to diminish this man’s traumatic experience, other great Tibetan practitioners, including the current 17th Karmapa and the 14th Dalai Lama, have also had very difficult personal and political issues to deal with but they haven’t publicly complained about it with videos on Youtube.

The Karmapa and the Dalai Lama are also products of the Tibetan tulku system and were taken from their families as young boys to be tutored at a monastery. They, like Kalu, did not see their family or mothers for long periods of time either but they do not appear to have been greatly damaged by it, or even if they were, they have chosen not to speak about it publicly.

Although I do not have any strong personal connection with Kalu Rinpoche (until recently), I was aware of his online activity for the last year or so via Buddhist friends who had been following his website and Facebook updates . It was hard not to be confused, amused, shocked and appalled by his online presence which veered from vain, poseur fashion-inspired photos and hip-hop videos to advertising his hedonistic activities such as travelling, partying and getting intoxicated.

Even more bewildering was how some of my most ‘die-hard’ (or what I refer to jokingly as ‘fundamentalist’) Buddhist friends, the type who would openly scold and condemn people for smoking or eating meat, were avidly following Kalu and even ‘liking’ his activities that normally they would consider grossly unethical in any other person. It was hard to take any of it too seriously; and seemed like a massive case of ‘The Emperor’s Got No Clothes.’

Time and time again, when I raised this with my Dharma friends, online or in person, I was met with a similar response: it was my ordinary, unenlightened mind that was at fault. This response was dissatisfactory for various reasons including the fact that it was implying that they clearly could see his great qualities (or at least were pretending to do so).

Don’t misunderstand me. I have a lot of time and compassion for anyone who claims they have been sexually abused. I am a passionate political activist and feminist, particularly when it comes to campaigning about the sexual abuse and exploitation of women or children. Yet, even I was confused as to why such a ‘big name’ and widely respected Tibetan lama would choose such a method of communication to reveal a deeply personal and traumatic experience.

Nor did Rinpoche appear to offer anything constructive from it (such as stating he was going to root out sexual abuse in his monastery) instead stating that he wanted to establish a school. Additionally, surely Rinpoche cannot be that naïve to realise the damage and confusion his conduct would cause not only his followers but also the reputation of Tibetans and Tibetan Buddhism.

ericakohn

At a time when Tibetans and Tibet are already under excessive pressure and humiliation from the Chinese government and their army, and unity among the Tibetan people in exile is faltering, such a public allegation about sexual misconduct must have seemed like ‘music’ to the ears of critics and enemies of Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism.

At the very least, even if Kalu’s allegations are true (and yes, I will say ‘if’) then surely we still have to abide by the principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’? In a just, rational and sane world we should never get to the stage where we accept someone’s word for it merely out of our faith alone. And yet, it appeared many supposedly liberal, rational and sane people were doing just that online. Many of Rinpoche’s students, and the even the editor of elephant journal, posted comments on social media with wildly generalising comments stating that it proved that there were horrendous levels of sex abuse in the Tibetan monastic system, that it was similar to the abuse in the Catholic Church, that monasticism caused this kind of behaviour and so on. All without a shred of objective, independent evidence other than second-hand gossip and Kalu Rinpoche’s video testimony.

I have spent several years living and studying in India and Nepal with Tibetan monks, Lamas, Rinpoches and laypeople and although, it is not perfect by any means, I very rarely heard any monk speak of sexual abuse in a monastery.

I married a Tibetan man, who was a Buddhist scholar and monk for 15 years (since the age of 12) and he also told me he had never heard of any sexual abuse in his monastery. Of course, that does not mean it does not happen but I think it is important to say that a few isolated allegations do not in any way suggest that there is a problem comparable to the organised and sustained paedophilia and child abuse, and systematic cover-up, present in the Catholic Church. Let’s not ‘jump the gun’ too quickly on that .

Is criticising the teacher compatible with devotion to them?

Putting the allegations to one side though, what Kalu Rinpoche’s conduct really strikes at is the important issue of how far we should go, and what is acceptable, in demonstrating our faith and devotion to a teacher.

A teacher, by definition, is anyone who has students. And it is the student who ultimately invests the teacher with authority by placing him or her in that role. By acknowledging that a teacher does not exist as such in his own right, one empowers the student.

So what to do when the teacher appears to be exploiting or abusing the student? According to the Buddhist teachings, there is a vast difference between blind faith and faith that arises out of confidence. The latter is based on study, reflection and carefully watching and monitoring a teacherfor many years.

Big Mind Zen Center

In terms of karma, Kalu’s confession eerily reflects another well-known public ‘confession’ of sexual abuse, that of June Campbell, who was a former student and translator of the previous incarnation of Kalu Rinpoche. The difference between the two testimonies is Ms Campbell accused Kalu Rinpoche himself of sexually exploiting and abusing her. At the time, many Tibetan Buddhist followers accused Ms Campbell of being crazy, delusional and lying. Sadly, a rather typical, cult-like (and sexist) response to women who reveal their abuse at the hands of powerful and wealthy men.

So, perhaps the current incarnation’s experience is the the direct karmic result of his previous actions? It’s hard to say but the parallels are more than obvious. Sadly, such allegations of teachers exploiting their students for money or sex are not solely confined to Tibetan Buddhism either.

Admittedly, it is easier to reject, ignore or criticise a teacher whom we do not have a particularly strong personal connection with, but what of those students who do? How should they deal with the confusion and doubts that Kalu Rinpoche’s activities might raise for them? The Dalai Lama told Stephen Batchelor, in a recent interview, that he faced this particular dilemma himself :

‘He spoke of his own relationship with one of his teachers. We presumed this was his first tutor and regent Reting Rinpoche, a sexually promiscuous Gelugpa monk who, in 1947, plotted to launch a Chinese-backed coup to regain the regency. In the privacy of his meditation, the Dalai Lama continued to regard his tutor as a Buddha, while in public he condemned his actions. Likewise, he admitted, “Mao Tse-tung may have been a Bodhisattva, but I had to criticise him because he destroyed our religion and independence.”

So why would the Dalai Lama encourage us to condemn our root teacher’s actions publicly?

‘What is at stake here is the standing and repute of Buddhism itself, which, for the Dalai Lama, serves not least as a crucial component for our times in creating peace in the world. Even if one has received great personal benefit from a teacher – even if one has taken tantric vows of discipleship with him, the integrity of the Buddhist tradition must take precedence over guarding that teacher’s reputation when he is justly accused of ethical misconduct. When there is incontrovertible evidence of wrong-doing, then it is one’s responsibility to take action. “Make voice!” he insisted. “Give warning! We no longer tolerate!” The Dalai Lama encouraged us repeatedly to criticise such behaviour openly, even, when all else fails to “name names in newspapers.”‘

So on the one hand, it may be brave and honest of Kalu Rinpoche to ‘make voice’ about his own alleged abuse. On the other hand, people should not then be offended or surprised if Rinpoche’s activities are also put under the microscope for scrutiny and criticism.

Furthermore, if there is any truth to June Campbell’s statements about her sexual exploitation at the hands of his prior incarnation, wouldn’t it be fair and just for Rinpoche to make a public statement about that and her alleged suffering? Or is Kalu’s suffering and situation the only thing we are to be concerned about here? For example, I have publicly asked Kalu Rinpoche twice on his Facebook and Youtube pages for his ‘memories and thoughts about June Campbell. His silence to my comments has been deafening.

Eat shit or bullshit?

So if that still leaves some people wondering if their Vajrayana teacher is a genuine tantric crazy wisdom practitioner or a fallen Bodhisattva, is there a test by which we could judge the difference?

There are some excellent quotes and advice about finding a teacher and the nature of the student-teacher relationship here and from Alexander Berzin here.

In his interview with Stephen Batchelor, the Dalai Lama pointed out that an authentic, realised tantric practitioner should be as eager to ingest urine and excrement as they would alcohol and food. Which, sadly, by western standards might not be that hard to find (although obviously the Bodhicitta motivation for this eagerness is what would count, more than any perverted pleasure!).

A more delicate proof of tantric yogi/ni status, would be the absence of seminal emission during sexual orgasm. When asked how many Tibetan lamas today fulfilled such criteria, the Dalai Lama confessed that while he personally knew none, there were monks in the caves above Dharamsala whose practice was such that his own, in comparison, dwindled to insignificance.

So if that still leaves some people wondering if their Vajrayana teacher is a genuine tantric crazy wisdom practitioner or a fallen Bodhisattva, is there a test by which we could judge the difference?

There are some excellent quotes and advice about finding a teacher and the nature of the student-teacher relationship here and from Alexander Berzin here.

In his interview with Stephen Batchelor, the Dalai Lama pointed out that an authentic, realised tantric practitioner should be as eager to ingest urine and excrement as they would alcohol and food. Which, sadly, by western standards might not be that hard to find (although obviously the Bodhicitta motivation for this eagerness is what would count, more than any perverted pleasure!).

A more delicate proof of tantric yogi/ni status, would be the absence of seminal emission during sexual orgasm. When asked how many Tibetan lamas today fulfilled such criteria, the Dalai Lama confessed that while he personally knew none, there were monks in the caves above Dharamsala whose practice was such that his own, in comparison, dwindled to insignificance.

Essentially, a person has to understand that ordinary and worldly sexual relations, even with a Tibetan Rinpoche, is not the same, or an adequate substitute for, genuine tantric practice with a consort. Consort tantra requires advanced meditative practice and realisations from both practitioners and has very little to do with ordinary sex, desire and orgasm.

In fact, tantric sex is not really sex at all. It involves intensive activity associated with advanced yoga and meditation than sexual athletics done out of pleasure and self-gratification. It never fails to amaze me in an information-saturated world that people still confuse the two and allow themselves to engage in worldly sexual relations under the delusion that it is somehow spiritual because the man (and it is generally a man) is considered to be a great Buddhist practitioner or teacher. This demonstrates a deep misunderstanding of the nature and purpose of not only tantric practice but also of the teacher-student relationship. I can say that confidently, even as a mere ordinary unenlightened being.

In conclusion, it is important for us to recall that the real teacher is our inner wisdom and the outer teacher is only a means to recognise that.

For me, if the current Kalu Rinpoche is teaching us anything (intentionally or not) it is that we all have to ultimately rely on and trust that inner guru wisdom even if that means publicly rejecting or condemning the outer ‘teacher’. It’s a clear message that there is no place for blind, unquestioning, ignorant faith in Tibetan Buddhism. After all, this is what distinguishes Buddhism from all the other major religions and is what makes the Buddha’s teachings so unique and awe-inspiring. As the Buddha said:

Therefore, be lamps unto yourselves, be a refuge to yourselves. Hold fast to Truth as a lamp; hold fast to the Truth as a refuge. Look not for a refuge in anyone beside yourselves. And those, who shall be a lamp unto themselves, shall take themselves to no external refuge, but holding fast to the Truth as their lamp, and holding fast to the Truth as their refuge, they shall reach the topmost height.

May you all reach the ‘topmost height’ in 2012!

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Adele Wilde-Blavatsky (aka Adele Tomlin) has been a Tibetan Buddhist practitioner and student since taking refuge with the 17th Karmapa, Orgyen Trinley Dorje, in India in 2005. She has spent the last few years living and studying yoga, the Tibetan language and Buddhist philosophy in India and Nepal and is a qualified yoga teacher, western philosophy student and teacher, freelance writer, translator, aspiring poet and political activist who also works part-time for the campaigning organisation Free Tibet. In 2007, she co-edited a philosophy book ‘Aesthetic Experience’ with Prof. Richard Shusterman and is currently working on her first collection of poetry for publication(one of her poems has been chosen for the forthcoming ‘Poetry of Yoga’ anthology in 2012). In 2006, Adele met and married a Tibetan man, who was a Tibetan monk for fifteen years and who completed the five-year training in philosophy and debate in a Kagyu monastic shedra. They have a young son and spend their time living, working and studying in both London, UK and Dharamasala, India. You can further connect with Adele on her website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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17 Responses to “Enlightened Tantric Yogi? Or Abusive, Capitalist Con Artist? ~ Adele Wilde-Blavatsky”

  1. Thanks for this perceptive in-depth article, Adele.

    Posted to my Facebook page, Twitter, Reddit.

    Bob W. Editor, Elephant Journal
    Yoga Demystified
    Facebook Twitter StumbleUpon

  2. Vidura says:

    The article by Adele is at best mediocre, confusing and ultimately irresponsible. This young man is obviously sharing his pain and experience of abuse and having the author suggesting he is dishonest (without offering any proof) is simply naive and sad. Historically there has been plenty of cases of sexual abuse and corruption in monasteries, including Tibetan. The opinion of the author reflects this weird idealization and misunderstanding some people in the West have of Tibetan Buddhism. I have met plenty of Tibetan leaders and students with lots of integrity who walk the walk and I have a very high regard for the Buddhist philosophy and teachings, but to see how the author is trying to undermining a clear case of abuse is deplorable.

    • Adele says:

      Vidura, I don't think you read the full article judging by your comments. I also have a lot of respect for Tibetan leaders and teachers. I am a Tibetan Buddhist practitioner following teachers like 17th Karmapa, Dalai Lama, Thrangu Rinpoche and so on. It is BECAUSE I have SO much respect for Tibetan Buddhism and the Dharma that I have chosen to write this article. I am not trying to undermine abuse in any way, I am actually trying to put it into context and suggesting that we all have some objectivity, sensitivity and fairness in relation to this issue. June Campbell's accusations were ridiculed and dismissed, why do you not mention that as undermining and unfair? Or are the accusations of a Tibetan Rinpoche worth more because he is a man and has a fancy title?

  3. Julia says:

    There are so many, many things I disagree with in this article. Of course there is a LOT of physical abuse in Tibetan monasteries and I have seen and heard this myself. There is a LOT of sexual abuse in Tibetan monasteries and a lot of misery and even murder is caused by it. I consider the Kalu Yangsi VERY courageous to start up the discussion about this topic and I hope that more will step up and that action will be undertaken against all the abuse. I also find it extremely strange that the author is criticizing the Kalu Yangsi´s life-style. By divulging dark spots in his past and by showing us his pain and by dressing like a young Westerner and by liking and producing Western-style music, this Yangsi brings a gigantic leap closer to the Ati-yoga attitude and Dzogchen mentality, i.e.: to view ourselves as the one worthy of respect and veneration, instead of looking up like hungry ghosts to a guy or gall on a throne that we depend on for our every need. I am totally mystified as what can be your reasons to write this article. The only way to improve the faults of a system is to first bring them to the light. I thank mr. Kalu Rinpoche for taking steps on this path.

    • Adele says:

      Sorry Julia. I believe in the rule of justice and fairness when it comes to such SERIOUS allegations. That means objective, independent evidence should be provided in fairness to the accuser and the ALLEGED abuser. You say you have seen and heard a LOT of abuse in Tibetan monasteries yourself directly, please can you be more specific? Give names, details, when and where? No-one has ever suggested there might not be physical and sexual abuses in the Tibetan monasteries but it is simply not acceptable to make such gross generalisations and accusations about the Tibetan monastic system without backing it up with credible specific EVIDENCE. Otherwise how can we know what is actually TRUE and what is LIES?

  4. Julia says:

    err: brings us

  5. Julia says:

    PS I also thank anybody who would from now on only let the Orgyen Trinley featuring in the above Youtube movie play the role of 17th Karmapa, as even as little as viewing a picture, let alone a video, of one of the others literally makes me sick in a lot of ways. (I suppose he concluded a week of `secret travelling´ Jan 4th-8th? just asking AGAIN to please notify me as I was a total mess those days….''

  6. Julia says:

    or was he in the torture chambers and is that what I felt? (l already said I was willing to put up with all that torture for his sake UNTIL 2010 AND NOW CAN NO LONGER BEAR IT

  7. Julia says:

    PLEASE STOP P L E A S E ?

  8. Adele says:

    Update: This article was pulled from Facebook today for allegedly violating their terms and conditions. This is a massive infringement of my freedom of expression and I totally object to their claims. Facebook have no avenue for appealing their decision though. All I can say is that I do hope Kalu Rinpoche or his students were not behind this action. If they were, it shows that they also object to criticism and freedom of expression, which kind of proves my point about what I was saying here in the article as well.

  9. Tenzin says:

    I know of quite a few tulkus and monks who were sexually abused, IT IS not that rare…

  10. Tsolwa says:

    Adele, your article is completely refreshing–when I saw it I thought, "Finally, someone is asking the questions I've been asking!" It is so ironic, that one of the main thrusts of those splashing the Kalu Rinpoche "confession" around the web is to encourage people to question and examine Buddhist teachers–and then when we question and examine Kalu Rinpoche, we're told we're being "disrespectful" to abuse victims.

    Questioning is questioning–examining is examining. Goose, gander.

    I'm very suspicious about the Facebook issue, because there are far more scandalous things posted on FB right now than this. FB, themselves, don't really give a hoot about content; they will, however, respond to complaints, if they receive a certain number of them. Judging by the number of "how dare you question Kalu Rinpoche" responses on your blog here, I'd imagine that certain number was reached. It all strikes me as swift, and organized.

    Thank you for finally asking the hard questions, and let's keep asking them! In the end, all this examining and questioning is for everyone's good–Kalu Rinpoche's included.

  11. Tsolwa says:

    I also have to add another ironic observation–that many of those posting the Kalu Rinpoche story also engage in a lot of tulku-bashing; they think tulkus are pompous, self-entitled people who don't have any genuine connection to their previous incarnation but only received tulku status as a result of being born into an important family, all part of Tibet's "medieval theocratic" culture.

    But then this young tulku posts a scandalous story, and they're all in complete support of him, of what they say is his important work, his status as a teacher, etc. etc.

    I have deep respect for Kalu Rinpoche as a human, and I may develop deep respect for him as a teacher at some point. I have deep respect for all my teachers, and for what they have all, without exception, taught: Question the teacher.

  12. Nissa says:

    I did read it. I found it to be a confusing article the way it jumped around and was not clear in what you were saying or asking. I did not enjoy reading it. It was upsetting and it hurt my heart and I felt nauseous. What is it exactly that you want him to respond to? What is your question to him? What response are you looking for from him? And why does he even need to respond to that? Why would you think he needs to respond to that? Even your response to me does not make sense to me and is not clear. I can understand why "his silence is deafening" to your question. He spoke out that he was sexually abused as a child (something I understand personally how emotional and difficult it is to go through, deal with and tell about) and you are saying that you think he is a liar and you want him to give you a response to what his "so-called previous incarnation" did. This whole article is so insane. I wish I never even posted a response to it. I will not read it again. It was one of the most hurtful things I have ever read.

  13. Nissa says:

    I'm sorry, I do not belong in this conversation. I do not believe in reincarnation. I'm not the person you should be talking to about this. Best wishes to you and everyone involved. Please leave me alone now.

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