What Lies Beneath the Robes: Are Buddhist Monasteries Suitable Places for Children? ~ Adele Wilde-Blavatsky

Via on Jun 7, 2013

Thai_buddhist_monk_smile

 “I think this [sexual abuse in monasteries] is something we should look at. It’s very important that people don’t forget: Buddhism and Buddhist are two different entities. Buddhism is perfect. Buddhists are not.” ~ Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche

“Whenever one person stands up and says ‘wait a minute, this is wrong,” it helps other people to do the same.” ~ Gloria Steinem

 

Bhutan Issues Condoms for Monks

This month is the sacred month of Saga Dawa, when millions of Buddhists celebrate the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and parinirvana (passing away) over 2500 years ago. Ironically, this same month, in the tiny Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan, it was reported that health authorities are making condoms available at all Buddhist monastic schools in a bid to stem the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV among young monks who are supposed to be celibate.

According to one newspaper, warning signs of risky behavior among monks first appeared in 2009, when a report on risks and vulnerabilities of adolescents revealed that monks were engaging in “thigh sex” (in which a man uses another man’s clenched thighs for masturbation), according to the state-owned Kuensel Daily.

On the one hand,this is a shocking story about the moral degeneration of the Buddhist community, with supposedly celibate Buddhist monks engaging in sexual activity. On the other hand, it is a positive sign of a conservative, Buddhist society opening up and acknowledging there is a serious problem of sexual misconduct in their monastic institutions.

The point of taking monastic celibacy vows is to show one’s commitment and intention to renounce attachment to sexual desire that, from the Buddhist viewpoint, causes many different types of physical and mental suffering. Some might think “thigh sex” (if consensual) is a minor transgression. Yet, one might also question if this was really what the Buddha intended when he spoke about the path of celibacy?

In any case, whatever one might think about “thigh sex” between consenting adult monks, if they are contracting HIV and other STDs, that generally means full penetrative sex (with men or women); penetrative sex is a clear breach of their vows and the Buddha’s teachings on monastic discipline and ethics.

Over the last few years, I have heard several stories of monastic sexual misconduct and abuse in Tibetan monasteries in exile. At times it is difficult to distinguish what is second-hand gossip and what is based on facts or direct personal experience. Melvyn C. Goldstein also referred to the sexual activity of monks in his book History of a Modern Tibet (Vol 2) and Lama Shree Narayan Singh has also written about the historical origin of ‘thigh sex’ in Tibet; however, up until recently, very few Tibetans have taken the brave step of ‘going public’ with their personal experiences.

The Rape of Kalu Rinpoche

Kalu
Kalu Rinpoche

In October 2011, a famous and highly-respected reincarnate Tibetan Buddhist master, Kalu Rinpoche, posted a Youtube video in which he reveals the abuse he suffered as a young monk at the hands of adult monks in his monastery. Rinpoche’s allegations caused shockwaves within the Tibetan Buddhist community (particularly his western students). Since that time, I have not heard any Tibetan Buddhist teacher (especially those connected with Kalu Rinpoche) publicly respond to his allegations, let alone suggest there be a formal investigation and those responsible brought to account. One can only hope Kalu Rinpoche’s video exposure of this serious issue has not gone to waste and been brushed under the carpet in the hope that people might forget about it. Rinpoche recently gave an interview in which he details the rape he suffered:

Kalu says that when he was in his early teens, he was sexually abused by a gang of older monks who would visit his room each week. When I bring up the concept of “inappropriate touching,” he laughs edgily. This was hard-core sex, he says, including penetration. “Most of the time, they just came alone,” he says. “They just banged the door harder, and I had to open. I knew what was going to happen, and after that you become more used to it.” It wasn’t until Kalu returned to the monastery after his three-year retreat that he realized how wrong this practice was. By then the cycle had begun again on a younger generation of victims, he says. Kalu’s claims of sexual abuse mirror those of Lodoe Senge, an ex-monk and 23-year-old tulku who now lives in Queens, New York. “When I saw the video,” Senge says of Kalu’s confessions, “I thought, ‘Shit, this guy has the balls to talk about it when I didn’t even have the courage to tell my girlfriend.’” Senge was abused, he says, as a 5-year-old by his own tutor, a man in his late twenties, at a monastery in India.

If that weren’t bad enough, Kalu Rinpoche’s former incarnation was himself accused of sexually exploiting June Campbell, his former female student and translator. Her story is just one in a number of cases of sexually predatory and exploitative conduct by male Tibetan Buddhist teachers towards their (mainly western) female students (see Mary Finnigan’s recent article “The Lamas who give Tibetan Buddhism a bad name”).

Putting aside the issue of sexual misconduct and abuse, much has also been said and written about on the everyday specter of violence as corporal punishment within Tibetan monasteries. Stories of excessive corporal punishment and violence in Tibetan Buddhist monasteries are commonplace.

One Tibetan man I know very well (who was a monk for 15 years from the age of 12) told me that physical beating of young monks was the norm in his monastery. He related a story to me of how as a young adolescent he was held down on a bed by four adult monks and beaten with a heavy stick for the minor infraction of being late to morning puja. I can also personally verify that there was a violent incident at a respected Kagyu monastery in Nepal a few years ago, where a young monk used a meat cleaver to attack another young monk about the head and body, almost killing him in the process.

How was it dealt with by the monastery? Instead of handing him over to the police on an attempted murder charge, the monk was kicked out of the monastery and no more was said about it. Such conduct would have resulted in a criminal investigation in the UK.

Children, Mass Monasticism and a Culture of Silence

For centuries, it has been the cultural practice in Tibet (which has continued in exile) to send very young children to monasteries. The children are sent for a variety of reasons, including devout religious belief, education, poverty and a lack of family support. As Melvyn C Goldstein explains in Tibetan Buddhism and Mass Monasticism:

In Tibet, monks were almost always recruited as very young children through the agency of their parents or guardians. It was considered important to recruit monks before they had experienced sexual relations with girls, so monks were brought to the monastery as young boys, usually between the ages of 6-12. On the other hand, it was not considered important what these boys themselves felt about a lifetime commitment to celibate monasticism and they were basically made monks without regard to their personality, temperament or inclination.

Furthermore, according to Goldstein and other personal anecdotes, child monks who ran away from the monastery were generally not offered sympathy or support and typically scolded by their parents and family; with the child sent immediately back to the monastery. In The Struggle for Modern Tibet: The Autobiography of Tashi Tsering there is a first-hand account of abusive treatment at the hand of monastics.

Born in 1929 in a Tibetan village, Tsering developed a strong dislike of his country’s theocratic ruling elite. He was taken from his family near Drepung at 13 and forced into the Dalai Lama’s personal dance troupe. Severely beaten by his teachers there for minor infractions, Tsering (a heterosexual) was then raped by a well-connected monk (and other “official monks”) in exchange for protection, becoming a passive sex-toy or dronpo (Tib: guest).

Even in exile, many Tibetans enter monasteries as children below the age of 16, often as orphans or at a long distance from their parents’ home. Many children do not see their parents or family members for years; their sole place of refuge and care being the monastery. They are then expected to keep the celibacy vow through puberty and adulthood—not an easy task for an adult, let alone an adolescent.

Furthermore, whereas previously monastics lived in isolated places providing little contact with lay people, women or worldly activities, nowadays, the close proximity of monasteries to large towns and cities and the proliferation and easy access of internet porn and so on has no doubt increased and fed the monks’ sexual desire and frustration.

With this background in mind, issuing condoms to monks may not be the most ‘pure’ or suitable method, particularly in terms of preventing rape and abuse, but it is certainly a practical one if monks are contracting HIV and other STDs. The cultural background of “mass monasticism,” combined with the lack of child protection measures, leave child monastics particularly vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse. This is not to say that the majority of adult monks are abusing children (or that it is only a problem in relation to Tibetan Buddhists), but even if it is only a small minority it can have a devastating effect. It only takes a few rotten apples to spoil the bunch, as they say.

Ruben Derksen, a 26-year-old Dutch reincarnate lama who stars in the film Tulku, has stated that is is about time that Tibetan Buddhist institutions were “demystified and the shroud was removed.” Derksen, who as a child spent three years in a monastery in India, recently drew attention to the physical beatings that are a regular practice there. “I met Richard Gere and Steven Seagal, and they didn’t see any of this,” he says. “When celebrities or outsiders are around, you don’t beat the kids.”

And therein lies part of the problem: it’s well-hidden. Although there are personal stories of abuse among the exile community, some people argue that they need to see more evidence; yet, there is no reason to disbelieve all these testimonies either.

Conclusion

tibetan monastery

Tibetan Buddhist monasteries are, historically and currently, some of the most advanced centers of Buddhist scholarship and practice in the world today. They have produced some of the world’s most inspiring, compassionate teachers and practitioners of Buddhism, the Dalai Lama and the 17th Karmapa being prime examples. For an adult, one of the best places to study and practice Buddhism is within a Tibetan Buddhist monastic setting.

Consensual masturbation and “thigh sex” between adult monks is not the chief concern here—albeit such activity from the monastic viewpoint is far from “pure” and, if done out of frustration as opposed to one’s sexuality, it is not particularly psychologically healthy either. What is more worrying is the presence of children in the care of these all-male institutions.

Who can these children turn to if there is a culture of abuse, shame, silence and denial in their community?

Being open and accountable on these issues will enable reform and constructive action. International children’s rights laws apply globally. This is not an issue relative to a particular culture or tradition.

Understandably, the Tibetan community in exile does not always respond well to criticism or suggestions for improvement, particularly when coming from non-Tibetans. In response to a Facebook discussion I started on this issue, a Tibetan replied that:

It is time for the Tibetan community to stop defending those who abuse and exploit their position of trust. Exposure of these cases and others that are widely known within our communities must be brought out of the closets. As a community, we have NO obligation to defend these people nor anything to be ashamed of. Their actions are not a reflection on the broader community. If we are to prepare for the post-His Holiness era, we better create a realistic and honest image of ourselves to the world. Starting now. As Tibetans, we cannot pretend all of us to be mini-Dalai Lamas. Our community is no different than any others, we have the good, the bad and the ugly. The world must see us for what we are.

If children are being left vulnerable in Tibetan monasteries, why don’t the Tibetan exile leader Lobsang Sangay and the Tibetan monastic authorities follow the Bhutanese example and call for an official report into the safety of child monastics in exile? At the least, in line with their publicly-stated desire to modernize, they could establish adequate sex education and internationally-recognized child protection measures in the monasteries and schools.

When are we going to get a public response from the monastic authorities on these alleged cases of physical or sexual abuse, particularly that of Kalu Rinpoche? If even Rinpoche’s allegations are not publicly investigated then what hope is there for a young, unknown orphan child undergoing a similar experience? What about kick-starting a public initiative that provides both monks and ex-monks a confidential, safe platform to register and report their personal tales of abuse and neglect in the monasteries?

These testimonies could then be compiled into an official document and delivered to the CTA and monastic authorities to respond to. A simple, preventative measure is to bar anyone from becoming a monk until the age of 18. At the very least, setting aside legitimate concerns about violence and sexual abuse, doesn’t it make more sense for a person to take the decision to become celibate after puberty, when they are better able to make an informed, adult decision about it?

On a positive note, Kalu Rinpoche is not just taking on the voice of a victim but also that of a pioneer, creating a school for children whose families are in financial difficulty and barring them from becoming monks until the age of 19. Whatever anyone might think about this issue, first and foremost (following Kalu Rinpoche’s example) we all need to think about what is in the best interests of the children. The reputation of Tibetans or Tibetan Buddhism has to come second to that.

Dedicated to Kalu Rinpoche and the children.

adele_wilde_blavatskyAdele Wilde-Blavatsky has an MA in Philosophy and previously worked as a Philosophy lecturer. In 2007, she co-edited a philosophy book Aesthetic Experience with Prof. Richard Shusterman and is currently working on her first collection of poetry and essays for publication. Since taking refuge with the 17th Karmapa in India in 2005, she turned away from Western Philosophy and materialism and has spent the last few years living and studying yoga, the Tibetan language and Tibetan Buddhist philosophy in India and Nepal. Adele is also a mother to a very active son, a qualified yoga teacher, freelance writer, part-time translator and a passionate political activist on issues related to gender, sexism, civil liberties, Tibet and human rights. Recently, she worked for Free Tibet, an NGO in London and as a volunteer for the Tibet-led and staffed NGO, Tibetan Centre of Human Rights and Democracy. She wrote a expose of Free Tibet’s working culture in 2012 and has also published articles in Elephant Journal, The Huffington Post, Tibet Telegraph and the Tibetan exile online publication Phayul.com.

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Ed: Sara Crolick

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19 Responses to “What Lies Beneath the Robes: Are Buddhist Monasteries Suitable Places for Children? ~ Adele Wilde-Blavatsky”

  1. Padma Kadag says:

    Monks would be better monks if they became monks only after they had fallen deeply in love and had their hearts broken. As Dzongsar Rinpoche suggests. We could assume that they already had experienced making love and all of the spectrum of emotions which would turn their minds towards renunciation. Then if they truly want to renounce the world and take the vows of a monk they more than likely would be in their early 20's. It is the education that most famiies want for their young boys. The strict nature, some corporal punishment, should be of no surprise as it is a tradition in training monks and nuns. But also traditionally monks only became monks because of a personal choice to renounce samsara. Economics should have never been a factor. We should also know that monasticism is not necessarily the pinnacle of Tibetan Buddhist practice and accomplishment. Many many of the greatest Yogis and Yoginis were and are householders…this is a fact.

  2. david says:

    17th karmapa? is he also a victim of child monkhood? if not, who is allowed to take a child away from their parents to feed him some kind of 'education' and keep him under house arrest if the child were assumed reluctantly to get ride off his ego or soul?

  3. pixiemom says:

    Is there no immunity?

  4. Mrinal K N says:

    Let His Holiness come with some revolutionary decisions for a paradigm shift of the monk recruitment system at early age. Because, as it is a religious issue no other external agency will be able to come forward, hence it has to be done from inside and only by His Holiness.

    • david says:

      From inside is correct! No more lies are needed to cover age old lies.Tibetans don't need to sacrifice more to prove the rightness of an rotten meat. Turn the old page over.

  5. sherabzangpo says:

    This article is important. But too sensationalist and intentionally provocative. The information about violence is really rather unrelated to the main point, of course people get into fights everywhere. I think that's taken for granted. What's not assumed is that some monks molest young boys. In particular the call for the Tibetan leaders to do something about it is good. It's time that the Tibetan leaders stop living in and perpetuating the culture of strong denial (which pertains to almost everything in Tibetan society).

  6. Haemin says:

    I used to be a monk in the Tibetan tradition and now practice as a monk in the Korean tradition. While in Nepal, I witnesses child-monks being beaten with a stick, met a monk with scars on his legs from being whipped repeatedly with an electric cord, and spoke with a witness to a sexual assault committed by one 20-something tulku on a much younger tulku. The stories of beatings and sexual assaults are too numerous to ignore. It surprises me that it has taken this long for the discussion to arise in the Western press. Many years ago, I warned a lama who said beatings were the only way to discipline the kids in monasteries that if the Western press ever got wind of it on a large enough scale, all that money that goes to the monasteries would dry up in a flash. That was the only thing that made him think twice about it. We need to shout this from the rooftops.

    I'd also like to point out that I've heard tell of the exact same kind of abuse in Tibetan nunneries as well. I think that shouldn't be ignored. This isn't a male-monastic problem, it's a monastic problem, both male and female.

  7. One important point in all of this, which the article doesn’t really go into, is the underlying sexual issues in Tibetan culture. Tibetans are generally very embarrassed and afraid to talk about sex. There is not much openness in Tibetan society about sexual issues. To an outside observer who gets to know the Tibetans, they can seem quite child-like in their attitudes. Masturbation is widely looked down about. Oral sex is a no-no practically across the board, especially for women. Many young Tibetan men and women are virgins into their late 20s and even 30s. There are many cases of rape by Tibetan men, against both Tibetan women and foreign women; the Tibetan women rarely report the incidents. Tibetan women are often harassed by Tibetan men who call them, having got their phone numbers from friends of a friend. Tibetan people and in particular women are afraid to show any kind of sexual desire whatsoever in public, even the slightest hint of it; as if it didn’t exist and was a complete social taboo, restrained by social judgement like adolescent girls and boys. Many Tibetan people are not aware of the basics of sex education, such as the necessity of condoms, or even the basic processes of pregnancy or menstruation. Tibetan people are usually not comfortable discussing sex even with their closest friends. Many Tibetan women have probably never had an orgasm, and many Tibetan men probably don’t understand love-making or prolonged sex or how to please a woman. Many married Tibetan couples may have never even seen each other naked. Sex in the day time is frowned upon. And so on. With such closed-mindedness and denial about sex in Tibetan society, it’s no big surprise that a lot of Tibetan people are repressed and seeking some kind of release. Unfortunately this also results in molestation, rape, and dishonest relations. Many Tibetan people would deny the information in this article; to them it’s just impossible. But when one considers the level of denial and hypocrisy in Tibetan society, it’s hardly surprising that there are going to be many victims of sexual repression, especially women and children, but adult men also.

    • BBolder says:

      Whoa, Erick, back the truck up!

      You have crossed a line from stating a valid opinion re the points of the article, to insulting an entire race of people in a very personal manner.

      Besides, the above is not how I would describe my experience, having lived in Tibet for three months and spent time in Tibetan settlements in India and with the community in the US.

      • sherabzangpo says:

        In response to BBolder's comment:

        *to insulting an entire race of people in a very personal manner.*

        It's not an insult. And it's not untrue. If you don't believe me, investigate for yourself. You will notice that I said "many" in most cases. I'm not trying to generalize about the entire multi-faceted Tibetan race, but to point out common problems in Tibetan society which I believe contribute to sexual neurosis.

        *Besides, the above is not how I would describe my experience, having lived in Tibet for three months and spent time in Tibetan settlements in India and with the community in the US.*

        I've lived in India in the Tibetan community for the last 5 1/2 years. Most of that time involved with a Tibetan woman. I am also fluent in Tibetan, so I understand everything they are saying (or not saying). So I think I have some idea of what I am talking about.

        The situation may different in Tibet and very different in the West. Anyway, everyone is different but I am just pointing out my own experiences. I hope that it's helpful to understanding the roots of these sexual abuse problems.

  8. Taylor Logan says:

    Actually, the ancient Tibetan and yoga scriptures and teachings that our yoga is pulled from yet discarded, does not see your description as childish and close minded but dharmic, conscious and spiritually evolved, as our cultures is considered degraded in delusion, self dis respect, desensitized to the sacredness of the body and intimacy in spiritual ignorance. This is due to the lack of unconditional love, benevolence, kindness and spiritual realizations taught in childhood, resulting in desperate souls dying to feel alive exploiting their own bodies and flesh in ignorance and self loathing, de sanctifying the body, its purity, modesty in a natural joyful manner, in a greedy desperation of using one another for fleshly thrills, temporal cycle that never ends and leads to soul craziness, a la Hollywood hypersexualization of young girls until they are crazy confused, spears, Logan. Tibetan scriptures state that masturbation attracts unclean spirits and lust crazed after life wanderers looking for low vibes to feed on. Yoga scriptures teach sexual de sensitivity activities other than modesty lowers yoga progression, ones vibe in general and attuned one to mental pollution, our culture. All of the issues raised above in reference to tibetans innocent modesty about sex acts does not imply those sex acts oral, everything is ok etc is so calledhealthy sexuality because modern America, the most violent country says it is, known for sexual exploitation. Thousands of people in convents and monasteries have lived happily celibate for centuries, modesty does nat cause repression,rape or hypo racy, crazy minds do. Just saying. Another view.

    • sherabzangpo says:

      In response to Taylor Logan's comment:

      *Actually, the ancient Tibetan and yoga scriptures and teachings that our yoga is pulled from yet discarded, does not see your description as childish and close minded but dharmic, conscious and spiritually evolved,*

      Sexual repression, denial, and lack of honesty and openness are Dharmic, conscious, and spiritual evolved? That's new to me. The general Tibetan attitudes towards sex are quite far from those taught in the Buddhist and certainly the Tantric scriptures.

      *as our cultures is considered degraded in delusion, self dis respect, desensitized to the sacredness of the body and intimacy in spiritual ignorance.*

      Yes, our cultures are often like that. But so is Tibetan culture, in all the ways you mention, for many of the reasons I described. Again, Tibetan sexual culture is hardly a paragon of Buddhist and Tantric virtue. By the way, Western culture is often looked down upon by the Tibetans out of a superiority/inferiority complex, envy, and xenophobia, not out of any reasoned analysis.

      *This is due to the lack of unconditional love, benevolence, kindness and spiritual realizations taught in childhood,*

      These things are rarely taught to children in Tibetan culture either.

      *resulting in desperate souls dying to feel alive exploiting their own bodies and flesh in ignorance and self loathing, de sanctifying the body, its purity, modesty in a natural joyful manner, in a greedy desperation of using one another for fleshly thrills, temporal cycle that never ends and leads to soul craziness, a la Hollywood hypersexualization of young girls until they are crazy confused, spears, Logan.*

      You are conflating too much and exaggerating. Yes there are many excesses and faults in Western sexual culture, but that is not to say that there are not good points as well. In any case, many of the things you describe are universal human processes. You are seriously idealizing Tibetan culture here.

      *Tibetan scriptures state that masturbation attracts unclean spirits and lust crazed after life wanderers looking for low vibes to feed on.*

      Interesting, can you tell me which ones? I've never read that. Actually the admonitions against masturbation and oral sex, etc. come from certain late medieval Indian commentators, presumably under Indian, Brahmanical, and possibly even Muslim influences of the time. Such statements are not found in the Buddhist scriptures themselves. I'll place a bet.

      *Yoga scriptures teach sexual de sensitivity activities other than modesty lowers yoga progression, ones vibe in general and attuned one to mental pollution, our culture.*

      Well we aren't talking about hatha yoga or Hinduism here, let's make that clear. Much of Buddhism as practiced in Tibet, although not all, encourages celibacy, i.e. monasticism. However there are exceptions, such as many teachings found in the Tantras. But anyway, monasticism/celibacy and progressive, holistic sexual values in society are two very different issues.

      *All of the issues raised above in reference to tibetans innocent modesty about sex acts does not imply those sex acts oral, everything is ok etc is so calledhealthy sexuality because modern America, the most violent country says it is, known for sexual exploitation.*

      All of the issues I raised above? How about lack of sex education? Public shaming? Unknown men harassing women over the phone? Lack of healthy sexual relations? Shame about the body and sex? Rape? Molestation? Dishonest relations? Treating women and children like toys? Lack of public discourse about all of these things? Denial?

      This issue is about healthy and holistic sexual relations and sexual views which don't harm others, not America or the West. To compare the two is counter-productive and a side-track from the issue at hand.

      *Thousands of people in convents and monasteries have lived happily celibate for centuries,*

      Yes, and some of them were raped and molested in the monasteries and nunneries.

      *modesty does nat cause repression,rape or hypo racy, crazy minds do. Just saying. Another view.*

      No, modesty does not cause repression, rape, or hypocrisy. But denial, dishonesty, fear, shame, superstitions, and lack of education and awareness do.

  9. sherabzangpo says:

    One important point in all of this, which the article doesn't really go into, is the underlying sexual issues in Tibetan culture. These are the causes of these problems, so they must be addressed in any serious discussion of issues of rape or molestation in Tibetan monasteries. Tibetans are generally very embarrassed and afraid to talk about sex. There is not much openness in Tibetan society about sexual issues. To an outside observer who gets to know the Tibetans, they can seem quite backwards in their attitudes about sex. For example: Masturbation is widely looked down about. Oral sex is a no-no practically across the board, especially for women. Many young Tibetan men and women are virgins into their late 20s and even 30s. There are many cases of rape by Tibetan men, against both Tibetan women and foreign women; the Tibetan women rarely report the incidents. Many Western women have reported being raped by Tibetan men in India and Nepal. Tibetan women are often harassed by Tibetan men they don't know who call them incessantly trying to hook up, having got their phone numbers from friends of a friend. Tibetan people and in particular women are afraid to show any kind of sexual desire whatsoever in public, even the slightest hint of it; as if it didn't exist and was a complete social taboo, restrained by social judgement like adolescent girls and boys, even among couples. The concept of "dating" is new to Tibetan culture. Many Tibetan people are not aware of the basics of sex education, such as the necessity of condoms, or even the basic processes of pregnancy or menstruation. Tibetan people are usually not comfortable discussing sex even with their closest friends. Many Tibetan women have probably never had an orgasm, and many Tibetan men probably have never even heard of love-making or prolonged sex or how to please a woman. Many married Tibetan couples may have never even seen each other naked. Sex in the day time is frowned upon. Many foreigners are used for sex in a shameless way by Tibetan people (especially foreign women), but the community usually does not say anything. In fact I have never heard of a serious discussion of rape or sexual abuse within the Tibetan community on any level. In general, amongst Asians, the Tibetans are arguably second only to the Indians in terms of sexual repression and dysfunction. With such closed-mindedness and denial about sex in Tibetan society, it's no big surprise that a lot of Tibetan people are repressed and seeking some kind of release. Unfortunately this also results in molestation, rape, and dishonest relations. Many Tibetan people would deny the information in this article; to them it's just impossible. But when one considers the level of denial and hypocrisy in Tibetan society, it's hardly surprising that there are going to be many victims of sexual repression, especially women and children, but adult men also. Hopefully Tibetan leaders both secular and spiritual will eventually stop this culture of silence and address the issues.

  10. Adele Wilde says:

    Thanks for the comments everyone. Re the comment that the article was sensationalist? Where and why? I think that's an unfounded criticism. In addition, the comments about Tibetan exile attitudes to sex is one which requires more research and analysis than just hearsay. I think there is a whole research project on that although I do agree with some of the remarks based on my own experience living in the Tibetan exile community as well, such as lack of understanding of biology, pregnancy, importance of contraceptives/condoms, no sex before marriage, girls taught to be virginal/pure etc., young Tibetan men desperate for sex practically attacking women as soon as they're in a room alone with them is troubling to say the least. But these statements need to be backed up more with first-hand accounts and empirical research, otherwise like another commenter said here, you're painting a whole race of people with one brush. And that would be sensationalist.

  11. Adele Wilde says:

    Thank you for your positive and encouraging comments about the article. Yes, you have supported my views and work both on Facebook and Phayul.com and I appreciate that. No-one is perfect and perhaps you also need to look at your own reactions to criticism and hostility too? I don't know you in a personal capacity at all, nor you me, our only contact has been online as you know. So I think we should leave any generalistions about someone's character to those who know and understand us well or leave the personal, negative judgements to one side and not engage in untrue or harmful gossip about anyone based on second-hand, inaccurate subjective opinions at all (especially if those opinions are not actually dealing with my work/writing). I think it's perfectly normal for a writer to defend their work when its being criticised, it's called debate/discussion right? Anyway, as for the comment you made about it being 'sensationalist' due to the child's picture, for the record, I didn't ask for any photos to be used with this piece. All the photos were chosen and picked by the Elephant Journal editor. I did not see them before it was published either. I personally would not have chosen the picture of a child monk (not even a Tibetan one) but I had no choice in the matter. Thanks again for your support though and yes, you do have experience of the Tibetan community in exile, there is no doubt, however, sadly there still needs to be more research and first-person accounts of these matters you mention, which are issues for sure, because without that it is too easy for others (not me) to say it is just hearsay, generalising and gossip. Hope you get my point about that now. Thanks.

  12. Tenor says:

    First, the Tibetan refugees who came to India in the Sixties were raised in a pre-modern society. The extended "childhood" of today is a post-modern institution. Some 120+ years ago in New Jersey, my mother's parents left school after seventh grade to engage in socially productive labor. So perhaps Tibetans have had a different view of "childhood" than the readers of Elephant Journal.

    Second, among the middle aged monks, nuns and Geshes, who are my friends, those who entered monasteries as children did so eagerly. They were in no way forced into monastery against their will. To the contrary, one highly esteemed Geshe, actually ran away from home in Nepal, against his parents' wishes, to join a monastery in India, These are individuals who have dedicated their lives to developing kindness and wisdom and being of benefit.

    Third, corporal discipline of Tibetan children is not confined to monasteries — ask any adult graduate of Tibetan Schools in India.

    Fourth, physical punishment and even beating children was perfectly acceptable in the USA, the UK and other industrialized Western societies until after World War II. I graduated from a good public high school on Long Island in 1965. I recall that a coach, who was an assistant principal, was photographed for the local rag holding the paddle he used on the adolescent boys. While physical punishments were not used in our public elementary schools, the parents of the children attending our local Catholic elementary bragged that their school provided superior education because of the physical discipline employed there.

    Somehow, Adele, I have recollections that in the UK, at least prior to WW2, "public", i.e., elite private high schools were notorious for their floggings and homosexuality. So the World's Imperial ruling class felt that kind of treatment was suitable for their scions.

    Of course, I don't endorse beating, any physical punishment of children, child labor or sexual abuse of any kind. Although I was struck, not too infrequently, as a child, when I raised my own, I really realized how dumbfounding it is that anyone can hit a kid. Nonetheless, I must acknowledge that it is not uncommon human behavior in civilized societies.

    About the sex stuff. Young people do not receive full ordination until at least their mid-20's. Novices are supposed to follow the vows of full ordination but they can't break them if they don't have them. Monasteries with teenagers do not expect most of them to be totally sexually repressed. Also, there's a high attrition rate, at least in exile, of young people from monastic life.

    You may have noticed that many traditional Tibetan lay people like to imitate the ordained in the colors or style of their dress without actually holding those vows. Why do Amdo people wear their fabulous coats off one shoulder — it seems to be a homage to monastic clothing. They no doubt have been encouraged to adopt restraints in sexual behavior as sex, like alcohol, often induces very strong afflictive emotions. Although not fashionable in this fabulously degenerate era, encouraging the restraint of strong craving and hostility is baked into the cake of Buddhism.

    On the other hand, compared to Judeo-Christian-Islamic societies, female sexuality is considered as natural as that of males. Anthropologists have said there is no traditional society with as diverse marriage patterns as found amongst the Tibetans. E.g., Tibetans still practice polyandry in India.

    The Anglo-American stereotype that the sexual urges and desires of males are greater than females is generally reversed amongst Tibetans. On the ignorant side of that ledger, I've heard of a superstition that women who do not have sexual relations by the time they are 18 years old will pass away before they are 30. On the practical side, women are not condemned for having sex "outside" of marriage as in Puritan Christianity. Tibetan parents, like all sensible parents [even in the brave new world of sex-sex-sex -Miley Cyrus-sex-sex-sex] try to discourage young teenagers from having casual sexual relations out of concern for their welfare; but they don't tell them they'll burn in hell if they do.

    Part 1, continued

  13. Tenor says:

    Part 1, continued.
    Speaking of the ignorant side of the sexual information divide. Do you, Eric and the young people reading ET realize how sexually repressed the USA was before the pill became available in the latter part of the 1960's? There's a reason it was called THE Sexual Revolution. Maybe you should look it up so you can get a little perspective on the perspective of people whose parents and grandparents were raised in 14th century conditions and who've been living in India, which was isolated from the full onslaught of youth culture media until the last 15 years or so and is not exactly known for being a hotbed of sexual freedom.

    In addition to coming straight from the 14th century to settle in rural India, the generation of first arrivals in India was very traumatized. Suicide by parents unable to cope or provide was not uncommon. The older generations of Tibetans exiled in India have naturally had difficulty determining what elements of their culture they had to preserve to maintain their identity, so they conservatively are afraid to change anything more than they've already been forced to change. Their conservatism is not moderated by the decimation of the younger exile community as it follows the "Go West, Young Tibetan; Go West" Dream.

    There are not very many Tibetans in the entire world — six million or so. Then Westerners come across an extraordinary being such as H.H. Dalai Lama and expect normal Tibetans to be extraordinary — the Panda Bears of World Spirituality. With familiarity, such delusions can breed contempt.

    Lastly, your brief depiction of Tashi Tsering's The Struggle for Modern Tibet contains serious errors.

    (1) Tashi Tsering was delighted to join the dance troupe, leave his remote village and live in Lhasa, because from an early age he knew he wanted an education that was not available in his home. It is true that, being a 14th century society, he got that opportunity because of a special tax that was paid by a county (or other geographical area) sending one of its boys to the dance troupe in Lhasa.

    (2) Not all of his experiences with the dance troupe were abusive, but for too long (and any period of abuse of a child is too long), he was subjected to abusive training. I've read about abusive training of children being groomed for the Olympics.

    (3) Tsering was kidnapped, raped and held for weeks at a time by a type of warrior or jock-monk from Sera Monastery. These so-called monks had become an unruly tradition. They responded to the 13th Dalai Lama's modernizing efforts by publicly threatening and committing violence against teenagers such as that perpetrated against Tashing Tsering. During the regency of the 14th Dalai Lama, they played a role in the full-scale rebellion by Sera Monastery against the government; a rebellion in which they fought the army and police.

    (4) Tsering was not from Drepung (which is outside the old walls of Lhasa), but he did seek shelter from his abductors at Drepung Monastery. He indicates that somehow or other, the Drepung authorities were eventually able to secure his safety from further abduction so that he could returned to the city.

    (5) He was not raped by the high-ranking monk official. They had a consensual relationship of the "thigh-sex" variety. As a member of the dance troupe,Tashi Tsering played female roles. In their relations, he wore women's clothing. Tashi Tsering has nothing bad to say about this official, whose patronage he was happy to receive and who benefited him by providing him access to further education and a government position. Tsering later married, always considered himself to be heterosexual, and describes his relationship with this official as a positive experience in his development.

    Sane people want to live in a world free of violence, rape and abuse perpetrated against children, women and men. Let's start bringing that dream to life in our own societies before we start prescribing untested remedies for others. We can say a universal panacea is a living a loving concern for all our fellow living creatures, great and small. Sometimes that may conflict with promoting an internet blogging presence driven by controversy, scandal and divisive polemics.

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