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A response to calls for accountability in many allegations of sexual assault done by a Buddhist Spiritual Leader

Hello everyone,
I’m a Canadian Theravada Buddhist monk living in Canada. It’s been a while since I’ve posted in this forum.

A Buddhist friend drew my attention to a recently published Canadian, well-written article about a Sexual Scandal (not in the Theravada):
“Survivors of an International Buddhist Cult Share Their Stories: An investigation into decades of abuse at Shambhala International”:

There’s also an audio version of the article here.

Here’s a Video Dhamma Talk I did recently where I gave the best general advice I could to inform the Canadian public where the boundaries (in Vinaya) are for such cases, at least as seen in the Theravada tradition.

(Fast forward in 16:43):

Note: I mentioned Parajika 1 specifically.

I’m sure there are several other highly appropriate things I could have also said in the video (which you feel needed to be also mentioned), however my 1 hour ran out too quickly on me (I try to keep it very punctual and consistent each week for my audience to attend the talk live)! So please go easy on me, as it’s quite hard to shoot those videos at all, what with the pictures, text, slides, etc.

Edit one week later:

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There was some discussion of that Buddhist group on this forum a little while ago. The discussion was made private, though. During the short time the discussion was public, I didn’t see that particular article mentioned. Thanks for sharing.

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Scary stuff. And it seems to be ongoing. Is there anything that can be done?

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While it might be wise to keep such discussion private, it is surely meaningful to have some relevant links available. There is a blog kept alive some years already by some german monk (tibetan tradition), in which reports and documents on abuse-cases in “the buddhist scene” are presented and kept open for further discussion. See for the subject here at this It is not from the Theravada-view nor are there specific resemblances to the EBT. However, for me it was interesting in the sense of understanding the canon’s concept of “psychic powers” and why not “selling” them. I don’t know much about him, only half of his book/talks on “spiritual materialism”, but I think to understand now that and why Chogyam Trungpa has been experienced as one with much of “psychic powers”. Protocols mentioned or referred to in that blog give some impression of this, one statement I remember (even as not so unfamiliar in general life) was that he was able to drag away the floor below you and throw you into extreme existencial crisis in one blow of interaction.

According to the Canon the Buddha demanded of his followers that they should be quiet, defensive about such psychic powers which they might have developed in their earlier life or in the current life under his guidance, and the Trungpa/Shambala-case might be taken as modern illustration or contemporary updates of the reasons given for the according vinaya-rules.
Another aspect relevant to the texts in the Pali-canon is the discourse of not trying to be prominent - as one of the dangers even Theras and teachers might be spoiled by. (Don’t have the sutta-indices at hand, perhaps I can supply them later, or perhaps someone else here…)

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Just to clarify one point, if Trungpa was ever an actual monk he had already committed a parajika before arriving in America or Canada. If you read Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo’s biography, she talks about meeting him in England in the…60s, I think? He had already fathered a child by that point. So we can’t really apply the Vinaya, and especially the monastic rules regarding speaking about attainments and psychic powers, to Trungpa. He was a tulku, and they can be lay people or monastics. Either way, they often times wear pretty much the same clothes, which is confusing.

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When I was taught (Theravada) Vinaya, here’s what I was taught about laypeople who decide to wear the clothing of a monk (who have not gone through all the hoops needed to ordain properly).

Any layperson who dresses up as a Buddhist monk, even for the sake of a Halloween costume, commits a so-called “Virtual Parajika”, and the punishment for this, is that they can never ordain as a Buddhist monk for the rest of their life. It’s like if I dressed up like a Canadian RCMP Police Officer (complete with fake badge), pretending to be a mountie (with the authority to arrest people, etc), when I’m not one, that would make the RCMP so angry at me for impersonating them (and impersonating a Police Officer actually is a crime, BTW), that they would almost certainly never be willing to train me and hire me onto their Police force at any time in the future, as a punishment.

This might be a Thai Buddhist thing, BTW, as I don’t recall seeing this so-called “Virtual Parajika” anywhere in the BMC 1 or 2.

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Respectful Greetings, Bhante.

The way I see it, as long as the $500 keeps getting put on the center of the Monopoly Board (to extend the analogy I used in my Dhamma Talk, please Fast Forward 20:35 into my Dhamma Talk above), by the willing Canadians, who don’t mind paying a “Not Paying Attention Tax” (Fast Forward in 25:46), then nothing can be done.

There is a rare, hard to find sutta in the EBT’s which captures this, maybe someone can help me locate it (and I spent some time looking, but couldn’t find it)?

It says something like the following (a bit cryptically): “if the laypeople are overly generous to the monks in their offerings, then restraint should be practised on the part of the monks, so as not to receive too much, which would be greedy on the part of the monks. And if the monks misbehave to the extent that they need to be taught a lesson, then restraint should be practised on the part of the laypeople, who would do well to at least temporarily withhold their offerings, to send a message of ‘you know, we can quit supporting you through our continued gift-giving, if you don’t improve your act’.”

Thank you for sharing this information Bhante.

I would like to ask you Venerable Sir to just specify: do mean wearing actual monk robe (ocher robe like buddhist monk, made from simple plain cloth) or any robe in general?

In nowadays world even in Star Wars movie “Jedi” wear robes similar to christian monk robes. So I suppose that situation would not apply in situation like Halloween?

Also in yogic circles it is sometimes normal that people wear sort-of-spiritual clothing on special occasions (like yoga/meditation retreats) even when they are officially lay people, but taking more precepts for a time being or something. But lets say they’re different set of cloths than buddhist monastic, just something with “spiritual aesthethics”. Would that apply as well then in your opinion, or in this case it doesn’t apply, being more innocent, since even thou looking sort-of spiritual it doesn’t resemble directly a buddhist monastic and are easily distinguishable?

With Metta :heart: :anjal:

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I’m referring specifically to Buddhist Monk robes which are complete in the details to the extent that they could effectively pass themselves off as a Buddhist monk (from a particular, recognizable Buddhist lineage). So Jedi Robes don’t count, as they would be different enough.

To extend my analogy above, the RCMP wouldn’t be angry if a kid dressed up like a cop for Halloween, where the costume only vaguely looked like their uniforms, with an obviously fake plastic badge. But once one really tries to get the details right (like a counterfeit badge, gun, holster, shoulder or chest decorations of rank, everything) then the impersonation becomes an act of deception.

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Interesting. Is that found in the Vinaya itself? Something tells me that’s some much later addition, or a cultural thing.

There are sometimes subtle distinctions between the clothing a Tibetan lay yogi wears (tulku or not) and those of a monk or nun. If you don’t know what to look for, you’d miss it. I don’t know what style of robes Trungpa used to wear, but he stopped wearing them not long after setting up shop in the West.

It’s not uncommon to see beggars dressed as monks in some Buddhist countries. By beggars I don’t mean monks on alms round, but people pretending to be monks or nuns to get food or money. That tends to happen in Buddhist countries where the government has no authority over monks or nuns (so not Thailand, for example). When you see those kind of people, all you can do is shrug your shoulders and move on . That’s what the locals do.

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In the BMC the additional de facto pārājikas are discussed at the very end of the pārājika chapter.

The application of the term ‘pārājika’ to these extra actions, though commentarial, is undoubtedly correct, for a lifetime ordination ban on one who commits any of them is given in the Vinaya Pitaka.

The particular one that you refer to is called ‘communion by theft’ (theyyasamvāsa), though I believe the interpretation you’ve been taught is overly strict. As I understand it, a layman who went to a fancy dress party in bhikkhus’ robes wouldn’t be committing theyyasamvāsa unless it was his intention to make the other partygoers believe that he really was a bhikkhu.

Here’s the relevant passage:

48. The one living in the community by theft

At that time there was a certain man from a good family who had been brought up in comfort, but whose entire family had died. He thought, “I’ve been brought up in comfort and I’m not able to make any money. How can I live happily without exhausting myself?” And it occurred to him, “These Sakyan ascetics have pleasant habits and a happy life. After eating nice food, they sleep in beds sheltered from the wind. Perhaps I should just get myself a bowl and robes, shave off my hair and beard, put on ocher robes, and then go to the monastery and live with the monks?” And he did just that.

When he came to the monastery, he bowed down to the monks. The monks asked him, “How many rains do you have?”

He said, “What does ʻHow many rains’ mean?”

“Who’s your preceptor?”

“What’s a preceptor?”

The monks said to Venerable Upāli, “Upāli, please examine this person.”

That man then told Upāli what had happened. Upāli told the monks, who in turn told the Buddha. He said,

“Anyone living in the community by theft should not be given the full ordination. If it has been given, he should be expelled.

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Much appreciated, Venerable Sir.

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You’re welcome.

But I forgot to include the link earlier:

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Hmm, I wonder why didn’t he just become a monk the normal way? Maybe he thought all you had to do was wear the robes, shave your head, grab a bowl, and show up at the local monastery? Although I guess it’s kind of implied that he didn’t want to undergo any of the rigours of monastic life, but just wanted to chill.

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These days we call that a lack of fact checking.

I am so pleased you are quoting my translation! There is a certain child-like joy to it. :grinning:

I would immensely welcome your feedback on anything I have translated. On any subject really, whether it’s faulty translation, awkward or unclear wording, or even grammatical or spelling mistakes. I respect your linguistic abilities, and so it would be marvellous to hear from you.

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It means that it is not easy to be a man trapped inside this body. And it happens to not only a layman even a ‘Pandita’ or the worst a ‘Bhikkhu’.

I guess the assumption is that the whole thing was a deception from the beginning since his intention was not to go forth as a bhikkhu, but to have an easy life while passing as a bhikkhu.

The question is, if he had gone forth in the “proper manner”, would he still have been considered a rule breaker since he went forth with the wrong intentions? Or is the intention one has to become a monk not really part of the issue here ?

Thank you for sharing your resources on this difficult subject, Bhante. :pray:

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Thanks, @Gillian. It took several hours and a good degree of courage to muster that video.

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