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Barbara O'Brien

Logical Fallacies and Misbehaving Monks

By October 25, 2012

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At the Guardian, Mary Finnigan informs us that a senior Buddhist monk of Kagyu Ling monastery near Dijon, France, has been arrested on charges of rape. Yes, it appears we have another sex scandal involving a Buddhist monk, but let us remember that people are innocent until proven guilty.

We've discussed this issue before, and needless to say this behavior is not to be tolerated. But I think Ms. Finnigan's framing of events at Kagyu Ling are not much more tolerable.

After describing the charges against the Kagyu Ling monk, she then brings up nearly every sex scandal (there is one I can think of that she missed) involving Tibetan teachers in the West, going back decades, including unproven allegations and rumors. There is, then, a clear implication that Tibetan Buddhism is uniquely rife with sexual exploitation, which Ms. Finnigan attributes to the "Shangri La factor." The victims unwittingly are being seduced by all that Oriental exoticism.

In the past several months we've discussed sexual misbehavior in Zen teachers and also Theravada monks in temples serving communities of Asian immigrants. And, of course, this sort of thing happens in Christian churches and in private business and among public officials and many other places where people are divided into authority figures and followers. I doubt Tibetan Buddhism is harboring more sex offenders than any other human institution.

The little-understood practice of tantra does give an opening to the unscrupulous -- some phony teachers, some not --  to sell sex as a means to enlightenment. But I also think that if there were no such thing as tantra these same people would just find another sales pitch. Don't blame tantra, in other words.

October 25, 2012 at 5:18 pm
(1) Cuong says:

This is an eloquent testimony to the fact that we have arrived at an era when no one needs to be a monastic anymore. If one voluntarily chooses to lead a celibate life, that’s fine. But nowadays, anyone who has the aspiration to study and practice the Dharma can do so without leaving home to become a monastic. Besides, most Asian monks came from an economically deprived background. Suddenly they found themselves surrounded by luxuries and followers (most of them are women) worshiping them unconditionally. It’s hard not to misbehave or to delude themselves. We can benefit immensely from the teaching of the Buddha without being a world renouncer any more. Remember, what the term “the world” means in the teaching of the Buddha. Also, get rid of the tantra crap, it doesn’t have anything to do with the Buddha’s teaching.

October 25, 2012 at 6:41 pm
(2) Barbara O'Brien says:

Cuong — “We can benefit immensely from the teaching of the Buddha without being a world renouncer any more. Remember, what the term ‘the world’ means in the teaching of the Buddha.”

“Any more”? What do you think has changed? There have been lay practitioners since the Buddha’s time, and I’m a layperson myself, but the benefits of monastic training haven’t changed.

Also, get rid of the tantra crap, it doesn’t have anything to do with the Buddha’s teaching.

I’d say holding ignorant opinions doesn’t have anything to do with the Buddha’s teaching.

October 25, 2012 at 6:05 pm
(3) Yeshe Zhonnu says:

I beg to differ with Coung. Tantra is not “crap”. It was taught by the Buddha to certain advanced disciples. It is not lightly discussed nor made available for the uninitiated and sexual intercourse is only part of highest Yoga practice and it is not mandatory for enlightenment. It is simply one vehicle comprising guru devotion and deity or archetypal identification. My Lama comes from the lineage of teachers tracing through Tibet and Lama Tsong Kapa all the way back to the Buddha Shakyamuni himself. I have never experienced any inappropriate sexual behavior by any of my teachers. Of course any sexual misconduct is not tolerated in the Sangha. Among the laymen in the sangha, we take the vows of the 5 precepts when we take formal refuge. One of the precepts is to avoid sexual misconduct. I spoke with my Lama about tantric sexual practices and he was very clear that such practices are not done without appropriate initiations and should not be attempted for sexual pleasure beyond that which helps to speed us along the path to enlightenment. Westerners are very uninformed about Tantric practice and tend to think of only the sexual practices with a purient interest.

October 25, 2012 at 7:52 pm
(4) Melodie says:

Thank you for these wonderful posts

October 25, 2012 at 8:19 pm
(5) Phra Ajahn Bill says:

I think Coung is so far off base there’s not even the possibility of meaningful dialogue with him.

October 26, 2012 at 7:08 pm
(6) Stephen Lasky says:

Yeshe Zhonnu, thatn you for your very informative post. t seems that many of the sangha holds that The Buddha never taught tantra, they are misinformed. REading posts like yours helps inform us of the true path and hopefully will lead those who are misinformed to a better understanding of the Buddha’s teachngs.

October 26, 2012 at 7:11 pm
(7) Stephen Lasky says:

please forgive the typo’s int the post above, I was contending with a dog sleeping across my arms.

October 28, 2012 at 8:00 am
(8) Barbara O'Brien says:

I was contending with a dog sleeping across my arms.

Perfectly understandable. :-) Give the pup a scratch behind the ears for me.

October 27, 2012 at 12:02 pm
(9) Mila says:

Seems to me that the topic of the previous post — devotion — in combination with the issues raised in this one (unskillful, dualistic relating to sexual energy) pretty much define the “razor’s edge” that is the engine of the entire spiritual process.

Whether we articulate it in terms of yoga or simply in terms of emotional/psychological phenomena — either way, we can’t escape the importance of the energy of enthusiasm, love, interest and passion as fuel for the process that brings us ultimately to an encounter with the deepest intimacy and most profoundly blissful satisfaction — beyond anything we could possible imagine — that is (the Buddhas & Bodhisattvas tell us) our very Nature.

Regardless of our tradition/lineage, an aspect of this process will be to employ — as skillful means — seemingly dualistic activity as a support for accessing nondual insight. And — as we reach certain levels of completion — to engage in seemingly dualistic activity as a celebratory expression of nondual insight. The extent to which these “dualistic activities” include explicitly sexual/sensual practices of course varies greatly, across Hinayana, Mahayana & Vajrayana traditions.

(cont’d below)

October 27, 2012 at 12:44 pm
(10) Mila says:

Whether sexual/sensual energy is engaged with explicitly or implicitly, for all kinds of reasons — not the least of which is: (1) that in its dualistic forms, sexual energy is what ensures the reproduction of the human species; and (2) in its nondual-but-still-veiled forms, life-force energy is our Buddha-Nature irresistibly calling us Home — the potential for unskillful actions, deluded abuse and all variety of “missing the mark” is huge.

But does this mean that we should attempt some kind of sterile avoidance of the very juice that fuels the entire process? Seems to me that this would be no more than the proverbially “shooting of ourselves in the foot” — of saying no to the yearning which — though perhaps appearing now in a deluded form — is absolutely necessary, in the big picture.

So of course it’s going to be messy ….. imperfectly perfect ….. perfectly imperfect …. how could it be otherwise? (which is not to condone the behavior of this particular monk — nor any other teacher who has clearly “missed the mark”)

Anyway, that’s my two-cents ….. In terms of Tibetan tantra per se, The Dalai Lama’s Secret Temple is a great resource, for a clear introduction to some of the yogic principles.

October 27, 2012 at 4:27 pm
(11) Lee says:

ahhhh Mila … what fertile ground for training… ‘the razors edge’ …

November 3, 2012 at 11:20 am
(12) Mike Martin says:

Perhaps those being raped are being repaid for having raped someone in a previous existence?

November 4, 2012 at 11:41 am
(13) Barbara O'Brien says:

Perhaps those being raped are being repaid for having raped someone in a previous existence?

Please don’t go there. Karma is not a cosmic criminal justice system.

November 17, 2013 at 6:04 am
(14) buddhagirl says:

So Barbara, you are saying that because sexual abuse occurs in other religions, we should just let it go? What kind of an apologist are you? You sound like the voice of authority, instructing the rest of us to not worry our poor little confused heads with matters that might shake our faith. Mary Finnegan’s suggestion to choose a teacher very carefully is far more pertinent and wise. Having been a student of Tibetan Buddhism for the past 30 years (10 of those in Asia) I firmly believe that these scandals should be exposed. We have the right to expect better of the lineage holders and their entourages – after all, they readily expect us to part with considerable sums of money to hear teachings in the West. The least they can do is conduct themselves in accordance with Buddhist codes of conduct, and universal codes of moral behaviour, (as a Nyingmapa student, I continue to be disgusted by Sogyal’s behaviour and disturbed by other teachers silent consent of it). Remember, evil happens when good people do nothing and remain silent.

November 18, 2013 at 2:44 pm
(15) Barbara O'Brien says:

“So Barbara, you are saying that because sexual abuse occurs in other religions, we should just let it go?”

So buddhagirl, are you saying you know how to read? Because from your comment I see no evidence of it. Exactly what part of “this behavior is not to be tolerated” was not clear?

Since critical thinking is not your strong suit, obviously, I will spell this out: Mary Finnegan’s charge is that Tibetan Buddhism is *uniquely* rife with sexual offenders, meaning worse than other religions or Buddhist traditions, but she provides no data supporting her claim. And I am saying her argument is based on a logical fallacy

I read the same thing about Zen all the time, by the way, that there is something about Zen that turns teachers into sexual predators. And this is followed by a list of the sexual offenders that have come to light. Yes, there have been some seriously shocking sex scandals in western Zen, but they involve a handful of teachers out of several hundred in the West now.

Note that I am not saying that sexual misconduct should be ignored. I am all for dragging this crap into the light and punishing the guilty. I am saying that Mary Finnegan did not make the case that Tibetan Buddhism per se, as a tradition, is uniquely worse than other traditions in this regard.

This is where the logical fallacy comes in; in this case, a fallacy of “hasty generalization” which you are invited to google. To argue that any tradition encourages sexual predation, you’d have to document that the *percentage* of teachers who are sexual predators is unusually large. You’d have to show there have been X number of proven allegations, out of Y number of teachers altogether, over what period of time, compared to any other religious institution. Or, indeed, any institution involving authority figures and followers. I’m betting that that percentage number of pretty consistent from one institution to another, because unfortunately, this is behavior that comes up everywhere, across cultures and traditions. I am no more excusing it than I am excusing homicide, which also happens everywhere. I’m saying that Finnegan did not make the case, based on data, that the Tibetans are any worse than anyone else.

You can apologize to me whenever you like.

November 20, 2013 at 4:01 am
(16) buddhagirl says:

This is a test post to see why i can’t post my longer one. Have i been blocked or is there a glitch?

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