Sunday, October 16, 2011

Breaking the Noble Silence

had to find some clever title for this post, so there you have it.

this is just me stating, for the record, that I've heard many times about monks abusing children. I've witnessed some things first hand that make me believe them. and yes, I've called the Children's Aid Society on a monk before. got me kicked out of a monastery where he's probably still in charge of looking after small children.

lots of calls for blood out there - and an expectation that we, in here, will be calling for blood as well. we won't. there are several reasons for this:

1. lots of us in here are not really monks. some of us wear robes and do things that make the rest of us cringe along with the rest of you, even though you don't see most of it.

2. most of us who could be called monks in the technical sense of the word are not much interested in right and wrong, either. some live like businessmen, some live like princes, some live like professors, some live like con artists... few meditate, even fewer take meditation seriously. some run monasteries, and those that do are generally concerned more with things like income and appearances than morality and mental purification.

3. the rest of us are kept pretty busy trying to stay alive, avoid things like deportation, stay out of the way of ignorant people in and out of robes, and spend at least some time every day in formal meditation practice. we have no clout in either lay or monastic society, both of which we have rejected, and both of which are corrupt.

which of these three groups would you like to see speak out? the first are the perps, the second are their cover, and the third are either in solitary meditation or busy trying to guide those who are not beyond help.

but, so be it, here I am speaking out. I don't agree with much of what is going on in Buddhist monastic circles today, I didn't start it, I didn't help it, and I don't want to cover it up. but I don't feel entirely responsible for solving it either. I didn't become a monk to take on the burdens of corrupt monastic communities, I became a monk to free myself from defilement and suffering.

I've had students who were raped by their own fathers. I've had students who were sexually molested by people wearing monks robes. I try to help my students, and I think the result is pretty inspiring. I don't think much can be done for those who rape or molest others; it is they who should be pitied, along with those who support them to continue.

the funny thing is that it's not just other monks who support the state of affairs we see today (and you only hear rumours about), it's the societies as well, putting their children's fate in the hands of sexually repressed individuals who may have been previously abused themselves by those in their position. before we give rise to self-righteous indignation, we should consider the factors that led to the results we see before us. after all, before they wore robes, they were a part of the society in which they lived. nothing happens in isolation, this is what we learn from the Buddha's teaching. these things don't just happen by themselves. you and I are responsible as well, insofar as we've contributed to the corruption of our minds and the minds of others. let's stop that, shall we?

if I had to explain here why exactly people in positions of authority abused their power in heinous ways, especially in religious circles, this post might never be finished. but it is unnecessary anyway; we know how power and affluence corrupt; why are we so outraged when they do?

the big complaint people have brought to me is that we who also wear robes are not protesting when we hear about others wearing robes doing terrible things. protesting is something I've seen a lot of people do, something I've done myself before. from what I've seen, it sometimes brings about superficial change, like when it frees a country from an autocratic government, for example. But I've never seen protesting bring about peace and happiness in any tangible sense. after all, the cause of the problem is mental defilement; how could getting angry change that for the better? protest brings change, but change brings more change, and eventually we are back where we started.

the way out of suffering is knowledge. so, here's to knowledge. let it be known that there are terrible things being committed by people claiming to represent the Buddha himself. let it come to the light and be judged by those who would see things clearly. let those who engage in such acts feel shame for the first time. let those who support them knowingly and try to cover up such acts realize their own guilt as well, and give up their roles as pimps and godfathers. most of all, let us all meditate together, and bring purity of mind to ourselves and the world.

many of my brethren (those I consider real monks, at least in the technical sense) seem to think that the monastic discipline prevents us from admitting to the general public even the things admitted here. not only did contacting the Children's Aid Society get me in trouble with one monastery, it got me branded as immoral by my so-called teachers as well, for ignoring the supposed rules against letting the cat out of the bag. except that there are no rules anymore. the cat's got the mouse already, it's happy in the bag, letting it out won't endanger the mouse any further, and it might actually save it in the end. if parents suspected that they were leaving their children with perverts, would they still do it? sadly, from what I've seen, they might. but then again, they might think twice. and the perverts might think twice if they knew they were being watched. in a broken system, following the rules is not really an option; one must follow the principles, for only they can never be destroyed.

and truth be told, it's only an offense against the vinaya if you name names; I'm not allowed to tell lay people that this monk or that monk did this or that bad deed, provided he's still a monk, unless I've been appointed to do so by the community. at the same time, I'm responsible to take accusations against monks in my community seriously, and help to set up formal investigations within the community to deal with those accusations. whatever the results of such investigations are, either I or one of my brethren are responsible for informing society at large of them. this is the system the Buddha left in place for us. when such a system is ignored by the majority, can we still defend our position of silence? I think not, but surely others disagree.

the truth will set us free. hopefully what I've said here is indeed the truth I believe it to be, and thus will help set us free. that is all. you may return to your outrage if you like. I've my own work to do.


  1. reflectionofabuddhistmonk1:10 PM

    Where are these bastards in robes located? Please tell me! This is never to be hidden, never to be allowed, these fakes are to be disrobed and purged from the Monasteries. I have seen this once and the fraud was dealt with very severely. Where is this wasp farm?

  2. Wow. Thank you for this post.

  3. Bhante Shravasti Dhammika wrote about just such corruption and deviancy apparent in individual monks and monasteries (in particular Thai monasteries) in his book 'The Broken Buddha'. If you haven't read it, I recommend giving it a read, if only for a feeling of solidarity against disreputable "brothers" in religion (I think it can be found in PDF form by googling the title).

    I may be considered "politically challenged" by many, but my worldview wholly stems from the notion of decency and nobility. There are still plenty of decent folk out there Bhante!

    9. Whoever being depraved, devoid of self-control and truthfulness, should don the monk's yellow robe, he surely is not worthy of the robe.
    - Dhammapada, Yama Vagga

    Even back when the Dhammapada was created there must have been despicable men who called themselves monks. It is the duty of every decent human being to protect innocent lives from these unworthy individuals.

  4. gregorylent3:45 AM

    sounds like lanka or thailand .. but could be anywhere, and any "religion" ...

    life is like this.

  5. James7:23 PM

    What can I do, practically, as a european white middle-class meditator and attendee at my local temple?

  6. Things will get worse as the Tathagata said. I'm happy his words turned to be true and sad that it is true.