Skeletons in the Buddhist Closet

Michael McAlister Blog Leave a Comment

Lama Osel Hita Torres

After yesterday’s post about Lama Osel Hita Torres leaving his leadership role in Tibetan Buddhism as well as his order, a reader wrote:

We need more news like this. Westerners, disillusioned with “their own” religious institutions, often turn to Buddhism, thinking that it is purer and that its institutions are not corrupt. But Tibetan Buddhism has its own skeletons in the closet, past and present, and ironically, quite similar to the monstrosities committed by the Christian church(es).

The main reason most Westerners have no clue is because the mainstream media deliberately hush up anti-Dalai news. But search beyond the Dalai Lama–Richard Gere glitz and you are likely to very soon discover absolutely appalling facts about Tibetan Buddhism. I do not wish to mention anything specifically, but it is enough to pay attention to little details and they will soon take you to the larger picture…

Little details such as this:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Osel_Hita_Torres

“In May of 2009, Hita gave an interview for the Spanish newspaper El Mundo … Extracts appeared the following day in the The Guardian (UK). At this time, references to “Lama Osel” suddenly disappeared from the FPMT’s website. [3] [4] [However, the removed pages are still available in the Google cache:]

Google cache Osel Birth http://209.85.129.132/search?q=cache:dGZbwnuBAzwJ:www.fpmt.org/teachers/osel/birth.asp+osel+fpmt&cd=4&hl=es&ct=clnk&gl=es

google cache Teachers Osel http://209.85.129.132/search?q=cache:k-OgKBFCyd4J:www.fpmt.org/Teachers/Osel/+osel+fpmt&cd=3&hl=es&ct=clnk&gl=es

These are important points for anyone on a spiritual path to consider. I spent some time at Kopan Monastery, one of Lama Osel’s homes, just outside of Kathmandu. My experiences there were eye-opening for a number of reasons, none the least of which was how vulnerable I grew to see Tibetan Buddhism would be once Western media started to really pour over it. With more and more seekers flooding into the East, looking for the roots of a tradition they naively see as purer than what they’ve come from, it seemed obvious that many traditions might be in for some unwanted attention.

Whether the attention would be appreciated or not, however, wasn’t as much of a concern to me as some of the stuff I uncovered as my practice in Nepal deepened. To begin with, I had conversations at times with some of the younger monks about monastic life. I was amazed at how many stories involved physical, emotional and even sexual abuse. When I asked practice leaders about some of these allegations I was given a rather quick brush off. Perhaps the stories were fabrications or at least distortions from young men who sought attention. Then again, maybe not. Either way, knee-jerk denials from authority never inspire faith.

I was also struck by the prayers that would be chanted in the name of any benefactor wishing to clear the way for an advantageous rebirth. All a donor had to do was pay for it. Paying for prayer also evidently had the effect of absolution, no matter what one might have done. Several benefactors were known to be rather unseemly individuals who showed little in the way of ethical behavior in their day-to-day lives. But rupees are rupees. All of this reminded me of the medieval sale of indulgences; a practice that deserved then, and deserves now, to be exposed to fair-minded examination.

Upon leaving Kopan, I felt blessed. My naive assumption that traveling to far off lands in order to get closer to what I thought would be a pristine and unadulterated set of spiritual practices was ripped apart. The pilgrimage I took served it’s purpose since it exposed my attachment to what I thought Buddhism should look like. Among the ruins of disillusionment, however, there remained a deep appreciation for what I’d seen. Whether I’d been mistaken in my interpretations of what I’d heard or not, my approach to spiritual practice from that point on took on a decidedly sober tone. Waking up, after all, is serious business.

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