The recently aired documentary, “Buddhism: The Law of Silence,” examines the alleged system abuses of Sogyal and the crimes committed in the 80s and 90s by the so-called Buddhist master Robert Spatz.
These abuses and the suffering they caused, often to very young victims, are indeed abhorrent. The situation is rendered even more revolting because the abuses were inflicted by men claiming to follow a religion and philosophy that is based on wisdom, compassion, and the eradication of suffering.
Buddhist communities are “human” communities and, like any community, some of the people involved can have wrong intentions and the community can become a place of perversions or even crimes. Powerful people within the community can get drunk with power and become false teachers and selfish leaders.
I grew up in France and, at the age of 21, I decided to live in Asia with authentic Tibetan masters. I have continued to live there for over fifty years. In the Buddhist traditionit is strongly recommended in books and in teachings that the students check the qualifications of a teacher or master for several years before trusting him or her. Therefore, the subject of false teachers is something I am very aware of and, over the years, I have written and spoken extensively on that subject
The risk of relying on false masters is especially acute in the West as students do not take the time to really examine the situation and often enter a community and commit themselves to it too quickly. This can become a dangerous situation as there are predators in society who prey on this kind of vulnerability and even on powerless children.
In the past, I have totally condemned the acts of any inauthentic masters and have vigorously spoken out against them. In fact, in 2021, I did two separate programs on “Sagesse bouddhiste” (“Buddhist Wisdom”) for France 2 TV on the qualities of an authentic teacher and the deficiencies of charlatans who should be avoided at all costs. I also discussed this subject in 2011 on France Inter and on other televised programs.
I devote an entire chapter to this subject in my latest book, “Carnets d’un moine errant” (“Notebook of a Wandering Monk” to be published in English in 2023) and, in 2017, published a blog about Sogyal. I also referred to the crimes of Robert Spatz in an interview with the Belgian RTBF in 2021. In reply to questions from one of the victims, I send a letter debunking some of the terrible lies that Robert Spatz told his followers to justify his abuse of young girls, and gave them permission to use my letter in court during the 2019 trial.
So, given the above history it came as a great surprise to me that in this film I am presented as an accomplice to this “law of silence” and accused of not having taken a stand on the subject of false teachers and not answered to the victims.
In early 2021, one of the writers of this documentary contacted me for an interview on a film he said he was doing on the history of Buddhism and its relationship with neuroscience research. This is a subject that interests me and I agreed in good faith to participate. But he obtained the interview under false pretenses. In the middle of the interview, he abruptly changed the subject and, as if unmasking a mafiosi, he accused me of having supported Robert Spatz, a convicted criminal. The film synopsis he had sent me was a fake used to lure me into the interview.
The real purpose of the film was to present Tibetan Buddhism as a being deceptive. The next day I found out that he had received a grant for a documentary then called, “Crazy Wisdom: The Treachery of Tibetan Buddhism.” As someone who has dedicated his life to the study and preservation of Tibetan Buddhism, I could not participate in this documentary nor could I trust a journalist who had deceived me and, therefore, I told them they could not use my interview in their film.
Let me also clarify a few mistaken assertions that are insinuated in the film – namely that I knew about the misdeeds of Robert Spatz before they became public and court cases were initiated, kept silent, and that, later, I never condemned him publicly. This assertion is false. I have never been in possession of any information that was not already presented to the justice system on the abuses of Robert Spatz or Sogyal. I have never been Robert Spatz’s friend. I only met him in public events, mostly when I served as a Tibetan interpreter and, for the last time in 1994, before any of the accusations against him were known (in 1997).
I have never had any financial interest in any Buddhist center or monastery. In fact, I have no personal financial interests whatsoever since 100% of my royalties on my books, photographs, and conferences are donated to charity. (I don’t even have any material possessions apart from my computer and my cameras!). As for a donation that Shechen Monastery received in Nepal from Robert Spatz in 1995 for the construction of a philosophical college (which was mainly supported by the European commission), Robert Spatz has not been accused of any crime at the time and these was no ethical ground for the monastery to decline his donation. I gave all this information with the dates to the producers of the documentary in May 2021, but they ignored it and deliberately did not include it in the film.
After my first book was published in 1997, I acquired a notoriety that I neither desired nor sought. I now see that perhaps I did not sufficiently realize that this notoriety created a new unexpected responsibility, that of intervening to add my voice to the condemnations by the justice system and the newspaper articles on these criminal cases. I understand that the victims expected me to be more vocal in my public support and condemn the perpetrators of these crimes more vigorously than I did. I now deeply regret that.
I strongly feel that the voices of the victims need to be heard in order to try and prevent further suffering in the future. In that respect, the ambition of this documentary is salutary, because it gives voice to the words of the victims.
When we are confronted with the worst manifestations of human nature, we must speak out and give meaning to our existence by serving others, and remind ourselves of the extraordinary potential that each of us has to work towards a more just and caring society.
It is indispensable for a representative agency, such as the Buddhist Union of France, to take on this responsibility and serve as a safeguard against future deviances of power. Above all, it seems to be necessary, as exists in Catholicism, to create a structure that would allow victims to be heard in complete safety, and to be supported through psychology and legal means. Our most important task is to take care of the victims and safeguard others through education to prevent such abuses from happening in the future.