The investigation carried out by journalists Élodie Emery and Wandrille Lanos is implacable (1). She reveals that the Dalai Lama and the monk Matthieu Ricard were aware of the attacks committed by lamas on women and children since the 1990s in European Buddhist temples, but that the two Buddhist spiritual authorities have dismissed their responsibilities . Worse: they continued to maintain relations with powerful lamas, even though they were already implicated by victims.
Buddhism generally evokes benevolence, altruism, compassion. Why did you decide to investigate this religion for eleven years?
Elodie Emery and Wandrille Lanos The subject fell on us by chance. In 2011, we met Mimi, a former follower of Sogyal Rinpoche. She was the first to speak about what she had experienced alongside this master very close to the Dalai Lama, who is also the author of a bestseller of spiritual literature: the tibetan book of life and death. What she was saying was incredibly violent. Initially, we thought we were investigating an isolated phenomenon. It took years and a pile of successive testimonies for us to understand the extent of the phenomenon that was being attacked. And which, indeed, is in radical opposition to the image that we cultivate of Buddhism in our latitudes.
Europeans and North Americans wanted to believe that one people, the Tibetans, held the keys to this happiness that obsesses them. »
You tell in your investigation how, during the second half of the twentiethe century, the Dalai Lama skillfully converted the spiritual needs of Westerners into political power in order to build cultural hegemony and continue his fight against China. Why has it succeeded so well where other religions or political promises have failed?
We can say that necessity makes law. Without the support of the rest of the world, Tibet and its culture risked being wiped off the map without anyone being able to locate it on a planisphere. The Dalai Lama has taken on the responsibility of making the cause of his people heard, and he has done so with great skill. We must listen to his acceptance speech when he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989: he addresses our responsibility towards the planet, the impact of science on our lives, the importance of spirituality. It was absolutely a precursor at the time, and it ticked off one by one all the aspirations of a West disillusioned by its own religions, tired of all-out materialism. Europeans and North Americans, who welcomed lamas in the 1970s, wanted to believe that one people, the Tibetans, held the keys to this happiness that obsesses them. It is also this very naive projection that has allowed silence around abuse for thirty years.
Your investigation brings together the testimonies of 32 victims of Buddhism. Are the sexual abuses that you document isolated cases, “excesses”? Or is it a systemic problem of this religion?
We have found cases in the United States, Australia, Canada, India, France, Belgium, United Kingdom, Spain, Portugal, Germany, the Netherlands… Wherever the Buddhist centers are are implanted. Everywhere, abuses are defended by the mobilization of the same doctrinal concepts – devotion to the master, the idea that all means are good to break one’s mental shackles and achieve enlightenment. At this scale, it becomes complicated to defend the idea of a few rotten fruits that should not spoil the beautiful orchard, to use an image dear to Matthieu Ricard.
In the chapter of your book devoted to Matthieu Ricard, the Dalai Lama’s official translator, we learn that these two men had knowledge of cases of rape in Buddhist temples, but that they shied away from their responsibilities. Ricard even qualifies these facts as “gossip of the gossip”. What interests is Matthieu Ricard defending when he downplays the seriousness of the facts in these terms?
Matthieu Ricard absolutely refuses to speak on these subjects. And when he is forced into it, his argument is always the same: he does not occupy an official function in Buddhism, his role is not to denounce anyone, the burden lies with the disciples and with them alone. . By refraining from intervening despite his status as a public figure of Buddhism, he is defending his own reputation and that of his religion. He also abides by a Buddhist principle of never speaking ill of other lamas under any circumstances.
We note that the centers and lamas implicated by the victims are far from the mea culpa. »
Was the Dalai Lama braver?
He has been repeatedly warned of the affairs that plague Buddhism in the West. There is an indisputable trace of it: in 1993, twenty Western masters came to find him in Dharamsala to ask him to publish a communiqué precisely on this subject. The discussions are filmed. Finally, a joint resolution was drafted at the end of the meetings… Except that the Dalai Lama did not sign it. Twenty-five years later, other victims called on him to act; again he makes promises to them, again he backs down.
Were you subject to pressure during your investigation?
It is certain that the investigation was difficult. Word spread in the communities that two journalists had undertaken a “destruction of Tibetan Buddhism”. Ironically, the witnesses who spoke to us, many of whom still call themselves Buddhists, consider on the contrary that the fact of exposing these excesses is more a matter of saving than of killing.
We note that the centers and lamas implicated by the victims are far from the mea culpa. They put pressure on Arte, which broadcasts our film, by demanding the withdrawal of the documentary from the broadcasting platform or by expressing their intention to go to court. Our status as journalists and the right to information protect us – that’s more than the victims who have been ostracized, harassed and threatened can say when they have had the courage to speak out.