Response & Answer to ‘An Open Letter About a Monk Who Isn’t’

Note: These independent submissions are not representative of the views of the TFC editorial board. We published the following response and answer from the author for the sake of open dialogue in hopes this would lead to some sort of resolution on the very pressing matter at hand.

A Response to ‘An Open Letter About a Monk Who Isn’t‘:

Before saying anything, I want to acknowledge the fact that there are many Tibetan monks who are not really true Buddhist monks, as far as adhering to their monastic vows is concerned; they are tons of nuns like that too.

I am totally against these kind of fake monks and nuns who take benefits from their respective monasteries and nunneries in terms of money, free food and lodging, which come from the contributions made by the devotees, and also engage in sexual activities when opportunity arises.

What happened to you is, by all means, a sad and an unacceptable thing. Yet I don’t understand why you slept with him in the first place despite knowing the fact that he was a monk and that it is against monastic vows for a monk to have sex. On top of that you have known that he has not been a true monk for eight years; so how did you get yourself involved with someone who is from the start a distrustful man.

I am not trying to protect that fake monk; he is of course at fault. But from your open letter, it seems that you have been willingly sleeping with him as you called him your boyfriend. I am also not denying the fact that it is not only morally wrong but illegal on the part of the monk to shy away from shouldering the child’s responsibility after he got you pregnant.

However, the way you described Tibetan society as patriarchal, it seems that you have come from a highly civilized society. But it is beyond my comprehension that a girl from such a highly civilized society became infatuated with a fake monk?

You have cited that the reason for your boyfriend being unwilling to quit from monastery is because Tibetan society is a patriarchal society. I accept that our society is largely filled with people still clinging to patriarchal ideology and even though they are many Tibetan women who raise their voice against such practices and many Tibetan men support them, there is still a long way to go. But I fail to agree that the reason for your boyfriend not quitting monastery is because Tibetan society is dominated by men. There are lots of monks who are unable to abide by the basic rules of monkhood, yet they still wear robes and live in monasteries. I think the main reason is that if they quit monastery, they have nothing else to survive on when they get outside of the monastic world. If they have a wealthy family, they would have quit from the start. So I think your boyfriend either doesn’t have anyone supporting him or he has lost interest in you. But either of reason doesn’t have anything to do with Tibetan society being male dominated.

I do acknowledge that there are plenty of tulkus engaging in sexual activities with many women – some women willingly sleep with them for personal gains and others who are not willing get silently raped. Victims of such exploitation of faith and power should report such individuals to the police and should expose them. Though your case has in a way shed light on the ugly truth of Tibetan monks who wear monk’s robe for financial and other reasons than the Buddha dharma, yet I don’t think you are a victim of patriarchal exploitation. Not taking responsibility for the child is a lack of conscience from his side, but the way you wrote about him indicates that he didn’t rape you. You have knowingly and willingly lived a part of your life with him and when things didn’t turn up as you wished, you wrote a vague article blaming the whole Tibetan society. I don’t think that is the right way of handling the kind of situation you have found yourself in. You should have to file a legal case against him in a criminal court rather than blame both of your mistakes on our society. We know that our society is imperfect and we are working on it. Yet we are strong enough to stand up and confront anyone who is wrongly blaming us.

Kalsang Dhondup

Answer from the author, Anonymous:

Dear Kalsang Dhondup la,

Thank you for your response. I appreciate your perspective and willingness to speak up. I am sure that other people have the same questions and feelings as you did toward my story.

First off, I am no girl; I’m 40. I’m a professional. Stating I am a girl is minimizing my existence. Second, I take full responsibility for my choices in this relationship with this guy. There are many details I didn’t include in my piece because the piece would become a tome. Third, this is just my problem? I’m blaming Tibetan society? I’m saying my country or culture is superior? Did I directly write any of those things? No. Why would I? The entire human race is dealing with gender inequality. No one country or culture is immune.

I did write about how women need to take responsibility for enabling the patriarchy. I referred to all of us in the world after directly addressing Tibetan society. I am very sorry if you felt I was implying that my culture or society or country is better than yours. I have read the research- all humans are part of the same species.

I also want to be clear that I am not supporting misandry- the hatred of men. Hate between genders or cultural groups is not going to solve humanity’s problems.

What I am pointing out is that Tibetan culture and society have a system in place for monastics that is powerful and self-protective. I hold Tibetan society responsible for this monastic institution and its products. In my opinion- remember this is an opinion piece- Tibetan society has elevated monks, geshes, and rinpoches to that of quasi-gods.

This institution looks like a boys’ club where the men get the best monasteries, the best accommodation, the lion’s share of support from sponsors -both Tibetan and foreign, and earn the most degrees. Travel around Tibet and see how nuns’ monasteries look compared to the monks’ -I’ve done that. There is a huge difference. In India it might be different, but not by much. At least nuns can receive full ordination again thanks to Karmapa. This only started in 2015. The nuns at Dolma Ling can earn full Geshe degrees, but that only started some ten years back. Monks have had these educational opportunities for centuries.

Because monks are elevated to such a high social status, there seems to be social expectations from their families and society that these monks uphold what are expected of them at any cost –even if that means lying. Boyfriend’s family certainly pressured him to stay a good monk. They didn’t confront him after I asked for their support. I was very careful to be respectful and kind when I confronted them. They never made the call to confront him.

As for knowing the rules about monks and their vows, I only found out late last year that boyfriend had been lying to me for years about him having retaken his vows. I was told by several geshes and two rinpoches that there is no way boyfriend could be a monk and have sexual relations of any form with me and still wear his robes. Yes. Prior to that, I did not know the specifics of how a monk can retake his vows.

After I found out about the lying, I was angry and I confronted boyfriend. He cried. He argued. He refused to quit stating he couldn’t. I am not one to dispose of people. Relationships aren’t easy. I understand that him giving up his identity is terrifying and not all people are brave. So, I stayed with him. I offered him the option of going home to my country. I encouraged and talked to him about what jobs he could do, about how lying was bad for him, and how he was helping to destroy his culture. I understand that him giving up his identity is terrifying and not all people are brave. I am not one to dispose of people. Relationships aren’t easy. So, I stayed with him. That’s love.

On the advice of Tibetan friends, I talked to his family, his monastery- both here and in the south, and HHDL’s office. I went through the appropriate channels.

When I reported boyfriend, I did so to get him help, us help. As you’ve pointed out, there is no support for monks or nuns who want to quit. Is that my problem or a lack of support from Tibetan society? Where is the compassionate Tibetan therapist he can talk to? Where are his people when he needs them to rally around him? Why does it have to be only me repeatedly pointing out that he should and can quit?

No, this isn’t just my problem. It’s everyone’s problem in this society. People need to talk about this and do something instead of saying everyone goes through this, why are you complaining?

My anger comes from a place of that I want my words to be heard. I want help from someone in power. I feel like what I’ve said was minimized by those people in power. I’ve done everything right- I’ve gone through channels, but the people in power failed me. By those in power refusing to help me confront my boyfriend, boyfriend feels that he is justified to stay a monk. The result is that he is still walking the streets in full robes and he’s a father. I would wager there are many men like him.

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