Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Abuse alleged at monastery for Tibet exiles

Buddhist monk is accused by 18-year-old novice at Scottish Borders centre supported by Dalai Lama, Richard Gere and David Bowie

By Robert Mendick

Sunday, 10 September 2000

The largest Tibetan Buddhist monastery in the Western world is at the centre of a police investigation into sex abuse involving a senior monk.

The Samye Ling Centre, in the Scottish borders, has an international reputation as the "home of Tibetan culture in exile".

The claims that the centre is a hotbed of abuse as well as drug-taking have prompted a four-month police inquiry that has caused deep embarrassment to the Buddhist world.

The monastery has in the past received backing not only from the Dalai Lama but also a clutch of celebrities, including Richard Gere, David Bowie, Ruby Wax and Billy Connolly.

For the villagers of Eskdalemuir, long suspicious of the goings on at the monastery, the inquiry confirms the suspicions aroused ever since its establishment with the sanction of the Dalai Lama in 1967.

The case under police investigation follows accusations first made in April by an 18-year-old who claims he was sexually abused by one of the centre's most senior monks. He has also alleged that some of those in charge turned a blind eye to drug use, sexual affairs, theft and deception.

Police said an unnamed senior monk "is being reported" to the Procurator Fiscal, Scotland's equivalent of the Crown Prosecution Service, over claims of abuse of a teenage novice. The investigation is being carried out by Dumfries and Galloway Police's family protection unit, which is responsible for investigating crimes against children and vulnerable adults. It is not investigating the drugs claims.

The centre has constantly been sniped at and endures an uneasy, fractious relationship with villagers in Eskdalemuir. The first rumblings date back to a series of contentious planning applications which led to the development of a number of Tibetan-style buildings in the heart of the Scottish borders and a mile outside the village.

But the growing popularity of Buddhism - it has become the religion of choice for a number of celebrities - has seen Samye Ling thrive over the past 20 years.

The centre has branches in Dublin, London and Brussels while in 1991 it bought Holy Island, off the Isle of Arran, for £350,000. That purchase prompted an intense opposition campaign, with letters to the local newspaper claiming "their presence on the island would attract all kinds, from religious cultists to spivs ... our precious Scottish Christian and cultural heritage is not to be bargained with".

The office of Eskdalemuir's local Labour MP Russell Brown, the member for Dumfries, has received tip-offs from members of the public suggesting there is widespread benefit fraud at the centre, none of which allegations have been proved. But the allegations of sex abuse will be the biggest test yet of the monastery's popularity and once again put it at the forefront of public concern.

The monastery's case will not be helped by the conviction in June of another monk from the centre for indecently assaulting a 14-year-old girl. Tenzin Chonjoe was a guest at Samye Ling at the time but was travelling back to London to visit his wife. He claimed he was forced to stay overnight in Carlisle after being mugged on a stop-off. The girl was molested and Chonjoe, who was drunk at the time and suffers an alcohol problem, was sentenced to three months' jail and placed on the sex offenders register.

Now locals are awaiting the outcome of the police inquiry and any trial. Miriam Bibby, a resident and former member of Eskdalemuir Community Council, said: "There has been tension in the past between locals and the retreat. Everybody would be interested in knowing what the findings [of the police investigation] are."

A Samye Ling Centre spokesman said: "Our monastery has given full support to the police over the past months and worked positively with them to help establish the truth in this case. Furthermore they and many other bodies have been very helpful in advising us on drawing up new guidelines to help us respond better to the needs of the young, the disabled, ageing or vulnerable people who may be staying here."

The spokesman said the monk under investigation was no longer at the centre. He could not comment further for fear of prejudicing the case.

What the inquiry may well prejudice, however, is the public perception of Buddhism, a 2,500-year-old religion based on the principles of "non-violence, universal loving kindness, peace and forbearance", as the Samye Ling website puts it.


  1. The public would do well to reconsider its perception of Buddhism. The prevalence of sexual violence and psychological and sexual abuse in Buddhism globally should raise alarm bells.

  2. Murdo MacDonald-Bayne wrote of spending several months in Tibet, after meeting a lama in Darjeeling who said he was a teacher of his from the past. He said one thing in his book that shocked me at first: that one good thing the Maoists would do was wipe away Lamaism.

  3. Abhisek Sarkar wrote:

    Blame not Buddhism of such deviations. Man invented fire and used it in burning cities. Is fire to be blamed of being cruel? The greatest teachers of mankind never knew or couldn't have possibly foreseen such heinous future of their discoveries. I still respect Gautama as one of the greatest philosophers and leaders of all time.

    I am from Kolkata, close to Darjeeling and I have spent much time in Sikkim. Lamaism is actually taking its toll on common man's life but again I would rather take it as a bad phase in the history of Buddhism that will pass sooner or later.

  4. Welcome, Abhiset.

    I don't believe that Gautama taught the tantras, and have a post on that very subject. This tantra some buddhologists believe is a big reaction to some men not liking the austerity of what Buddha taught, and so they took Buddhism in the opposite direction. What is sad is that a lot of people are taking up Tibetan Buddhism and do not realize what it that it is about sex, and many women, as well as, children are getting hurt.

    I hope it is only a phase. Hinduism in the West went through this in the 60s, especially here in America, where hippies joined, and then left when they found that it was all about sex. And yet not all Hinduism is about sex. Right now the Dalai Lama is very popular and has a very charming and winning personality.

  5. When I used to go to Samye Ling, I was told by a couple of monks that they were all doing benifit fraud, so that they could pay Samye Ling for their lodgings, it does not seem right that those who become monks and nuns should also pay their keep, most work at samye ling anyway, cooking, gardening, amongst other chores, also it was alleged that those in authority at Samye Ling new and encouraged the fraud, I think this is totally wrong, and against the spirit of the Dharma, Rowan.

  6. Unbelievable. They had to pay for their keep. What is next?

    Thanks for posting.

  7. There is corruption afoot at Samye Ling, all they seem to think about is building a Buddhist empire, money,money, money. I met a couple of good monks and nuns in my years of going to Samye Ling, One of them was so concerned and shocked at what is going on, they left the monastery, the monk had taken life vows, so he will carry on being a monk, but not at samye Ling.