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A CBC Q&A with Buddhist Rob Hogendoorn, who investigates abuse in Buddhism

CBC News, Aug 12, 2016

'It's a matter of principle for any Buddhist to speak out against this'

Maasland, Netherlands
-- A Buddhist monk in Windsor is facing two counts of sexual assault against a child.

<< Rob Hogendoorn is a Dutch journalist who is investigating 17 abuse cases involving Buddhist monks in the Netherlands. (Rob Hogendoorn)

Windsor Police allege the crime took place two years ago, when child was six, and they believe there could be more victims.

Rob Hogendoorn is a Dutch journalist who is investigating 17 abuse cases involving Buddhist clergy in the Netherlands.

Hogendoorn is also a Buddhist.

CBC News spoke to him over the phone from Maasland, Netherlands.

Here are edited excerpts of the interview.

In Windsor, this case is rare. But elsewhere in the world, how common are allegations of sexual assault within the Buddhist faith?

Unfortunately, there have been widespread reports on abuse cases within Buddhist communities worldwide; not just in Asia but in the West as well, especially in the United States but also in many European countries.

How has the Buddhist leadership handled these allegations elsewhere?

There have been some exceptions but mostly the Buddhist community has remained silent.

For instance, the Dalai Lama has spoken out against sexual abuse in the past. But, so far, he has never [outlined] concrete steps to end it or to help remedy it. But, in Buddhism, there is no central hierarchy. So, the Dalai Lama has very little to say to, for example, Zen Buddhists. So that's part of the problem I think.

We've become accustomed to hearing about sex scandals within the Catholic church. Why do you think people are surprised by similar cases in the Buddhist faith?

I think many people have a very rosy image of Buddhism; a very idealistic picture of what Buddhism might be. Which is, in many cases, opposite of what they think is wrong with their native religions. So there is a lot of romantic projecting going on.

In what ways are the Buddhist monks similar or different from Catholic priests?

First of all you have to be sure that a person who looks like a monk is actually a monk, which involves celibacy. There are quite a few Buddhist teachers who look like monks but who are not celibate. Whenever there's a real authentic monk who holds the monks vows he is supposed to be celibate and any sexual act is a no-go for him.

But, when a person looks at an Asian with an Asian dress, people simply assume that he or she is monastic without that necessarily being the case.

Since the Windsor monk's arrest, we've heard nothing publicly from the temple or the Buddhist community. Does that surprise you?

Very often these communities are taken by surprise themselves. They have a hard time dealing with this. Also, very often the community consists of people who students or disciples of the teacher who is accused of abuse so there's a loyalty conflict going on.

You are a Buddhist. How difficult is it for you to investigate allegations within your own community and speak publicly about them?

For me it's a matter of conscience. It's very unfortunate that things occur but you would simply have to expect them to occur. It's a matter of principle for any Buddhist to speak out against this.

Any advice to give the Buddhist community here in handling this?

We in The Netherlands have a hotline which people can approach through telephone or online where they can report abuse by Buddhist clergy.

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