The Emperor's Tantric Robes - An Interview with June Campbell on Codes of Secrecy and Silence

 

(Below are a few excerpts from this article)

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Tricycle: You ended up feeling sexually exploited? Used for personal indulgence?

Campbell: Obviously at the time and for some years afterwards I didn't think this. How could I? It would have caused me too much distress to see it in this light. It took me many years of thinking about the whole thing to see it differently, and to begin speaking about my experience. This wasn't easy. I tried through writing to understand why people rationalize these acts as beneficial, and it made me question a lot of things. I've got no doubts now that when a male teacher demands a relationship that involves secret sex, an imbalance of power, threats, and deception, the woman is exploited. You have to ask, "Where does the impulse to hide sexual behavior come from?" Especially if it happens in a system that supposedly values the sexual relationship. Of course, there are those who say they are consenusally doing secret "tantric" practices in the belief that it's helping them become "enlightened," whatever that means. That's up to them, and if they're both saying it, that's fine. But there's a difference between that and the imperative for women not to speak of the fact that they're having a sexual relationship at all. What's that all about it it's not about fear of being found out? And what lies behind that fear? These are the questions I had to ask.

Tricycle: You were sworn to secrecy by him?

Campbell: Yes. And by the one other person who knew. A member of his entourage.

Tricycle: What might have happened if you had broken the silence?

Campbell: Well, it was assumed that I wouldn't. But I was told that in a previous life, the last life before this one, Kalu Rinpoche had a woman who caused trouble by wanting to get closer to him, or by wanting to stay with him longer. She made known her own needs, made her own demands, and he put a spell on her and she died.

Tricycle: Just the way child abusers deal with their victims: "If you tell, something bad will happen to you."

Campbell: Yes, there are many similarities. It instills fear in the context of religion. Put yourself in my position. If I had refused to cooperate I would still have known something that was threatening to the lama and his followers. Where would I have gone from there? If I'd wanted to talk about it no one would have believed me. Some people don't believe me now. And what if I'd spoken out and the lama had denied it publicly? Could he still have been by teacher? I don't think so. As it was I was happy to comply at the time because I thought it was the right thing to do and that it would help me. But I was still very, very isolated and afraid for years to speak about it.

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Tricycle: Is there any safeguard, and will it make a difference once the Western heirs have moved to the forefront?

Campbell: It's sad to say but I don't think any advice about standing up to teachers would stop some young women from wanting to have a safe and comfortable relationship with a male teacher and later on being exploited. I wouldn't even bother saying anything to the men who do it. Because they would only rationalize or deny everything or accuse others of all sorts of things. And it's crazy to put all the blame on the Tibetans. It's obvious that Westerners have lots of problems themselves about how to relate to gurus, and we're not exactly perfect in the ways we relate to one another as men and women. What's terrible, though, is that ordinary men and women seem to be happy to give up all responsibility when they know something's wrong and then don't act when they need to. After all: no student, no teacher. I think exactly the same issues would be around for "Western heirs," some of whom might be keen to realize, as Peter Bishop put it, their "dreams of power."

Tricycle: Is Kalu Rinpoche less enlightened then we thought he was, or do we have to change our understanding of what an enlightened guru is?

Campbell: It's tempting to stonewall this question altogether because I can already hear howls of outrage and indignation in some quarters at the thought of asking a mere woman about the status of a lama's enlightenment. But I don't think the issue here is about my opinion of Kalu Rinpoche, because, like everyone else's, it's highly subjective and is based on personal experience. I think it's more to do with the problems of squaring up the idea of perfection along side what is perceived to be dubious behavior. One understanding of the "enlightened guru" is that everything about his behavior, no matter how strange or morally wrong, is a manifestation of enlightenment. That view may have been sustainable in Tibetan society - even promoted - but I think it's certain that Western society will be unable to sustain it. It's my view that if people resist looking at this question, certain groups will become more and more insular in Western society, in an attempt to protect themselves from challenge and to avoid change. They'll never go beyond a simplistic view of the guru as perfect, and the gurus themselves will never go beyond wielding complete power and being adored. To my mind this kind of insularity would either hasten the demise of the whole system, or create closed, cult-like groups that have no influence on society at all.

 

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