Rotterdam, September 2018 A group of individuals who claimed to be victims of physical and sexual abuse reported to the authorities some incidents they experienced. One of the individuals involved was Ricardo Mendes, a Portuguese who managed to gather a dozen victims who lived in isolation in various Buddhist centers owned by Ogyen Kunzang Choling.

The group presented Dalai Lama with a book containing 12 cases of alleged abuse victims in different Buddhist centers around the world. “He told us that we had given him ammunition to do something, and then nothing happened,” Mendes said. At the same time, the Dalai Lama assured them that he had been aware of the abuses since the 90s in a meeting in India. Also, in Rotterdam, he encouraged other victims to come forward.

The case gained widespread attention after the release of a video that showed the Dalai Lama kissing a child. The footage sparked outrage and prompted representatives of the Dalai Lama to apologize. “He’s not apologizing for having committed this act. He’s not saying ‘I shouldn’t have done that.’ It’s more: He’s apologizing for having said those words.”

In 1993, more than 20 children were transferred from another place of worship in the French Alps to a temple in the Algarve called Humkara Dzong. The minors were taken away from their parents and were under the care of a Belgian Buddhist teacher named Robert Spatz.

Ricardo Mendes was one of the children who suffered abuse. “It was a hippie utopia that was going to become a coercive group. But, at first, the parents didn’t have these ideas. Robert Spatz is the one who influenced the parents, imposed all these things, and managed to convince them that separating the children from the parents was a good idea.”

Physical abuse was reserved for boys. Mendes still remembers the torture he experienced, such as getting hit with a stick for falling asleep in the temple or for answering back to an educator. “He sat on my legs and took a stick and hit me on the bottom, on the lower back. Then there was food deprivation. There was a space where there was a circle of stones, and we had to walk around it, but the floor had snow. We also had to do prostrations in the snow, and we only walked around in our underpants.”

For several years, the children were subjected to torture and isolated from their parents. Girls aged between 9 and 12 were the targets of alleged sexual abuse. “The framework of certain tantric practices of Tibetan Buddhism allowed justifying and manipulating the young child or adolescent to accept the form of abuse, and we had to accept it. We had spent our whole lives thinking that Robert Spatz, Lama Kunzang, was almost our father.”

Robert Spatz was put on trial in Belgium for physical abuse, child abduction, and sexual abuse. 23 men and women reported the cases, but some were already prescribed. Ten of the victims were Portuguese. Spatz was finally sentenced to five years with a suspended sentence in 2020 (and is facing a new investigation and ultimately a new trial in France).

“I saw an adult break a broom over a child’s back, and nobody interrupted anything! Each adult had a group of children, and each one followed Robert Spatz’s instructions, which said that children had to be educated the hard way.”

SIC contacted the Portuguese Buddhist Union, which assured that it was not aware of any physical or sexual abuse in the Portuguese Buddhist community. Regarding the OKC organization, it was excluded from the UBP in 2015.