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  • Writer's pictureRebecca Cooley

My Question for the Tibetans.

~Seeking understanding, truth, wisdom. A journey of self-referencing.~

Years ago I attended a Tibetan Buddhist Temple in search of answers. At that time I was still deeply atheist but had discovered the concepts of mindfulness which led me on a path of wanting to learn more from the wisdom of various spiritual traditions.


The brightly colored flags festively strung overhead with rainbow colored tapestries of buddhas and other beings I had no idea of. The hushed and reverent atmosphere seemed to clash with the colorful decorations.

I do not remember the name of the monk at the time but he was taking questions from the audience.

I had a question. A question that had been on my mind for at least twenty years at that point.

So the time came and I asked my question.

Why do people hurt children? (it could have also been "Why are children abused? How can a child have to pay a karmic debt? How is a child not completely innocent and from karma?)

I asked it with anger in my heart.

I asked it knowing there was no response that could do my question justice.

I asked it from an internal battle with my own childhood abuse.

I asked it from a place of thinking about the atrocities I had experienced as a child, the trauma, the pain.

I asked it from a place of righteous indignation.

I asked it knowing of my own internal biases toward religious institutions.

I asked it anyway.

The monk's response, not surprisingly, was wholly unsatisfying. Something about karma.

I could not grasp it. It was too big of a concept for me.

It made no sense.

I’m not sure how much time I spent in the years following my question- contemplating the nature of karma.

Probably not much.

Karma was always a concept that I just couldn’t quite rectify in my atheistic mind.

And even when my atheism softened to “spiritual but not religious”, karma still eluded me.

Years after asking my question, I attended the temple again for a few times. The reverent procession of the monk didn’t quite jive with my distaste for hierarchical structures, or with religion in general. This monk, seemed funny though, and laughed a lot. He was humble and joking with the practitioners. I didn’t ask any questions during those times. I just listened.


My journey of learning about various spiritual traditions continued. Taking me to several Buddhist monasteries, Hindu ashrams, Christian churches, agnostic "churches", traditional Native American ceremonies, Peruvian shamanic ceremonies, fellowships and communities in my area and even globally. My study of mindfulness and meditation and self-healing continued. My learning about ways to heal from the trauma of my childhood and the effects of trauma in my body, and in my relationships continued. It led me down many paths and to many retreats, many classes.

I stopped attending many of these spiritual places for some years during the pandemic.


It was only recently that I found myself back at the brightly colored temple with another question.

The same funny monk was there. And this time I had skipped the processional service and attended the discussion session, the Q&A. One of the volunteers posed a question and the monk turned it over to the practitioners to respond. This time I felt I had some answers so I offered a response.

But I still had my question.

The time came with a lull in the discussion and a relevant segway into my topic, so I raised my hand. The monk acknowledged me and the microphone was passed to me.

I asked.

When you have been hurt by the people you love and you tell them they have hurt you and they continue hurting you in the same way… and you’ve tried to offer them compassion, understanding, and love for years… what does Buddhist wisdom say to do in these situations?

With openness in my heart.

With humility and genuine interest in his response.

From a place of equanimity.

From a beginner’s mind.

His response was gentle, kind, thoughtful.

He said something along the lines of..

If there are those with a Level 10 of Compassion in their hearts, the most compassion possible, then most of us are functioning at a Level 1, some of us at a Level 3 but we are not a Level 10. A Level 10 is equivalent to an ocean of compassion. In a Level 3, perhaps we have two drops of compassion. When we keep giving and giving compassion to others, such as in these scenarios with loved ones, our well can dry up. And we have nothing left to give.

We need space. Space. With space, our well of compassion can refill. The two drops of compassion that we have can be restored. Without space, we continue to engage with our loved ones and are depleted. We interact but not from compassion, from frustration, anger, hurt, suffering, fear, or pain. We have nothing to give. So we take space. We fill back up. So we can come back to our loved ones with compassion.

If our loved ones are hurting us with violence, verbal or physical, then space is not needed. Boundaries. Boundaries are needed. Firm strong boundaries. No contact.

His response was poignant and rang true. And left me much to think about.

But my lesson that day was not done.

A practitioner approached me after the service, introduced himself, and said “I would also like to answer your question”.

So we sat for an hour and he shared a bit of his story and I shared a bit of mine, and he said something I had not even considered.

It was about karma.

He said whenever someone treats him badly, he always asks himself the question

What did I do to this person to create the conditions for this current interaction?

In other words, what seeds did I sow for this ill-will toward me?

In other words, what did I do in this life (or a past life) to create the conditions for this person to treat me this way. What karma is playing out here?

I feel this would be the moment in my day of question asking where the mic would drop.

Again, the concept of karma still huge and hard to grasp, in that moment became a little more graspable.

I quickly knew, in that moment, the part I had played in sowing the seeds of at least one of the situations I was in with my loved ones. The part I had played in this lifetime, because again the idea of past lifetimes still continues to be a big concept for me.

Space yes. Boundaries yes. That was clear.

Taking responsibility for my part. Taking responsibility for my part in creating the conditions for the current situation, the way I had been treated. That was beyond- for me.

That was transmuting.

There was nothing left but forgiveness.

I took the space from my loved one. I contemplated my part.

My well of compassion quickly filled back up with regard to my loved one.

Reconciliation occurred.



The man’s lesson was not complete though (and this is where it gets a little spiritual, for my staunchly atheistic, agnostic friends- disclaimer.)

The man continued to say if we are all connected, then at one time or another our souls are intertwined and if we have lived all the lives possible then we have lived in every one else’s shoes, then everyone has been our loving mother and father, just as we have been a loving mother and father to everyone. We have also been everyone’s perpetrator and they have been ours.

In other words, in a bigger spiritual sense, there is no separation between us and those around us. We are no more eachother’s heroes, lovers, or abusers than they are ours. We are all that to eachother. Every interaction creates karma, good or bad.

So in this way, every interaction whether good or bad makes sense from a karmic standpoint. And the best way to respond to negative interactions is to come from the standpoint of

I must have done something to you in this life or the past to create the conditions for this interaction.

What can I do in this moment to end the cycle of karma between us so that we are both free?

I know this is big stuff.

It is big because it still begs an answer from my initial question all those years ago at that very temple.

Why are children abused? How can a child have to pay a karmic debt?

If the concept of karma were applied to children and child abuse…

First it hurts my heart and my head to even consider this.

A child is an innocent.

A child cannot choose.

A child cannot conceive in the moment, “What did I do in this life or the past to create the conditions for this interaction, for this ill-treatment?”

A child cannot conceive “How do I end this cycle between our souls so we are both free?”.

Children cannot take space or create boundaries when someone harms them.

Children are at the complete mercy of the adults around them.

Children can do nothing but trust their caretakers and the adults in their lives to protect them and keep them safe from harm.

If a child is harmed by an adult in their lives, how could that ever be because of their karma?

These are questions I will be asking again at the temple when I go again.


And it guides me to what has happened recently with a young boy and the Dalai Lama.

My friend texted me recently and asked “Did you hear about what happened with the Dalai Lama?”

I had no idea. I do my best not to watch the news.

So I typed in Dalai Lama and article after article came up. I watched a couple of editorialized videos speculating about what had happened from various viewpoints. Some were highlighting the Dalai Lama’s apology to the boy and his family. Some were highlighting how the Dalai Lama has a playful and joking personality. Some were expressing the abhorrence and disgust toward his actions.

Being someone who doesn’t watch the news because of my general awareness of the inherent bias in news sources, my first instinct was to not believe any of it until I could see the first person footage of what had happened and make up my own mind.

and I have to say my stomach dropped and my heart sank when I saw it.

I am so deeply saddened for this little boy. What could a little boy do in that moment, being in the lap of his hero, wanting a hug, other than exactly what he was told to do. A little boy asking for a hug and in front of a crowd of cheering people encouraging him to do what the Dalai Lama was telling him to do. “Give me a kiss”. It was so clear that the boy had not choice in that moment. His choice, his power was to ask innocently for the hug from his hero. There on the Dalai Lama’s lap he could not run away but it was clear after the little boy kissed the Dalai Lama, the little boy pulled his head back quickly and unmistakably, the way you do when you want to get something you don’t like over with. How sad. And worse was the cheering and applause from the crowd. Worse, not only because of the horror of an entire audience witnessing this and doing nothing, but because instead of doing something to help this child, they cheered, they applauded. What exactly were they applauding? Applauding a child having his choice and power being taken away? Applauding because a child was doing something he didn’t want to do? Applauding because the Dalai Lama said to do something and even though the little boy clearly hesitated and didn’t want to, he succumbed to the bidding of the Dalia Lama. I would love to know if there was anyone in the audience -NOT APPLAUDING- and instead standing horrified and crying out in their heart “STOP” or better yet outloud. And even after all this, in this brief clip, when the Dali Llama said “suck my tongue”. That little boy did as he was told to the sound of a cheering applauding crowd encouraging him be a good boy and do what he is told. If you were a little boy what would you do in a crowd of cheering applauding adults, the arms of your hero?

Yes, I’m sad.

I’m disheartened.

I’m disturbed.

Not because it was the Dalai Lama, a world-famous religious leader.

Not because I expected more. I didn’t. I don’t expect any more from religious leaders than any other human. Religious leaders are just human just like everyone else. And I expect everyone to treat children with dignity and respect.

I am not more disgusted by the actions of the Dalai Lama than I would be if I had seen an eye-witness account of the same incident from any other person.

I am disturbed because there was an entire gathering of adults, anyone of which could have said “Boo” or “No” or “Stop” and came to the rescue of this innocent little boy.

But they didn’t.

And now what we have is speculative editorialized news that says the Dali Lama was playing. He is playful.

That could very well be the truth.

From what I have witnessed at the Tibetan temple in my hometown, the monk is genuinely very playful, funny, and silly. He enjoys making the practitioners laugh. And even when we are discussing heavy topics, there is laughter.

But we can only go by what we witness from first person sources even if that clip was seconds long (this was the only un-editorialized clip I could easily find by the way).

We can take things in context when discerning the truth. And we can realize that we always come with our own bias when discerning truth.

Bias can cloud our ability to see the truth, but it can also help us see things others cannot when we have first-hand experience with childhood abuse.

So back to my question…

Why are children abused? How can a child have to pay a karmic debt?

And more…

Is what happened to this little boy perhaps not as serious as some say?

Is the Dalai Lama's apology to the child and his family for being playful and innocently “inappropriate” enough?

Is it enough for our society to say that is just the Dali Lama being playful? He is completely innocent and deserves no consequences.

Are people willing to overlook what their eyes see and their hearts feel because of someone's title or position, because of fame, power?

Isn’t giving “no consequences” and “looking the other way” and defaulting to “they didn’t mean it like that- it was misinterpreted”, a systemic and unfortunately typical response to child abuse?

Is this somehow a karmic exchange between the souls of the Dalia Lama and this little boy? In this karmic exchange, who hurt whom? Who collected the karmic debt? Who was relieved of their karmic debt from this exchange? (I don't believe this but is this what folks are asking or thinking?)


We all have our own internal barometers of what is right and wrong, good bad, healthy unhealthy, appropriate inappropriate, innocent guilty. Our actions, our words, and how we interpret what we witness, is certainly informed by our experiences. Our morality is filtered by our own lens. We can always aim to be self-referencing. Whatever path we're on, we can maintain an inquiring mind and continue to ask the big questions. Ask them to eachother, ask them of eachother, ask ourselves.

What are your big questions?

Has this article helped you in some way? Do you have anything you'd like to share? I’d love to hear below.


Dear Wonderful Person,

I hope this message helps support you on your path of personal liberation, connection, and peace-filled compassion. Need more guidance on this topic or looking for a coach to partner with you on this part of your journey? Check out my private coaching programs.

Be Free.

Wishing you much peace and joy,



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  • Over 15 years as an Executive Coach and Trainer for leaders in Fortune 100 and Fortune 500 companies, Top-tier Universities, Government, NGOs, Small Businesses helping leaders and their teams achieve superior results

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