A Letter To The College of Public Preceptors By The Aryaloka Spiritual Vitality Council

 
Preface by Buddhism Controversy Blog: Some weeks ago, the Aryaloka Spiritual Vitality Council sent the following letter to the Triratna Buddhist Community’s College of Public Preceptors. We would like to express our praise for these principled persons of the ASVC and to show our support for their understanding and requests for compassionate actions to address the serious dysfunctions and harms done to faith seekers and their families by the TBC and its founder.

We would also like to express our support for those who signed a similar letter created by TBC members from two large centres in the north of England, a letter which initially appeared on Facebook but which was later set to ‘private’ so that it could no longer be shared with a broader public.

That letter clearly pointed out the traps and dangers of the methodology being adopted at present by the current Triratna Buddhist Order (TBO) leadership, in dealing with said dysfunctions, harms and sexual abuse that have long taken place within their organisation, a methdology which it applies at the cost and continued suffering of those who have been harmed. In particular, it pointed out that the process was being conducted in what is to all intents and purposes, a private setting, while at the same time claiming repeatedly to be public and transparent.

It also pointed out that the needs of victims and survivors of abuse were being ignored insofar as the process was focusing on reconciliation. Why should anyone who has been abused by this group and its founder want reconciliation? Surely, those abused by Sangharakshita and his high ranking converts should be free to seek justice and recompense rather than reconciliation. As Pam Rubin points out in her excellent talk The Wrong Paradigm,

Conceiving of sexual violence and abuse as a relationship problem does not fit what’s actually going on … and, it’s very unfair to burden that victim as if they have to solve a relationship problem.

Considering the history of the TBC, it is obvious that it is only public pressure that has ever brought about any change or acknowledgement with respect to sexual abuse and the abuse of power. For this reason, it has been decided to place the ASVC letter in the public domain. We think it is also in the wider public interest to understand the good will of the authors of the ASVC and the Manchester and Liverpool Buddhist Centres letters, Clearly, there are TBC members who can see the adverse conditions being created by the TBC leadership for those seekers harmed and damaged by the TBC, with the said harm and damage being perpetuated by the continued poor, even detrimental leadership. They too recognize the manner in which it continues to suppress the truth of past issues, in a space beyond public scrutiny, which is not transparent and where no one is held accountable, this despite their claims to the contrary.

We sincerely hope to contribute to a fruitful and positive change within Triratna so that the leadership can begin to focus more on the needs of those who have been harmed, as well as becoming aware of their own responsibilities. We hope that they become fully aware of and acknowledge the culture within Triratna that enabled sexual abuse instead of continuing to whitewash and minimise what happened over the last several decades.

Healing will never be possible as long as the harm done is minimised and until those responsible acknowledge their responsibilities, and purge the TBC of existent distorted Buddhist teachings. Justice will never be done in a culture where indoctrination is not openly questioned and dishonesty, whitewashing, damage control, siding with Sangharakshita at the cost of those been harmed as well as denial, slander (of victims and critics) are perpetuated.

Preface edited on May 9, 2017

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The Letter To The College of Public Preceptors By The Aryaloka Spiritual Vitality Council

Last week the Aryaloka Spiritual Vitality Council sent a letter to the College of Public Preceptors, Adhisthana kula, and our President about our experiences running a large and long-standing Triratna Center during the current period of controversy. We recognize that some of these concerns have been addressed recently by the Adhistana kula and the Preceptors College. In recognition of the value of hearing many voices in these challenging times, the Aryaloka Council is sharing this letter here. This letter was created after long and careful discussions by Aryaloka’s Council over several weeks.


 
The Spiritual Vitality Council at Aryaloka is charged with overseeing the spiritual vitality of our sangha, friends, and guests. As part of the Triratna Buddhist Community we do our best to guide, oversee, and support effective Dharma and meditation practice and instruction at our Center, as well as to foster Kalyana mitrata among all who participate. At this time, we wish to communicate several concerns to the Adhisthana Kula, the College of Public Preceptors, and our Center President. We understand these people to be the likely sources for leadership through the crisis surrounding Sangharakshita and the Triratna Buddhist Order and Community.

Our responsibility in the SVC is to create conditions that encourage the spiritual well-being of the Aryaloka community. Our responsibility is equally to be aware of conditions that may be adverse to that well-being. Sadly, we find that the sexual behavior of Sangharakshita as the founder of the Triratna Buddhist Community, certain of his teachings and the complicity – conscious or unconscious – of senior order members resulted in a culture that has harmed people, and that the recurring uproar about this history constitutes adverse conditions for harmonious sangha life.

Unfortunately, the response of the TBC leadership over the decades has failed to put these matters to rest. New information, stories and reactions come in waves, with this recent recurrence being particularly active, as it finds a ready platform on the internet. The disclosures and new writings that are being shared may be part of a necessary and healing process. At the same time, they have a vitiating effect on Aryaloka as a spiritual center.

The recent revelations and online postings have shaken our community. Much time and energy has been given to discussion of these issues, in classes and groups and one-to-one. Several members of the Order, Mitras, and friends have lost confidence in Sangharakshita and Triratna. Some have left our community or withdrawn from the ordination process. All this hinders the development of our Center and sangha.

Aryaloka some years ago instituted its own ethical guidelines, grievance policy, and policies for safeguarding our community. We are confident in the actions and approaches of our own leadership. However, the repeated incursion of accusations and the history of questionable behaviors by Sangharakshita and some Order members continues to undermine our efforts.

We would like the leadership of our Triratna Community to know this, to know how the controversies have a damping effect on our spiritual well-being and our capability to grow as a Triratna Buddhist Center. We would like to ask that leadership communicate in the strongest possible way reassurance that none of the past troubling behaviors will be tolerated in the TBC; none of the harmful ‘teachings’ given explicitly (or tacitly encouraged) will be permitted, now or in the future. In other words, we ask the leadership to give a clear and unequivocal repudiation of the behaviors, teachings, and values that were part of the harm-causing past. We want to know that the leadership has this intention. And we would like to know what specific steps will be taken to make sure the behaviors are not tolerated and that the harmful teachings will not be permitted.

We understand that extensive discussion and open sharing of stories are happening at the moment, with the Adhisthana Kula specifically desiring to ‘seed conversations’. We feel it is crucial that the positive efforts be visible to the whole of the international Triratna Community and made public. Future newcomers to our Centers need to be able to see the unfortunate aspects of our history and to see the current Movement-wide commitments to ethical behavior and clarity concerning what are Dharma teachings rather than social ‘experiments’ or reflections of a particular personality.

We have attached two Appendices to this letter. Appendix I specifies the practices and values which we believe to be problematic. Appendix II recommends several courses of action which we believe may help our community move on from the troubled history.

The Triratna Buddhist Order and Community is our spiritual home. We suffer with its painful history. We look forward to a future of spiritual friendship, dedication to spiritual transformation and love of the Dharma.

May the Dharma flourish forever more.
With metta and karuna for all beings,
The Aryaloka Spiritual Vitality Council

Amala, Chair
Vidhuma, Vice-Chair, Mitra Convener
Shrijnana, Aryaloka Executive Director
Dayalocana, Temporary Chair, Aryaloka Board of Directors
Surakshita, Mitra Convener
Lilasiddhi, Mitra Convener
Khemavassika, Mitra Convener

APPENDIX I: Areas of Concern

We are heartened by and wholeheartedly support the Adhisthana Kula’s recent acknowledgement that the following ideas form no part of Triratna teachings today:

  • that sex is an aid to kalyana mitrata (spiritual friendship)
  • that men are spiritually superior to women
  • that any sexual orientation is spiritually superior to another
  • that single people are spiritually superior to those in relationships or with families

We also wholeheartedly support the clear and current statement from the College of Public Preceptors that sex between teachers and students, preceptors and ordinands is inappropriate and can be harmful.

In addition to the above, we request acknowledgement of the following:

  • The bullying and coercion that characterized some situations in the past have no place in the Triratna Order and Community today.
  • The principles of kindness and respect are paramount and are to be honored at all times.

Given the very public nature of the criticisms of the Triratna Order and Community, we request that acknowledgment of all the above be publicized much more widely than they have been to date.

We are also aware of statements by some members of the Order that those who have expressed criticism of the Order should resign. We feel that all Order members have valuable contributions to make, that we need to listen to one another with openness and respect, and cannot support such “love it or leave it” language.

APPENDIX II – Recommendations

  1. Many of the ideas and teachings listed in APPENDIX I are expressions of bias, a human tendency rooted in dualistic thinking. In recognition of the harm that bias can cause, we recommend that anti-bias training be provided to people who teach at Triratna Centers and who take on a mentoring role within the community.
  2. As a community dedicated to the development of kindness and compassion, it is especially grievous to us that people have been harmed while in association with our community.
    We ask that the leadership of the Triratna Buddhist Order, on behalf of the Order, offer an unequivocal apology to those who were personally harmed by the inappropriate sexual behavior of Sangharakshita and some Order members, as well as by hurtful teachings regarding women and families.
  3. We recommend that official Triratna publications and instructional materials be evaluated for expressions of the unacceptable views and practices mentioned in Appendix 1. We ask that traces of them be removed from circulation and use in active study. This includes anything published by Windhorse Publications, Free Buddhist Audio, The Buddhist Center Online, the Triratna Dharma Training Course for Mitras, and all required and suggested materials for people in the ordination training process. Archives would continue to hold the complete materials.
  4. We suggest that the College engage a neutral party, unaffiliated with the former FWBO or TBO/TBC, to review the history of these practices and teachings. We ask that one of the roles of an independent review be to determine what institutional structures and interpersonal dynamics prevented these significant ethical breaches from being effectively addressed for decades. We ask that based on the findings of the independent review, changes be made to the decision-making structures and processes so that any issues that arise in the future can be addressed fully and expediently.
  5. The Triratna Buddhist Community is a large and complex one. The decision-making process for matters that affect the entire community (Order members, mitras and friends) is unclear. We recommend the process for making decisions be described in writing. We recommend that this description include an outline of the responsibilities of the various leadership components of the TBC, including the College of Public Preceptors, the International Order Conveners, the International Council and any other persons or groups that function in a leadership/decision-making capacity. Further, we recommend that this written description be publicized and easily available for all members of the TBC.

 
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See also

Update May 2017