I, Mark Dunlop, am an only child, and I was born in N. Ireland in 1950. My father was in the Navy, and my family lived in different parts of the world, following my father’s various postings abroad. In 1958 we settled in Kent, and I attended a minor public school, Kings School, Rochester, as a dayboy. (There is a coincidental Buddhist connection, in that Sir Edwin Arnold, author of ‘The Light of Asia’ attended this school about a century earlier). My father had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis the previous year, and was invalided out of the Navy in 1964 (when I was 14). During my teenage years, my father’s illness became progressively worse, and my mother relied on me accordingly for moral and practical support. My family’s dependence on me curtailed my personal freedom to a considerable degree, and it was not until after the death of my father in March 1972, when I was 22, that I felt able to leave home. I was, as a result, perhaps not all that streetwise for my age when I finally left home, prepared to enter art college in Brighton, where I had gained a place for the autumn of 1972.
First contact with the FWBO
In April of 1972, before taking up my place at Brighton, I started attending meditation classes with some of my friends, at the FWBO’s public centre in Archway, North London. Although my father had spoken well of Buddhism, having visited a few Buddhist stupas and other sites during his service with the Navy in the Far East, I knew little about Buddhism, and had no particular desire to become a Buddhist. I was simply interested to find out more about meditation, which was becoming more widely known about at that time.
Classes were led by Sangharakshita, who wore his monk’s saffron robes while officiating. I was impressed by my initial contact with Buddhism; in particular, meditation seemed to work in quite a simple and direct way. The initial effect was noticeable without being overwhelming; it was rather like tidying one’s room or one’s desk, in that thoughts and ideas became more ordered and systematic, and life seemed calmer, simpler and more pleasant.
During the tea break at one of these meditation classes at Archway, I heard that an American Friend (a ‘Friend’ was someone who attended classes fairly regularly, but without making a formal commitment) called Tom was looking for people to work on converting his house in West Hampstead into flats. I approached Tom and arranged to move into his house and do some carpentry. It seemed a good arrangement; I could earn some money without too many expenses (sleeping on the floor at Tom’s), move to London and conveniently follow up my new interest in Buddhism, and also see more of my old school friend Peter B., who was attending the Royal College of Music in Kensington. This was quite a happy period in my life; there was a lot to see and do in London and I was meeting new people.
In about June 1972 I was invited for a meal at the flat at 55, St. James’s Lane, Muswell Hill, which was shared by Sangharakshita, Kevin Brooks and Graeme Sowter (later Siddhiratna). Mr. Brooks, who worked intermittently at Tom’s, extended the invitation to me, probably at Sangharakshita’s instigation. At any rate, I went back to the flat for a meal, and once or twice subsequently, including one or two occasions with my friend Peter B.
I continued to work at Tom’s during the day, going to the FWBO centre one or two evenings a week. At weekends I would mostly go home to Rochester, but occasionally stayed up in London to help with a jumble sale or other FWBO fund raising activity. I was quite enjoying my contact with the FWBO at this time, partly because they provided a ready made circle of friends (most of those involved were around my own age, and some of them were rather attractive girls), and partly because of my increasing respect for Buddhism.
Some early concerns
Although I was heterosexual myself, I was aware of a certain amount of homosexuality among FWBO members, but in the early 1970’s this was all part of popular culture, and I did not see this as being a big issue (pop figures like Mick Jagger and David Bowie, for example, played with images of sexuality and were often regarded as being ‘bisexuals’); in general the atmosphere was permissive and it would be seen as rather gauche for a would-be sophisticated youth to criticise or condemn homosexuality.
Friendship in general and spiritual friendship in particular were given great importance within the FWBO, and Sangharakshita initially elaborated on this theme. He said that I was one of the very few people he knew who treated him as a person in his own right, rather than as a machine for solving their problems, as he put it. He mentioned that on one occasion Eric (later ordained as Mangala) had been away for a while, and on his return had called in to pay his respects; Sangharakshita had invited him to stay for supper, whereupon Eric had said ‘Oh no, I can’t stay, I want to see some of my friends now’. Sangharakshita said he felt hurt by the implication that Eric did not include him in that category.
Although it was obvious that FWBO members thought very highly of Sangharakshita and it was common for them to believe that he was ‘enlightened’, I did in general feel a bit sorry for him, and my impressions from the beginning were that there was an element of sadness or dissatisfaction in his manner. Partly out of sympathy for Sangharakshita, and partly because of my increasing respect for Buddhism, I felt disposed to do what I reasonably could to help him in his work.
Moving in with Sangharakshita
Around the middle of 1972, Sangharakshita suggested I might move into the flat at Muswell Hill. It did not occur to me at this time that he might be seeking a sexual relationship; I thought he was extending friendship. I had become a bit fed up sleeping on the floor at Tom’s, and so after considering his offer for a while, I said I would like to move in. I shared the front room with Sangharakshita, having a mattress on the floor; Kevin and Graeme both had their own rooms. However as I got to know Sangharakshita better, I found that he kept returning to the theme of homosexuality. Around this time, I told my friend Peter B. that Sangharakashita seemed to be ‘after me’ sexually, and that I was not happy about this.
A few weeks after I had moved in, Sangharakshita introduced the Buddhist concept of Daka into the conversation. A Daka (f. Dakini) is a figure in Tibetan Buddhism similar to a muse, or possibly in Jungian terms an animus or anima figure. Someone who provides an inspiration. Someone who was more than just an ordinary friend.
Sangharakshita suggested that I was a daka and that as such, I would be able to give a guru or teacher (i.e. him) more energy and the teacher in turn would be able to give spiritually more powerful teachings and initiations to his students. He went on to say that traditionally in Tibet there were three kinds or degrees of daka (i.e. there was a qualitative progression); the first, most refined kind inspired or catalysed the guru’s energy by means of a glance of the eyes; the second by the sound of his voice; and the third kind by physical contact. I said that if I was a daka, I’d much rather be the first kind. Sangharakshita said ‘I think actually you’re the third kind’. (I remember these words distinctly). I was somewhat sceptical, but also flattered. On balance, I found it difficult to seriously believe that Sangharakshita might be stringing me a line. He was an ordained Buddhist monk (I had seen pictures of him with the Dalai Lama) and the FWBO was a registered charity.
Conspiracy of silence?
FWBO members whom I spoke to about my misgivings all said that they felt that they had benefited personally from their involvement with the FWBO, and that they valued the help and guidance that they had received from Sangharakshita. Several also said that they had been able to extricate themselves from neurotic relationships with women with Sangharakshita’s help. However, no one spoke about homosexuality in other than general terms, and I was not able to elicit specific details about anyone’s own experience in this area, although quite a lot was implied.
Increasing the pressure
What finally made me give way to Sangharakshita was his arguments that my resistance was a result of conditioning. On one occasion Sangharakshita said that according to Kinsey, who had conducted research into sexual behaviour in America in the 1940’s, males were in general bi-sexual, and that in the case of an average man who was not conscious of his bi-sexual nature, the homosexual element might be around 20% (I understand this is in fact a misrepresentation of Kinsey’s evidence, which suggests that around 80% of men might be bi-sexual to some degree – but I haven’t checked the original source). He went on to say the reason why such a man might not be conscious of this homosexual component to his character was social and parental conditioning (i.e. fear of disapproval of homosexuality by parents, peer group, etc.) which had led him to suppress or repress homosexual urges into his unconscious mind. Sangharakshita didn’t say outright ‘you are a homosexual’, but more gradually led me to believe that conditioning was the explanation for my marked lack of enthusiasm.
My apparent revulsion towards homosexuality could be seen as a symptom of the extent of my own conditioning. To make progress emotionally and spiritually, Sangharakshita said, it was important to try to overcome this irrational conditioned fear of homosexual contact, which tended to block my energy and obscure my awareness, and which was, like any other irrational fear, ultimately based on ignorance. Paradoxically, the very fact that I felt so strongly that I didn’t want to have sexual contact with Sangharakshita showed just how deeply I really was denying my real needs – otherwise why should I reject a little perfectly natural human affection so vehemently? [See also the ‘Fear of Homosexuality Double-Bind‘].
The teaching of Conditioning (Paticca-samuppada, literally ‘dependent origination’ in Pali) has an important place in Buddhist philosophy, and Sangharakshita was eventually able to persuade me that his ‘Westernised’ interpretation was valid. He was 47, I only 22. He was a fully ordained monk, learned and intellectually adroit, well thought of, regarded as enlightened by many of his followers.
His explanation for the absence of direct references to homosexuality in Buddhist scriptures was that Indians in general were much more emotionally expressive than the English, and that Indian men had few of the western hangups about expressing physical affection. Therefore homosexuality as such had never really been an issue for the Buddha or for eastern Buddhists.
In due course Sangharakshita managed to have physical contact with me. Initially it was hugging, then caressing and then kissing (which I hated intensely and soon managed to get out of). Skin to skin contact was next and then Sangharakshita started to masturbate himself on my stomach. This developed over the course of a fortnight or so, rather than on one occasion. The whole business was highly unpleasant for me and not in the least erotic.
However, once I had accepted a first time, a pattern was set which I found difficult to break.
I did consider going along to another Buddhist group, but Sangharakshita, and indeed many of the FWBO members, were pretty scathing about these groups, some of which they had attended themselves, and so I was dissuaded. In late summer 1972, I decided not to take up my place at Brighton Art College that autumn, Sangharakshita persuading me that it was undesirable for me to lose contact with the FWBO at that stage – there is now an FWBO branch in Brighton, but that was not formed until 1975.
At odds with society
The work at Tom’s house had come to an end, and in about Nov. 1972 after a short period on the dole, I got a job at a joinery firm in Crouch End, N. London. I found this quite difficult to cope with; I enjoyed the actual work, but I felt uneasy and nervous at some of the social banter and so forth. I think the reason was that I felt I was fighting social conditioning in respect of homosexuality, and had therefore in a significant way put myself at odds with society in general. Sangharakshita has said that the ‘spiritual life’ is ‘revolutionary’, and that one has to fight against ‘the gravitational pull of the conditioned’ or ‘the lower evolution’. Heterosexuality was, according to him, part of the lower evolution. At any rate, I felt alienated and out on a limb in a way which I had never previously experienced, so I only lasted 3 or 4 weeks at this job.
‘On retreat’ with Sangharakshita
Sangharakshita had been talking of delegating much of his responsibility for the day to day running of the FWBO and devoting himself more to ‘literary and creative’ work, and in my naivety I encouraged him in this. Arrangements were made, a van was bought and Sangharakshita and I moved in Jan. 1973 to Broome House Farm, Nr. Brandon in Suffolk, which was a Forestry Commission cottage leased to a Friend who in turn made it available to Sangharakshita.
The daily routine was fairly undemanding. Rise about 7.30 – 8, a cup of tea, then meditation for 40 mins. to an hour. After breakfast, Sangharakshita would spend most of the day writing, either correspondence or perhaps preparing a lecture. I would while away my time in various ways, fixing the diesel generator, drawing, chopping wood, study and going for long walks in the forest. I did the majority though not all of the domestic jobs. We would generally go out together to do the shopping, with occasional expeditions out to second-hand bookshops etc. It was a pretty boring lifestyle from my point of view – Sangharakshita said that as we were on ‘retreat’ it was important to keep distractions to a minimum. My only entertainment was playing records – when the generator was working. The day would conclude with a puja (a traditional devotional ceremony) and meditation, and we would generally retire to bed soon after.
Sangharakshita would want to have sexual contact about twice a week on average. He usually said something like: ‘let me just lie beside you for a while’. I dreaded hearing this, but felt mean and selfish if I thought of refusing. He would get into my bed and perhaps stroke my chest for a while. Then he would get on top of me and rub his penis against my stomach until he had an orgasm. I found the whole business repellant, but at least it didn’t take very long – only about four or five minutes usually. I was completely passive throughout, just waiting for him to finish. After he had finished, he would return to his bed and I would wipe his semen off my stomach with a towel I kept available. Although the whole process was strange and distressing, at least it was over quickly, and at the time I felt I would be in the wrong if I refused him.
After all, some of the other ‘Buddhist’ practises which I had recently learned, were themselves strange (though not distressing); sitting cross legged on the floor concentrating on my breathing, for example, had initially seemed to me quite an odd thing to do, but once I had tried it a few times, there were apparent benefits. Meditation could be, at times, both calming and refreshing, and thus my initial assessment had turned out to be incorrect. I felt on balance therefore that I had to take Sangharakshita’s ideas on anti-homosexual conditioning seriously.
I did attempt to refuse him and argue with him at the beginning and at frequent intervals later – but he could become very upset and on a couple of occasions even clutched his chest and said ‘Oh, my heart’. He gave the impression of having palpitations and to this day I do not know whether this was the case or whether he was just putting on an act.
The twentieth blow that splits the rock
Sometimes he would remind me of the Buddhist story about the rock that was split open by the twentieth blow. Although the nineteen previous blows might appear to have had no effect, actually they were preparing the ground for that final twentieth blow.[In retrospect, I can see that he could almost have been talking about breaking down my resistance to his advances]. Similarly, when working on breaking down one’s conditioning, one should not expect instant results, and should not be put off by initial failure, but should allow the process to take its natural course to completion.
Perhaps most commonly, he would get his way when I argued, by drawing attention to the importance of trust and ‘spiritual friendship’, and he would admonish me that I should not give in to my conditioning and allow it to inhibit development of this ‘spiritual friendship’, which the Buddha had once said was really ‘ the whole of…. this religious life’ (Samyutta Nikaya, Vol.V, p2).
Sangharakshita said that his name meant ‘protector of the spiritual community’ in Sanskrit and this name, given to him at his ordination before a sangha of fourteen monks in Sarnath, N.India, in 1950, added extra weight to his argument. I would feel that my feelings of revulsion were crass and insensitive. [I have learnt subsequently from other sources that ‘Sangharakshita’ more accurately translates as ‘protected by the spiritual community’.]
At the time all this seemed like something which I had to bear as part of the spiritual path which I was on, much as I bore the pain in my knees which developed during periods of sitting cross legged for meditation. In other words; no pain, no gain. It was not until 1988, when I read a newspaper article: ‘Victims of disbelief: the trauma of men who are raped’ (Independent, 29.6.1988) that I began to see that what he had been doing amounted to a form of rape, even though his techniques were based on psychological and spiritual manipulation rather than on crude physical force.
At some stage in the winter of 1972-73 (I don’t recall exactly) I ran out of money and Sangharakshita began supporting me financially. He derived his income predominantly from the FWBO. We left Suffolk in the spring of 1973 and moved to Cornwall. After this Sangharakshita and I moved together to a variety of locations in the country where we continued a similar life style, making contact only really with a few members of the FWBO. In 1974, an order member named Buddhadasa (Hugh Evans) inherited some money from an aunt, and gave the bulk of it to Sangharakshita, who used the money to buy a cottage in Castle Acre, Norfolk. Sangharakshita and I moved into this cottage about mid-1974. I was ordained at the beginning of 1975, and given the name Vajrakumara.
During all this period I was not able to spend much time alone with women and Sangharakshita made me feel guilty about my attractions to the women I did meet. I had been celibate since the summer of 1972, and had discussed this a number of times with Sangharakshita. However, he did not alter his sexual behaviour towards me; he took the view that this was not a breach of my celibacy, because I never became sexually aroused by his actions. Some years later, in about July 1987, Subhuti told me that Sangharakshita had said that I was one of the very few people he (Sangharakshita) knew who were entirely heterosexual.
Buying Padmaloka for the FWBO
This life style continued virtually uninterrupted until my mother died in October, 1975. I remember being rather unemotional and matter of fact about my mother’s illness and death; I was surprised how impassive I was. In retrospect, I feel I had somewhat subjugated personal feelings concerned with my family and my earlier life outside the FWBO. On my mother’s death, I inherited her house and some savings, which I put towards purchasing Lesingham House, in the village of Surlingham, near Norwich in Norfolk, for use as a retreat centre for the FWBO. I contributed 29/35 ths of the purchase price; Sangharakshita sold his cottage in Castle Acre and contributed the remaining 6/35ths.
I might have simply made my share of the property over to the charity, but luckily my uncle, who was executor of my mother’s will and who had always been unhappy about my involvement with the FWBO, had made me promise to keep my share of the house in my own name, and I kept this promise. Keeping this promise was also made easier by the fact that Sangharakshita several times said that when he had purchased his property (a bungalow with some land in Kalimpong, N India, which he named the Triyana Vardhana Vihara), his Tibetan monk friends had all advised him to make sure that the property was held in his own name, and not in the name of some organisation.
There was little direct pressure on me to buy this property, though Sangharakshita was keen that the FWBO should acquire a country centre. I had to do something with my inheritance; I didn’t want to leave the FWBO, which at the time would have been in my mind an equivalent to renouncing Buddhism, and the idea of living in a larger community not so closeted with Sangharakshita was certainly attractive; so all in all buying Lesingham House seemed the sensible thing to do.
So in July 1976 I moved to Lesingham House with Sangharakshita and a number of other FWBO members, and we began holding retreats and other Buddhist activities. Lesingham House was renamed ‘Padmaloka’ (‘Lotus Realm’ in Sanskrit), and the charity ‘FWBO (Surlingham)’ was set up by Subhuti and some other order members who were familiar with the procedures, using the FWBO model constitution approved by the Charities Commission. There was a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ between FWBO (Surlingham) and myself that they could have the use of my share of the property rent free, but FWBO (Surlingham) would be responsible for the overheads: rates, insurance, heating, maintenance, etc.
Finally getting out of sex with Sangharakshita
One evening in I think August 1976 when Sangharakshita wanted sex, I told him that I didn’t want his sexual activity to continue. Basically, I’d had enough; I’d pretty much given up on the daka idea, and hadn’t made any progress at all towards overcoming or seeing through my alleged anti-homosexuality conditioning; in fact it had become rather stronger. I was surprised how easy it was to get out of sexual duties at last; on previous occasions when we had discussed it, Sangharakshita had overcome my objections and my resistance, as previously described; this time however, he didn’t argue all that much. In any case, he had a number of other young men available.
Sangharakshita’s attitude towards me changed noticeably after this; he became colder and less friendly, even though I continued to look up to him as a spiritual teacher, and I was surprised at the degree of change. I continued to live at Lesingham House as a community member for a further eighteen months until I decided to move out, partly as a result of a general feeling of claustrophobia and partly with a view to applying once more for an art college place.
Trying to build a life outside the FWBO
I found myself a flat in Norwich in July 1978, got a part-time job at an FWBO run restaurant in Norwich, and started going to life classes and generally building up a portfolio of art work. And, most importantly for me, I started going out with girls again. All was not plain sailing however – I felt very guilty about my hetero-sexual nature, and particularly about my tendency to form emotional attachments outside the Order. A healthy sexual appetite was one thing, but it was important to avoid becoming attached, because, according to Sangharakshita’s teaching, attachment implied neurotic projection onto the object of one’s attachment.
However, I found that my urge towards emotional attachment (aka love) was if anything stronger than my sexual urge, and as a result, I felt guilty and inadequate about my emotional weakness. The best way I can think of to describe the actual feeling at the time is that I saw myself as some kind of pervert with a secret vice or compulsion. I felt that I was an incorrigible reprobate, lacking the commitment and self discipline necessary to make spiritual progress. I interpreted this at the time as partly due to my tendency towards ‘neurotic projection’, partly due to my resistance to real change (such as my failure to open up to and acknowledging the supposed homo-sexual side of my nature), and in general terms as due to the ‘gravitational pull of the conditioned’. I continued to hope and expect that at some stage, with continued effort, I would be able to achieve some insight into my conditioning, and to make the appropriate break through.
In retrospect, the metaphor of dual identity, of the pre-cult self at war with the cult-self, provided by Steven Hassan and Dr Lifton, seems appropriate. [Recently I have become aware of the medical diagnosis of ‘ego dystonic sexual orientation’. This more commonly applies to homosexuals who feel that their social environment disapproves of their sexual orientation, and who may consequently suffer an identity crisis. In my case, it was the reverse, in that I felt guilty about not being homosexual or bisexual]. However, I didn’t know any of this at the time; I simply felt confused and miserable.
During this period, I had a number of girlfriends; I often think back over these girlfriends with sadness and regret and with a certain amount of shame. We would become close to each other or even fall in love and then I would seize up inside and become rather distant, so that in effect we drifted apart, as I did my best to suppress my romantic feelings.
I began going out with D, the girl who had the greatest effect in this way, in Oct 1982. We became very fond of one another, and in fact were in love, though I did my best to suppress this emotion in myself, under the influence of the FWBO’s hostility towards heterosexuality and ‘neurotic relationships’ (eg. ‘The couple is the enemy of the spiritual community‘ )
About nine months after we had first started going out together, I told D that I didn’t feel able to continue the sexual side of the relationship anymore. Because our relationship directly conflicted with FWBO teaching, which at that time was also precious to me, I felt deep anxiety and guilt about not being homosexual, and about holding on to an emotional attachment outside the order. I really enjoyed the affection and companionship with D, but they would also give rise to secret feelings of guilt and even self-disgust. I must say she took it all very well, with considerable forbearance. We continued to go out together for another two years or so, and we even had a couple of platonic holidays together during this period.
I had started Art College in 1979. I left college two terms before the end of the 4 year course, in Dec. 1982, because I was continuing to experience a similar personal conflict between art and the so called ‘spiritual life’ promoted by Sangharakshita and the FWBO, and felt worn out with the struggle. During the first half of 1983, my weight dropped from 11.5 stone to just over 10 stone, and has remained at this level subsequently.
After a few depressed and aimless months, I moved back full time to Lesingham House in July 1983. I continued to make attempts to get properly into meditation and attended study groups and community evenings, but despite these efforts I still felt like a fish out of water.
By 1985, I had decided that I ought to try and move out of the community. (In retrospect, one reason I hadn’t been encouraged to move out a lot earlier must have been that the FWBO wanted to keep Lesingham House.) I still admired and respected Sangharakshita and the FWBO; any shortcomings were, I felt, entirely on my side. I had simply failed to make the grade, and was increasingly being seen as a drain on the community. It was a case of: ‘spiritual good, me bad’. I had to go.
Selling my share of Padmaloka
I had been considering selling my 29/35ths share of Lesingham House (Padmaloka) to the charity, FWBO (Surlingham), for some time, back to at least 1980. There had been pressure at various times (mostly from Kovida and Subhuti, some from Sona, and I suppose ultimately the pressure was from Sangharakshita, acting at arms length) for me to sell my share to the charity. The main reason put forward was that the charity was legally prevented from spending money on maintaining or developing a property which was not owned by the charity, and consequently ownership remaining in my name posed an obstacle to the continued development of Padmaloka as an FWBO retreat centre.
This development factor was particularly relevant when a somewhat dilapidated barn complex adjacent to Lesingham House became available for purchase in 1981. Presumably at one time it had all been one property, but at the time of the purchase of Lesingham House in 1985, the barns were a separate property, owned by a neighbouring farmer, Mr Loades, who did not use them apart from storing some old farm equipment. In 1980, Mr Loades said he would be willing to sell the barns.
The possibility of selling part of Lesingham House’s land for building plots had been discussed previously, and FWBO member Sona (R.E.Fricker) obtained outline planning permission for two dwellings. A local builder offered a good price for the two building plots, and I was persuaded to sell my 29/35ths share of the building plots to the charity for a much lower price (even though the plots already had planning permission). The charity then sold the plots straight on to the builder, giving the charity a handsome profit. The charity was then able to buy the barn complex from Mr Loades, and still had a good sum left over from the sale of the building plots to spend on renovating the barns. It was put to me in unambiguous terms that I would be holding the retreat centre back if I did not agree to this arrangement, which would enable the retreat centre facilities to be considerably extended. FWBO (Surlingham) needed to own the freehold of the barns, in order for them to be legally able to expend the money and manpower necessary to bring the barns up to the standard required for residential retreat accommodation.
While FWBO (Surlingham) was keen to acquire the freehold of Lesingham House itself, I continued to prevaricate for some time, because it seemed unlikely that I would be allowed to continue living at Lesingham House once it was owned by the charity, and I was uncertain where I would end up, or what I could do to earn a living.
As the first step towards a new life, in mid 1985 I began looking for a house in Norwich, and in November 1985 I contacted the Norwich branch of Savills Estate agents to ask them for a verbal valuation on Lesingham House. Savills’ valuer, Mr C, was very keen, saying ‘I could sell any number of properties like this!’ (The early stages of the 1980’s property boom were well under way at the time.). Mr C said that the market value of Lesingham House had been significantly reduced by its institutionalisation, and he suggested that it would be a much more marketable proposition if some work was done to de-institutionalise the house.
In theory, I could possibly have put my interest in Lesingham House up for sale on the open market, but because I still fairly strongly believed in the FWBO’s ‘give what you can, take what you need’ ethos, this was never really an option. It would have been a selfish and deeply unspiritual act, and could also have made about twenty people homeless, some of whom I regarded at that time as good friends.
In terms of negotiating a price with the FWBO, I was unsure how to quantify my own ‘needs’ as against what I saw at the time as the morally superior needs of the Padmaloka retreat community. (Subhuti at one point, only half-jokingly, said ‘how much do we have to pay to get rid of you? ‘ Eventually we agreed to a deal which gave me enough money to buy a house in Norwich in Dec. 1985. My share was sold at an undervalue, and the same solicitor acted for both parties.
Trying (again) to build a life outside the FWBO
I bought a house in Norwich in Dec. 1985. Two other order members rented rooms from me, and I applied for but failed to get a couple of part time jobs (not in FWBO businesses.) My general intention was to work towards earning a living as an artist, with part type work, possibly carpentry or boat- building related, as a means of earning a living in the immediate term.
One day in the spring of 1986, I was reflecting how much I missed D, when there was an unexpected welling up of emotion and I began crying. This had a purgative effect, and I began to feel strongly that my heterosexual nature, and in particular the associated emotions of love and affection, were true and genuine human feelings, and not some kind of blind perversion, as I had come to believe during my time in the FWBO. My emotions had been stirred up a month or so previously when I had read ‘Jane Eyre’ for the first time, and I believe this novel may have acted as a catalyst.
BeginNing to see through the FWBO
This crying episode marked a turning point in my relationship with the FWBO. The tears soon gave way to anger and revulsion, and over the next few weeks and months, I gradually began to see that there were significant dangers in the FWBO’s distortion of traditional Buddhism.
Unfortunately, the personal process of coming to terms with my experience in the FWBO continued to become even more difficult and stressful. It was very difficult to articulate my feelings and thoughts. The only outside reference I had at that time was the novel, Jane Eyre, but it was difficult to relate this book, or its meaning to me, to Buddhist teaching or to anything else. It was difficult to explain to other people how reading it had profoundly changed my perspective on Sangharakshita’s teaching about human sexuality and about the dangers of ‘love’ as a neurotic projection, and how this had caused me to question the whole ethos and practice of the FWBO as an organisation. I became obsessed with unraveling my experience in the FWBO, and began to experience bouts of anger and depression over my seeming inability to effectively articulate my concerns.
Writing article in Shabda
Over the winter of 1986/87 I wrote a critical article ‘Composition in grey and white’ about my experience in the order and with Sangharakshita, which, I said, had left me in a state of ‘confusion, guilt, and misery’. This was published in Shabda, a photocopied monthly magazine containing letter reports and other contributions from order members. Initially my article was refused, as it ‘contravened the criteria’ for publication. I said that I would offer it for publication elsewhere, and then it was accepted. It was published as an insert in Shabda in May 1987 (though not in India, as, allegedly, ‘Indian Order Members wouldn’t be able to understand the western attitude to homosexuality.’).
No one willing to question Sangharakshita’s behaviour
After publication, I had a dozen or so letters and cards from order members, all to some degree sympathetic to me personally, but those that I contacted back all seemed hostile to the idea of questioning Sangharakshita’s predatory sexual behaviour, or of doing anything to protect others from going through what I had gone through. Some people said that I had only given one side of the story, or that I was being ‘negative’ or that I was ‘cracking up’. This general lack of concern over ethical misconduct by Sangharakshita was a surprise and a shock to me, and deeply disorienting.
One order member, who had also been Sangharakshita’s ‘companion’ for a while, phoned me up to say that there had been some things (unspecified) that he hadn’t been happy about during his relationship with Sangharakshita. He had talked to Sangharakshita subsequently about these things, but he said that he hadn’t been able to catch Sangharakshita out in a direct lie, Sangharakshita had just said that he didn’t remember [The same as he said to Yashomitra, and to me]. When I wrote to this order member some time later to suggest that he should speak out about his concerns, as I was doing, he wrote back to say that he thought my ‘quest’ was fueled by negative emotion, that I should practice metta bhavana meditation on those I felt had perpetrated injustice on me, and that : ‘When all is said and done, “‘victim” and “abuser” are two sides of a coin, one needs to try to rise above such dualities.’
Even those FWBO members whom I had regarded as personal friends were completely unsympathetic. For example, on one particular occasion I had gone for a pizza with order member Sona. He took it upon himself to explain that, while the wall we were sitting next to in the restaurant appeared to be solid, in reality it was composed of atoms and electrons, which themselves did not really exist; they were just abstract patterns of probability. Likewise, my allegations and complaints did not have any solid reality, they were just how things appeared to me, because I was unable to see through to the deeper reality beneath. Another OM told me that ‘We always have to be aware that our..um…what we think, is not true, until enlightenment.’
[In the FWBO’s response to the FWBO Files, published at http://www.fwbo.org/communications/ex-fwbo.html Vishvapani writes, in regard to the Guardian story, that: ‘I know there was homosexual activity in the single-sex communities, but the curious thing is that I never once heard a discussion of it. It is hard to know how significant sex was in the psychology underpinning the Croydon Buddhist Centre, though for Tim it was clearly traumatic. But I believe the secrecy surrounding it established a pattern of duplicity and confusion that corroded people’s integrity.’ A page later, he quotes Edward Gibbon: “As a wise man may deceive himself and a good man may deceive others, so the conscience may slumber in a mixed and middle state between self-illusion and voluntary fraud.”]
I felt very frustrated that the allegations I had made in my article (published as an insert in Shabda May 1987), had been met with such indifference by other FWBO members. To express my anger and frustration over this, in June 1987 I broke two windows and did some other minor damage at Lesingham House, hoping that this might prompt order members to take more notice of the concerns I had expressed. Shortly after, Sangharakshita emerged from his office in a rage, and began haranguing me in front of about half a dozen order members: ‘You think the whole world revolves around you! and ‘We’ve been so-oo patient with you’ and ‘It is still not too late for you to turn the corner.’
Seeking medical help
In October 1986, I first saw my GP about my depression and anger about my experience in the FWBO, and over the next ten years or so, I was referred to a number of specialists in the Norwich area. Two of these, both counselors for sexual abuse victims, were sympathetic, but the other psychologists and psychiatrists I saw all seemed to regard me as an obsessive individual who should put their past mistakes behind them and get on with the rest of their life. This kind of ‘blame the victim’ response tended to increase my anxiety and depression, and was probably harmful rather than helpful.
Lifton suggests, as quoted by Steven Hassan in an appendix to his ‘Combatting Cult Mind Control’: ‘The two selves [cult and non- cult] can exist simultaneously and confusedly for a considerable time, and it may that the transition periods are the most intense and psychologically painful as well as the most potentially harmful.’ This does seem to tie in with my own experience.
I also went outside the NHS and tried hypnotherapy and some other therapies, but, with one exception, these therapies were not particularly helpful either, though at least they did no harm. The most helpful doctor was Dr T, whom I first saw in 1991 (?), though I could only afford to see her a few times, and not for an extended period of therapy. I did ask my GP if I could be referred to see her on the NHS, but he declined to do so. However, my contact with Dr T did provide a lifeline at the time, and her experience with other ex-cult members and her understanding of the processes involved in cult membership, together with reading books by ex-cult members such as Steven Hassan, subsequently gave me a basis from which to begin to understand my experience in the FWBO and to gradually escape its shadow.
It was still a real uphill struggle though, because I was the only ex-FWBO member openly criticizing the group or saying that they were a cult. The majority of people I talked to seemed to regard my experiences and my interpretation of them with great skepticism.
The first person I met who shared my concern about the FWBO was Richard Hunn (Upasaka Wen Shu), an Englishman who worked as a Buddhist scholar and Chinese translator. Unfortunately he was undergoing a difficult divorce at the time (1988), and was not able to do much to counter the FWBO. He did put me in touch with Maurice Walshe, who knew about Sangharakshita’s background in India and the early days of the FWBO, and who was to prove a stalwart ally. However, these two were for a long time the only Buddhists that I knew of who were prepared to speak out openly and publicly about Sangharakshita and the FWBO, even though it appears that quite a few people within the British Buddhist world knew about Sangharakshita’s behaviour.
Trying to talk to FWBO members
Aside from seeking medical or therapeutic help for myself, I also continued to approach FWBO members whom I knew, to express my concerns about the misogyny and the promotion of homosexuality within the FWBO, but I could make no headway, and my concerns continued to be dismissed as before.
In approximately July 1987 I met Subhuti in Norwich. He was more friendly than usual and in the Chess Cafe he said ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t know all this was going on’. My article of May 1987 was the first time I had had the courage to speak publicly of my own involvement with homosexuality in the F.W.B.O., though I had often criticized the anti-women stance and other matters such as dependence on the dole. He also told me that Sangharakshita had said that I was one of the very few people he (Sangharakshita) knew who was entirely heterosexual. Subhuti asked me what I actually wanted; I said repayment of the mortgage, compensation for the workshop, a public acknowledgment by Sangharakshita of his actions and their consequences, and some form of compensation for the distress which they had caused me. Subhuti went no further than to say that he took note of this.
Sangharakshita’s selective memory
Towards the end of 1987 I had two or three ‘phone conversations with Sangharakshita. He said he didn’t remember having said that I was a daka or quoting Kinsey. When asked how he would respond if this memory did come back to him, he replied that he would be horrified. In these conversations I felt he was dissembling and evasive. The only apparent opening came when I said that I had been in hell, to which he replied that he had been in purgatory; this was the first time I felt he had expressed any actual human emotion and the first time I had hope of some kind of resolution of our differences. In the event, this was as far as it went.
On three occasions in Jan., March and April 1988 Sangharakshita came to my house to talk, the first time accompanied by Kovida, and subsequently on his own. Again I felt he was dissembling and evasive and I don’t remember much specifically. I recall him saying that he didn’t think I had been naive, as I had said in my article; his first impressions of me had been that I was a sophisticated man of the world, because of the way I smoked my cigarette ( I smoked roll-ups). He did say that he felt our relationship had been a mistake, but he didn’t go so far as to say sorry. In short, these discussions led nowhere.
In Nov. 1988, I had a meeting at the Norwich FWBO centre with six other order members from the Norwich area, in which I said I didn’t think it was on for Sangharakshita to behave in the way, he had and expect to get away with it. Saddhaloka (David Luce) the chairman of the Norwich Centre, did say that perhaps they had a certain responsibility, but that’s as far as things went at that meeting.
Subsequently to this meeting, I tried to set up a meeting with Sangharakshita and two or three senior order members, and had almost achieved a provisionally definite date when this avenue went dead, and no-one would speak to me. About a year later, towards the end of 1989, I managed to coax a few words out of Subhuti, and he said that the reason no-one would talk to me was ‘The Mirror’.(see below about my contact with the Mirror newspaper). A month or two earlier Kovida and Kulananda (Mike Chaskalson) had both independently said to me that what I was doing was ‘despicable’; they hadn’t exactly been friendly before but now there was a new tone of moral superiority in their voices.
Finding out about male rape
At the end of June 1988 I read an article on male rape in the Independent newspaper. (‘Victims of disbelief: the trauma of men who are raped’, Independent 29 June 1988) Although I hadn’t previously thought of my experiences in terms of ‘rape’, this article rang a lot of bells; in fact I was shaking after I had read it. The title ‘Victims of disbelief’ seemed to describe my own experience quite well. The reference in the Independent article to victims’ general reluctance to complain or speak out, either for fear of being labelled gay, or for fear that they will be judged to have in some way ‘asked for it’, went a little way towards explaining the skepticism and hostility I had encountered from FWBO members.
Paragraph 4 of the article, referring to ‘David’s’ frigidity and reluctance to make sexual overtures to a woman for fear of forcing himself upon an unwilling partner, appeared to closely, though not exactly, mirror my own feelings of anxiety and self-loathing. [A more accurate perspective on this self-loathing is probably the diagnosis of a serious adjustment disorder, ego dystonic sexual orientation (F55.1, ICD 10) in a letter from Dr Elizabeth Tylden, 20 August 1998.] This article gave me enough of a clue, or enough of a conceptual liferaft, as it were, to begin to think that perhaps my unhappiness and resentment over my experience in the FWBO wasn’t as neurotically subjective and unreasonable as everyone seemed to think.
Soon after reading the article I telephoned the number for ‘Survivors’ given in the article and had an interesting chat. In August 1988 I went down to London and talked with Nigel O’ Mara, a counselor from that organisation. He had been a rape victim himself (he claimed to be able to recognise abuse victims in the street; they had a certain look in their eyes), and his story seemed pretty horrific to me. He said that rape was not about sex in the erotic sense, but was to do with power and humiliation, and gave rise to feelings of anger and shame in the victim. Often (though not always) abusers had themselves earlier been victims, and were trying to compensate for past humiliation by repeating the abusive situation, but this time with themselves in the position of power and control.
I said I could understand him feeling angry about his particular experience, but why was I so angry about my own milder experience; he said that sexual abuse was sexual abuse however perpetrated, adding that it could occur ‘anywhere from four to forty’.
I asked what I could do about my anger; he suggested a therapy which basically involved beating up a telephone directory. I had tried this approach previously with a punch bag and whilst it’s good exercise, it seemed if anything to strengthen my anger rather than vent it, so I said I’d rather do something real, such as go to a newspaper. I had earlier ‘phoned the Independent after reading their rape article, to be told that Penny Jackson, the editor of the ‘Living’ page, was the best person to speak to; but she was on holiday for a fortnight. Next I tried explaining my story to a lady on the newsdesk at the Observer, but she said ‘Oh I don’t think that’s the kind of story we would do.’
I felt at a bit of a loss and unsure of my credibility and so it seemed well worth pursuing when NM said he knew two journalists who might be interested. One was from the Sunday Mirror and had written a sympathetic article on ‘Survivors’, and the other freelance. I said I’d prefer say the Guardian, but NM suggested that a paper like the Guardian would tend to ‘wring it’s hands and say ‘Oh isn’t this awful”, while the Mirror was more likely to actually do something.
Its true that the Mirror has in the past had a reputation as a campaigning newspaper, for example against Hitler in the 1930’s, and at that time employed journalists such as Paul Foot, but I was a bit wary of a possible ‘Bonking Buddhists’ treatment, partly for fear I might end up a laughing stock myself. Nevertheless I arranged via NM to meet Frances Rafferty from the Sunday Mirror (she has subsequently worked for the Telegraph and the TES) the next day, and after a cautious start warmed to her. So I told her my story and later sent some F.W.B.O. literature and photocopies.
Initially her boss in the Features department gave her the go-ahead, but the story was subsequently transferred to Investigations, where it seems to have become lost. I did at one stage speak on the phone to Tony Frost, who I think was fairly senior in this department, but I had by then become doubtful about the Mirror’s attitude to the story, and so didn’t pursue it.
(It seems that the Mirror told the FWBO about my contact with them, and this is probably why no-one from the FWBO would speak to me after about Dec 1988, and probably also why I was expelled from the order by Sangharakshita in Jan 1989. Its highly unlikely that any of the small number of friends I had told about my contact with the Mirror would have tipped off the F.W.B.O. About a year later, in Dec. 1989 I spoke to Steve Bailey at Mirror Investigations, and he said he couldn’t imagine that any of their staff would have alerted the FWBO. He apologised for the story having been ‘lost between departments’ and wanted to send a reporter to see me; I said no, as I had developed doubts about the way the Mirror might handle the story.)
After speaking to Frances Rafferty, I met P.B, an old school friend, for lunch and told him some of what I had been up to, and it was on this occasion that he reminded me that I had told him in 1972 that Sangharakshita was after me sexually and that I wasn’t happy about this.
BeginNing to find out about cults and mind control
Frances Rafferty had given me the phone number of the ‘Cult Information Centre’, and I spoke a couple of times to the organiser, Ian Howarth. He had been involved in a psychotherapy type cult in Canada some ten years previously, and after extricating himself had been involved full time in trying to counter the activities of various cults. He was initially cautious of me, fearing I might be a cult member trying to elicit information, but I told him my story and he seemed to believe me. We discussed the nature of ‘cults’ and he said there were estimated to be several hundred cults of varying sizes in the U.K. the majority being fundamentalist Christian types such as the Moonies (or Unification Church). He didn’t know (at that time) of any other ex-F.W.B.O. members having contacted his organisation, but he had heard of one set of concerned parents. He promised to send me some information about cults.
Rather as with the rape article, I hadn’t really thought of the F.W.B.O. as a cult in a formal sense, although I had used the terns brainwashing and cult in a more colloquial sense in my May 1987 Shabda article. On reading the Cult Information Centre’s material however, I formed the impression that the F.W.B.O. at least came pretty close, and I’ve subsequently come to the view that they are in fact a cult (for the reasons given in the ‘FWBO as cult’ section of this site).
In May 1989 I attended the inaugural meeting of The Ex-Cult Members Support Group, near Kew Gardens in London. There were about 30 people present and we each gave a brief resume of our respective involvement in cults. I particularly remember one young man of about 17 who had recently been entangled with The Central London Church of Christ; he seemed almost in a state of shock and didn’t say all that much. I was feeling quite churned up myself – a mixture of excitement, anger and sorrow, rounded off with a headache. I didn’t really increase my understanding of cults as such, but was left with a feeling of nausea and revulsion towards them. I should also say that the F.W.B.O. seemed relatively mild compared with some of the other cults.
I also felt initially unclear as to whether I had suffered from sexual abuse or brainwashing, or both, or neither; I now think both, to some degree. Possibly systematic emotional manipulation or brainwashing by a cult could be described, metaphorically at least, as a form of spiritual rape. And there appear to be certain similarities between the cultish methods of Sangharakshita and the FWBO, and the ‘befriend – preen – seduce’ methods used by paedophile abusers, who similarly may be outwardly respectable and plausible, and who also sometimes have powerful positions within institutions.
Subsequently, I have continued to develop my understanding of cults and how they are able to manipulate their members, but to date this doesn’t seem to have helped me much on a personal level.
Classified as ‘incapable of work’
In general, I feel that people are dismissive of my experience, and I tend to feel I have no credibility as a person. Having no family doesn’t make things any easier. I have made efforts to start a new life, including beginning a Technology Access course at college, and renting a workshop for 18 months and trying to start a boatbuilding business, but all to no avail.
I can deal with simple things, like buying groceries, but I find social interaction extremely stressful, and avoid it as much as possible. I feel unwelcome and socially excluded; if I mention anything about how I feel, or anything related to the FWBO or to cults, people seem to regard me as strange and obsessive. The seems to be almost a taboo against mentioning the cult word.
If, on the other hand, I say nothing of these concerns, but try and make polite conversation, I get stomach pains, which, if I do not leave the social situation and go home, may develop into difficulty in breathing, hot flushes, pounding and irregular heartbeat, and, on one occasion, dizziness and blurred vision.
For some years now, I have been classified by the Benefits Agency as ‘incapable of work’. The doctor who assesed me for the Benefits Agency said that a friend of his from University had become involved with a different cult, and now exhibited exactly the same symptoms as me.
I continue to feel deeply frustrated at my inability to do anything much to counter the FWBO, and I experience anxiety and depression about my seeming inability to explain to people what goes on within the group or to persuade people to take my concerns seriously.
I have for example attended a couple of seminars held by INFORM at the LSE, and have tried to question the attitude of cult-apologists like Dr Eileen Barker, who hold that terms like ‘brainwashing’, ‘mind control’ and even ‘cult’ are not valid terms, not even helpful metaphors, but are simply emotionally loaded and pejorative terms, which critics deploy in an attempt to demonise and scapegoat New Religious Movements. I had previously sent Dr Barker a printed copy of my analysis of the mind-control process in the FWBO, but when I approached her to ask her opinion of this, she simply said ‘I have glanced at it, it’s a circular argument’. She declined to elaborate further, and just walked away from me.
Contacting Police and Charity Commission
I have also contacted the police about Sangharakshita and the FWBO, but they said that they would only be able to bring a prosecution for assault against Sangharakshita if another witness like myself came forward. To the best of my knowledge no-one else has been willing so far to come forward publicly with allegations against Sangharakshita himself, though more recently, a few people have made similar allegations against other senior FWBO members.
I have also contacted the Charity Commission, and sent them details of how Sangharakshita and the FWBO circumvent their own governing rules, which allows them scope to misrepresent the Buddhist religion, and enables them to shrug off outside criticism. The Charity Commission declined to take any action to restrict the FWBO in any way; they said that the breaches of the rules that I had complained of weren’t all that serious, and they also pointed out that they had no powers to ‘interfere in religious doctrine’. [Which is largely why FWBO charities can get away with promoting their specious, non-Buddhist doctrine.]
More recently, the Guardian newspaper published a critical article about Sangharakshita and the FWBO titled ‘Bad karma’ (Guardian 27 October 1997). Subsequently a British Buddhist and former monk (who is now married and therefore no longer a monk, though still a practising Buddhist), wrote ‘The FWBO Files’, which strongly criticises the ways in which Sangharakshita and the FWBO have distorted Buddhist teaching. This was first published on the Internet in May 1998, on a website which I set up, but which was blocked by the FWBO shortly afterwards.
In November 1998, an ex-FWBO member from San Francisco set up a critical website, and subsequently a German ex FWBO member set up http://www.fwbo-files.com. containing the FWBO Files and other critical material. This material is also now available courtesy of the http://www.ex-cult.org/fwbo site.
These sites have probably been fairly effective in warning some people about the FWBO, but nevertheless the group itself seems incorrigible. No admissions of unethical behaviour by any current FWBO member have been made, and the FWBO continues to deny that the problems at their Croydon centre, exposed by the Guardian article, have ever affected other centres or other individuals.
Currently, Sangharakshita and the FWBO are, to the best of my knowledge, able to continue as before their manipulation of people wishing to follow a Buddhist path under their auspices, without any real restriction.
(Reposted from http://www.ex-cult.org
with kind permission from Mark)
- Mark Dunlop’s Response to Sangharakshita’s February 2017 Memoir September 2, 2017