Guest Post By Mark Dunlop
In February 2017, Triratna circulated within the Order a “memoir” by Sangharakshita (Dennis Lingwood), describing his time with me. It is a bit of a diatribe against me.
I have written this response to Sangharakshita’s memoir in order to correct some of his incorrect or untrue statements. I will preface my responses with “MD”, and Sangharakshita’s original text with “SR”. For ease of reference, I will also number my responses; MD 1, MD 2, etc. The main part of my response is in the section headed “Main section“, which begins with my comment MD 8, about 1/4 of the way through this response.
The other parts of my response cover relatively minor details, which probably won’t be of much interest to most people. I only respond to these points in order to correct the record. There are also various other minor errors or misrepresentations in Sangharakshita’s memoir which I haven’t bothered to respond to.
Triratna introduced Sangharakshita’s memoir with the following two sentences, and then Sangharakshita’s memoir begins:
Sangharakshita dictated the following memoir over eight nights in February 2017. A digest of any comments will be communicated to him and he has said he may be able to respond.
A prefatory note
The present narrative covers the years 1973 -1976. In it I do not describe all the things I did during that period but only those in which Mark was also involved. In other words the article is essentially the story of my relationship with him during that time rather than a complete slice of autobiography. For the last twenty years or more Mark Dunlop has been circulating an account of our relationship that is not only untrue but a horrible distortion of the facts and I feel that the time has come to give my account of what happened between us.
Signed: Sangharakshita, Wednesday, 22nd February 2017.
It is rather strange that, in his memoir, Sangharakshita doesn’t appear to actually specify which facts he considers I have horribly distorted, nor what he considers untrue in my account of our “relationship”, as he terms it. One might think he would wish to correct whatever particular facts he considers that I have horribly distorted, and to point out what he considers untrue in my account.
In 1973 the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order or FWBO had been in existence for six years. I therefore decided that it was high time I took a sabbatical. It was not that I was tired of giving lectures or teaching meditation or leading retreats, but rather that I felt the need to give expression to my deeper creative energies. In particular I wanted to continue the memoirs that I had started writing in India, in Kalimpong, ten or more years ago. With me on my sabbatical was Mark Dunlop, who at the time had a need similar to mine. He had started building a dinghy, and he felt that if he devoted himself to the project for a few months he would be able to complete it. Fond of sailing as he was, he had long wanted to build his own dinghy and welcomed the opportunity of keeping me company on my sabbatical.
I had already built a couple of boats by that time, which is how I learned the carpentry skills which had enabled me to get a job in that field (see below). And I didn’t feel any particular need for a sabbatical as such; it was rather that Sangharakshita persuaded me that I had a valuable opportunity to follow the spiritual life full-time, under his tutelage.
I was not interested in sailing but he had once persuaded me to join him on a short excursion from Sheerness. He was the skipper, I the crew, pulling on this or that rope or leaning to this or that side of the boat as he directed. He afterwards told me that I had the makings of a good crew-member as I obeyed orders promptly and without question. The day we went out was one of brilliant sunshine and blue skies and I enjoyed myself in a way that I had not done before.
Mark Dunlop was then in his early or middle twenties. Tall, and of medium build, he wore his fair hair long, while his nose was too prominent and his eyes set too close together for him to be thought beautiful. We had probably first met at Pundarika, the FWBO’s centre in Archway, North London, which he had started attending a few weeks earlier. Before long he was visiting me at the flat in Muswell Hill which I shared with Kevin Brooks and Graham Sowter (Siddhiratna). Little by little I heard his story. He was then working as a carpenter, building bank counters, for which considerable skill was required. His father had died when he was sixteen.
My father had died after a long illness (he had multiple sclerosis) in March 1972, when I was 22 (not sixteen). This was about a month before I first attended a meditation class at Pundarika, in April 1972.
and he lived with his mother in Rochester. He was not on good terms with his mother, I learned; they frequently argued and in the heat of the moment he had once thrown a knife at her.
I have never thrown a knife at my mother. We were on reasonably good terms, though sometimes there was some tension between us – I was a young man wanting to leave home and become independent. I would have left home earlier, but my mother relied on me to some extent to help look after my father, for example helping to lift him upstairs to bed in the evenings.
She did not want him to be a carpenter, and she did not want him to have “hippy” friends. She wanted him to be a solicitor and to marry a girl he knew and of whom she strongly approved.
My mother wanted me to go to university, and get a good job, as many mothers do. I cannot remember her expressing any criticism of my friends, some of whom were slightly hippyish. I don’t think she knew many of my friends, they were of a different generation.
I can’t recall my mother ever expressing any wish for me to be a solicitor. I don’t know of any relatives who were in the legal profession, nor did we know any socially, so I am not sure why she would have picked being a solicitor as a desired career for me.
However, there was a bit of a standing joke between us: if I had come up with a particularly ingenious excuse for why I hadn’t been able to tidy my room or whatever, she would retort “You should have been a lawyer!”
I guess I must have mentioned this to Sangharakshita, though I can’t specifically remember having done so. It seems he has built this little story into a garbled and exaggerated account, something he seems to do several times in his memoir.
In other words she wanted him to be true to the upper middle class into which he had been born. She had once told him, so he informed me, that he was related to two dukes and several earls,
More garbled exaggeration. My mother once told me that we were distantly related, on my father’s side, to Lord Strathclyde. Don’t know if this is true or not, I’ve never checked it out. She never said anything about being related to Dukes and Earls. Being related to two Dukes and several Earls would seem to require being related to four or more different families. Not sure how that would work.
A friend mentioned to me that they thought Sangharakshita might have a bit of a chip on his shoulder about his working-class origins. It occurs to me that Triratna might be in some ways a compensatory mechanism – with Triratna, Sangharakshita has succeeded in creating his own alternative class system, a “New Society”, with himself as top dog, at the head of his own self-created “spiritual hierarchy”. He has made himself King in his own little Kingdom.
For more detail about Sangharakshita’s concept of “a spiritual hierarchy based on [claimed] individual attainment of higher levels of consciousness”, see:
and I was therefore not surprised that he should have attended King’s School, a top private school in Rochester.
Before many weeks had passed Mark asked to join our little community to which we all agreed.
I didn’t ask to move into Sangharakshita’s flat (or to ‘join our little community’, as he puts it), Sangharakshita invited me to move in. At the time, I thought he was extending friendship. With the benefit of hindsight, it seems obvious that he had an ulterior motive – he wanted me available for his own sexual gratification.
The flat had three bedrooms, one of which was occupied by Kevin, one by Graham, and one by me. Who would be the one to share with Mark? Kevin was going through one of his anti-social moods, Graham had a girlfriend who sometimes spent the night with him, so in the end it fell to me to share with Mark. The arrangement worked quite well. During the week Mark lived at the community, and worked as a carpenter nearby, and weekends he spent with his mother in Rochester, hitch-hiking both ways. Perhaps inevitably, Mark and I soon developed a sexual relationship,
The following section is the main part of my response to Sangharakshita’s diatribe.
“Perhaps inevitably”, a 22 year old heterosexual man and a 47 year old homosexual man “soon developed a sexual relationship”. Yeah, sure. Sangharakshita is being highly disingenuous here. He knows perfectly well that he had to spend quite a lot of time overcoming my unwillingness, by using pseudo-Buddhist teaching to persuade me that I needed to break through my aversion to homosexual sex in order to grow spiritually.
At that time, I regarded Sangharakshita as a bona fide spiritual teacher. Part of his teaching was that I was spiritually unaware, and my behaviour and outlook, and indeed my sexual orientation, were largely the result of unconscious conditioning. I needed to break through this unconscious conditioning, if I was to make spiritual progress.
- “spiritual life begins with awareness, when one becomes aware that one is unaware, or when one wakes up to the fact that one is asleep”
– Sangharakshita, ‘Mind – Reactive and Creative’, page 8, pub. FWBO 1971.
- Breaking through conditioning:”We are psychologically conditioned by our race, by our class and by the work that we do … by the social and economic system of which we are a part and by the religion into which we are born or in which we have been brought up. All this goes to show we are just a mass of psychological conditioning: a class conditioning, plus an economic conditioning, plus a religious conditioning, plus a national conditioning, plus a linguistic conditioning. There is very little, in fact, that is really ours, really our own … that is really, in a word, us. … For the most part we are no better than Pavlov’s dogs … We may say that, really and truly, we are machines rather than human beings. So we have to break through all these conditionings, we have to shatter, to smash, our own mechanicalness, otherwise there is no Buddhahood – not even, in fact, any real spiritual life.”
– Sangharakshita, Mitrata 10: “Breaking Through into Buddhahood”, p. 7-8, pub FWBO 1976, based on a 1969 lecture. (Mitrata is a magazine for Triratna mitras or students.)
- “Bodhi [awakening]….consists in taking a very deep, clear, profound look into oneself, and seeing how, on all the different levels of one’s being, one is conditioned, governed by the reactive mind, reacting mechanically, automatically, on account of past psychological conditionings of which only too often one is largely unconscious.”
– Sangharakshita, Mitrata Omnibus, page 38, pub. FWBO (Windhorse publications) 1980
The above teachings about psychological conditioning, are a twisted version of the traditional Buddhist teaching of Paticca-samuppada, or Dependent Origination, which is sometimes translated in Triratna as “Conditioned Co-production”.
This kind of teaching, outlined in quotes 2 and 3 above, that we have to break through our conditionings in order to live a spiritual life, even though we may often be largely unconscious of those conditionings, gives considerable power to a teacher who claims to be able to provide guidance in identifying and breaking through those conditionings, if that teacher and his claims are given any credibility by a student or disciple. The teacher can then potentially abuse that power.
At the time, I regarded Sangharakshita as a spiritual teacher, and so I took his teachings fairly seriously, or at least gave them the benefit of the doubt. It is unclear if Sangharakshita has ever applied these teachings to himself.
In addition to the above teachings, Sangharakshita also told me that the Kinsey report had shown that men were in general bi-sexual, and that in the case of someone like me who was not aware of his bi-sexual nature, the homosexual element might be around 20%. He suggested the reason I was not aware of my bi-sexual nature was social and parental conditioning: specifically, the fear of disapproval of homosexuality by parents and peer group, which had led me to suppress or repress homosexual urges into my unconscious mind.
Sangharakshita went on to say that repressing homosexual urges (or indeed any other aspects of my personality) into my unconscious mind would result in psychological conflict and blocked energy.
I have given a fuller account of Sangharakshita’s sexual attentions in my account of my involvement with Sangharakshita and the FWBO, so I won’t repeat them here. Suffice to say, I hated it, and never became even slightly aroused. I never did break through my supposed anti-homosexual conditioning, or even slightly weaken it.
Although I don’t have any direct documentary evidence for those teachings on Kinsey and on overcoming anti-homosexual conditioning, there are some similar teachings in FWBO publications, for example:
They [Western men] must break down their fear of homosexuality, by facing it and by not being afraid of sexual contact with other men.
– Sangharakshita: The “fear of homosexuality” double bind
The real beauty of a sexual relationship between an Order Member and a Mitra is that if the OM is sufficiently mature then the other person stands to gain considerably from the experience. This was the basis for the famed Greek model of love between the older man and the younger one which served that society so well for so long.
– Jayamati (John Roche), August 1998, pages 58-59 in FWBOís order magazine, Shabda
The main harm in my life subsequently was caused not so much by Sangharakshita’s sexual abuse as such, but rather by the sense of guilt and personal inadequacy engendered by his teachings.
His teaching led me to feel guilty about being heterosexual and not even slightly bisexual. Over the next few years, I was completely unable to change my sexual orientation, or to break through my supposed anti-homosexual conditioning. I was also unable to make any kind of spiritual progress (or at least any any kind of spiritual progress as defined by Sangharakshita), or to become even slightly aware of whatever it was that I was supposedly unaware of. As a result, over time, I gradually lost virtually all confidence in my own judgement, and ended up feeling that I was a worthless and almost sub-human type of person, because of my inability to make any kind of (Sangharakshita-style) spiritual progress.
I did tell Sangharakshita at fairly frequent intervals that I didn’t think I was bisexual, and that I hadn’t been able to break through my conditioning, or even to develop any actual insight into my conditioning. However, he was able to persuade me not to give up trying to break through my alleged anti-homosexual conditioning (or rather, allowing him to “help” me break through my conditioning).
Some of the arguments Sangharakshita used to persuade me not to give up included saying that the Buddha had taken many lifetimes to become enlightened, and so it was unreasonable for me to expect to make significant breakthroughs in just a few months, or even in just a few years.
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 not appear to have had any effect, actually they were preparing the ground for that final twentieth blow. 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.
I don’t know if there actually is a Buddhist story about the rock that was split open by the twentieth blow, the only sources I have been able to find are Triratna sources. There is a similar saying attributed to the Danish-American journalist Jacob Riis (1849 – 1914), except he said it was the hundred and first blow that split the rock.
Perhaps most commonly, Sangharakshita would get his way when I demurred, 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).
In an article titled “Introducing the Adhisthana Kula”, posted on the Triratna website by Ratnadharini on Tue, 28 February, 2017
it states (in part):
… we would like to take this opportunity to make it clear that the following ideas form no part of Triratna teaching today:
that sex is an aid to kalyana mitrata (spiritual friendship) …
That seems like a tacit admission that the idea that sex is an aid to kalyana mitrata (spiritual friendship) did form part of Triratna teaching in the past. If it was never part of Triratna teaching, presumably the article would say so, rather than merely saying it is not part of Triratna teaching today.
Other arguments that Sangharakshita used to persuade me not to give up trying to break through my alleged anti-homosexual conditioning (or in other words, that he used to persuade me not to resist his sexual attentions) included saying that the spiritual life was difficult, that real change was difficult, that established habits were resistant to change, and the “old self” would inevitably feel threatened by the development of a new, more spiritually aware self. He would urge me not to give way to the “gravitational pull of the lower evolution”, and he several times reminded me of the Buddha’s final words, “with mindfulness, strive on”.
It wasn’t until spring 1986, some 14 years later, that I began to see through Sangharakshita’s distortions of traditional Buddhist teaching. Subsequently, I felt compelled to speak out about this, partly in order to try and warn others, but was met with hostility and disbelief from order members. The degree of hostility and disbelief was quite a shock to me, given that Triratna members supposedly follow ethical guidelines and strive to develop greater awareness, compassion and wisdom.
In my experience between 1972 and 2017, there has been a complete absence of any kind of safeguarding procedures within the FWBO/Triratna, even though recently they have been forced into presenting some semblance of safeguarding, due to recent complaints and external publicity. It is unclear how much, if any, substance there is to these supposed new safeguarding procedures; in practice, they appear to be confidential, not to say secret.
END OF Main section
and this led to our taking more seriously the idea of our having a joint sabbatical. But where were we to have it? I had recently acquired a second-hand transit van, which Graham drove, and after scouring the cottages-to-let columns of various magazines Mark and I set out in search of cheap accommodation in an attractive and peaceful location. In the course of a few weeks our search took us to the outskirts of London, to Norfolk, and to the Isle of Wight, in most of which we saw some suitable places and met some interesting people. Unfortunately they had one thing in common. They were much too expensive, and we soon realized we would have to look farther afield.
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.
It was during this period, I think, that Mark took me to see his mother. Despite his expostulations she refused to meet me.
This is untrue. My mother did not refuse to meet Sangharakshita. She was perfectly polite, though I think a little wary of Sangharakshita. We all had a cup of tea, together with a friend of my mother’s visiting from Ireland, and stayed for about an hour.
In her eyes I was one of the “hippy” friends who were leading her son astray. Mark had deposited me in the lounge and I could hear their angry voices in the kitchen. Looking through the open door I could see on the dining-room wall a portrait of Mark’s mother, painted when she was of about the same age as Mark was now. I was greatly struck by the resemblance between them. She had th same long, yellow hair and much the same features. On another occasion he took me there when she was away.
I can’t recall ever taking Sangharakshita to my mother’s house when she was away.
As though to spite her he installed me in her room for the night.
This never happened, it is Sangharakshita’s fantasy. Quite why he should have come up with this particular fantasy, of me installing him in my mother’s room for the night, is unclear. Perhaps a Freudian analyst could shed some light on this.
Sangharakshita does seem to have a bit of a thing about my mother, he mentions her quite a lot in his memoir.
It was also to spite her that, on another occasion when she was away, he had invited the girl of whom she approved to spend the night with him. They had sex in his mother’s bed, he told me with much satisfaction, and in the morning he had arranged the bedclothes in such a way that she would know what had happened. This quite shocked me, revealing as it did the bitterness of his resentment towards his mother.
This never happened, it is another garbled and exaggerated account by Sangharakshita.
There was an incident in the summer of 1970 or 71, when my father went into hospital for a couple of weeks of respite care, to give my mother a break. She went off to visit her sister in Canada, and left me in charge of the house. So I invited a few friends round (Padmapani was one such friend). It wasn’t quite one long party, but not far off.
I asked people not to use my mother’s bedroom, but unfortunately some people did. I tried to tidy her bed as best as I could, but on her return from Canada, she realised that her bed had been used. She wasn’t very pleased about this.
I suppose I must have told Sangharakshita about this incident, though again I can’t specifically remember having done so. But he seems to have changed and twisted the story, in order to try and portray me as a mean-spirited type of person. What he says about my attitude towards my mother is completely untrue.
Having realized that we would have to look farther afield for our sabbatical cottage Mark and I turned our eyes towards the West Country. A friend of mine called Mike (Abhaya) had recently moved to Millbrook, a village in the south-east corner of Cornwall, and we decided to go and see him. In Cornwall, we had heard, there were cliff-side chalets to let and Mike might know of one that was both suitable and cheap. The drive down to Cornwall took several hours and I have vague memories of a stretch of coastal road that commanded wonderful views of the English Channel. A less pleasant memory related to Mark. Two-thirds of the way through our journey we turned into a field for a break. Half an hour later when we tried to leave we found we were stuck in the mud. Despite Mark’s repeated reversings the vehicle remained obstinately stuck
The next few sentences are completely untrue.
and Mark became increasingly irritated. In the end he quite lost his temper. It was due to me that he was in such a fix, he raged. He wished he had never met me, and jumping down from the driver’s seat he set off through the gate of the field and back down the road from which we had come. I remained where I was, reflecting on what had happened. The incident had given me a glimpse of a side of Mark’s character that I had not seen before. Half an hour later Mark reappeared and we managed to manhandle the reluctant vehicle out of the mud and onto firm ground.
Sangharakshita is again twisting things in order to try and denigrate my character. I didn’t lose my temper, or disappear off for half an hour. Actually the farmer came and pulled us out of the field with his tractor. He was a little grumpy about having to do this.
Millbrook was a small place, and we had no difficulty in finding the house where Mike was living with his wife and two small children. He did not know of a chalet that would suit us, he said, but he had a friend who might be able to help. This friend lived up on the cliff, in one of the larger chalets, and accordingly the three of us went to see him. On our entering the chalet, “Why have you brought that man here?” the man demanded of Mike. The latter was taken aback by this unexpected outburst and cried, almost in tears, “I want the two of you to be friends.” The man was the leader of a small Zen group that met in his chalet. Mike had told him about me and the FWBO and it was clear he did not welcome competition and felt threatened by my appearance on the scene. Fortunately one of the people with him was Malini, and she offered to show us her own chalet which was situated farther along the cliff and which she had occupied for only a few weeks. It could hardly have been smaller, consisting as it did of two tiny rooms, one of them having a picture window from which there were fine views along the coast and out to sea. Malini must have sensed that I liked the place even though we were looking for something a little more spacious, for without warning she said, “You can have it if you want. I can live somewhere else.” After the rude welcome I had received earlier I greatly appreciated her kindness and I thankfully accepted her offer.
This was in early summer 1973.
For the next six months Mark and I followed a regular yet flexible routine. Our day began at five or six when we rose and meditated, doing either the Mindfulness of Breathing or the Metta Bhavana. When we did the latter I often had the experience of Order members sitting round me in a circle also doing the Metta Bhavana. After a quick breakfast Mark spent the rest of the day working on his partly finished dinghy, which we had transported all the way from London on top of the van, while I sat indoors working on my memoirs. I took up the story from where I had left off, which was when my friend Satyapriya (Buddharakshita) and I were living at the haunted ashram in Kerala, South India. As the days and the weeks passed I wrote about how Satyapriya and I had travelled from Muvattupuzha to Kanhangad, from Kanhangad to Tiruvannamalai, from Tiruvannamalai to Bangalore, from Bangalore to Bombay (Mumbai), from Bombay to Benares (Varanasi), and Benares to Kusinara where we were ordained as samaneras or novice monks. From Kusinara we crossed the border into Nepal to Tansen and from Tansen we made our way back to Benares. Here my friend and I parted company, he going south to Ceylon (Sri Lanka), while I remained in Benares with Jagdish Kashyap, who the following year, 1950, took me up to Kalimpong, in the foothills of the Eastern Himalayas. Here he left me saying, “You stay here and work for the good of Buddhism.”
It now all seemed like a dream, but it had happened to me, the writer. I emerged from the dream to prepare our meals, or to walk down to Millbrook to see Mike and to collect the bundles of mail which Buddhadasa had redirected. In the evenings we either read or talked and Mark once told me that at the age of 17 he had been seduced by a master at King’s School.
Pure invention from Sangharakshita. I was never seduced by, or had any kind of sexual interaction with a master (= teacher) at school, nor did I ever tell Sangharakshita that I had.
He seemed to regard the incident as a sort of joke and perhaps he looked on his and our own sexual connection in the same light.
Perhaps Sangharakshita may have “looked on his and our own [one-way] sexual connection” as a sort of joke, but it was pretty unpleasant for me. I only acceded because Sangharakshita persuaded me, as his disciple, that overcoming my anti-homosexual conditioning was a necessary part of the spiritual path I was supposedly following.
Every two or three weeks we drove into Plymouth, where we changed our books at the public library and bought our provisions at a supermarket, occasionally treating ourselves to a bottle of red wine. In a cheese-aisle I once saw a woman gazing at a wedge of cheese with an expression of reptilian greed. Suddenly her hand shot out and grasped the cheese as though she was a lizard or a snake. For some reason or another the action affected me strangely and I remembered similar experiences when I was living with Kevin and Graham in Muswell Hill. For two or three weeks I had felt a great repulsion when I entered a supermarket or a delicatessen so that for a while Graham had had to do the community shopping.
In order to know another person really well one needs to have lived with them, at least for a while. I had found this to be true in connection with Kevin and Graham and was finding it to be true with regard to Mark. Even before we moved into the chalet I was well aware that my friend was very conscious of his superior social standing, particularly in relation to me, for we were often together and he had many opportunities of observing what he considered to be my working class lapses from good manners and good taste. According to him, I spoke much too loudly in public places such as cafÈs and restaurants, and on such occasions he would whisper, “Don’t talk so loudly. People are looking at us.”
I have no recollection of any such incidents. I don’t recall Sangharakshita ever talking loudly. Perhaps other people who know Sangharakshita have experienced him talking loudly, I don’t know.
At such times he himself would speak in a kind of confidential whisper. I was also aware that he was capable of losing his temper, and of behaving despicably, as he had done with regard to his mother. Culturally, we had little in common, though Mark professed to admire the poetry of John Donne, which I also did, though I cannot remember him ever quoting the poet.
I had first become aware of John Donne when the guitarist John Renbourn had covered one of his poems in 1965 or so. I had been looking for the well-known work of Donne’s which begins “No man is an island …” in a book of Donne’s poetry, but had been unable to find it. I asked Sangharakshita, and he said it was not originally a poem, but a sermon. Armed with that knowledge, I was then able to find it.
All this is not to say that I saw only Mark’s faults. He was a hard worker as every day bore witness, and in the evening he could be quite good company, especially if there was a bottle of wine between us. Probably his biggest fault, which many people might consider quite a minor one, was his habit of nagging. I had by now got used to this but one morning he kept on nagging to such an extent that I became thoroughly fed up and walked out on him.
Leaving the chalet behind me I walked along the clifftop road towards the west. It was a fine day, and as I walked my spirits rose and I experienced a wonderful sense of liberation. On and on I walked until I had covered twenty miles and found myself in Looe. Here I did not exactly have second thoughts but realizing that I could not go on walking indefinitely I telephoned the owner of the little convenience store near our chalet and asked him to ask my long-haired friend to come and get me. This Mark did, and for a few days there was no nagging.
Again, I have no recollection of any such incident. Sangharakshita doesn’t say what I allegedly nagged him about. It seems rather implausible that I would nag someone who I regarded at the time as a spiritual teacher.
If, as Sangharakshita claims, I was capable of behaving despicably, was in the habit of nagging him, and culturally had little in common with him, then why did he spend so much time with me? And why did he ordain me, if my character was as questionable as he makes out?
Strictly speaking a sabbatical lasts for a year but by August I had been away for six months and considered this to be long enough. Mark was still working on his dinghy but I had completed my memoirs and was in correspondence about publication with a London publisher. I therefore decided to celebrate the event by holding a seminar for a few Order members. The seminar would be held on a patch of ground near the top of the cliff, it would be under canvas, and the Buddhist text studied would be the Udana, or “Verses of Uplift”. The seminar was a memorable one, and was made all the more intense by our being crowded together in a small tent. Discussion must have ranged far and wide, and many questions were raised, but there is only one question that I still remember. I remember it because, in a way, it shocked me. The question was, what can we change within the FWBO? It shocked me to think that although the FWBO was only seven years old, one Order member at least, was already thinking in terms of changing things. I replied everything can be changed except the going for refuge.
By this I did not mean to say that literally everything could be changed except the going for refuge but that the going for refuge was the fundamental principle of the FWBO, from which all its doctrines and methods were directly or indirectly derived.
Our sabbatical being over, Mark and I moved from Cornwall to Norfolk where for 10 days I held a study retreat for nine people, four of the Order members who were present on that occasion being still with us. The retreat was held at the Old Rectory, also know as “Abhirati”, the home of Mary Rawnsley (Sulochana) and her five sons. Our study text was the Marion Matics version of the Bodhicaryavatara or “Entering the Path of Enlightenment”, which was to become a popular text within the FWBO. Mark and I stayed at Cokesford Cottage, which I had rented from a friend of Sulocana’s. Every morning I set out for Abhirati with a keen sense of anticipation. It was now winter and sometimes the weather was so bad that Mark had to leave his workbench and ferry me from our isolated cottage through the snow to my destination.
Though the FWBO had been in existence for only seven years it had already spread beyond London. Indeed, it had started to spread to other parts of the world. There was a small FWBO Centre in Auckland, New Zealand, which I had already visited. In 1974 I decided to pay another visit, and this time I was accompanied by Mark. We spent several weeks in the “Land of the Long White Cloud”, and in the course of the visit I gave public talks, taught meditation, and ordained a number of people, one of them being Mark, who before we had been long in the country had asked to be ordained. Thus Mark became Vajrakumara or “Diamond Youth”. When not on retreat the pair of us were accommodated at a yoga and Vedanta centre located fairly deep in the bush, and I have two memories associated with our stay there. One of them was Vajrakumara telling me that he “liked sex just to happen”, by which he meant without a lot of discussion.
Yet again, I have no recollection of saying any such thing, it seems like pure wishful thinking on Sangharakshita’s part.
He had to spend quite a lot of time using various pseudo-Buddhist arguments in order to persuade me not to give up trying to break through my alleged anti-homosexual conditioning, by letting him use me for his own sexual gratification, as described earlier. So I guess Sangharakshita must have often wished that I would have “liked sex just to happen”, without a lot of discussion. In other words, without encumbering him with the necessity for a prelude of lengthy doctrinal discussions, before he could get his way.
The other memory was of a quite different nature. One day I set out to explore the adjacent bush and before long came upon a small pond that was entirely surrounded by dense vegetation. On the edge of the pond there stood together a duck and a drake. As I looked everything seemed to change. The pond and its surroundings were the Garden of Eden and the two small birds were Adam and Eve.
Ever since my return to England in 1967 I had lived in a variety of rented rooms, flats, and cottages, the latest being the chalet and Cokesford Cottage, and I had often felt the need for a place of my own. It was at this time that Buddhadasa gave to me what was then a large sum of money, and with the money I bought a cottage on the outskirts of the tiny Norfolk village of Castle Acre, so called because it was situated beside the ruins of a medieval castle. “Albermar”, as the cottage was called, was the last in the row and abutted the road. There were four rooms one of which became my study-library, one my sitting room, and one my bedroom. There was an outside toilet which occupied a corner of the little front garden. Before long I had settled in and was devoting myself to meditating, literary work, and correspondence besides doing my own cooking and shopping. Every few days I would walk to the other end of the village thence down a tree-shaded lane to a peaceful, slowly moving river where I saw many fish and the occasional otter. Crossing the little bridge, I would soon find myself among the quite extensive ruins of the Castle Acre Priory. Naturally I had visitors, among them being Devamitra, Ratnapani, and Sona. Vajrakumara was then living and working in London, but he spent every other weekend with me, sometimes being so tired that he slept the clock round.
Sangharakshita’s memory is a little muddled here. We moved together to Albemar (as I remember the spelling) in Castle Acre, in about mid-1974, and I lived there full-time with him until we went to New Zealand together, (along with Asvajit, if I recall correctly) in the winter of 1974-5 (summer there). We returned to Albemar in spring 1975.
My mother became ill during the summer of 1975. I spent some time in Rochester during the summer looking after her, and later visiting her in hospital. She died in October 1975.
During the winter of 1975-6, I worked in London for about 6 months at the Old Fire Station in Bethnal Green, helping to convert the building into what was later to become Sukhavati and The London Buddhist Centre. I remember sharing a room there with Subhuti and Ratnapani, for part of this time at least.
It was an idyllic existence and I might well have been living at “Albermar” to this day had not the even tenor of my days been interrupted after a few months by an event that was to effect the whole future course of my life: Vajrakumara’s mother died and my friend came into a substantial inheritance.
Vajrakumara did not mourn his mother unduly. “Poor old Mum” was all he ever said.
I did my best to suppress my feelings of sadness about my mother’s illness and death, believing those feelings to be conditioned and based on attachment, and therefore unspiritual and un-Buddhistic. I cannot recall Sangharakshita ever expressing any concern or sympathy about my mother.
Indeed, he seemed pleased rather than otherwise.
I have no idea why Sangharakshita seems to think that I was pleased about my mother’s death. I can only guess that he sees his comment as a further opportunity to denigrate my character.
His mother had not allowed him to know anything about the family finances, but now he had his own bank account and his own cheque book and he walked about wearing a little smile of satisfaction.
My mother had always been fairly open about the family finances, which were somewhat restricted, relying primarily on my father’s naval invalidity pension. She was keen for me to understand the value of money. I already had a personal bank account for some time before my mother’s illness.
One day, shortly after he had sold the family home, he told me that he wanted to set up a Buddhist men’s community. I was delighted to hear this, and offered the project my support.
Sangharakshita had long been keen that the FWBO should acquire a country retreat centre, it was his idea. When we lived in Castle Acre, Ratnapani and Devamitra lived in the nearby village of Great Massingham. Ratnapani and I spent some time together in 1974 looking round Norfolk for a possible country centre.
At that time, there were quite a number of unused and dilapidated old Rectories and similar small country houses dotted around the countryside. This was just after the oil price crisis of the early 1970s, when such properties were often regarded as white elephants, because of the cost of heating and maintaining them. It wasn’t until the mid 1980s that such properties started to become desirable yuppie lifestyle residences.
Anyway, in 1974 Ratnapani and I hoped to find a rundown property available on a rent and repair lease at a “peppercorn rent”. The somewhat optimistic idea was that we would combine running FWBO retreats and doing building work to renovate the property. While we viewed a number of such properties, none were quite suitable. Somewhere I have a letter from Ratnapani, written I think in summer 1975 when I was looking after my mother in Rochester, in which Ratnapani says (from memory) “Bhante keeps asking how our country centre search is going. Hah!”
At the same time, I told him frankly that I did not want to be involved in the search for a property. He would have to search for it by himself. This he was happy to do, and after a few months he had a property for me to view. This was Lesingham House, later known as Padmaloka, a substantial property on the outskirts of the village of Surlingham, seven or eight miles from Norwich. Basically, it was a gentrified farmhouse, with outbuildings and a large thatched barn that could be developed. I liked the look of the place even though I saw it from the adjacent road through the mist of a bleak January evening. Vajrakumara therefore entered into negotiations with the owner, a lecturer at the University of East Anglia, and before long the purchase price was agreed upon. At this point an obstacle arose. Vajrakumara found he did not have quite enough money to buy the place himself and he therefore proposed that I sell “Albermar”, add my money to his and own Lesingham House jointly with him. After consulting Buddhadasa, now living in Australia, I agreed to my friend’s proposal and the deal was done. Though sorry to leave “Albermar”, I thought it would be a great pity to lose the opportunity of setting up a Buddhist men’s community in Norfolk. Thus in August 1976 Vajrakumara, Ratnapani, and I moved in. That night Vajrakumara told me, without preamble that he wanted to end our sexual relationship. I was not surprised by his abruptness. If he “liked sex just to happen” it was only natural that he should also like sex just to stop. For my part, I had not been getting quite as much out of that side of our relationship as I had expected, and perhaps Vajrakumara felt the same.
I had been trying to break through my alleged anti-homosexual conditioning for the previous four years, but with zero success. As Sangharakshita’s disciple, I felt I had given it a good go by that time, by allowing him to help me, as he claimed, by using me for his own sexual gratification, but this hadn’t resulted in any kind of breakthrough for me. So I decided there was no point in continuing with a practice which had not been beneficial in any way, or at least, not for me. Additionally, I wanted to devote myself to helping set up Padmaloka as a retreat centre, which entailed quite a lot of work.
As usual, Sangharakshita did his best to persuade me not to give up trying to break through my alleged anti-homosexual conditioning, but this time he did not succeed.
Incidentally, I have been told that some Order members have described me as a “jilted gay ex-lover” of Sangharakshita, and suggested that was why I had been critical of his teachings and behaviour. Apart from the fact that I am not gay (or bisexual), Sangharakshita’s statement above, that “That night Vajrakumara told me, without preamble that he wanted to end our sexual relationship”, indicates that I wasn’t jilted either.
In the course of the following month the three of us were joined by a number of other men, whether Order members or men interested in studying the Dharma or exploring community life. They were in fact a varied bunch. There were also those who came because I was living at Padmaloka and who wanted to study with me or simply to be with me. No one came on account of Vajrakumara, who in any case had few friends. This eventually led to a kind of division, with Vajrakumara on one side and the greater part of the community on the other and with me somehow in between and in communication with both. The situation was not helped by the fact that Vajrakumara tended to relate to the others “de haut en bas”* which did not endear him to them. After some years of strained relations between them Vajrakumara left Padmaloka for Norwich, where he attended art school for two years, the community paying him a monthly sum by way of rent.
We moved into Padmaloka in July 1976, and I moved into Norwich in about July 1978. Over that two years (plus the previous four), not only had I failed to break through my alleged anti-homosexual conditioning, but I had failed to make any kind of spiritual progress (or at least any kind of spiritual progress as defined by Sangharakshita), so far as I could see.
So I felt it was time to try a new tack. Padmaloka was reasonably well established and running under its own steam by then, so I felt I had discharged my responsibilities in that respect.
Shortly before first becoming involved with the FWBO in April 1972, I had gained a place at art college in Brighton starting September 1972, but Sangharakshita had persuaded me not to take it up. So in about July 1978, I decided to once again apply to art college, and moved into Norwich and started building up a portfolio of work.
There was a “gentleman’s agreement” between the charity 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. Somewhere, I have a letter from Subhuti confirming this.
But in order to get settled in Norwich, I charged FWBO (Surlingham) rent for about two months I think, which allowed me to get a flat in Norwich. I then got a part-time job working at an FWBO-run restaurant in Norwich, which enabled me to become self-sufficient, so that I no longer needed to rely on rent from FWBO (Surlingham). Apart from that rent for approximately two months, I have never charged FWBO (Surlingham) rent, or derived any other income from them.
I moved back to Padmaloka in July 1983, and lived there for approximately another two and a half years, until December 1985. At some point during that time, FWBO (Surlingham) repaid me a small sum of money which they owed me. An order member named K was treasurer at that time, and I happened to notice he had entered this small sum of money in a column titled “rent”. I asked him why he had done that, and he replied that there wasn’t enough room in the accounts book to create a separate column for that small sum.
Some years subsequently, I heard that K had been accused of embezzling some £18,000 from the charity FWBO (Surlingham). It occurs to me that one way that money might have been embezzled, would have been to enter sums supposedly paid to me as rent, and then to embezzle those sums. This would have to have been done in cash, in order to be difficult to trace. I don’t know if this actually happened, but it occurs to me as a possibility, and it might also explain why Sangharakshita appears to think that the Padmaloka community paid me a monthly sum by way of rent for an extended period.
He and I remained on friendly terms, however, and I remember that on one of my birthdays he came to see me bearing the gift of a large cheese plant. Meanwhile, the community was not only expanding but becoming more organized and it became obvious that it needed to set up the standard FWBO structure of a chairman and other office bearers. Eventually, with the proceeds from its various activities, it was able to buy out Vajrakumara. This did not happen without a certain amount of unpleasantness between the two parties, which was a great pity, considering that without Vajrakumara’s money there would not have been a Padmaloka. He had the money with which to buy a building, but he did not possess the qualities that were needed to create a viable community.
(8 nights from 7th February – 21st February†2017)
*de haut en bas – from high to low
—– Sangharakshita’s memoir ends —–
In his memoir, Sangharakshita offers no hint of apology or remorse for his behaviour towards me. Looking back over my time in the FWBO (now called Triratna), it has been quite a shock to me to realise how cold hearted, devious and manipulative some people can be, even when they are people claiming to practise an ethical and spiritual way of life.
Sangharakshita’s behaviour seems consistent with what I have subsequently learned about the behaviour of narcissists and psychopaths.
The behaviour of some Order members hasn’t been much better. The concerns I have raised about Sangharakshita’s teaching and behaviour have been met with varying degrees of hostility and disbelief from Order members. In the case of senior Order members at least, it seems that protecting the reputation of Sangharakshita and Triratna is their overriding concern.
The Triratna organisation is a multi-million pound business, which would be threatened if Sangharakshita’s reputation were to be damaged. I suspect that some senior Order members are also quite attached to their position in the hierarchy, which confers the associated status of being seen as spiritual guides and mentors, more evolved than ordinary people. This status would also be threatened if Sangharakshita’s reputation were to be damaged.
Finally, I wonder if perhaps some people in the Order are intoxicated with the idea that they are spiritual pioneers, attuned to a higher reality than the mass of ordinary humanity. I suppose this is the central illusion or delusion of all cults.
Mark Dunlop, August 2017
BBC / Guardian (Observer)
- Apology sought over ‘abuse’ at Buddhist retreat – BBC (2016)
- BBC’s “Inside Out East” documentary in which Jo Taylor examines allegations of historic abuse at the Padmaloka Buddhist Retreat Centre // → Watch that documentary on Vimeo (2016)
- Fears mount over scale of Buddhist sect sexual abuse – The Guardian / Observer (2017)
- The dark side of enlightenment – The Guardian
- BBC documentary on YouTube “Going for Refuge“
- A Letter To The College of Public Preceptors By The Aryaloka Spiritual Vitality Council
- Yashomitra’s Shabda Article March 2003
- FWBO / Triratna – Sangharakshita – Cases of Sexual Abuse (on Buddhism Controversy Blog with more than 650 comments, 2016)
- Whitewashing, Dishonesty & Culture of Abuse in the Triratna Buddhist Order (TBO) 2017/02/19
- Triratna Buddhist Community – The Friends of the Western Buddhist Order’s New Disguise by British Buddhism Blogspot
- Resignation letter from 88 Indian FWBO members (1999)
- Ex-FWBO (A great collection of background material, including testimonies)
- Critique of Sangharakshita / Triratna / FWBO by Eisel Mazard (Medium)
- How You Can Support a Victim of Clergy Sexual Misconduct – Lama Miller (Lion’s Roar)
Update July 2018
- Triratna: The Eye of the Storm by Alan J.W. (2018/07/03)
- Buddhist, teacher, predator: dark secrets of the Triratna guru – The Guardian
- Triratna – ‘misbruik en wangedrag nog erger dan gedacht’ – Boeddhistisch Dagblad
- Triratna: Inside the Cuckoo’s Nest by Alan J.W.