By Alan J.W.
Last year (2017) many comments were posted online regarding the controversy surrounding former Order member K, understandably not identified by a full name.
The first part of this post is a memoir-cum-appraisal: it is based on personal observation of K over a lengthy period, and information given to the author (a former veteran Mitra) by members of the Triratna Order – at different times.
The legal situation concerning K is referred to in a single sentence; it is made clear that he was not convicted of any crimes. This clarification is obviously aimed at placating Triratna legal types.
The second part of this article addresses problems arising from the Triratna/FWBO article: Triratna Controversy FAQ.
Then, finally, a critique on Subhuti (a key member of the Triratna leadership) and Sangharakshita’s interpretation of a central concept in one important branch of Buddhism.
So, to shift to a first-person narration …
My intention is to present a more detailed and dispassionate profile of an often maligned individual.
K and I were living in the same community in the late 1970’s, in London. During the period from the spring of 1977 to the summer of 1978, I was often able to observe him on a daily basis: so although I never knew him well, we intermingled during our communal activities.
For the first year of this period (until the spring of 78), I remember him as a hardworking and obviously Triratna/FWBO committed individual – but not too serious in character. There was no suggestion of sexually aggressive behaviour, or any other concerns, about him then. In fact, I clearly remember having no uncertainties about his sexual orientation at this time.
Obviously, even in a tightly knit community there were things going on I may have been unaware of: but I had no sense of anything unpalatable or disturbing about him, and you do pick these things up from people you regularly mix with.
The situation began to change in the spring of 78. It was around April that the community chairman Subhuti, backed by Chintamani and a few other Order members (OMs), began to promote the ‘doctrine’ of ‘Greek Love’: initially at a Friday evening community meeting.
This concept has been outlined elsewhere on the internet, but basically legitimises homosexually based mentoring relationships between older – or more experienced – Triratna/FWBO practitioners and their, usually younger, proteges.
I noticed K’s behaviour changing fairly quickly: he became noticeably sexually assertive. I know this because I had previously been unaware that he was gay; now he made this fact quite emphatic.
I knew that K was a personal friend of Sangharakshita (Sr for short). Evidence for this closeness can be inferred from the fact that he never became a Mitra, prior to his ordination in July/Aug 78. By this date, the intermediate stage of acquiring Mitra-status was a necessity (for at least 6 months or so) before an ordination request could be seriously considered – for everyone else! So, K had ‘special status’ in the FWBO and was exempt from this mandatory requirement.
K moved to Padmaloka in 1979, or early 1980, after a period (I seem to remember) of working at pre-Vajraloka in Wales; his alleged ‘assault’ on Yashomitra occurring a few months later.
By an extraordinary coincidence he was ordained at the same time as Yuvarj aka Maurice. I have written about this former OM (referred to as M) in another article.
This is a compelling example of what the great psychologist Carl Jung called Synchronicity: an intriguing or meaningful coincidence. Yuvaraj was, a little earlier, a victim of sexually predatory behaviour; K allegedly one of its future perpetrators.
The profundity of this synchronicity is magnified by the fact that it occurred just after the commencement of the ‘Greek Love’ secret doctrine. So, this was indeed a watershed in Triratna/FWBO history!
Both Maurice and K resigned from the Order in later years: respectively 1987 and circa 2005. They were affected in very different ways by the secret ‘Greek Love’ fiasco, due to their dissimilar sexual orientation.
It is obvious that K became closer to his teacher during his residency at Padmaloka: where Sr lived throughout the 1980’s.
This suggests, by common sense, that K was far more exposed to Sr’s sexual brand of ‘spiritual friendship’ at this time. This is, of course, the period when K’s sexual behaviour seems, according to several accounts I have read, to have spiralled almost out of control.
He was, allegedly, charged with offences against minor[s] by Norfolk police in 2015 – but not convicted in a court of law.
Bearing in mind everything I have written, it seems reasonable to conjecture that K’s innate sexually assertive nature was ‘stimulated’ by his teacher, and close friend, Sr.
Although I was unaware of this at the time, the exposition and promotion of ‘Greek Love’ by Subhuti and others had been done at the behest of Sr: thus K was inevitably encouraged by this emerging trend, both indirectly in London from the spring of 78 onwards, and later at Padmaloka – much more directly.
Consequently, it is my contention that Sr, and by association Subhuti and other senior OMs, bear a great deal of responsibility for K’s alleged sexual impropriety from the late 70’s onwards; especially remembering his close friendship with Sr.
At the time that I finally left the FWBO in 2000, K had been appointed to the role of: global men’s Order convenor. This is probably the most responsible and prestigious job in the Order: requiring its holder to organise Order events, visit many Triratna (then FWBO) affiliated countries, and act as a ‘spiritual friend’ to all male members of the Order.
Bearing in mind K’s alleged sexual conduct, it seems apparent what variant of ‘spiritual friendship’ those who recommended him for this post – including and especially Sr – had in mind!
From Yashomitra’s personal account (posted online circa March 2003) it is clear that his alleged sexual violation by K was discussed between Padmaraja (the Croydon chairman) and Sr, a few weeks after the event. Subhuti, Sr’s closest aide then living at Padmaloka, would have been consulted as a matter of course – for advice.
However, these two individuals, and other Order seniors, felt no qualms about giving K such an important role in Order administration – circa 20 years later! Immediately prior to this unbelievable appointment K had worked as Sr’s personal assistant.
It follows that during the period when K was overall men’s Order convenor, the entire male wing of the Order was at the mercy of an, allegedly, sexually aggressive individual: with the apparent blessings of Sr, Subhuti and other very senior OMs!
This job entailed international travel, and K was discovered to have misappropriated Triratna funds at the end of this period: circa early 2000’s.
All of this strongly suggests that K was given this job, and his previous role of Sr’s personal secretary, because of his close friendship with his teacher. Thus Sr was transparently motivated by personal loyalty and friendship – not sound judgment! This in itself raises serious doubts about Sr’s personal integrity and ability to make objective, unbiased decisions.
I hope this account gives a deeper insight into what I believe led to K’s alleged moral demise.
Part 2, Incidentally …
Last year some of Triratna’s leading figures produced an internet document called: “Triratna Controversy FAQ”, available online here: https://thebuddhistcentre.com/triratna-controversy-faq
This is clearly intended for damage limitation and to provide links to their own, heavily sanitised and bowdlerised, internal literature; not to correct ‘inaccuracies’ allegedly published elsewhere. However, there are a number of spurious or misleading statements in this FAQ.
The most obvious to me was in their assertion that Sr had sexual encounters or ‘relationships’ with 24 or 25 men -–as far as they were aware: Question 17 in their document.
I was given the figure of around 200 victims or partners. This number came from a former OM who had once been close to Sr (NOT Mark D.). This individual was certainly in a position to have known the sheer extent of Sr’s predatory sexual activities: clearly more so than Dharmarati et al!
I note that the author of THE FWBO-FILES has also provided a figure of several 100’s of victims, after consulting two OMs, in an email posted elsewhere online. Even the fawning Vishvapani admitted that the total ran into dozens. Most of these young men were heterosexual, but felt obliged to submit to their teacher’s desires.
The detail made it worse, as some people had always known it would. It wasn’t just a short period of experimentation, it went on for twenty years. It wasn’t just a few lovers, it was dozens of people. And was it really an aspect of friendship, as Sangharakshita had said? Some of the men were very young, even under the legal age of consent, which had been 21, and they hadn’t always felt free to say no. – A Letter to Norman Fisher by Vishvapani, a Triratna senior
So, where did the FAQ’ers get this number of only 24 or 25?
A source within the Order (now I believe resigned) posted a comment on another website, in late 2015, concerning an Order meeting held at: Wymondham College. This was in the aftermath of the publication of Yashomitra’s letter to the Order online (see Part 1 above for more information) in March 2003.
At this meeting attending OMs were asked if they had ever been sexually involved with Sr. The writer stated that, ‘Quite a lot of men said that they had …
I would speculate that the number of OMs who had owned up to sex with their teacher was this figure of 24/25, and that this became the officially accepted figure – agreed upon between Preceptors, Order seniors and FAQ’ers.
In fact, this number only includes OMs present at the above meeting: it excludes those absent, since resigned, deceased or outside the Order – Mitras and Friends. Thus, it is a conveniently much lower total than the 200, or so, I have claimed in another article.
If my supposition is incorrect, then perhaps the FAQ’ers can explain how they arrived at this relatively low figure. It would be unconvincing and highly disingenuous to quote Sr as a source: after all, he allegedly has no memory of having had a sexual relationship with either ex-Yashomitra or former German Mitra B – or so he claims.
With regard to their claim, that in the video taken from their ‘Clear Vision’ website (see question 9 in the Triratna FAQ document) Sr does not herein mention sex between teacher and pupil: readers should watch this section of the video – broadcast by the BBC in September 2016 – themselves, and make up their own minds.
Sangharakshita (Dennis Lingwood), the Triratna founder says (Minute 7:54): “… for me personally, in my own life, there was also quite a lot of experimentation [predatory sexual activity by him]. If I may say, this was for me personally one of the richest, one of the most creative periods in my whole life.” He adds that because of this “creativity” we have the FWBO how it is today, and seems to mourn “perhaps things aren’t so creative now, perhaps things aren’t so inspired now, mhm?” Have I missed something: is this not a reference to sex between a teacher and numerous pupils?
Are the FAQ’ers trying to insult our intelligence, or just hoping we will not bother to check? I suspect the latter.
One question I am certain the FAQ’ers will not give a straightforward answer to is this: why did Sr wear the gold kesa on public occasions when he was involved in sexual relations with at least one “partner”?
Some explanation is required here: the kesa is a type of vestment worn around the neck by members of the Triratna Order; usually white in colour. The gold kesa should only be worn by committed Buddhists who have undertaken to observe the Brahmacharya vow. This vow ALWAYS includes the precept of sexual chastity: celibacy.
In 1984/85 I was present at two public talks given by Sr, and numerous addresses given by him at other events. On all of these occasions he was wearing a gold kesa: this was despite the fact that, during this period, he was involved in a sexual relationship with Prasannasiddhi – now resigned from the Order. We know this from Prasannasiddhi’s own account and Sr’s statement, in an August 2009 interview called “Conversations with Bhante”, that he was involved in a monogamous relationship at this time.
I also observed that he was very close to Prasannasiddhi, during my numerous retreats at Padmaloka from early 1984 to late 1985.
Why would Sr show such indifference, bordering on contempt, for the traditional Buddhist values and ideals he claims to extol?
This is a ‘Frequently unanswered question’ a Mind FUQ!
Final Note …
My original plan was to write a full article on the Triratna FAQ called:
Triratna pulls a fast one
Although I love the title, I felt it would encourage me to introduce a lot of bawdy humour into the text!
Understandably, I feel a responsibility to address this dishonest representation of Sr/Triratna issues with suitable gravity, for the sake of young and vulnerable people. Consequently, I chose to condense my commentary on the FAQ to an assigned Part 2; leaving space, before and after, to deal with other controversies.
I was reminded of another problematic concept in Sr’s mis-representation of Buddhist doctrine several months ago, whilst reading an excellent article by Aparimana: obviously a thoughtful and astute OM. This is the passage that caught my attention:
And then there was the idea of the Bodhicitta arising in a collective context… This had started out as an interesting observation – perhaps, where several people were working together, the Bodhicitta might arise in them all simultaneously. Gradually, over the years, this idea evolved and hardened – first to the point where the Bodhicitta was supposed to be more likely to arise in a collective context than individually, and then eventually, in the seven papers, to the point where we are told that it is meaningless even to consider the arising of insight to be an individual realisation, because it is inherently transpersonal, and so can only fully manifest through a collective.
The Bodhicitta is a concept from the Mahayana: a later branch of the two, still surviving, forms of Buddhism.
Basically, this is an advanced stage in an individual’s spiritual path, when he/she feels a powerful impetus to work for the enlightenment of all sentient beings – even at the expense of postponing their own final liberation. Thus it is compassion at its fullest flowering.
I believe that the notion of a collective Bodhicitta is very dangerous: why?
Because individuals are all different, and respond in different ways and rates to Buddhist practice. Proposing this important stage in the Mahayana as a group event – everyone experiencing the arising of the Bodhicitta almost simultaneously – puts pressure on members of the collective to conjure up a powerful emotion that might be illusionary for them, in reality: a phantom Bodhicitta! This would seriously impair an aspirant’s future spiritual progress.
Moreover, it tends towards a group conformity: everyone ‘singing from the same hymn-sheet’; the same hymn in the same tone – already a detrimental feature of Triratna culture.
There is no uniformity in the way that individuals progress on the Buddhist path: the tendency of Sr, and his aide Subhuti, to see spiritual practice in terms of some kind of uniform linear progression is stifling beyond belief!
In fact, I remember this proposal of a group Bodhicitta being mentioned during the mid-1980’s: often with regard to the tightly controlled and authoritarian regime that existed at Aryatara (the main nucleus of the Croydon centre) at the time: hardly a ringing endorsement for its veracity!
The fact that the Bodhicitta is transpersonal does not mean it must, of necessity, arise as a group illumination – almost simultaneously.
For these reasons, I hope that individual OMs, such as Aparimana, can ‘lobby’ for the discarding of this fallacy; along with the equally dangerous, and non-Buddhist, concept of ‘The higher evolution of man’ (and hopefully women).
I am sure Tenpel could comment on these issues with more authority than I: but I feel compelled to challenge these diversions from the Buddha’s teaching.
Please check out my last article if you have not seen it yet; here:
- Triratna – FWBO: Inside the sect of Sangharakshita by Alan J. W.
© Alan J.W.