Clergy Sexual Abuse & Buddhist Ways of Dealing With Abuse | Triratna’s Whitewashing Terminology

Introduction

During a remarkable member congregation of the German Buddhist Union (DBU) in April 2018 at the Europe Centre of the Diamond Way movement in Immenstadt, Germany, representatives of four organisations involved in the misuse of power or clergy sexual misconduct, Rigpa, Triratna (FWBO), Shambala and Diamond Way, were invited by the DBU council to educate about 60 delegates on how to deal with sexual abuse or the abuse of power. The plight of those being harmed was not put at the centre of the discussion. Instead, representatives of organisations in which abuse happened used the opportunity – either intentionally or unintentionally – to make themselves the centre of attention, while whitewashing the history of their organization, by presenting themselves now as types of experts or even trailblazers of protection from abuse. Neither were testimonies of victims heard nor read, nor were the causes of abuse (e.g. a culture of abuse based on indoctrination) explored, nor were experts on sexualised violence, sexual abuse or structural violence heard. There was no one from within such organisations reflecting openly and critically about his/her own role in institutionalised abuse or the suffering of those who have been harmed by the abuse of power or sexual abuse. During that weekend, the DBU member congregation dealt with topics such as how to deal with right wing populism, islamophobia, racism and sexualised violence among Buddhists, as well as how to deal with critics and with these topics in the public.

After suggesting two Buddhist approaches on how Buddhists could deal with the abuse of power or sexualised violence and what seems to block the application of Buddha’s most fundamental teachings, the second part of this article focuses on one of the speeches given at that DBU member congregation, that of Munisha (Catherine Hopper), its implication and what her presentation actually distorts. The analysis provided in the second part can also serve as a tool to understanding how indoctrination can obstruct the common sense of religious practitioners, how it can blind them totally, or this analysis can serve as a tool to better understand the mechanics of indoctrination as it can be found also in Rigpa and (as it seems) in Shambhala too.

What is Clergy Sexual Misconduct and the Misuse of Power?

For what Clergy Sexual Misconduct or the Misuse of Power is see:

How to Help a Survivor of Abuse?

Survivors of abuse have expressed that emotional support, being taken seriously, someone really listening to them and compassion are the greatest helps at the very start – as well as later in their life.

Therefore, any attention should focus first on the needs of a survivor and based on that, and in accordance with her or his wishes, should offer support accordingly.

For some really good food for thought you can read these articles, by Lama Willa Miller, herself a survivor of abuse in a Buddhist community:

How to Deal with Abuse?

There are legal issues that should or can be announced to the police for investigation. Whether or not a survivor of abuse can do that depends much on the type of abuse, the survivor’s strength, the country’s laws and if there is enough emotional, financial and juridical support. Certain crimes like sexual abuse of minors – especially when actively happening in the present – must be even announced to the police.

However, there is also harmful, unethical and abusive behaviour that cannot easily be dealt with in a legal context, or in the courts, because it happens in a legal gray zone. This is especially true when young women or men over the age of 18 (or over the age of consent) are manipulated into sexual relationships with a spiritual leader while their trust, openness, and spiritual longing or emotional needs are badly and harmfully exploited. While a bishop who holds a public office, a therapist or a school teacher might be legally or institutionally charged and face consequences for abusing the faith of the faithful or his/her position by having sex with an adult under his/her care, New Religious Movements (NRM) benefit from their charity status. NRMs also benefit from a blind tolerance or liberalism of society and legal gray zones resulting from a lack of legislation for such harming misdeeds like sexual abuse, abuse of power etc. This gray zone or lack of legislation is happily embraced by Buddhist groups with unhealthy structures in which the abuse of power, manipulation, even gaslighting, sexual abuse, sexual violence or mere violence occurs.

But ethical issues in Buddhism, or for a Buddhist practitioner, are not restricted to those laid out by secular law. The law might allow you to kill your hare or cat and eat it but if you accept the reasoning and sanity of the Buddha’s teachings on non-violence and not harming others, such actions would be considered unethical. Therefore for us as Buddhists, who claim to follow Buddha – which includes the practice of not harming others, ethics, love and compassion and wisdom – is it right to bypass the harm created by structural violence, sexualised violence, silence, the abuse of power, the abuse of finances, the abuse of faith etc while insisting on the legal realm as the only means to deal with that? I think such an approach is mere hypocrisy or ignorance – ignorance of the pain and long term harm it creates for the victims but also for the perpetrators as well as for the bystanders, the community and other human beings who might be benefitted from Buddha’s teachings but have been put off by such unethical, harmful behaviour.

The Four Noble Truths as a Guideline to Deal With Abuse

He who sees dependent arising sees the Dhamma; he who sees the Dhamma sees dependent arising. — The Buddha, MN 28 If you wonder if there is any Buddhist guideline on how Buddhist community members could deal with the harm inflicted on faithful members by the misuse of power or clergy sexual misconduct or sexualized violence, The Four Noble Truths offer a structural analogy¹ on how to deal with and or how to find healing from abuse:

True Sufferings: Open up and put effort in listening, feeling and understanding the sufferings and needs of survivors of abuse.

True Origin: Understand the many causes and conditions, the complex dependent arising that causes abuse and reflect on your own role in that complex network.

True Cessations: Healing from abuse and a culture that cares and protects from abuse with effective means in place to achieve a greater protection from abuse is possible.

The most basic ethical principle in the yana of individual liberation is nonviolence, the commitment to avoid harming others at all costs.Mingyur Rinpoche
True Paths: After having well understood the inner and outer main causes and contributing factors of abuse find a path that leads out of these unhealthy, damaging dynamics. Such paths – remember, listening to and respecting the wishes of a survivor comes first! – can include many different things like professional help by specialized therapists, specialized lawyers, specialized institutions, or going public via experienced journalists or by writing a testimony or posting a testimony, writing a book, running a blog, contact and exchange with other survivors, self-help forums or groups etc. For the Buddhist communities in which abuse happened the situation can remind us that the Buddha taught the Eightfold Noble Path as the path to end suffering and this path is based on ethics! Very clear, very useful, very protecting ethics! Moreover, “True Paths” in that context could include establishing well thought out professional structures to prevent abuse (e.g. Safeguarding Guidelines, Obudswomen etc.)

Why is it so hard for Buddhists, who propound compassion and love as their main practice, to have compassion and love for survivors of abuse?

Members of organisations faced with (institutionalized) abuse such as Rigpa, Triratna (FWBO) and Shambhala, as well as many followers of Tibetan Buddhism in general, seem to prefer to bypass the sufferings of survivors of abuse.

If they do care at all, they seem to prefer to jump right away to the Cessation Of Suffering by offering a A Path To Cessation for preventing abuse – without having first heard, felt, acknowledged and understood the True Sufferings of the victims of abuse, and without having properly understood the True Causes of such abuse.

I don’t think such an approach can work. First you have to recognize the suffering and then you have to understand its causes. Only after that can you contemplate how the causes can be countered to find a way out of that suffering. Moreover, only after having properly understood the causes of suffering, and exerting effort not to accumulate those causes, is there a realistic hope to an End Of Suffering.

The problem is that facing, acknowledging or feeling the suffering of the victims of sexual abuse or the abuse of power etc., as well as understanding their causes are very much avoided by organizations such as Rigpa & their allies (who speak of “alleged victims”, “accusations” or claim “sex between teacher and student is the basis of our lineage” or “there is no truth, only individual perception”) and Triratna (who use terms such as “experimentation”, “lovers”, “partners”, “sexual revolution” to explain away abuse.)

Facing and acknowledging the sufferings of those harmed won’t be achieved by a “don’t know mind” such as the slogan “Don’t know. Don’t know right. Don’t know wrong.”² as propounded by Pema Chödron when asked about the shadow sides of Chögyam Trungpa in an Tricycle interview in 1993. Basically, this is a call to remain in a state lacking understanding, seemingly advocating ignorance as a way to awakening. But since when has full enlightenment (or “omniscience”) been attained by ignoring the sufferings of others? And what is so courageous or “Dharma Warrior”-like about ignoring and denying the sufferings of those harmed by your own teacher?

The bodhisattva does not follow many Dharmas. The bodhisattva holds one Dharma well and realizes it well. The whole Buddhadharma will be in the hand of that person. What is that Dharma? It is great compassion. — Chenrezig Sutra Well-Condensed Dharma
Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche recently praised Pema Chödron in a Facebook post, linking to this interview from 1993. Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche often speaks of the Buddhist path being about courage, but where does he demonstrate the courage to face the shadow sides of Buddhist masters and the pain these have caused to the faithful? And where is the “groundlessness” or “courage” among Shambhala followers or Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche when it comes to being able to face their own shadow sides and the harm they’ve created? How does bypassing create an “enlightened society”?

It might be worth asking why organisations or Buddhist individuals who base their identity and their spiritual path on the teachings of compassion (Mahayana) are so eager to avoid facing and feeling the pain of those who experienced abuse and harassment. The answer is rather evident: if faithful students were harmed, it follows that idolized and worshipped teachers (e.g. Sogyal Rinpoche, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, Sangharakshita etc.) acted wrongly. If they acted wrongly they cannot be as enlightened or as spiritually advanced as the group narratives and Buddhist institutions and their representatives claim to their followers.

Because an acknowledgement of the imperfections of the teachers would counter the organizational narrative that they are highly evolved beings, instead an act of mental gymnastics is proposed as an alternative explanation: “The victims didn’t understand the actions of these abusive and manipulative teachers as being for their benefit, but misunderstood the wisdom and actions of their teachers.” The victims have “impure perceptions” of what happened to them.

Vajrayana practice is rooted in the ideals of nonviolence and great compassion. There is no Vajrayana without them.Mingyur Rinpoche
Clinging to the view of a (more or less) perfect or enlightened teacher necessitates the counter-narrative that the victims misunderstood the actions of the Guru. Then, that narrative has to be sold by organizationally loyal people who can offer stories of how violence or sex with their teacher helped them to progress spiritually. This sells the leap of logic that teachers such as Sogyal Lakar or Dennis Lingwood etc. were right and justified spiritually in their actions. That the actions were performed for the benefit of students. Those who experienced harm are or were wrong, as they did not understand (had misinterpreted) what the great, somewhat enlightened teachers kindly did to them. Or as bypassed by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche it’s all about obstacles: “Outer, inner and secret obstacles have plagued Buddhists since time immemorial. And among the many Buddhist traditions, paths and methods, the Mahayana and especially the Vajrayana have encountered particularly daunting challenges.” Its not about wrong modes of conduct that harmed others. The masters are just great and the students are just wrong. Is it as simple as that?

Think or imagine how it might feel when your truthful, personal experience of being badly harmed by your teacher is not seen or acknowledged by your Buddhist friends, by other Buddhist teachers, the Sangha community or the perpetrator himself. But instead, the people you have relied on and trusted with your hopes and human life, in order to find a true spiritual path, deny your reality, ignore, even ridicule or defame you.

The Buddha’s Vinaya as a Guideline to Deal With Abuse

Methods to deal with misconduct can be found also in the Vinaya, the monastic code of conduct and the traditional biography of the Buddha.

The Buddha took complaints about the misconduct of his monastic followers seriously. He listened to both sides impartially. He gathered often the monks community and let both accuser and accused speak up while the whole monastic audience together were witnesses, as well as being committed to find out together the facts or “the truth”. The basis of such open, ethical investigations in the monastic community was the Vinaya and the Dharma, a commitment to truthfulness and not secular legal laws (which doesn’t mean legal laws were not taken seriously too.)

There were wrong as well as correct accusations and both had consequences for the wrong accuser or the rightly accused. A fully ordained monk who becomes aware of a major breach of the rules of another fully ordained monk and conceals it commits a breach of the rules himself. The same is true if he wrongly accuses another fully ordained monk. The key point is, there was no secrecy or wrong tolerance in the face of wrong, damaging behaviour. Things were not brushed under the carpet by pseudo-dharmic teachings, gaslighting, manipulations, whitewashing of actions or the history of events. Sadly, the Vinaya and how the Buddha dealt with conflicts in the monastic community, the Sangha, are not much known among the non-monastic followers of Buddhism in the West. It might be worthwhile to strive to acquire more knowledge and understanding about that.

See also

 

Whitewashing Triratna’s / FWBO’s history

At the DBU member congregation at the end of April 2018 in Germany, Munisha, who was invited officially by the DBU council to teach on Safeguarding, introduced herself as a Safeguarding Officer of Triratna, while in fact she spoke more from the perspective of a PR spokesperson of the Triratna Buddhist Order (TBO). She basically whitewashed the history of the TBO, making the audience at one point even laugh about the victims whom she called “partners” or “ex-partners”. The audience laughed when Munisha mentioned the number “1.41” in a powerpoint slide titled “What are the facts?” with the bullet point “After he founded Triratna/FWBO he had 24 partners in 17 years (1.41 per year) 1970s-80s.” The pain of those whose faith and openness, whose spiritual quest has been betrayed must exist in another world – far far away or somewhere in this number “1.41”. Munisha used a language that not only sought to normalise abuse but to deflect the audience’s attention from it.

According to Munisha’s own website, “from 1998 to 2015 she worked for The Clear Vision Trust, a Buddhist charity in Manchester, first as education officer and later as director. Since 2013 she has worked as Communications and Liaison Officer for the Triratna Buddhist Order in Europe.”

It should be obvious that there is a conflict of interest in being the PR person and Safeguarding Officer of Triratna at the same time. Munisha as the Safeguarding Officer of Triratna did not report Yashomitra’s account to the authorities until the BBC documentary was published in 2016 and enough pressure was created from external source to report it. While her website speaks in present perfect, according to a private conversation with Manuisha, she quit the double role after this BBC documentary was published in 2016. 

The following paragraph is written from memory of Munisha’s talk under the title “Protecting living beings from harm” at the DBU member congregation at the end of April 2018.

I cannot remember that the term “abuse” was mentioned at all by Munisha. Victims of abuse were referred to as “partners or “ex-partners”. The abuse was called “experimentation”. It was not mentioned that most of the young men who were skillfully, and most often against their will, manipulated to have sex with older men (50, 60, 70 years old) were heterosexual. It was not mentioned that they were told that their anti-homosexual impulses blocked their way to enlightenment or that they “needed” these sexual activities in order “to open up” or “to free themselves”. Nor was it told by the Safeguarding Officer of Triratna, Munisha, that at least one of the victims committed suicide (as far as I know, there are three who committed suicide). The “experimentations” were not presented in the context of Dennis Lingwood’s (Sangharakshita’s) own desires for sex with young men but twisted as an expression of the “sexual revolution”. There was no mentioning made whatsoever of the distorted doctrines taught by Dennis Lingwood and spread by Triratna about homosexual relationships. Such doctrines claimed homosexual relationships to be more conducive to spiritual practice (stressing the “Greek model” of young “inexperienced men” having sex and learning from older “mature men”) while heterosexual relationships were taught to be a threat to spiritual practice and inferior to homosexual relationships. Inferior meant also that these relationships have to be kept at “the edge of the mandala”.

The hierarchy existing in Triratna as well as Dennis Lingwood’s role as a teacher and as the sole and final authority within Triratna was blurred by Munisha’s claim that there is no clear teacher-student distinction … As a witness with some background knowledge, I found Munisha’s entire presentation a feat of whitewashing and propaganda which really caused me pain just hearing it.

Contradictions were issued by Munisha as well. She said that Sangharakshita is now 92 years old (implying that he would be unlikely to have sex with young men anymore) while he is extremely clear in mind. Strangely, Sangharakshita’s clarity comes to an end when he is confronted either by victims or by Triratna about what he has done to certain faithful disciples. In 2016, when asked by the BBC to comment on his harmful deeds, the BBC was told by Munisha that Sangharakshita was just too old, a fragile man and “blind”. Basically, Dennis Lingwood is fragile and cannot remember when truth is required, but he is clear and sharp and can remember when his spiritual authority or the defamation of one of his outspoken victims, Mark D., is required.³ A Tibetan Buddhist philosopher in debate would answer, “This is a pot of contradictions.”

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

Here again are the terms used by Dennis Lingwood and Triratna leadership (or in general within the Triratna culture) “experimentation” and “lovers”. While Vishvapani labelled victims of abuse in 2003 “lovers” and “former lovers”, Munisha labels them in 2018 “partners” and “ex-partners”.

“Experimentation” is basically a label for acts of sexual abuse and the culture of indoctrination and manipulation that enabled such abuse. (Or alternatively, the term “experimentation” whitewashes Dennis Lingwood’s predatory sexual activity which he justified and embedded in a culture of indoctrination and manipulation.) Mr. Lingwood described this “experimentation” – in which he manipulated young attractive, most often heterosexual men, against their will into having sex with him (a quite older man) – in the following manner:

… for me personally, in my own life, there was also quite a lot of experimentation. If I may say, this was for me personally one of the richest, one of the most creative periods in my whole life.

As if he would be a narcissist, he remembers only his own good experiences and clings strongly to it, while he is totally ignoring the pain these “experimentations” have caused to some of his faithful students.

One of the few publicly outspoken young men who was “experimented upon” and later defamed by Triratna / FWBO as a “jilted ex-lover” (three untruths [slander] in two words) writes:

If I was to make spiritual progress, I needed to break through this unconscious anti-homosexual conditioning. Sangharakshita was keen to help me overcome my anti-homosexual conditioning, by having sex with me.

In an old Guardian article, there are more details. In this article, there is mention of Matthew who committed suicide. His clinical psychologist stated:

He feels the community attempted to alienate him from his family and from women, and that direct attempts were made to encourage him to practice homosexuality. He stated that he did not indulge in homosexual practices, although attempts were made for him to do so both by using inducements and by using threats.

In my opinion Matthew’s three-year residence in the FWBO had extremely harmful psychological effects upon him … I have no doubt that this inability to cope with rejection from others [triggered by losing his job shortly before his suicide] directly stemmed from the years of psychological abuse and rejection he had experienced whilst he was a member of the Buddhist community.

The experimented upon (guinea pigs) and often harmed “objects” of these “experimentations”, are labelled “lovers”, “former lovers”, “partners” or “ex-partners”. Common sense people would rather call them “victims” or “survivors”. Sadly, some of these manipulative terms – manipulative in the sense that they distort the reality of those who have been harmed and whitewash the harm and the harmful deeds – are still used in 2018 by the Safegurading Officer of TBO, Munisha, when she speaks about safeguarding in Triratna.

You might think ‘this happened all long long ago in the distant past, so why are you making such a fuss about it?’ First of all such thoughts ignore and denigrate the decade long inner fights of survivors of abuse which can effect his or her whole life. Secondly, there is a case in 2002/3 too. When the German Mitra B, tried to speak out, Triratna didn’t involve him in the process. The only discussion that ensued was in Shabda (TBO internal newsletter) and the German Mitra B was not included in discussions about him nor given the right to read and reply. Mahamati and Subhuti silenced discussion of this abuse of faith and sexual abuse in Shabda and the German Mitra B was denied, dismissed and denigrated – once again. (Mahamati has concluded and told followers that Sangharakshita did not break his vow of celibacy as Sangharakshita did not experience orgasm. SR says he has no memory of sex with the decades younger Mitra in Birmingham or elsewhere.)

Only about a year ago TBO published the “memoirs” of Mr. Lingwood. In these “memoirs”, published by the TBO, Mr Lingwood is capable of vividly “remembering” the claimed bad character of one of his victims – only in order to denigrate this person once again and to whitewash his own deeds. The publication of this vicious attempt to further harm a victim could not even be prevented by the TBO “Safeguarding Officer” Munisha. As a matter of fact, here we have an organisation with a Safeguarding Officer who is not able to prevent that a victim of abuse is defamed by the perpetrator, abusing the charity status and structure of the organisation.

Harm through sexual abuse or the abuse of faith or the abuse of power was not only done by Dennis Lingwood but also other TBO order members and there were young men under the age of 18 (at least four are known to me). One of them, Glen, was 16. His story was published on YouTube but is no longer available (I have a copy of it).

For more (publicly available) Personal Stories see for instance:

See also “Sexual Manipulation”:

 
It is very difficult for men (and women alike) to speak about sexual abuse. According to a study of 500 men who were victims of sexual violence or abuse, on average, the men needed 21 years to speak about what happened to them and they needed a further 7 years to look back on and reappraise what happened to them. (see “Disclosure of Child Sexual Abuse Among Adult Male Survivors”) Most keep it a secret and stay silent. The reasons that have been given for this are that they fear to be considered weak, violating commonly held male norms or to be seen as gay and suffer discrimination. (see “Barriers to disclosure of child sexual abuse for men”)

What makes it even more complicated is that while men might feel deep disgust, fear, shame or dislike, biologically they could have an erection or orgasm but still they wouldn’t consider it as joyful. If that happened men might feel betrayed not only by their spiritual teacher but also by their body and would become deeply ashamed, avoiding totally to talk about such experiences. (Women survivors of sexual assault also sometimes experience shame over being aroused …)

The young men who were abused in these ways at TBO were never told they were part of an “experiment” nor is “experimentation” an appropriate term for these types of manipulation and abuse of young, open, faithful spiritual seekers.

Dennis Lingwood also was not concerned if they were aroused or not; he kept up demands for sex, he emotionally pressured students to have sex with him, or presenting His sexual needs as their way to develop spiritually. There are many stories as that of Mark D. but with different lines of manipulation used. The modus operandi, however, was very similar … getting desired young man into Mr Lingwoods house, then room, then bed … (If you know the details it becomes obvious that Triratna had a similar “delivery service” in the inner circle for young men for Sangharakshita as Rigpa had with young women for Sogyal Lakar or (as new revelations in the inner circle suggest) Shambhala had with young women for Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche.)

In 2016,

the BBC has spoken to three men who say they were pressured into having a sexual relationship with Mr Lingwood under the guise of spiritual friendship. One man, who has asked not to be identified, said he was under the legal age of consent for homosexual sex at the time.

He said: “I presumed that he was heterosexual and that he had made a sacrifice, given that up for the sake of a spiritual path.”

Elie Godsi, a clinical psychologist who has been an expert witness on a number of high-profile abuse cases, said: “This is all about the sexual gratification of a person in a position of authority or power within the group.”

These young men didn’t learn how to say no when their spiritual or emotional needs were shamefully exploited. There was no culture where young men were taught how to deal with such situations.

The young men were not provided in the FWBO or Triratna with the skills to talk about sex between men in a way that enabled them to see and then defend themselves or counter the spiritual-sexual manipulations of their Buddhist teacher or Order Members within Triratna. They were provided with overt and covert teachings to steer them away from sex with women and to avoid family life for the sake of their spiritual development.

As mentioned already, these young men were also manipulated into keeping relationships and families “at the edge of their mandala” e.g. sex with a woman was equated with “licking honey from the edge of a knife” whereas sex with spiritual superior same sex kalyanamitras or Order Members was presented as conducive to spiritual development as a “Dharma Warrior”.

At the DBU member congregation, Munisha claimed that Triatana leadership is employing someone to help them talk to each other about the past yet the young men were never given any “help” to question “Bhante’s” “experimentations.” Sex between men was talked about and acted on but none had the power to challenge their spiritual teacher or question his presentation of kalyana mitrata through sex with same sex.

It took Mark D. years to fully articulate what was going on and his narrative was denied and denigrated. Even in Munisha’s DBU speech, she sided with Sangharakshita / Lingwood in the presentation of men speaking up about sex with Lingwood.

The young men harmed have had to search for their own sources of support to help them articulate and talk about the past and this includes Survivors UK (Male abuse and rape support.)

Those who have only discussed the past in-house, including with in-house “experts” in psychology and counselling, have been faced with pro-Sangharakshita bias and protection … as we see presented by the order’s Safeguarding Officer DBU talk.

The “aspect of friendship” mentioned in the quote from Vishvapani above, relates back to the claims by Mr Lingwood, that sex with him or a persons of the same sex within the Order is needed spirituality to “open up” or to deepen the emotional bond between an elder (supposedly) “more experienced” and more “mature” “kalyanamitra” (spiritual friend). Dennis Lingwood recommended a book about Greek love as the role model for the relationships in his organisation written by a man who was later convicted of sexual crimes against children over decades. The idea was expressed among others in a Shabda article:

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, August 1998, pages 58-59 in FWBO’s order magazine, Shabda

You won’t find such claims in any Buddhist text or the Buddha’s teachings. They are self-made and have gone unchallenged in the Triratna Buddhist Order because Mr Lingwood made himself the sole, final and highest authority within his own organisation – which started under the name Friends of the Western Buddhist Order (FWBO). As with most personality cults, there is no person equal or higher than him – the spiritual leader – who could challenge or correct Mr Lingwood’s views or expel him from the order. He also wants to be and has been addressed with such honorific titles as Bhante, Maha Sthavira or Urgyen. Mr Lingwood placed himself on the refuge tree with the Buddha, archetypal figures and great Buddhist teachers of the past and calls upon his disciples to visualise this and then prostrate themselves towards it (one of the main practices when preparing for ordination). Moreover, Order members “should not have an issue with Sangharakshita” and even for “Ordination” within the Order such uncritical attitude is required.

There is a clear teacher-student relationship – though TBO and Munisha want to blur this fact. They speak in terms of “mature” and older order members, taking care of the centres and teachings and less mature or “inexperienced” followers who do not have such responsibilities or expertise. There is a clear hierarchy too:

  • the first level is a “friend”, a friend of the FWBO or TBO
  • the “mitra” – a more official “friend” and a first level of commitment
  • “the going for refuge mitra” – a person striving for ordination
  • the Order Member

 
Positions in the order are held according to such hierarchies and supposed “spiritual maturity”. They have different responsibilities and the higher the person is seen from supposed “spiritual maturity”, the higher his or her position will be. At the top is Mr. Lingwood – being unchallengeable by anybody.

Munisha stressed at the DBU congregation that most found the sexual relationships “helpful” – indeed I read reports on this some years ago and have wondered about such claims, which seem to have been widespread in Triratna.

It could be useful to consider such claims in perspective – without denying or denigrating them. If you follow an organisation who tells you homosexuality is superior and to engage with men sexually even against your anti-homosexual impulses is a means that helps you along the spiritual path to awakening and transforms you, if you bought that and if there is this expectation to make progress, why not re-interpret your story as a great success? This would not only be better for your feelings (instead of feeling harmed, betrayed, ashamed, confused, manipulated or exploited) but it would also put you higher up among your peers because you are one of those who took the “experimentation” as a “partner” and it worked so well! What a great narrative within Triratna: the “aspect of friendship” as taught in Triratna works indeed! Sangharakshita was right after all!

An example shared by Triratna of a person who found the “sexual relationships” useful is Sanghadeva. Read his account, which he gave for Shabda, the TBO internal newsletter, carefully. In fact it took him 15 years (!) to see these “sexual relationships” as “helpful”. However, there are still others who have clearly reported to be harmed – e.g. here links to reports of nine human beings who have been harmed:

 
Here is the (remarkable) account of Sanghadeva:

Sanghadeva: Birmingham

I have had my own problems with the issue of Bhantes’ sexual activity, having engaged in it with him in 1982 on one occasion. It is not, however, my intention to tell the long, complex story or how I came to resolve the issue here, although I do think it would be worthy of telling sometime. It is simply that I want to flag up my own personal history, and that the issue of Bhante and sex is one I have had first hand experience of and have later experienced complications and subsequently resolved.

Strange as it may seem in the current climate I am of the opinion that sexual contact between young men or, dare I say, an older and younger man, can have a very liberating effect. My own experiences of it despite some complications, were one of the most liberating formative experiences of my early involvement in the Movement. I know this also to be the case for some others. At Aryatara there was a period in the mid eighties where quite a few of us were bed hopping and it was great fun despite very few of us being homosexual. There is a very widely held myth that the sexual component was one of the most unhealthy aspects of the Croydon situation of the 80s. Well, the only time Padmaraja ever apologised to me for anything was when he considered he had hurt my feelings and undermined my trust in him by ‘sleeping’ with the person I was currently in a ‘relationship’ with, and he apologised to me at least twice for the same incident making sure that I had not misunderstood the sincerity of his apology. Padmaraja was not renowned for his capacity to admit fault yet in matters of sexual propriety he seemed very sensitive.

It is, I am sure, a very unpopular view in the increasingly conservative atmosphere of the West that this could ever be a positive thing, but my own experience was that it patently was very helpful and, it has to be said, enjoyable. My experience was that there was something strangely exciting, subversive, liberating and anti establishment about it all, plus, it was jolly good fun! In fact I think there was something very important about those experiences and I am extremely glad it all went on and have absolutely no regrets that it happened nor would I be unhappy to see that sort of activity going on now knowing how helpful it was for so many of us back then.

I am very glad that Bhante has engaged in sexual activity too and even though my own experience of it with him became complicated I have no regrets that it happened. The feelings I did have then and do have now is that this man was my man. That I had found, almost miraculously, a man of immense importance and significance who was able to open my eyes to the wonder of the Dharma. Perhaps there is something ecstatic, even erotic in meeting your spiritual ideal as reflected through some other person. Why is it that so many ‘religious’ paintings contain erotic images, so many beautiful seminaked bodies?

It is a great shame that there are not a few people whose relationship to the Order and Movement is tarnished by their doubting Bhantes integrity because of things they have heard about Bhantes sexual activity (and it is nearly always hearsay). For those who have difficulties with his sexual history this is very painful indeed as I know from my own experience. However, this is an issue that each individual must work out for themselves, alone. It is not a collective issue. The majority, it seems, have worked out there own positions in relation to these issue. It might not be of the nature of a conclusion because it is such a complex multi-layered matter, but work out a position you must. You must because the consequences of not are that the very foundation of your connection to the spiritual ideal as embodied in our Order and as exemplified by Bhante are undermined and thus, progress in this particular context of the Triratana Order barred. I do not see how it could be otherwise. If you doubt your Teacher (and whatever we like to imagine, Bhante is the Teacher of us all regardless of whether we were Ordained by him) you doubt the foundations of your spiritual context. It took me 15 years to resolve the issue to my own satisfaction but if you find that your settled position is that Bhante has acted with a lack of integrity and that he is, even, dishonest in what he says about his own experiences then you should stand by those conclusions and follow through on the consequences. This would release you from a lot of discomfort.


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Footnote

¹ I refer to it as a “structural analogy” because it is not a meaning analogy in a deeper sense. Buddha’s teachings on The Four Noble Truths, point out karma and afflictions in one’s own continuum as the True Causes Of Suffering. However, since things are dependent arisings, of course others can contribute to our suffering as long as we have the causes for suffering in our continuum. You could call “not harming others” the very root ethic of Buddhism. Buddhist ethics acknowledge that others can contribute to a being’s suffering. Therefore, this “structural analogy” is not in the deepest sense a meaning analogy of The Four Noble Truths but it is also not totally out of context. Also the reference to dependent arising (paticcasamuppada) is not to be taken totally as a meaning analogy because in a more narrow sense it refers to a twelve-term formula disclosing the causal nexus responsible for the origination of suffering. (see also: Transcendental Dependent Arising: Translation & Exposition of the Upanisa Sutta by Bhikkhu Bodhi and How to See Yourself as You Really Are by Dalai Lama XIV, Jeffrey Hopkins (Editor) or Dependent Arising and Emptiness by Geshe Jampa Thegchok)

² Pema Chödron says: “I consider it my good fortune that somehow I was thrown into a way of understanding Buddhism which in the Zen tradition is called ‘don’t know mind’: Don’t know. Don’t know right. Don’t know wrong. As far as I’m concerned, if you’re going to make things right and wrong you can never even talk about fulfilling your bodhisattva vows.” My objection is: how can you practice and abide in the Bodhisattva (or the Vajrayana) vows without knowing what’s right or wrong? You can’t. You can’t even practice love and compassion if you don’t know what’s right or wrong, neither can you practice ethics nor is “not knowing” a cultivation of wisdom.

What is stressed in the Mahayana is dependent arising or emptiness. So ethical conduct, good and bad actions, are not intrinsic (they don’t exist independently or from their own side or ultimately). But good and bad actions exist relatively, they are a dependent arising and perform functions (bring results). The commentaries on the Bodhisatttva vows give clear guidelines how to deal with the relativity of ethics (or what is considered to be a good / wholesome action and a bad / unwholesome action):

Actions should bring long term benefit, they should not bring long term harm. In the Bodhisattva vows commentaries you find guidelines such as these:

  1. if an action brings short term benefit but long term harm, it should be avoided
  2. if an action brings short harm but long term benefit, its permissible
  3. if an action brings short term harm and long term harm, it should be avoided
  4. if an action brings short term benefit and long term benefit, its the best

 
These points should be further seen in context if the action benefits or harms a minority or a majority.

Though there is a secondary Bodhisattva vow that gives permission to perform the first 7 of the 10 unwholesome deeds “for the benefit of others” (killing up to idle talk), there is also a secondary Bodhisattva vow that urges the Bodhisattva to keep the Pratimoksha vows (lay or monastics) properly in order not to destroy the people’s faith. Moreover, a commentary says, its only permissible to perform any of the 7 unwholesome deeds “for the benefit of others”, if you are sure about the long term benefit, moreover, you should have the mental power to bring a dead tree back to life or a consciousness which just left a body (of a deceased person) back into the body of that person.

³ For a rebuttal see: Mark Dunlop’s Response to Sangharakshita’s February 2017 Memoir 2017/09/02

These tactics of blurring or distorting the facts can be found also at other occasions. For instance, in 2016 Triratna officials told the BBC that “Mr Lingwood had stepped back from any official role in the group’s running in 2000.” But in fact, Triratna set up a charity called Uddiyana which stated purpose is the “support and assistance for Urgyen Sangharakshita … enabling him and his office to guide the activities of the Triratna Buddhist Community Centres and members worldwide”.

The entries of the UK Charity Commission read:

Data for financial year ending 31 December 2015 | Triratna Buddhist Community (Uddiyana) | Income: £146.0K | Spending: £57.2K

Aims & activities
Support and assistance for Urgyen Sangharakshita, founder of the Triratna Buddhist Community (formerly FWBO) – enabling him and his office to guide the activities of the Triratna Buddhist Community Centres and members worldwide. These activities include meditation and Buddhism, social work, body work, cultural activities and support for residential spiritual communities and ethical businesses.

– derived from http://beta.charitycommission.gov.uk/charity-details/?regid=1046398&subid=0 on Sept 27, 2016

The Triratna report to the Charity Commission itself states:

With the support of the Triratna Buddhist Community (Uddiyana) Sangharakshita has been able to keep in contact with and provide guidance to Centres and members worldwide, which continues to be an invaluable source of help and inspiration for his many thousands of disciples and followers.

After this contradiction was pointed out in a post on this blog, Triratna changed the description record. For 2016 the record reads currently:

Data for financial year ending 31 December 2016 | Triratna Buddhist Community (Uddiyana) | Income: £73.0K | Spending: £97.0K

Aims & activities
Support and assistance for Urgyen Sangharakshita, founder of the Triratna Buddhist Community (formerly FWBO) – enabling him and his office to maintain contact with his disciples and friends worldwide, which supports them in activities which include meditation and Buddhism, social work, body work, cultural activities, residential spiritual communities and ethical businesses.

– derived from http://beta.charitycommission.gov.uk/charity-details/?regid=1046398&subid=0 on Oct 15, 2018