Saturday, 23 July 2011

Letter from Dominique

This letter was recently sent to Triratna News by Dominique

My name is Dominique. I was one of the first followers of FWBO in Archway in the seventies. I had been desperately looking for the Dharma. In France, there was not any Buddhist centre yet. It is hard to imagine that nowadays.

I was sent to London as part of my teaching training and taught French at Tower Hamlet school for girls for 2 years. I started going to the "Friends". I liked the casual, friendly atmosphere of the meetings which took place in a squat in Archway. There was a feeling of rebellious spirituality mixed with poetry, alternative culture, psychology which suited my personality at that time. I was 20 years then, in existential search for the meaning of life.

I befriended some order members. I had for preceptor a young woman, who with her boyfriend, both order members, suddenly announced to me that they were resigning from the order. I was very surprised by their decision. They confided that they had been shocked by Bhante s "collecting" multiple young partners and could not accept it any longer. At that time, I was in total denial of what was happening. In my mind, we were talking about platonic, Greek antiquity kind of special spiritual love between a teacher and his young followers. I did not want to see that there was sexual abuse involved. I preferred to idealise Bhante who seemed an old wise man, friend of Ginsberg (his own claim!), who had studied with great masters in the East and could guess our thoughts, it seemed.

Other order members resigned, more comments on Bhante's addiction to young males. I needed Dharma, I had found it. I could not afford to see the reality of the situation. It would have been too painful.

I went back to France to resume teaching. I had a one year old child and went back to England. I contacted another order member Srimala, who herself was separated from her husband and had two young children. Bhante's theory was to encourage us to live in single sex communities, men with men, women with women. I did not realise at the time that it was a justification for his own sexual gratification. I was convinced that, in order to develop spiritually, one had to abandon one's family. Did not the Buddha himself do so? Coming from a very dysfunctional family, I was in total rebellion with standard family structures and this concept suited me.

I was soon to see the dark side of FWBO. I was living in Norwich and worked at the FWBO restaurant there, the Rainbow. Just the name of Srimala sends shivers down my side. I still remember how , with the help of Dhammadinna, she bullied a young girl who worked there. I myself was under scrutiny of Srimala, who did not judge me suitable to become a "mitra".

I was judged too rebellious. I was questioning the sheep like mentality of the order members who were parroting Bhante. No outside books on Dharma were allowed, the only ideas acceptable were to be found in Bhante's books. I had to battle my way. Srimala wanted to cancel my attending the mitra ceremony. She judged my views on Dharma "insane". I wanted deeply to commit myself to Buddhism.

I had to phone Bhante to attend the meeting. He was living in Padmaloka nearby. I was still blind to what was going on there.

I then went to London to live in another FWBO community in a squat and worked at the health food centre near the fire station which was being converted to a centre. Even inside the fire station, there was big discrimination between men and women, who were not allowed to eat in the dining room with the men. I made a scandal once as an old woman had to stay in the rain the commune, There was absolutely no compassion or help between one another.

Jealously and bitching prevailed. The weekly house meetings were dreadful. I had to takeout my son Steve early for a walk in his push chair in case he could have disturbed the meditation. The other women took the opportunity of my going away to change my room, saying it would be more roomy, but they gave it to me was because the roof was leaking. I had to use 4 buckets. Nobody offered their help, although there were plenty of young men round the corner at the fire station. It was the Hindouist community nearby who came to tar the roof.

I finally realised the poorness of the training, the same so-called communication exercises, the hierarchy and strange philosophy of single sex communities and" special" friendships forced on people.

When I left definitively for France, I blocked all my feelings. It was too much to admit I had given up everything and submitted my child and myself to another abusive situation.

As I came back to France, Dharma started to flourish with the arrival of renowned Tibetan masters such as Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche et Dudjom Rinpoche. I measured the extent of what I had missed until then. I remember how I was amazed at the fact we could take refuge and receive initiations just like that, without "being approved" by the Sangha. I was staring at these streams of people taking refuge, being blessed by realised beings. No fuss; just love and compassion.

I was very hurt when I read Srimala's book. Using my own name and my son's, calling me insane, ridiculing another order member's family, a fine lady whose property the FWBO were eying to inherit.

It is through the blessing of my teacher, a married Tibetan lama, who has a daughter, that I could regain confidence in the Dharma. Also, he never asked me a penny for his teachings that he provided continually all his life, receiving me in his living room. Big smiles, hugs. A mountain of love. Someone I could trust at last. Dharma belongs to everybody, like the sun, he says smiling.

Now the FWBO are trying to rewrite history, using videos with manipulated photos that would make one believe Sangharakshita was a close disciple of great teachers such as Jamyang Chokyi Lodro .

Unfortunately reality is sterner. Young people in India and the West have been sexually abused by Sangarakshita. Many people have been spiritually and emotionally abused. One would think at least he would have examined his acts. He is now presented as a gentle senile gentleman. Meanwhile, the FWBO have been renamed and continue the same old communication exercises, plus videos and meditation packages for sale.

Friday, 15 July 2011

The Sangharakshita Land Project

Ron L Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, spent his later years on board a ship in search of sunken treasure. Surrounded by his devoted disciples, they sailed from place to place, but never found the treasure.

The Sangharakshita Land Project has echoes of Ron’s search. The TBO has been here before, firstly with Padmaloka, then Guhyaloka then Madhyamaloka. Sangharakshita, who is solitary and bookish, wants a place to study and write, that will also be an organisational headquarters and a venue for hundreds of his disciples to gather. Spot the contradiction? After much time, effort and money the devoted disciples establish ---- loka, and after a few years Sangharakshita decides it’s not for him, and sets his mind on another grand project.

So it is with Sangharakshita Land Project, which we shall call Chimeraloka. How many times will his disciples have to repeat the exercise before it dawns on them that they’ve been there before? A mark of intelligence is learning from your mistakes. Order Members may be ‘Going for Refuge’, but by and large they don’t change very much.

The hunt for Chimeraloka is now nearly 2 years old. It even has its own blog. The cash is there - £2.5 million – and it is a buyer’s market. Yet Chimeraloka, like Ron Hubbard’s treasure, remains elusive.

The last 2 lokas have had an added ingredient: the Sangharakshita Memorial Library. This was supposed to have happened at Madhyamaloka, but the dusty tomes never made it further than the garage. For us ordinary folks, planning your own memorial might seem to have a touch of hubris about it. But spiritual teachers, like the rich, are different.

Sangharakshita is fond of literary allusions. He will no doubt enjoy the reference to Mr Hubbard. But just as apposite is Lord Groan, scion of Gormenghast. His greatest treasure was his vast library, crammed with ancient tomes. Nobody ever read them, but surely that is to miss the point. The point is they stood for something. Symbols should not be undervalued. In Lord Groan’s case, the library stood for his connection to the ancient family past, and when the scheming Steerpike burnt it down, it destroyed him. He lost his reason.

No-one is suggesting, of course, that Sangharakshita has lost his reason. What would be left? In his case, the library is a monument to his intellectual prowess and learning. Again, his books are mostly Buddhist and out of date, and no serious student would use them for research. University libraries are far better funded and up to date. But that is to miss the point. In 100 years, who will know? What will be preserved will be the contents of Sangharakshita’s head, an intimate and impressive collection. Who knows, Sangharakshita may even be re-discovered as the seminal cultural figure he so clearly wishes to be.

Meanwhile, the search for Chimeraloka - the Hunting of the Snark - continues. The search is becoming an institute in its own right, as the blog testifies. It has become an exercise in finding 20 different ways of saying they haven’t found anything.

In 2003, Triratna received a warning shot across the bows when Sangharakshita became anxious and withdrawn for a year (yes, it even happens to Stream Entrants!) It turned out to be a side-effect of his medication. It was a confusing yet liberating time for many of his disciples. 8 years later and Sangharakshita is 85 years old. How long will these ageing members of the TBO continue to dedicate themselves to the contradictory fantasies of an old man?

Friday, 1 April 2011

Sangharakshita - What Might Have Been

On the left is Sangharashita, founder of the Triratna Buddhist Order. Below is Sir Ronald Cohen, another British empire builder with some foreign Jewish ancestry. His empire happened to involve venture capitalism and a personal fortune of £200 million. It's spooky...

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Worldwide Revolutionary Fervour - will it touch the TBO?

Tens of thousands of government employees in Wisconsin, USA, are protesting against anti-union measures that have been brought in by the governor. They have been inspired by the waves of protest spreading across North Africa and the Middle East.

Will members of the Triratna Buddhist Order feel so inspired? Will they at last shake off the control and authority exercised by the same old faces saying the same old things, that has been going on for decades – since about the time Colonel Gaddafi seized power in Libya in 1969?

They could if they wanted to: Sangharakshita, Subhuti et al only have power because people give it to them.

Somehow we doubt it. People are free to leave, and this is what tends to happen when they no longer need the cosy authority of ‘Bhante’ Sangharakshita and his hierarchy. This is despite ‘Bhante’s' assertion that leaving his Order constitutes spiritual catastrophe. Those left behind are quite happy to have their thinking done for them.

Friday, 1 October 2010

The Lights are Going Out...

Sangharakshita's sexual shenanigans are too well-known now to need elaborating on, as is his ongoing refusal to issue any kind of apology or regret. Last year's “Conversations with Bhante” show a complete inability to understand what he did. The only step forward was a "Sorry if..." And he chose to repeat his comment that he had no memory of having had sex with Yashomitra. Why say this? Does he want people to think Yasho is making it up? Insensitive is hardly the word.

After some years of quasi-discussion within the TBO, orders have now come down from Subhuti that any public discussion of this area is now off limits. One member was recently told by his Preceptor that by doing so he was putting himself outside of the Order. The Pope could learn a thing or two here.

It is the collective self-deception over "Bhante's" sexual shenanigans that have led to the recent resignation letter below from a long-standing member of the TBO.

The regular TBC newsite will not of course be reporting the resignation (though it did for a while report, without their given reasons, Order resignations.) It is therefore our duty, as the conscience of the TBO, to publish the letter (Hey, that was a bit pompous!) The pictures are ours.

Dear Mahamati,

I am writing to ask you to withdraw my name from the Order list, etc. As I expect you know I have had nothing to do with WBO/TBC activities for well over a decade now, and minimal involvement for some time before that, and I wish to make it clear that this position is a matter of choice rather than forgetfulness on my part. I have regarded myself as no longer a part of ‘the Order’ for a long time and it is now probably overdue for me to make this absolutely clear to all concerned.

My decision to do this is, amongst other things, connected with the subject of various materials now in the public domain, most notably the self-deceiving document "Conversations with Bhante", and the character of the collective response over the years to the issues that are raised therein. While I fully accept the well-meaning and good faith of members of the WBO/TBC, there is also a collective self-deception at work in connection with certain past events and present attitudes which I regard as deleterious to the welfare of all those involved, past and present. I would summarise my concerns as being focused in the areas of sexual misconduct, inadequate boundaries and cultic or controlling group behaviours, compounded by the lack of informed and truly moral leadership on how the Order should understand and respond to these problems, as shown for example by your and Subhuti’s rapturous endorsement of “Conversations...”. It is particularly damning that no-one addresses the crucial factor of the breach of fiduciary duty and teacher-disciple boundaries. Everyone inside the WBO/TBC, it seems, is engaged in denial of how destructive such behaviour can be and has been.

I note in a recent document that Sangharakshita laments that a resigning member does not write to him as his preceptor. He clearly does not understand that where he has ‘cashed in’ his spiritual status for personal sexual gratification, no obligation remains on the part of the ordinand.

I have written about aspects of all these issues at some length but here is not the place in which to go into further detail. I do understand that many members believe (or is it hope?) that by remaining uncritical of Sangharakshita’s sexual misconduct and other aspects of TBC/WBO behaviour they are exhibiting a kind of spiritual strength. Unfortunately this is not the case, and they are merely exhibiting their indifference to the moral issues raised in these areas, and clinging cravenly to the identities given by their often lengthy membership of the TBC/WBO.

I hope you are able and willing to reflect on the truth of what I have written.

With my best wishes,

Andrew Skilton (ex-Sthiramati)

I would be most grateful if you would publish this letter in Shabda so that other members of the WBO/TBC are unambiguously informed of my position.

Friday, 30 July 2010

Subhuti in the Dock

Many years have passed since Subhuti, Sangharakshita’s right-hand man, published his infamous tract Women, Men and Angels.

This booklet purports to demonstrate that women are inferior to men – or, at least, that 'women are disadvantaged at the start of the spiritual life'. Though Subhuti is said to regret publishing it, he has never retracted what he said, and it can still be bought from Amazon. It remains a part of TBO Doctrine and an active, albeit unpopular, undercurrent within 'the Movement.'

One has to wonder why any modern woman would want to join or remain part of such an Order, unless in some unacknowledged way they felt comfortable with such subjugation? It is a similar phenomenon to women converting to Islam. Perhaps they are waiting for Sangharakshita to die in the hope that things will change?

This doctrine - if you can call it that - is based around the idea that the prime driver of the spiritual life is the Will, and that men have more of it. This is not the place to present a detailed refutation – where would one start? - except to say that it is abundantly clear that men and women are different, and have much to learn from each other. An attitude of humility and appreciation is needed between the sexes. Subhuti’s approach is one-sided, invidious and spiritually na├»ve.

But before we damn Subhuti overmuch, we need to remember that he was acting under orders. It is Sangharakshita who is the real misogynist. Sangharakshita asked Subhuti to write the booklet, and Subhuti dutifully did so. Subhuti comes from a services background, and following orders is what he does best. That is why he is Sangharakshita’s right-hand man.

So is Subhuti guilty of propagating misogyny? I think we have to say yes. At the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials, where a number of precedents were set, acting under orders was not a defence if the order was unlawful, though it could be used as a mitigating factor. In the case of the Third Reich, you could see this could be complicated: either you follow this illegal order, or we will torture you, or shoot you.But Subhuti was under no such threat. The most he stood to lose was his position if he did not do what he was told. So there is no mitigation.

One needs to treat people as if they are responsible, even if, as in Subhuti’s case, they were simply following orders. Of course, Subhuti would claim that he was not following orders, that he genuinely and independently considers women to be inferior to men. But this is self-deluding tosh. Subhuti likes women, whereas for the misanthrope Sangharakshita women are just one more object of scorn, along with Christianity, the Theravada, the Buddhist Society, Buddha-Nature, married people, academia, modern art, popular culture... The man is one big chip.

Subhuti did have his moment a few years ago, when Sangharakshita appeared to lapse into infirmity. It was a case of when the cat is away, the mice will play, and Subhuti began to publicly question aspects of Sangharakshita’s behaviour and teaching. An era of glasnost began to open up within the Triratna Buddhist Community. But then Sangharakshita’s infirmity turned out to be a side effect of his medication, which he stopped taking, and Subhuti began to back down, gradually returning to his old role of enforcer. There’s a word for Subhuti's behaviour.

(From the Wizard of Oz)

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

What's in a Name?

A Lot that We Dont Want You To Know.

The FWBO, dogged for years by allegations of misconduct, elitism and cultish behavior, has found the perfect way to avoid criticism - change it's name! From now on, the Order will be known as the Triratna Buddhist Community.

This is not the first time an organization has changed its name to protect itself from allegations about its own,checkered past; the Moonies did it, waning multi national businesses do it, even dodgy fitted kitchen operations have proven that an annual declaration of bankruptcy and a rebranding under a new name is the perfect solution to flagging sales and bad press. So, the tactic is not unprecedented and, indeed, has a proven history of protecting the guilty from the scrutiny of the light of truth. It's also a well documented instance of cult behaviour....honest! (more at FWBO Files)