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)

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Of Luskentyrians and other Far-Out Religions

In Iain Banks’ novel Whit, we encounter the Luskentyrians, a wacky religious cult based in Scotland and dining on dishes such as haggis pakora. Disciples are expected to carry a sitting board when travelling, in order to avoid pollution.

Well here’s another one, except it was real. FWBO news suggested last December that a Sangharakshita ringtone would make an ideal Christmas present. You can imagine it: that high, precise monotone announcing “When I was in Kalimpong….” Unfortunately, FWBO News only displays recent items, so you may think we have made it up. We kid you not. What will they suggest this year to top that one? Sangharakshita intoning je t'aime! moi non plus, with special sound effects from Brad Pitt?

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Who Needs Experience?

It seems that senior meditation teachers within the Triratna Buddhist Community are being sat on for teaching from their own experience. Sangharakshita is not known for being a meditator, being more at home with his head in a book. Yet his emphasis on bhavana, on Will if you like, prevails.

A number of those who, unlike Sangharakshita, have actually practised meditation for years have been moving towards formless meditation.This, it seems to us, is a natural progression within any spiritual discipline. You begin by practising a method, and then you let go of it; you find your own way in, you follow the creative aspect of your own mind. Form, useful at the start, becomes an imposition.

A teacher worth his salt knows this, and encourages his pupils to make their own discoveries and connections. Otherwise what you have is religion, a bunch of people who never leave spiritual primary school.

Sangharakshita’s enforcer is his head disciple, Subhuti, who recently wrote to one meditation teacher, accusing him of being the cause of a lot of confusion within the TBC for not sticking to Sangharakshita’s system. Like Sangharakshita, Subhuti is not much of a meditator either. But when you’ve got a position of power and influence, who needs experience?

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Dennis and his Trousers

This is Dennis Lingwood, the founder of the Triratana Buddhist Community/FWBO. As a young man he transformed into Dharmapriya, Sangharakshita and finally Urgyen. At one point he gave himself the title Venerable Maha Sthavira. We at Triratna News think his Mum got it right: Dennis comes from the Greek Dionysus, an amoral god of ecstasy and abandon. Dennis has always had trouble keeping his trousers up – or his robe fastened – but only in 4 minute bursts. His young male disciples have perversely not always appreciated his passions. For Dennis, his serial homogamy was spiritual, even Tantric. Others have been less sure of his motives.

Below is the recent resignation letter of Prasannasiddhi, posted at

Dear Dhammarati and Order Members,
For the past five years I have had a decreasing amount of contact with people in the FWBO/WBO. I have been exploring other perspectives on life and I have also been receiving counselling. I am now in a place where I no longer consider myself to be a Buddhist or a member of the Western Buddhist Order. So I am writing this to inform you of my resignation from the Western Buddhist Order, as well as to explain the reasons behind my resignation.

There are several things about Buddhism and the F/WBO that I am no longer comfortable with. In particular, I am not happy with the predominant Buddhist and FWBO attitudes towards intimate sexual relationships and families. I understand the predominant Buddhist / FWBO view on sexual relationships and families to be that they are a hindrance to spiritual development, because sexuality belongs to the kamaloka, and Buddhism wants us on “higher planes” of consciousness. I no longer want to split off such a natural and fundamental aspect of myself as my sexuality and attraction towards women in the way that Buddhism encourages. I do not want to be making love with my partner with the thought in my head that “sex is not spiritual, so this is not really good for me!”. I have also come to value the dynamic between a man and a woman in relationship as a powerful tool for my own human growth. For me now, sexuality and my relationship with my female partner is central to my life, and not something to be placed “on the edge of my mandala”. I also have no desire in any way to view my son as a “fetter”, as the Pali Canon suggests that the Buddha regarded, and named, his son.

Also, from the perspective I now have, looking back on the sexual relationship I had with Sangharakshita 27 years ago, I feel deeply unhappy. Firstly, having read the interview posted on his website a few months ago entitled “Conversations with Bhante, August 2009” I feel angry and disappointed at what I perceive to be a lack of honesty on his part towards me regarding his sexual preference. I believed, at the time that I was involved with him, that we were both making a sacrifice “giving up our natural attraction towards women for the sake of the Dharma”. I believed that, in doing this, I was doing what he had done before me many years ago. I also received encouragement from him to make this sacrifice. At no time in the 6 or so years that I was close to him did he tell me that his sexual preference was for males. His memoirs, which I thought were an honest account of his life, also didn’t convey his preference. Now I discover that what for me was a sacrifice, was for him a preference, and I have a sense of disgust and of being used. From my side, I consider that I wasn’t free to be able to make my own choice regarding my behaviour in this important area of my life, because I didn’t have all the facts available to me.

I also believe that he was misusing the natural power and authority of his position as a spiritual teacher, and the love and devotion engendered in me in relation to him in that position, to meet his needs for sex and intimacy in a way that was unskilful.

Counsellors that I have seen, including a counsellor from Survivors UK, consider that the above equates to a form of sexual abuse. This has been something that has been difficult for me to come to terms with, as I have felt a lot of love towards Sangharakshita, and I have also received a lot of support from him over the years, emotionally and financially. Also, he never acted towards me in what I think of as a “classically abusive” way, i.e. deliberately inflicting pain on me against my wishes. I imagine that in his own mind he had positive intentions towards me, and believed he was helping me in my spiritual growth. To make sense of his behaviour for myself, I go back to what I perceive to be the basic stance of Buddhism, that of splitting off spirituality and sexuality and making the former good and the latter bad. And I believe that what we split off from ourselves and disown comes back to us in less conscious and less wholesome ways. Thus my sense is that he rationalised meeting his sexual and intimacy needs with young men in the F/WBO, as being an aspect of spiritual friendship, containing elements of “Greek love”.

Finally, my acting on Sangharakshita’s advice not to live with my son and his mother, when she became pregnant with him 19 years ago, has led to a lot of pain and complication for myself, my son, his mother, as well as her current husband and my current partner, and the extended families of us all. At the time I acted on that advice, 19 years ago, I was too deeply immersed in FWBO and Buddhist ideology to act in any other way. In hindsight I regret acting on this advice.

For the above reasons in particular, I no longer wish to practice Buddhism, to be a part of the F/WBO, or to have Sangharakshita as my spiritual teacher. So I give notice of my resignation. I have no need for this resignation to be formally “accepted” - for me it stands, regardless of what any spiritual teachers I formally had think about it. At last I am taking my power back into my own hands.

I have now made a life for myself outside the FWBO, with my partner, with friendships, challenges, opportunities for emotional and spiritual growth, and to give to others. I no longer wish to be called Prasannasiddhi.