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 naïve.

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)

1 comment:

  1. I would just like to let you know, that this URL is featured as "recommended reading" in the Glasgow Triratna Buddhist centres booklet which is given to people who have just joined the "Buddhism and meditation" class.

    I entered this URL and came up with this site here. Which is led me to the FWBO files site. And I have to say, this is quite scary stuff. I have already paid my contribution for these classes but I dont think I will be going next week. Can you enlighten me a bit more on this?