The author has reflected long and hard and through a process of reflection has come to the realisation that under the guise of Buddhism a horrendous sexual injustice has been perpetrated on young men to undermine and leave them incapable of reacting.
Sangharakshita: ‘Greek Love’, ‘Fierce Friendship’ and the perversion of Buddhism. By: Alan J. W.
The purpose of this article, is to explain how several forms of unethical behaviour were promoted and practised by senior members of Sangharakshita’s Order. I have employed a psychological perspective, because I feel that this approach gives the most revealing insight into these damaging developments.
In 1977, I was living in the largest male community at that time, Sukhavati at the old fire station, next to where the London Buddhist Centre now is. This was 18 months before the LBC was opened in Nov 1978. I had joined the community to help renovate an old building, that was to be used as a temporary public centre, about 80 yards further down Roman Road. The chairman of the community at the time was Subhuti (later in effect Sangharakshita’s chief of staff), and there were about 30 other community members.
In December of that year, Subhuti called me into his office and told me that Sangharakshita (who I will now abbreviate to Sr to save space) was ‘keen to meet new Mitras to the movement’. A Mitra being defined as a more committed Triratna/FWBO member than a regular class attendee. There were several of us meeting that criterion in the community. Subhuti suggested that we go up to the large house, now named Padmaloka where Sr was living, in pairs: each twinning to stay as community guests for a period of one month. I set off in early Feb’ 78, hitching lifts as most of us did at that time.
Padmaloka is situated in Surlingham, just outside Norwich, in Norfolk. It was a very small community at the time: apart from Sr there were only about 5 other people, one of whom was Mark Dunlop (Vajrakumara then). Mark was to become the catalyst for criticism of Sr and his organisation, during the 1990’s. My pairing Mitra, Dave B, was already there waiting. Dave and I pottered about for the month, living as part of the community; doing some painting and decorating; having our meals with Sr and the others, etc. We were free to see Sr whenever he was available, if we wished.
During this stay, I had the opportunity to observe the Padmaloka community closely, in this quiet but intense setting. My impression of Mark D was that he was a confident, uncomplicated and straightforward young man. There were no signs of incipient psychological problems, or underlying emotional disorders at all: if there had been I would have sensed them. In a situation like that one becomes much more sensitive to one’s ambient surroundings, and other people.
When I encountered Mark 6 years later, in 1984, I felt disturbed – something was clearly wrong. There were rumours later about him breaking a window at Padmaloka in a rage, and generally being difficult.
I eventually came to believe, that the change in his behaviour was caused, not by internal factors, but by his interactions with Sr and other key community members. He had opted out of an unwanted sexual relationship with Sr in the summer of 1976. Subhuti, Kulananda and the usual hard-line suspects, were to move to Padmaloka circa 1980 – inaugurating a period of change. Sangharakshita had embarked on other sexual relationships of varying duration. At the same time, Mark was perhaps being assessed as lacking ‘spiritual commitment’, by some of his peers.
Mark Dunlop’s relationship with Sr, and some of his courtiers, became noticeably difficult during the 1980’s. This eventually led to the widespread perception of him as a troubled, even fractious, person: in stark contrast to his earlier, uncomplicated (as far as I could tell) and easy-going self.
I remember that an Order Member attached to the LBC felt able to claim, in an internet blog I spotted in 1998, that Mark D was ‘mad and believed himself to be enlightened’. This is the outcome of a recognised form of emotional abuse called ‘Baiting & Bashing’. The victim is provoked until he/she reacts: in Mark’s case, he might have felt goaded by the cold disparagement shown towards him, by Order Members close to Sr. The abusive bully(s) then cite this reaction as evidence of their chosen target’s emotional and psychological instability. They are then able to manipulate others into a wider group campaign of vilification against the unfortunate victim. As more people are drawn in, attention shifts decisively away from the machinations of the abuser(s) and onto the increasingly anxious prey – very neat and nasty!
Some OMs (Order Members) sadly became accomplished practitioners of the abusive game ‘Baiting & Bashing’: and this was to become a key tactic in what was later (during the bulk of the 1980’s) to be called euphemistically ‘Fierce friendship’! More about this dark chapter in Triratna/FWBO history later.
At the beginning of March 78, Dave and I got a lift, with a few Padmalokans, back to London to rejoin the busy Sukhavati/pre-LBC situation. Almost immediately, another pair of recent Mitras was primed for departure. One of these was a youth from Glasgow called Maurice (who I will abbreviate to M), who was about 20 years old then. We had met M at a retreat at Loch Lomond during the Xmas 1977 period, which was organised by the Glasgow FWBO centre. He had returned with us to London to join our community for an indefinite period. He was the youngest and least experienced Mitra we had at the time; I hardly spoke to him as I recall. His pairing was Andrew F (now I believe Tejamati).
At the beginning of April 78, Andrew returned to Sukhavati community alone. I remember him telling me that Sr had asked M to stay behind to act, we all supposed, as his new companion/assistant. I did not know, at the time, that his previous ‘companion’, Mark Dunlop, had asked to be relieved of sexual duties with Sr some 18 months earlier; but at that time I did not know that these ‘consorts’ were expected to fulfil sexual duties, amongst their other tasks. This was a closely guarded secret then, and for some time subsequently.
About 4 months later M was ordained – in nearly record time I believe – as Yuvaraj, and there the matter rested for a long time. Exactly 9 years later, I was told by a friend that Yuvaraj had resigned from the order. I could get no information about why he had quit. It was some time in the late 90’s that I discovered that M had made claims of being lured into a sexual relationship with Sr, prior to his ordination in mid-1978. He also alleged that Sr’s conduct of this carnal liaison had caused him ongoing psychological and emotional difficulties: almost exactly replicating Mark Dunlop’s accusations, first made public in Oct 1997.
I must stress that as far as I know, M has made no public statements about his experiences with Sr, during his tenure as companion/assistant to his teacher. All of my information concerning his disturbing claims come from secondary sources: although the author of the internet document, The FWBO-FILES, also repeats M’s allegations with apparent confidence.
Looking back on these events now, which cover the period from 1978 to 1987, is deeply unsettling for me. It seems to me that Dave, Andrew, M and I had been paraded before Sr like potential catamites before a pederast, whilst he took his time selecting his preference. His stated desire to have some contact with new Mitras, being little more than a smokescreen for his true purpose. In the event, he chose the youngest and most vulnerable amongst the four of us, and this was to become his general modus operandi – although I did not discover this for another twenty years or so.
It later became apparent that he much preferred grooming youths as sexual partners: so it was always a case of pederasty as a model for his carnal exploits. I count myself lucky that Sr showed no sexual interest in me: thus I avoided the psychological damage suffered by the few of those selected by him, who have admitted as much in the public domain.
Equally disturbing is the apparent complicity of Subhuti in this nefarious scheme: for there can be no doubt that he knew of Sr’s extra-curricular sexual activities. Subhuti, and some other senior members of the Order, certainly knew of the precise nature of Sr’s relationship with Mark Dunlop, and others they mixed with on a frequent basis – even at this relatively early stage in Triratna/FWBO history. I know this for a fact; it was the rest of us who were kept in the dark. This becomes evident, when I clearly recall that it was very soon after M’s fateful selection by Sr, as his new ‘consort’, that Subhuti began to promote what became known as, the Greek love concept.
Subhuti’s explanation of ‘Greek love’ was as follows: men become involved in sexual relationships with women due to ‘social conditioning’. Unfortunately, in many cases these heterosexual relationships become mired in feelings of clinging and dependency. These serious emotional complications are detrimental to the spiritual life, and drain away energy which should be available for meditation and ‘more creative’ relationships: particularly with one’s ‘spiritual friends’ (other Mitras, members of the Triratna/WB Order, etc.)
An alternative to these socially approved, and expected, sexual relationships could be provided by ancient Greek culture: a homo-erotic relationship between an older, more experienced man, and a youth. This is of course pederasty within an historical context, and just happened to be Sr’s chosen sexual strategy!
So Subhuti, clearly on behalf of his teacher, was attempting to provide an historical and quasi-intellectual pretext for including Sr’s sexual outlook, and behaviour, into his interpretation and exposition of the Buddha’s teaching (the Dharma) under the guise of bringing it into a more western orientated format!
When Subhuti began to outline these ideas (which became known as ‘Greek love’), I had no idea they emanated from Sr: because I failed to see the connection with M’s adoption by Sr, unaware then of its sexual basis.
Another factor, that led directly to the adoption of ancient Greek pederasty as a model for spiritual friendship (Kalyana mitrata), particularly between senior Order Members and the usually younger Mitras they had established a bond with, came from an article published in the former FWBO newsletter. This was entitled ‘Leaving mother and initiation into manhood’, and had been written by a Sukhavati community member named Chintamani. As I recall, it appeared in the latter half of 1977. Although I read it at the time, it has not (hardly surprisingly) been reproduced on the internet or anywhere else that I know of.
My memory is that it suggests that men often find it difficult to loosen their strong natural ties with their mothers: so Chintamani recommended that young men should concentrate on forging strong relationships with other, sometimes older, men; including the option of having sex with them; whether on an experimental basis, or as a key feature of the liaison. This influential article was widely circulated, some six months or so before Subhuti began to promote the ‘Greek love’ concept on unsuspecting Mitras like myself!
Thus, my perception informed by my deep involvement in the Triratna/FWBO at the time, is that the period from late 1977 to mid-1978 was the nurturing, incubation phase for the eruption of sexual misconduct (euphemistically called Greek love), which was subsequently to critically damage the reputation of the Triratna/FWBO group, and Sr’s personal credibility as a Dharma teacher.
After Subhuti, and other senior Order Members, began to popularise so-called Greek love, it was only a matter of months before homosexual liaisons between well-established Order Members and, generally younger, Mitras began. I know of at least four OMs, who became deeply involved in initiating these types of relationships – in a few cases with shocking promiscuity!
All of the Order Members I knew, who were involved in conducting these homosexual associations, had themselves been sexually involved with Sr at some point. They were, therefore, conducting these liaisons as, what they had been led to believe was, a key element of Sr’s interpretation of the Dharma: Sr’s Buddhism in action! I was told many times, from the late 70’s until the mid-80’s, that Sr believed that it was sometimes possible to make more progress – in forming a strong rapport with an individual of the same gender – in one night, than in months of platonic contact. This was presented to me as a direct Sr quote, so it seems clear that at least some in the Order believed it to be a key component of his teaching.
A senior member of the Order, Vishvapani, revealed in a letter published on the internet (see: http://discussion.fwbo.org/sangharakshita/
‘A letter to Norman Fischer’) that some of Sr’s sexual partners were below the age of consent (for homosexual encounters) as legally set at the time: which was 21 during the 1970’s and early to mid-80’s; but felt unable to refuse his sexual advances – an absolutely crucial point. So Sr’s ‘personal teaching’ had no regard for the law!
The concept of ‘Greek love’ has, of course, nothing at all to do with Buddhism: so it seems astonishing that reasonably intelligent and well-informed individual, within the Order, behaved – and seemingly believed – as if it did! Moreover, this was not the only feature of Sr’s teaching that was wildly at variance with the substance, and spirit, of the Dharma.
A central element of Sr’s interpretation of Buddhist teaching is the concept of ‘The higher evolution’. This notion, first outlined by Sr in the late 60’s, was to become an integral part of the Mitra study course: which all Mitras were, and still are, expected to undertake, especially if they covet ordination.
From my own past experience of meeting relatively new attendees at public classes and retreats – run by Sr’s Order – most have only, at best, a rudimentary knowledge of basic Buddhist doctrine (the Dharma). Even those more acquainted with the Dharma, are unlikely to be too perturbed by the introduction of this unfamiliar formulation. Unfortunately, this easy acceptance is a serious mistake! Because the teaching of a ‘higher evolution of man’ changes the character of Sr’s presentation: from a Buddhist path to something quite different – literally Sangharakshitism!
The reason for this lies in a close examination of this idiosyncratic concept. According to Sr, human consciousness develops and evolves, as a direct consequence of meditation and other Sr sponsored practices. He speculates that most humans are just below the level of ‘Self Consciousness’ – even some way below. Practice of Sr ‘Buddhism’, results in the elevation of an individual’s consciousness above self-awareness, and into ‘Super-human’ awareness, and thence into ‘Transcendental Consciousness’; and finally onward to Buddhahood. Sr equates his so-called, Super-human consciousness, with artistic achievements: a notion those of us who have studied, or practised in, some area of the fine arts/literature may feel shows a poor understanding of the creative process. Sr has no formal training in any of the arts. The problem with this model is that it has nothing at all to do with Dharma teaching!
Buddhism is concerned with the cultivation of insight into the true nature of reality, and of the consciousness that perceives it: ie, the characteristic of everything we experience being, impermanent, subject to change, insubstantial, and thus deeply unsatisfying to identify with. This insight has to be experienced DIRECTLY, not through intellectual appreciation: rather in the manner of the death of someone close having to be experienced as an actual event, rather than just considered mentally. There is no concept, anywhere in the Buddha’s teaching, of individual awareness evolving in some sort of structured, linear progression. ‘Stream entry’ (the point of no return, when eventual enlightenment is inevitable) arising from a deep, transforming spiritual insight – not a gradual evolution in consciousness.
A period of intense meditation (eg, a retreat situation) will enhance one’s self-awareness, understanding of past events, and insight into other people – as they really are. This, however, is a temporary, reversible elevation in consciousness – not part of an ongoing ‘evolutionary’ process. In addition, stressful and other harmful states may be alleviated, to some extent, as a consequence of Buddhist practice: a welcome and positive side-effect, not the primary focus.
The process of attaining Vipassana (insight) is achieved through the regular, and diligent, practice of some form of Insight meditation: unfortunately this practice is not taught – and never has been – at Triratna/FWBO public classes and retreats!
Thus, common sense suggests that acquiring insight is not Sr’s main, and imperative, goal: what is really on offer is the establishment of a hierarchy of Triratna personnel, according to the level of ‘awareness’ and commitment they are judged to have attained – by loyal seniors (called Preceptors) in Sr’s Order. In effect, the primary underlying intention is the creation of a rigid theocratic structure: each individual’s placement, therein, determined by these Preceptors (mini-Srs). Consequently, Buddhist doctrine is transmuted into a form of Theocratic Fascism: a phrase that is a synonym for a cult!
The existence of this inflexible, and wholly artificial, hierarchy – based on Sr’s invented ‘higher evolutionary’ model – has historically provided the ideological matrix for the acceptance of forms of abuse: mainly, although not exclusively, focused on the ordination process. Thus, my contention is that the fostering of this fabricated, multi-tiered organisational ranking, has inevitably facilitated abusive behaviour from Sr (sexual misconduct), and some senior OMs (various unethical forms).
One of the Order’s darkest secrets is of the practice of ‘Fierce friendship’, otherwise known as ‘Feedback’, which was promoted and implemented routinely – especially during the 1980’s.
The genesis of this new venture into abuse was sometime in the early 80’s, when I was temporarily out of contact with the Triratna/FWBO: for a period of just over 4 years. I was told in late 1984, that a senior OM had written an article for the former FWBO newsletter on this subject. Because I never saw this article, I can only repeat my informant’s comments. The general argument, was that one of the most effective ways of encouraging a Mitra to overcome ’emotional blockages’, and deeply rooted ‘negative behaviour patterns’, is by confrontational communication with an OM (Order Member). This would benefit the Mitra in his/her quest for ordination – as a new OM.
This might seem like a reasonable and thoughtful proposal: and in the gift of a trained, experienced and sensitive OM, perhaps a viable and effective strategy. Unfortunately, this was not how the practice was, all too often, implemented. In the black and white cartoon world of FWBO culture, the supposedly benign and therapeutic ‘confrontation’ quickly degenerated into outright bullying and intimidation. By the mid-80’s, Mitras whose only desire was to express their deep commitment to the spiritual life, were unexpectedly at risk of serious, damaging abuse.
Not all Mitras involved in the pre-ordination process were subjected to so-called ‘fierce friendship’, but those who were (including myself) were unlikely to forget the ordeal they suffered. So, although the professed purpose of this adopted tactic was to facilitate a Mitra’s ordination prospects, the reality – as I personally witnessed and experienced – was spiteful bullying; accompanied by claims that we were now learning to become ‘more open to the Order and hence Bhante [Sr’s appellation]’!
My perception is that this ‘feedback’ (another euphemism for this abuse), was most likely to be deployed against Mitras who were regarded as having some unwelcome aspects to their profile: they may have been older, more set in their ways, or just very reserved by nature – as is Sr by his own admission! By the aforementioned process of ‘Baiting & Bashing’, an OM who embarked on a process of ‘fierce friendship’ with a Mitra, whose Ordination request was under review could, intentionally or otherwise, draw in other OM’s in a collective campaign of opprobrium and invective. A situation that could, and sometimes did, become difficult to control and restrain.
The main problem being: the complete lack of training, skill, maturity and psychological education and insight, of the Order Members who became involved in these confrontational scenarios! Some training in counselling skills, and a preliminary selection of OM’s in terms of their innate ability in one-to-one people skills, and personal sensitivity, could have alleviated the more noxious effects of the ‘feedback’ epidemic that I witnessed – but this was not done.
One of the most insidious and effective forms of mental and emotional manipulation is called ‘Gaslighting’: named after a stage play, and two later 1940’s movies. This is a more subtle and complex form of abuse than ‘Baiting & Bashing’, more difficult to detect, but just as corrosive in its effects on an individual’s psychological well-being.
In its standard form ‘Gaslighting’ involves an interaction between two people. Individual A desires control and domination over Individual B. This is achieved by the use of psychological techniques, designed to undermine B’s belief in his/her powers of perception, memory and intuition. Over a period of time, Individual B becomes increasingly insecure, unable to make decisions, and confused in their recollection of recent events. Eventually, B becomes completely dependent on A, for his/her interpretation and sense of reality. Individual B cannot then function without A’s presence in the relationship.
The Gaslighting techniques involve controlling communication between the two: A might tell B that their memory of a past conversation is false, that their interpretation of a past event is pure fantasy, and that they always see things in a negative light. Attempts by B to question the honesty and integrity of the relationship, are met by comments from A challenging B’s state of mind, general attitude and even sanity.
Although usually seen in this one-to-one format, it has recently occurred to me that the same dynamic was often at work in the Triratna/FWBO, during the periods of my involvement: ie, the late 70’s, the bulk of the 80’s, and the late 1990’s.
The reason for this lies in the curious, but chronic, self-deception evident in Triratna personnel, when they are collectively considering the innermost processes and developments in their organisation. There has always seemed to be a dark, but unrecognised, shadow at the heart of this troubled group. The Order’s faculty for introspective group analysis being notably dysfunctional.
A good deal of the problem is concerned with Sr’s blatant, but concealed, past sexual misconduct; and the equally reprehensible behaviour of some senior OM’s who have been close to Sr. This curious myopia has led to a blind spot, or spots, manifesting at the heart of Triratna culture.
The ongoing attempt to hide the unethical behaviour of Sr and others, has been enforced by tactics such as: blocking and diverting questions from concerned Mitras, trivialising their importance, or feigning lack of knowledge – even outright denial! In my past experience, awkward questions concerning these uncomfortable topics were often dealt with by calling into question the attitude and motivation of the enquirer. This would lead to comments like ‘You’re being negative again’ or ‘I don’t like your attitude’, etc.
The point is, of course, that these evasive tactics are identical to the Gaslighting techniques mentioned earlier! Therefore, it is my thesis that a form of institutionalised Gaslighting has been routinely employed, to cover up inconvenient truths – all of which track back to Sr. This type of abusive behaviour (and Gaslighting is definitely recognised as a form of emotional abuse) reached its zenith during the 1980’s: the period when ‘Fierce friendship’ blighted the lives of Triratna/FWBO Mitras, and some Friends (‘less committed’ members).
Consequently, my argument is that part of the purpose of ‘Fierce friendship’, whether in its intense often brutal 80’s mode, or less virulent pre-80’s and post-80’s form, was to HABITUATE – or condition – future Order Members (Mitras requesting ordination) not to direct their attention onto the gradually noticeable sexual misconduct of Sr, and some of his favourite courtiers! This resulted in a ‘Black hole’ being created at the heart of Triratna/FWBO culture.
‘Fierce friendship’ and the increasingly detectable ‘Black hole’, forming a nexus of abuse that still simmers just below the surface of the Triratna/FWBO group: patiently waiting for opportunities to manifest in a more tangible and toxic form! If you are considering, or in the early stages of, involvement in this organisation, then be warned: this is not abstract conjecture, but a very real threat to your emotional well-being!
It has been suggested to me that Sr’s claim, to be unable to remember certain aspects of one long-term homosexual relationship, and the entire existence of another (with ex-OM Yashomitra) are a classic Gaslighting tactic. This is technically true: although in the case of ex-Yashomitra, the claimed lack of recollection is more likely due to the fact that this youth was below the age of legal consent (21), for homosexual acts at this time: 1982. Sr may have become fearful of legal action, for having had sex with an 18 year old youth; although there were others, also legally minors.
Finally: it would be illuminating to consider the character of the Triratna/FWBO founder himself. Sr’s public image has been carefully promoted and cultivated by his closest confidants: Subhuti, Mahamati et al.
The process of projecting an image of wisdom, great learning and reverence for his teachers, can be most clearly seen in the infamous document: ‘Conversations with Bhante’ [Sr’s appellation]. This interview was conducted in August 2009, and I’m told that its disingenuous content led to several resignations from the Order.
You can find the full interview on:
Download the 2nd interview on the list.
The first 16 pages are devoted to Sr’s narcissistic musings on his alleged personal qualities. He admits to going through a period of Promiscuity, but does not reveal that many of the 200 or so youths he lured into sexual encounters, were heterosexual; and some below the coeval age of consent! Question: why would a heterosexual youth of circa 19 agree to have sex with an old man? Answer: because he expects something very beneficial in return.
This is called implied inducement of a minor, for illegal sexual purposes!
Like many former Mitras or OM’s, I receive information now and then about new developments in Triratna group culture, or newly surfaced confidences regarding the past. In the latter category, I was recently sent two accounts written by individuals who were close to Sr during very different periods.
The first was written by a senior OM, and concerned his relationship with Sr in the early years of the FWBO. It gives a vivid and disturbing portrait of a man who is prone to emotional tantrums, when his desires are frustrated. It shows Sr as a vulnerable and volatile individual, prone to sulking, and even demeaning sarcasm.
Perhaps this was true in the late 1960’s, but surely not recently? Unfortunately, the second account dating from the early 2000’s, paints a comparable picture of our troubled subject.
The informant is a man in his mid-20’s, who became quite close to Sr during his time at Madhyamaloka in Birmingham. What is particularly troubling, is that this young man describes a sexual relationship with Sr at this time – circa 2004. If you turn to page 33 of the aforementioned interview with Sr, you will see that he states clearly that he had been celibate since the MID-1980’s! Some 20 years BEFORE this newly revealed sexual liaison began!
I am reliably informed that this young man’s account has been confirmed, by comments made by two Order Members; I have also seen corroboration from another source.
It seems that the compelling balance of probability is that Sr (aided and abetted by Subhuti, as he was in the ‘keen to meet new Mitras’ saga of 1977/78) was being economical with the truth, regarding his apparent inability to remain celibate.
The rest of the import of this second, later account, also gives a strong impression of an emotionally unpredictable and manipulative man: so the two accounts, some 35 years apart, are completely consistent.
The author of the more recent narrative, remarks with dismay that there exists a huge difference between Sr’s public, and his private, personas – and this is the crucial point!
I have heard members of Sr’s Order say that although one of their number is ‘unreliable in behaviour’, he/she is ‘completely solid’ when teaching the Dharma. The same qualification seems to apply to their teacher: whose truthfulness and past sexual conduct was demonstrably highly dubious.
The Buddhist path is intended as an holistic process: which means that one’s motivation, intellect, emotions and ethical values, should be brought together into a cohesive and mutually supportive whole. It is common for our emotions and moral sensibilities to lag behind: so that there is a time delay – perhaps many years – before they are brought into this united front. This holistic integration is necessary, to sustain a lifetime commitment towards Buddhist meditation and Dharma study.
We must remember that Sr has, supposedly, been a practising Buddhist since the late 1940’s: ergo, it is not so much a case of a delay, in bringing his emotions and ethics into line, as a permanent schism! Quite simply, Sr is a divided personality: with his idealism and intellect orientated in one direction, and much of the rest of him in another.
It follows that Sangharakshita, on the evidence of confidential written accounts I’ve seen, has been FAILED by his own invented, and greatly distorted, version of Buddhism! This being the case, what chance have the rest of us, mere mortals, of benefiting from these teachings?
And with that thought I will end!
© Alan J. W. June 2016
Filed under: FWBO |