Triratna – FWBO: Inside the sect of Sangharakshita by Alan J. W.

Alan W

 

2017 edition by Alan J. W.

(Warning: includes a brief sexually explicit event)

I originally wrote this article fairly quickly in August 2015, under difficult circumstances. Looking through it recently, I felt it needed some ‘tidying up’ grammatically; plus some amendments, supplementary material and occasional updates.

Most of the additions, and changes to the original text, are to be found in the later more autobiographical section.

The amendments are to clarify dates and other details; the extra inclusions to expand upon historical attitudes and key events: most notably in my exposition on the crisis at the Croydon centre during the late 80’s.  I was, indirectly, privy to the unfolding drama at the time, and thought this an ideal forum for a bit more disclosure.  This important topic now occupies a separate section.

The penultimate chapter features an allegorical story conjured up during this revision.  This is intended to mirror and parody the dysfunction that has dogged Triratna/ FWBO for decades now.

After which the article concludes with a return to general issues.  A cautionary set of comments covering a spectrum of concerns raised on this, and other, websites.

There are also some more recent developments outlined at relevant points in the narrative.  Some of these relate to situations, as yet, unresolved.

I make no apologies for the rather graphic description of a sexual assault.  I have no desire (now or in 2015) to present a sanitised account; suggesting a lack of conviction in my opinion.

I have decided to use my own name (as I did in my second article for Dialogue Ireland) minus the highly unusual Polish surname.  This is to save surviving members of my family from embarrassment.  Rest assured that the Triratna Order know my identity, as I knew (to greater or lesser extent) many of the male seniors and Preceptors, primarily in the UK.

I was involved with the Triratna Buddhist Community/ FWBO intermittently from March 1977 until, circa, June 2000.  During the late 70’s and mid-80’s I was heavily involved, and in the centre of Triratna activities: including the ordination process from Aug 84 until, circa, late 1985.  I was, however, never ordained into Sangharakshita’s Order: for reasons all too evident in the content of this article.

I will start by making a few general points, that I feel have not been given the importance that they merit, in other commentaries on Triratna/FWBO that I have read.

I will then move on to specifics: in a much more autobiographical account of my experiences – which may well make disturbing reading!  I am willing to give a sworn affidavit that this account is the truth as I experienced it.  I am also amenable to testifying this assurance in a court of law – if this becomes necessary.

General points

1/ During the period of my involvement – and at present – there was an overwhelming cult of personality built up around the person of Sangharakshita.  The sheer scale of this personality hype would be difficult for an outsider to grasp.  To give a small example: In the mid-1980’s, Sangharakshita (who from now on, to save space, I will refer to as simply Sr) was quoted as saying that, old encyclopaedias were more reliable – information-wise – than more modern editions.  He added that Order members (ie, members of Sr’s Order, from now on to be referred to as OMs) should consider carrying a dictionary with them whenever possible.  Incredibly, OMs that I knew at the time took this advice seriously, and a few did start brandishing dictionaries (old ones of course), even though this topic had nothing at all to do with Buddhism.

This unconditional adulation was given added potency by the extravagant, and wholly unmerited, titles that Sr gave to himself.  During the 70’s and 80’s he was no less than: The Venerable Maha Sthavira Sangharakshita!  It is easy to imagine the effect this extravagant titling had on impressionable 20+ youths!

Almost every utterance made by Sr, was given the sanctity of the 10 stone tablets brought down from Mount Sinai by Moses.  Most Buddhist teachers do not generate anything like this scale of extreme adulation – so why did Sr?  There has to be a suspicion that it provided the perfect cover for his extra-curricular activities.  OMs and Mitras (the latter meaning fairly committed followers, and often workers for Triratna/FWBO services and business ventures) were in such awe of the man that they found it impossible to question his sexual conduct; even his closest followers felt hindered in this respect.

Thus, he was able to remain active as a sexual predator, with damaging consequences for some of his conquests, for a minimum of 15 years – no questions asked!  This fact, in itself, points to Triratna/FWBO being an insidious cult – but there is much more to support this conclusion.

2/ During the period of my involvement Triratna/FWBO was primarily a young person’s movement.  In the late 70’s most of us were in our 20’s, and it was unusual to find an active OM older than 35.  Young people are, of course, much easier to manipulate than more mature followers.

Extremist groups like the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, and now the Jihadi groups in Syria and Africa, have found their most loyal and fanatical recruits amongst the young.

It may seem fanciful to compare the Triratna/FWBO with such homicidal groups – but is it?  Recently, Buddhist monks in Burma/Myanmar have been involved in a brutal ethnic cleansing campaign, against their neighbouring Muslim communities – deaths have occurred.  I feel ashamed to admit that the image of Buddhism as being a peaceful, sublime religion is rather naïve.

Just prior to this updated edition, concerns were raised in the media and on-line, about the content of certain entries within the ‘Clear Vision’ internet resource, aimed – primarily – at school children.  This included an interview with Sr, in which he eulogised his promiscuous sexual behaviour as being beneficial to Triratna/FWBO history!  This interview has now – at least temporarily – been removed.  Some apparently homoerotic photos also caused concern.  Suitable for children?  Historically, Triratna have always tended to prioritise the induction of young people into deeper involvement – not the mature.

3/ The Triratna/FWBO group was, and still is, very insular.  People from other Buddhist organisations were never invited to give talks.  To become a Mitra until the late 90’s (there may have been some changes since) involved an undertaking to refrain from close association with other, non-FWBO, Buddhists.  Sr, and his minions, claimed that fraternisation with other groups would ‘confuse’ the aspiring Mitra.

4/ This leads to a vital point: Sr’s teaching diverges in important respects from mainstream Buddhist doctrine (the Dharma).  The differences are more than just academic.  Sr’s concept of a ‘Higher evolution’, with an attendant ‘Spiral path’, is alien to other Buddhists of any school.  These ideas owe far more to Darwin and Nietzsche than any Dharma teacher.  Sr and his chief disciple Subhuti have, since the late 70’s, tried to instil into the minds of every OM, the claim that they are some sort of spiritual ‘master race’; vastly superior to any other Buddhist Order.  This has led to Triratna/FWBO adopting a rigid, paralysing hierarchy: resulting in an abusive, bullying attitude being shown, historically, towards the Mitras Sr’s Order are, and were, supposedly responsible for.

As one, soon to withdraw, OM told me in 1997: the Order regarded Mitras as ‘some sort of sub-human species’ during the 1980’s!  He wasn’t joking, and this attitude fuelled the impetus for the abuse that I, and other Mitras, suffered – especially during this decade.

Subhuti, and many other seasoned OMs, seemed to believe that they occupied a far higher strata of consciousness than the rest of us; simply because they were senior OMs in contact with Sr.  This collective delusion has nothing to do with Dharma practice, but is the inevitable consequence of the alien concept of ‘The higher evolution of man’: in reality the psychological condition of ‘Ego Inflation’!

It is my contention that Sr’s concept of the ‘higher evolution of consciousness’ is the destructive virus at the heart of Triratna’s malaise. This is because of the causal links between this non-Buddhist tenet, the rigid – even frost-bitten – hierarchy and the elitist arrogance referred to above.  This has historically encouraged the development of abusive modes of conduct – psychological, emotional and sexual – by Sr and some of his senior colleagues, and may well do so again.

It follows that Triratna will never be a genuine and benign form of Buddhism, until this poisonous doctrine is discarded!  I strongly adhere to this view.

Sr’s negative attitude to the practice of Insight Meditation (Vipassana) is a related problem.  The meditation practices taught by his Order are regarded by genuine Buddhists as supplementary practices; optional to the main practice of insight meditation: which cultivates spiritual insight, and eventually leads to enlightenment.

Sr, in the past, has made the ludicrous claim that insight meditation, in its most popular forms, leads to alienation and even mental illness.  This is belied by the fact that multitudes of people around the world – including myself – are practising some form of insight meditation: without any discernable ill effects!

So, these are the general factors that lead me, and many other people, to conclude that Triratna/FWBO is really ‘The sect of Sangharakshita’, and not a genuine Buddhist group.  That it is potentially, and in the past was actually, inherently abusive and a danger to the psychological and emotional well-being of its members.

The 1970’s

In 1977/78 I was living in a large, single sex, Triratna/FWBO community in East London, and working within the small housekeeping team.  I had developed a close relationship with an older OM; let’s call him P.  Although I knew that P was bisexual this had never been a problem.

In the spring of 1978, senior OM Subhuti (the community chairman) gave a talk at a communal meeting, which outlined the, soon to be notorious, ‘Greek love’ model of spiritual friendship.

According to Subhuti, relationships between members of the opposite sex are often marred by ‘neurotic dependence’, stifling to the spiritual aspirations of both partners.  He suggested, therefore, that two possible alternatives should be considered as outlets for sexual gratification: promiscuous, casual heterosexual sex, free of commitment; or a homosexual relationship, particularly – and this is the crucial point– between a committed and experienced mentor, and his pupil.

This, of course, was to initiate the wave of deeply inappropriate relationships, between OMs and same sex Mitras, which were a conspicuous feature of the late 70’s and 80’s.  I noticed my friend P enthusiastically supporting this latter proposal, and realised that it had already been discussed during inclusive Order meetings.  I did not know then that these ideas originated from Sr.

Shortly after Subhuti gave this talk, P tried to forcibly seduce me: he simply pulled me into his room, pushed me onto his bed, and started groping at my genitals.  He was trying to masturbate me and I froze in shock!  Because we were friends: he could see how ‘freaked out’ I was and stopped after about 4 minutes.  I had not become aroused, so the act was unconsummated.  Because we were friends: I kept quiet about the incident and never mentioned it to anyone.  P died some time ago.  A few other sexually charged incidents – less serious but still disturbing – involving other, same sex, community members occurred during this period.

At the time, I strongly believed that P had been manipulated by Subhuti, and through him by Sr, into behaving in a manner that was out of character for him – and it was alarmingly so.  I still believe this.   Subhuti, and his teacher Sr, bear a direct responsibility for the emotional distress this and other similar incidents (like the one described by ex-Yashomitra in his open letter of 2003, which occurred during his first visit to Padmaloka in 1980) had on the young, impressionable and traumatically shocked recipients.  My relationship with P was seriously damaged by this incident, and we failed to keep in contact after I left the community a few months later.

It had been intimated to me that Sr was gay, although it was sacrilege to say so openly.  I also knew that Sr always seemed to have a close young male companion: there were about 4 different consorts for Sr during the period of my FWBO involvement.  I knew all of these young guys: not well, but I mixed with them during the normal course of my FWBO activities.  They were all youthful, easy-going and straightforward types – but most importantly they were all heterosexual!  I could tell this, the way that many men intuitively can.  Consequently, it seemed inconceivable to me that any of these relationships could be sexual in nature.  Why would a gay man like Sr want close relationships with consecutive youths who were not gay themselves?  I found this puzzling, but knew of the dangers of consulting senior members of Sr’s Order on such a sensitive subject.

What I had failed to realise, in my naivety, was that Sr PREFERRED very young heterosexual companions.  I cannot possibly prove it, but I believe that he was sexually excited by the prospect of a gay relationship with a young straight consort; whom he could ‘convert’ to his own sexual orientation, and then cast aside when he wanted a change.  I am convinced that this was the case.  Instead of examining this harmful aspect of his sexual nature, within the context of insight meditation practice, and the Buddhist precepts (ie, moral guidelines), Sr simply tried to incorporate this behaviour pattern into his teaching: with damaging consequences for some of his young companions, and eventually the small group of OMs who naively followed his example.

The Buddhist, especially Theravada, view on sexual desire is unambiguous: while practising insight meditation, one focuses on the arising of feelings of sexual craving.  One observes these feelings objectively and dispassionately, and changes in their intensity.  One notes the passing of these desires.  They are just transient phenomena: they arise and then die.  There is no meaning or purpose in becoming attached to such ephemeral cravings: but that is exactly what Sr did for a minimum of 15 years!

Thus, there are serious questions arising from Sr’s teaching: if he presents it, as he does, as being Buddhist doctrine (the Dharma).  His attitude to the question of sexual craving, being a strong indication of a seriously flawed interpretation of the Buddha’s exposition.

The 1980’s

During the 1980’s the ordination process became lengthy and arduous.  Mitras were prepared for ordination in different ways.  Some, including myself, were treated to a sustained course of what became known as ‘Fierce friendship’ or ‘Feedback’.

This latest perversion of the Buddha’s teaching, like all new ‘developments’ in the FWBO, had its origins in closed meetings between OMs – in the early 80’s.  The original intention seems to have been to promote a more confrontational style of ‘spiritual friendship’; but in the stark, unsophisticated culture of the FWBO, this soon descended into bullying and manipulative ‘mind-games’!  I do know that Sr and Subhuti, were well aware of what became an accepted feature of the ordination process.

In August 1984, in a wave of enthusiasm, I asked Sr for ordination.  We had a familiarity with each other from the late 1970’s.  I remember that he looked at me rather coldly and said, ‘You’re putting your head on the block’.  He might well claim that he has no recollection of such a conversation: but selective amnesia has become Sr’s ‘stock-in-trade’ has it not?

He claims that he does not recall having had a sexual relationship with ex-Yashomitra in 1982: a relationship that lasted for around 6 months from the spring of that year.  The problem here is that everyone knows that Sr has an excellent memory: as his latest volume of memoirs, and the infamous ‘Conversations with Bhante (Sangharakshita), August 2009’ proves.  Perhaps the fact that ex-Yashomitra was only 18 at the time – turning 19 during the course of the relationship – has something to do with this uncharacteristic memory lapse!   After all, if Sr had admitted that at the age of 56, he had lured an 18 year old heterosexual youth into having sex with him, over a period of 6 months, it would have seriously damaged his reputation and that of his Order.

Since the publication of the original article, in September 2015, I have been informed that the age of consent for homosexual acts at this time was 21 years.  This, of course, makes his temporary memory loss legally expedient!

Another similar case, involving a former German Mitra, came to light in 2016.  The individual in question, circulated a detailed account of his alleged sexual relationship with Sr; dating to the period, circa 2003, when the Triratna founder was supposedly celibate.  Sr again claimed a temporary loss of memory.  Following this, the Order office (central admin) requested that all OMs should delete any copy of this embarrassing disclosure emailed to them – thus destroying evidence of this alleged sexual liaison!  This episode was reported by a reliable source.

What Sr meant by his comment, about putting my head on the block, was a mystery to me for about 7 months; after which, I was targeted for a period of ‘fierce friendship’.  It is partly for this reason that I am convinced that Sr knew about this new venture into abusive behaviour.

I was then living near the London Buddhist Centre (in East London) and working in its affiliated building cooperative.  For a period of several months, I was endlessly criticised for practically everything I did, by the OMs working with me – and a few others.  I could do nothing right.  It was obvious I was being bullied, and the abuse was becoming relentless.  Some of the criticism seemed to be projected from my tormentors’ own minds; inappropriate and inaccurate; more to do with their own psychological tensions, than my failings.

It seemed to me that the intention was, to either force me to withdraw my ordination request, or break down my personality: to make me ‘more receptive to the Order’ as one OM put it.  Other Mitras had similar experiences.

I remember that one of my fellow Mitras was forced to come to my aid, on one occasion: because the abuse had become so spiteful.  This was spiritual I, FWBO style!

Some Mitras sought to have a sexual relationship with a senior OM of the same sex – an alternative to ‘feedback’.   In a speech given to an FWBO conference on the ordination of men in July 1986 (see: www.ex-cult.org/fwbo/SubQuote.htm), Subhuti outlined the same points I described in the above section on ‘Greek love’; which I originally heard him give, circa, April 1978.  So this ‘proposal’ was not just a topic for discussion, or a passing whim: it had been an on-going practice by Sr, and a few of his closest disciples, for more than 8 years!

The truth is that a small group in the Order, adopted the practice of having sexual relationships with same sex Mitras – often more than one at a time – in direct imitation of Sr’s promiscuity.

To give an example of the kind of thinking that prevailed, during the late 70’s and entire 80’s, I include this link to a comment made by an individual ordained, circa 1984, here:  www.ex-cult.org/fwbo/Jnanavira.htm

A few comments by Ratnottara (sic) are included.  How do we know a Mitra’s sexual orientation – or its flexibility – unless homosexual overtures are attempted, in certain circumstances?  This is the, paraphrased, suggestion from Jnanavira that I find most alarming.

I invite the reader to compare this statement, with the ordeal I suffered at the hands of my friend P, circa April 1978!  Despite all the criticism and controversy, I am told that there are still people in the Order who adhere to views similar to these.

At the time I was writing the original version of this article, I was unaware that a former close friend of Sr, and holder of prestigious positions in the Order until the early 2000’s, was under investigation by the Norfolk police for sexual offences against a minor.  So, in a few cases ‘Greek love’ spiralled almost out of control!

Experienced and less impressionable Mitras, knew that the sexual variant of OM/ Mitra relationships were tacitly considered, by both parties in these arrangements, as a quicker route to ordination than simply waiting for your turn in the queue!  These discreet homosexual liaisons were unlikely to be discussed in such blatant terms, but the implication was obvious, to many of us.  A sexual relationship with Sr, of course, was an even faster track to ordination – and I know of a few such cases!

Another problem concerned the financial side of FWBO business ventures.  I worked in a number of such ‘Right Livelihood’ situations, and was told, in more than one case, to register as unemployed: so that I would receive ‘Unemployment Benefit’.  Another possibility was a government cash support scheme for new business enterprises.  The money I received in benefits was topped up with an allowance for lunches, expenses and retreats – an illegal practice of course.

These funding methods were considered by many in the Order as ethically acceptable: although likely to lead to great personal difficulties, if discovered by the relevant government department.  It was by using such reprehensible tactics that Triratna/FWBO acquired some of its wealth.

During the mid-1980’s, my relationship with members of my family became strained, and in one case fatally damaged.  My rapport with friends outside the FWBO was also seriously impaired; I lost friends I had known since I was a teenager.  This is, of course, a frequent outcome for individuals inducted into a cult (or the less provocative term – sect): as you develop friendships with people in the cult/sect, your previous long-term relationships run into difficulties.  This gradual estrangement becomes more pronounced as your involvement intensifies.

The dynamics involved here are quite complex: but I think the reader will have an intuitive sense of how this joint process of induction into a cult/sect, and alienation from previous relationships works.  It is for this reason, I feel, that people often find it difficult and painful to leave Triratna/FWBO: they must retreat from the friendships they have developed to re-enter, in effect, an emotional vacuum.  To heal the damage done to old associations is difficult and distressing; this is how I found it.

The late 1990’s

The difficulties for Triratna/FWBO first entered the public domain in the late 1990’s.  There was a famous article in The Guardian newspaper (Oct 97), and websites sprang up criticising Sr, and his organisation, in troubling terms.

In the wake of all this, the Triratna Order became withdrawn and inactive – at least at the centre I was then attending.  In the months that followed, during 1998, the public position the Order had decided on became evident.  A portion of The Guardian article had been devoted to outlining the difficulties that increasingly developed, at the Croydon centre – just outside London.  Particular criticism had been cast on the behaviour of its former chairperson: Padmaraja.  Consequently, the inner circle of Triratna /FWBO (then called: The college of Preceptors and Presidents) decided to shift all the blame, for the troubles within the organisation, at the feet of Padmaraja: instead of the real culprit Sr himself!

This policy seemed to work reasonably well – at least temporarily.  Even OMs who had been active in the 1980’s, and knew the truth (that Sr, strongly backed by Subhuti, was largely responsible for the growth of extreme views, and modes of conduct) could be relied upon to ‘tow the party line’.  They were fearful of the consequences of ‘rocking the boat’: alienating their colleagues and risking eventual expulsion from the Order.

People outside the Order, mostly old Mitras, who knew the truth and might be tempted to speak out, were dealt with on an individual basis.  In my own case, I was effectively excluded from a local centre and its activities by the anxious chairman, after tentatively challenging historical inaccuracies – at the end of the 1990’s.

I only saw Kulananda’s letter to, The Guardian newspaper, (see: www.ex-cult.org/fwbo/Guardian.htm) recently for the first time (early 2015): I was shocked and mortified!  Written in the immediate aftermath of the critical Guardian article of October 1997, it reveals the extent to which Sr’s inner circle, of favoured OMs, are willing to deceive the interested public.  It is a transparent attempt to expunge the darker chapters from their sect’s historical record.

It would be illuminating to scrutinise the letter’s contents: Kulananda claimed that ‘difficult, indeed tragic, events’ only happened at one centre: ie, in Croydon.  This is a deliberate falsity!

Kulananda knew that a semi-official policy known as ‘Fierce friendship’ or ‘Feedback’ was commonplace at other UK centres.  He knew that this involved many OMs in the practice of persistent criticism (to put it tactfully) of Mitras in their charge; often those who had asked Sr for ordination.  He knew that this behaviour often descended into outright bullying and intimidation.  He also knew that this practice was officially brought to an end in the early 1990’s, after discussions at Order meetings: presumably because of the troubles at the Croydon centre, and the broadcast of the first BBC film criticising the FWBO in 1992.  I checked all of these facts with a senior OM in the late 1990’s, so the information is reliably sourced.

Kulananda then claims that lessons have been learned, and safeguards put into place to prevent a recurrence of abusive situations.  Well, the only ‘safeguard’ at that time, 1997, was the appointment of a President to oversee the activities at allocated Triratna/FWBO centres – usually more than one.  At that time the President of the Dublin centre was Kulananda himself.  I can’t help wondering – with a wry grin – just how ‘safe’ the fair people of Dublin felt, at having such a reprehensible character as the overseer of their FWBO centre!

The other Presidents were Sr sycophants: guaranteed to quash creative innovations, like the introduction of different meditation techniques, which a few in the Order might have wanted to experiment with.  In short, their job was to ensure the continuation of Sr’s tired and failed formula; and monitor the conformity of their allocated Order chapters (groups of OM’s assigned to a centre) to the official Triratna ‘party line’.

On 26 Sept 2016, the BBC made a second, 10 min short, film on Triratna/ FWBO and its founder – as part of a regional broadcast.  You can read a summary of its content on the following webpage:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-hampshire-37432719

 

The female OM assigned to liaising with the media, at the time, was Munisha.  She states – elsewhere – that she became involved with Triratna in 1991: so clearly she was reliant on Order seniors for ‘information’ on historical events prior to this date.  At this time Sr’s inner circle, of ultra-loyal OMs, is usually referred to as ‘The College of Preceptors’: who are responsible for the ordination process and other matters.

The on-line comment I made following the broadcast, was precipitated by a statement by Munisha at its conclusion.  It is worth repeating here, as it encapsulates many of the doubts some of us had, regarding Triratna’s much vaunted ‘Safeguarding Guidelines’:

Triratna say that every centre is expected to have a Safeguarding official and policies in place.  My understanding is that the “Safeguarding guidelines” produced by Triratna central are only recommendations.  Each centre is a separate legal entity, so they are free to adapt (change) these guidelines as they see fit.  

This means that they are inapplicable as presented, and can be “watered down” (by hardline extremists active in some centres), so as to make their general intentions impotent.  The underlying purpose of these guidelines is to keep complaints, of misbehaviour by senior Triratna personnel, within the organisation’s internal structures.

Those of us with long past experience of Triratna/FWBO culture, will recognise that the resultant long-term effect will be to dissipate complaints, until the aggrieved party loses interest.  This is how it was in the past – an exercise in frustration!

We have had a similar deception played on us before: in 1997, Kulananda claimed that procedures were in place, to protect the public from future abusive behaviour.  This was a reference, presumably, to the appointment of Presidents to oversee the activities, and general ethos, at individual centres.

Unfortunately for the public, the true purpose of these Presidents was to ensure that every centre, and its attendant “Order chapter”, towed the “party line”; ie, conformed to the Preceptors’ control: not to protect vulnerable and idealistic attendees at their classes and retreats!

It is time the Triratna Preceptors – who control its activities – stopped insulting our intelligence.’

This post (Dec 2016 @ Dialogue Ireland), with some minor paraphrasing, succinctly expresses the concerns the growing number of Triratna critics had – then and now.

At the conclusion of his letter to The Guardian, Kulananda suggests that the behaviour of OMs is somehow monitored by their peers, and if necessary criticised.  At the time of his correspondence, this statement did not conform with my long FWBO experience!

To give a particularly memorable example, of how questionable conduct by an OM was addressed by others in his/her chapter (local OM group), I will relate an experience I had in 1998: a few months after Kulananda’s letter was published.

I had become disturbed by the erratic behaviour of a senior OM at a London centre; a former friend.  This was causing me some anxiety.  I wrote a letter detailing my concerns, which I then sent to a number of local OMs.  Unfortunately, I had no response from this complaint, and it seemed to be summarily dismissed.  When I brought the subject up with the centre chairperson, he curtly replied that ‘The Order isn’t some sort of court!’

This is the reality of how complaints, against individuals in the Order, were often dealt with; and I had undergone a similar unresolved dispute 13 years earlier.  There was no real accountability in the Order in 1997, or earlier; Kulananda was being somewhat disingenuous!

Whilst revising this article, Triratna central (Munisha, Dharmarati and others) have been keen to extol the virtues of the new ‘Safeguarding guidelines’: this seems to include a provision for suspending OMs found guilty of serious transgressions.  Whether this proposal will translate into concrete, effective action remains to be seen.

There are tentative signs that some genuine reforms are finally on the agenda – time will tell.

The Croydon centre: late 1980’s

Returning to his letter: Kulananda’s comments about Padmaraja (the unnamed Croydon chairman) and his role in the crisis at this centre, late 1980’s, is a misrepresentation of the historical facts.

He claims that the former Croydon chief was distorting FWBO teaching.  The truth is that Padmaraja was the head of a team of about 11 OMs: including a Treasurer and a Mitra Convenor (responsible for the Spiritual education and welfare of all Croydon based Mitras).  Several of these OMs were involved in bullying Mitras (This was after all the heyday of the ‘Fierce friendship’ frenzy); so it was a wider problem than just one senior OM.

The women’s wing of the centre was considerably smaller than the men’s, and had far less influence on events.  Kulananda’s comments pertain to the ethos at the men’s community of Aryatara in Purley, just south of Croydon, an outer suburb of London.

The Aryatara community managed the centre – with help from the undersized women’s contingent – and a restaurant.  There were about 9 OMs and 20 Mitras at Aryatara – also perhaps a few Friends (defined as ‘less committed’ than Mitras).

Padmaraja’s function, as Chairperson, was to host community meetings, other events, and generally act as a figurehead for Croydon FWBO – not to teach Sr’s interpretation of the Dharma (Buddhist doctrine)!

For a men’s community mostly comprised of Mitras, this was the responsibility of the Mitra Convenor.  He/she would organise, and usually lead, Mitra study groups: the main focus of Dharma teaching in the FWBO.

For the bulk of the 1980’s this position was taken by Padmavajra.  Insiders will know that he is the least likely senior OM to deviate from Sr’s path.

This is an ideal opportunity to point out, that it was Padmavajra’s successor as Mitra Convenor (in circa 1988) who was to initiate the crisis, and transformation, at Aryatara – and hence the wider Croydon situation.  This was a little known OM from Venezuela called Manjunatha: who was persistent in criticising the tightly controlled, and authoritarian, regime that had developed in the community and centre.  He was initially alone in voicing his concerns, at Aryatara Order meetings.

To my knowledge Manjunatha has never received public recognition, for his great service in inaugurating what became known as ‘The revolution’ in Croydon: ie, the ending of the highly regimented situation that had developed there.

His predecessor, Padmavajra, had no involvement in this process of reformation; indeed it only became possible following his departure from the role of Croydon Mitra Convenor.

Kulananda’s comment about Padmaraja leaving the Order ‘when his activities came to light’ also makes no sense.  Most of the Croydon OMs (although admittedly not Padmaraja) were quite well integrated into the wider Order: they attended regional order meetings, conventions, etc.  As a result, the Order as a whole were well aware of what was going on in Croydon; the fact that Mitras were being bullied was not unusual –  the same behaviour was going on elsewhere in the UK.

There was little concern about the Croydon situation until the latter half of the 1980’s – why?  The reason was because of an annual decrease in the number of Croydon based Mitras considered ready for ordination, by Sr and other senior OMs.  Sr’s primary concern has always been with the growth of his Order.  The success of any Triratna/FWBO centre was evaluated, by him, in terms of how many potential OMs they put forward.  Sr, and now the Preceptors, have their own criteria for the ‘readiness’ of a Mitra for ordination.

The problem was that Padmaraja’s criteria had diverged from Sr’s, during the course of the 80’s.  There was a growing mismatch, and by 1986 the differences of opinion (on readiness for ordination) had become irreconcilable.  This is what caused Sr, and other seniors, to move against the charismatic Croydon chairman: not Kulananda’s allegation that he was distorting FWBO teaching.  During the mid-80’s, I do not remember there being any concerns about this: indeed the situation in Croydon was admired by many OMs I knew at the time.  Sr’s ambition to ordain as many people as possible was at the root of the problem.  Padmaraja left the Order in 1989.

Whatever Kulananda’s view is: assessments on readiness for ordination are necessarily subjective. Since the inception of Sr’s Order, nearly 50 years ago, hundreds of people have resigned; many leaving Buddhism altogether.  What does this suggest about Sr’s judgement on preparedness?  Who can say whether Padmaraja’s intuition, on the durability of an individual’s membership of the Order, would have been more, or less, accurate?

I have to say that the attempt by Kulananda, and other members of Sr’s inner circle, to blame Padmaraja for everything that went wrong at the Croydon centre, is one of the most despicable and cowardly acts in Triratna history – why?  Because further to the fabricated fantasy that unethical behaviour only occurred in Croydon, senior OMs have tried to coalesce all the blame for this misconduct on one key member of the Croydon Order chapter: Padmaraja.

Thus Padmaraja was, by implication, the source of all the past woes of the Triratna/FWBO: conveniently diverting attention away from the culpability of the Order’s founder, Sr!

The information disclosed in this section came from a few people, who had lived and worked in the Croydon regime, for several years during this period – so again it is reliably sourced.

Allegory: The unexploded bomb in the basement

One of the most important texts of the Mahayana school (the largest of the two main branches of Buddhist tradition) is the Lotus Sutra.  This contains 7 parables that are intended to point to the higher spiritual truths of the Dharma.

While revising this article I thought up one of my own:

A large, extended family move into a house that, unbeknown to them, has an unexploded wartime bomb buried under its basement.

Quite by chance the head of the family discovers this secret; he confronts the embarrassed estate agent.  The unscrupulous property salesman admits his omission of this explosive detail in his sales pitch.

He assures the household chief that the 500lb bomb is now harmless and incapable of detonation.  As a gesture of contrition, at his obvious deceit, he offers a substantial refund on the price of the house.  The family head accepts this offer, and chooses to believe that the buried ordinance is now safe.

He discusses the issue with his wife, and they decide to keep this potentially dangerous knowledge a secret.  No one in their family will ever know; and they get to keep the money refunded by the estate man!

Years go by … and the, now elderly, dominant couple have kept to their pact of silence – but something strange has happened.  Minor subtle changes in their behaviour have generated resonances in the wider household; and these have increasingly manifested as perturbations to the family’s natural equilibrium.  Consequently, a generally unsettled atmosphere now predominates.  Some noisy arguments have worried the neighbours, who have begun to complain.

Two of the younger family members have become so concerned by the increasing tension that they decide to move out.  A local dignitary tells them of the unexploded bomb: apparently hushed up by property developers.  In a state of panic, the two cousins phone and email the inhabitants of the troubled household.

The culpable family head, and his wife, tell their residential kin that the two estranged relatives have become mentally ill.  They left the house to ‘sort themselves out’.  The main bulk of the family accept this explanation – although a few nurture secret doubts.

After a while the two ex-inhabitants contact the local authorities, and appeal to them to have the house declared unsafe.  The responsible agencies have trouble gaining access to the property; their phone calls and letters are unanswered, etc.  The whole process of officially dealing with the problem has stagnated.  A court order is the only remaining option.

Meanwhile, inside the troubled building, the situation has become increasingly desperate.  The residents rarely leave the house, or communicate with outsiders.  There are frequent and frightening confrontations.  Some members of the household are suffering from severe depression, recurrent headaches and bouts of vomiting.  Two of the female inhabitants have had miscarriages, and there have been associated incidents of incestuous sexual liaisons.

The two family heads, who have clung to their shared confidence, are faced with an unpalatable choice: if they admit their cover-up of the explosive secret, they would be damned by the rest of the family.  Their status as family guardians and seniors would be over – they would be abandoned.

If, on the over hand, they keep to their pledge of silence, the volatile situation in the house could only get worse.  What should they do, with court proceedings now pending?

Because the purpose of the story is to illuminate the darker undercurrents in Triratna/FWBO history – rather than revealing Buddhist insights – this is technically an allegory, not a parable.

Conclusion

The Preceptors (the ultra-loyal upper tier of the Order) Presidents and other seniors, will tell you that this document concerns decades old Triratna history – greatly exaggerated.  There are now, or soon will be, ‘Safeguarding Policies’ in place to prevent recurrences – they will say.

Unfortunately, this is far from the truth.  The OMs who were most active in promoting, and practising, ‘Greek Love’ and ‘Fierce Friendship’ are still occupying executive positions in the Order – in many cases.

Subhuti is now President of the London Buddhist Centre: whereas during the period covered in this article he was its chairman, or later Sr’s secretary.  Other culpable senior OMs are now listed as Preceptors or/and Presidents – names withheld to protect the guilty!

Some of these individuals have conditioned younger OMs to adopt their views, on the importance of hierarchy, discipline – whatever you want to call the ideological template for potentially abusive behaviour.  The suppression of information on past unethical behaviour is still going on, and has led to false claims in the media: most notably the BBC Sept 2016 TV film.

According to Munisha, quoted in this 10 min’ TV clip, Sr withdrew from any role in guiding Triratna policies in 2000, and was blind – both statements are untrue!

So, the conditions for a fresh outbreak of ‘Greek Love’ or ‘Fierce Friendship’ are still very much in place: all it needs is for someone influential in the Order to push the right button!  Believe me, it really is that simple: I have seen it happen in the past.  The result would be a substantial rise in the number of Triratna casualties.  There are individuals still struggling with the psychological and emotional consequences, of Sr’s highly questionable interpretation of Buddhist doctrine – even decades later!

Moreover, the much heralded ‘safeguarding procedures’ will be ineffective without some degree of monitoring, or even management, by an external body; perhaps a charity with expertise in abuse issues.  This is a subject under discussion on concerned websites, as I write.

Many people become involved with groups like Triratna/ FWBO at a vulnerable point in their lives: they may have suffered a painful loss, or the end of a long-term relationship.  Initially, Triratna seems like the best thing that has ever happened to them.  They are willingly drawn further into its rigid, multi-tiered hierarchical structure.

Until the advent of the internet, it might have been several years before these followers realised that all was not well, within the inner sanctum of this organisation.  They could sense a dark core of unethical behaviour involving Sr and some of his minions.

Now there is a lot of information available on-line regarding Triratna.  So anyone with concerns can quickly access relevant websites.

That is the value of documents like this: to warn the public of the dangers of involvement; in the light of Triratna’s historical record to date.  This makes it far more likely that aspirants will make a swift exit, easing the transition to an alternative situation.

If you have an interest in Buddhist teaching and meditation, I suggest that you do plenty of research on the internet.  It is not good to rely on Wikipedia: I am told that they depend too much on contributions from the organisations themselves.  You need to dig much deeper.

Use Google search: look for personal testimonies, endorsements and informed analysis of different Buddhist groups.  There are other Buddhist cults at large in Europe and elsewhere, so please be careful.  Check reports on local associations on-line before attending their classes and events.  Good luck!

 

© Alan J. W.                         June 2017

3 Responses

  1. alan
    well written! I was at lbc for some of the time that you were, and I couldn’t agree more with your insightful accounts.

    I applaud your work on bringing this fwbo “black hole” into the light, your care for people who may be harmed by sr’s super beings/oms and his theological totalitarianism.

    I am sad that we went through this trauma, and send you my heartfelt good wishes

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting account, thanks for sharing

    Like

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