A commentary on the Observer Triratna article ~ Scale of FWBO / Triratna abuse unfolds

English-born Buddhist The Venerable Sthavira Sangharakshita<br>Mandatory Credit: Photo by John Twine/ANL/REX/Shutterstock (1683330a)
The Venerable Sthavira Sangharakshita
English-born Buddhist The Venerable Sthavira Sangharakshita

Sangharakshita in 1966. Photograph: John Twine/ANL/REX/Shutterstock

Scale of FWBO / Triratna abuse unfolds

On Sunday 21 July 2019,  The Observer newspaper published a Special Report about the Triratna Buddhist Group, titled “Buddhist, teacher, predator: dark secrets of the Triratna guru”:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jul/21/sangharakshita-guru-triratna-buddhist-dark-secrets

Triratna have posted their response to The Observer article here:

https://thebuddhistcentre.com/adhisthana-kula/further-response-adhisthana-kula-observer-article

Triratna is primarily UK based, but has around eighty urban centres and retreat centres worldwide, including The Dublin Buddhist Centre, and holds activities in over twenty countries.

Adhisthana (formerly Coddington Court) in Herefordshire is the headquarters of the Triratna Community.

Adhisthana (formerly Coddington Court) in Herefordshire is the headquarters of the Triratna Community.

Triratna was formerly known as The Friends of the Western Buddhist Order (FWBO), but changed its name in 2010 to the Triratna Buddhist Community (TBC).

Triratna has long been a controversial organisation.  The first public criticism was a 30 min TV programme by BBC (East), broadcast in the Eastern region of the UK in 1992, and available at:

https://dialogueireland.wordpress.com/2011/07/31/introduction-to-going-for-refuge-bbc-east-by-di-buddhist-consultant/

This was followed by a critical article, written by the journalist Madeleine Bunting, published in the UK newspaper The Guardian in 1997:

http://www.ex-cult.org/fwbo/Guardian.htm

The FWBO (as Triratna was then known) was not at all pleased with this article.  For example, Guhyavajra (Murray Wright?) wrote in the Order’s in-house magazine Shabda, in February 1998:

A Dispassionate Assessment of Madeleine Bunting of the Guardian’s Journalistic Ability.

“I have been interested to follow discussions on the Guardian article…The media is a load of rubbish, most people know that.  With regard to Ms. Bunting (I assume she is a Ms.),…it is well to remember that the aforementioned journalist is a spiritually stupid and ignorant person, a mud clam, an existential pygmy writing and commenting on a subject in which she is conspicuous for being brainless and clueless.  An impertinent unspeakably arrogant self opinionated commentator without ethics or reason … In the final analysis Madeleine Bunting is spiritually so low she could crawl under a lice on stilts.”
http://www.ex-cult.org/fwbo/ShabCol2.htm#dispassionate

Also following the Guardian article, Kulananda (Michael Chaskalson) wrote to the Guardian on behalf of the FWBO Communications Office, to say that the events reported in the Guardian article had only happened at the FWBO’s Croydon centre, had involved that centre’s chairman, and had never happened at any other centre (see letter at foot of Guardian article).

However, the FWBO may not be entirely honest in that communication, because in 2004, senior Triratna member Subhuti (Alex Kennedy) gave a talk, in which he said that events similar to those reported in the Guardian article had also occurred at Padmaloka (a Triratna centre in Norfolk), and had involved Sangharakshita, the leader of the FWBO.  Subhuti said:

“I have come to think that there are severe problems with Bhante’s [Sangharakshita’s] sexual activity in the past … in a sense he did not know what he was doing altogether and …some big mistakes were made … Wearing robes and having sex is just not on … As a spiritual teacher you carry a weight that does not allow you to simply be one human being with another human being. … That sexual activity was bound to lead to problems.”

Sangharakshita teaching at the Hampstead Buddhist Temple in 1966.

Sangharakshita, born Dennis Lingwood, teaching at the Hampstead Buddhist Temple in 1966. Photograph: John Twine/Rex
Subhuti also mentions in his talk that he knew about this sexual activity happening at Padmaloka.

A brief resume of Subhuti’s talk can be found here:

———————————
https://www.freebuddhistaudio.com/texts/othertexts/Vishvapani/FBA104_Growing_Pains.pdf
Growing Pains
An Inside View of Change in the FWBO by Vishvapani

See Page 27 of 37
Subhuti’s Talks, November 2004
———————————

More recently, in 2016, there was a 10 min follow-up programme from BBC (East), available at:

https://dialogueireland.wordpress.com/2016/12/14/the-legacy-issues-involving-inappropriate-sexual-activity-by-the-founder-of-the-fwbo-triratna-sangharakshita-dennis-lingwood/

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

This was followed in February 2017 by a second Guardian article, available at:

https://dialogueireland.wordpress.com/2017/03/30/friends-of-the-western-buddhist-order-fwbo-triratna-fears-mount-over-scale-of-buddhist-sect-sexual-abuse/

The most recent critical article, published in The Observer  (The Guardian’s sister paper)  on Sunday 21 July 2019,  is perhaps the strongest criticism yet.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jul/21/sangharakshita-guru-triratna-buddhist-dark-secrets

‘Buddhist, teacher, predator: dark secrets of the Triratna guru

‘… For decades the order has been dogged by claims of sexual misconduct, claims that often strayed into allegations of coercion and abuse but which were thought to involve only a handful of individuals at worst.

‘But now a bombshell internal report, produced by concerned members and shared with the Observer, has found that more than one in 10 of them claim to have experienced or observed sexual misconduct while in the order. Many of the allegations are against Sangharakshita himself, but others make it clear that he was not the only alleged perpetrator. Indeed, the report seems to indicate that the licentious culture the guru encouraged when he established his first centre in the 1960s, at a time when Timothy Leary was urging people to “turn on, tune in, drop out”, flourished across the order.’

‘… It now seems that Lingwood’s behaviour provided a template that was copied by others who exploited the order’s hierarchy.’

The Triratna internal report, referenced in the Observer article, takes the form of a survey conducted by a small group of Triratna Order members calling themselves the “Interkula”.  (Kula is a Sanskrit word meaning  group or community).  This group appears to be somewhat independent of the main Triratna hierarchy.

There is some background to the survey here:
http://www.interkula.net/final-report-on-how-are-we-doing-now-survey/

The actual survey report is available here:
http://www.interkula.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Interkula-survey-report-final.pdf

The report was published in Dec 2018, and is 21 pages long. It is described as: “A Triratna Interkula survey to assess how the Triratna Community feels now about allegations of past misconduct.”

The background to the report, is that the Triratna leadership, the “Adhisthana kula” https://adhisthana.org/  had set up a Restorative Process, “to work directly with any individuals who feel harmed as a result of their past sexual involvement with Sangharakshita [former leader of Triratna].”

The “bombshell” aspect of the report (as The Observer terms it) can mostly be found between pages 12 – 14.  For example:

===== start  survey report quotes =====
Page 12.
Question 6: Do you know anyone, either yourself or someone you know personally, who experienced sexual misconduct by Sangharakshita or another Order member, but who has not yet been invited to participate in the Restorative Process?

Responses:

“I know of several cases and the details are awful. They include alleged intervention on the part of one of the most high profile OM’s [Order members] to try and encourage a victim (identifying details withheld) not to testify to the police if he (victim) were questioned. I’m pretty sure that is obstruction of justice.” Order member, involved 15+ years.

“Yes I know three OMs personally who experienced sexual misconduct by other OMs and have not been invited to participate in the Restorative Process.” Respondent did not provide demographic information.

“I was sexually abused by Older Order members.” Order member, involved 15+ years

“I have friends who were sexually assaulted by senior OMs in recent times. They reported it to other senior OMs. Nothing happened. So they are not interested in this restorative process- more of the same- the process is instigated by senior OMs. The same ones who have done nothing until now about previous misconduct. No trust those in power care about taking this seriously- if they did, they could have acted before now.” Order member, involved 11-15 years.

“Many men. They don’t want to come forward- they do not trust the process as it is in house and commissioned by people in the college who cannot publically apologise for SR’s [Sangharakshita’s] behaviour, so they believe this is just a cover up job to be seen to be doing something but really the college people want it to go away as really, they don’t see a problem. That is what they think. I am inclined to agree somewhat- I think there is a large denial factor and avoiding paying out victims so they don’t have to sell assets. I’m up for selling assets and making amends as part of us moving on and acknowledging our ignorance of the abuse. We all paid for adhisthana despite the college now putting it in their name so feel free to sell it and pay people for some damages and therapy please.” Order member, involved 15+ years

“I know of 4 people who this describes. Only one of these was in the UK. I worry that this type of behavior was much more widespread than generally believed.” Order member, involved 15+ years

The survey report also says, on page12, that among the 423 survey respondents, 55 people stated that they have either themselves, or know someone or multiple people who have experienced sexual misconduct by either Sangharakshita or other Triratna order members, in past and recent times.

Regarding these 55 respondents, the survey report mentions on page 12 that:
“The difference in the descriptions of the misconduct in the comments to this question indicates that many or most of these 55 respondents are referring to different individuals.”

The survey also says (on page 2) that “Comments indicated that recent sexual misconduct was an issue, but people did not know who to report it to, feared they would not be listened to or were concerned about negative repercussions. The in-house nature of the reporting system was noted to be a hindrance as essentially one may need to report that issue to a friend of the alleged perpetrator.”
===== end  survey report quotes =====

The survey report primarily concentrates on allegations of male sexual abuse, but it also touches on the position of women within the sect; for example on page 17, it quotes a comment that:

“There’s probably more to say about the effect it had on women being seen as spiritually inferior and the vaguely abusive/utilitarian way women were treated by men in the 80’s and 90’s.” Order member, involved 15+ years

And The Observer also reported that:

‘One woman who attended an FWBO centre in New Zealand in the 90s said: “There was one ordained member when I was there who seemed to treat the centre as his own personal Tinder app, hooking up with one woman after another, using his position as guru to great advantage.”

Unfortunately, Triratna is not the only Buddhist group active in the West to have had allegations of serious and systematic sexual abuse levelled at it.  One problem is that Western laws about freedom of religion and freedom of belief allow religious and other idealistic groups to be largely self-regulating, and unaccountable to any exterior oversight.  This lack of accountability allows various abuses to flourish within some of these groups.

Mark Dunlop, now 69, was a victim at the Triratna Buddhist community.
Mark Dunlop, now 69, was a victim at the Triratna Buddhist community. Photograph: Rosa Furneaux/The Observer
Another factor is that these groups are often quite wealthy, which can make it difficult for under-resourced whistleblowers to oppose them very effectively.  As two UK solicitors,  Sue Jackson and Malcolm Johnson, put it:

https://www.hudgellsolicitors.co.uk/news/abuse/abuse-in-triratna/

“…Such groups can be very highly organised. They draw in a steady stream of income, use the free labour of their students and they can provide those at the top with a luxurious lifestyle, as well as an acute sense of power. Many are perfectly respectable in all their outward appearances. They have lawyers, accountants, insurers and above all, charitable status, which means taxation exemptions and thus more income.”

Sangharakshita interviewed in 2009.

 

                             Sangharakshita interviewed in 2009. Photograph: Vimeo

2 Responses

  1. An excellent paradigm for tank buster shells. Go for it.

    Like

  2. Looking for information about Triratna, or other cults, on the internet is not straightforward: because they have a means to suppress critical articles, using search term: Triratna.
    This seems to be achieved using a large membership group on Facebook: the 1000’s of cult-adherents click on each others approved, internal and uncritical links – to cult websites.
    The search results (search engine: triratna) thus exclude ‘hostile’ accounts: search lists being ranked in terms of ‘popularity’. I have seen some evidence that this subterfuge is routine.
    The easiest way to short-circuit these suppressive tactics, is to use a second search term. Good suggestions are: ‘Triratna criticism’, ‘Triratna reputation’, or similar pairings.
    Anyone familiar with Set Theory will know that the Boolean operator, Triratna AND criticism, means the INTERSECTION of these two finite domains: a smaller search area for Google, and other search engines, excluding much of the propaganda that the mendacious Munisha, et al, want the public to read.
    Using 3 search-terms such as: ‘Triratna abuse problems’, or similar, will invoke even more informed critical analysis in the results list. You now have a 3-fold intersection, allowing Bing, Google or Yahoo to dig deeper into the bowels of the internet for critical material.
    You don’t have to add the Boolean operator AND when using 2 or 3 search terms: this is automatically applied – also with Yahoo.
    However, for searches that include other Boolean operators (such as NOT) you should add the AND operators. So you would type into the search box, eg:
    triratna AND abuse AND problems
    On Bing specifically, you can exclude websites that originate from Triratna internal sources. For example, much PR propaganda is posted online by: https://thebuddhistcentre.com
    You can omit these by focusing on the subject of the URL, like this:
    NOT thebuddhistcentre
    I would write the whole search expression as:
    (Triratna AND abuse AND problems) NOT thebuddhistcentre
    This formula gives good pertinent results: critical articles you may not have seen before; and considerably less Triratna propaganda – apparently generated within their Facebook group.
    You can replace the 3 search terms inside the brackets (see above) with any others you wish, eg:
    (fwbo AND criticism AND sangharakshita).
    Americans spell centre as center, so you can exclude US Triratna ‘spam’ by adding:
    NOT thebuddhistcenter
    Any other internal sources can be excluded in the same way, eg:
    NOT norwichbuddhistcentre
    From the subject of their URL address: http://www.norwichbuddhistcentre.com/
    To give just one example.
    You should get good results by rewriting this as:
    (Triratna AND abuse AND problems) NOT (thebuddhistcentre OR thebuddhistcenter OR norwichbuddhistcentre OR ….)
    Adding as many further exclusions as you wish with the OR operators in the second brackets… but I don’t want to overcomplicate the procedure.
    Remember to type the Boolean operators in CAPITAL letters, leaving a single space on either side, or they will not work.
    The above suggestions apply mainly to BING: the rationale behind these instructions are more readily understood with the use of Venn diagrams – which I cannot include within a comment post.
    In the case of Google, you can perform more sophisticated and targeted searches by going straight to Google Advanced Search.
    You can find this on:
    https://www.google.com/advanced_search
    Learning to use this comes with practice – as with any Computer app’. The webpage is fairly easy to follow, and the procedure self-explanatory.
    You will quickly learn how to do very precise searches using this facility – after some creative experimentation!
    I have made a bit of a palaver of all this, because I have noticed a long-term tendency for Triratna/FWBO to flood the internet with internally generated PR ‘spam’. The strategy is, of course, to suppress critical articles by manipulating the ranking system used by search engines.
    I should expand these simplified proposals into a full article: complete with multi-coloured Venn diagrams and step-by- step suggestions – but that will have to wait. Alan J.W.

    Liked by 1 person

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