Tuesday, 14 July 2009

false prophets in manchester (an email correspondence)

I am writing this because I am concerned that the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order (FWBO) are not a religious organisation that can be trusted. This is because of the behaviour of its leader Sangharakshita. The information about him that I am concerned about is not new to the public, It has been documented in the past, most notably by the Guardian. However I want to submit a correspondence of emails that I have had in the last 3 days. 

I want you all to be warned about joining this ‘cult’. As a practicing Buddhist I have sworn to save all sentient beings, so how could I NOT mail this here? We don’t need more misguided ‘prophets’  in the world. 

Rather than put forward my own point of view I have cut and pasted the correspondence between me and an order member. This way you can read the bald facts and make up your own mind. This correspondence shows (I think)  the dubious moral outlook of the FWBO is not just manifested in their leader’s behaviour years ago, but is being reproduced by the ‘disciples’ of said leader today. These ‘disciples’ are order members that interact with the public if they enter the centre, are the ones that ‘educate’ the curious members of the public about Buddhism using their ethically challenged leader’s perspective on Buddhism. 

The leader’s warped viewpoint has negative consequences on all that read his literature and follow his words, as I humbly suggest you can see when reading the correspondence below. If you are interested in Buddhism follow a tradition that has been established for centuries e.g Zen. Visit a group , be it Tibetan Buddhist, Korean Zen or Japanese Zen that follows the traditional teachings and practices. In all cities of the country there are many of these groups.


This email was sent to an order member called ratnaguna,


You have been sincere to me , I want to return this. Please read this rather long email ; the internet excerpts , and my comments afterwards.

The mail contains internet information about Sangharakshita then some comments.



Criticism of the FWBO 

Since its inception the FWBO has been a focus of controversy in the British Buddhist community, particularly regarding their non-traditional views and practices of Buddhism. Criticism in general has been focused on the conduct of Sangharakshita and some other order members. Critics believe that without the total denunciation of the founder and other senior Orders members who committed unethical conducts, the FWBO cannot be considered a legitimate representation of Buddhism. The perceived inaction of people within the FWBO in addressing these criticisms is still claimed to be tainting the organisation.

Sangharakshita's non-traditional views have received much attention from critics. For example, in one of Sangharakshita's writings he states

The couple is the enemy of the spititual community. By couple, in this context, one means two people, usually of the opposite sex, who are neurotically dependent on each other and whose relationship, therefore, is one of mutual exploitation and mutual addiction'

(Sangharakshita, 1986, Alternative Traditions).

Similarly, Subhuti states in a personal letter to order members:

Sexual interest on the part of a male Order member for a male mitra can create a connection which may allow kalyana mitrata spiritual friendship to develop. Some, of course, are predisposed to this attraction, others have deliberately chosen to change their sexual preferences in order to use sex as a medium of kalyana mitrata - and to stay clear of the dangers of male-female relationships without giving up sex.

(Subhuti, 1986)

It is also admitted by the organisation that Shangharakshita experimented with drugs (marijuana and LSD) which amounts to immediate expulsion as a monk under many Buddhist tradition including Theravada Sangha where he received his orddination. Still, "He still wore the yellow robes of a bhikkhu on public occasions and still allowed himself to be referred to as 'Maha Sthavira', an honorific deriving from his fifteen years as a monk". (Bringing Buddhism to the West, pp.110-111.)

The Guardian

The biggest blow to the credibility of the organisation occurred with the publication of a highly damaging article in The Guardian in 1997 titled "The Dark Side of Enlightenment". The Guardian alleged serious cases of sexual abuse in the FWBO centre in Croydon, with one person later committing suicide blaming the organisation and its founder. It also included multiple instances of sexual manipulation of young (some heterosexual) male members by Sangharakshita. The FWBO issued an official response to the article, stating that FWBO centers are largely autonomous, and to a large extent set their own agendas and standards. Also, while conceding that Sangharakshita and other members experimented with drugs and engaged in sexual relationships with younger male members, the organisation insisted that these relationships were, on the whole, consensual and not manipulative.

 Yashomitra's Experience

In March 2003, Shabda, the internal newsletter of Western Buddhist Order, published a personal account of one of the members, Yashomitra, who later left the organisation. In the article, he described how he was manipulated in having sex with Sangharakshitata and revealed that sexual exploit of Sangharakshita with his young male disciples went on even after the publication of the Guardian article despite the denial made in the organisation's response. He went on to state that "the FWBO did seek to undermine heterosexual relationships and family life. It did teach that homosexuality was superior to heterosexuality. Members were 'converted' to homosexuality through coercive psychological means. Coercion of any sort was not anathema within the FWBO."

False Wearing of Robes

Another allegation is that Sangharakshita wore the robes of a celebate Buddhist monk while on tour in India in the 1980's, and that he did so with the intention of deceiving Indian members of the TBMSG into believing that he was still an ordained monk. This episode led to a number of mitras (friends) denoucing him by and rejecting the TBMSG en masse in 1999. A letter signed by the 88 Indian mitras, all from the Mumbai (Bombay) area stated:

..while claiming to be a properly ordained Buddhist monk, a Bhikshu, you showed no respect for the devout feelings Buddhists associated with the robe by indulging in sexual misconduct, experimenting with drugs and teaching the 'neutrality' of sexual activities. In our opinion, this final act of yours was nothing more than an attempt to cover up your misbehaviour as a monk while still holding onto the power and prestige which the yellow robe along with the epithets Bhikshu and Mahasthavir held in the eyes of the common people. Thus you have cheated us. Why didn't you tell us right from the beginning that you weren't a monk? Why didn't you feel ashamed appearing before us in the yellow robe between 1979 and 1993? How can this falsehood be considered spiritual, nay, even common human behaviour? Yet you and your disciples talk of being a spiritual movement, a misnomer which amounts to a denigration of the truly spiritual.


Further to this allegation is that the Indian government declared Sangharakshita persona non grata and no longer grant him entry visa.


Karma :-

If your leader has this much bad karma, how can you sell his books?

If your leader has this much bad karma, how can you tell people new to Buddhism to read his books?

If your leader has this much bad karma, how can you in all conscience not denounce him?

Even if ALL of the allegations were false, why is this issue not openly addressed with people?

If it is all false, why is this issue not openly addressed with people?

I have compassion for Sangharakshita, as I would all humans, but I wouldn’t commit the trust inherent in spiritual practice to an organization led by someone like that.

This is why I do not want to be involved in his bad karma in any way. I feel that by helping out on Saturday and attending, and paying money to continue the FWBO’s work in India, I would be doing so.

Though I think empowering the ‘untouchables’ in India is positive ; empowering under the banner of FWBO is not ethical nor will it in the long run be a positive thing because you are spreading Sangharakshita’s karma to millions.

Kindness without wisdom leads fools into mirages


 this email contains my reply to each paragraph of ratnaguna’s reply to my 1st email


I'll begin by saying that I think Sangharakshita's karma is overwhelmingly skilful, and therefore have no qualms at all about selling his books or otherwise propagating his teaching, and I have no intention of 'denouncing' him. Rather I feel like praising him. And as to your accusation of not dealing openly with this issue - it is. He has never been secretive about his sexual activities and has never asked his disciples to be secretive about it either. The only reason I haven't mentioned it to you, or at a class, is because one doesn't just start talking about other people's sexual activity does one? I mean, I don't know what you get up to (or not) in this area, and I don't expect you know what I get up to either! It's just not appropriate to talk about these things with people you don't know very well is it? I expect if you and I got to know each other, the issue of our sexual lives may come up and we may tell each other about them. So I'm not about to start announcing at classes "By the way, I just want to say that Sangharakshita has had sex with some of his male disciples, just so that you know". That's not secretiveness, it's normal polite human behaviour!

 on this :- its not the issue of sex with men, its the issue about CONSENT. Also, if you know about these things , then one choice IS to address them at an introductory class, because you would know how people may feel about these things should they 'get out'. for example one of the rules /precepts is worded something like 'i will try to abstain from sexual misconduct' ...we did mention this in passing in buddhism 1 ...THERE was a nice opportunity for a discussion and the Sangharakshita issue that was documented in the guardian could have been brought up as an example in context...people appreciate honesty i think.


I think a problem here is that you have read things about him by someone who is obviously very much against him. For instance, he quotes what Sangharakshita has to say about sexual relationships: "The couple is the enemy of the spititual community. By couple, in this context, one means two people, usually of the opposite sex, who are neurotically dependent on each other and whose relationship, therefore, is one of mutual exploitation and mutual addiction" as an example of what he or she calls "a non-traditional view". Obviously Sangharakshita is using non-traditional language, e.g. "neurotically dependent" etc., but I think the basic message is quite traditional. Have a look at the ancient texts in the Pali Canon where the Buddha talks about the importance of leaving home and not getting caught up in sexual relationships. He uses very strong language indeed (I'm not at home so can't quote chapter and verse). 

on this :- if what you say is right then Sangharakshita's choice of words was unskilful. Leaders are humans , they can make mistakes, but if he had the idea to merge eastern religion with a western way and create the FWBO  then he would/should be  aware of the implications of the choice of his language when discussing this matter; making his acts unskillful.

 This is just from the first example you quote. Your second quote covers similar ground so I'll go straight to your second quote:  "It is also admitted by the organisation that Sangharakshita experimented with drugs (marijuana and LSD) which amounts to immediate expulsion as a monk under many Buddhist tradition including Theravada Sangha where he received his orddination." The beginning of that quote is highly misleading, making it seem as if 'the organization' (whoever that is!) reluctantly admitted something they felt was unethical. But Sangharakshita himself was quite open about his experimentation with recreational drugs soon after he returned from India. He has spoken and written about it. It was never a secret, and was not something that he thought to be unethical. It may be true that it would have meant immediate explulsion from the Theravada bhikkhu sangha (although I doubt it), but that doesn't mean it was per se unethical. Of course there is the precept on abstaining from drink and drugs, but the precepts are training principles, not commandments. It is up to each individual to make their own decisions as to what consitutes unskilful behaviour in any specific instance. After twenty years of observing the Vinaya in India, it could be that Sangharakshita felt that he needed to break out a little. I don't know his reasons because I haven't spoken to him about this particular issue, but when you have known someone for a long time, and have observed his ethical behaviour over that time, some trust builds up, so that you think twice before condemming someone for what at first sight may seem to be unethical behaviour. 

on this:- i think your interpretation is beautiful and shows your wisdom and compassion, i agree with it  , but i think as a leader of an organisation/religious movement an example is expected. i think of the ramifications for tibetan buddhism if the dalai lama admitted the same thing and i see that despite your wise interpretation, such actions are NOT befitting a leader.

 So I could go on in this way, but I'm afraid you may think I'm just defending Sangharakshita inappropriately - just because I'm one of his disciples. However, I'm not uncritical of him. A few years ago I criticised him in a conversation on three counts, one of which was his having sex with some disciples, and also continuing to wear the robe on certain occasions (that does represent immediate expulsion from the Theravada Bhikkhu Sangha). He was very gracious about this and simply said 'Fair enough'. I didn't feel the need to go into it any further, or to try to convince him of my viewpoint, because I think I know where he stands with all this. I just wanted to make him aware of where I stood. (He has on other occasions talked about this. If you're sufficently interested you may want to watch the interview with Nagabodhi, in which Nagabodhi questions him on his sexual activities, and where Sangharakshita answers very openly. This interview is on DVD and is, as far as I'm aware, freely available).

 on this:- 'fair enough' is 'fair enough' ....but is it 'fair enough' for millions of indian's , UK order members ,and mitra's, ......is it 'fair enough'   for the people new to buddhism on the buddha 1 &2  courses...what would they think of 'fair enough' ?

 I've never seen that letter from the 88 Indian ex-Mitras, denouncing Sangharakshita. I would need to see the letter or be otherwise convinced of it's credibility, because I know that at least one of Sangharkshita's/the FWBO's enemies has resorted to lying. Similarly, the idea that the Indian Government have declared him to be 'persona non grata' and have refused his entry visa into that country - is this really true? The last time I googled Padmaloka retreat centre, for instance, there was a spurious letter claiming to be written by Subhuti, about his plans to build a bunker at Padmaloka, for senior Order members, in case of an Islamist nuclear bomb! I hope I don't need to spell out that he has never written such a letter. I think it's true to say that the people who are involved with the TBMSG are aquainted with the facts of Sangharakshita's sexual activities. That's not to say that they are all happy with this aspect of his life, but happy enough to remain within the TBMSG. I know that some people involved with the FWBO or TBMSG are not happy about Sangharakshita's sexual acitvities, and some have resigned from the Order or ceased their involvement with the Order and movement. I respect that, coming as it does from a principled position, but I don't agree with them (which doesn't mean that I am coming from an unprincipled position!)

 on this :- you are not unprincipled, far from it, you would make a far better leader than  Sangharakshita.....(NB TO BLOG READERS :- IF YOU READ TO THE END YOU WILL SEE THAT ACTUALLY I NOW  DONT THINK HE WOULD MAKE ANY BETTER A LEADER)

 I don't want to write a refutation of everything you have quoted because email is not a good medium of communication and it's all quite complex, requiring thoughtful consideration, rather than crude moralizing.  Not that I'm saying that everything in what you've quoted is untrue, just that it is all through the lens of someone who dislikes/hates the FWBO and Sangharakshita, so has a very negative slant. I would be happy to meet with you when I return to Manchester (9th August) if you'd like that. It could be though that what you've read has already made up your mind. That would be a pity I think.

 on this :- i can see you are expressing yourself rather than 'defending' Sangharakshita. you are right about emails and the crudeness of the medium . i think you are also right that i will not be at the centre so much now, and i can see that you may be disappointed by that because i have not sat down and listened to you as you suggest. 

you and shakyajata have been very helpful to me, there are good people in manchester FWBO.

 My strong reaction has karma to it itself :- in the jewish synagogue that i attended as a child one of the order members sexually abused several young children, mostly females (he was male). in my life i have met women from Nepal that were raped by hindu priests, and buddhist priests, so this issue is far, far from being something i am naive or sheltered from. it is just people being people, but there are expectations of 'leaders' this is the price of 'leadership'...if there is no leader and no follower, then we have no problem. 

but...i have also heard from people who have been involved at MBC  for many years that  Sangharakshita considers order members as his 'disciples'. i have no reason to disbelieve the person that told me this, and so if  Sangharakshita  will act as leader with disciples then i feel certain standards must go with the tag. 

i am sure we could bounce emails back and forth forever on this...i will bow  low to you now, and whatever you say in reply i will hear but not  reply to , letting this go now. 



this email contains my reply to each paragraph of ratnaguna’s reply to my 2nd  email

 Hi Adrian, 

One last thing then before we sign off, on the issue of consent. I was one of the young men Sangharakshita had sex with (we're talking thirty+ years ago) so I have first-hand experience. I can say that he never coerced me or was in any way unskillful, so I find it hard to believe that he was coercive or otherwise unskillful in his sexual life with others.

 on this :-i think this is a little lacking in logic :- just because a man can have consensual sex doesnt mean he cant have non-consensual sex, i think , to paraphrase your last sentence to me in this email :- ' it is unfair (to yourself) to judge him on your past experiences with him'

 Yashomitra, who you cite in your message, admits that for many years he was happy with his sexual experiences with Sangharakshita, and it was only later that he changed his mind (wellafter the time that they had sexual relations with each other). Of course this doesn't mean that Sangharakshita was definitely not unskillful in his sexual relations with Yashomitra or others, just that you also need to bear in mind my experience and the fact that Yashomitra changed his mind in retrospect. Sangharakshita himself doesn't consider that he was unskillful.

 on this:- well an abuser would rarely admit to being such , so i am not surprised he doesnt consider himself to be unskillful, few in his shoes would.

 It's usual in civilised societies when accusations about someone are made to withold one's judgment until one has listened to both sides of the story. You have failed to do that on this occasion someone else's account of Sangharakshita's supposed unskillfulness and believed them, without bothering to check out the facts ' 

on this :- now you disappoint me ratnaguna, you are using aggressive language and being unskillful telling me 'you have failed' , and 'without bothering to check out the facts' :- you make a negative assumption about me , that i havent looked at that ,or intend to look at that DVD ,it reads somewhat like petulance, but i understand why; because you were his ex lover it is utterly understandable, it is beautifully human and for that i bow low to you.

 and see if there might be another side to the story. I think the least you could do is try to find out what Sangharakshita says in reply. I will say again that it's worth watching the DVD of the interview Nagabodhi did with Sangharakshita, to at least hear what he has to say.

 on this :- of course an abuser will say he isnt, its not whether he did it or not , its merely a choice who i believe. but much more important than that is the fact that no person should be having to make this choice about ANY PERSON let alone a leader of a religious movement.

 Perhaps, as you say, your own experiences from the past are colouring the way you view what you've heard of Sangharakshita. 

on this :- this has truth to it, i agree.

 But it would beunfair to Sangharakshita if you were to judge him based on a reaction to your past experiences. 

on this :- however this sentence is mischieviously and incorrectly connected to the one preceding it. unskillful and mischevious . because it presumes that i am not capable of making a reasoned choice whilst being aware of my own issues, it assumes i have not listened to the other side and thought about this.... i am not a dog chasing a bone . as a human being i can see my past issues and choose to follow or not follow it, over this issue i have looked at both sides of the story, read yours,  kavyasidi and shakyjata's emails and chosen to believe the side that you and the others do not support. because even if 40% of the accusations are right...a leader of a religious movement should not be having ANY such questions surrounding him....the amount of issues admitted by the FWBO mean this is far more than a 'no smoke without fire' decision for me...so it was disingenuous (or ignorant , and maybe a bit of both) to think i couldnt use my intellect on this matter and reflect on the information i heard whilst accepting my own baggage on the matter and come to a reasoned choice.....what you are implying here is that i am responding automatically and thus responding unskillfully , but the recent email  correspondence  shows otherwise. i hoped you might end our  brief relationship with more dignity, but it is human, you were his lover, i understand, it is only natural <>