Copyright (c) 1999, Jerry Destremps
There are many in the FWBO who don't want me to present the following information to the public. To them I will say the following:
I did not cause the problems the FWBO is now having. Sangharakshita has violated the third precept so egregiously that the Buddha is probably rolling in his grave. Actions have consequences. Sangharakshita's actions have resulted in this web site.
If you're just learning about the FWBO and you are considering further involvement, I would encourage you to read this now, otherwise, you might find this on the internet at some time in the future, after you have made a commitment to the FWBO (and are possibly even psychologically dependent on it). Because of the heavy emphasis on involvement in the FWBO, this can easily happen and I have seen many people become so wrapped up in the FWBO that they have almost no social life outside of it.
This page is dedicated to Mathew and all the other people who put effort into a genuine spiritual practice in the FWBO (Friends of the Western Buddhist Order) only to find out that their teacher, Sangharakshita, was not the man he represented himself to be. The purpose of this site is to protect those who might blindly walk into the FWBO, only to find out years later the truth about their teacher.
I have experienced the Dharma (the teachings of the Buddha) as generally good and beneficial. I have also experienced most people in the FWBO to be genuinely dedicated to Buddhist principles, and particularly I'd like to thank the people from the San Francisco Buddhist Center for helping me in my spiritual quest.
However, when you mix the Dharma with poor training, isolated, personal, sexual and social agendas, what you get is a twisted mess. This site is more about Sangharakshita and the FWBO so-called "movement" than it is about any particular center, however specific examples are given as evidence of lack of proper Buddhist training.
This experience of the FWBO has been a true nightmare for me and for many other I know. It is by far the worst thing that has ever happened to me. The reason is that it started out being what I thought of as the best thing that ever happened to me. Then I learned the truth.
If you build your Dharma castle out of sand, it will wash away. If, however, you build it on PROPER TEACHINGS, TRUTH and ETHICS, you will have a solid foundation. Of course, all things are impermanent, but if you're going to build a raft to get to the other side of the river, you might as well use good building material. Building a raft in the FWBO is like using tissue paper and water soluble glue. Only when you're halfway across will you realize the whole thing is falling apart.
The link to the FWBO's rebuttal to the FWBO Files would have been published here, but after investigating several of the FWBO's arguments, I found that they were in fact lying point blank.
Sangharakshita has made some terrible mistakes and the main people in charge in the FWBO just don't want to admit it.
The rebuttal in part states:
"Where Sangharakshita differs from some traditions of Buddhism and, indeed, from the modern phenomenon of homophobia , is in his stress on the ethical issues that underlie sexual acts rather than on the acts themselves. As Subhuti writes:
I guess Sangharakshita was taking an ethical vacation when he had sex with Mathew (see the Guardian Article) and so many other students of his. You won't find Mathew's name in their rebuttal and they don't mention the Guardian Article once. It's too bad that several people committed suicide after having a sexual relationship with Sangharakshita. This was obviously a result of Sangharakshita's coercive manipulation as mentioned in the Guardian Article.
I found it kind of strange that so many people were questioning their sexuality when I first joined the FWBO in 1994. Now I know why. Sangharakshita's influence cannot be denied. His sexual preference (homosexuality) has somehow worked its way into his teachings, both in writing and by poor example. Unfortunately, one's sexuality is not a Buddhist question, it's a personal one and does not belong on a spiritual teacher's agenda.
One order member once described Padmaloka (a men's FWBO retreat center in England) in the 1980's as "Sodom and Gomorrah". It was a sexfest. It's no wonder that half the people (as I have been told) in the FWBO London Buddhist center are gay. I have nothing against homosexuality, in fact my best friend in San Francisco is gay, but it has nothing to do with the Dharma.
It is troubling that in any Buddhist
organization, the pre-requisite for studying Dharma more deeply is having
to pledge one's allegiance to that organization. In the case of the FWBO,
in order to study the Dharma in their "Mitra study group", you must
become a "Mitra". Mitra basically means "friend". There are four
criteria to becoming a Mitra in the FWBO. You must:
It is the fourth item that I will address here. To stop "shopping around" means that you must basically bury your head in the FWBO sand and not investigate your free religious curiosities at other centers, Buddhist or not. You must commit to the FWBO's tight little study group, thus isolating yourself from any other spiritual influences that you might otherwise consider. I know for a fact that people become interested in the Dharma and willingly take on such criteria without considering what they really mean. The FWBO makes no effort whatsoever to make sure that you have already "shopped around". They are not interested in whether people have finished investigating spirituality at all. They will set forth the guidelines for becoming a Mitra, allow you to jump headlong into the fray, without ever asking you, "By the way, how thoroughly have you investigated other spiritual options, Buddhist or otherwise?"
The point here is not that the FWBO should have no criteria for becoming a Mitra, but "not shopping around" seems a bit paranoid at best. What are they afraid of? Will someone go to a meeting with Jews and come and pollute a Mitra study meeting with foreign ideas? Any Buddhist worth his salt would welcome foreign ideas. The Dalai Lama is known for his vigorous pursuit of knowledge, much of the time by visiting spiritual leaders from around the globe, from the full spectrum of spiritual disciplines and creeds. It's OK to focus on the Dharma, but to restrict or to ask someone to restrict what knowledge they take in is nothing less than a Buddhist crime. It's also very dualistic. "It's us or them, take it or leave it."
Buddhists should always be encouraged to "shop around". This, after all, is the only way to test the Dharma against other spiritual disciplines. And if after testing, someone decides the Dharma is not for them, then that's great! All the power to you! I encourage you to go and investigate further and whatever makes you happy is what you should pursue! By the way, another big difference between the FWBO and other organizations is the idea of happiness. The Dalai Lama himself states that the purpose of the Dharma and Buddhism is happiness, in its deepest sense. However in the FWBO, I have literally heard an order member giving a talk, talking about how important it was for Buddhism to spread across America, saying that "...other things didn't really even matter. It doesn't even matter if we're happy...". Well, I disagree with that order member. If you're not happy doing it, why do you do it? When Buddhism becomes a ritualized habit, and one gets caught up in some organization where the organization becomes more important than the individual, then you've got trouble, and no, you're not going to be a happy Buddhist.
I have heard the argument, that if you keep skipping from well to well, you may never drink deeply enough of the Dharma. OK, but what if you haven't even looked down any other wells? After spending four years in the FWBO, I have finally started looking at other Buddhist groups, and they are marked by their simplicity, their lack of requirement to join or belong to any groups or take on any status, and most of all, their delivery of a much deeper, much richer Dharma. They tend to focus on the here and now, with what's going on in people's lives and how the Dharma relates to that, not on verbose dialogues about Boddhisattvas, fancy rituals, incoherent chanting, dressed up shrines, etc. The Dharma is a teaching, not another habit to get bogged down in or a group to join.
Unfortunately, it's very painful to leave a Sangha (Buddhist spiritual fellowship) because one tends to make friends there. But the strong will leave and find real Dharma elsewhere. The problem is that even if you wanted to, you're not going to get the proper training in the FWBO. The training under Sangharakshita tends to be very ritualistic and intellectualized. There's not enough fresh blood within its ranks. Sangharakshita wanted to keep everyone enshrined within his hallowed halls, and now the consequences of those actions are coming to light. Go elsewhere and you will see, that Sangharakshita hasn't really done a good job of training anyone at all.
Many ideas in the FWBO are like heavy logs that people carry around with them. One such idea is that of spiritual friendship. This is an important aspect of Buddhist training and history, however the idea of spiritual friendship in the FWBO is almost rammed down people's throats. I find that friendships within a Sangha will emerge naturally, or they will not. You can't fake friendship and you can't expect people to become friends, spiritual or otherwise, just because some handbook says that's the way it's supposed to be. They push spiritual friendship like castor oil down your throat, until the mention of it makes you sick.
Because Sangharakshita is more of a Buddhist scholar than a man of wisdom, those who train under him tend not to receive adequate training in real Dharma principles (Leading by example doesn't hurt either, but his examples haven't been the best.) The isolated nature of the FWBO makes this incestuous. During the entire four years I was at the FWBO in San Francisco, not one speaker from outside the FWBO ever gave a talk at our center. Only those from within the FWBO were allowed to speak. This isolation is very suspect. For some reason, all the other centers in the San Francisco Bay Area seem to think it's a good idea to have other teachers come and give talks and present their ideas at their centers. In fact, at many centers, it is felt that interfaith dialogue is an important aspect of Buddhist training. It also develops a sense of tolerance and maturity about how the world really is with regard to other religions. The San Francisco Zen Center for instance had a series of talks, including one by a Jewish Rabbi. This kind of mature interfaith dialogue is good for everyone. It brings people together and helps them understand each other.
This does not happen in the FWBO. Theirs is an atmosphere of subtle, fear-based (and in some ways) cultish behavior. Because of Sangharakshita's bad experiences with Christianity, Christian-bashing is common and rampant in the FWBO. Christmas-time retreats were seen as a chance to escape the influence of western Christianity. One order member in particular used to joke about the abhorrence of the baby Jesus. Even if done in jest, this reflects an immature and intolerant view of other's religious beliefs and customs. This dualistic approach to life is NOT Dharma, and does not foster cooperation and warmth between peoples of different faiths. On the contrary, it breeds contempt and division between Buddhists and Christians. The problem with Sangharakshita is that he doesn't like the world the way is, and he thinks he can change it by creating what he refers to as "The New Society". This is also NOT Dharma. To accept things as they are, THIS is Dharma. Not that we cannot influence anything in the world, but when we try to rearrange the furniture in order to be happy, we are making the mistake of looking outside ourselves instead of within. This is Sangharakshita's folly.
I myself have to be careful about what expectations I have about his web site and the FWBO. I cannot change the FWBO. I can only change myself. My intention is to complete this site and just leave it on the web for others to find when searching for information about Sangharakshita and the FWBO. It serves only to protect people from what happened to me and so many others. It's the least I can do.
If the Guardian Article hadn't come out in England, the FWBO to this day would not have informed me about Sangharakshita's ugly secrets. Now that I know the truth about him, so many questions about the FWBO (that I had wondered about) have been answered. It's too bad the truth had to be concealed for so long. Sangharakshita has even put himself on a refuge tree (a devotional plaque with other historical Buddhist teachers) and has his followers throw their bodies down (prostrate) in front of him in reverence. Sounds a bit cultish to me. The reason they have to do all this stuff is that their Dharma training has been woefully inadequate and they've run out of things to do. If you have no Dharma to teach, well, you've got to do something to keep people's interest. But you won't know it until you leave it. This is the truth.
When I sent an email to Subhuti (the new head of the cult) about my concerns about the Guardian article, he replied, "Naturally, I think it is a very positive thing that your naivete regarding the FWBO has been shattered." That's like going to a restaurant, ordering a sandwhich, receiving a moldy sandwich with a cockaroach crawling on it, complaining to the waiter, and having the waiter reply, "Naturally, I think it is a very positive thing that your naivete regarding our restaurant has been shattered." I'm telling you folks, Subhuti has been so thoroughly brainwashed by Sangharakshita that he's floating around in outer space.
My Last FWBO Retreat
I attempted to get the most out of the retreat, but I too found that the order members themselves just couldn't keep their mouths shut during specified periods of silence (specified by them no less). The first time occured during a break between sits in the shrine room. I paced outside, waiting for people to become silent before returning to the shrine room. This never happened. I had to enter the shrine room and ask, "Are we in silence?" At that point we were. Later I was reprimanded for taking so long to come back inside.
Then we went on a beautiful moonlit walk to the ridge of the hills of Jikoji (Los Gatos, California). I was looking into the starry sky after we had stopped at the top of the ridge. The fog in the valley below was gorgeous, slowly drifting in and surrounding trees and grassy hills, brilliantly lit by moonlight. Then an order member approached me -- a visiting order member from England. He whispered something into my ear about some constellation of stars. That was the last FWBO retreat I ever went on. I cannot recommend the FWBO as a place to learn or practice the Dharma.
I returned home immediately, only to find a link to The FWBO files in my email inbox. That really was the last straw!
This has been by far the biggest nightmare of my life. I am slowly readjusting, finding real Dharma elsewhere, and putting the pieces back together. Pema Chodron's book "When Things Fall Apart" has helped, and so has my partner Claudia and my son Dylan as well as many other supportive friends. All people make mistakes, even Sangharakshita. But the FWBO doesn't want to admit to their mistakes and ways.
The bottom line is, if you REALLY want to learn Dharma, then it might be best to learn from people who know what Dharma is really all about. Go FIND DHARMA! It's exciting, refreshing, and you'll enjoy the new depth of practice. But if you stay with the FWBO, you'll be missing out!
Avoid the FWBO if you know what's good for you.