Shabda collection 1
Extracts from FWBO magazine Shabda, compiled by Dh. Vimalakirti from Pune, India, for open circulation. These extracts contain comments by FWBO order members on the Guardian article, power relationships, the FWBO in India, and the promotion of homosexuality as superior to heterosexuality.
Shabda, December 1997:
1. Santacitta. Brighton 17.11.97
"I think Peter Rutter's book 'Sex in the Forbidden Zone' should be compulsory reading for all OMs.[Order Members]. I do think we need to take this article very seriously. It was also distressing to see Bhante's relationship with Mark Dunlop so explicitly written about in the article. I don't know what happened there, all I can deduce is that Mark must have been a very damaged, unhappy man and it is unfortunate that Bhante had a sexual relationship with him. I do however find it hard to understand how Bhante's sexual experimentation went on for so long and with so many young men."
"I have to say I think we are getting, to a certain extent, just what we deserve. It has always been a huge miccaditti [wrong view] that Spiritual Friendship and Sex are not mutually exclusive, and only a huge amount of rationalising could ever have made them seem compatible. The repercussions in the UK will be mild compared to the damage likely to be caused in India and that is the real shame." (p 5)
"Certainly there was a 'cuIture' of homosexuality within the Movement at that time...I certainly felt a pressure to 'become' homosexual .... l am left with a question mark as regards the ethical behaviour of Bhante.' (p14)
"Homosexuality was encouraged. It was seen as better than 'heterosexuality.' (p24)
"It Seems to me that sex in the sangha has been an area of confusion and unclarity. Did this derive from confusion around Bhante's own sexual behaviour? .... I think we need to reopen the debate about the relation of sex and Kalyana Mitrata [spiritual friendship], and ethics of sexual involvement with people at centres ... There are, therefore, aspects of teachings that can be interpreted as encouraging misogyny, antipathy to families, and promotion of homosexuality. I would add tendencies Madelaine didn't discuss: disparagement of other Buddhists and hostility to (not just the assertion of difference from) other religions, especially Christianity. Perhaps the same could be said of our antipathy to liberalism ... One clear lesson of the Guardian article was that we have very few real friends in the Buddhist world .... In our ethics we must consider that Order Members are not simply private individuals and our actions can potentially bring the whole Order into disrepute." (p27)
"I myself had had a period of sexual intimacy with Bhante. Overall I enjoyed it immensely."
"Bhante is homosexual and prefers young boys. This is fine by me. I have had sex with men (not Bhante in case you are wondering), predominantly women, as well as with hooker (women), various inanimate objects (dildoes, vibrators whatever, usually with women) myself and often mixed with danger, drugs, in strange situations and all the rest of it . ... So back to Bhante, not buying into the experimentation stuff (it would be like me saying I'm still experimenting with drugs when in fact I just simply take them) I reasoned that there were two choices. Either that Bhante would just assert his (sexual) needs at the expense of another, or because of his background (lack of experience in this area, etc.) he was naive to the effects of sex and sexually induced intimacy. ... Finally, keeping all this still secret from the Indian Order means that really there are TWO ORDERS, the Non - Indian and the Indian. The non - Indian Order knows that:
1. Bhante is gay and had several/many sexual partners
2. There are many gays (of both sexes) in the Order and that they have sex
3. The heteros have sex (sometimes lots) outside marriage.
4. Some of us take drugs and drink alcohol.
5. On particular deranged/good days (delete depending on temperament) we manage various combinations of the above !
The Indian Order, by and large, does not know this. So, all perfectly normal human behaviour (by which I mean they have all been going on by the truck load since humans kept records) but not at all Kosh with our Indian Order Brothers and Sisters.
... Basically, there is the issue of different cultural conditionings and the difficulty of (my words) political sensitivity, that is the secret police forces of some countries had been known to read Shabda and we don't want to give them info. i.e. stuff about illegal activities like drugs or certain sexual practices (using the back door is illegal in India) that might damage our movement .
.... What does it mean or imply for the Indian Order Members if they have gone for Refuge to and joined an imaginary Order, one that does not really exist. Remember they have joined us Westerners who [they thought] aren't gay, don't have sex outside marriage, and don't drink or take drugs. Are their Ordinations real / valid?
.... However, according to the recent batch of stuff on email from Madyamaloka [FWBO Central, Birmingham, UK] if the Bunting effect (i.e. Bhante and our wing of the Order Outed - that is they get THE TRUTH, albeit messy and sensationalised) apparently we can expect large scale resignations, - almost riots in the streets and apparently Gay White Boy OMs - Suvajra et al, have been pulled out of the zone because their very presence will be inflammatory, and presumably because the feelings of betrayal will be so strong they may even be in danger. (p 60)
8. Varakhanti (Croydon):
"I was told, at some time, that Bhante had had a number of sexual friendships with young men in the movement. .... I also wonder what we can learn about our relationship to the Order and movement in India. Can we truly call ourselves one Order if cultural and traditional differences are so vast that we cannot be open about how we live our lives, about how we have lived them in the past?"
"I have no difficulty with Bhante's sexual activity which I was aware of and see in the context of the time, historically speaking, both of his life and the wider world. The fact that he engaged in sexual activity while continuing to wear robes seems to me to be about the divide between natural and conventional morality. .... when I came along to the FWBO in the early 1980's I did feel that there was a sort of hallowed inner world of men that I could never, as a woman, join. I think this was to do with the Kalyana Mitrata / sexual activity connecting among the men who were up front at classes."
10. Jayagita (Norwich):
"This area to do with homosexuals, it is not directly linked with the articles, though it set me thinking, as did Padmasiddhi's s reporting-in in Oct '97 Shabda. He mentioned a man having his lover around once a month for the weekend I have a question: Why? I understand that one of the reasons for the single sex communities was to not just keep the opposite sax out, but to keep sex out! I question if homosexuals aren't having their cake and eating it! I also wonder how much this happens in the movement - after all the way I see it is sex is sex, it is based on craving, be it casual or long term, be it heterosexual or homosexual.' (p 3)
Shabda, January 1998
"I am sick of the fact that we can't be open and honest in Shabda because of the 'Indian situation'. Perhaps we need to accept that we have two orders - I know there is a problem with this, but there is a bigger problem with not being able to be open and honest in Shabda. I hear that things are changing fast in the Order in India so maybe we will be able to just be honest and have one Order in India, in which case, assuming there are no more negative consequences in India (which is a big assumption), the Guardian article will have done us a favour. We are very quick to make the point that the Dharma may take a different form in different cultures, but we don't seem to have been very good at putting this cultural specificity into practice within our own movement." (p 2)
"First of all you might be aware that Indian Buddhist movement and Order is growing in particular way which has its own advantage and disadvantage itself (one day it will be worthwhile to explore it!) So one of the disadvantage is that we don't get an opportunity to practice Buddhism beyond caste system and Ambedkarism. Being here [UK] it is great opportunity to practice Buddhism beyond Indian culture and those things. The next thing that I can get a real sense of "Team Work' as we haven't completely learned how to work as a team as we are good in making group rather than an individual."
3. Sadara, (Amsterdam):
"I received an e-mail from Vishvapani, which in part read: "I would like to ask that other people do not join in the discussion in internet Newsgroups [talk.religion.buddhism etc.] without first discussing this with Guhyapati or myself. It may well be you have a useful contribution to make, but we are into deep water and it will be very easy to do more harm than good." What do you mean 'we', white man? Personally, I don't think I'm in deep water at all. The communication Office does not, as far as I'm aware, represent me in this matter. I find it shocking that anyone should attempt to control my behaviour in this way." (p 7)
"Most importantly for me, it has reminded me that I go for Refuge to the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha (to the extent that I do) not to the FWBO or the WBO. Of course, I am very glad to have them as a concrete context is which to work. But I do not, nor I have ever, felt dependent to them. And I have as an order member done my best not to encourage dependency in others. The Institutions that we set up have a shelf life, they will in the end become moribund and have to be done away with, or else they will become Institutions of power and repression, this seems to be the nature of spiritual institutions. Perhaps the whole idea of spiritual institutions is wrong; there is nothing spiritual about them - they are to a degree necessary but they can not be seen as spiritual, only the people in them can be termed spiritual, and it would seem from looking at the history of institutional religion that even when many of the members of those institutions are genuine they still go the way of all flesh. So to be a member of the WBO we have also to feel free not to be a member."
"The credibility of the FWBO movement and of Bhante as its leader has been seriously tarnished .... A significant part of the problem is that a large section of the Order in India has so far been effectively excluded from any full and open discussion, and I think that full and open discussion both within and with those outside the F/WBO is the only way forward. .... Personally, I think that if it were a choice between the integrity of the Order and the survival of the movement in India, I would choose the integrity of the Order every time."
"It is very important we question Bhante's teachings (or observations) and be wary of any tendency amongst us to authoritarianism and charisma."
"For 45p, anybody in England can find out - in however fractured a form - something important about the history of the FWBO. That Bhante had sex with some of his disciples. That the Croydon centre once took a very bad turn indeed. But in all this time, fellow order members in India were systematically deceived .... I understand the word ''deceit" to cover such things as an attempt to withhold facts from another when they have a legitimate interest in knowing them. More actively, it might also cover 'maintaining an impression of a state of affairs while knowing it to be false'.
What might these facts be? Bhante's sexuality and sexual activity with his disciples. Western order members' consumption of drugs - including cigarettes and alcohol. ... But ignorance always results in lack of choice and choice, with the freedom it can bring should be our guiding light. Exactly who were we protecting by withholding the truth? I am uncomfortable with the notion that 'Order Members in India (need) to be educated to see beyond their cultural conditioning'. This point was included in a recent circular to chapter convenors. … The fact that we are doing it at all appears to owe more to Madeleine Bunting than to any urge to come clean. If not doing it earlier was a gamble, a gamble that by the time people in India found out then the events would be so long gone or cultures so merged then it would not matter - then it is a gamble that has failed."
"A week ago on a journey up to Blackburn for our chapter meeting I learnt that these 'explorations' were for a much longer period and that during this period Bhante had worn the yellow kesa, had worn robes, and had travelled to India in the robes of an anagarika. ... And the length of time of Bhante's sexual activity had its influence on other order members and some, however naively, tried to emulate him as Kulananda admits that he did. This suggests that there are grains of truth in the Guardian piece. One of them being that some order members used Bhante's example for their own exploration of sex in the furtherance of Kalyana-mitrata."
"Like others I think it is a mistake to think that situations like Croydon won't happen again - large or small scale. It's always a possibility to the extent that any of us operates in the power mode, out of insecurity which we don't acknowledge, out of arrogance or naiveté and in situations where we don't allow people the freedom to speak their minds and respect what they have to say. Too often still people's concern and questions can be silenced, by a variety of means - stony silence, a refusal to engage in what they are trying to say, anger, putting them down by telling them they are not spiritually mature enough to understand, rejecting what they have to say as simply a micchaditti [wrong view].
... I hope that it does all actually lead to ongoing discussion, and that it doesn't simply end up being a few people sent around Centres to put everyone right and tell them how they should be thinking. Yes, facts and information need to be made available, and questions asked and answered honestly without any attempt to cover up or to defend. People will make up their own minds, we don't need to make them up for them."
10. Dharmottara (Birkenhead):
"The ground on which a sexual relationship takes place between teacher and disciple, or even Order Member and Mitra, is not level. We may not consciously or deliberately be acting in the power mode, but the junior partner in the relationship will indeed be junior, they will be aware that the other has, in terms of spiritual development, greater experience, more knowledge, maybe more positivity, and since they seek to develop these themselves they will put their trust in the senior partner to help than to do so. If they perceive that by the very nature of their relationship with the senior partner this is not happening, the damage may be great.
There is also the question of consent. Does the junior partner know as much as the senior partner about what they are consenting to? Are they likely to find it particularly difficult to refuse a request from an Order Member who stands in relation to them as friend and teacher, even if that person is not aware of exerting pressure? ... I was told some years ago that Padmaloka was 'given to Bhante by a friend'. which I now find was inaccurate. Was my informant confused by 'discretion'? I was told that Shabda was edited to avoid occurrences of harsh speech - but I do not remember being told that there was anything in Bhante's life that we should not mention because it would be unacceptable to the Order in India.
...Points which interest me. Do we separate Bhante's F/WBO teachings from 'observations'? Is there a generally recognised basis for doing so? Is there a kind of thing you are happy with in one group and things you aren't in the other? Not good enough? And what do we do with 'observations' when we've got them? I feel puzzled about this whole area of Bhante as our teacher. Or is it our friend? I know it's not our Guru, but what about the Refuge Tree .... Does he want to be seen as our exemplar?" (p 75)
Shabda, February 1998
Kularatna - FWBO Eyewitness accounts:
"..There was a fair bit of homosexuality but there were a fair number of gay people. Some of the wacky theories about sex were along the 'we are all basically bisexual and need to get in touch with it' line and I did have people try to tell me that. I read Mark Dunlop's account of his 'seduction' and I have considered whether these arguments could have filtered through from S, but I don't believe so. We were living through heady days then, there was a general climate of sexual experimentation in the youth culture that we were emerging from. I do believe however that S's sexuality has influenced the development of the movement, and that it was a mistake for him to have sexual relations with young men involved in his movement. I don't know whether or not he now feels that it was a mistake, but I do know that the way Mark Dunlop has turned against him has caused him pain, and I suspect that the pain has far outweighed the pleasure." (p 10)
Shabda, February 1998
"…we are after all a sexually active order, always have been, we also have an active dimension of Brahmacharya so we probably have a pretty complete range: order members having sex with each other, with mitras, with friends; with same sex, opposite sex; we have transvestites, and at least one transsexual, etc. etc. We've all been 'experimenting' away like mad all these years and long may it continue, one of our 'pillars'." (p 12 )
Shabda, March 1998
"From my observations there are many complex considerations. Some of these considerations are a possible split in the Sangha. Actual damage to individuals, perhaps especially women. Consideration of the influence of western immorality. Censure and even threats from outside the Movement, from Ambedkarite groups, caste Hindus and their antipathy to the new Buddhists." (p 26)
Shabda, May 1998
1. Buddhaprasanna, Manchester:
"What amazes me is how a flawed and wrong view that a sexual intimacy with mitras could be skillful, became the vogue in F/WBO? It is contrary to all the Buddha's teachings and the spirit of Dharma. Where were all the other luminaries in the movement? They were practicing Buddhists, who were affirming the precepts. The most astonishing is the fact that Bhante was still wearing Bhikkhu robes, when he went to India, why nobody challenged him?
...The main question raised by the article was whether the behaviour of Bhante influenced others. Reading the Shabda contributions, the answer is in affirmative. Another question was whether F/WBO is a cult. Any institution which inhibits members especially the juniors from challenging the behaviour of seniors, out of misplaced loyalty or fear is a cult. We may not be a cult, but the behaviour of the people around Bhante during the formative period seems to have been cultish. Even today loyalty blinds most from calling spade a spade.
When I was ordained in Guhyaloka, I was repeatedly warned about the seriousness of my vows, which I was taking in front of Shakyamuni. I was joining the family of Buddhas. I was told that my vows were for all time. Whether I went through pubic ordination ceremony or not. Hundreds of times I have been told about the sanctity of vows, by various OMs.
Now, I find out to my dismay, that Bhante broke his vows. Though I have been told commitment is primary, not the life style, Bhante was wearing Bhikkhu robes though he was sexually active. Nobody seems to have answers to these fundamental questions. Is ordination ceremony only a Kriya? What is important, the spirit or the adequacy/inadequacy of the ceremony? I have heard various views viz.
(1) Bhante's Bhikkhu ceremony was flawed so he was not a Bhikkhu.
(2) He was starting a new order and unless he wore robes he would not have been taken seriously.
(3) As a head of the order he can please himself etc.
I hope the preceptors will give a definite answer to quell all speculations. Why are the seniors censoring Indian Order? Why talk about modern and post modern cultures? Why not talk Dharma language: skillful / unskillful? They understand what is skillful and what is not. Please do not forget this is the same culture which gave the world Buddha, Gandhi; Kamasutra and Khajurahos." (p 42).
"…that the WBO in a sense is not realty an Order, it is not really a spiritual community, but a positive group." (p 5)
Shabda, June 1998
"We were quite critical of married life. … As order members in the west say in early days hippie, gay dominated the movement, married and less spiritual and more socially inspired order members dominated the movement in India. So it was good that community members were critical to them ... I fell in love not just once but twice with two different girls and even had sex with them which caused trouble too. That means I had clear message that either I had to practice brahmacharya, or stay happy with just masturbation or something which does not break conventional morality or last option to get married. That was real struggle, if you can imagine … As we do not have enough support from the state or from anyone question arises who will look after us in our old days? I am afraid to say that married life seems to be more reliable than spiritual community. ... Chandrasil taught me how women get pregnant as I was not quite sure, because once one girl tried to cheat me after 20 days having had sex with her she said she was pregnant. ... I was having regular sex with man for short term (He was not western). As I became to learn there is nothing wrong to have sex with man. It was not secret, my friends knew about it. I cannot say that I am bisexual, but I do have casual sex with men, sometimes it works sometimes it does not..." (p 83-84)
Shabda, July 1998
"… I think that it is completely inappropriate for anyone who could be described as a teacher to have sex with anyone who could be described as a pupil. I think it just does not stack up. (... after a sober period of reflection …) For me what has emerged is a recognition that sex in the teacher/pupil relationship is totally inappropriate though none of us saw it that way at the time. The arguments against this position just do not wash. ... My heart and soul rise up in disgust at some of the word-play and rationalisation that I have absorbed over the last twenty years and especially the last eighteen months both in talks and these pages." (p 26)