Shabda collection 2
Extracts from FWBO magazine Shabda, compiled by an order member in the UK, 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.
Index (To go to a particular section, click on section title in index, and click on browser back button to return to index.)
• Public image vs private reality
• The official party line - the whole truth is not beneficial?
• And the classic cult member's response ...
• 'Croydon was an isolated incident' …?
• References to Norwich • Brighton • Dublin • Bristol
• And now the truth:
• Gay sex and 'Tantric' Buddhism: the practice of the inner circle.
• The historical context justification ...
• The issue of censorship in India.
• The promotion of homosexuality as superior to heterosexuality is not an aspect of FWBO teaching …?
• And what are the FWBO Seniors up to back in Britain?
• Having Children vs Going for Refuge
• A Dispassionate Assessment of Madeleine Bunting of the Guardian's Journalistic Ability.
"There is ... the question of public image and reality. There is a public image of the Order which is presented through our publications ... and there is what the Order really is ... the two are quite different."
The official party line - the whole truth is not beneficial?
Vessantara, preceptor & senior order member (Feb 98)
"I can understand people wanting to know what happened at Croydon etc., etc., but I think we need to think carefully before asking for detailed accounts of events in Shabda. As an Order Member, if I hear that something has gone wrong in the Order, I need to satisfy myself that it has been put right and that lessons have been learned, but I don't necessarily need to know all the details....
"I have also been puzzled recently by being asked questions like: 'Exactly how long was Bhante [Sangharakshita] sexually active for? Was it fifteen years? Seventeen years?' Clearly, as Bhante is my teacher and Head of the Order, I need to know that he was sexually active over many years. If I heard stories about him which undermine my faith or that of others, I would have to look into them. But why should I or anyone need to know precise details which have no bearing on whether Bhante was unskilful in his sexual activities? I can't help feeling that questions like this come from an element of unhealthy curiosity, or perhaps from buying into the current ethos in which one feels a 'right to know' everything about the intimate details of public figures."
And the classic cult member's response to this instruction:
Saddhaloka (May 98)
"I am not interested in contributing to a climate of pained soul-searching and self criticism ... In some reportings-in, I note a desire to really tidy things up and tie things down. I feel very uncomfortable with this... I don't think we want or need more rules or strict guidelines."
Abhayakirti (June 98)
"Re the Guardian article...When I first read it I was upset and experienced some confusion regarding Bhante and his sexual behaviour. A half hour chat with Devamitra sorted my difficulties out. I have a simple mind and sometimes it tends to dwell upon the problems. The chat with Devamitra was great. In a nutshell, I know hardly anything about Bhante and his sex life and I am not particularly interested. I am not interested to speculate whether he was unskilful or not and I am not going to jump to any conclusions. ... At the end of my discussion with Devamitra I experienced this great rush of energy as a long unresolved problem in relation to Bhante was sorted i.e. I did not have to sort out this issue - there was no point."
'Croydon was an isolated incident' …?
Vidyaratna, Melbourne(Feb 98)
(This piece written Dec 97) I have not reported in to Shabda for a couple of years but am tempted back into print by a couple of recent developments in Melbourne and beyond. ... Not much has been said in Shabda in the seven years I have lived here about the ongoing difficulties in the chapter and FWBO situation here and some of what has been said has seemed to me to be lacking in honesty.
My perception is that the centre and council here have ceased to be sufficiently representative of what I would regard as genuine Buddhist … principle and practice. The way Dayamegha has been treated by Buddhadasa in particular, but also Siladas, I regard as quite shameful, unskillful and quite indefensible.
Unfortunately I cannot persuade the president, Devamitra, or Vessantara as overall Chapter convenor, that this is the case or indeed, to do anything very much. I cannot say it gives me any confidence whatsoever in the Preceptor's college or the grasp of ethics of some senior Order Members. I was amused to read in the 'official' responses to the Guardian article that abuses of 'power' and status a la Croydon could not occur again. Seems to me they both could and have!"
(Vidyaratna’s February report): "I reported in last month for the first time in years. To my surprise, my report was deemed to be in breach of the speech precept, so I was asked to change it, which I did. I was then asked to consider withdrawing altogether, which I thought about but decided against it. It still failed to appear, due to an 'accident'. Not the only report last month which failed to appear either....As it turns out, the Order Members who deemed my report unsuitable were themselves criticised and appear to be unconcerned about some of the events in Melbourne or the effects of some actions...
I am left with considerable reservations about the way the movement is developing and the capacity of some of those who seem to be running things to actually do so in a way I support. I think the atmosphere of secrecy that surrounds a number of issues is very unhelpful and unhealthy. I am inclined to the view that this is an English 'disease', little groups of 'right thinking chaps' deciding things in private. Can't let the masses know, y'know and all that rubbish. FWBO Melbourne has been run like that for years, to its considerable detriment. I wonder what else we, as Western OMs, don't know about events in our centers or in India. How do we know that it has not been decided that certain things should be kept from us?"
References to Norwich ..:
Paramashanti (Feb 98):
"I too would like to know what happened in Norwich. What I've read in Shabda so far has been a bit vague and I would appreciate the Order Members who were involved then to write explaining what went on at that time."
Vajradarshini (Dec 97):
"I have often found it unhelpful to make the connection between Norwich and Croydon [but] There were common factors ... factors happened at Norwich."
Silaratna (March 98)
"Following that, my sexual explorations were with men during the phase in the men's community Amitayus in Brighton, in the infamous early 80's when we had a phase of experimenting with homosexual activity as part of our men's community life at the time."
Prajnagupta (March 98)
"So, if there appears to be pain and confusion in Croydon, Dublin, Norwich, Melbourne...."
Devamitra (Aug 98)
"Let Tejananda apply...rigorous scrutiny ... to his own part in the Croydon affair, together with the replication of the Croydon ambience in the early days of Bristol."
And now the truth:
Vishvapani (Feb 98):
"A number of people have made critical comments about the communique that was circulated after the publication of Madelaine Bunting's article. I would like to make some points by way of a response...There have been suggestions that Croydon is presented as a unique difficulty....If it ignores other areas where there were difficulties, this may be partly because I do not know much about them. ...There are some inadvertent factual inaccuracies. ...It seems that perhaps rather less was done to communicate what had happened in Croydon to other Buddhists than we had thought. Apologies for these."
"Funny" … ?
Upekshamati (April 98)
"The funny thing is that most of the things she says in the [Guardian] article are real facts, are the ideas of the FWBO and recounted real conversations."
Gay Sex and 'Tantric' Buddhism: The Practice of the Inner Circle.
Ratnotarra (Feb 98):
"Yes, Bhante's exploration of sex was wonderful. Kulananda was not the only one who enjoyed it. Other people who I happened to talk with about it said the same thing. Hurt, but not much, were those who got attached. They were jealous or felt neglected. Also hurt were people who were trapped in their own prejudices....
At Padmaloka, some of the Bhante's mudras ['karma mudra'- the sexual consort of Indian tantra] reminded me of certain people that I had encountered under queer circumstances. He seemed to look at the young and handsome while overlooking the old and unsightly. I dreamed that I would talk with Bhante about his preferences but I never had the courage ... deep down I wished that he would face 'it' some day.
This day happened when the Guardian came out. [However] that happened long after I'd resolved my ambiguities. I came to believe that his explorations should become legend, something like Padmasambhava and his consorts.
Ratnaguna (Feb 98)
"I was upset at the contents of the [Guardian] article...I knew about Croydon of course. ...I also knew about Bhante's sexual activity - in fact, I knew about that from first hand experience, as Bhante and I had had sex on a number of occasions."
Yashomitra (April 98)
"I heard recently that someone had written to Bhante asking him if he had had sex with me. Strange. In case there are any rumours running around about me in relation to this issue, let me say how it was for me ... My sexual contact with Bhante was characterized by a flow of kindness and affection, and also a sense of acceptance coming from him."
Ratnottara (April 98)
"Many young men enjoyed meeting him in a sensual way - he could pluck them like the proverbial flowers ... the brahmacharis [celibates] I knew were well aware of what Bhante was doing and did not seem to mind."
Vishvapani (March 98)
"For those ordained in the 70s the defining experience in their connection with the FWBO was their contact with Bhante - the inspiration of his friendship (even including sexual aspects) ..."
The historical context justification ...
Ratnotarra (Feb 98)
'Were Bhante's actions just explorations? I think about them as an outburst of vitality, a nourishment of his need for intimacy after years in celibacy. This new stream of energy could hardly be stopped when dozens of young wonderful people were feeding it. And don't forget the historical context. In the sixties and seventies sex was freely available. Having several sexual partners in one night, in succession or with a group was common and the health risk was minimal. Sex was unleashed and promised a revolution in human communication. How could Bhante, on coming from a still traditional society, not explore this new spirit?....
Of course, people are curious. This curiosity drives journalists to write about President Clinton's penis to disclose the private things that become boring as soon as one knows the facts. They are private ... not because the actions themselves are wrong, but because people like Madelaine [Bunting] are starving for any details to distort and inflate them.
We are revolutionary in many aspects. We are critical of the nuclear family, of [hetero or long term] sexual relationships, of theistic religions, of conventional morality. ... The Guardian was only the first mild attack on us. More and nastier attacks will follow by those who cherish the rotten institutions we criticize.
Ratnadaka (April 98)
"I have of course wondered why Bhante wore the robe while being sexually active. I think our difficulties arise from there being different interpretations of what wearing the robe means. In the "old dispensation" the robe meant a strict practice of the Vinaya. In the "new dispensation" (to date) the robe means taking the anagarika vow which means taking a vow of chastity ... When Bhante was establishing the Order, the shift from the old to the new had not yet been made. Bhante had stopped practicing the full Vinaya. He frequented pubs, he tried drugs, he wore jewellery, he was going to the theatre, the cinema and the opera, perhaps he even had the odd meal after midday. And of course he engaged in sexual activity. It is interesting that it is just this breach of Vinaya and none of the others which people find difficult to reconcile with Bhante wearing the robe. I suspect that this is because it is this breach of non-chastity [sic] which contravenes our current conception of what wearing the robe means. If we remember that at the time Bhante was experimenting this interpretation just didn't exist, it might help us in the West at least to reconcile Bhante's robe wearing with his sexual activity. ... I must say I am most sympathetic to Bhante's unwillingness to comment on all this."
The issue of censorship in India:
Lokabandhu (Feb 98):
"At one point during a panel discussion it was asked why [Indian] mitras had not been told about Bhante and 'homo-sex' before ordination. This allowed Lokamitra [a senior order member] to acknowledge, freely and openly before more or less the whole Indian Order, that in fact this had been kept secret for 19 years - that a very long time ago the decision had been taken that they would never consciously take the news to India. He said that of course the Indian Order was free to agree or disagree with that decision but he was very relieved that it was now no longer a secret, said with a big smile on his face. ... Naturally some people felt it should have been done differently...many others expressed their gladness that it had been hidden, saying that they would probably not have sought ordination had they known."
The promotion of homosexuality as superior to heterosexuality is not an aspect of FWBO teaching …?
Maitreyabandhu (June 98)
"I wanted to talk about homosexuality and how it can have clear spiritual benefits and advantages over heterosexuality, and how such an idea is not like seventies furniture - once fashionable, now clearly silly as some Shabda reportings in have suggested - but a persuasively arguable point and in many cases true."
Jayamati ( August 98, p 58-59)
"The real beauty of a sexual relationship between an Order Member and a Mitra is that if the OM is sufficiently mature then the other person stands to gain considerably from the experience. This was the basis for the famed Greek model of love between the older man and the younger one which served that society so well for so long.
Tejananda's other concern is that there might be "mixed motives" on the part of the OM entering into a sexual relationship with a Friend and Mitra. It is precisely these ‘mixed motives’ that occasion the considerable benefits of such a relationship and are quite often the source of it.
Tejananda's final point is that we should be careful not to ‘alienate the vast majority of its (Society's) members by engaging in, or condoning behaviour which they would find morally reprehensible and utterly repugnant’....he is quite right to point out that such bigotry does exist and that we must be very careful not to inflame ignorant passions by introducing such radical concepts too abruptly and without the opportunity to carefully explain the context that surrounds these ideas and principles. Thus one would need to be discreet in negotiating these principles with the general public.' See Jayamati's letter in full
Vajranatha (Venezuela) (March 98)
"Several people have commented in Shabda that we need to be more careful about ethics. What is included in this concern about "ethics"? Homosexual activity in general? I would like to ask, for example, are the original ideas of 'Greek Love' really completely nutty? Or is there something in them?....So what am i getting at? No, I don't want to "promote homosexuality". Nevertheless, I do consider that, spiritually speaking, homosexual relationships can have some advantages....My concern is that, just because particular individuals may have used certain Miccha Dittis to pressurise others into having sex, there should not be a backlash against homosexual activity in the movement.
Don't let "the papers" bring conventional morality into the Order. We don't need it. ...The idea that homosexuality can be equated with Kalyana Mitrata is obviously a Miccha Ditti but to say that it completely excludes it is another extreme view. One of my official Kalyana Mitras was my lover for about three years & I am extremely grateful to him for everything that he gave me."
Tejananda (July 98)
"I am aware of mitras who evidently did not find order Members sexual interest in them either welcome or beneficial.... In at least one case of which I am aware, this concerned a heterosexual Mitra who was distressed and put off by a number of homosexual propositions from Order Members....I know that a significant number of heterosexuals have, one way or another, found themselves persuaded into homosexual acts with more senior or experienced members of the Order during their involvement with the FWBO."
Khemaloka (Feb 98):
"I remember mentioning the issue of homosexuality once at Croydon in a discussion of a Mitra. I suggested that it might be a complicating factor in his personal life. My comments were met with an embarrassed silence around the table, eventually broken by Padmaraja, who implied that I was seriously out of my depth. I now suspect that this was another agreed 'no go area' there, as it was (and is?) in the Order." [Khemaloka's brackets]
And what are the FWBO Seniors up to back in Britain?
Devapriya (March 98)
"I am a bit concerned that there seems to be a certain unrelenting attention to any possible deviation from Perfect Speech given to anyone responding to , commenting on or in any way mentioning what does appear to have been quite outrageous behaviour by some Order Members. In effect this sort of thing represses open communication. I have heard of chairmen of public centres in recent times having sexual relations with married women and causing no little harm. When will the thatch be opened?"
Having Children vs Going for Refuge
Samata (on behalf of the women's ordination team) (Jan 98)
"..we do expect women to think it through thoroughly and consider how having a child or children would affect their ability to effectively go for refuge."
A Dispassionate Assessment of Madeleine Bunting of the Guardian's Journalistic Ability.
Guhyavajra (Feb 98)
"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."