Homosexuality as kalyana mitrata ('spiritual friendship')

Below is a fuller extract from Subhuti’s paper to ‘The Conference on the Ordination Process for Men’, published in the Order magazine Shabda in September 1986, in which Subhuti states: 'Sexual interest on the part of a male Order member for a male mitra [novice] can create a connection which may allow kalyana mitrata [spiritual friendship] to develop.'

This was cited in The FWBO Files at note 52, and has been highlighted in bold in the text below for ease of reference.

[extract starts mid-page 124 of Shabda Sept. 1986]

The Order consists essentially in the quality of communication known as kalyana mitrata. Though his communication with an order member a mitra is gradually led to share in that communication. At that point he is ready to be ordained.

The need is clear and the theory well known. Mitras have, by virtue of becoming mitras and, more especially, by asking far ordination, made it clear that they want contact with order members and want kalyana mitrata. There are plenty of them who are 'open and receptive'. There are plenty of order members. So why is there such a poverty of close personal communication between Order members and mitras?

There are two main reasons why order members do riot give as much attention to Mitras as they need: they are too busy and they are not sufficiently interested to do so. I am not trying to make moral judgements here but to recognise the plain facts of the situation. I by no means exclude myself from the deficiencies I am going to discuss.

Many of the most capable and inspiring order members are tied up with organisational work, and many others too have very busy schedules. Although this need not, and does not always, preclude such Order members from taking time for mitras, it is a cause for concern that so few order members are in a position to do more than snatch time to spend with mitras.

Business should not however be used as an excuse, for people usually find time to do what they want to do. A major factor must be that few order members are really motivated to spend a great deal of time with mitras. This is, I think, a basic fact of life which we must look at in some depth and decide how best to tackle. We must first ask what does motivate order members to spend time with mitras? There are three basic factors: genuine sympathy, personal interest, and duty.

Genuine sympathy - or metta and karuna - is of course what one would hope was the primary motivation behind an order member's friendships with mitras. Although there is probably usually some element of this, or at least the possibility of some element of this, in most of our cases there is simply not enough to act as a primary motivating factor. Few of us are Bodhisattvas who will be impelled to go out to people simply because we feel their need in a direct, specific and personal way.

Usually we are motivated in our relationships by personal interest: there is something in it for us. Whatever that personal interest might be it can make a strong connection between the order member and the mitra which gives the possibility of kalyana mitrata arising. An order member living and working on his own, for instance, might feel the need of friendship himself and therefore be 'forced' into cultivating a mitra. Or else an order member might share an interest with a mitra - whether in playing squash or singing folk songs. Again the fact that a mitra is working in a project for which an order member is responsible might necessitate that he is well looked after - otherwise the project will founder. Perhaps the strongest factor which might bind an order member to a mitra is sex. It does seem that many of the most successful Kalyana Mitras have an erotic interest in their mitras. It might be fruitful to look further at this point.

It has been observed that many order members who do not have enough time to spend with mitras do find time to spend with girlfriends - spending several nights a week away from their communities and even going away on holidays with them. Clearly here the sexual interest is enough to motivate an order member to spend time with another person. The likelihood is however that there is not much kalyana mitrata present in such relationships. No doubt in some cases there may be but it is observably rare. The element of self-interest is usually too strong as can be seen from the very intense jealousies and bad feeling that so often arises in this connection. The element of self-interest neutralises the element of idealism.

It seems that, within the context of the spiritual community at least (I am told that 'gay' circles are fraught with jealousies!), sexual interest on the part of a male order member for a male mitra can create a connection which may allow kalyana mitrata 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. Many people do not feel able to do this - whether as a result of taboo or reluctance to give up a conditioned predisposition. This means that a great deal of the Order's combined emotional energy goes into male-female relationships which are probably not particularly spiritually productive. If one is sexually satisfied and is getting affection and personal attention from one's girlfriend one will be less likely to seek strong emotional connections with men mitras. Besides, what time one does have will be taken up with her!

The third factor which motivates order members is duty; After all Bhante is constantly urging us to spend time with mitras - two hours a day, for instance! Most of us have, at least, a theoretical appreciation of the needs of mitras and are willing to make some effort even if we do not have a very strong personal motivation. In certain situations, on retreats and in Tuscany, Order members are quite highly organised to spend time with Mitras. They will be asigned to keep contact with one or two of them and will regularly report in on their progress. There is of course then leisure to do it - and no female alternatives! But many Order members find this a very enjoyable and rewarding activity - at least for the duration of the retreat.

What practical steps then can we take to improve the contact of order members with Mitras? A number of proposals suggest themselves:

1. Clearly the greatest need is for order members to intensify their spiritual practice so that they are filled with the genuine altruism which will lead them to spontaneously want to befriend mitras. The situation of mitras in our movement is an objective reflection of our own individual stage of development and we cannot allow ourselves to rest until they are properly cared for.

2. Chapters should take up this issue and work intensively on it. Perhaps each Order member could be asked to report to his fellows honestly about his own feelings and motivations in this respect. No doubt the issue of sex could also be discussed. It might even be profitable to have reports sent to Bhante so that he has a clearer idea of the general situation.

3. The ordination process needs to be tied in more closely with the Mitra Convenors' system and with the chapters. I would suggest that either the General Mitra Convenor becomes more directly responsible for the 'Tuscany' system or that the 'Tuscany' leader attends the Mitra convenors' meeting. The Mitra Convenors' meeting should be responsible for the Tuscany process otherwise there are two systems (plus the chapters system) which are not really integrated. A system could be evolved, through the Mitra Convenors, whereby each chapter is more directly responsible for preparing the mitras for ordination. It does seem that a system with regular reporting-in etc. helps order members to overcome their lack of immediate motivation. The General Mitra Convenor/'Tuscany' leader could visit chapters regularly to stir them up and to help them to carry out this responsibility What chapters would mainly have to do would be to make sure that each ordination candidate was in regular contact with one or more Order member and that the relationship was progressing well. … etc.

extract ends at bottom of page 126

The FWBO attempts to deny promoting homosexuality as a medium of spiritual friendship.

‘The Conference on the Ordination Process for Men’ was held at Padmaloka on 9th - 10th July 1986. The purpose of the conference was to discuss how to make the ordination process more efficient and effective. Devamitra, Padmaraja, Vessantara, Kamalashila and Vajraketu attended the conference, while Subhuti and Suvajra presented their papers in absentia.

All seven papers were published in the Order magazine Shabda in September 1986, together with a list of 37 proposals and recommendations arrived at as a result of the discussions between the seven order members participating in the conference.

The FWBO claim in their Response to the FWBO Files that:

'The Files makes much of Subhuti's statement in Shabda that: 'Sexual interest on the part of a male Order member for a male mitra [novice] can create a connection which may allow kalyana mitrata [spiritual friendship] to develop. ' (note 146 in Response)

'As the Files acknowledges, this quote (p.23) comes from an internal discussion paper presented in 1986 which did not, in fact, advocate the combination of sex and kalyana mitrata, but expressed the idea in the interests of considering it. However the Files fails to mention that the conclusion of this discussion was that this practice is not a good idea and is best avoided. While in some cases it seemed that sex could help friendship, in other cases it clearly led to confusion - and even harm.'

It is true that in his paper Subhuti does not actively advocate the combination of sex and kalyana mitrata, but merely reports his observation that many of the most successful kalyana mitras combine sex and kalyana mitra, and that sexual interest is one of the reasons that male order members may have for spending time with male mitras. He does not discuss whether this combination of sex and kalyana mitrata is skillful or unskillful, or whether it should be encouraged or discouraged.

In fact, there appears to be no record anywhere in the seven conference papers or in the final list of 37 proposals and recommendations, of any discussion about the appropriateness or otherwise of the practice of combining sex and kalyana mitra, or any suggestion or conclusion that such a practice might not be a good idea or be best avoided. All the discussions relate to how to improve the ordination process, how to encourage order members to spend more time with mitras, etc.

So the statement in the FWBO's Response that the Files failed 'to mention that the conclusion of this discussion was that this practice is not a good idea and is best avoided.', is either disingenuous or downright dishonest, because there appears to be no record of any such conclusion having been arrived at by the conference participants. The FWBO does not seem able to provide any cites or evidence for such a conclusion.

Indeed, the evidence provided elsewhere on this site, particularly:
Shabda short extracts (450 words)
Shabda selection 1 (4,000 words)
Shabda selection 2 (3,000 words)
Yashomitra's Shabda Article March 2003 (4,000 words)
suggests that the practice of combining homosexuality and kalyana mitrata has been quite widespread within the FWBO for several decades, and continues to be advocated by a significant number of order members.

Of course, promoting homosexuality, or any other form of sexuality, as a medium of spiritual friendship between teacher and student, is against common morality, and certainly contrary to Buddhist teaching.

For example, Rev. Daishin Morgan, of Throssel Hole Priory in Northumberland, speaking on BBC East's 'Going for Refuge' TV programme (part of the 'Matter of Fact' series), broadcast on 12 Nov 1992, made the following comment on Subhuti's statement in Shabda:

'To me this is totally contrary to the Buddhist precepts, its totally contrary to the Buddhist scriptures, and its absolutely contrary to any sort of good practice. It to me is a form of manipulation.'