Women lower on the evolutionary scale than men

'All the major developments in human history have been spear-headed by men ... above all the greatest spiritual achievements, have all been made by men.' (p 44)

The above quote and the quotes below are from the book 'Women, Men and Angels', by Subhuti. [1] This book sets out the views of Sangharakshita and the FWBO on women. The book's title comes from one of Sangharakshita's aphorisms: 'Angels are to men as men are to women, because they are more human and, therefore, more divine.'

This idea, that men are more divine than women, though less divine than angels, derives from Sangharakshita's ideas about spiritual hierarchy. Subhuti writes: 'Sangharakshita has expressed this hierarchy in more contemporary and Western terms: animal, woman, man, artist, angel' (p28), and his book sets out to explain how this hierarchy relates to the spiritual path as taught within the FWBO.

As discussed in The FWBO Files (in the section: 'The Doctrines of Sangharakshita and the FWBO'), some of what the FWBO teaches is genuine Buddhism, and some is not. Effectively, what the FWBO teaches is Buddhism twisted to suit the views and prejudices of their founder Sangharakshita.

The FWBO promotes an evolutionary and hierarchic theory of spiritual development. According to FWBO-ism, there is a Lower Evolution and a Higher Evolution. The Lower Evolution is animal-like, being based on biological instincts and on passive, unreflective sense consciousness. The Higher Evolution is active, based on self-awareness and the deliberate development of 'Spiritual Consciousness'. [2]

Humans, with their emergent self-awareness, stand at the transition from the Lower to the Higher Evolution. All humans have the potential to develop spiritual awareness and to progress along the path of the Higher Evolution, if they make the effort: 'The Dharma is the Path of the "Higher Evolution" of the Individual'. [3]

However, women generally have less spiritual aptitude than men, because they are more motivated by biological urges, especially the urge to have children, and therefore they are more anchored in the Lower Evolution. As Subhuti puts it:

'Sangharakshita points out ... the woman's form, her "psycho-physical complex", already gives greater expression to interests and concerns that have little affinity with spiritual life. Her consciousness is therefore, from the outset, likely to be more limited ...' (p30)

'These biological imperatives play a major part in forming the basic characters of most women, ... marked by a practical conservatism ... providing a background of stability and care for growing children ... However, they are not characteristics that, by and large, support spiritual commitment.' (p40)

'Human reproduction ties women closely to the rhythms of their bodies and motherhood demands the capacity for visceral empathy. The female character that arises from these facts limits many women, whether they are mothers or not ... They are thus characteristically far more anchored in the lower evolution ...' (p42)

'For those of us who are Sangharakshita's disciples, the position is clear. He does say that women generally have less spiritual aptitude than men ...' (p58)

Elsewhere Subhuti comments:

'Actually it is quite possible to recognise relative inferiority in another whilst retaining a very positive and sympathetic attitude to them.' (p13)

Subhuti does admit that:

'In a way giving birth to and nurturing a child is an achievement - although it is a largely passive achievement that demands no qualities of individual striving. ... From a spiritual point of view, that whole world of interest ... is quite simply a distraction from the fundamental issues of life - and a distraction men can never feel in the same way.' (p40)

Of course, men do experience their own 'biological imperatives', but its different for them:

'Despite the urgency and persistence of his sexual desire, [man's] interest in sex is immediate, short term, and relatively uncomplicated, often with little personal interest attached. If they could have sex at will without any further commitment, many men would be largely content to do so. This relative freedom ... leaves men with energy and interest to spare for other things ... cultural and spiritual effort.' (p43)

The aggressive drive and initiative required to inseminate a woman ... are precisely the qualities needed to break through from the known to the unknown. The passive, enduring, and nurturing qualities of a woman are precisely opposed to that breakthrough.' (p44)

'The insistent tug of the body and its concerns does not drag men back into the lower evolution, so they are freer to rise on the Higher Evolution.' (p47)

The belief that women generally have less spiritual aptitude than men does have consequences in terms of the leadership and organisation of the FWBO:

'For obvious psychological reasons, it is generally more difficult for men to find a healthy cultural or spiritual model in a woman than it is for women to find one in a man ... This should at least be one of the factors reviewed by those whose job it is to select people to lead classes ...' (p78)

'The leadership ... naturally falls to the member of the sex ... whose greater detachment from the immediacy of subjective impulse fits him better for the ordering and planning of its arrangements and future.' (p86)

Subhuti has expressed similar views elsewhere, e.g. in The Buddhist Vision [4]

'The female is much more closely connected with childbirth than is the male. Her monthly periods are part of a constant cycle of preparation for fertilization and, when she does become pregnant, she must carry the child within her for nine months. Her body is smaller and plumper, generally, and is adapted to the tasks both of bearing and nurturing children. Her basic instincts and psychology follow this adaptation. The biological impact on the male of his immediate reproductive function is relatively short-lived, albeit very powerful. His direct physical involvement in childbirth is limited to the sexual act and babies and childrearing are correspondingly less binding on his mind. He is stronger and faster and better suited to tasks which involve force and agility. His freedom from the all-absorbing process of pregnancy and childrearing leaves him more adventurous and better able to take initiative.

'The masculine and feminine psychological characteristics which develop out of biological maleness and femaleness might be generalized as initiative and nurturance. Inevitably, in view of the complex nature of human conditioning, there are all sorts of exceptions and cautions to be appended to this broad generalization. But, as a broad generalization, it is true and useful. Most men are inclined to be more active and goal-oriented than most women, more keen to have the initiative and questing for new ways of understanding and doing things. It is for this reason that by far the greatest number of artists, thinkers and leaders have been men.'

The FWBO sometimes say that the sort of views outlined above are simply the personal views of the authors, and are not representative of the FWBO as a whole. However, no-one can become an order member (i.e. a legal member of the FWBO) unless they are approved by Sangharakshita, or latterly by people like Subhuti or other senior preceptors whom Sangharakshita has deputised to perform ordinations. Sangharakshita and other senior preceptors also have the power to expel members who criticise them.

Sangharakshita has appointed his most faithful disciples to be members of the College of Preceptors. It is these preceptors and senior order members who hold all the power in the FWBO. (see how FWBO circumvents Charity Commission rules for fuller details). Therefore their views do matter.

In practice, these views have become somewhat institutionalised in the FWBO. As one former member wrote:

'Sangharakshita, the critics say, rightly sees the importance of men and women becoming emotionally independent of each other. But this is not the way to go about it – leading women to feel that they are inherently second-rate, and men to feel that they are superior. This is, particularly for women, unkind and damaging. Even the strongest of women, on leaving the FWBO, come to realize what an oppressive cloud they had been under, and that whatever they achieved, they would always be seen as second class. Such a crude and naďve approach to women (couched, as ever, in the most "reasonable" terms) points strongly to a psychological origin in Sangharakshita: this needs to be acknowledged, and not dismissed as "ad hominem argument" and therefore beneath responding to - one of the FWBO’s traditional strategies for evading criticism.

'In a healthy traditional society, the critics continue, both men and women would have had their own distinctive contributions to make to the life of the community. Men and women, generally speaking, would have been respected for the different qualities and wisdom they could bring to a situation. In the FWBO, by contrast, it is the male character that is seen as being of spiritual value, and women need to aspire to become like the men who have, allegedly, a larger share of the primary spiritual quality of conscious drive (or, more sinisterly, "aggression".) In this way, an unhealthy, narrow spirituality has been created, full of male self-importance and implicit misogyny.

'And it is based on an unfair comparison. For example, women’s instinct to nurture and men’s will and drive are both seen as having their roots in biological instinct. Yet while men’s particular drive is seen as a possible starting point for spiritual development, women’s nurturing instincts are not – not, at least, to the extent that it might give them an edge over men in this regard! Women in the FWBO are discouraged from thinking that they might in any way have spiritually significant qualities that men tend to have less of. (From a healthier standpoint, why compare men and women anyway? It is an example of Sangharakshita’s divisiveness – another being the wedge of superiority that he has driven between the FWBO and much of the rest of the Buddhist world.)

'This doctrine of the alleged inferiority of women has become a self-fulfilling truth within the FWBO. Carrying the weight of Sangharakshita’s authority, it has severely knocked the confidence and self-respect of his women disciples, and this has become "evidence" that they are, indeed, inferior. With the main indicator of spiritual progress being seen as the capacity to run FWBO institutions – a traditionally male capacity, reflecting the imbalances within the wider society – women’s inferiority becomes further evident. Coupled with Sangharakshita’s teaching of the urge to have children as belonging exclusively to a "Lower Evolution", many women feel not just inferior, and grimly determined to prove themselves as good as the men (on the men’s terms), but also look down on, and even deny to themselves, their natural childbearing urges. In this way, a very sad situation has been created, with many women alienated from their real natures and frequently ill, but putting a brave face on it and "responsibly" accepting of their guru’s teaching – and even if they don’t accept it, it is still there as a powerful conditioning force.

'Having its basis in Sangharakshita’s authority, there has thus developed a religious basis for a social hierarchy – the same principle on which the caste system in India works. In a social experiment in the USA, schoolchildren were told that those with blue eyes were superior to those with brown eyes. The children responded immediately and with conviction according to their eye-colour. A basic functioning of human groups was thus revealed, & much more sinister examples, such as in Germany last century, could be cited. And it is the same principle at work in the FWBO. After all, many people join the FWBO in their 20s, with little experience of human nature, yet if they are men, they end up feeling superior, and if they are women, inferior. And all on the basis of no real evidence.' [5]



[1] Women, Men and Angels, by Subhuti, Windhorse Publications Birmingham 1995. ISBN 0 904766 75 6

[2] Subhuti, The Buddhist Vision, p 29 -31. ISBN 0 7126 1084 7

[3] Subhuti, Buddhism for Today, p 9. ISBN 0-904766-34-9

[4] Subhuti op. cit. [2], p 133

[5] Extract from 'The World Turned Upside Down' (expanded version)