The vajra: cutting through to the truth

1. Introduction

The FWBO-Files is a 20,000 word document about the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order, published in May 1998 on an Internet web site [ 1 ] and subsequently distributed by post to a variety of Buddhist groups, government departments, businesses, politicians, and journalists. It is long and detailed, and its accusations against Sangharakshita and the FWBO are serious and manifold. The document claims to be researched and written by a British Buddhist, alias Arthur Rimbaud, an ex-monk with twenty years training in an orthodox tradition, who wishes to remain anonymous at present.2 ] It is now clear that The FWBO Files is just one element in a sustained campaign by an anonymous group to discredit the FWBO, and that the individuals responsible for it also contacted The Guardian in 1997 and stimulated its critical article on the FWBO’s work. [ 3 ]

The author claims that his motive is not malice but a desire to question the activities and doctrines of the FWBO and its founder in the light of true Buddhist doctrine. (Files p3) [ 4 ] His stated hope is that this will bring to an end the suffering of Buddhists practising in the FWBO which has resulted from its harmful teachings. Another concern appears to be for the future of Buddhism in the West, within which the FWBO has played and is currently playing a significant role.

The FWBO is a significant presence within Britain’s Buddhist community. It is therefore quite proper that its activities should be the subject of public debate and scrutiny, and were the charges in The FWBO Files true, its activities would rightly be a cause of concern. This Response is written because some readers of The FWBO Files have understandably been worried by its claims and have told us that they need to hear the FWBO’s reply.

Rebuttal can be a wearisome and difficult business. It risks degenerating into “denial” and a shouting match, or else dignifying an attack beyond its merits. The intention of this Response is not to malign the authors of The FWBO Files, or to suggest that the FWBO is wholly without flaws. The writers on behalf of the FWBO (Kulananda, Cittapala, and Vishvapani) have sought, however imperfectly, to follow the Buddha’s advice:

If outsiders should speak in dispraise of me or of the Dharma or of the Sangha, you should not on any account bear malice, or suffer heart-burning or bear ill-will... you should unravel what is false and point out what is wrong, saying: “For this or that reason this is not the fact, that is not so, such a thing is not found among us, is not in us.” (Digha Nikaya 1) [ 5 ]

The Files’ main allegations are that:

The aim of this Response is threefold: to set the record straight in matters of fact; to clarify the true nature of Sangharakshita’s teaching and the approach of the FWBO, which in many cases has been misrepresented or misunderstood in The FWBO Files; and thirdly — in the hope of raising the level of debate — to indicate some of the underlying issues which The FWBO Files has touched on. In doing this we will follow the structure of The FWBO Files itself, so that its points may be answered systematically.

Each of these aims raises difficulties. Some matters of fact cannot be proved one way or the other, in which case we shall seek to clarify the nature of the uncertainty. The burden of proof rightly lies with an accuser, and if they are unproved, accusations will rightly be dismissed as slander. This Response is not, for example, going to discuss the details of any individual’s sexual relationships. It is not uncommon to find the two parties to such a relationship telling entirely different stories about its nature, and outsiders cannot know where the truth lies. There is little point, therefore, in entering into an inconclusive exchange of claim and counter-claim. That said, we do need to address the specific issue of sexual coercion, and suffice it to say that all the individuals charged in The FWBO Files with having behaved coercively deny the accusations.

There is also the question of context. It is easy to distort the significance of a quite innocent “fact”. In such cases we shall suggest the context in which we ourselves understand it, and leave the reader to decide their preferred interpretation. A connected issue is establishing the true context of quotations that have been selectively quoted or misinterpreted.

Some people have asked that Sangharakshita himself comment on the accusations in The FWBO Files. On some of these issues he has spoken in the past, and we will present his statements here; in some other cases we have asked him ourselves, and pass on what he has said. But there are many, many accusations in the Files, and the only way for Sangharakshita to have answered them all would have been for him to write this Response himself. He has not done this, but he is currently writing a volume of memoirs about his life from 1964 to 1972, the period to which many of the allegations in The FWBO Files relate. These will be published as soon as they are ready, and in the meantime he asks people to be patient and to bear with him.

Secondly, it will only be possible to summarise Sangharakshita’s teachings, not to present full arguments for them. However, there are references to the many works by Sangharakshita and others that explore these issues in greater depth. Similarly, we will not be able to address all the points raised in The FWBO Files. To do so would require a book of considerable length which, in any case, we doubt many would want to read. We shall not attempt to show that the FWBO’s teachings are better than others, or even that they are incontrovertibly true, merely that they are reasonable and in keeping with the Buddhist tradition as a whole.

There are naturally differing views on the broader doctrinal questions, and our arguments are offered respectfully as a contribution to a debate. We hope that this Response will stimulate a frank and open discussion between concerned parties regarding such questions as what constitutes legitimacy in a Buddhist teacher or organisation, and how one ascertains the authenticity of a teaching, all of which have a bearing on consideration of the FWBO itself.

This would elevate the debate from the level on which it has unfortunately been conducted by the author of The FWBO Files . He remains anonymous for no stated reason and in phone-calls to people in the FWBO and others in their professional capacities, he has used various pseudonyms. At times his argument appears to be disingenuous, or at least deeply misinformed.

We would like to extend an invitation to the author of The FWBO Files, and any others who have doubts, questions or criticisms of the FWBO, to discuss these with us directly, or in an appropriate public forum, so that we may together seek to establish the truth in accordance with the Buddha’s teaching of Right Speech.

In the Aranavibhanga Sutta, the Buddha says:

One should not talk covertly about people; face-to-face with them, one should not speak provocatively... knowing covert talk to be untrue, unjustified, and unprofitable, one should not speak it of others... If one knows that it is true and justified, but unprofitable, one should train oneself not to speak it. If one knows that it is true, justified, and profitable, one should know the right time to tell it. [ 6 ]

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Footnotes

1 ]
It was initially posted at www.pallas3.demon.co.uk but withdrawn by Demon, the Internet provider, on the grounds that its material was possibly libellous. It can now be viewed at www.ex-cult.org/fwbo/fwbofiles.htm and www.fwbo-files.com/FWBOFiles/fwbofiles.htm
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2 ]
See the third paragraph of the Web version of The FWBO-Files, www.fwbo-files.com/FWBOFiles/fwbofiles.htm
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3 ]
“The Dark Side of Enlightenment”, The Guardian, 27/10/97. See also Vishvapani’s response following an acknowledgment by the writer, Madeleine Bunting, that the FWBO deserved a right to reply: “Buddhism Distorted, Face to Faith”, The Guardian, 28/11/97; also a comment on the debate in the same column the following week by Elizabeth Harris 5/12/97.
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4 ]
Hereafter our unattributed page numbering refers to the printed version of The FWBO-Files, distributed anonymously by post.
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5 ]
Walshe, Thus Have I Heard, (Wisdom Publications, 1987).
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6 ]
David. W. Evans, No. 139 “Aranavibhanga Sutta” Discourses of Gotama Buddha: Middle Collection (Janus, 1992), p419; see also Bhikkhu Nanamoli & Bhikkhu Bodhi The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha (Wisdom Publications, 1995), p1083.
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