IV. Sangharakshita’s Career
b | Sangharakshita’s Involvement with British Buddhism in the 1960s
Sangharakshita’s departure from Hampstead
In September 1966, after deciding with the concurrence of the EST trustees to settle in England permanently, Sangharakshita returned to India to set his affairs in order. [ 75 ] In the course of this visit he received a letter from the EST telling him that they would be
seeking elsewhere for an incumbent. [ 76 ] If he returned to England, the trustees
would withdraw their support from him. In effect, he had been dismissed. Up to this point relations between Sangharakshita and the trustees had always been cordial, notwithstanding the underlying differences in their approach to the Buddhist tradition, and the letter came as a complete surprise. No charges were made directly to Sangharakshita, and The FWBO Files’ citation of the letter’s reference to
grave indiscretion and conduct wholly unbecoming in a bhikkhu [ The FWBO Files, 11 ] is a fabrication. The letter simply informs Sangharakshita that
you have failed to comport yourself in a manner fitting to the religious office that you hold in the Order, without specifying in what way he had failed. Neither then nor later was Sangharakshita presented with any specific charges or given an opportunity to answer them.
The consequence of Sangharakshita’s dismissal was uproar among the members of the English Sangha Association, who believed he was being treated unjustly. [ 77 ] A month later (while he was still in India) several of his supporters formed a committee to demand his reinstatement. [ 78 ] At the ESA’s AGM on 31 December 1966 a large majority passed a motion opposing Sangharakshita’s dismissal, demanding his reinstatement, and requesting his early return. [ 79 ] Sangharakshita has never said that
he left the EST because they had strayed from the true Buddhist path [ The FWBO Files, 12 ]. He has always said that he left because the trustees expelled him, and he has always asserted his innocence of any indiscretion. Despite the overwhelming support of the ESA’s membership, the EST trustees refused to be swayed from their original course. Two of the five trustees, Mike Hookham and Alfred Vial, resigned in protest. A new Incumbent for the Vihara was instated along with a new Administrating Director of the Trust, who set up a new lay organisation that was more compliant to the EST goals. [ 80 ]
[ 75 ]
The FWBO Files, whose grasp of the facts becomes particularly weak at this point, suggests that his trip to India was a
capitulation to avoid a
public scandal. A little reflection shows that this makes no sense in relation to other elements in the account given by The FWBO Files itself, such as Sangharakshita’s subsequent quick return to the UK and the vehement opposition to his dismissal by his supporters in the ESA. The FWBO Files’ confusion lies in a skewed chronology of these events. A further consideration that undermines the plausibility of this whole story is that Sangharakshita, in visiting India in 1966 and frequently thereafter without any difficulties, was clearly not persona non grata so far as the Indian authorities were concerned.
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[ 76 ]
I am asked by the Directors of the English Sangha Trust to inform you that during your absence abroad, the Trust has approved a series of Rules and Regulations for the better and more efficient government of the Vihara... your long absences together with your ‘extra-mural’ activities which have detained you from the Vihara do not coincide with or conform to the high standards of self-discipline and ethics of the Theravada and that you have failed to comport yourself in a manner fitting to the religious office that you hold in the Order. Thus it is considered that the best interests of the preservation of the Order will be served by our seeking elsewhere for an incumbent. signed The Administrator, The English Sangha Trust, 1st. November, 1966 (original in WBO Archive).
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[ 77 ]
Jack Austin wrote an account of the episode in The Western Buddhist, 20th. Issue, Winter 1967. While this account is too long to quote in full, it concludes:
Why this shoddy treatment for a leading bhikkhu, known throughout the Buddhist world for his work among the untouchables in India, his editorship of the Maha Bodhi Journal, and of the Vihara’s magazine The Buddhist, for his books, such as the Survey of Buddhism, for his establishment of the Vihara in Kalimpong, for building up the Hampstead Vihara from a state of dereliction to one of busy activity, and for his innumerable lectures at the London Buddhist Society and many other groups throughout England? No reason has been offered, and the Trust has had to issue a statement to the effect that he is innocent of all suggestions of misconduct. Many people think that the attempt to banish him was due to plain jealousy of his growing following, and of the high standards he set.’
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[ 78 ]
The ESA Executive Committee, comprising Emile Boin, Sara Boin, John Hipkin, Mike Ricketts, Mike Rogers, and Rene Rudio. These individuals were to form the nucleus of the Friends of the Western Sangha.
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[ 79 ]
These motions are minuted in the Agenda for the ESA’s extraordinary meeting of 11.3.67. Emile Boin’s notes of the New Year’s Eve meeting record that the Chairman, Maurice Walshe (Chair of both the EST and ESA), gave the meeting a report, including allegations against Sangharakshita of improper conduct. When challenged, he admitted there was no concrete evidence, but argued that the fact that rumours had arisen was sufficient ground for the EST trustees to hold to their decision. (Copy of minutes is in the WBO Archive). The FWBO Files wrongly says
this meeting was that of the EST trustees, and that they passed a motion that Sangharakshita be removed from that moment on from his position of responsibility with the EST at the Vihara. As a consequence of the ESA membership’s complete disagreement with Walshe, he was voted out of the Chair at the meeting of 11.3.67.
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[ 80 ]
Richard Randall, the new Director, wrote in an Announcement:
The Trust will continue in the functions for which it was founded, administering the Trust and increasing its holdings to maintain and support an English Sangha of Theravada bhikkhus, to maintain the Vihara where the bhikkhus live and instruct and to keep it a fit place wherein bhikkhus may live their lives in accordance with their strict Vinaya rules. So far as the Association [ i.e. ESA] as it now stands is concerned, and in view of recent events, I feel that it serves no useful purpose and is in no position to assist in the original aims [of the EST]. I consider it therefore, from the Trust and Vihara standpoint, to be ineffectual... as an urgent necessity for the ideals and aims already stated, I have brought into being ‘The English Sangha Lay Buddhist Fellowship’... The Fellowship will be under the control and direction of the Theravada Bhikkhu Sangha... all instruction and practice will be Theravada. (The Buddhist Path, May 1967).
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