The vajra: cutting through to the truth

2 Sangharakshita

IV. Sangharakshita’s Career

b | Sangharakshita’s Involvement with British Buddhism in the 1960s

The “Real” Western Buddhist Order

Despite Sangharakshita’s claims... that he was the founder of the WBO and FWBO ..., the WBO was actually founded in America in 1951 by Ven. Sumangalo (Robert Clifton, 1903–1963). That Sangharakshita should state he was the founder of the WBO & FWBO is a claim which can only be described as outrageously false, a complete fiction. [ The FWBO Files, 13 ]

The FWBO Files’ accusation that Sangharakshita is not the true founder of the Western Buddhist Order arises from a confusion of names and an ignorance of history. It is true that a Western Buddhist Order was indeed founded by Robert Clifton in 1952 and that Clifton ordained Jack Austin and others, as Sangharakshita has himself described. [ 83 ] By the 1960s this WBO was effectively defunct. Nonetheless, to avoid confusion with this previous body, the name of the new organisation Sangharakshita established on 4th April 1967 was the Friends of the Western Sangha (FWS). However, several people said they felt the name of the FWS should be expressly Western and objected to the Sanskrit/Pali term “Sangha”; and so because the new organisation was so clearly different from what had gone before, and because the original WBO was no longer effectively operating, the name was changed to The Friends of the Western Buddhist Order ( FWBO ). This was registered as a charity on the 1st of April, 1968. Six days later twelve men and women were ordained into a new Western Buddhist Order, reciting the Three Refuges and taking the same Ten Precepts that Order members take today. As Andrew Rawlinson, perhaps the leading scholar of the development of Eastern traditions in the West, says the new organisation had exactly the same name as Clifton’s organisation, but there was no formal link between them.84 ] Those responsible for the change had assumed that there was no possibility of confusion. However, they had reckoned without the author of The FWBO-Files.

Sangharakshita did not, therefore, take over an organisation which had previously existed as the WBO . It is also clear from the founding document of the Friends of the Western Sangha that it was primarily the creation of Sangharakshita, and that it centred on his work. [ 85 ]

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83 ]
A fact which, pace The FWBO Files, Sangharakshita mentions in his memoirs, In the Sign of the Golden Wheel, op. cit., p.164, and Facing Mt. Kanchenjunga, op. cit., p.366ff. Austin was one of Sangharakshita’s most faithful corespondents during his early days in India, so Sangharakshita knew of these developments from their inception. Not only that, but Sangharakshita was unknowingly co-opted into Clifton’s Order, being informed by him that he recognised his ordination as a Theravada bhikkhu; Sangharakshita subsequently received a certificate, signed by the Superior, attesting that he was a member of the Western Buddhist Order.
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84 ]
The Book of Enlightened Masters, op. cit.., p.503. Rawlinson has an entry on Robert Clifton which tells the story of his WBO. That the resemblance between the two organisations is entirely superficial is clear from reading the written aims and objectives of The Friends of the Western Sangha.
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85 ]
The History and Teachings of The Friends of the Western Buddhist Order (FWBO), and its leader, Sangharakshita, a summary of The FWBO Files published anonymously and alongside The FWBO Files on the Internet, claims: Jack Austin’s resignation allowed Sangharakshita to take complete control of the FWBO, effectively running it as his personal fief, and as a platform for his own personal views. However, The Statement of Aims and Objectives of the Friends of the Western Sangha includes item (ix) We also aim to maintain and support our teacher, Ven. Sthavira Sangharakshita, and his monastic disciples, as well as other members of the Sangha associated with them in their activities. Bringing Buddhism to the West, op. cit., p.114. In item (xx) it also says: The affairs of The Friends of the Western Sangha shall be administered and all decisions made by a Council of Friends appointed by the President, the Ven. Sthavira Sangharakshita, with whom final sanction shall rest in the appointment and dismissal of Council Members... On the formal establishment of the Western Buddhist Order, which we hope will take place within the next two years, The Friends of the Western Sangha will become its supporting organisation, any necessary alterations being then made to this Statement. Austin and others participated in the first ordinations into the new Western Buddhist Order; some time later Austin’s involvement in the new movement ceased. The reasons for this are unclear and we shall have to await the publication of Sangharakshita’s memoirs for his account.
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