3 Sangharakshita’s Teachings in Theory and Practice
III Theory and Practice
d | Sex and the FWBO
The Charge of Coercion
The next step is to convince people that their heterosexuality is the result of conditioning, apparently the main reason for our unenlightened state, as indeed equally, is the fear of homosexuality. Sangharakshita writes,men find it quite difficult to experience physical contact with other men because of their fear of homosexuality(i.e. “conditioning”). In order to counter this,They must break down their fear of homosexuality by facing it and by not being afraid of sexual contact with other men.Men,have to realise that physical and even sexual contact between men is just physical or sexual contact between men. It is a quite ordinary thing and men’s fear of that should not be allowed to get in the way of one’s friendships.Why? Because fears of physical contact with other men,very often limit the possibilities of friendships with other men. And so because they don’t develop friendships with other men, they don’t develop spiritual friendships with other men. And because they don’t develop spiritual friendships with other men, they’re not able to develop what the Buddha declared to be the most important element in spiritual life.[ The FWBO Files, 22 ]
The FWBO Files gives an account of FWBO practice which constructs an image of systematic coercion, not to say brainwashing, the aim of which is
to satisfy the selfish desires of Sangharakshita and his retinue. [ The FWBO Files, 25 ] This account is pure fabrication and bears no relation to what actually takes place in the FWBO. This fabrication is demonstrated by comparison of the above text with the original, noting the qualifications The FWBO Files excludes:
For most people in the West it would seem that physical contact occurs in association with sex. We consequently seem to confuse the two, or to regard the two as being inseparable. Purely physical contact is therefore quite difficult for people to obtain, especially, I think, for men to obtain from other men. Normally, in the case of other men, there’s no “danger” of sexual involvement. Even so, men find it quite difficult to experience physical contact with other men because of their fear of homosexuality.... This is not necessarily to say that they should have sexual contact with men. [ 142 ]
Sangharakshita is suggesting that emotional freedom is an important aspect of spiritual friendship, and that physical contact can help this. This is surely a psychological commonplace and, while it remains a matter of opinion, it is none the less a reasonable opinion to hold.
The systematic coercion of men into homosexual acts does not occur in the FWBO. The FWBO Files cites references to “conditioning” as if these were in some way deeply sinister, yet this is simply a way of articulating the central Buddhist notions of anatta and paticca samutpada (conditioned co-production) as they apply to individual psychology. The evidence that this idea has been used coercively is the testimony of Mark Dunlop. Sangharakshita did have an affair with Mark, who was in his mid-twenties at the time. It lasted for two years and stopped, at Mark’s request, when they moved to Padmaloka together. Mark’s account, however, gives a strong impression of victimisation which simply does not correspond to the recollections of those who knew him and Sangharakshita at the time. Mark struck his friends as independent, even strong-willed, and his friendship with Sangharakshita — which continued for several years after their moving to Padmaloka — always seemed close and warm. It is, of course, not possible to disprove the details of Mark’s story (just as it is not possible for him to prove them) and there is little point in entering into a prolonged exchange of charge and counter-charge.
Coercion of any sort is anathema within the FWBO. There are many therapists, psychiatrists and psychologists involved in the FWBO, including senior members of the profession, [ 143 ] who testify to the sound psychology of its activities and ethical integrity in this respect. Academics who have studied the FWBO reach a similar conclusion. As Peter Clarke, director of the Centre for New Religions, King’s College London, says:
unfair advantage and manipulation do not have any place in my experience in the strategy of a considerable number of movements, among them... The Friends of the Western Buddhist Order. [ 144 ]
[ 143 ]
Letter to The Guardian, 29/11/97, though unprinted by the paper:
As members of the psychiatric profession who have experience of the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order we were disturbed to see the article in Monday's Guardian which suggested that the FWBO had been partly responsible for one man's suicide and that its teachingscan be used to legitimise sexual and emotional manipulation.While it is impossible to comment on the particular case of Matthew’s suicide some years after leaving the FWBO, we would emphasise that in our judgment no reasonable reading of the FWBO’s teachings could see them as legitimising abuse. Indeed the overwhelming experience of each of us has been that the teachings and practices of the FWBO are generally beneficial to the psychological and emotional health of the people who come into contact with them.
Yours Sincerely, [signed by]
Dr. Roger Farmer FRCPsych (Senior lecturer) &
Dr. Paramabandhu Groves MRCPsych (Senior Registrar).
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[ 144 ]
Peter Clarke, New Religions in Britain and Western Europe: In Decline? paper presented at day seminar on the methods and aims of evangelization in contemporary society with special references to New Religious Movements, Kings College, London, June 14th 1985.
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