The vajra: cutting through to the truth

3 Sangharakshita’s Teachings in Theory and Practice

III Theory and Practice

d | Sex and the FWBO

Sex and Kalyana Mitrata

Although the charge of systematic coercion is untrue, it is true that there have been instances in the FWBO when relationships of kalyana mitrata have included a sexual element. And as those relationships of kalyana mitrata are largely between members of the same sex, these instances have involved homosexuality. Some people will consider that there is no place for this, and may even regard it as inherently abusive. However, as this Response has sought to suggest, the FWBO is a genuinely Buddhist community; its members follow the Buddhist ethical precepts and in the main show a high level of integrity and spiritual commitment. In respect of this situation, which may appear paradoxical to some readers, this Response can only make several points to outline the FWBO’s experience, the conditions from which this practice arose, and the current state of affairs.

1. The FWBO was born out of the social, cultural and sexual experiments of the 1960s. Many of the early Order members were in their twenties and shared their generation’s interest in sexual liberation. Sangharakshita himself, following his rejection by the then British Buddhist establishment, was exploring the best way for himself to practise, and calling all precedents into question. [ 145 ] It is unjust to read back the more restrictive sexual mores of the present era into a very different period.

2. Some people found that sex was indeed an effective way of making close and intimate connections and therefore, they felt, it was a helpful aspect of kalyana mitrata.

3. By the mid-1980s, there was a growing body of experience suggesting that there were many potential dangers in combining a sexual and a spiritual connection. The FWBO Files makes much of Subhuti’s statement in Shabda that:

Sexual interest on the part of a male Order member for a male mitra [novice] can create a connection which may allow kalyana mitrata [spiritual friendship] to develop. [ 146 ]

As The FWBO Files acknowledges, this quote (p.23) comes from an internal discussion paper presented in 1986 which did not, in fact, advocate the combination of sex and kalyana mitrata, but expressed the idea in the interests of considering it. However The FWBO Files fails to mention that the conclusion of this discussion was that this practice is not a good idea and is best avoided. While in some cases it seemed that sex could help friendship, in other cases it clearly led to confusion — and even harm.

4. The current consensus among Order members is that sex is not to be regarded as a foundation for spiritual friendship. As a result of the explorations of the past it has been possible to bring increasing clarity to the relationship between sex and the spiritual life in the FWBO. While these lessons have been drawn and are commonly understood in the Order there are no rules telling people what they should or should not do. There is no body in the FWBO which legislates on people’s lives. However, the ethical principle of not causing harm through sexual activity and of cultivating contentment is common to everyone in the FWBO. Some centres and many individuals come to agreements that sexual relationships should not have a place in the local sangha.

5. The specific allegations of abusive homosexual behaviour relate to the period before 1988. It appears that some people may have been hurt or confused by their experience prior to this date, and this is why views within the Order changed as described above. Nonetheless, we are confident that there was no systematic pattern of abuse in the FWBO.

6. The FWBO Files’ author says I have yet to find an FWBO publication that clearly delineates what constitutes sexual misconduct in Buddhism. (p.24) While FWBO publications do frequently invoke the Buddha’s discussion of sexual misconduct for lay people, as it occurs in the Pali Canon, [ 147 ] in practice there are many situations not covered by its proscription of kidnapping, rape and adultery. Thus there is also considerable discussion and debate in the FWBO of the underlying principles of sexual ethics, which are understood to be not causing harm through sexual activity, and developing contentment. In the fluid conditions of the modern world, the best safeguard against people being hurt through their sexual activity is maturity, awareness, and the cultivation of keen ethical sensitivity. This is what the FWBO seeks to encourage.

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145 ]
Order members started making a serious effort to organise their existence round the Three Jewels, and .... started experimenting with different life-styles... I too experimented with different life-styles, sometimes living more like a monk, sometimes more like a layman. Whatever the life-style, the Act of going for Refuge remained central to my life, and I continued to spend the greater part of my time studying, writing, meditating, lecturing, and teaching. Sangharakshita Forty-Three Years Ago, op.cit., p.51.
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146 ]
Shabda 9/86, p 125–126: extract from Subhuti’s paper to “The Conference on the Ordination Process for Men,” 9–10th July 1986.
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147 ]
E.g. Sangharakshita, Vision and Transformation, pp.88–9. The third Precept is abstention from sexual misconduct. In the Sutras the Buddha makes it clear that in the context of the Five Precepts sexual misconduct comprises rape, abduction, and adultery. All three are unskilful because they are expressions, simultaneously, of both craving and violence. The positive counterpart of abstention from sexual misconduct is samtusti (Pali santutthi), or contentment In the case of the unmarried, contentment means contentment with the single state. In the case of the married it means contentment with one’s recognized, socially accepted sexual partner(s). Here contentment is not just passive acceptance of the status quo.
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