As we said in introducing this Response, we have no desire to malign the author of The FWBO Files. However, having given prolonged and detailed consideration to the text of The FWBO Files we are able to draw some conclusions. Its main virtue is that it tells a plausible story well, and keeps the reader’s interest through the accumulation of sensational details. However, it does not represent itself as a work of fiction, but as presentation of facts.
We have found that The FWBO Files contains numerous factual inaccuracies, which can easily be disproved, and inaccurate or misleading use of quotations, which are easily shown up. The quality of its research is poor and many of its claims are entirely unsubstantiated: while purporting to offer evidence for some of the claims, on inspection much of this evidence turns out to be rumour masquerading as fact, or else the questionable interpretation of an uninformed third party. Notwithstanding this flimsy basis The FWBO Files feels confident in making the most serious allegations against Sangharakshita and the FWBO; we feel that this confidence is woefully misplaced. On inspection we have found these allegations to be essentially false and we have no hesitation in designating them slanders.
The FWBO Files suggests that Sangharakshita’s teaching
is not Buddhism at all [ The FWBO Files p.16 ]. However, it demonstrates very limited knowledge of Sangharakshita’s writing (not to say a circumscribed and partisan knowledge of Buddhism itself), heavily basing its interpretation of his teaching on a few highly unrepresentative and decontextualised quotations, some of which have been falsified. It presents a version of this teaching which barely resembles the understanding that we, the authors of this Response, who are experienced students of Sangharakshita and teach in FWBO centres, ourselves hold. On the question of what Sangharakshita actually teaches we take it that this Response can claim to be more authoritative than The FWBO Files, and furthermore, our understanding is borne out by the published work of Sangharakshita and members of the Western Buddhist Order.
Finally, it is apparent that The FWBO Files is informed by essentially formalistic views of what constitutes legitimacy in Buddhism. As a ’translator’ Sangharakshita’s formulation of Buddhist teaching necessarily differs in its mode of expression from some other formulations of Buddhism. But to suggest, in the manner of The FWBO Files, that these differences mean his teaching distorts Buddhism seems to us an example of sectarianism taken to the level of intolerance. Indeed The FWBO Files may justly be described as a sectarian attack, wholly out of keeping with the Buddhist tradition of mutual respect, tolerance, and open discussion. Buddhists of different traditions need not necessarily agree with one another on all points, but they should surely be prepared to deal straightforwardly with other traditions, and to present honest arguments for their disagreements with them.
Notwithstanding these points some readers may feel that the mere fact of controversy lends credence to the accusers:
there’s no smoke without fire! We would ask readers to pause before making this essentially lazy assumption, and carefully consider what issues of substance actually remain, when the arguments of this Response are taken into account.
The FWBO seeks to address crucial questions facing all Buddhists in the West: what is primary, central, universal and indispensable within the Buddhist tradition? And what is secondary, peripheral, of localised relevance, and needs to be left behind in bringing the Dharma to our culture? It has addressed these issues with integrity, boldness, imagination, and a determination to stay faithful to the teaching of the Buddha. Over the last thirty-one years it has developed in many ways and been through many changes. There have been difficulties as people have over-zealously applied their partial understanding, but there has also been a process of maturation and growth. This Response has sought to speak frankly of some of those difficulties, and to understand them in their historical context. A just account of the FWBO will also commend its many successes, along with the general integrity and ethical probity of its members and institutions.
The FWBO has sometimes been the object of misunderstanding and consequently mistrust. It is our hope that a positive outcome of this present controversy will be that such misunderstandings, having been expressed, may perhaps be dispelled. The FWBO has already made a valuable contribution to the development of Buddhism in the West; it is our hope that, in an atmosphere of harmony, goodwill and co-operation between Buddhists of all traditions, this contribution will continue and grow. Those who have personal experience of the FWBO can easily see the falsity of The FWBO Files in the areas to which this experience applies. Other readers, who do not have such experience, are warmly invited to find out more about us through visits, discussion and open communication.