Saturday, 23 July 2011

Letter from Dominique

This letter was recently sent to Triratna News by Dominique

My name is Dominique. I was one of the first followers of FWBO in Archway in the seventies. I had been desperately looking for the Dharma. In France, there was not any Buddhist centre yet. It is hard to imagine that nowadays.

I was sent to London as part of my teaching training and taught French at Tower Hamlet school for girls for 2 years. I started going to the "Friends". I liked the casual, friendly atmosphere of the meetings which took place in a squat in Archway. There was a feeling of rebellious spirituality mixed with poetry, alternative culture, psychology which suited my personality at that time. I was 20 years then, in existential search for the meaning of life.

I befriended some order members. I had for preceptor a young woman, who with her boyfriend, both order members, suddenly announced to me that they were resigning from the order. I was very surprised by their decision. They confided that they had been shocked by Bhante s "collecting" multiple young partners and could not accept it any longer. At that time, I was in total denial of what was happening. In my mind, we were talking about platonic, Greek antiquity kind of special spiritual love between a teacher and his young followers. I did not want to see that there was sexual abuse involved. I preferred to idealise Bhante who seemed an old wise man, friend of Ginsberg (his own claim!), who had studied with great masters in the East and could guess our thoughts, it seemed.

Other order members resigned, more comments on Bhante's addiction to young males. I needed Dharma, I had found it. I could not afford to see the reality of the situation. It would have been too painful.

I went back to France to resume teaching. I had a one year old child and went back to England. I contacted another order member Srimala, who herself was separated from her husband and had two young children. Bhante's theory was to encourage us to live in single sex communities, men with men, women with women. I did not realise at the time that it was a justification for his own sexual gratification. I was convinced that, in order to develop spiritually, one had to abandon one's family. Did not the Buddha himself do so? Coming from a very dysfunctional family, I was in total rebellion with standard family structures and this concept suited me.

I was soon to see the dark side of FWBO. I was living in Norwich and worked at the FWBO restaurant there, the Rainbow. Just the name of Srimala sends shivers down my side. I still remember how , with the help of Dhammadinna, she bullied a young girl who worked there. I myself was under scrutiny of Srimala, who did not judge me suitable to become a "mitra".

I was judged too rebellious. I was questioning the sheep like mentality of the order members who were parroting Bhante. No outside books on Dharma were allowed, the only ideas acceptable were to be found in Bhante's books. I had to battle my way. Srimala wanted to cancel my attending the mitra ceremony. She judged my views on Dharma "insane". I wanted deeply to commit myself to Buddhism.

I had to phone Bhante to attend the meeting. He was living in Padmaloka nearby. I was still blind to what was going on there.

I then went to London to live in another FWBO community in a squat and worked at the health food centre near the fire station which was being converted to a centre. Even inside the fire station, there was big discrimination between men and women, who were not allowed to eat in the dining room with the men. I made a scandal once as an old woman had to stay in the rain the commune, There was absolutely no compassion or help between one another.

Jealously and bitching prevailed. The weekly house meetings were dreadful. I had to takeout my son Steve early for a walk in his push chair in case he could have disturbed the meditation. The other women took the opportunity of my going away to change my room, saying it would be more roomy, but they gave it to me was because the roof was leaking. I had to use 4 buckets. Nobody offered their help, although there were plenty of young men round the corner at the fire station. It was the Hindouist community nearby who came to tar the roof.

I finally realised the poorness of the training, the same so-called communication exercises, the hierarchy and strange philosophy of single sex communities and" special" friendships forced on people.

When I left definitively for France, I blocked all my feelings. It was too much to admit I had given up everything and submitted my child and myself to another abusive situation.

As I came back to France, Dharma started to flourish with the arrival of renowned Tibetan masters such as Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche et Dudjom Rinpoche. I measured the extent of what I had missed until then. I remember how I was amazed at the fact we could take refuge and receive initiations just like that, without "being approved" by the Sangha. I was staring at these streams of people taking refuge, being blessed by realised beings. No fuss; just love and compassion.

I was very hurt when I read Srimala's book. Using my own name and my son's, calling me insane, ridiculing another order member's family, a fine lady whose property the FWBO were eying to inherit.

It is through the blessing of my teacher, a married Tibetan lama, who has a daughter, that I could regain confidence in the Dharma. Also, he never asked me a penny for his teachings that he provided continually all his life, receiving me in his living room. Big smiles, hugs. A mountain of love. Someone I could trust at last. Dharma belongs to everybody, like the sun, he says smiling.

Now the FWBO are trying to rewrite history, using videos with manipulated photos that would make one believe Sangharakshita was a close disciple of great teachers such as Jamyang Chokyi Lodro .

Unfortunately reality is sterner. Young people in India and the West have been sexually abused by Sangarakshita. Many people have been spiritually and emotionally abused. One would think at least he would have examined his acts. He is now presented as a gentle senile gentleman. Meanwhile, the FWBO have been renamed and continue the same old communication exercises, plus videos and meditation packages for sale.

Friday, 15 July 2011

The Sangharakshita Land Project

Ron L Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, spent his later years on board a ship in search of sunken treasure. Surrounded by his devoted disciples, they sailed from place to place, but never found the treasure.

The Sangharakshita Land Project has echoes of Ron’s search. The TBO has been here before, firstly with Padmaloka, then Guhyaloka then Madhyamaloka. Sangharakshita, who is solitary and bookish, wants a place to study and write, that will also be an organisational headquarters and a venue for hundreds of his disciples to gather. Spot the contradiction? After much time, effort and money the devoted disciples establish ---- loka, and after a few years Sangharakshita decides it’s not for him, and sets his mind on another grand project.

So it is with Sangharakshita Land Project, which we shall call Chimeraloka. How many times will his disciples have to repeat the exercise before it dawns on them that they’ve been there before? A mark of intelligence is learning from your mistakes. Order Members may be ‘Going for Refuge’, but by and large they don’t change very much.

The hunt for Chimeraloka is now nearly 2 years old. It even has its own blog. The cash is there - £2.5 million – and it is a buyer’s market. Yet Chimeraloka, like Ron Hubbard’s treasure, remains elusive.

The last 2 lokas have had an added ingredient: the Sangharakshita Memorial Library. This was supposed to have happened at Madhyamaloka, but the dusty tomes never made it further than the garage. For us ordinary folks, planning your own memorial might seem to have a touch of hubris about it. But spiritual teachers, like the rich, are different.

Sangharakshita is fond of literary allusions. He will no doubt enjoy the reference to Mr Hubbard. But just as apposite is Lord Groan, scion of Gormenghast. His greatest treasure was his vast library, crammed with ancient tomes. Nobody ever read them, but surely that is to miss the point. The point is they stood for something. Symbols should not be undervalued. In Lord Groan’s case, the library stood for his connection to the ancient family past, and when the scheming Steerpike burnt it down, it destroyed him. He lost his reason.

No-one is suggesting, of course, that Sangharakshita has lost his reason. What would be left? In his case, the library is a monument to his intellectual prowess and learning. Again, his books are mostly Buddhist and out of date, and no serious student would use them for research. University libraries are far better funded and up to date. But that is to miss the point. In 100 years, who will know? What will be preserved will be the contents of Sangharakshita’s head, an intimate and impressive collection. Who knows, Sangharakshita may even be re-discovered as the seminal cultural figure he so clearly wishes to be.

Meanwhile, the search for Chimeraloka - the Hunting of the Snark - continues. The search is becoming an institute in its own right, as the blog testifies. It has become an exercise in finding 20 different ways of saying they haven’t found anything.

In 2003, Triratna received a warning shot across the bows when Sangharakshita became anxious and withdrawn for a year (yes, it even happens to Stream Entrants!) It turned out to be a side-effect of his medication. It was a confusing yet liberating time for many of his disciples. 8 years later and Sangharakshita is 85 years old. How long will these ageing members of the TBO continue to dedicate themselves to the contradictory fantasies of an old man?