1992 BBC documentary concerning the FWBO (Triratna Buddhist Community)

Posted on September 16, 2011


This video, recently uploaded to the internet by the Dialogue Ireland website, is called ‘Going For Refuge’. It was made by BBC (East) and broadcast in the Eastern region of the UK on 12 November 1992, as part of BBC East’s ‘Matter of Fact’ series. It is about the organisaton formerly known as The Friends of the Western Buddhist Order (FWBO), which was rebranded in 2010 as the Triratna Buddhist Community (TBC). Its leader is Dennis Lingwood, known as Sangharakshita.

Dialogue Ireland goes on to add the following points of commentary:

In the introductory section of the video, the presenter says: ‘Critics from orthodox schools feel so strongly that Lingwood’s teachings break Buddhist rules on sexual conduct, and undermine family life that, for the first time, they have agreed to speak out.’ One of the teachings discussed (at 17:35) is:

‘ … if you set up communities … you abolish the family at a stroke … the single-sex community is probably our most powerful means of frontal assault on the existing social set-up.’   – Sangharakshita in seminar, http://www.ex-cult.org/fwbo/SsexAssault.htm

Another teaching discussed (at 20:25) is by Sangharakshita’s spokesman and second in command Alex Kennedy (“Subhuti”), originally published in the FWBO magazine Shabda in Sept 1986. See: http://www.ex-cult.org/fwbo/SubQuote.htm

‘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. Some, of course, are predisposed to this attraction, others have deliberately chosen to change their sexual preferences in order to use sex as a medium of kalyana mitrata – and to stay clear of the dangers of male-female relationships without giving up sex’

Commenting on this teaching, Rev. Daishin Morgan, Abbot of Throssel Hole Priory in Northumberland, UK (http://www.throssel.org.uk/), said:

‘To me this is totally contrary to the Buddhist precepts, it’s totally contrary to the Buddhist scriptures, and it’s absolutely contrary to any sort of good practice. It to me is a form of manipulation.’

The BBC programme was the first time that criticism of the FWBO had been broadcast. Five years later, the Guardian newspaper also published a  critical article called ‘The Dark Side of Enlightenment.’ on 27 October 1997 (http://www.ex-cult.org/fwbo/Guardian.htm).

One of the individuals interviewed in the documentary is the Buddhist scholar and former chairman of the English Sangha Trust Maurice O’Connell Walshe (1911-1998), one of the 20th Century’s most eminent British Buddhists. In 1968 (see my post on the development of monastic Buddhism in the UK), in relation to the scandal surrounding Sangharakshita’s fateful incumbency at the Hampstead Buddhist Vihara, Walshe was compelled to state “It is not only the right but the duty of true Buddhists to proclaim the genuine teaching and denounce imposters and spiritual demagogues.” Indeed, Walshe’s later influence on the publication of the critical FWBO FIles was presumably so significant as to warrant a posthumous dedication by the author on the document’s first page.

In the BBC documentary Walshe reads the infamous quote from Subhuti:

“Some are predisposed to this attraction. Others have deliberately chosen to change their sexual preferences in order to use sex as a medium of kalyana mitrata…”

He continues “… and then the best bit of all…”

“…to stay clear of the dangers of male-female relationships with out giving up sex.”

Walshe’s next comment encapsulates a view which is doubtlessly shared by a significant proportion of Britain’s Buddhist community who – despite the rebranding of its tarnished name to the Triratna Buddhist Order – still regard the FWBO with a combination of amusement and distaste: “Well.. I think if it wasn’t so serious this would all be pretty hilarious. But in fact it is, something I think, quite serious.”