|So you thought the FWBO's "Response"
was long and dull? Far from it! If you are looking for
something to cheer you up on a rainy day - the "Response"
is a must-read! Here is a selection of my favourite
absurdities and flaws...
Just to get started, take a look at the pages 6 and 7 where we find the following statement:
"Thus the concerned reader who asks of the FWBO (or indeed any Buddhist tradition), 'Is this real Buddhism?' will not find an answer by simply looking at other Buddhist traditions, and expecting it to be exactly the same. If pushed to extremes (as, we would say, has occurred in the Files) such a position would be fundamentalist. As an innovator, Sangharakshita, by definition, cannot be easily fitted into pre-existent sectarian categories."
Unfortunately Mr. Lingwood (I am not using any of his other names or titles though they all seem to be at least questionable - see also the "Files" and "The Name Sangharakshita") has two problems with the above statement. First, also on page 6 we read:
"... he describes himself as a 'translator' rather than a representative; ..."
... but above all there is page 23:
"Sangharakshita describes himself not as an adapter or innovator, but as a 'translator', ..."
This leads us directly to another question. Also on page 23 we find this:
"One who is a translator metaphorically brings a discipline, or a set of ideas, or a culture, from the obscurity and darkness of unfamiliar terms into the light of terms that are familiar. I myself am a translator because I elucidate, that is, elucidate the Dharma."
Well, what then is "higher evolution" in Pali? And where do we find that term in the Canon of the same name?
Here's a little bonus to that question, because also on page 23 we read that...
"New expressions of the teaching are carefully explored on the basis of a comprehensive and searching discussion of traditional Eastern formulations."
So, on which "traditional Eastern formulations" is that "higher evolution" founded?
But let's now turn our eyes to one of the gems of the "Response". We find it on page 17:
"However, Sangharakshita's incumbency at the Hampstead Vihara was to end abruptly in November 1966 whilst he was in India when he received a letter from the EST's trustees. The Files ascribes the trustees' decision to fear of sexual scandal. While such fears may indeed have prompted the trustees' action, at the same time records of the period also point to fundamental differences in the approach to Buddhism of the parties concerned."
Just in case you missed it, take another look at the sentence: "While such fears may indeed have prompted the trustees' action, ..." Got it? No question necessary here, I guess. ;-)
Another basic statement of the "Response" is found on page 4, saying that...
"We shall not attempt to show that the FWBO's teachings are better than others, or even that they are incontrovertibly true, merely that they are reasonable and in keeping with the Buddhist tradition as a whole."
So it is rather strange to read on page 36 that...
"He [Mr. Lingwood] did not know what form the new Buddhist movement was to take and he simply opened himself up to what was going on around him, seeing what could and what could not be used, without preconception."
"without preconception"? Why then did Mr. Lingwood undertake at all the training in three different schools - as is frequently asserted throughout the "Response" -? And this is not yet all that page 36 holds for us, we also learn that...
"Since he no longer felt himself to be bound by existing models and conventions he was free to experiment and explore."
... which just brings up the same question! Where do you see the "keeping with the Buddhist tradition as a whole."?
This in turn is the same question that can be asked for yet another quote from page 36:
"From Sangharakshita's perspective, he was not becoming a layman, but establishing a new identity which was neither monastic nor lay, for which there was no immediate precedent to hand."
"From Sangharakshita's perspective", uh? That's neat! However, statements like "no immediate precedent" just don't agree with the other above-mentioned texts!
Want more? No problem. Just recall page 4 of the "Response":
"We shall not attempt to show that the FWBO's teachings are better than others,..."
Yet in footnote #69 we read that...
"It was on account of incidents like this that I [i.e. Mr. Lingwood] eventually concluded that while there was a potential for the Dharma in the West the existing British Buddhist movement had already strayed from the right path in certain respects and that a new Buddhist movement was badly needed."
You might judge the above as you like. But whatever you come up with, I guess that almost anybody will have problems reconciling it with the following from page 19 of the "Response":
"Sangharakshita has never said that 'he left the EST because they had strayed from the true Buddhist path' "
And then there is page 26:
"Indeed, his teaching has perhaps placed a greater emphasis on the importance of ethics within an individual's Buddhist practice than any other contemporary teacher."
Wow! Does this include e.g. the Dalai Lama? But I forgot:
"We shall not attempt to show that the FWBO's teachings are better than others,..."
Still too dull for you? Ok, let's head for what you've been waiting for - Sex! On page 28 of the "Response" we learn that...
"The FWBO's approach to sex in theory and practice is readily attested by the heterosexual, homosexual, married and celibate Buddhists practicing in the FWBO. It has also been discussed very fully in numerous texts, yet these go unmentioned in the Files."
And maybe so for a good reason. Because at the end of the above paragraph there is the hint to footnote #116. This footnote in turn lists several other books for further reading, one of those being Mr. Lingwood's "The Ten Pillars of Buddhism", pages 63 to 68. Curious as I am I read those. The only problem here is that there is absolutely NOTHING about the mentioned matter on these pages - and so also nothing clarifying. One comes to wonder about all the other texts mentioned in the footnotes. Do they contain anything? Or are they just wrong tracks?
Sorry for disappointing you with this sex-thing. But here is yet another chance. Take a look at the pages 26 - 27 of the "Response":
"However, saying that women's biological conditioning has an influence on their spiritual lives is not misogyny - that being a form of hatred. Sangharakshita's intention is simply to communicate what he sees as a truth about the spiritual life, unpalatable as that may be in some contemporary contexts,..."
Let's just accept for a moment that there is this "influence". Then we also have to acknowledge the findings of socio-biology stating that women and men are equally 'influenced' by their sexuality. So, the 'problem' levels itself. Only the question remains why Mr. Lingwood attaches so much importance to the female side of this coin...
You don't see that? Well, stick to page 26 and you find the following sentence:
"In this sense he argues that men and women have different aptitudes for the spiritual life in the earliest stages."
Even for those who don't want to see the long-range implications of the above quotation there is still a question in it: According to Buddhist teaching we are all caught up in an endless (!) cycle of rebirths. Now, where does one find "earliest stages" in a circle??
You're fed up with sex now? All right, let's do some history. Turn to page 35 of the "Response":
"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. It is unjust to read back the more restrictive sexual mores of the present era into a very different period."
"calling all precedents into question"? No, don't bother - I am not going to ask again about "keeping with the Buddhist tradition" ;-) My point here concerns the last sentence. Because if it is true what we find on page 6 ...
"His [Mr. Lingwood] conviction (and, indeed, his argument) is that there are values, goals, teachings and practices which define the core of the Buddhist tradition, as it has existed across Asian cultures, and which, naturally enough, can be expressed in many ways."
... then these "values, goals, teachings and practices" did quite well throughout the last 2.500 years. And so it is just not "unjust to read back the more restrictive sexual mores of the present era into a very different period" - it is simply IRRELEVANT!
But back to history. It seems to be true that the "FWBO was born out of the social, cultural and sexual experiments of the 1960s" and so the "Guardian" was probably right to call them the "the last remnants of sixties' hippie idealism." The question remains - who was the 'midwife' ?? There seems to have been quite a debate about this in the past and on page 20 the "Response" has the following to say:
"The Files' accusation that Sangharakshita is not the true founder of the Western Buddhist Order arises from a confusion of names and an ignorance of history. It is true that a Western Buddhist Order was indeed founded by Robert Clifton in 1952 and that Clifton ordained Jack Austin and others, as Sangharakshita has himself described. By the 1960s this WBO was effectively defunct. Nonetheless, to avoid confusion with this previous body, the name of the new organisation Sangharakshita established on 4th April 1967 was the Friends of the Western Sangha (FWS). However, several people said they felt the name of the FWS should be expressly Western and objected to the Sanskrit/Pali term 'Sangha'; and so because the new organisation was so clearly different from what had gone before, and because the original WBO was no longer effectively operating, the name was changed to The Friends of the Western Buddhist Order (FWBO). This was registered as a charity on the 1st of April, 1968. Six days later twelve men and women were ordained into a new Western Buddhist Order, reciting the Three Refuges and taking the same Ten Precepts that Order members take today."
Let that be as it may. Let's even just overlook an unexpected lack of creativity. Then still one question remains. According to the "Response" the course of events was as follows:
- WBO (Clifton) exists.
- Mr. Lingwood founds the FWS, which had nothing to do with the WBO of Clifton.
- pushed by a third party, Mr. Lingwood renames the FWS to the FWBO.
- WBO (Lingwood) is founded.
Question: Why should anybody found an organisation "Friends of X" when "X" does not even exist? What is the whole point in such a move?
Whatever the purpose, it seems to have been successful. At least when we consider page 36 of the "Response". The following text is worth reading twice to understand the dimensions Mr. Lingwood seems used to thinking in:
"He therefore no longer considered the traditional formalised monastic structure to be of relevance. He simply continued to use its conventions in his relations with other Buddhists in the absence of any alternative. As the new movement he created has become more established he has felt himself increasingly able to abandon the forms and styles of that old Buddhist world and to present himself exclusively in terms of the new."
Ok, forget about "keeping with the Buddhist tradition" because there is no need for that any longer. According to the above text, Mr. Lingwood did nothing less than create a whole new Buddhist WORLD! You think I am exaggerating? Well, it is interesting to note that in his book "Piece is a Fire" Mr. Lingwood writes the following:
"In what does the extension of the FWBO consist? Not in the publicizing of a personality, not in the popularization of an idea, but in the growth of a new society and a new world."
Any questions left?
The first one relates to the means the FWBO uses. The "Response" contains two hints to those questions. First of all there is footnote #101:
"The absurdity of minute discussion of such a source is obvious, yet it is worth noting that the leaflet refers to meditation, not Buddhism, and is simply pointing out meditation's developmental nature."
... and this footnote refers to the following lines from page 23:
"The basis for this sweeping characterisation of the FWBO's interpretation of Buddhism is a public teaching centre's publicity leaflet - the meaning of which has plainly been misconstrued."
Well, all in all the question remains: If the mentioned leaflet "refers to meditation, not Buddhism" - what kind of meditation does the FWBO teach then??
Moreover, on page 39 of the "Response" we find this:
"Sangharakshita even makes the somewhat scandalous suggestion that people overcome these particular emotional difficulties [i.e. of "people who had found Christian ideas and influences to have been positively harmful to their Buddhist practice." uh?] through 'therapeutic blasphemy'. Those who are scandalised by this may consider that the point about therapy is not what it sounds like to an uninvolved third party, but whether it is helpful to the person who engages in it."
Yeah, tell this to your health insurance company (the mentioned "uninvolved third party"!) and see if they pay the bill! ;-)
The second question concerns the person of Dennis Lingwood directly. For example, on page 37 of the "Response" we read that...
"Some will undoubtedly be scandalised by his behaviour. However, it is surely in the nature of experimentation that it defies norms, and at this time Sangharakshita was prepared to experiment in all areas of his life, including sex."
Here is a rather fundamental question: Why did Mr. Lingwood experiment AT ALL? Didn't the Buddha teach the Middle Way - among other things - in order to make an end to unnecessary experimenting?
Maybe it was because he still had to learn some things he did not acquire earlier. On page 8 of the "Response", concerning his status as a Theravadin bhikkhu, we learn this:
"What is required is strict adherence to the bhikkhu pratimoksa and rules of the Vinaya. Sangharakshita asserts that he scrupulously followed this disciplinary code in all its major requirements for more than twenty years."
Pardon me? What are "major requirements"? And if there is such a division - why are the 'minor' requirements held up when they obviously do not need to be followed?
And finally we come to my absolute favourite piece of the "Response". Before anything else, on page 2 we get to read the following three lines from Mr. Lingwood:
"It is difficult to know which is
What on first sight seems to be yet another more or
less meaningful aphorism from Dennis L. turns out to hold
not very much at all when one comes to think about it.
Remember, these lines are presented in a Buddhist context.
And if I might quote Mr. Lingwood one last time,
according to his book "The Ten Pillars of Buddhism"
the fourth precept is "the principle of abstention
from false speech; or truthfulness". And here,
indeed, there is no "uninvolved third party"
because it all is about purifying your own mind - no
matter how others might react to that. When you speak the
truth, you speak the truth. Whether others believe you or
not simply does not matter. The same goes for telling a
lie. Seeing this, the above quotation does not so much
feel like clarifying things but rather smells of an
excuse. And if so - the question would be: What for?
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