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Following the March meeting of the College of Public Preceptors, Saddhaloka, as Chair of the College, sent a message to all Order members. The ten-day meeting had been concerned with issues currently being raised regarding the Triratna Buddhist Order and Community, and Saddhaloka wanted to communicate the position of the College on these issues. We are now posting the letter, slightly adapted for a wider readership, on the Adhisthana Kula blog, to make it available to all who are interested. The Kula will be continuing to post follow-up material on this blog.
Read translations here.
Letter from the Chair of the College of Public Preceptors to all Order Members
The past few months have seen a wave of discussion within our Sangha about Sangharakshita and the Order, with some questioning even the way in which our Order is conceived, organised, and led. This was the main topic of the Public Preceptors’ College meeting, held at Adhisthana from 6th to 16th March. In entering this discussion, we take for granted that other Order members, like us, share a deep love and concern for the Order and movement and want to address whatever limits us as a spiritual community. At the same time as acknowledging and working with what has been problematic, or even continues to be so, we want to recognise the enormous benefit so many people derive from their involvement with the Order and Movement. Many do not share the questioning that we are trying to respond to in this letter, though we know that it does need addressing urgently.
There are quite a range of temperaments and personalities in the College, but during the first morning when we came together, we arrived quickly at a shared understanding on fundamental principles. What differences we have are more to do with strategies and emphases. I want to share with you my understanding of our common position, which I have checked with my Deputies, Amrutdeep, Paramabandhu, and Ratnadharini, and with members of the Adhisthana Kula.
There seem to be three main areas of concern being discussed, which are intricately connected, but at the same time distinct:
In what follows, I will try to communicate to you all the College’s shared perspective on each of them as succinctly as possible.
Pain and unskilfulness from the past
We have been hearing from people whose experience within Triratna has been difficult, painful, or confusing. We have often been moved by what we have heard, and we wish to encourage and participate in a truly Buddhist culture of openness, confession, and forgiveness. Coming to a full understanding of our history and its effects can of course be difficult. It needs to be based on accurate information and open discussion, and we think the process shouldn’t be rushed or closed down. Indeed, it always needs to be going on: recognising whatever unskillfulness there may have been, and apologising and repairing relationships when they go wrong.
The main issues we have in mind are:
Firstly, any of Sangharakshita’s past actions, including some of his sexual activity, that might have harmed others. Bhante himself, in his confessional letter in December, expressed his ‘deep regret for all the occasions on which [he had] hurt, harmed or upset fellow Buddhists’. We will continue to encourage an open recognition of what happened and do what we can to seek resolution, where that is possible.
Secondly, acknowledgement of activity in the Order that was unskilful or unhelpful, including the promotion of ideas, whether or not these came from Sangharakshita, concerning the relative spiritual aptitude of men and women, and those in sexual relationships or with families; and combining sexual relations with kalyana mitrata.
Thirdly, the misuse of integral and useful practices: for instance, single-sex activities are a valued and central part of our Dharma life and training, but there have been instances in the past when they were promoted in a heavy handed way; and whilst we greatly value open, honest communication within spiritual friendship, we have heard about feedback that became harsh or over-critical.
We will engage in all these areas, for example through the Adhisthana Kula, and by exploring a ‘Restorative Process’, probably with the help of an external facilitator. We need to look both at what happened in the past and how these issues continue to affect our culture today. There is no simple formula for how we can address these matters and we want to do this in collaboration with other Order members. We will communicate how this work is progressing as fully as we can.
The fundamental basis of the Order and Sangharakshita’s place in it
We are members of this particular Order because we share a lineage of ordination, passed on from generation to generation, and based on the understanding of Going for Refuge to the Three Jewels that we initially derive from Sangharakshita, by virtue of his sharing it with those he himself ordained, some of whom have then carried out ordinations on that same understanding. This was what the word ‘disciple’ was intended to signify, though we recognise that this word has difficult connotations for some people and we would not want to insist on it.
The College of Public Preceptors is responsible for welcoming people into the Order and for recognising when they have left it. We carry this responsibility because Bhante shared it with us. This necessarily implies a broader responsibility, shared with other senior Order members, for ensuring that the Order and movement remain true to the spirit with which it was founded. We take these responsibilities very seriously and will continue to honour them.
We recognise that a number of Order members have a different conception of the Order or cannot accept the one we in the College share. We believe that they are faithful and honourable Dharma practitioners. However we are members of the Order because we share the understanding of Going for Refuge to the Three Jewels that Bhante taught us, and therefore we share the same understanding of our ordination and the Order. When we diverge too far from this, we lose that ‘coincidence of wills’ that makes an Order possible and thereby cease to be members of the Order.
We think that an important part of a broader process of reconciliation in the Order is that we meet and clearly resolve such differences in a spirit of friendship and respect.
System of practice and institutions
We believe our system of practice and the life of the Order are effective means of lessening and overcoming self-clinging, and increasing sraddha in the Three Jewels; or, to use Bhante’s language, of moving from effective to real Going for Refuge and beyond.
At the same time we welcome the continuing evolution and development of our shared practice, within Bhante’s presentation. One major new development in this regard is the Sikkha Project, initiated last year by the International Council, which will involve many Order members in a significant review of our teachings and practices, so that we can see what works well at every level and what requires a more effective expression, or even amendment. We see the ‘commonality processes’ agreed by the International Council as an essential framework for this harmonious, thorough evolution of our system.
Our institutions too may also need to evolve as the Order and Movement increase in size and geographical spread and as both internal and external conditions change. We are therefore working with others to review the structures that can best express our values: how we can combine effective leadership with broad consultation, bringing together the principles of vertical spiritual friendship and of a free association of individuals, all taking responsibility for the future life of the Order.
Some initiatives of this kind have been under way for some time: for instance, the College has greatly expanded the pool of private preceptors, who now make up about ten percent of the Order, and works closely with them to train and bring new members into the Order. The International Council has begun to facilitate an easier flow of communication between College, Order and Movement and to provide a good base for consultation and cooperation.
The Order and Movement have done much good, helping many to make their lives meaningful through making real progress on the Path. Nonetheless, there is clearly much work still to be done if we are to create the culture and the structures that will enable College, Order, and Movement to work together creatively and harmoniously over the next 50 years. We intend to consult widely, and we invite your support and participation in realising this.
Yours in the Dharma,
Chair, College of Public Preceptors
Summary of the steps we in the College will be taking in the coming months and years and that we hope you will share with us: