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From the outside Triratna can look like a homogenous organisation, but from within for much of our history it’s looked more anarchic and un-systematic, relying on personal connections with each project or centre financially and legally independent. This has had many advantages but one significant disadvantage is that when relations have broken down there haven’t always been sufficient formal or consistent ways of acknowledging and repairing harm or restoring connection.
We place a high value on friendship in our community. One of our core, even defining, principles is kalyana mitrata which translates from the Sanskrit as friendship with what is good, noble or auspicious in each other. Given how central this value is, it is important for us to recognise that sometimes not enough has been done to repair these relationships when they break. This is the area we hope to address.
1. Offering a restorative process
What we have in mind is offering a reconciliation process that begins with working out the most appropriate ways of responding to different types of disharmony and unskillfulness. In an Order and community where celibacy is not a requirement we have recognised for many years that sexual relationships between a preceptor and those they ordain can be problematic or harmful. We have also long recognised that teachers at our Buddhist Centres should not start a relationship while they are someone’s main connection with Buddhism and Triratna. And that that any prospective sexual relationship between someone in a teaching role and a less experienced person, even if they are not the person’s main connection, is discussed openly with other Order members to make sure there is sufficient awareness and personal accountability on the part of those concerned. Our model ethical guidelines for teachers in Triratna go into more details on this area.
Recognising this, we will explore how any reconciliation or restorative process could help those men who had sexual relations with Sangharakshita in the 1970’s and 1980’s.
Using an external agency - why this is important
We recognise that we need some of this work to be done by an external party. We like the Buddhist principles behind an organisation called the Olive Branch, based in North America and pointed out to us by Aranyaka and Tejananda. There isn’t a direct equivalent in the UK, (where most of this work needs to be done), but we are impressed with an approach called ‘Restorative Process’, pointed out to us by Jnanasiddhi who works in this field, and we have agreed to use a London-based external facilitator who uses this methodology. This work will start straightaway.
Restorative practice is a methodology that can be used anywhere ‘to prevent conflict, build relationships and repair harm by enabling people to communicate effectively and positively’. It has been successfully adapted for many situations including schools, children’s services, workplaces, hospitals and communities.
When trust has been fractured or broken it isn’t always easy to rebuild from within. Using an agency from outside of our own community is important. Both for the credibility of the process, but even more importantly for individuals invited to take part in this restorative way - these people need to know that they can trust that process. It is also worth saying that the work is confidential and there may not be publicly visible outcomes.
2. A review of centres and projects where there has been disharmony
We propose to review projects or centres that we know have had serious difficulties to see what was done to address these at the time, and to ask ‘is there anything more that could be done now?’ In many cases we know a lot of work was done, but we propose to go back and take a careful look, including, as far as we can, people who might have left our community as a result of whatever happened.
3. Training in the Restorative Process within Triratna
As a community, we also want to make sure that we are better able to hear and respond to disharmony and unskillfulness when it is expressed or reported. Over the last five years, as well as introducing ethical guidelines and safeguarding policies our community has also been working to create the culture that knows how to use them properly and effectively.
We believe that this restorative process can build on this work, and plan to offer training in it for key people who find themselves involved in helping to resolve conflicts and disharmony in our Order and our centres. We hope this will lead to the development of a clearer conflict resolution procedure applicable across our community.
This will begin in May at the Presidents meeting at Adhisthana, the presidential system being one of the safeguarding measures introduced across Triratna in the 1990’s as a response to instances of disharmony and conflict in centres.
4. Our request
In order to do a review of past centres and projects we need help. We would like help to develop the resources that will be needed to do this work including training and support. So if you have skills to offer, or time and interest to collaborate with a group of people to help us undertake that work, please get in touch. It could be that different centres and projects that are reviewed each have different ‘working groups’, working separately but using the same methodology.
We want to get going as soon as possible, so we have asked four central Triratna charities to provide some ‘seed money’ straight away; the Triratna trust, The European Chairs’ Assembly, Adhisthana, and the College of Public Preceptors. We have also had other offers of financial support from individuals (thank you). If you would like to get involved either by helping raise funds or contributing directly, please get in touch.
To sum up, we propose:
1. To offer an externally facilitated restorative process, where needed, for those those who had sexual relations with Sangharakshita.
2. To review the projects and centres that we know have had serious upset or disharmony in the past and check that we have done everything possible to acknowledge harm and repair relationships.
3. To train members of Triratna to be able to use restorative processes, where this is appropriate.
4. To continue building a conflict resolution procedure (this work has started), applicable across our community.
5. An invitation to participate, and to offer ideas, time, and financial resources to do this work.
We are proposing this work as Order convenors, co-ordinated for now with the help of the Adhisthana kula.
Lokeshvara and Parami (International Order Convenors)
Please contact us at reconciliation [at] adhisthana.org
Read an update on the process is going (October 2018)
Watch a conversation about reconciliation in Triratna