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In a few months I’ll be marking 15 years as an Order member. It does not get any easier to read about the extent of sexual abuse in our community in the Guardian/Observer. Clearly, it was not just Sangharakshita and it did not stop in the 1980s.
When I think back over my involvement it seems to me that many Order members abused their position or office, though in most cases it was more ignorant patronisation than malevolence. I’ve been reluctant to see that as part of a pattern, but everytime one of these articles comes out a new detail registers that makes it more difficult to keep positive about our Order. It now seems to me that there is a pattern of abuse, which means it won’t stop just because we look into it.
So, nothing personal, but I don’t find Ratnadharani’s letter to the Observer that reassuring. If it is genuinely the case that 13% of us have witnessed sexual abuse by Order members, then saying that we have investigated Sangharakshita is not nearly enough.
This situation is not specific to our movement. It seems that a high proportion of Buddhist groups have similar problems. The fallout from Trungpa continues in Shambala and from Sogyal in Rigpa. Some of us saw the recent confession video from Reggie Ray recently. But it’s never just the leader, because followers emulate the leader both consciously and unconsciously.
I’m glad we now have safeguarding procedures, but as I learned recently they only apply to legal entities like centres. Social media are not covered. There is no way to ensure that all vulnerable people are looked after in all our contexts. It all comes down to local situations and how aware and sensitive the people in that situation are. Give people power and they will use it.
I’ve several times talked to my friends in the Order about my story and each time been told not to go public in a way that would identify the Order members involved. So far I have complied with these requests but it leaves me feeling unsatisfied and that there is a deficit of justice in the Order.
My more spiritual colleagues will no doubt point out that the disadvantage of non-belief in the doctrine of karma is that I have no expectation of a just world; no expectation that it will all be balanced out in the afterlife. And rightly so. But my lack of belief in a spooky just universe does not negate my belief that communities can be just (and the Buddhist communities ought to be just). As a community we recognise injustice and have a desire to intervene that supersedes our faith in the doctrine of karma. Safeguarding is all about obviating the need for karma by ensuring there are consequences for actions in the present. And I’m all for that. But my sense is that the responsibility for ensuring justice in our community is a much bigger one that we presently seem to realise. It cannot rely on Munisha or Ratnadharani or any individual. It either emerges from our collective commitment or it does not. I’m not convinced we’re there yet if only because we still harbour a number of bullies.
I know I am not the only member of the Order who has an ongoing sense that the Order community is unjust in some ways. Many of us are doubtful about the safeguarding because of what happened to Suvajra. Justice has to be seen to be done. But it’s not simple because I know that I could not face the people who abused me either. One of the events that pushed me out of work 14 years ago was a highly confrontation “mediation” session in which an Order member was given free range to express their anger and conspiratorial fantasies regarding me. The mediator (another Order member) simply did not mediate, but just let that person verbally beat me up. It left me traumatised - literally in shock and unable to speak for about an hour afterwards. I have no idea if there were any consequences for the other Order members, but it helped push me over the edge into a serious mental and physical breakdown. No one ever said anything about it afterwards, not even to acknowledge that it went badly for me. I did not, and could not, say anything at the time. I’m told not to say anything too specific now because naming names “won’t help”. I don’t really believe this.
This is just one of several incidents that I think about when I think about the Order investigating Sangharakshita and instituting safeguarding policies. Neither of these seem to help me. I do sometimes wonder what would happen if I went to the Guardian and told them my story the way that Mark Dunlop has. It is certainly one way to bring attention to the things that go wrong in our community and to get revenge on a few bastards who hurt me, usually when I was already down. But I don’t want the kind of publicity and attention that he does. I don’t revel in being the victim. I find it humiliating. I’m ashamed. I also don’t particularly want to identify with being the victim of bullying or abuse. Not that this makes it easier.