Women, Men and Angels: an apologyOn Mon, 6 March, 2017 - 13:38
Updated March 28th: Watch a fuller video conversation here with Subhuti exploring the details of his regret and his apology in the company of his good friend Maitreyi.
Parami is one of the Triratna Buddhist Order’s two Order convenors. She writes:
“In 1994, a book called Women, Men and Angels was published, with the subtitle: ‘An inquiry into the relative spiritual aptitudes of men and women’. It was written by Subhuti, a senior Triratna Order Member, with the intention of elaborating on an impression or ‘idea’ that had originally come from Sangharakshita. While I am sure this was not Subhuti’s intention, the book had a painful effect on many people – especially women – even causing some to leave our community. Over the years there has been debate and discussion within Triratna around the book and the themes outlined within it, and at times people have asked whether Subhuti still stands by those ideas. I am very pleased to see that Subhuti has now written a public statement expressing his regret for the publication of the book, and highly recommend that this is read by all.”
Women, Men and Angels: A personal statement by Subhuti
I want to make it quite clear that I very much regret the publication of my book, Women, Men, and Angels, which I think was a serious mistake. I am happy that the book was long ago withdrawn from distribution by the publisher and that all remaining copies were pulped for recycling about 10 years ago.
Unfortunately, the book drew attention to a relatively peripheral aspect of Sangharakshita’s thinking, giving it a status it did not warrant and having effects that I did not anticipate. I especially regret that some people have been caused pain by it, and some have been put off involving themselves with Triratna. I also regret the fact that it offers those who have criticisms of Triratna a further stick to beat us with. I expressed my regret in Shabda, the Order’s internal newsletter, in 2004, and have not changed my opinion since.
As to my personal attitudes, I do not meet a woman assuming that she is going to be inferior to me, especially because that has not been my experience. I have personally no difficulty in serving under the leadership of a woman should she be the best person for the job. And I have spent quite a bit of time in my life supporting women, as well as men, in their spiritual endeavours as best I can, especially in India, where they demonstrably still suffer many social and economic disadvantages.
So far as I am aware not many Order members these days would be willing to back Sangharakshita’s sense of the issues the book discusses. What this indicates to me is that we are free to disagree with our teacher, without disloyalty, on such matters that are not directly connected with the nature of the goal and the following of the Path. That surely is a sign of maturity.
The women’s wing of the Triratna Buddhist Order is flourishing – in many ways, it could be said, more so than the men’s at this present moment. Women now have leading positions in many of the key areas of our community, and it is quite clear there is no reason why a woman should not be Chair of Triratna’s senior body, the College of Public Preceptors, if she is the person best qualified to take that role. Indeed, I believe Sangharakshita was quite revolutionary at the time, 50 years ago, in founding an Order in which men and women receive the same ordination, with no difference in status.
During the earlier years of Triratna/the FWBO, I was often a leading and influential figure, as we tried to forge a new Buddhist community. Like many others at the time, I came to Buddhism with a strong urge to break away from existing convention and that counter-cultural impulse fuelled much experimentation and exploration. I benefitted greatly from that myself, but I have become aware over the years that my own words and deeds had a far greater effect on others than I was able to take account of then, sometimes in ways that were painful and even harmful. I sincerely regret that and ask anyone so affected to forgive me. I will do my best to respond to anyone who has anything to raise with me.