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Dear brothers and sisters in the Order,
On 31st December 2016 Bhante released a personal statement to all Order members via the Order Information Service. I am speaking on behalf of all Public Preceptors when I say how glad we are that Bhante has felt able to make this statement and how much we welcome the confessional nature of the contents. I believe it will contribute to the further integration of some of the more complex and problematic aspects of our history.
Bhante’s statement is, in part, a response to discussions that have been taking place in the Order recently, especially about his sexual history, following the broadcast of a short report as part of a British local TV programme ‘Inside Out’ on 26th September 2016. Because of his serious ill health at that time, Bhante was not told until the beginning of December about the programme or the ensuing discussions in Triratna and beyond. He had however already been reflecting on these matters for some time and has been talking about them with his companions and close friends in the College.
Although Bhante’s message is personal, it is effectively a public statement and therefore generalised in form; but hopefully it will be heard in the spirit in which it is communicated and will go some way, at least, towards acknowledging the experience of those who feel hurt or upset as a result of past events. Clearly this process may take time. As College members we wish to offer our support to anyone who wishes to contact us to discuss matters further. We would also, of course, be very willing to discuss our own individual past actions in relation to these matters - or any other.
Like many Order members, we have been very concerned by what we have heard and the evident pain and suffering in some accounts, even though it is always hard to know precisely what happened in personal relations between other people, especially at such a distance in time. This is all the more the case since much of our discussion in the Order in the West these days takes place online, especially on Facebook, where the sheer flow of information and comment - and contradiction - can make it hard to know what is accurate. The fact that previously private confidences may no longer be respected and are likely to end up in the public domain further complicates the issue. However we hope that over time more people who were around during that period when Bhante was sexually active will tell their stories about those times and that from this a more rounded picture will gradually emerge; that is why we welcomed the setting up of the ‘Stories of the Past and Present’ forum on the Order pages of The Buddhist Centre Online. [Ed.: Given the personal nature of some of the material shared here between friends in the Order, the ‘Stories’ space is a private one.]
Over the years we have made attempts to understand past events; to learn from them and to guard against repeating mistakes; and to ensure that people making a connection with our Order are aware of our history. We have long recognised that Preceptors should not have sexual relations with those they have ordained, nor should they ordain those with whom they have had such relations in the past. We adopted this principle many years ago, with Bhante’s full support, and in order to avoid any ambiguity, we recently communicated this to all preceptors in writing. Furthermore, we have since 2013 championed the development of model ethical guidelines for Triratna teachers around the world, which make it clear they should not have sexual relations with those for whom they are the main teacher; also model safeguarding policies regarding the protection of children and of ‘vulnerable adults’.
Consideration of some aspects of Bhante’s past has been difficult for some of us in the College, as it has been for many of our brothers and sisters in the Order and others associated with our community. Bhante is the founder of our Order and Movement and we feel enormous appreciation and gratitude to him for his teachings and inspiration - and yet at the same time we must acknowledge the effects of some of his past actions. Nonetheless, we in the College remain clear about Bhante’s key position.
Our responsibility as Public Preceptors comes from Bhante as founder of the Order. We conceive of the Order in the terms he defined, and practise and teach the Dharma according to his particular presentation of it; we will continue to carry out our responsibilities as Public Preceptors for guarding the gates of the Order, faithful to the vision and understanding that derive from him.
This is a crucial period in the history of the Triratna Buddhist Order, with Bhante entering the last phase of his life. At this time, may we and our brothers and sisters in the Order learn from our mistakes, as we again go through the process of gaining new perspective on our past. May this lead to us sharing a deeper confidence in our Order and Community, so that together we continue to be a force for good in the world.
Saddhaloka, Chair of the College of Public Preceptors, 12/01/2017
with Amrutdeep, Paramabandhu, and Ratnadharini, Deputy Chairs
on behalf of the College of Public Preceptors of the Triratna Buddhist Order