What can be done to address the impact on individuals of the events we have been exploring in this report? We explored a range of possibilities and then worked with others to establish Restorative Processes that could help with difficulties from the past and conflicts in the present.
The Adhisthana Kula’s first step was to invite people who had experienced difficulties in the past to contact us or share their story on the confidential Order space ‘Stories of the Past…’ We visited Triratna Centres all over the world, attended many Triratna gatherings and invited others to join our meetings at Adhisthana.
It became apparent from listening in this way that, among a range of concerns about past unethical behaviour in Triratna, the chief concern remained Sangharakshita’s sexual behaviour in the 1970s and ‘80s. Thirty or forty years later, some were still in distress as a consequence.
It was clear that we needed to focus our efforts on this area and our response is discussed in the section on Sangharakshita’s Sexual Activity. However, it was also clear that the Adhisthana Kula needed to address the cluster of ideas and attitudes that are discussed in the section on Unhelpful Ideas and Attitudes, as these also affected people unhelpfully in many ways.
While it was important that we expressed regret we recognised that some of those who had suffered still needed both a hearing and a response and that we needed to set up effective procedures to deal with fresh difficulties when they arose.
The emerging systems we have established continue to evolve. Once again, we present these as works in process, not definitive responses and we recognise the presence of difficulties that remain unresolved.
A RESTORATIVE RESPONSE
We looked at various approaches to addressing this material and several Order members drew our attention to An Olive Branch, a US-based organisation which primarily works with Buddhist communities in North America in the areas of conflict resolution and addressing misconduct. At the same time an Order member called Jnanasiddhi, introduced us to the Restorative approach with which she is familiar through her work with a UK Quaker charity.
Restorative approaches follow a distinctive philosophy in addressing wrongdoing. Traditional approaches tend to pose three main questions: What rules were broken? Who did it? And what do they deserve? Restorative approaches ask instead: Who has been hurt? What are their needs? And whose responsibility is it to put it right? In the criminal justice system this is known as ‘Restorative Justice’, where it is widely recognised as an effective method in preventing re-offending.
Participation in a Restorative process is voluntary and the method can be useful in a range of situations, from relatively minor discord to more serious wrongdoing. In the most serious cases a Restorative approach may be used alongside more formal responses such as Safeguarding and reporting to the police (which it can never replace).
The Adhisthana Kula invited Janine Carroll, Director of Restorative Now, to lead a workshop for its members. We found the Restorative approach she presented to be strongly aligned with our Buddhist values of transformation through communication and taking responsibility for the effects of our actions. Triratna’s Model Ethical Guidelines, suggest that ethical issues would ideally be explored at a local level and by those involved, meeting face-to-face, if at all possible, which is also in accord with Restorative approaches. Triratna already has a strong emphasis on spiritual friendship and communication as methods of transformation and we thought we could build on this in bringing Restorative approaches into our community.
WE UNDERTOOK TO WORK WITH OTHERS TO DEVELOP A NEW SYSTEM WITHIN TRIRATNA THAT WOULD ENABLE US TO ADDRESS DIFFICULTIES MORE EFFECTIVELY. WE SET OUT:
- to offer an externally facilitated Restorative process, where needed, beginning with those who had been sexually involved with Sangharakshita.
- to review the Triratna projects and Centres that we knew have had serious upset or disharmony in the past and check that we had done everything possible to acknowledge harm and repair relationships.
- to train members of Triratna to use Restorative processes and support them in using them to help with conflicts and other difficulties.
1/ AN externally facilitated restorative process
As we describe in Sangharakshita’s Sexual Activity we attempted to make contact with the 24 men believed to have had sexual relations with Sangharakshita, to offer the possibility of Restorative work, and were able to contact 17 men altogether, including five who have left the Order. In the cases of those who have left the Order we asked Janine Carroll, an external Restorative expert to make contact, as any internal Triratna facilitator might be seen as partial. All were offered her services as an external Restorative facilitator.
Four Restorative conversations took place: two involving current Order members and two involving people who have left the Order. Because the process remains confidential to those involved in it, we are not able to give further details.
2/ Reviewing Projects and Centres
Our intention was to review the Triratna projects and Centres that we knew have had serious upset or disharmony in the past and check that we had done everything possible to acknowledge harm and repair relationships. In Restorative approaches it is good practice to invite concerns but not to solicit them more actively. So we invited people to tell their stories, publicised the availability of both Safeguarding and Restorative responses to concerns, and invited people to contact us.
Order members with experience in Restorative approaches formed a Co-ordinating Group to receive referrals either directly or from others such as the Order Convenors, the Safeguarding Team or the Ethics Kula. Where the Group considers that a Restorative approach may be the right way to address a particular case they liaise with Restorative-trained Order members to find a suitable person to take it on. The cases brought to their attention have covered a wide range of topics, most of which have nothing to do with historical controversies.
Both we and the Safeguarding Team have received very few reports of unethical behaviour said to have occurred before the year 2000. We regret that the Adhisthana Kula was not able to review past difficulties in the systematic way it had intended and recognise that this area still requires attention. We would like to see more work in this area and encouragement for people to come forward with first-hand accounts. Anyone with concerns they wish to raise is welcome to contact the Safeguarding Team in the first instance.
However, an exception was a series of Restorative Circles – a method for using Restorative process in a group – for Order members who were involved in the serious difficulties at the Croydon Buddhist Centre in the 1980s. One individual request for a Restorative process has come from a person involved in the difficulties at Croydon and the Co-ordinating Group is responding.
3/ Training in restorative process
The Restorative Coordinating Group has run a pilot project using Restorative approaches to resolve conflict and repair harm in Triratna. This work has grown out of the Adhisthana Kula’s decision to offer Restorative processes to those harmed by Sangharakshita’s sexual behaviour but is a separate project.
The Coordinating Group has organised training days on how to facilitate Restorative facilitation. One- and three-day training programmes have been completed by many of those in leadership roles in Triratna, as well as two training programmes for Order members without any institutional responsibilities. One hundred and thirty two have completed a one-day training, 46 of whom have gone on to do a further two days; 15 have also trained in working specifically with larger groups. Most of those who have done more training have joined a network with the aim of developing their skills further and offer facilitation where appropriate. Training has taken place in India, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as in the UK.
The Co-ordinating Group has built up a network of people trained in this way and finds facilitators for people who approach the Group for help with a conflict or difficulty. They have written a report summarising this work. The Coordinating Group would like to find ways to offer continuing support to Restorative volunteers at all Triratna centres, and there is more that can be done to establish this work.
This comment from a participant in India suggests how Restorative approaches can help:
In India the Restorative Pilot Project will definitely help us with situations where there is no clarity, for instance who will be Chair of a Trust. It will help us to develop a wider approach, not to fall into a punitive approach. In the Sangha we believe that everyone has the same goal. But sometimes we miss our goal, or we fall down, so it will help us to uplift our consciousness.
It is important to state that a Restorative approach is not the only method we have for addressing ethical issues and disharmony and will not be appropriate in every instance (see Addressing Ethical Concerns Today). We also wish to emphasise the germinal nature of these developments. However, this work has sometimes enabled transformational conversations to take place among those affected and the Adhisthana Kula considers it a useful resource for Triratna as we continue to engage with difficulties.