In this post Mark Dunlop replies to criticism of why he has not been able to "move on" from the traumatic experience he underwent while living with and being sexually manipulated by Sangharakshita in his early 20s. It is clear in Mark's account that it is not only the betrayal of his spiritual aspirations by Sangharakshita that has proven difficult to come to terms with, but also the betrayal by those in Triratna who were supposed to be his friends but who consistently disregarded, downplayed or denied his experience, that has proven so damaging.
Cult Psychology & Dynamics
College members, appointed to their positions for life by their peers, lack the accountability that was lacking in the case of the charismatic founder. Since any procedures or mechanisms aimed at ensuring accountability are devised by the College and are overseen by College members, it is impossible to ensure any kind of impartial review of their conduct. There is little inclination for those benefiting from the charisma of office to introduce lego-rational measures that might hold them accountable to insiders (much less outsiders) or to entertain any shrinkage of their role -- a role that, due to the mythmaking that surrounds them, only they are thought capable of fulfilling.
In his memoir, Sangharakshita offers no hint of apology or remorse for his behaviour towards me. Looking back over my time in the FWBO (now called Triratna), it has been quite a shock to me to realise how cold hearted, devious and manipulative some people can be, even when they are people claiming to practise an ethical and spiritual way of life. Sangharakshita’s behaviour seems consistent with what I have subsequently learned about the behaviour of narcissists and psychopaths.
"At the DBU member congregation at the end of April 2018 in Germany, Munisha, who was invited officially by the DBU council to teach on Safeguarding, introduced herself as a Safeguarding Officer of Triratna, while in fact she spoke more from the perspective of a PR spokesperson of the Triratna Buddhist Order (TBO). She basically whitewashed the history of the TBO, making the audience at one point even laugh about the victims whom she called “lovers”. The audience laughed when Munisha presented in a slide the record that Sangharakshita had 1.41 “lovers per year”. The pain of those whose faith and openness, whose spiritual quest has been betrayed must exist in another world – far far away or somewhere in this number 1.41. Munisha used a language that not only sought to normalise abuse but to deflect the audience’s attention from it . . . As a witness with some background knowledge, I found Munisha’s entire presentation an ugly feat of whitewashing and propaganda which really caused me pain just hearing it."
Here is an important paper by psychologist Michelle Haslam reflecting on her time spent practising with the New Kadampa Tradition (and a few references to Triratna thrown in). Reading through the paper may be a useful detox for those who have recently (or not so recently) exited Triratna since many of the negative patterns of thought and behaviour are shared by both movements. In particular we noted these similarities, sometimes paraphrased and sometimes listed here in direct quotes from the text:
1. "Under the highly polished surface lies ingrained sectarianism and a disparaging view of all other forms of spirituality; an expansionist drive that uses the energy of new recruits to spread the message with no concern for their burnout."
2. "a cultish dependency on the word and approval of the leader and an abdication of critical thought that is actively encouraged."
3. Both organisations are populated by "hero-narcissists" who play into a sense of group grandiosity. We can see this in Triratna's slogan "What the World Needs" (i.e. more Triratna).
4. Neither organisation offers the Buddha Dharma but highly idiosyncratic takes on Buddhism developed by their founders, i.e. the "Kadam Dharma" and the "Triratna Dharma Life" (aka the "particular presentation").
5. Haslam says, "Despite being a psychologist, and an atheist, and working full time outside of the centre, I am now shocked at the extent that I came to believe some of the teachings and to act accordingly." Aren't we all!?
6. "on top of the abusive experience experienced within the group, the wider community is likely to abandon you or emotionally neglect/invalidate you at a time of distress." As happened to Mark Dunlop and other whistleblowers in Triratna.
7. "Many survivors have reported that their friends who were not NKT members had more empathy and were more friendly than their NKT friends." One instance of this in Triratna springs to mind when an Order member friend of ours needed overnight accommodation when visiting a dying friend (also an Order member). One local community (that he had previously lived in for many years) refused to put him up on account of certain "views" he was supposed to hold.
8. "The teacher is . . . regarded as an embodiment of the moral and spiritual dimensions of Buddhist teachings. It is this ideal that underlies the role of teacher as exemplar and shapes the asymmetrical charismatic relationship between a teacher and his students. Such idealisation often leads a student to experience strong emotional attachment, with feelings that parallel those associated in Western culture with romantic love. This can lead to self-abandonment and glorification of the other."
9. "The member may feel as if the practises are ‘working’ for them due to indoctrination, fervor (infatuation and awe), emotional contagion, group narcissism, sense of belonging to a group, and love-bombing through the suggestion that they are all developing positive karma or ‘merit’."
10. "Believers are often extremely protective of their movement and deeply angered when it is questioned or insulted. Increased anxiety in attachment relationships is thought to increase hostility towards out-groups."
When reflecting upon our interactions with various College members over the past decade, we found the arguments used to rationalise Sangharakshita's sexual behaviour and explain away or minimise his peculiar opinions about women or the dangers of heterosexual coupledom (used to provide an enabling environment for that behaviour) difficult to fathom. In coming to understand them, we have found cult expert Steven Hassan's exhaustive list of mind-control strategies useful. When someone in the order tells you something that you recognise doesn't make sense, such as the need to 'hold the contradiction' between Sangharakshita's 'sexual experimentation' and his depth of insight, rather than just going along with it, take a minute to see if you can recognise any of the mind control strategies used to justify that position on Hassan's mind-control list.
As was clear in Sangharakshita’s own life, his underlying desire for sex was never adequately addressed and a consequence of this is that it did indeed lead to suffering, for himself and for his partners and now due to recurring media exposure, the wider Triratna sangha. We would like to know why, if a retreat led by teaching couples gives the wrong impression, what kind of impression does it give for the founder of a new Buddhist order to sexually manipulate his disciples? This is the real issue.
Buddhist teachings specifically forbid sexual misconduct. In Triratna, Lingwood did not deny that he was having sexual relations with young men, but he also justified what he was doing by saying that it was a temporary “experimentation” with different forms of communication. However, the abuse went on for many years and during this time, Lingwood would wear the traditional orange robes of a celibate monk.
A fascinating in-depth conversation between Alexandra Stein and Chris Shelton on the subject of Steins academic paper, 'Love, Terror and Brainwashing'. Drawing on their personal experiences in different political or religious cults, they discuss the particular dynamics of what attracts, hoodwinks and binds people to high demand groups (or 'cults') and what can help people recover.
The Order depicted in this paper, and in the papers that have followed it, is very different from the Order I was told I was joining in 1993. In particular, the Order's relationship to Bhante, as portrayed in these papers, is fundamentally different from what I was led to believe when I was Ordained. This is not just the natural and organic development of what went before - it is, in some respects, a direct reversal of key principles that I had signed up to.