Early FWBO (Triratna) article espousing 'Greek Love'

This article, titled 'Leaving Mother and Initiation into Manhood'.  was submitted by an Order member to a very early FWBO (Triratna) magazine, 'Mitrata', in 1977 and was reportedly very influential at the time. Yashomitra, in his letter (see testimonies) cited this document as having directly influenced his vulnerability to being sexually abused.

As Alan JW wrote in Buddhism controversy blog ( https://buddhism-controversy-blog.com/.../triratna-the.../ ) ; "[...] it gives a unique insight into the mind-set that promoted the, much discussed, concept of ‘Greek Love’ as a valid approach to the Buddhist path: according to the late Dennis Lingwood (Sangharakshita), and some senior members of his Order. An eccentric notion that has seriously damaged his, and his organisation’s, reputation.‘Greek Love’ is a pseudo-intellectual attempt to justify homosexually based mentoring relationships between, experienced members of the Triratna Order… and their proteges called Mitras: by definition an unequal liaison."

As another former Order member observed: "The obverse side of this celebration of the ephebe was the denigration of women and it came with immense psychological pressure for many men for whom it was unwelcome."


Of all the issues that have arisen within the Order, whether spiritual or otherwise, one of the most emotive to date seems to be: ‘What makes a man a man, what happens if he isn’t, and if he isn’t then how can he become one?’ Even despite the obvious wealth of speculative possibilities within this issue it seems that most of us men and women (or perhaps I should say males and females) alike, are still in the dark as regards the answer.

On the face of it there would appear to be no problem. Men look and behave in such and such a way and women behave in another. Society has its values as to what constitutes the differences between the sexes and lays down its rules for their respective behaviour and also the way in which they should relate to each other. Quite often though, we fail to realise that our modern Western view of these things may be quite different from the view held by other cultures at other periods of history. What may be regarded as the norm and thus encouraged in twentieth-century London, might have been regarded as an outrage against basic sanity in, say, ancient Athens. In terms of Buddhism, of course, this all comes under the heading of conditioning to be overcome and as we should all know by now nothing in our make-up should escape the scrutiny of awareness; what remains in the darkness of our unconscious minds, repressed, neglected and ignored, provides recruiting material for Mara’s battalions of monsters, demons and devils who, when our guard is down will overcome us, usurp our energy and lay waste what we had previously considered to be a fine ‘spiritual’ nature.

In my own life and practice this question came to a head while I was living alone in Norfolk. I came, through some startling experiences, to a series of conclusions that radically altered my view of myself and the world around me. So this article is an attempt to clarify my own mind and give some form to my experience, combined with those helpful pieces of advice that my friends, intimate and otherwise, have given to me. I hope it will be of general use.

So, what does make a real man? In short, inner state must match outward appearance and manner; that is, a 23 year old male must have the emotions of a 23 year old male. This sounds very simple indeed and possibly a bit naive, but I believe that it raises many points that not many people consider. As Bhante [Sangharakshita] has pointed out in one of his lectures, what distinguishes man from the rest of nature is his ability no matter how latent, to evolve by his own deliberate efforts; in our case through the medium of the Dharma. In other words the prerequisite for Man’s true growth is Independence, independence to do whatever is felt necessary for himself or for others. So we begin to see that the motivation for true action must spring directly from an individual who feels a positive sense of aloneness. Any action that is motivated by a dependence on an outside figure can, at root, be said to be regressive. With this in mind it is easy to see where the earliest and most basic seat of dependence lies: in one word – mother.

Mother provides the security, warmth and protection that every child needs during the early stages of growing up. But in the case of a boy a certain point is reached where this womb-like world of warmth and security associated with mother ceases to be useful. At this point, if a conscious effort is not made to leave it behind, it will start becoming harmful to any growth of individuality. It is this stage of growth that is marked, in so-called Primitive societies, by a vitally important ceremony which provides a ritualistic situation in which the young man can leave mother and be initiated into manhood.

So what, we may ask, is the initiation in question? During childhood the young boy will discover that if he behaves in a certain way in front of his mother, he can be sure of her approval and affection as she obviously has her own preconceived ideas as to what her dear little son should be like. The little boy wants to appear to be a big boy and to be seen to be the best at everything, so he begins associate these mother pleasing tactics with genuine masculine status. In other words his assertiveness is dependent for its success on mummy’s approval; take it away and he becomes weak, lonely and impotent. In some more extreme cases the poor little boy has to construct an elaborate performance conforming to his mother’s idea of what constitutes a ‘good boy’ in order to attract the attention and affection so necessary for his growth. Not only does this serve to alienate him from those normal and naturally healthy tendencies which mummy, in her blindness, disapproves of, but it also eventually means that it is the performance, not the person himself that is getting the attention.

We can therefore begin to see that if the boy is to become a man in the full sense of the word he must give up being a man in his mother’s eyes and become a man in the sight of his father. In other words, the fake masculinity based on mother dependency must be abandoned and true masculinity, in relation to other men developed.

An initiation into manhood, then, is an experiential situation in which the false man dies in order that the true man may be born. The young man has to realise that he must submit and become totally passive to that which will liberate him from the domination of his mother. Even the act of becoming passive is a direct affront on the false assertiveness that was so necessary before.

Having abandoned the world of mother and all that it implies, the young man can now begin to realise that his assertiveness is natural to him and that it is no longer an act that he has to put on; he feels no desperate need to prove that he is a man as manhood is his natural state; nor need he feel the kind of crippling, almost castrating, disapproval that he would formerly have incurred for seeming to be a ‘bad boy’ or a baby.

A true man acts in the world directly from himself, essentially by himself; his attitude should be one of independent, bold fearlessness. If he meets failure he does not sink into chronic depression, or, even worse, he does not run into the arms of some mother substitute for reassurance, but simply returns to the task with renewed vigour and increased awareness of the pitfalls involved.

This process of growing up ought to happen naturally so that by the time the man is mature in body and intellect his emotions should match. However, this is tragically far from the case, man, or more especially middle class Western man being the perverse creature that he is. If men were really men we couldn’t find the sick, neurotic messes that occur so frequently in our modern civilised and progressive world. 20th century Western society has spawned that pathetic creature that we could call the not-yet man, that is, a ‘mummy’s boy’ in the body of an adult male. Since there are so many of these around this possibly indicates that we don’t, as many women suppose, live in a man-dominated society, since after all, the men’s masculinity is so often dependent on women for its existence.

Not having made the break from mother is a condition that will manifest itself in the most basic areas of life; it is the X-Factor that perverts the energy of so many males today. Unfortunately though, as our ‘mummy’s boy’ gets older, he begins to carry his mummy around inside him until she becomes a monstrous Gorgon hovering above and behind him, and who will emotionally turn him to stone whenever he goes against her wishes. Our poor young man is perpetually shackled and held down by this mother within. He feels he must continually try to stay on her best side as he is terrified of losing her favour. He tries to be a good, clean, nice big boy, saying the right things, having the right attitudes, but fundamentally he hates his bondage; after all, who in his right mind likes being chained to something? Eventually the whole of this poor creature’s life becomes a grotesque Royal Command Performance with the Queen Mother proceeding in the Royal Box. We can see this at work in many ways. For instance, mummy’s boy’s have a neurotic need to show off in front of women and to make them laugh, and they sink into silent despair when somebody appears who can do it better; they may sport ostentatious beards and put on a false masculine swagger – or are even nice, sweet and angelic, depending on what mummy likes; they have a complete inability to take any independent initiative of their own.

Probably the most insidious symptom of this unfortunate condition is the Relationship. It is insidious because it involves another person and perverts natural, healthy urges into a psychological nightmare. Immature emotions expressed through a mature body are one of the greatest aberrations of nature to date. Our mummy’s boy, although physically mature and, on the surface at least, having left home, feels an overwhelming need to seek out the company of women. Now, as I have just said, he is physically mature so he experiences a normal and quite healthy sex drive, BUT there is another quite unhealthy need lurking underneath: the need to surrender to the siren song of the mother calling him home. Sooner or later he finds the right woman and sinks into the dark and murky labyrinth of infantile emotional dependency. In other words, having established his relationship (something, incidentally, that was unknown before the last century), he becomes incapable of functioning happily and independently and gradually the notion of always having the woman with him for ever and ever sinks deeper and deeper into his mind. This state leads to a failure in true, fearless, creativity and a crippling fear of criticism, with the poor woman, as mother-substitute, becoming associated with warmth, security and a kiss-and-make-it-better way of looking at the world.

Our mother’s boy will probably also find himself using his more adult qualities, such as strong body and keen intellect, to impress his girlfriend in much the same way that a small boy shows off in front of his mother. He may launch into profound metaphysical discourses or preach to her on important questions of human behaviour, but usually in a manner that wouldn’t stand up to even five minutes of real debate in the company of other men.

Above all, this ghastly situation leads to a growing sense of anger and resentment at being shackled and held down, although it is usually unconscious. It shows itself especially in that particular form of jealous criticism which seeks to undermine the confidence of those who are free, happy and thoroughly creative. No progress then, of course, there is the evil, tentacled monster of sexual guilt. After all, no healthy, sane man would make love with his mother, when Oedipus the king discovered that he had been committing incest he put out his eyes. Blinding, as Eric Neumann has suggested, is a symbol for castration and that is just what many mummy’s boys would like to do out of guilt at their perverted sexuality. Guilt, then, can lead to an alienation from, and a repression of, what should have been a perfectly guilt free animal nature: Diabolus deus inversus estí. A repressed god becomes a devil – and how terrible it is to be plagued by devils.

Finally, many mummy‘s boys have a fear of passivity in a homosexual relationship even though that is what they may naturally want. To be sexually active with another man is the ultimate insult to so-called masculinity as, in a sense, one becomes a woman; in any case, mummy wouldn’t like it. I have met a particularly overpowering woman who told me, with great pride, that her downtrodden and cowed son was perfectly ‘normal’. He could smoke marijuana (discreetly of course – she was a modern, liberal mother) and even when he took heroin in a last desperate attempt at rebellion he wasn’t beyond redemption, but if he became involved with homosexuality, I was passionately assured, this would be the death-dart to his poor mother’s heart.

I would even go so far as to suggest that taking the passive role in a homosexual relationship could, for some men, constitute an initiation into manhood as (a) the man is surrendering his own pseudo-assertive side and therefore undergoing a sort of symbolic death, and (b) is experiencing his sexuality in a situation that is free from women and all their associations (ie emotional dependency).

As far as the spiritual life is concerned there are certain particular ways in which this syndrome can manifest itself. Obviously all unconscious, unresolved neurotic tendencies constitute unskilful mental states, but we can be more specific. When a person goes for Refuge with all that it implies it should be an act of complete independence; one cannot give oneself to the Three Jewels whilst still being tied to mummy’s apron strings. Then again we can observe the phenomenon of the ‘good Buddhist’ (in the ultimately bad sense). It is to present one’s nice, clean, pure side so as to appear to be a thoroughly good boy doing and saying all the right things at the right times. Our dedication to the movement can be a perversion of real dedication and can so easily be an expression of our performance to our mothers. In most cases, however, one can’t keep up the act of being ‘good’ for long as this is fundamentally going against one’s own nature: sooner or later rebelliousness will set in and there will be an overwhelming desire to be bad. This is quite simply the ignored parts of one’s being clamouring for attention and if the reaction doesn’t have too many disastrous consequences a whole person will begin to emerge, that’s more given to the Dharma. We must not, however think that by becoming Enlightened for the sake of all beings we are going to find mummy saying: ‘My what a big boy you are! Aren’t you clever!’ We may then find that we actually resent being Buddhists and eventually we may even consider giving it all up as we feel restricted and tied down by an authority to which we no longer wish to submit ourselves. A spiritual community is a collection of free, independent individuals who are working side by side for an aim that they all share. We are all essentially alone. How can we meditate, perform Puja and work for others in order to gain approval? Our efforts in the Spiritual Life must ultimately be from our own, essentially solitary initiative and, above all, they must express what we REALLY want to do.

If we feel sexually guilty our Spiritual life can become a continual atonement for our impurity and grossness. We can constantly attempt to fill our lives with refined activities as mummy disapproves of dirty little boys fiddling under the bed-clothes. At its worst this can become a terrible pseudo-asceticism by which we continually try to punish ourselves for being ‘impure’ and therefore ‘unspiritual’, and so more resentment accumulates. It is only by realising how thoroughly gross we are, in all our primitive beauty, that we can then begin to refine our total being from our top-most chakra right down to our genitals. It is worth considering that just as refined liquor is stronger and more potent than crude beer, so a refined nature should be vigorously concentrated and not weak, watery, insipid and easily disturbed as so many people imagine refinement to be.

It is only men, and especially ‘civilised’ and cultured man, who can alienate himself from a vital part of his own nature.Undoubtedly, Christian conditioning has encouraged this, but more especially in the case of a ‘mummy’s boy’. Christian conditioning expressed through the mouth of his mother. As I have said before, mummy disapproves of fiddling under the bed-clothes and her son gradually becomes ashamed of all that is basically earthy and natural in himself, and thus contemptuous of so-called paganism in the world at large. When he becomes involved in the spiritual life he manages somehow to rationalise this feeling of guilt into a desire to escape from disturbing ‘grossness’ by immersing himself in the sort of emasculated anaemic and basically gutless realm that he mistakes for spirituality. We must, therefore, beware of reactively holding fast to the view that all that is pagan and natural is sub-individual and sub-spiritual and so unworthy of our attention. Ultimately this is quite true of course, in the sense that the ethnic, being conditioned, only goes so far; but for someone who has a guilt complex about his own pagan side, to rationalize his guilt away in this manner is tantamount to emotional castration. When we meet those who are at peace with themselves in this area we should rejoice that healthy people like this exist and not jealously dismiss them from the spiritual life by relegating them to the world of animals where communication as an individual is impossible.

Just as Padmasambhava was only able to integrate Buddhism into the overall life of Tibet by converting the indigenous Tibetan gods to the service of the Dharma, so we must realise that within the unexplored wilderness of our own beings there are many potent forces which, if ignored and excluded from our efforts to evolve, will rise in rightful rebellion and begin to hound us across our lives. Sooner or later we must stop running, turn and face our hunters and start, instead, to hunt and track down what are essentially integral aspects of our own nature – and finally take full responsibility for them.


Padmasambhava converted Demons by forcing them to tell him their seed syllables or, more politically, their sacred names: we must do likewise. In simple terms, when we have gained control over the essential energy that had sought, from long repression to overwhelm us, the Dharma within our own lives will have ever more and more strength, support and unshakeability.

So how, in practical terms, is this all important break with mother to be achieved? The first and most basic step for us is to be completely honest with ourselves And this, as no doubt many will realise by now, is a very difficult task. It is difficult enough for a young man of 23 to admit that he is still chained to his mother so how much more so for the older and seemingly more responsible man? Having openly examined ourselves we should then, if that break seems necessary, have as little to do with women, certainly in a casual social sense, as possible, until we can relate to them as men relate and not as little boys. This can be successfully achieved through living in a men’s community.

In our work we should, if possible, find that activity which we do because we simply like to: it should be that activity which we do without any neurotic need for approval. One only truly gives oneself to those people and situations from which one craves nothing; and so if we can find that kind of selfless activity, and if we can immerse ourselves in it, isolated from all competitive feelings, and all frantic needs to prove ourselves to Mother, then that selfless attitude should spread to all other areas of our life.

We should be very suspicious of any desires we may have to be seen to do wonderful things, especially with women in mind. If we indulge these desires we will probably be unable to carry out those things that we undertook to do (i.e., we had no original, healthy feel for that activity) and we will continue to isolate ourselves from those healthy untainted parts of our natures.

Above all, we should be completely open to all the joys and pleasures that living and working with other men can bring, from the most refined right down to the apparently gross. It is only the mummy within who chastises us for being bad boys so, at first, we can afford to ‘let rip’ a bit just in order to express our joy at being free, bold and reckless. We should feel as many young men feel in tribal societies, when, to the rhythm of beating drums and spears struck on shields, they perform their warrior dances.

There will, of course, be those who are by now protesting that the emphasis placed on leaving mother in order to develop the strength and boldness of manhood is a little one sided. The idea of rip-roaring masculinity seems to be rather distasteful to those who pride themselves on their more delicate refined and poetic natures. In any case what about those definitely positive virtues such as gentleness, tenderness, sensitivity in the true sense, giving and sharing, that many associated with femininity? We attribute them to our positive feminine side and argue, quite rightly, that they are indispensable to our spiritual growth. Well, quite simply, it is impossible for us to be really in touch with that side of ourselves until we have destroyed totally what can only be described as the great devouring mother within.

Giving, for instance, in its pure form, is a fearless activity. It is fearless because it feels no rejection, no failure, and it springs spontaneously from a person’s encounter with a specific need in a situation. How on earth, then, can one give out of a feeling that one has to be a ‘good boy’? Undoubtedly the act of giving, no matter what the motive, will have a good, refining effect; thus it should always be encouraged; but please, please let us allow ourselves to give because we want to, and not because we resentfully feel that by giving we are going to stay in favour. It is a great joy to see how effortlessly and spontaneously a free and naturally healthy person gives whenever the need arises. To quote Bhante [Sr] from Crossing The Stream,  … The conventionally good man is often a harsh and unsympathetic character, critical in the extreme of the faults of others and highly conscious of the magnitude of his own virtues; while the conventionally bad man or woman may, on the other hand, be sympathetic and unselfish to a degree which almost compensates for his or her deviations from the accepted standards of behaviour.

Finally, let us beware of twisting the Dharma. Mother quotes the Dharma to serve her own ends, to bend an old saying. An obvious example of this is the way in which the Bodhisattva Tara is often reduced to the status of a comforting Great Earth Mother to whom we rush for a big hug. We thus forget that it is ourselves who must manifest Tara’s qualities of compassion, receptivity and Fearless trusting in our lives.

The aims of the Friends of the Western Buddhist order are revolutionary in the most profound sense of the word: they are seeking to effect a complete turnabout in the way we, and hopefully, many others look at ourselves, each other and the world about us. I feel that there has been a tendency in some quarters to use the final, promised bliss of Nirvana and even the weak idea of refined spirituality as an excuse for non-action. If western society is anything it is a society of voyeurs: so many people get their kicks from drooling over the achievements of others. Likewise it is all too easy for us to stagnate as we eulogise over how wonderful it will be at the end of the path and how vigorous, capable and free somebody else is. If we are truly to achieve a revolution in men’s hearts we must have the courage first to achieve one in our own; and no clinging, life denying parent figure within should be given even the slightest opportunity to cripple our efforts.

When we invoke the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas to work through us there must be no resistance offered to them by an ego that performs sadhanas as a means of being a clever boy. Here, as in all our spiritual work, instead of desperately trying to assert ourselves in order to achieve some sort of recognition, we should simply become passive, and open ourselves to the Great Spiritual Influences that can work through us. To open is an act of fearless trust and we can only trust if we no longer fear disapproval for not conforming to the expectations of our mothers within. So when we have truly become free men, free to do what we really want to do, then nothing, except those who are not free, will stand in the way of establishing the Dharma here in the West.

— A senior member of the Western Buddhist Order (Triratna): 1977


It would be interesting to hear from the author of this piece, how he feels about this today. In my opinion both he and I were victims (in our own ways) of this ideology. The author has suffered from this piece rather in the same way that Subhuti has suffered from writing WMA. I don't think either of them should get a life sentence ... unless of course they reoffend! 

Subhuti did apologise for publishing WM&A (although it isn't clear if he still agrees with the views he supported there). Not sure what the author of this article thinks now -- some 40 years later! It was strange times back then, we were building a 'new society', none of the old rules applied to us (we thought!). I loved this article when it first came out -- remember the late 70s were a time of Maggie Thatcher and Mrs Whitehouse -- that's what mainstream culture had to offer! It's all coming back to bite us now though. We should be kind to ourselves -- Matthew Remski reminds us that where cult-like thinking is invovelved "we are all victims" https://triratna-perspectives.com/links/whats-behind-blowback-youll-get-...

The important thing is can we recognise and apologise for past mistakes? Only that will allow us to move forward with peace of mind.

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