Bjorn Hunsdieck's Account
Marburg, July 12, 2012
It has been some time since I've been in touch with you. On a recent solitary retreat I have noticed that I indeed miss many of you. So if you've ever wondered why I disappeared in 2004, and never kept much contact with most of you, I would like to write about the circumstances of my leaving. I have just packed up all my old FWBO books, filling two boxes, and threw my old Jalakas into the paperwaste. Time to let go of something.
Some of you had already witnessed that I had difficulties when I was at Windhorse Trading until Feb. 2002. I decided at that point to go to Birmingham to be near those people who were important to me when I began my FWBO journey (the German crew, Sona...), but also to get to know Sangharakshita personally. I had experienced Windhorse as a very joyful and inspiring place, but sometimes as imprisoning. So now I wanted to get to know the person at the heart of it all, to find out if it was just a certain culture in some part of the movement, or if Bhante himself was like this.
When I arrived at Madhyamaloka, I first worked as a 'guestmaster', meaning I looked after guests and seminarians in the place. I looked after the 'annex', answered emails, and organized events. After a while, I was asked to drive Bhante around, so that he could go for walks, and then I also went on those walks with him. At the time, you may remember, his eyesight had deteriorated significantly. He couldn't read, write, or get around safely on his own. Accompanying this were difficulties to fall asleep, and a mixture of anxiety and vulnerability.
Nevertheless, we became friends. I was very eager to ask him all sorts of Dharma questions, and he answered them, of course. I remember sitting in the cafe of a park in Birmingham, and asking him all the questions that were on my mind, until we were both silent. Later, he offered that we could study together... what else could a man who has asked for ordination wish for? We started with Dharma, but then moved on to William Blake, and other western literature. On our trips out, we explored churches and ancient sites.
I noticed that he was rather in need of friendship, too. He seemed quite alone to me. He had given responsibility to the PCC in the preceding years, and now wanted to keep out of 'business'. He dictated books, and met with his secretary and other guests. Still, when I met him, he at times seemed quite in need of human warmth, which I was happy to give him - of course, why not? When we studied together, we sometimes put our legs and feet on top of each other's, for fun.
I realized that we became quite close and affectionate after a while. One night, when Bhante had difficulties falling asleep, and was rather unwell, I stayed over. We ended up sleeping in the same bed, kissing and caressing each other. I'm happy to recount more details if you wish; let's say I remember us being sexual, on several occasions. He was unable to have any erection or orgasm, but he helped me have it.
Bhante was always very kind, friendly and encouraging, and of course he was encouraging of me living out my homosexual interests. At the time, I had never had sex with women, even at that age (25), and I was quite afraid of it (maybe something to do with my biography). I had tried homosexuality at Windhorse, and I was happy to try it further.
So we were both happily going along with this, but two more things came along, too: Bhante's grief (he was very sad at times) and sometimes anger. He used to get into very withdrawn states. And then he said what most stuck in my mind: 'don't tell the others'.
He wanted me to not talk to the other members of the PCC about what we did. I was principally happy with that, were it not for his extra load of emotions, that I had to carry, too. It seemed to me more and more that Bhante had two personalities: one public, one private. The public Bhante was clear, encouraging, friendly, humorous, smiling. The more private Bhante was vulnerable, sad, lonely, occasionally helpless, sometimes angry, sometimes even childish and confused.
One day I couldn't stand the pressure any more and I told Dharmaghosa, my 'superior', what was going on. He heard it, seemed calm, but I think he panicked and must have thought about the trouble with the 'Guardian article', and he told Cittapala. Then someone spoke to one of Bhante's close friends and former assistants, whose name I have forgotten (tall, handsome...). He in turn spoke to Bhante to enquire about it, and to maybe remind him that he had said he wouldn't start sexual relationships any more, or something like that. Bhante was also wearing the golden Kesa at the time.
When I went to see Bhante for our regular meeting the next day (I helped in his household every few days), he sat in his chair and cried. He said 'didn't we agree not to tell anyone?'. I tried to calm him and explain that I needed to talk to someone outside our relationship. However, from that day, he seemed to close down to me completely, and we were unable to talk openly.
I was confused and talked to a few PCC members. Some seemed upset, some didn't say anything. When I talked to Cittapala, we agreed that it would cause a lot of misunderstanding and trouble, so I decided not to make a big deal of it. I later told a few friends, but very confidentially. I stayed on in Birmingham for a while, then went to London to work at one of the FWBO's cafes, then went back to Germany for a very confused, painful time at my parents' place, when I had panic attacks and was unable to find work.
At the time when I was with Bhante, I had started a relationship with (now) Amritapurna. This, and the fact that I was unable to find work in Germany, made me come back to Birmingham. There I found work on a building site and in a call center, but later went back to work at Madhyamaloka again. My relationship with Amritapurna had shown me that I need not be afraid of women, and from that time on I was never interested in men again.
Slowly, things started to break down... I had serious doubts about Bhante. Why did he not talk openly about things? Why did he seem to have a split personality (public/private)? Why did he keep quiet about his intimate needs towards most people around him? Why did he seem angry about certain groups of people?
I started to read many texts from the Tibetan tradition, and their modern day lineage holders. They seemed to talk a different language. I also started having panic attacks myself, and none of the meditation instruction from the FWBO seemed to help. Eventually I withdrew my request for ordination, went back to Germany and started practicing in the tradition of Shambhala. I was able to connect quickly, and took some responsibility in recent years.
I never found my place in Germany's working world, though. I may now, with 37, start a degree at University. I had quit university age 21, when I had asked for ordination and moved to work at Windhorse Trading. Up until today, I was unable to integrate the FWBO years into my biography or working life, because of how they ended. Only a few people knew of what had happened, and I partly wanted to forget, partly wanted to 'protect' Bhante and not cause trouble. However, I'd like this to stop, so that I can come to some reconciliation with it. It is not the sexual part that worried me, but the fact that I had to keep it secret, and with it Bhante's private persona.
Others may have come to a different conclusion if they had experienced Bhante like this. I concluded that if he represented any kind of enlightenment, it was not the enlightenment I was looking for. I expect someone who has some claim to authority in the Dharma to be authentic, openly vulnerable, showing his human-ness, not trying to display something to the outside that on the inside he isn't. So I concluded I had to leave and look for a more authentic teacher.
It is also a shame that I lost so many good friends within Triratna when I left. I still love all of you. At the same time, there is something there that is not quite right. I don't want to go into all the differences now, I can write more about that later, if you'd like. In short, when I think of Bhante these days, I feel sad, and angry, too.
I have let Bhante know that I will talk openly about the relationship we had, so he knows. I'd also like to stay in dialogue with all of you, so that we can all move on and develop genuine Dharma in the West.
Your old friend
Bjorn Helko Hunsdieck