How Triratna coerced people not to have children


Were young women or men getting involved with the FWBO (as Mitras or training for ordination) encouraged or asked to promise not to have children in the past? Are they in the present within Triratna?

This question is both posed and supposedly answered in the in-house troubleshooting document called Triratna Controversy FAQ (read point #9 here)

While it’s true that nobody was literally ‘asked to promise’ or sign on a dotted line about any aspect of how they conducted their lives in Triratna, it is now generally accepted (there are numerous studies on the subject) that cults employ many means to establish social control, and mostly not so obviously or transparently. Often ‘rules’ of engagement are too out of whack with societal norms to be safe to state explicitly or outline fully, even to the people enforcing them. To establish such controls, it is enough that the charismatic leadership, or those more at the apex or central hub of an organisation’s power structure, let people know they cannot progress in their chosen spiritual system if they do (or don’t do) x, y or z.

The answer to the question posed in Point 9 in the FAQs goes some way to explain how an informal anti-parenthood ‘injunction’ was explicitly disseminated as part of ordination training:

In a 1991 talk, “Going for Refuge” by Subhuti, used as ordination training material for women and for men for some years, he said that, given the centrality of the commitment to Buddha, Dharma and Sangha entailed in ordination:

"…in general, one would expect anyone being ordained to have decided against family life – if they did not already have one” and that an Order member who “settles down” with a family is “very likely backsliding in some way”. He also said, “From time to time we do see Order members getting married and starting families… Usually they have rather carelessly got themselves caught up and what they are doing is not very helpful to their effective Going for Refuge.”

Some women have said that people told them that the care of young children is a considerable commitment, as is ordination, and it would be unhelpful to do the two things simultaneously. That said, women who were pregnant or had young babies and children were ordained at the time in question. Others say people told them to ignore the views expressed in the 1991 talk.

Despite the FAQ author’s attempt to minimise how seriously or literally those views were or are to be taken, I have heard that women currently (in 2023) engaged in ordination training retreats are still seriously questioned about whether they wish to have children. Nowadays, people frame this as a concern about whether women are fully clear about their life choices or wishes in this respect. We should note that as part of those discussions, they reiterate the considerable time and energy commitment of parenthood and being an order member. So whether implied or explicitly stated (such that becoming a parent is ‘backsliding’ in the spiritual life), the message, both past and present in Triratna, is that ordination and parenthood or family life are incompatible. It also strikes me how it is at best infantilising to counsel adults about what major life decisions they make but also devious to couch such attempts as purely in the psychological interests of the women concerned.

As I’ll explain in my more personal account of involvement, they, in effect, coerced anyone approaching ordination into agreeing not to have children. The FAQs only partially acknowledge this and thus do not own up to it.

How social control about reproduction affected me and others

In the nineties and early 2000s, Order members pressured me not to have a child if I wanted to be ordained, and - as I had already spent over a decade of my life on this path - that was an enormous pressure. They told me that women get conflicted between the two massive commitments of motherhood and ‘going for refuge’ to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.

When I directly challenged this, asking why they were questioning me so heavily on the subject, they said that Sangharakshita had noticed that some women order members suffered from this conflict, so he simply wanted to encourage women to make up their minds about it before ordination. Well, that was a genius ‘twist’ on the issue, to make out that the problem was in women’s heads, to imply Sangharakshita was compassionately concerned for them, when he and his right-hand man, Subhuti, had already made it very clear in various writings, studies and lectures that relationships between men and women, parenthood and families were incompatible with, or even the ‘enemy’ of the spiritual life, and had thus created the conflict people felt about it.

In fact, Sangharakshita had made it plain since the early days of his organisation that he particularly disapproved of heterosexual relationships or families and saw women - and any wish to procreate - as belonging lower down on a spiritual evolutionary scale. This was a teaching of convenience, given that he, like many other charismatic leaders, wanted his followers to focus on and be beholden to him and any efforts to develop and spread his organisation. Any intimate relationships might detract from that focus. Another teaching of convenience was that men and women spiritually thrived only in single-sex environments, so the order became segregated into two separate wings. This afforded male-only spaces, a milieu which Sangharakshita much preferred, and also conveniently served as various conducive venues where young heterosexual men (his sexual preference throughout his life) would be more amenable to his sexual advances. 

Subhuti had written - and published in 1994 - a book called Women, Men and Angels, outlining Sangharakshita’s views on women being spiritually inferior, and post-publication, this caused something of a furore, with many women either sensibly leaving the community and many more protesting and arguing about the views expressed. Sangharakshita later ‘clarified’ that women were only spiritually inferior earlier in their spiritual quest, but not once they had become his committed devotees and asked to be ordained. Apparently, commitment to his organisation signified that women had made a significant step up the evolutionary ladder! He viewed having babies and getting involved in family life as a tragic waste of parents’ lives. Young OMs were supposed to serve him and his ‘great movement’ and the ‘greater good’ by building up the “movement”, expanding into new territories, giving over their whole lives, and give their energy and any money and resources back into his organisation.

Subhuti - the leader’s right-hand man and one of the first people other than Sangharakshita to ordain men - told young men in the middle of their ordination courses that they would, from this point on, be

expected not to get married, have children or live in families

Men did not argue with that edict when they were on the point of ordination for fear of being rejected. My partner was told this, and let me know about it when he returned from his ordination retreat.

As a side note: Scientology give the same message about family being a distraction, but it is even more explicit and executed via L.R.H’s family-breaking ‘policy’, where parents effectively abandon their children to the control of other cult employees. Sea Org members pass care and legal guardianship for their existing children. They are obliged not to have any children if they become Sea Org members (hence many have been coerced into aborting any new pregnancies or told to leave).


“The church is first -

Family is a distraction”



My tactic for dealing with the pressure and constant questioning on ordination training retreats about whether I would have a baby was to say that I hadn’t decided. This was not untrue because I had largely repressed the urge to have a family to get ordained, so I was genuinely confused but trying to keep the option open of having a child later (post ordination). .

They seized on this indecision too and problematised it. In the end, someone tried to brainwash me further by saying that I had unconsciously decided not to have children, leaving it in effect too late (I was in my mid-thirties by that point). A woman OM called Maitreyi on the ordination team told me it might be better if I made this “unconscious decision (not to have children) conscious” and admit that I had left it too late. She said I needed to acknowledge that I had decided to be childless by ‘default’.

I think I made non-committal comments to the above, saying things like “Hm, wow, you know, that hadn’t occurred to me…”. I probably nodded my head just about enough times that Maitreyi thought I agreed with her, when in fact, I was horror-struck at what she had said, and the realisation that for many women in their mid-thirties trying to get ordained that this could be true, or rather that by having allowed themselves to be brainwashed against having children they had in effect left it too late.

However, I knew that my family genes in that area tended to extended fertility. On both sides of the family, women had had children up to 47, and my mother had me when she was nearing 43. I knew that women in my family went through menopause about a decade later than average… And this calculation and hunch that it wasn’t “too late” for me proved true. I was lucky enough to get pregnant immediately at 40.

So fortunately, I had a child in the end, four years after I was ordained. In fact, I didn’t go through menopause until the age of 56. I could have had a second child in my early forties if we hadn’t been moving locations constantly, renting different properties, unsettled and struggling for income and with no babysitting or other forms of social or family support…after all, we were still in the anti-family cult. That’s a whole different story of how hard it was to have a kid in a hostile environment.

But what about the hundreds of women who had been brainwashed the same way but had left it too late for it to be an option for them? Where are their stories about missing out on significant relationships and families? What about the women who aborted (despite abortion also being frowned upon) because of the horror of parenthood and how it would supposedly ruin their spiritual lives? What about the women whose husbands walked out on them and left them to look after their children (which was approved of by the group as these men were supposedly “going forth” like the Buddha)? What about the women (and men) looked down upon and not made welcome for deciding to live together or have children despite all the brainwashing against it?

I tried to talk to some of these women order members I knew had suffered from these pressures, attitudes, circumstances and the irrevocable life decisions that had ensued (because I’d already heard something of their stories and pain expressed in various settings over the years).

I contacted three or four women and asked if I could interview them, before I resigned from the FWBO/TRIRATNA cult. All of them said a few things about what had happened to them privately but struggled to talk about it because of the raw emotions that came up as they began doing so. They all declined to talk more or be interviewed. Two said they wanted to stay positive, move on with their lives, and not look back and dwell on any of it. One said she had created a happy life for herself now and didn’t want reminding of the past. They all said that they were afraid that if they started talking about it, they would get “too upset”, or they “might break down and just swear a lot” rather than say anything coherent; they all said they would get “too angry”.

This topic clearly hits such a painful nerve with some of those who were directly affected that they still cannot bear to think about it or talk about it. The silencing effect of their pain is very convenient for Triratna because it stops them talking about their experiences or disclosing the hurt and harm caused by the people in the organisation (none of whom to date have admitted to their role in this coercion around procreation). I am writing this in part for therapeutic disclosure, including on behalf of those who can’t speak for themselves, and to add to a public record of FWBO/Triratna’s cult characteristics; specifically the institutional attempts at social control, particularly as relating to the contexts of reproduction, major life choices and intimate relationships.


I have just been pointed towards this article and found reading about the interference in a very personal decision particularly striking. In the 1990s, asking to be a Mitra involved 'the talk about abortion' so it seems odd that the ordination team were expecting a firm decision about something that could very easily arise from a failure of contraception (abortion being ethically ruled out for most, one assumes). In fact, weren't most pregnancies seen as unplanned misfortunes at the time? And why the pressure to decide something that is clearly not decideable either way? Just as a way of reaching past the usual boundaries we set in life? Clearly, if you were entering a celebate order things would be clearer! 

One of my most unpleasant memories of the 1990 FWBO was an all women retreat at which mothers were held up as psychologically unhealthy individulas. I found this odd, especially as I was the only person in the room that had a very challenging relationship with her mother. These were women that loved their mothers and yet were describing mothers in general as pathological. I found myself questioning what they were saying, to be responded to with a room full of groans. A few minutes later I was encouraged to write to Sangharakshita as he was the only one that had the ability to see clearly. I said I would rather discuss my problems with my friends. More groans. It was at that point I decided they were all completely mad and I needed ro run for the hills. In still find it remarkable that a group of women could be so easily convinced to throw their mothers and grandmothers under the bus for a little group admiration. Or perhaps they thought their mothers were the exceptions and it was 'mothers out there' that were the problem. Did they ever think about their fathers, I wonder? 

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