"Just a bit of Pagan fun"


Fri, 20 January, 2017


My story is not easy for me to write. Even now, it still disturbs me. I have to write it as I need to voice these hidden truths. I have put it here because I want my Order brothers and sisters to know what happened all those years ago, for the record, as part of our history. As this piece is too personal to be public, I ask you to respect that and not to share it without asking me first.

In the summer of 1978, as a very young Order Member, in both senses, I was asked if I would accompany Bhante to a European Retreat at Stenfors, in southern Sweden, where I would support the retreat, while Bhante would follow his own program, having discussions with various European Mitras and Order Members present on the retreat. I imagined that I was needed to carry Bhante’s bags, and show him how to negotiate passport control or other travel formalities, since he was, to my mind then, an elderly, other worldly, ex-monk. It was an unexpected opportunity to go with my trusted Teacher to a European Summer Retreat. Of course I said yes.


It was an overnight crossing to Gothenburg, so a double cabin had been booked for the night. In the cabin it turned out my company wasn’t required just for practical purposes. Bhante took off my clothes, and had sex with me, telling me it was “just a bit of Pagan fun”. I had heard he was that way inclined but I was confused about having sex with him. I had already been told by two Order friends separately that until I had sex with another man I would be homophobic and unable to fully engage with male friendship for fear of where it would lead. I was indeed afraid I might respond to men’s sexual advances, afraid I might be homosexual. Nevertheless, I was not in the least sexually attracted to men. Anyway, I could see with those two friends that this was just a gambit to get me in to bed with them and I didn’t trust their all too obvious desires, which I refused. I was also told by other Order Members that everything Bhante did, everything, was for other’s benefit. And I trusted Bhante. So, was he having sex with me because I was ‘blocked’ in this area? Was he just trying to help me overcome that? Confused thoughts like these were going through my mind as I allowed him to proceed, even though I wasn’t aroused. Afterwards, I was relieved to have passed the ‘test’. Now I would be able to experience male friendship without fear. And since I had not been aroused, I would not have to do this again, which was a relief. No more was said about what happened on the boat and the practicalities of entering Sweden soon took over. So, I assumed that was that.


On entering Stenfors through the front door we were immediately shown a room to the left, with two beds, were we would be staying. I didn’t think there could be any recurrence of the episode on the boat now we were on retreat, so I didn’t think too much of it. In any case, I thought that Bhante must have done what he did for my benefit, to break through my fear. Now I had passed that test, my fear had gone. Since I had broken that taboo, he would not need to have sex with me again. I meditated, and supported the retreat. I also read Conrad, then my favourite writer of the moment, and as Bhante appreciated Conrad too, we had several enjoyable discussions about literature, and he seemed happy to communicate through ideas and feelings without any more physical contact.


I had been told to get Bhante’s tea before going to morning meditation. So I did this every day, before leaving him to pursue his own program, while I went to join the retreat’s morning meditation. However, one morning when I had made his tea, I had some time left before the meditation, so I went back to bed to read my book. To my amazement, Bhante finished his tea, got up, got into my bed and had sex with me, without asking me if that was what I wanted or giving me any time to respond. It was totally unexpected and totally confusing. I didn’t want him to have sex with me. I didn’t want to have sex on retreat. I wanted to go to meditation. I didn’t know what to do. I was mentally and emotionally frozen. I hadn’t learnt to talk about sex or ever imagined having to say no to it. He was my Teacher, fifty three to my twenty three. I couldn’t say anything. I just let it happen.


I remember being very troubled afterwards that it was too late to get to meditation. I was too ashamed to say what had actually happened, so I wasn’t able to explain why I had missed the morning meditation when I was supposed to be supporting the retreat. I let the retreat leader think I had just slept in. This unwanted deception weighed heavily on my mind. Not being able to defend myself against the unfairness of being thought lazy made that sexual invasiveness doubly humiliating for me. 


In the aftermath, I got through it by deciding that I would allow him the sex he desired, out of gratitude for all I had received from him in other ways. I told myself that, as it was clearly what he wanted, I would give him that, even though it wasn’t what I wanted. So, that is what I did on three or four occasions he wanted sex with at Padmaloka, or his flat at Sukhavati. Leaving the last such occasion, at Padmaloka, I remember thinking “next time I’m definitely going to say no”. Strangely, there were no more sexual advances after that.


I now think this attitude of mine was mistaken, even though taking a generous stance, to what I wasn’t able to refuse, helped me to stay positive through this. He didn’t attract me at all sexually. I was never sexually aroused. He never asked my why that was or whether I was enjoying it. In fact, he didn’t talk about it at all, until I brought it up again 30 years later. He needn’t have had sex with me. I would have been an affectionate friend to Bhante without that. I’ve also realised that because I couldn’t find my voice to stop Bhante having sex with me, or to tell anyone what had happened, I found it more difficult to voice my feelings in other emotionally challenging situations.


I was confused for years. I remember saying to Bhante, years later, “I don’t know if you want me to be a homosexual - but I can’t”. Later it made me angry to remember that it wasn’t what I had wanted. It was difficult to know who I could talk to about my feelings. It wasn’t a secret but no one wanted to talk about these things. For instance, I only found out last week that a best friend, now dead, had had sex with Bhante. He never told me. The first time I broached my experience, to an Order friend in the early 90’s, he dismissed it with, “someone has to do the seducing”. The point is I wasn’t seduced. Calling it seduction implies I enjoyed the sex, once I got over my qualms about homosexuality - but I didn’t. It has, of course, effected my relationship with Bhante as my Teacher, I have had to work hard with that. Every time the issue of his sexual activity came up in relation to someone else I realised that despite my effort I had not fully processed and moved on from what happened all those years ago. That is why I am writing this now.


Seven years ago I finally wrote to Bhante and went to see him at Madhyamaloka to try and clear things up. He acknowledged what had happened on the boat but said he had no memory of what happened on the retreat. I tried to explain that I only went along with what he did on the retreat as I wan’t able to say no, due to his status and age difference in relation to me, and because he didn’t leave space for it. He didn’t seem able to get that. The fact I didn’t say no seemed to have left him with the impression that I had been ok with what happened at the time, and I had now changed. He said he was sorry I was upset which didn’t feel like an apology to me, as you have to realise what you did was wrong to really apologise. He didn’t say sorry for what he had done. It upset me when he showed the same lack of understanding of what had happened to me and many others when he was interviewed in ‘Conversations’. So, I am relieved that, at last, Bhante has been able to accept that what he did sometimes harmed people like me. 


This has also effected my relationship with those Order Members who feel uncritical devotion to Bhante, since I cannot share that. I’m glad that Bhante and the Public Preceptors have now acknowledged the harm done. I hope we can all now acknowledge that Bhante did these harmful things and make sure that nothing like it ever happens in our movement again. Having written this I feel lighter. I hope you can now acknowledge these difficult truths and feel lighter too.


This article is very disturbing. It describes something like rape. Has someone sent a copy to the police?

Dear Anon, yes the "Just a bit of Pagan fun" article does describe something like rape, or at least sexual assault.  Whether anyone has sent a copy to the police, I don't know, but I don't think that the police would be able to do much about it.  Partly because the abuser / rapist, Sangharakshita, died in October 2018, partly because the police would really need more than one witness, and partly also because "the police do not seem interested in coercive sex between adult men who are not related to each other", as one commentator put it.

That quote is from a July 2022 survey  conducted by The Family Survival Trust, titled "Coercive Control in Cultic Groups in the United Kingdom"


The survey is about cults in general, not just Triratna. It is quite a long document, 82 pages. There is a comment on page 53, or p 55 if you use the go-to box in the PDF reader.

"There has been ongoing coercive sex within the men, less now but still there, that I continue to hear about. The men affected refuse to report it and leave so it ends up with nothing being done about it. The perpetrators keep on getting promoted within the organisation, and men affected do not trust internal safeguarding or still want to get ordained, so don’t report it. The safeguarding officer will report illegal activity to the police, but the police do not seem interested in coercive sex between adult men who are not related to each other."

The survey results have been anonymised, so no personal details are given, but I think the above comment is about Triratna. There are also tons of other comments about other groups.

The police are short of resources, and so they have to consider their priorities.  Male sexual abuse doesn't seem to be currently much of a priority, politically speaking. Perhaps people are afraid of being accused of homophobia.

More broadly, abusive cults are quite a big problem, though largely unacknowledged. There is a  newspaper report about the above survey here:

'Revealed:"Hidden epidemic" of abusive cults in UK, with 2,000 groups operating freely'  


Add new comment