Moving on, or Not

Moving on, or Not (by Mark Dunlop)

Some people have said that they don't understand why I haven't been able to move on from my experience in Triratna (or the FWBO as it was formerly called), so I thought I would try to write an explanation, as best I can. I don't fully understand the situation myself, I am not a trauma expert. I don't even know if trauma is the correct medical term.

For anyone who doesn't know my story, I have written an account of my experience in the FWBO / Triratna (10,000 words), available here:

The actual physical sexual abuse by Sangharakshita has been quite easy to move on from. His physical sexual abuse in itself was not much worse than a dog rubbing itself up on my leg. It was the psychological and spiritual abuse that was more damaging, and much more difficult to move on from. Of course, the sexual abuse wouldn't have been possible without the psychological manipulation first, without SR persuading me that I needed to break through my alleged unconscious anti-homosexual conditioning if I was to make spiritual progress.

Another aspect of SR's influence that I have been able to move on from, is feeling guilty about being heterosexual, and therefore being mired in the lower evolution (according to SR's teaching). But that guilt about my sexual orientation lasted for about 30 years, and must have left its toll.

A further aspect of SR's influence that I have been able to move on from, is feeling inadequate or even sub-human, because of my complete inability to make any kind of spiritual progress, (or at least any any kind of spiritual progress as defined by Sangharakshita). I used to get intermittent anxiety attacks, feeling I must be stupid, or that my brain didn't work properly, because I was apparently completely stuck in a mundane way of seeing the world, unable to get even a glimpse of the truer, wider transcendental perspective that SR was supposedly guiding me towards. As SR put it in 1992:

"I see it [the Buddhist path] in terms of a very definite transition from what we regard as a mundane way of seeing the world and experiencing the world, to what we would describe as a transcendental way, seeing it in terms of wisdom, seeing it in terms of real knowledge, seeing it in terms of ultimate reality, seeing it in terms of a truer, wider perspective."

— Sangharakshita, at 5m 18s, in ‘Going for Refuge’, T.V. programme, BBC East 12.11.92.

It wasn't until spring 1986, some 14 years after I had first become involved in the FWBO, that I first began to see through SR's teaching, and to see that he was actually a con man. I tried to warn other FWBO members about the dangers of his false, self-serving teaching, which seemed the obvious thing to do. I mean, if you found there was a leopard lurking in a nearby cave, wouldn't you try to warn other tribe members?

But trying to warn other Order members about SR's false teaching resulted in dismissive and sometimes hostile reactions from Triratna members. This is the aspect of my involvement with Triratna that I have found the most difficult to understand or to move on from. As a whistleblower, I found the unexpected dismissive / hostile reactions bewildering and disorientating. They made me feel a bit like Dr. Stockmann in An Enemy of the People.

The Triratna Perspectives website has some short extracts from a paper about cult-like tendencies in another pseudo-Buddhist group, the NKT, and it suggests that some of these cult-like tendencies are shared by Triratna. As regards the way these groups treat whistleblowers, the paper says:

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."

That is what happened to me. It has been quite a struggle trying to understand or come to terms with the hostility from some sections of the Triratna community. When I first started out criticising SR, I found it quite difficult both to understand how I had ended up being conned by SR, and also why Triratna were so hostile to me saying that SR was a conman. I mean, if someone complains about having been conned by an Internet scammer, people don't generally rush to the defence of the scammer.

Subsequently, I have more-or-less come to understand how I was conned by SR, but I still don't really understand why so many people in Triratna are so hostile towards me, and are so dismissive of what I say about Sangharakshita's behaviour and teaching.

Recently, I have been reading an article by Matthew Remski, titled "What's Behind the Blowback You’ll Get When You Engage Cult Members", which seems to shed some light on why some people in Triratna are so hostile towards me. I am still mulling over the ideas he puts forward.

As regards coming to understand how I was conned by SR, that has been a gradual process, involving learning about male rape, about grooming, and about cults and brainwashing. Learning about cults and brainwashing has been the most helpful area in understanding how I came to be conned by SR. Overall, it has been quite a long drawn out process.

Some of the questions I have had to face are, was I stupid and gullible to trust SR (or at least to give him the benefit of the doubt)? Was I stupid and gullible to think that anyone would actually try to follow the precepts that they apparently espoused? To what extent are the precepts simply a means of lulling people into a false sense of security, to gain their trust and make it easier to manipulate and control them? I still don't know the answer to that question.

Another question I still don't know the answer to is, to what extent is it a dog-eat-dog world? In my experience, and with the benefit of hindsight, there does seem to be an underlying dog-eat-dog ethos in Triratna, at least within the inner core of the group. To some extent, it seems to be the survival of the fittest. As far as I can make out, those who prosper within the hierarchy are those who are good at deceiving and manipulating newcomers, while passing themselves off as compassionate spiritual guides. Sangharakshita was quite skilled at that, and others seem to have copied some of his techniques.

But then I think, there does seem to be something of a dog-eat-dog ethos in the world at large, so perhaps I am naive and unrealistic to expect it to be any different in Triratna. I don't know.

Anyway, in trying to alert people to SR's deceptive brainwashing and psychological manipulation, I faced two major problems. The first problem is simply that brainwashing leaves no direct evidence, and is therefore ultimately impossible to prove.

The second major problem is more complex. It arises out of the fact that there are different degrees of involvement in Triratna. A cultish group like Triratna is sometimes said to be structured like the layers of an onion. People in the outermost layers may find it genuinely difficult to believe what goes on in some of the more committed levels of membership. Members who have benefited from starting to learn about meditation and Buddhism, and who have enjoyed the warmth and friendship of the group, without having been exposed to its darker side, will tend to think well of the group, and may be puzzled by criticisms of it, because they themselves have not experienced any exploitation or abuse.

These positive and supportive members can be used as a sort of public relations shield, enabling the group to present itself in a positive light, thus helping to counter any allegations against the group, and to reassure new members.

Thre also seem to be a fair number of positive and supportive members within some of the more committed levels of membership, though it seems more difficult to understand their enthusiasm, since many of them will be aware of some of the abuses, but seem to manage to turn a blind eye to them.

The Triratna Perspectives website offers a possible explanation of why some of the more committed and long-established members are enthusiastic supporters of the group:

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'."

One of the comments on that page reads:

'No. 9 reminds me of the "old" Croydon and of Padmaloka today -- in fact both institutions share some of the same "staff".'

Nevertheless, despite the hostility, and the difficulty in actually proving anything, I do still feel quite strongly motivated to continue to try and warn people about the hidden dark side of Triratna, and the potential dangers of becoming too deeply involved with the group.

Ideally, I would also like to be able to help to persuade those who run Triratna to actually deal with the organisation's dark side, and the dodgy teachings, but I haven't had much success with that, so far as I can see. It is partly the Triratna hierarchy's apparent unwillingness to actually recognise and deal with the problems that leads me to think the group is effectively a cult.

While I can't see into people's minds, or really understand why some of the longer term members are so positive and supportive of Triratna, and are so resitant to any criticism of the group, I wonder if they have perhaps become somewhat institutionalised within the group. Some of them do seem rather dependent on the group and its institutions, to the extent that I can't really see them ever "going forth" from the group.

Anyway, another aspect of the effects of my involvement with Triratna, has been to make me feel I can't trust my own judgement. I was wrong about SR's probity, and also about Triratna's, so my own judgement has proved unreliable. Which also makes it difficult for me to trust other people - how can I know who to trust.?

In theory perhaps, I could just move on from my experience, and put it all behind me, but I haven't been able to do this. SR's teaching, and my experiences in Triratna, have left psychological scars, and psychological scars don't necessarily seem to heal themselves. To put it another way, I found SR's teaching to be a kind of poison, and some of the effects still linger.

There are not just psychological effects, but also practical effects. I feel somewhat lonely and isolated. I don't have a partner or a job - in fact, I have been classified by the UK Benefits Agency as incapable of work. The doctor who assessed me for the Benefits Agency said that a friend of his from University days had become involved in another cult, and now exhibited exactly the same symptoms as me. So I feel I was quite lucky to get a doctor who had some understanding about the effects of cult involvement, not many seem to.

In fact, few people seem to know much about cults. It seems almost impossible to explain to other people how cults and brainwashing work, unless they have actually been in a cult themselves. So I don't know what to say, when people ask me what I do. If I say, oh I used to be in a cult, they generally back away. Maybe they think it is infectious. So that difficulty in communication is another factor that tends to leave me feeling rather isolated.

So those are some of the reasons I have not so far been able to completely move on from my experience in Triratna.


Thanks for this Mark. I remember there were various narratives circulating about you in the late 80s, perhaps the most misleading being that you had joined the ranks of SR's "jilted ex-lovers" and thus bore a grudge. Of course as it became clear later SR didn't have "lovers" as such -- it was unlikely there ever was sexual reciprocity between straight young men in their 20s and an ageing gay man. What caused the upset was nicely put by ex-Yashomitra who said something along the lines of "I thought I was being offered a spiritual relationship but it turned out to be just sex".

I remember thinking at the time how ungrateful you were for the time and effort SR had put into his "friendship" with you -- and like many of us, feeling not a little jealous of all that attention. Michelle Haslam the psychologist says in relation to the NKT "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." I get that -- I'm shocked and dismayed about my inability to "hear" what you had to say back in the day and apologise to you for that now. 

BTW I also apologise for the anonymity of this message -- I am somewhat swayed by the "Suella" effect -- Triratna has become so toxic in the media that, as a person with a public profile and professional status, I wouldn't want to be publicly associated with Triratna in any way. Indeed this was one reason I finally broke ties some time ago.

I apologise once more for not speaking out in your defence and hope very much that you may find comfort in the fact your abusive experience is finally being recognised for what it was.

Hi Mark, you shouldn't give yourself a hard time over the length of time that it has taken for you to come to terms with what happened to you in Triratna. I think it's Matthew Remski who points out somewhere that everyone who has been involved in a cult is a victim to some extent.

I knew about SR's sexual activity from early on and was aware of the extent of promiscuity between men. It puzzled me why promiscuity was seen as OK whereas (heterosexual) monogamy was problematic from a Buddhist perspective. I actually went to see SR to ask him about this and he replied that it wasn't the sex that was the problem but the attachment and that it was OK to have sex to satisfy your 'needs'. The idea of having sex with someone just to satisfy your 'needs' seemed a bit clinical at the time -- and I always found it difficult not to get 'attached'!

At the time I naively assumed that because SR was 'enlightened' he simply didn't know or had forgotten how difficult it was to separate physical and emotional needs regarding sexual attraction. Then later I found out from testimonies by yourself, Ananda, ex-Prasannasiddhi etc. that SR himself was sexually very 'needy' and manipulative. It also puzzled me that SR never matured sexually or had an enduring age-appropriate relationship but remained sexually and romantically oriented toward young men. I realised then that it wasn't SR's 'enlightened' perspective that informed his behaviour -- but the opposite -- his fundamental lack of insight. It took several more years after this penny dropped for me to be able to extricate myself from his sphere of influence but it was partly through reading things that you had written that I was able to do so. So thanks for that.

In my younger days I was very much influenced by SR's views about the dangers of attachment, relationships and monogamy to the extent that I passed over several possibilities for serious enduring relationships. Now I look at my non-Triratna colleagues and friends and am stuck by how happy and positive they are in their relationships as they approach old age together. I wonder if part of SR's antipathy toward monogamy was due to jealousy -- given that it was something he knew he could never have (given his exclusive attraction to men decades younger than himself)?

I recently watched the Michael Jackson documentary -- called Leaving Neverland

I saw a number of parallels between what happened at Neverland and the 'charmed circle' that used to exist at Padmaloka in the 70s and 80s. I don't mean to equate the seriousness of SR's relationships which were always with adult men in their late teens and early 20s with MJ's relations which were with pubescent boys -- but there was a similar dynamic at play where people around both SR and MJ 'turned a blind eye' to what was going on. 

I put this down to the enchanting effects of charisma -- the world's greatest pop star on one hand, and the greatest Buddhist teacher since Nagarjuna (as SR once described himself), on the other, and their ability to create a charmed circle around themselves. Given their attractive personas, for those admitted to the inner circle, it was almost impossible to imagine any wrong doing -- and just as with SR and the faithful within Triratna, MJ still has multiple ardent fans today, despite the many testimonies of his victims. 

A friend of mine once described cults as 'a kind of fandom' and when he said that I immediately thought of the College and their claim to be channelling a 'Supra Personal Force' that comes to them via SR from the Buddhas and bodhisattvas. Both SR and MJ are still superstars for their many fans and no level of evidence to the contrary can diminish their adulation. Indeed the adulation has increased following their demise. Such is the workings of charisma.

Hi Mark in speaking out about your experience of SR in the way you did, you did exactly what the Dalai Lama said abuse victims should do:

the Dalai Lama called to mind that he had stated then that the behaviour of repeat sex offenders must be made public, reiterating: “These people, they don’t care about Buddha’s teaching. So, now the only thing is: make public, these things. Then people may be concerned about their shame, their embarassment”.


Hi Mark. I could echo many of the comments above. What I would like to add though is that you were shabbily treated both by Sangharakshita, who got rid of you for speaking out, and most of the Order who chose to believe you were in the wrong. You weren't and he was. That's clear to me now. 

​Though I was never too close to SR, I did hear from many about you Mark, and the blame was always put on you: SR's part in it simply couldn't be questioned.  

Look at what the equivalent of the College in Shambhala have done​ - it looks like 40% of them resigned, and said the following:

"We recognize that we acharyas have participated in and enabled the culture that has caused harm. We have much to learn individually and as a community."

Imagine (and at this point all one can do is imagine) if the College, as a whole and as individuals, were to say that, as well as those such as Subhuti, who once wrote that:

"… within the context of the spiritual community…sexual interest on the part of a male Order member for a male mitra (‘friend’) can create a connection which may allow kalyana mitratata (‘spiritual friendship’) to develop. Some, of course, (i.e. homosexual members) are predisposed to this attraction. Others have deliberately chosen to change their sexual preferences in order to use sex as a medium of kalyana mitrata and to stay clear of the dangers of male-female relationships without giving up sex.”  

There are so many who were complicit in the culture and harm, but have said absolutely nothing about it, presumably because they would have to admit to themselves and the rest of the world that SR was never the spiritual giant that they were led to believe he was.  

College members can't admit any liability in relationship to Sangharakshita's manipulative behaviour and Triratna's culture of harm because they aren't actually Buddhists. Their commitment is and always has been to SR's "particular presentation" -- that's the reason they were appointed to their role -- they are the most faithful of the faithful who are entrusted to preserve SR's "vision" at all costs. If they acknowledged that SR had serious ethical failings and that they are culpable in the ongoing harm inflicted on people like Mark Dunlop through their inability to apologise for not supporting him when he originally came forward, then the whole College system would collapse. The Public Preceptors have no ground to stand on other than their faith in SR, take that away and what do they have to offer? 

The psychologist Michelle Haslan is good on calling out College members and others in the Order who offer the "I'm sorry you feel we haven't done enough" kind of pseudo-apology (which is, in effect, a kind of passive aggressive attack on the questioner) and she also points out that ALL members of the Order who refuse to recognise SR's abusive actions for what they were are complicit in Triratna's culture of whitewash and evasion. The lack of support for Mark D shown on this thread by remaining OMs suggests that many are still in thrall to the SR personality cult and believe that Mark D is and was always the 'problem'.

Hi Mark. Thanks for your posts and I'm sorry that this idea of being 'unable' to 'move on' has been used to gaslight and demean you for so many years. I can't even imagine. 

Due to all the similar gaslighting psychological abuse I have received from NKT members (see this link for a collage if you haven't seen it already) I also suffer with this. Survivors of trauma are frequently blamed in this way for their suffering, and this creates deep psychological insecurity. I am absolutely disgusted by the comment I just read by Jnanaruchi blaming you for your aversion. Sadly this is what cult members do because of the cognitive dissonance. It's too painful to accept that their spiritual father was a charlatan, a fraud, a sexual abuser, a sociopath. The gaslighting is subtler in Triratna than the NKT. I used to think that made it less dangerous but these days I wonder if it makes it more dangerous because it is harder to spot. Triratna is also full of therapists and psychologists, and people who seem to value safeguarding. This makes the gaslighting of abuse victims even more dangerous I think. 

Hi Mark, I am continuing to read your work and experiences with great interest. I have experienced profound trauma in my childhood, and in many ways it has many parallels with the cult like phenomenon you had with the FWBO, and left me with long lasting emotional scars. A couple of things that greatly supported my healing were the use of EFT (tapping), which helps alleviate the repressed/charged aspects of emotional trauma stored in the body/nervous system (plenty of free easy guides for this technique are on the web), and also the work of Paul Levy. Paul writes about 'Wetiko' an indigenous term that connotes the 'spirit of evil', and how it operates through the blind spots of the unconscious in both groups and individuals. I would highly recommend his book 'Dispelling Wetiko' and he has numerous free articles on his website Awaken In the Dream.

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