Thank you for your letter dated 31 October 1992, received yesterday. I am sorry to hear that, though you have been around the FWBO for the last seven years, your faith is being undermined by a number of questions you have been unable to get answered. You will appreciate that it is not possible for me to deal fully, in the course of a single letter, with all the points you have raised, but I trust that the following clarification will go at least someway towards removing the doubts that are, as you say, preventing you from being more involved in the FWBO.
In any case, I appreciate the frank and straightforward manner in which you have addressed me.
1. I do not believe in sexual activity as a means of 'opening people up' and have never personally engaged in it with this end in view, though one person did assure me (this was more than twenty years ago) that in their case it had had such an effect. There are teachers, Buddhist and Hindu, who appear to use this technique, and I have no wish to criticize their methods.
2. The principal reason for my own sexual experiments (‘explorations’ would perhaps be a better word) was a desire for a deeper and more authentic human communication. In the late 'sixties and early 'seventies 'communication’ was very much in the air and it was widely believed (as apparently it still is) that the sexual relation is the highest form of human communication. Though I did not really share this belief, I was conscious that my experience of this aspect of life had been very limited, and therefore decided to ascertain the truth of the matter for myself. Eventually I came to the conclusion that the sexual relation was not the highest form of human communication, and phased out my sexual experiments.
3. During my time in India I assumed that all sexual activity was unskilful. After my return to England in 1964 I became less sure of this, especially in the view of the (still) current glorification of sex. Moreover, the fact that the third precept spoke of kamesumicchacara or ‘wrong’ sexual conduct seemed to imply that there could be ‘right’ sexual conduct. My present position, after much discussion of the matter over the years with Order Members and others, is that sexual activity is in all probability inherently unskilful. For the last ten or more years, in particular, there has consequently been an increasing emphasis on brahmacariya within the FWBO and we now have the beginnings of an anagarika / brahmacarin sangha.
4. It is necessary to bear in mind that the early years of the FWBO were both chaotic and creative, to a degree that it is difficult for more recent members to imagine. I myself was very much a part of that chaos and creativity - indeed to a great extent its source. The doors of the Hampstead Buddhist Vihara having been closed against me on a charge with which I was never confronted, which I had been given no opportunity of answering, and which was completely false, I felt free to strike out in an entirely new direction, even if this meant sometimes flying in the face of accepted 'tradition'. Thus I experimented not only with sex but with drugs, alcohol and dress, as well as in a hundred other ways. At the same time I read, meditated, and lectured intensively. My overall purpose in all this was to create a new, radical Buddhist movement that was both genuinely Buddhist and genuinely Western.
5. The FWBO is now twenty-five years old and the present-day Movement is very different from the one we had even ten or twelve years ago, not only in size but in breadth and depth of experience. New approaches have been tried out, and some old ones abandoned. Yet there is continuity. The present-day FWBO, which I know from personal experience has brought happiness and meaning into the lives of thousands of people, has grown directly out of the FWBO of the past. Without the FWBO of the past, with all its weaknesses and shortcomings, there would be no FWBO today. I might even add, at the risk of sounding arrogant, that without Sangharakshita, with all his imperfections (and he seems to have been the only person available to start a new Buddhist movement in Britain) there would have been no FWBO at all, either past or present.
6. You rightly speak of Going for Refuge being primary and lifestyle secondary having provided a great insight in helping to make Buddhism accessible in the West. Even within the FWBO the full implications of this insight are yet to be realized. One implication is that it abolishes the 'traditional' difference between ‘monk’ and ‘lay’. In the early days of the FWBO this placed me in a dilemma I had ceased to be a 'monk' yet did not want to appear to be operating as a ‘layman’, since in my on eyes I was no more the one than I was the other. Moreover I had come to the conclusion, over the years, that there was no technically valid bhikshu-ordination anywhere in the Buddhist world and that nobody, therefore, was really entitled to wear the yellow robe, i.e.entitled to wear it as a sign of valid bhikshu ordination. (I shall be dealing with this topic in a paper I hope to publish early next year.) [See: Forty-three Years Ago]
7. There now exists a fairly substantial body of people, the members of the Western Buddhist Order, who are neither monks/nuns nor laymen/laywomen but Buddhists in the sense of persons who have effectively Gone for Refuge to the Three Jewels and who have undertaken to observe the Ten Precepts. Thus the insight that commitment is primary and lifestyle secondary has received concrete, observable embodiment. This means that I am no longer in the dilemma of which I spoke, it now being evident that one does not have to operate within the monk/lay dichotomy and that there is an alternative.
8. Some members of the Order are anagarikas/brahmacarins and wear (on occasion) a yellow robe or kesa, as I myself do. We wear the yellow robe or kesa not because we are ‘ordained monks’ in the traditional sense (as I have said, there is no technically valid bhikshu-ordination anywhere in the Buddhist world) but simply because we are observing the brahmacariya vow and because, in the case of the anagarikas, we have no domestic ties. Anagarikas and brahmacarins have exactly the same status within the Order as other Order members, the taking of the brahmacariya precept not being regarded as a further or higher ordination.
9. You allege that two active current Order members are still angry and bitter as a result of having had sexual relations with me. I have no knowledge of any such Order members. If an Order member has a grievance against me, of any kind, he or she is free to take the matter up with me personally. Though I have not been able to answer your questions as fully as I would have liked, I hope that what I have written will set your mind at rest and enable you to fulfil your wish and become more involved with the FWBO. If you have any other doubts please do not hesitate to write again. I have no wish for anyone to suffer from doubts which I may be able to remove.
With best wishes,