Out of a living silence

A contemplative shares thoughts that emerge in moments of quiet reflection

Friends of the Western Buddhist Order

with 3 comments

A post on E-sangha Alert asks whether anyone is a member or has any opinion about the FWBO. Having been ordained as Dayāmati Dharmacārī on January 26, 2000, I qualify as someone who belongs to the organization. I’m not sure I qualify as anyone who has an opinion about it. As much as I can, I avoid having opinions about Buddhist or other religious organizations, whether I belong to them or not. That said, I think there may be a misconception and a fallacy to be cleared up in the post in question. Let’s begin with the misconception. That post quotes one Anders Honore as saying:

the fact of the matter is that [the FWBO’s] teachings are still founded on the thoughts of a sexually criminal mind, who deliberately violated his precepts and whose misconduct in general is too well reported to be put down to the personal grudge of a few belittled souls.

The teachings of the FWBO are based on the thoughts of the Buddha, whose mind was not, so far as I know, sexually criminal. The FWBO draws upon materials from the Thevavāda canon and from a variety of Mahāyāna texts and gives its members the freedom to choose whichever style of going for refuge to the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha suits their conditioning. Nearly all practitioners do mindfulness of breathing meditation and loving kindness (mettābhāvanā) meditation; in addition to those practices, ordained members of the order typically undertake a visualization practice on one of the buddha or bodhisattva personalities. The FWBO is not aligned exclusively with any of the paths (yānas) but strives to embrace all of them as valid and capable of leading a serious practitioner to enlightenment. It would be inaccurate to describe the FWBO as anything other than a legitimate form of Buddhism that has made an effort to avoid sectarianism and has striven to make adaptations to the social conditioning of modern people.

Now a word is in order about the fallacy in the statement quoted above. The name of the fallacy is the genetic fallacy. It consists in making the false assumption that if the founder of an organization was flawed in some way, then the organization itself is flawed in the same ways. So, for example, let us say that the founder of a corporation called Monumental Motors was a megalomaniac with paranoid tendencies. If one falls prey to the genetic fallacy, one would conclude, unreasonably, that Monumental Motors makes flawed vehicles or that those who drive the products made by Monumental Motors are prone to paranoid megalomania.

The founder of the FWBO, Sangharakshita (born Dennis Lingwood), is without a doubt a controversial figure in various ways. Many question his judgment. It does not follow from this that the thousand or so ordained members of the FWBO, or the tens of thousands of men and women who practice in FWBO centers, are prone to the same questionable behaviors as the founder of the organization. Increasingly, members of the FWBO are unlikely ever to have met the founder of the organization. What they are more likely to have done is to have read his books and found them an inspiring approach to Buddhism, or to have been inspired by members of the order.

Unlike many Buddhist organizations (but like most Japanese Buddhist orders), the FWBO is not primarily a monastic order. There are some celibate order members, but celibacy is not required. Many order members, like myself, are married and earn livelihoods doing secular work, but regard the primary focus of their lives to be doing dharma work. All of us that I am aware of strive to live simple, uncomplicated lives and to put compassion into practice in as many ways as possible.

I cannot speak for others. I can only speak for myself when I say that my experiences with the FWBO have been positive. It has come to my attention that there are people whose experiences have not been positive. Those who do not find the organization to their liking tend to leave and follow other paths. Some, when they choose to leave, cut their ties with former friends in the order; some do not. This is as it should be, I think. What makes most sense to me is that people use their common sense when affiliating with any Buddhist or other religious organization, and that they listen carefully to their own instinctual feelings and stay if the feel comfortable and leave if they do not.

In the interest of full disclosure, I suppose I should say that in addition to being a member of the Friends of the Buddhist Order, I am also a member of the Religious Soicety of Friends (Quakers). In both organizations, friendship is a principal spiritual practice. Like everyone else that I know of, my practice of friendship is imperfect. My aim, in the years I have remaining in my life, is to get a little better at being a friend.

Those interested in reading more about my own take on Buddhism may want to look at Inquiring Buddhist or New City of Friends.

Written by Richard P. Hayes (Dayāmati Dharmacārin)

Monday, March 2, 2009 at 22:10

Posted in Buddhism

3 Responses

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  1. Just to be clear. E-sangha Alert is a blog aimed at highlighting the sect bashing and general Lord of the Flies type behaviour of the powers that be over at E-sangha.

    By posting this quote from Anders Honore, the intention is to warn online users of their intolerance. They are basically running around saying what is and what is not Buddhism. Given that they are the largest online buddhist forum, this is a cause for concern.

    If you go here, you can see our mission statement:


    If you feel it is not clear enough, please let me know how you think I can make it more explicit.

    Also, if you yourself have suffered at the hands of the moderators at E-sangha, please share your story with us.


    Tuesday, March 3, 2009 at 13:26

  2. I first heard of E-sangha fairly recently in a discussion on the Unitarian-Universalist Buddhist Forum, where there was a protracted discussion that outlived my interest in the topic. More recently I read on Al Billings’s blog site about one of the moderators of E-sangha, a fellow named Malcolm Smith alias Namdrol, and recognized him as a person with whom I had many spirited exchanges in the 1990s on the BUDDHA-L Buddhist discussion forum, of which I have been a moderator for the past eighteen years or so. A casual look at the “Terms of Service” on E-sangha make it clear that the issues that Namdrol and I debated a decade ago are still very much on his mind. Interestingly enough, debate of those topics is forbidden on E-sangha, as is use of the term “fundamentalist” to refer to any Buddhist (and especially to any Buddhist who forbids debate on certain topics). If memory serves me well, Namdrol had the label “Fundamentalist” pinned on him by several of the Buddha-L regulars. I may have used the term myself in a moment of carelessness.

    Strange how some people find a way to move on, while others remain mired indefinitely in their prapañca (a difficult term to translate exactly, but the general idea is an obsessive fixation on a point of view that leads one to speak negatively of all who diverge from that point of view).

    The mission statement of E-sangha Alert is clear enough. I apologize if I was careless in my reference to the site; I meant to respond to the words quoted on the site, not to the site itself. As time goes by, I shall probably look at a number of other articles on the blog site. It all depends on how strong my craving for getting depressed is.

    Richard Hayes

    Tuesday, March 3, 2009 at 23:20

  3. Thanks for your comments. No apologies necessary, I just wanted to be clear that E-sangha alert in no way endorses the E-sangha posts it records. Quite the opposite in fact.

    Taken as a whole, the posts on the alert site tell a story I think.

    Hope they don’t make you too depressed though. Probably best to move on as you say.


    Wednesday, March 4, 2009 at 06:32

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