My experience of the Ipswich Buddhist Center (then the FWBO) included some long spells of stable friendship, many meditation retreats, the chance to deepen my own practice and to explore the Buddhist way of life so there was a lot of positive as well as the negative (described later).
The FWBO had retreat centres all over the UK so I was able to do several intensive meditation retreats each year. So for a period of almost four years I meditated a LOT every day – as in like two or three 40 minute sessions daily, plus the six to eight hours a day of meditation on retreat along with almost daily puja (devotional practice).
These meditation retreats brought about numerous mystical experiences where I would be in a blissful state for days at a time. I also had many transcendental experiences with the Pure Awareness meditation – namely become aware of awareness being aware!
Despite the control issues that I found prevalent in the FWBO – my experiences of meditation retreats with them were always very powerful and life enhancing.
Then I went to live in the Buddhist male community run by the Ipswich Buddhist Centre. To call it a community was a bit of a stretch – a Buddhist house-share would be a better description as all of us were living separate and independent lives and there was not always much in the way of common practice.
The FWBO made a big deal about ‘processes’ back then and thus there was five months of ‘hoop-jumping’ involved just to be able to live in the community which turned out to be little more than several Buddhist guys sharing a house in a somewhat untidy manner. I recall having to clean out a very mouldy fridge on the first day of my arrival just to be able to put my freshly brought shopping away.
My time with the Ipswich Buddhist Centre was a mixed bag. In time, I came to see the FWBO as a cult-like and controlling movement as my following sharing will allude to.
In the beginning I found it a very helpful movement for developing a structured meditation practice and I did have some amazing retreat experiences and a lot of really good friends. I was popular with many within the movement save for some within the Order, which on some level were obviously challenged by my lifestyle.
At the same time I was on a fast track to development (non-returners operate at x5 or even x10 the usual karmic processing speed as they need to sort everything out in one lifetime) and wished to explore my sexuality and my spiritual path in tandem. Those processes were running so fast that many in the movement appeared not to be able to handle it.
The FWBO taught the idea that stream entry (the path to Nirvana) could be had in seven lifetimes with effort. Seven lifetimes seems a lot when a big dose of spiritual practice, self-awareness and a lifetime of karmic detoxification can do it in one – two at the outside – if you have positive karma from previous lifetimes behind you.
In any case, the Earth’s biosphere is dying and there are not seven more lives on Earth left!
Looking back I see that the themes of self-sacrifice, self-degradation, renunciation of greater wealth, sexual ethics issues and an unbalanced compassion were the main impediments to a faster track to enlightenment within the FWBO.
If you are going to wait for everyone else to become enlightened before you take it for yourself – not only does one forget the notion of free-will (some being choose to suffer through many lifetimes as part of their own learning) but one must also then necessarily become a ‘central karmic processing station’ for humanity which must process all kinds of denser karmic energies that have nothing to do with oneself.
One must therefore wait for all the wars to resolve, all the conflicts within every individual to dissolve and every single karmic seed within the entire collective to experience fruition and resolution – a rather tall order given that some souls may choose to incarnate 50 or even 100 times more before entering Nirvana!
If one is also going to give ones money away or become monetarily renunciate at the same time then one just creates poverty alongside vibratory degradation which serves no-one. In reality one has to focus solely on one’s own process AND have plenty of abundance as well.
So at the time I also took work in the Ipswich Evolution Gift Shop which was run by Windhorse Trading – one arm of the FWBO, set up in order to create profits to give away to good causes including supporting the running of the local Buddhist centres. The shops sold a range of things like candles, wind-chimes, picture frames, cushions and other similar items.
In retrospect it seemed unusual that the Buddhist centres could not sustain themselves financially – but the deeper cause was the matter of self-sacrifice and giving the Dharma (spiritual teaching) away for free or cheap to those who did not respect it.
People could come in for meditation class, put pittance in the dana (collections) bowl and then go back out into the world to carry on their usual activities.
Many a time I saw such individuals donate the smallest amount possible (or nothing!) and then head to the pub after class.
The Order (all those ordained in the FWBO) believed that helping others took precedence – even if their own position was weakened in the process.
Thus the FWBO needed a stream of volunteers and low paid workers to keep its businesses and centres operational. So Buddhists who worked in the shop received support salaries (another term for a low wage salary) which included some payments for retreats.
It seemed back then that mixing work and spiritual practice may not be such a bad idea
– although in due course I came to regret the choice to do it in this movement.
At the time I also wanted to be ordained as a Buddhist until several years later I saw that looking to any kind of external power for an affirmation of ordination is a recipe for disaster, simply because the control agendas of the movement cloud the truer awareness of Higher Reality. I have received a lot of criticism for being a ‘self-proclaimed’ Master – but if we cannot trust ourselves how can one look to the outside for any kind of validation with regard to where we are at in our spiritual process.
Of course, people can abuse that prerogative – thus the decision to call myself a Master almost ten years later was not taken lightly.
I saw a lot of hypocrisy in the movement. Those with high paying jobs who donated large sums to the centres and who confessed to not having a meditation practice were mysteriously fasttracked to Ordination. Those who questioned the Order were sometimes subjected to ridicule, emotional abuse and severe restrictions were placed on their freedom.
In my opinion and experience the FWBO was an abusive movement within which I experienced deriding treatment, chastisement, disrespect and severe emotional abuse. It was only after I had fully left the movement and detoxed from that toxic control energy several years later was I able to recognize that it was unhealthy abuse.
My only regret was that I did not see the signs sooner before investing a lot of my time into their centres and businesses. It is mentioned here in the benefit of public interest. I am also well past organizations threatening to sue me for not keeping quiet. In every instance this has happened in my life invariably I have been able to speak the truth later without reprisal – despite gag orders and the like.
Problems started for me when the Order began to attempt to interfere in my personal life including my relationship decisions. There were lots of silly rules about what one could and could not say in the centres. If it challenged some invisible ‘status-quo’ or some
unspoken rule one could not say it.
There were ways you were expected to behave – except there was no way of knowing what those expectations or rules actually were because in reality they only existed in the minds of the Order members who made them up as they went along to maintain their position of illusory superiority! (cult dynamic)
I say illusory for anyone that needs to control other beings in order to stay in a position of power does not have access to true spiritual power. I was once chastised by the entire Ipswich Order for saying something inappropriate at a party – although none of them to this day would ever admit to what it was. Things you did, shared or mentioned would be noted by the Order (in most instances mentally), only to be used against one later when one wanted a new work contract in the shop.
Thus the decision making process that was used in order to select people was based
on peoples personal preferences, tainted by their unresolved control issues as well as being highly illegal.
Each morning before we started work in the shop there would be a ‘tune in’ where we would share our processes and say what was going on for us. There was a core team and a team of part timers. What the part timers shared could be used later against them if they wanted to secure additional work. There were a seriousamount of silly rules in place – so many it was surprising the shop managed to operate for so long.
It finally closed in 2015.
Anyway, in those days I was still exploring my relationship life along with with my sexuality – like we all do at some point in this reality. It is part of being human. So I was still signed up for ‘internet dating’ and I would go and meet women in different towns – much to the disdain of the local Order.
Of course the Order had their own relationships and some of them running classes were also dating students on the side, something I would never advocate as a Spiritual Master.
Others in the Order had admitted to having gay sex with the founder of the movement Sangharakshita. Just Google the FWBO Files.
I will not name those who admitted to such things but suffice to say there were many who shared such things with me – enough to show me that those who were ordained in the beginning were ordained out of favoritism because they consented to casual gay sex with Sangharakshita.
Thus I saw the movement had no serious spiritual credibility as it was tainted by serious breaches of the sexual conduct precept. I am not gay myself and have no issue with homosexuality in itself – but sexuality and spirituality rarely mix well and can give rise to a host of serious ethics violations and abuses.
One of my own relationships became serious so I gave 11 weeks’ notice to leave the shop team. Those 11 weeks were hard work as my girlfriend at the time was sick and lived 200k away. I only had to give 4 weeks’ notice but I felt I owed the shop team a favour so I stayed longer. Such a decision later proved to be to my detriment.
When I left the shop to start with everything was fine and no complaints were ever made.
I ended up going back to Ipswich for a year or so – which in retrospect was not such a great plan in light of what unfolded later. At the same time the Order did specifically invite me back to Ipswich and the Ipswich Buddhist Centre and thus invited me into their movement to be a mirror for any lessons that I later embodied for them.
So in 2007 when I wanted to work in the Evolution shop again the main Order member involved in its running – Saddharaja – became really challenged despite the Order inviting me back to the area to work and live. He sanctioned an illegal interview process in which I had to agree to not do internet dating and I was asked about my sexual practices. The shop team and himself claimed that previously I did not do much work, did not fulfil my
responsibilities and (to quote them) needed to be put in a very small box.
If I did not comply the box would get smaller and smaller!
I needed the work at the time so I was in a bit of a tight situation but very quickly things started to go downhill with this kind of control in place. If I was friendly with a female customer there was a follow-up interrogation to see whether I was trying to chat her up and it was forbidden to have a girlfriend visit the store in working hours (although others had the same privilege and used it often!).
Thus working with the movement the second time around was like being in an emotional straightjacket. Relationships with females outside of the movement became very alluring as a result and I went on to have secret dates on my days off that the shop never found out about. There was also a big deal about those in the movement should be looking to meet their need for emotional intimacy within the Order.
The only trouble with that approach was that emotional intimacy and friendship was dangled in front of someone in a ‘carrot and stick’ manner – thus if one complied with the
expectations and demands of the Order one got friendship, if one did not – one got chastised, ridiculed or badly treated in some other way. Thus the notion of spiritual friendship within the FWBO was very conditional – at least in my experience.
Once I saw through that charade, finding emotional intimacy in friendship outside of the movement became far more appealing and thus the earlier resistance around going alone to Glastonbury started to dissolve. Hence there is a strong lesson here for readers – if one feels one needs something in the external around oneself (for example a community of friendship) – be aware that very same external entity/group/individual that one may end up giving your trust to may well become a major impediment to ones further progress.
On the path of emotional healing one can enter into a vulnerable phase where one is open to adverse forms of external manipulation or control. It will be very difficult to avoid that until one has enough self-awareness. One also invariably needs the lessons that external control and manipulation bring in order to become more emotionally balanced, healed, integrated and autonomous in one’s life.
Things like free-will of the individual, the freedom to pursue relationships and different career paths were in my opinion not respected in the FWBO and the Ipswich Buddhist Centre. There was a strong undercurrent consisting of the push to become ‘as FWBO as possible’ – by this I mean that it was expected and was also seen as desirable to become fully integrated into the FWBO and their philosophies. Anything ‘non-FWBO’ was perceived as a threat to the movement and thus there were a lot of strange notions floating around – one had to be politically correct in what one said, one had to seek
permission to do things in one’s life and once one was in the FWBO it was an unspoken thing that it would be a one way trip into lifelong subservience.
In the end I began to see the light and saw the movement for what it was – a thousand or so Buddhists that had followed a leader embroiled in sexual controversy and scandal. It seemed to me also that the movement was a magnet for emotionally wounded men (me alike at the time) and many of those individuals compensated for their emotional deficiencies by controlling or abusing others whilst hiding behind the structure of the FWBO, which in reality means nothing in the higher scheme of things – it is just a self-created label.
Toward the end of my time in the movement I began to feel rebellious and defiant toward these silly rules in the FWBO – silly in that they did not always apply to others, had no sound basis for existing, seemed to be invented on the spot and served to do nothing other than to impede the natural evolution of an individual.
Above all – some within the movement then went on to lie about making the rules up at all! The following lyrics from an Enigma song say it all:-
Don’t submit to stupid rules. Be yourself and not a fool
Don’t accept average habits.
Open your heart and push the limits
So at the end of 2007 I decided to resign from the Evolution shop. The team was falling apart, others did not want to work there either and a major recruitment struggle became manifest. Saddharaja obviously knew that he was on the wrong side of employment law, had violated my own rights as an individual and in the final days offered me a job in any Evolution shop nationwide.
So I considered a job offer to return to Ipswich volution after a break to think about it.
Two weeks later during the retreat I was visited by an angelic presence in the middle of the night, which I later named the Angel of Whitestar. For in the presence of this loving light my heart was able to open on a very deep level and the fear of death finally collapsed. In that collapse, there was an explosion of love and the expansion of consciousness which lasted for the rest of the retreat.
The Angel of Whitestar showed me a future for my life that included care work and ultimately humanitarian work. In that moment I knew it was over for me and the Evolution store. I also felt deeply in my being that I had to take them to Tribunal for relationship and sexual discrimination. In the same moment I knew that I was no longer interested in Ordination with the FWBO.
Within days of returning to the UK, I withdrew my ordination request and later filed tribunal proceedings against Windhorse Evolution. Here is where things started to get interesting because once I decided I wanted to leave the movement things changed considerably. Some within the Order began to insinuate that I had a lot wrong with my life. Others tried to ridicule my spiritual journey and the choice to move forward. One individual even tried to lecture me in the importance of making life-time commitments.
Of course, the spiritual path IS a lifetime commitment – but commitment to one movement is certainly not required. I have learned in my life that making onerous lifetime commitments is pointless because one can never see so far ahead. On the fast track to enlightenment and ascension things change so fast and so rapidly one can only surrender to the process rather than to force a lifetime commitment to something that cannot possibly serve one’s spiritual needs for so long. I also did not want to live in Ipswich for the rest of my life just to please a movement so I could get ordained and then remain in a stifling and constrictive movement for life.
So there is a balance between commitment and responsibility to strike in one’s life if one is to evolve further. In the end, one is one’s own guide.
The FWBO was big on talking about your processes with others and consulting the Order before making decisions but I always did my own thing – to their disdain. The rebalancing between the movement and I became extreme to the point where I ordered a specially made T-shirt which read something like “I am not past internet dating” and I wore it to the Buddhist centre on many occasions. Yet it was still harmonious enough on the surface for me to stay in the movement for many months whilst I prepared to leave.
Most of the time, I found the whole thing outrageously funny beyond comprehension. For the next few months I could not help but burst out laughing in almost every meditation. Other times I would just start laughing uncontrollably and it would sometimes last many hours.
Glastonbury was a big heart opener for me. I spent many months just there being myself and exploring all of those pent up emotions. There were many days of ecstatic merging with the Universe. I felt surrounded by invisible angels and totally permeated with love.
Work was challenging as I could not get satisfactory references from Evolution despite them having previously offered me a job anywhere country-wide.. For many months I worked part time in minimum wage jobs maxing out my credit cards just to stay afloat. I could not even get a job in a card shop. So I lost a lot of money and in retrospect this is what Tribunal cases are for – to compensate those who suffer through illegal and unjust employment practices.
The Tribunal process had started and it was not long before I received intimidatory legal letters suggesting that I drop the case, otherwise I may have to pay the legal costs incurred by Windhorse Evolution. Back then, I did not have much self-respect or confidence and thus it was not so difficult for them to bully me into dropping the case even though they would have undoubtedly lost. .
I also could not afford proper legal representation back then and the Evolution shop team had destroyed a lot of the evidence including vital emails and internal memos. In my opinion, it was done with intent in order to cover up the truth and most (but not all) of the Ipswich Buddhist Centre rallied to their defense in order to try and suppress the scandal.
So Windhorse lawyers suggested I sign a ‘gag-order’ which prevented me from ever talking about what happened. So readers may wonder why I am writing about it many years later, as many in the movement have been very upset and/or challenged about my version of events in recent times. In my opinion, the ‘gag-order’ was presented under conditions of duress (sign this or pay all of our costs – which I later found out very rarely happens anyway) and there was no opportunity for me to seek fair legal counsel.
I have also witnessed enough companies in my life pull the same kind of nonsense – ie doing something unethical or unjust to me and then threatening to sue me in return if I ever talked about it. In the end, suppressing or intimidating someone into silence rarely turns out well for the bullies – as sooner or later that same person will speak up adamantly when they recapitulate the lost energy from the situation.
On one level they would have had no idea that I would become a spiritual teacher myself, yet on another level the FBWO subconsciously needed a mirror in order to face the demons of the past (cult behaviour and sexual ethics scandals), things that were still present in the movement when I was there.
It was only at the beginning of 2015 that I felt the recapitulation had not been completed – amplified by the fact that this movement had never apologized for their conduct. I have had to do a lot of forgiveness – self-forgiveness for allowing this movement to abuse my basic rights as an individual. After a lot of reflection I felt mentioning the FWBO and The Ipswich Buddhist Centre was warranted.
It also serves as a statement that interfering with people’s basic rights to explore relationships and bullying people into silence is not OK regardless of what one legal structures one uses or hides behind to maintain that agenda.
Absorbing that kind of abuse is damaging and it can have effects many years later if one does not stand up to it. Fortunately there is a very deep and strong healing that can be had when one is able to forgive oneself for playing a part in that story of energetic degradation.
One is then free and invariably can speak up without ill effect – gag-orders or otherwise – providing one’s intentions are pure and one is speaking up for the greater good. There is always scope for forgiveness toward the abuser – but that is not actually required, contrary to popular belief. Forgiving oneself is all that is necessary. Forgiveness is removing oneself from the story. The outer abuse then either transforms or goes elsewhere to do its thing.
The other can be forgiven if they wish – but invariably they will need to acknowledge the behavior and apologize for it first.
It would certainly be a twisted Universe if ultimately I get sued and experience further suffering for exposing a cultish movement by telling the truth now. Somehow, I doubt the FWBO (now the Triratna Buddhist Community) would want that kind of adverse publicity. In my opinion, which is also the opinion of others – the Ipswich Buddhist Centre is not a true Buddhist movement but a pseudo-Buddhist movement that all other Buddhists tend to shy away from.
It can offer friendship and meditation classes, but for those serious about the
path the themes around self-sacrifice and control can prove a serious impediment to real freedom.
I can share that when one seeks to suppress or control the emotional evolution of an individual – there will always be a repercussion when that same individual finally finds that expansion.
If one picks on someone called ‘Free Spirit’ to do that too, there is obviously going to be some kind of consequence later. So on one level – I feel the Order really asked for it – yet I also appreciate that the gravity of the lesson was probably more than they had anticipated at the time.
I also experienced my own upset and sense of injustice at the time and worked to own my part in the story, yet the FWBO continued to ignore the lessons and my concerns – even years later when I sought a formal apology, and then went on to help a criminally fraudulent company put me in jail, which was unsuccessful, because he himself had a dishonest deposition and because Spiritual Masters are immune from the karma of dishonesty.
In the end, I believe that the FWBO and the Ipswich Buddhist Centre needed a strong mirror and thus the Universe conspired a set of scenarios to bring the movement and I together for a time, so that these lessons could be presented for resolution.
As of 2016. their apology is still outstanding.
Free Spirit – Spiritual Master
Extract from the Life Story of Free Spirit