“The not doing of anything evil.
Undertaking to do what is ethically skilful.
Complete purification of the mind.
This is the teaching of the Buddhas”Dhammapada v. 183
Sangharakshita was a unique figure in the Buddhist world. Inspired by all major aspects of Buddhism, he wrote and lectured prolifically both in the West and the East. In the light of modern scholarship and his own spiritual experience, he brought out and emphasised the core teachings that underlie and unify the Buddhist tradition as a whole.
A brief biography of Sangharakshita: 1925-2018
Sangharakshita was one of the founding fathers of Western Buddhism. He was born Dennis Lingwood in South London, in 1925, and had a Church of England upbringing. But from an early age he developed an interest in the cultures and philosophies of the East. Aged 16, after reading the Diamond Sutra, he had a distinct realisation that he was a Buddhist. He became involved in London’s germinal Buddhist world in wartime Britain, and started to explore the Dharma through study and practice.
Then conscription in the Second World War took him to Sri Lanka as a signals operator, and after the war he stayed on in India. For two years he lived as a wandering mendicant, and later he was ordained as a Theravadin Buddhist monk and named Sangharakshita (‘protected by the spiritual community’). Sangharakshita lived for 14 years in the Himalayan town of Kalimpong, where he encountered venerable Tibetan Buddhist teachers – so he had the opportunity to study intensively under leading teachers from all major Buddhist traditions.
All the while he taught and wrote extensively. He was the author of over 50 books. Most of these are expositions of the Buddhist tradition, but he also published a large amount of poetry and four volumes of memoirs, as well as works on aspects of western culture and the arts from a Buddhist perspective. After 20 years in India, Sangharakshita returned to the UK to teach the Dharma. In 1967 he set up the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order (now known as the Triratna Buddhist Community) – a new Buddhist movement for the modern West.
Sangharakshita saw himself as a translator between East and West, between the traditional world and the modern, between timeless principles and relevant practices. His clear thinking, depth of experience and ecumenical approach have been appreciated around the world. He always emphasised the decisive significance of commitment in the spiritual life, the value of spiritual friendship and community, the link between religion and the arts, and the need for a ‘new society’ that supports spiritual values.
Sangharakshita played a key part in the revival of Buddhism in India, particularly through his work with the followers of Dr. Ambedkar (formerly known as Untouchables). Around one third of the Triratna Buddhist Order is in India. Throughout his life Sangharakshita was concerned with issues of social reform.
When he was in his 80s, Sangharakshita handed over his responsibilities for the Triratna Buddhist Community and for the remainder of his life focussed on personal contact with friends and disciples. He also continued to write both poetry and prose, which you can read on his personal website. You can follow memorial spaces for Sangharakshita on Facebook and Twitter.
Criticism and Controversy
The story of how our community developed is one of sheer audacity – a Buddhist teacher starting from scratch, working with a group of young people who had only the vaguest ideas about the Dharma. It is the story of how a community evolves: a tale of idealism and naivety, growth and growing pains, hard work and burnout, friendship and fallout.
A huge amount was achieved in a very short time. Mistakes were made, especially in the early days, and lessons learned later. In this respect, our community has attracted its fair share of criticism, much of it valid and useful and, with hindsight, not surprising. The issues involved have been widely debated within the Order and beyond, with a range of responses. We do not consider ourselves above criticism.
The development of a new community is never without difficulties, and over the years reference has been made to accounts of sexual misconduct in the early days of Triratna (or FWBO as it was then known), on the part of Sangharakshita. In response Sangharakshita (who had always openly acknowledged that he was sexually involved with some of his adult male disciples thirty years ago or more) wrote a statement where he expressed deep regret for all the occasions on which he had caused ‘hurt, harm or upset’ to others. This was then followed by a statement from the The College of Public Preceptors, who’s primary responsibility is in the ordination of men and women within the Triratna Order, in turn welcoming his message and thereby acknowledging his admission of unskillfulness in some of his sexual activity.
To get an overview of historical controversies in context, it’s worth reading our free eBook The Triratna Story