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Attorney General Suella Braverman and her religious sect are still trapped in the sexual abuse scandal

Suella Braverman is one of the bright new stars in the conservative firmament.

This talented woman with a humble background has seen an unprecedented rise since her election as a Member of Parliament in 2015. As Attorney General, she is the supreme government attorney to provide legal advice to ministers and oversee the prosecution service.

Ms Braverman, who was raised in North London by parents of Indian descent who immigrated to Britain from Kenya and Mauritius, has caused quite a stir by claiming that judges are violating parliamentary sovereignty, with decisions such as the Supreme Court’s last year, which declared Boris Johnson’s prorogation to Parliament illegal.

And maybe it will rise even higher. For this week in the Commons, the Prime Minister acknowledged that there were too few women in his cabinet and is ready to remedy the situation.

Ms Braverman – capable, to the right of the Tory spectrum and a Brexit champion – is said to be an obvious candidate for promotion. But there is a fly in her ointment.

The Attorney General’s position is pre-eminently about judgment – the ability to weigh evidence soberly and mercilessly. So it is worrying to discover that, according to critics, she exhibits a disturbing lack of common sense in one aspect of her life.

Attorney General Suella Braverman, depicted on February 13, 2020

Attorney General Suella Braverman, depicted on February 13, 2020

The problem revolves around her membership in a Buddhist sect called Triratna. For years, she attended meetings and retreats organized by the group, and at one point considered “ordination”: joining her inner core.

No problem, you might think. A fresh take on public life is always healthy, and Mrs. Braverman, 40, a Cambridge and Sorbonne-educated QC, is the first Buddhist Attorney General, an office founded in 1243. A good example of modern, inclusive Britain.

Except that Triratna has been the subject of very serious allegations of historical sexual abuse. Indeed, an internal survey of congregation members just two years ago confirmed that this continues to cause unrest among members. And the pain felt has still not been resolved, despite the appointment of a security guard and apparent attempts to address it.

This sect is the creation of Dennis Lingwood, an English-born guru known by his thousands of followers around the world as Sangharakshita. It is immensely wealthy, owns properties in the UK worth tens of millions of pounds, and has proved to be a magnet for young, educated people seeking enlightenment.

But there is a dark side: Triratna has admitted that it has a long history of systematic sexual abuse of members.

For decades, this group had tolerated a history of sexual exploitation, especially vulnerable young men used as toys by Lingwood and other senior members. The result is long-term mental trauma and a ruined life. And it is thought to have contributed to a young man’s suicide.

The horrors of Lingwood’s perverse reign have steadily seeped out over the years. Still, this poisonous abuser, who marketed himself as a provider of Buddhist enlightenment to the West, is still revered by followers.

When he died in 2018 at the age of 93, more than 1,000 members gathered for his funeral at the headquarters of Triratna, a Herefordshire manor formerly known as Coddington Court.

The headquarters of Triratna, a Herefordshire country house formerly known as Coddington Court

The headquarters of Triratna, a Herefordshire country house formerly known as Coddington Court

The headquarters of Triratna, a Herefordshire country house formerly known as Coddington Court

Casual bystanders could have imagined witnessing the death of a saint, so elaborate and solemn was the ceremony.

In fact, this display of religious reverence was, according to critics, a gigantic exercise in denial. And by continuing to attend Triratna events – at the innocently named East End London Buddhist Center and other locations in the capital – Ms. Braverman is willing to look the other way when it comes to the stories of those who have suffered.

“Sangharakshita’s behavior was similar to a narcissist or a psychopath,” said victim Mark Dunlop. “He didn’t see people as people, but things. If he didn’t get what he wanted, he wouldn’t care about the person anymore. “What Lingwood wanted from Mr. Dunlop was sex.

After Lingwood left the British army in India shortly after the end of World War II, Lingwood, the son of a French polisher from Tooting, South London, went in search of enlightenment, communicated with teachers and adopted Buddhist philosophy about.

He returned to Britain in the 1960s and founded a sect, using the hippie culture of “free love” of the time. His philosophy was mistreatment, mostly Buddhist, but steeped in ideas borrowed from psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud and philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.

Central to this was the belief that men were more open to spiritual enlightenment than women. Mothers, Lingwood argued, stopped their sons and turned them into neurotics. Lingwood, a homosexual, defended “Greek love” – ​​that of an older man for a boy.

Better, he learned, that male and female members of his sect, originally called Friends of the Western Buddhist Order (FWBO), lived largely apart.

So it became a largely separate organization, with men and women living separately and working for low wages in various branches of the charities – such as Eastern trinkets and full-fledged shops – set up to finance its operations.

This suited Lingwood, who now had unlimited access to young men, some of them teenagers and many (if not most) of them were heterosexual. Some were vulnerable and had a difficult childhood. Upon their arrival at retreats, Lingwood convinced his victims to practice gay sex to free themselves from unhealthy inhibitions. New recruits going to retreats would find that they had been chosen to sleep in Lingwood’s room – where they found him in bed. Triratna admits that Lingwood slept with at least 25 men over a 20-year period, but the actual figure is unknown.

Mr. Dunlop, of Rochester, Kent, was 22 years old when he joined the FWBO in 1972. He was noticed by Lingwood shortly after teaching meditation at a center in North London and undergoing intensive care.

“I told him I hated having sex with him, but he told me to keep going,” said Mr. Dunlop.

“Sangharakshita made people think he was on their side. But there was also bullying. If you objected to what happened, senior members accused you of being superficial and mentally insincere. I was naive rather than very vulnerable. I thought a Buddhist monk wouldn’t do things like that and his followers wouldn’t let him get away with it. But they did. ‘

Mr Dunlop, who is heterosexual, has paid a high price. He was removed from the order in 1989 after objecting to his treatment and was unable to settle in a relationship or job. Now 70, he still suffers from post-traumatic stress. “It ruined my life,” says Mr. Dunlop.

What would he say to Mrs. Braverman? “I’d like to ask her why she’s a member,” he says. “I’d like to know what she thinks about it – the controversy.”

For her part, Mrs. Braverman declined to answer the questions put to her by post.

What we do know, however, is that in 2018, a group of Triratna members concerned about history asked followers about sexual abuse.

Of the 423 anonymous respondents, 55 said they, or someone they knew, had experienced sexual misconduct from Lingwood or other members of the order, not only in the past but also recently. Victims were not only men, but also vulnerable women.

“I know several cases and the details are terrible,” wrote one of the respondents. “I have been sexually assaulted by older members of the order,” wrote another member over 15 years old.

The Buddhist temple at Hampstead shows the venerable Sthavira Sangharakshita in 1966

The Buddhist temple at Hampstead shows the venerable Sthavira Sangharakshita in 1966

The Buddhist temple at Hampstead shows the venerable Sthavira Sangharakshita in 1966

The report found that the cult handling of sexual abuse allegations was another concern for members in 2018

Summarizing responses from the 423 people involved with Triratna, it concludes, “The majority feel that more needs to be done to respond adequately to allegations and to prevent future misconduct.”

So how does Mrs. Braverman – a tough-talking, pro-Brexit politician on the right side of the Tory party – fit Triratna, a substantial left-leaning group? Simply put, she is a mitra, a “friend” of the order. To qualify as a mitra, applicants must teach for years, based largely on Lingwood’s beliefs, which still dominate the sect.

Sources in the group say that the Attorney General even considered being “ordered” as a full member, meaning that a significant portion of a person’s life is devoted to his work.

She seems to have dropped the idea as her political career blossomed, culminating in her election to MP for Fareham’s safe Tory seat in Hampshire in 2015.

But her political success seems to have been a celebration for Triratna. After being appointed attorney general, the order’s one-time communications officer, Vishvapani Blomfield, posted on his Facebook page, “This is the first time there has been a Buddhist incumbent. It is even the first time that there has been a Buddhist minister. ‘

He then deleted the item and later explained, “I deleted the message because I reflected hers [Mrs Braverman’s] appointment creates many problems and I did not want to discuss them fully or leave the impression that I supported her. He continued, “I met Suella once and found her very pleasant, but I don’t endorse her politics and can’t comment on her Buddhism. ‘

Meanwhile, Triratna continues to thrive, with offices in more than 30 countries. In addition to income from meditation and other courses, it benefits from legacies of members.

Since Lingwood’s death, the cult claims to have faced its past, established internal security guards at its sites, and promised full cooperation with the police should anyone file a criminal complaint.

After a lifetime of struggling with the psychological consequences of his Triratna membership, Glenn Stevens wanted to do just that.

Born in 1969 in South London, Mr. Stevens had a very difficult childhood, with a mother with a mental illness and an alcoholic father. At the age of 16, he sought help at the Croydon Buddhist Center and was immediately attacked by a member of the higher order who, he says, sexually assaulted him. “He hooked me up. I was vulnerable, ready for it, easy to pick, ”says Mr. Stevens. He was considered to be a great spirit who had remained on this earth to help others rather than withdraw into the cosmos.

“I have no problem with different types of sexuality, but I was heterosexual and was paralyzed when this man [Lingwood] slept with me. First he showered me with love. But he can also be a bully. ‘

After stopping the order, Mr. Stevens declined in drug and alcohol abuse, leading an aimless and unhappy life. “I couldn’t handle it,” he says. “I didn’t know how deep it went.”

Mr Stevens is now drug and alcohol free and leads a happier life with his wife in Portugal. But he’s still traumatized and wants Triratna to pay for psychotherapy – something he says the warrant declined. He filed a complaint with the police, but was told his accusations are time-barred. This, he says, allows the ‘cover-up’ to continue.

More victims fell in the Croydon center.

One was Matthew, a talented Oxford graduate who joined FWBO in 1984 and stayed for three years. Matthew was so traumatized by his experience that he needed psychotherapy and eventually committed suicide.

Dennis Lingwood, the British-born guru known by his thousands of followers around the world as Sangharakshita

Dennis Lingwood, the British-born guru known by his thousands of followers around the world as Sangharakshita

Dennis Lingwood, the British-born guru known by his thousands of followers around the world as Sangharakshita

Nina Davies is a former Triratna member who set up a Facebook site for members of the order affected by their involvement in the cult.

“There was a major denial,” she says. “There was a big separation between men and women. And thought control on a huge scale. ”

And what about Mrs. Braverman?

“I heard about her a few years ago. She is a Tory and it was remarkable that she was there as most of the people were left. She asked for the ordination. She had been on retreats. I am concerned about her judgment, given her position. ‘

Here we have to note that Lingwood once apologized some kind of grudge – of sorts. He emphasized that his victims seemed willing at the time, but he regretted all the pain caused.

A former member of the order tells the Mail: “Triratna deflects and denies, and they are still doing it. The consequences of admitting everything would be enormous. When Sangharakshita is convicted of his abuse, the whole thing falls apart. He is central even in death. ‘

Michelle Haslam, a clinical psychologist, was involved with Triratna between 2015 and 2019. She explains, “A newcomer is considered to be ignorant and spiritually” dormant, “giving the member a dominant position in the long run.

“I was told by order members that only the Croydon center was affected by” problems “a long time ago and that Triratna is now heavily protected.

“I noticed that sexual progress was being made by male members of the order in the training of young women taking meditation classes, and I have experienced this myself. At the same time, it was also found that the male members of the order believed that heterosexual relationships were neurotic and hindered the spiritual path.

Munisha, formerly known as Catherine Hopper, is Triratna’s new internal security officer. Asked about Ms Braverman’s membership in an organization with such a dark history, she replies, “Many politicians are members of the Catholic Church and the Anglican Church, who have also had massive scandals.”

But what about the terrible deeds of her spiritual mentor? In some cases were they not criminal?

“Certainly, we would say they were unethical.”

Then why is Sangharakshita still worshiped?

“I’m sorry, I won’t go into that,” Munisha says.

When asked whether sexual abuse was a persistent theme for the group, she admits: ‘Unfortunately, that’s it’.

But why?

“I’m going to hang up now because I don’t have more time.”

When asked about Lingwood’s behavior earlier, a spokesman said, “Sangharakshita has never been charged, charged or convicted of any crime.”

Meanwhile, in the London Buddhist Center, where Suella Braverman practices her faith, there is a shop and library where you can pick up a free postcard, with Lingwood as a memento.

He may be dead. But he still lives in the minds of those who deceive themselves about this once dangerous predator.

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