Update on 13.9.2012
A new document has been placed in the archives section. This document is a letter that was sent directly to Geshe-la by one of the trustees of Maitreya Centre. No reply to that letter was ever received.
As for mediation, the NKT has still not indicated any willingness to engage in it.
Update on 13.8.2012
A clarification on ‘mediation’ might be beneficial for all readers of this blog. The Charity Commission itself has a guidance booklet that sets out its recommendations about how to deal with conflicts within charities, and the Commission’s definition of mediation given in that booklet is:
Mediation: Mediation is a private and confidential process by which the parties in a dispute agree to appoint an independent person who meets them and their advisers with a view to helping the parties reach a solution. As the solution is agreed to by those directly affected, rather than imposed externally, it is more likely to provide a long-term resolution.
Further on in the booklet is this paragraph:
a charity might consider a more formal approach to resolving a dispute by employing the services of a professional mediator. Mediation can be a quick and cost-effective way to resolve disputes.
If the parties involved in the dispute decide to take their disagreement to the charity tribunal or the court, the tribunal or the court will expect them to have tried mediation before hearing their case. Often the parties need our permission to take court action in relation to a dispute within the charity. In these cases, we will usually expect them to have tried mediation before we provide our consent to allow the matter to go to court. Even if the Commission agrees that the matter is best resolved by the court, it will not follow that the charity must in all cases meet the costs of the application. This may have to be paid by those bringing the case.
Interestingly, the Wikipedia article on mediation makes the following statement about the connection between mediation and Buddhism:
Some cultures regarded the mediator as a sacred figure, worthy of particular respect; and the role partly overlapped with that of traditional wise men or tribal chief. Members of peaceful communities frequently brought disputes before local leaders or wise men to resolve local conflicts. This peaceful method of resolving conflicts was particularly prevalent in communities of Confucians and Buddhists.
This connection between Buddhism and mediation is explored in great detail and very movingly by a professional mediator, Kenneth Cloke, in his article entitled Mediation and Meditation: The Deeper Middle Way. This very experienced mediator and Buddhist meditator talks about how mutually beneficial and supportive the practices of mediation and meditation are to each other, but interestingly he makes the point that:
Buddhists have not always been the best role models in conflict, and Buddhism has, in my experience, fallen short in developing the social practice of what I call “inter-mindfulness,” or what meditation teacher Shinzen Young calls “the monastery of relationships,” which is an essential part of many conflict resolution practices.
Nevertheless, he concludes his analysis of Buddhism and mediation by saying that:
What is fascinating to me as a practitioner of both over the course of many years are the ways they call out to each other, invite each other in, and increasingly require the skillful practice of the other. Trying to meditate without addressing underlying conflicts makes our practice superficial, frustrating, and incomplete. Trying to mediate without cultivating awareness traps us at the surface of our conflicts and ignores what is taking place in their depths. When we combine these practices, we are led to the deeper middle way, and to profound insights, both for ourselves and others.
This beautifuly encapsulates the conviction of the original management team of Maitreya Buddhist Centre that both sides to the ongoing dispute about the centre should see the proposal of mediation that the Charity Commission recommends as a precious opportunity to put into practice the Buddhist principles we have all learnt over the years. The offer of formal mediation with a professional mediation service is still on the table, despite the attempts of one party to the dispute to avoid any conflict resolution procedure by making repeated allegations of criminal activity to the local police, who only want the parties to the dispute to sort it out amongst themselves, as true Buddhists should anyway.
Update on 20.7.2012
The remaining trustees of Maitreya Centre, following guidance issued by the Charity Commission, have recently offered, in writing, to enter formal mediation with NKT representatives, guided by a professional, officially registered mediator, as a way of ending the dispute with NKT head office. The NKT have now rejected this offer without any offer of further discussion on mediation as a way forward. This rejection, if it remains the NKT’s position, is directly contrary to the Charity Commission’s written advice to the NKT that it should engage in mediation to resolve this dispute. This clearly shows that NKT head office is not interested in any reasonable, amicable settlement of the dispute and that the NKT prefers to ignore the explicit advice of the Charity Commission itself. The offer of mediation remains open, nevertheless, so even at this late hour a resolution could be achieved. But the management of Maitreya Centre can do no more beyond keeping this offer open.
Update on 27.6.2012
Fresh advice from the Charity Commission has now been received. The Commission has refused to consider officially recognising the three new charity trustees imposed upon the centre by the NKT unless both parties to the dispute over the centre have demonstrated that they have participated in mediation, which has to be offered by the Education Council of the NKT, in an attempt to resolve the dispute. It is hoped that, if the mediation process is set up to be fair and impartial to all involved, and publicly seen to be so, then a speedy resolution of the dispute should be possible. Legal advice is being taken to try and ensure that such fairness and impartiality can be established.
Update on 22.6.2012
Advice from the Charity Commission is still being awaited.
In the meantime, given that certain emails and/or letters are being selectively made public by the NKT/IKBU to justify its actions and approach to Maitreya Centre, a new ‘archives’ page has been set up on this blog to contain those documents that can now be released to provide more context and details about what happened at Maitreya Centre. It is hoped that this will help followers of this blog to make up their own minds about what happened and why, and to put what the NKT-IKBU say about the matter into sharper perspective. More documents will be added as and when it is safe and/or appropriate to do so.
Update on 24.5.2012
The local police have completed their initial enquiries into the situation at Maitreya Buddhist Centre. At the invitation of the Charity Commission, a fresh submission has now been made to it, and further advice from the Commission will be given in due course, although it is worth noting that the Commission has repeatedly advised that the situation should be resolved through negotiation/mediation if at all possible rather than through the courts, or through threats of litigation, a fact that those claiming to act for the NKT should take note of, as they have so far failed to follow this course, a fact not lost on the Commission itself. It is because of the Commission’s insistence on negotiation/mediation that the legally valid management team of Maitreya Centre will not initiate legal proceedings itself at this time. All that John McBretney (the alleged legal representative of the members of Maitreya Centre) needs to do to attain a quick and peaceful end to the dispute is to talk amicably with the Centre’s solicitor, who has previously advised John McBretney about the legal inappropriateness of his approach in dealing with the whole matter. The web domain meditateinbexhill.co.uk has been taken over by Chodor, so although it is still online, it is effectively immobilised and useless, for he has apparently changed the passwords thereby denying the website designer any access to the domain; therefore, please ignore that web domain as it is not relevant at all now.
Update on 11.5.2012
A police investigation into the criminal trespass and occupation of Maitreya Buddhist Centre’s premises has now begun. The Centre has also initiated legal proceedings. Kelsang Gomchen would be well advised to immediately provide the centre’s legally registered administrator with free and unrestricted access to the centre’s premises and administrative records, and to vacate the centre’s premises as soon as possible.
Update on 9.5.2012
A fresh submission has now been made to the Charity Commission, detailing the latest illegalities affecting Maitreya Buddhist Centre. The latest discussions with the centre’s landlord have been very constructive, and the landlord continues to give his full backing to whatever legal actions the Centre’s legally valid management team wishes to pursue to overcome the latest illegalities. People who have tried to get into the centre today who have no part in the dispute and who simply wished to do some meditation or just to visit the centre were turned away today by the monk squatting in the flat. The lock-out of all members not ‘authorised’ by this squatting monk appears to be complete.
Update on 8.5.2012
There is now evidence of squatting within the centre’s residential accommodation, a squatting apparently organised and implemented by the illegal and self-appointed new ‘management team’. The monk squatting within the flat is also engaged in intimidatory behaviour towards two of the centre’s residents. This totally outrageous and illegal activity will be met with legal action within the next few days if this squatting monk does not leave forthwith. Such legal action will be with the total backing of the centre’s landlord.
Update on 6.5.2012
It appears that Maitreya Buddhist Centre has now been ‘taken over’ and a new management team is attempting to take charge of the premises. This is as flagrant a violation of charity and company law as it is possible to achieve, and the persons involved in this takeover are now extremely vulnerable to action being taken against them by the legal authorities. Certainly this drastic action violates all norms of ethical behaviour and is against all principles of settling disputes peacefully, as well as being completely contrary to the teachings of the Buddha’s dharma. This attempt to forcibly remove the legally registered Administrative Director of the centre and the legally valid Board of Trustees represents the desperation of an NKT-backed team that is acting out of blind obedience to orders, a team that has never once made a credible legal case that is backed by a legal opinion or legal authority of any sort.
Update on 4.5.2012
The fraudulent website that purported to be the official website of Maitreya Buddhist Centre has now been taken offline, no doubt due to the reporting of that fraud to the relevant authorities. Evidence has now been obtained which indicates exactly who committed that fraud, and that member of Maitreya Centre should be under no illusion that an investigation into that fraud is still ongoing. There are also indications that this same member, together with others who have the backing of NKT head office, are considering taking drastic actions with regards to Maitreya Centre, actions which would be contrary to an amicable resolution of the dispute. If these actions are indeed taken, and if they are once again a flouting of the law, then the management of Maitreya Centre will not hesitate to take further action if necessary, including involving the police.
Update on 26.4.2012: Fradulent website
A website purporting to be the official site of Maitreya Buddhist Centre, using the charity’s registration number and using its registered address, is currently active. However, this website is entirely without the sanction of the current legally valid trustees and management team of Maitreya Buddhist Centre, and is in direct conflict with the website that has always been the real official site of Maitreya Buddhist Centre, a site registered with the Charity Commission. This fraudulent website has therefore been reported to the relevant authorities, including the police and the Charity Commission.
Charity Commission reply of 19.4.2012 to Maitreya Buddhist Centre
The Charity Commission has now replied to the submission made to it by the charity trustees of Maitreya Buddhist Centre many weeks ago. The key element of that reply was that the attempts by NKT head office back at the beginning of March to remove the existing trustees of the centre and to replace them with trustees of the NKT’s own choosing was invalid and a breach of the centre’s own constitution; the Commission has informed John McBretney (NKT head office’s representative in this matter) of this fact. Therefore, the repeated threats of litigation made against the existing trustees of Maitreya Buddhist Centre over the last few weeks were entirely without any legal foundation in both charity and company law; this is also backed up by the legal advice obtained by the trustees over the last few weeks. The management of the centre will fully comply with the guidance issued by the Commission in its reply and, given that John McBretney (who falsely claimed to be the legally valid representative of the members of Maitreya Buddhist Centre) has also stated in writing to the trustees’ solicitor his commitment to accepting in full the guidance of the Commission, it is now the hope of the management of Maitreya Buddhist Centre that all threats of litigation will now be withdrawn and that NKT head office will proceed instead to hold informal discussions in good faith with the management, or at least offer mediation, with a view towards an amicable resolution of the dispute. Meanwhile, all existing classes of the centre, such as are left, will continue as normal.
Current state of play at Maitreya Buddhist Centre as of 8.3.2012
There is now the possibility of a peaceful settlement to the dispute between the charity trustees of Maitreya Buddhist Centre and the NKT, as both sides to the dispute have now referred the issues involved to the Charity Commission and both sides have expressed their willingness to abide by whatever guidance the Commission eventually offers. Meanwhile, all meditation classes at Maitreya Buddhist Centre will resume as normal from this Sunday onwards, after the centre’s half-term break ends. Furthermore, the centre will maintain normal opening hours, assuming there are enough volunteers available to staff the premises within those hours of opening.
Message from the Education Programme Co-ordinator of Maitreya Buddhist Centre
4th March 2012
To: NKT head office:
To whom it may concern,
It is with much regret that I now find myself leaving the NKT family, after 6 years of solid hard work as the EPC of Maitreya Centre, helping to grow a flourishing Dharma community here in Bexhill, working with two different Resident Teachers who both had their idiosyncrasies, which I worked with by putting into practice the teachings on patience I have received.
I now find that the course of action that the NKT and the new RT of Maitreya Centre are working on is the exact opposite to all the teachings I have received and the vows I have taken. I am sure that you feel that the things that have been said and are implementing are for the greater good, but to ignore good solid advice and to lie to me is, I find, very childish and political. I would not expect any adult, let alone a child, to treat not only me, but all the members and visitors to Maitreya Centre, in such a way as to remove all semblance of caring for the community; it is abhorrent.
If we are to become better people then we should not be treading all over the feelings of people who for whatever reason come and visit our Dharma Centre. We should be actively encouraging them to come and enjoy what the Centre had to offer, but most of what was on offer has been removed, for whatever reason.
Again I reiterate that, for the past few months, I have had the distinct feeling that I have been lied to and ignored and that it seems the Corporate Lie must be held on to no matter what the cost.
Message from one of the charity trustees of Maitreya Buddhist Centre
Dear members and supporters of Maitreya Centre,
I would like to present to you the reasons for the charity trustees of Maitreya Centre refusing to comply any further with the instructions of the NKT (New Kadampa Tradition) head office. This is our side of the story and undoubtedly different to the one presented by Kelsang Chodor, the Resident Teacher, who did not give us the courtesy of allowing us to present our case at the same time as he presented his case to the members.
When Kelsang Chodor first arrived at Maitreya Centre, he promised to work with everybody at the centre and to give everyone the chance to get involved if they wished to help move the centre forward. However, right from the beginning he did not wish to discuss any matters concerning the centre with the trustees collectively, and frequently ignored the considered advice of the Admin Director (AD) and Education Programme Co-ordinator), who became very frustrated that much of their hard work was being undone and undermined. He called a meeting of all the members in January without consultation with the trustees. January being the traditional month of retreat in NKT centres, just holding this meeting at that time was deeply disruptive of the retreat; indeed, some people coming to the meeting were expecting to be able to have a retreat meditation but were stuck in the meeting instead. Chodor then announced his wish that the centre move to residential accommodation in Hastings. The fact that many members at that meeting expressed their concerns about aspects of this proposal and that there was not sufficient momentum generated for such a move, together with the concern of many that Sonam should still have a place within the centre if it moved to Hastings, probably goes a long way to explain what happened next, because very soon afterwards Kelsang Sonam was banned by NKT head office from all teaching activities. No explanation for this decision was given by the NKT despite repeated requests by the trustees. Finally, after several weeks, a brief statement was issued by NKT head office stating that Sonam was ‘impure’, without giving any evidence whatsoever for that claim and failing to give Sonam or anyone an opportunity to challenge that claim. I have known Sonam for 20 years now and I can honestly say that the claim of ‘impurity’ is just ridiculous. He has taught Kadam Dharma faithfully for many years to many hundreds of people and led many of them into the path of the NKT and has shown great compassion and loving-kindness in his practice of moral discipline and in his behaviour towards others. He has shown great patience whenever he has been the victim of malicious gossip by others in the centre, and has always served Lam-ma faithfully when she was Resident Teacher, helping her massively to cope with the burden of her duties. His humility and good heart is obvious to all who take the trouble to meet him and get to know him. The loss of access to his teachings has been devastating for the people in Hastings who attended his classes and derived great benefit from them, and the arbitrary, sudden, and unjustified nature of that loss has significantly damaged the reputation and credibility of the NKT in that area. But, perhaps more importantly, from the centre’s point of view, he ran two branches in the Hastings area, one of which was very successful indeed and brought a lot of much-needed income into the centre, and his series of Saturday Meditation Workshops were always very well attended and also brought much needed income into the centre. All this was lost when Sonam was ordered to stop teaching, placing a massive strain upon the centre’s cash-flow at a time when economic conditions worsening in the general economy were beginning to affect the centre too. Chodor made no serious attempt to retain those branches and workshops and never discussed with the trustees how they could be retained.
Then Chodor asked me to stop teaching the Friday afternoon class, again with no explanation and no justification provided other than that the Internal Rules give him the power to do so. Again he did not offer to discuss this decision with me although I asked him to do so, as I had genuine concerns about how the decision would affect those attending the class, especially as Chodor was not offering to find another teacher or to keep the class going; bear in mind that one of the ladies attending that class is a 95 year old lady for whom that class is the only one she can attend given her frailty and for whom it is precious to her at her time of life (she has also been a devoted member of the centre ever since it started). I ask you: would you have had the heart to deny her that class? Furthermore, the class was also generating significant income for the centre, income that would be lost and making the financial strain on the centre even worse. For these reasons I therefore decided to refuse Chodor’s request to stand down as a teacher. My moral conscience and bodhisattva vow did not allow me to abandon both the people attending that class and to weaken the centre still further by denying it a source of income. This has of course allowed Chodor to claim that I have broken the Internal Rules, but if that is true, then so be it. Here I stand, I can do no other.
Then we come to the next significant action of Chodor which was to ask for one of the monks of Bodhisattva Centre to move into the centre’s flat. That would have meant asking one of the existing residents to leave to make way for that monk, even though there were no grounds for ending his tenancy, and also giving priority to that monk above those people already on the waiting list of applicants (all dharma practitioners) who wanted to move in whenever a vacancy occurred. No doubt this refusal of Chodor’s request by myself and my colleagues has undoubtedly contributed to his, and NKT head office’s, present determination to remove us completely from any role within the centre, even though, according to our constitution, the administration of the flat is purely an administrative matter for the AD and trustees to manage, and is not the final responsibility of the Resident Teacher. Again, the trustees invited Chodor to attend a trustees meeting in order to discuss why he made this request and how we might be able to help him, but again he refused. He has always refused to discuss anything with the trustees.
Now, under charity law the registered charity trustees of this centre have a legal responsibility to ensure that the administrative and financial affairs of the centre are maintained in good order. We now feel that we are legally obliged to step in and prevent Chodor from continuing further to undermine the centre financially and, more importantly, undermining people’s access to the dharma by arbitrarily shutting down classes and courses without due cause or explanation/justification, and without adequate consultation with anyone or respect for the advice of the AD and EPC.
It should be borne in mind that under section 12 of the very Internal Rules that Chodor and NKT head office like to quote so much, the centre is obliged to emphasise its development by, amongst other things, “increasing the number of students, through caring for people with kindness and by making good publicity” and “ maintaining the centre as a pure, peaceful and harmonious society” and “increasing the number of branches of the Centre”. I charge that Chodor, backed by NKT head office, has been guilty of breaking the Internal Rules himself because his actions have helped to decrease the number of students, has treated many of them with great unkindness, minimised good publicity (Chodor refused to authorise a new Centre brochure for 2012 despite one that had been painstakingly prepared in good time by the EPC), decreased the number of branches and classes, and has turned what was a peaceful and harmonious centre for 6 years under the loving guidance of Lam-ma into one now riven by discord and irreversibly split. If Chodor is a completely pure and reliable teacher as the NKT says he is, what does such chaos say about his style of management and motivation in the short time he has been here?
Therefore, I am totally unapologetic about the actions that I and my colleagues have taken at this time, and I am willing to discuss them in detail and answer any questions that members have and I totally concur with Bob Bailey in his letter when he says the trustees will abide by whatever the members want when ALL of them have had a chance to express their agreement/disagreement with the trustees decisions. People who know me know what I have done for the centre over the years and my devoted service to the NKT for 20 years; I would never have taken a decision to stand up to the NKT lightly. I and my colleagues are having to take this extreme stance because there is nowhere to go within the NKT for our legitimate concerns to be addressed or even listened to. I am perfectly happy to stand down if a majority of local members want me and the other trustees to stand down, but I am equally happy to carry on as trustee if the majority of members wish me to.
The latest attempt by Chodor to allow only his side of the argument to be presented before the trustees can do so is just typical of the divisive manoeuvrings he has been engaging in throughout. Bear in mind that none of the trustees or centre officers were invited to the meeting he called yesterday with the members to discuss the private letter the NKT sent to the centre trustees, a private letter that he deliberately leaked to as many members as possible BEFORE the trustees had had a chance to compose a reply to NKT head office. Also bear in mind that I and my colleagues are just volunteers, not paid employees of a corporation. We cannot be compelled to obey orders coming from a head office over 300 miles away if we feel that they are unjustified. We have given up much of our time and energy to help the centre flourish for 6 years. If we go, other members will have to be volunteers and generate a high level of commitment and hard work to keep the centre going; total obedience to orders, regardless of circumstances, is not, and should never be, the requirement or expectation of volunteers in this or any other organisation.
Thank you for reading this and best wishes for your health and happiness,
Chairman of the Board of Trustees,
Maitreya Buddhist Centre.
1st March 2012