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Buddhist group 'misleading' pupils

The Liberal Democrats are calling for an inquiry into an order that works with schools and local councils. Paul Rowinski reports.

A BUDDHIST order advising schools on religious education has come under attack for promoting what is claimed to be a flawed version of the belief.

Lord Avebury, a Liberal peer and leading Buddhist, has written to David Blunkett, the Education Secretary, severely criticising the order's presence on curriculum consultation groups.

Don Foster, Liberal Democrat education spokesman, is demand-ing a government investigation, after tabling a parliamentary question on the issue.

The Friends of the Western Buddhist Order, one of Britain's fastest-growing religious organisations, has already been mired in allegations that some converts were sexually abused. Now it stands accused of radically straying from Buddhist doctrine in the materials it sends to schools.

Lord Avebury, a practising Buddhist for more than 25 years, wrote to Mr Blunkett after orthodox Buddhists posted a critical dossier on the Internet. "It . raises important questions about the FWBO's credentials and its fitness to advise on the Buddhist content of the RE curriculum in schools," he told the education secretary.

The FWBO is accused of ignoring key Buddhist tenets and of inflating the spiritual importance of figures from its own leadership.

Mr Foster is now demanding an investigation into what he told The TES were "serious allegations".

He said: "This material (for RE courses) is alleged to be fundamentally incorrect and varies dramatically from traditional Buddhist doctrine. The idea that misleading Buddhist teaching could be being disseminated to our children through their religious education is very worrying."

Last year the FWBO ran into trouble over claims that its leadership had indoctrinated members into joining a homosexual cult in the late 1980s. One former member committed suicide. The FWBO has since admitted that a cult developed at its Croydon centre.

The FWBO says it works with schools and local education authorities, advising, producing teaching materials and training RE teachers. It claims to have backing from top religious educationists, and says its material follows Government guidelines.

The order has made a schools video, distributed by the Clear Vision Trust, an FWBO charity. The video has been criticised for not dealing with a central tenet of Buddhism, the Theravada tradition - this takes a strict view of Buddha's teachings, which is popular in many countries.

Lord Avebury, who founded the all-party parliamentary human rights group more than 20 years ago, said: "This is a fairly staggering omission."

The order denies not including a Theravada tradition in its materials. It responded to the Internet dossier by releasing a statement: "Despite its impression of being a careful work, it is in fact poorly researched, and its assertions should be treated with scepticism."

The FWBO accuses its critics of taking a "fundamentalist" Buddhist position, claiming the order is traditional, yet modern.

  • In a follow up to this story, the TES published the following. The Department for Education and Employment has rejected internet allegations against a Buddhist group, the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order. It said the material the order supplied to schools about Buddhism did not present a problem. The order had not abused its correct role in helping draw up Manchester's Religious Education syllabus, nor did the order's material "promote homosexuality", as critics had alleged.

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