Press Column

"I was a tantric sex slave" ó itís the chance to write headlines like that which make the life of a broadsheet journalist tolerable. Those of us who spent months writing about Tibetan Buddhism without getting near a headline so juicy can only cheer on Paul Vallely, whose Independent piece was actually the product of scholarly research, and a willingness to travel to exotic places like Dorset and talk to Buddhists until they said something interesting. The book on which his story was based, Traveller in Space, came out three years ago, to little notice. She should have used his title, and in a sense she did, since "Traveller in space" is apparently a translation of dakini, the Tibetan word for a high lamaís concubine.

The fashion for Buddhism as a form of spirituality which is somehow above the nastiness of "organised religion" depends on ignorance of the ways in which Buddhists actually organise themselves, when it turns out that their monasteries are eerily like Christian cathedrals, being full of great art and shrivelled human beings.

So far as I know, no Tibetan virtuoso of the windchimes has demanded the title of Organist Emeritus when he retires. This, according the Sunday Times, is one of the demands made by Martin Neary, along with a full pension, from his former employers at the Abbey. I quite understand if they donít want to pay his pension, but the title seems a perfect opportunity for the chapter to repeat one of Rupert Murdochís better jokes, when he sacked an editor and explained that his new title would be Editor Emeritus: "Thatís latin. E means youíre an ex-editor; and meritus means you deserved it."

Vallelyís piece shows clearly that the habit of worshipping exploitative leaders has no natural affinity to evangelical Christianity but can be found in completely atheistic religions. He quotes Beru Kyhentze Rinpoche. "If your guru acts in a seemingly unenlightened manner and you feel it would be hypocritical to think him a Buddha, you should remember that your own opinions are unreliable and the apparent faults you see may only bee a reflection of your own deluded state of mind .. If your guru acted in a completely perfect manner he would be inaccessible and you would therefore be unable to relate to him. It is out of the Guruís great compassion that he may show you apparent flaws." It must take many many cycles on the wheel of life and death to come up with a line like that and several more to be able to deliver it with a straight face.

Unusually for the Independent, the piece was illustrated only in black and white, with a statue of two deities enjoying tantric sex. Without giving away any religious secrets, it appears that to help a woman to reach a state of multiple illumination you need at least eight arms.

What a relief, then, to turn to Ann Widdecombe who has never shown any Buddhist tendencies at all, and who, if in some past life she was a Buddhist monk, would have been one of those employed to break heads with their great carved pen cases in pitched battles between adjoining monasteries. Her spat with George Carey, reported in the Independent on Sunday, is wonderful: after she had reported that Cardinal Hume was "privately contemptuous" of him, he invited her to tea: "According to friends, he wanted to show that he had no hard feelings, and to rebuild bridges with the Catholic convert."

Miss Widdecombe loves bridge-building. It gives her new places to send her tanks. "I consider I was perfectly in order to criticise the Church of England hierarchyís weak and ineffectual response to the challenges of the modern world. They have not take a firm line on moral issues, the collapse of the family, abortion; there have been very weak and equivocal statements on divorce, and they do not appear to be able to preach individual responsibility. Iím quite happy to go and talk these things through with the Archbishop" she told the paper.

No wonder that one of his former Chaplains Graham James, told the Sunday Times that Dr Carey "is feeling physically rather tired and emotionally exhausted."

The story went on to say: "A senior bishop who sees Carey regularly said: ĎHe is sometimes forgetful. He cannot remember some things from one day to the next. He can easily lose focus and is not altogether on the ballí." Nothing that Miss Widdecombe canít sort out for him, then.

Not sure whether the news that Patriarch Alexey II was a KGB agent is news or not. The Guardian gave a great deal of prominence to the discovery in Estonia of some KGB files reporting the recruitment of a young priest whose subsequent rise through the hierarchy matched exactly the career of the present Patriarch. Both men were bishop of Talinn, and prominent on the WCC. And, yes, it is an important fact that one of the most important religious leaders in the world was a KGB agent. I just wonder if anyone had thought he wasnít. On the back of the same page was a story of the first trial in Moscow brought under the new Russian law against non-Orthodox religions. First up on the block are the Jehovahís Witnesses, who are listed in an Orthodox publication as among the "Destructive religious organisations of a Western Orientation."

In another extremely important piece of old news, which I remembered after Jerry Falwell denounced the Teletubbies as part of a gay conspiracy against family life, it was announced recently that Pat Robertson had joined the board of the Laura Ashley company. This is the same Pat Robertson who explained that the last hurricane to hit Florida was Godís punishment on the city of Orlando for officially recognising gay couples. I look forward with interest to his adventures in the world of interior decoration.

Next week, Iím on holiday, and the column will be written by Anne Atkins.

Here, Paul, are some picture bylines for next week

R r


(Signed) a

Iím off to sig now

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