Shambhala and #MeToo and You

photo: Prentsa Aldundia

This year the Shambhala community has been rocked by Project Sunshine Reports alleging sexual misconduct by Shambhala teachers and leaders, including Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. As the spiritual leader of our community, the Sakyong is a guiding example for Shambhala. Naturally, the #MeToo allegations are devastating to his close students and anyone affiliated with Shambhala. Shambhala hired the Halifax law firm Wickwire Holm to investigate the allegations, and hired An Olive Branch to handle any further complaints. These efforts will wrap up in the next few weeks.
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For our Denver center members and visitors, I want to assure you that we are committed to providing a safe and welcoming environment to all, and we do not condone any behavior that is harmful or demeaning to others. None of the reported allegations took place at our center. We are committed to transparency and are open to your suggestions. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact me or a member of the Leadership Council.
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The Roots of Dysfunction

We may never get to the full truth of the Sunshine report allegations, but it would appear that, at the least, prior complaints were not handled well and people who raised serious concerns were effectively silenced. Despite efforts to address Care and Conduct issues in Shambhala over the years, they were not enough to change the direction of the stream.
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The allegations of sexual misconduct are symptomatic of a deeper dysfunction that is rooted in patriarchy, privilege and secrecy. Prior to my resignation as director of Shambhala Online in August, I was dismayed to see people assume roles of great responsibility based more on their servitude and cronyism than competence or experience. Shambhala’s most competent administrators — former President Richard Reoch, Executive Director Carolyn Mandelker and Anna Weinstein, who each did so much to advance the organization and support the global mandala — were dismissed several years ago. The highest governing council was appointed by the Sakyong to serve his interests, with no checks or balances to offset the concentration of power.
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It is painful for me to admit these things to myself, much less share my observations with others. I told myself that, if I had more access to the decisions and decision makers, I would be able to help set things right. It took me 5 years to realize that was wishful thinking, if not willful ignorance. I was complicit by sending Shambhala Online proceeds to the center mandala with no idea of how they were being used.
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The Reckoning

We must reckon with these patterns if we are to survive and surmount the organizational crisis at hand. With the reckoning comes the opportunity — the imperative — to closely examine our power structures and decision making patterns. The finances, the decision making, the inner circle around the Sakyong — all fall under a heavy cloak of secrecy that can no longer be tolerated. We love Shambhala and the Sakyong, and we deserve accountability and transparency.
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The stream could begin to shift. In response to the reports and the subsequent negative publicity, Shambhala’s main governing body, the Kalapa Council, resigned en masse. The Sakyong stepped down from his teaching responsibilities, pending the results of the independent investigation. In Shambhala we are holding our collective breath in anticipation of next steps, but we don’t need to wait for a missive from Halifax to take action.
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Let’s start at home. I’m heartened to see important signs of health at the Denver Center, including:
  • Efforts to encourage diversity and inclusiveness, such as a recent workshop on uncovering social bias with Acharya Charlene Leung and Michaela McCormick.
  • Social meditation sessions of communicating authentically in a group setting.
  • Sane and supportive community gatherings to process allegations of misconduct in Shambhala.
  • The new men’s group formed to inquire we might foster a climate that is safer and more welcoming to women.

As a community we are taking time to be together and talk about our experiences; to feel and heal and listen to each others’ stories.

In the midst of gut-wrenching trauma surrounding Shambhala’s #MeToo moment, one thing seems crystal clear:  we cannot do nothing. Our financial support and volunteer time remain critical to our community well being, but we also need to keep an eye out for T and A (Transparency and Accountability).  Speak up, ask questions, read the finance reports and show up for meetings. It’s so easy to look away. But we have to keep our eyes, hearts and minds open, now more than ever.

Shastri Dhi Good is a senior teacher in Shambhala, former director of Shambhala Online, and a student of organizational change. 
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