How Did It Happen?

Understanding and Healing Abuse in Buddhist Communities

Shambhala Leaders Acknowledge Sexual Harm

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In the recently released Project Sunshine Final Report, second-generation Shambhala student Andrea M. Winn, MEd, MCS shares the results of her one year exploration into sexualized violence within her Buddhist community. She also offers recommendations for organizational change, and suggests ways individual and collective healing can occur.

She describes the vision of Project Sunshine in this way:

This one-year vision was to gather a powerful group of concerned citizens to protect the integrity of the Shambhala lineage. We will do this through influencing the Shambhala community to acknowledge and repair past abuse of women and children in the community, and integrate new values that honour tenderness, vulnerability and other strengths typically associated with the feminine.

On the prevalence of sexual harm in the Shambhala community, Winn says:

I have been part of many conversations over the past year with women who have been abused in the Shambhala community. The stories of abuse are nothing short of horrific. Quite simply, the violence that has happened and the lack of response from the Shambhala organization has resulted in a profound corruption in the heart of our community over the lifespan of this community – since the early 1970’s.

The Project Sunshine Final Report shares 5 anonymous stories as examples that illustrate sexualized violence within the Shambhala community.

According to Winn, many victims have not been heard and instead have been marginalized, demonized, and ostracized.

As to the current Shambhala structures in place to address sexual violence, Winn says,

Work on abuse has been done under ‘Shambhala Care and Conduct.’ This work has, however, not gone far enough since women are currently being abused without recourse, and past harm has not been attended to. Known child abusers are freely active within the Shambhala community, some are even senior teachers. Meanwhile, many who have been abused have been left with no recourse but to leave the community to heal and move forward as best they can, often with diminished resources of lungta and money.

In her 29-page report, Winn also emphasizes the importance of attending to both victims and perpetrators, discusses issues of samaya, and sets out next steps for addressing and healing sexualized violence in the Shambhala community.

Winn remains fiercely dedicated to the vision of the Shambhala teachings.  Because of this, she offers a spiritual framework for addressing abuse that includes, among other aspects, creating safety and stability within one’s own mind and within the community through practicing shamatha daily and working with one’s own projections.

This is a must read report for Buddhist communities facing revelations of sexual misconduct in their own communities.

Download the full Project Sunshine Final Report here.

Shambhala Leaders Acknowledge Sexual Harm

On February 12, 2018,  Shambhala’s Kalapa Council (the organization’s leadership group) sent an important message to all members of the Shambhala community, in which they acknowledged instances of sexual harm and said these occurrences were not always addressed with care.  They said:

In our complex history there have been instances of sexual harm and inappropriate relations between members and between teachers and students. We are still emerging from a time in which such cases were not always addressed with care and skill. In particular, inappropriate or even abhorrent sexual behavior by some men in the community has caused some women to feel unsafe. Members have at times not felt heard or have been treated as though they are a problem when they tried to bring complaints forward. We are heartbroken that such pain and injustice still occurs. The Kalapa Council takes responsibility for creating spaces to recognize and heal wounds from the past, and we are feeling how full attention to such healing is in great need.

Shambhala leaders promised to address abuse and discrimination within the Shambhala culture:

The Kalapa Council is in a process of listening and feeling. As we hear and learn more, we have committed collectively and individually to undertake training to help us better understand power dynamics and gender harm. Through this work, we will move toward a comprehensive plan to address abuse and discrimination within our Shambhala culture, including the guidance of others. We cannot do this in isolation. We commit to communicating clear next steps within a month.

In the coming period, we commit to offering ways to speak and listen, to ask for the help our community needs, to further train our leaders, to establish robust and effective structures for accountability, and to create safe spaces for nourishing trust and care.

Unlike Rigpa, Shambhala leaders have not used the word “allegations” in their message.  Although it may be a long time coming, they acknowledge that harm has occurred.

Read the full message on the Shambhala Facebook Page.

Now Is the Time to End Sexual Violence

There is a powerful convergence of truth occurring with regard to sexual abuse in both contemporary society and Buddhist communities  A very real opportunity exists to end sexual violence in our communities if we have the courage to embrace it.  As Winn says:

One thing that is clear to me is that a single woman can be silenced. However, a group of organized concerned citizens will be a completely different ball game. Creating such a group is a way to create sanity for ourselves in the midst of this crazy situation, and then we can look at how to share that sanity with others.

Don’t be pacified or placated by beautiful words and rosy promises on the part of any teacher or organization.  It’s up to all of us in the Shambhala, Rigpa, and other Buddhist communities to say “no” to sexual violence and create loving conditions in which the healing of trauma can occur.


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31 Comments

  1. Lise Hull

    Sadly, they didn’t acknowledge and condemn of their hero founder, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. His behavior was abhorrent, in my opinion. Makes it difficult to trust anyone in the organization if they continue to condone his behavior as some sort of so-called “Crazy Wisdom.”

    • Maria Mitchell

      My thoughts too Lise. When the culture of abuse has come from the leader of the community, the person meant to revered & emulated the foundations are shaky. I guess the Dharma is bigger & more profound than people & it’s great to see it being addressed & brought to light. I hope both Shambala & Rigpa continue but in a way of love & care for all sentient beings upholding the purity of the teachings.

  2. pete

    @ Lise Hull

    Yes, there’s something very sad in reading this optimistically named ‘Sunshine Project’:

    Another Buddhist organization rife with sexual violence for decades, the victims adults and children, but even after courageous efforts to bring it to a halt, the abuse apparently continues:

    “Work on abuse has been done under “Shambhala Care and Conduct.” This work has, however, not gone far enough since women are currently being abused without recourse, and past harm has not been attended to. Known child abusers are freely active within the Shambhala community, some are even senior teachers. Meanwhile, many who have been abused have been left with no recourse but to leave the community to heal and move forward as best they can, often with diminished resources of lungta and money.”

    The report is infused with humanity, intelligence and clarity but it’s depressing to read: the victims’ accounts are harrowing and all too familiar, the reaction of the institution predictable in it’s callous indifference and bigotry, basically a mirror image of Rigpa. The analysis of Dzongsar Khyentse’s clumsy attempt at damage limitation is particularly perceptive too.

    But sadly this isn’t enough, because as you say, there’s absolutely no reference to Trungpa, the dysfunctional founder of Shambala and no connection is made or even hinted at, between his behaviour as a template, and the culture of abuse that survives him, the sickening continuity made possible by stubborn wishful thinking that clings to the delusion that he was a great ‘mahasiddha’, that still venerates him as a sacrosanct ‘crazy wisdom’ guru, rather than just another talented but narcissistic manipulator who died prematurely of chronic alcoholism, leaving a trail of suffering behind him.

    Their principles include:

    “ We are fiercely loyal to the vision of the Shambhala Teachings • We look to the Great Eastern Sun to lead us • We work to create safety and stability in our own minds and in community through practicing Shamatha daily.”

    This is the same tragic mind-set that is evident in some degree in each remaining Rigpa member, in every apologist for Sogyal, or other abusive lamas, no matter how subtle their discourse or how traditional their arguments.

    Those who still believe that “reconciliation and healing” are possible without totally rejecting everything and everyone that made the abuse possible, might read the ‘Sunshine Report’ carefully and ask themselves exactly why Rigpa, if it survives as an organization, should ever turn out to be any different from Shambala.

    Poignantly, even after decades of structural corruption and institutionally enabled abuse of the most intransigent kind, the writer concludes with:

    “ Let us confidently take steps to root out this darkness and invoke the light of the Great Eastern Sun to dawn on a new age of authentic peace and harmony!”

  3. Tahlia Newland

    It’s wonderful that they’re addressing it and horrifiying that it exists at all. How many other Buddhist comminities are hiding something similar, I wonder? No wonder lamas don’t come out and make statements against abuse, for all we know they may be doing exactly the same thing. Despite all the good I’ve gained from my study and practice, my trust in the teachers of this tradition has been completely blown.

    And, yes, look at the founder. She says it’s been going on for decades. Clearly he started it, and like teacher like student it goes on.

    • Catlover

      @Tahlia Newland,

      Exactly! I often wonder how many other teachers and communities are hiding something similar and it makes me not trust any of them. After all, how does one know what ANY of the teachers are doing in secret? Most of them are based in India or Nepal, or other places where the rights of women and young girls are questionable at best. How can one examine ANY teacher, even for 12 years, (as they recommend), if the activities of the teacher are not known. One would have to live with the teacher and share his living space before one would REALLY know what that teacher does, or doesn’t do. If the whole “examine the teacher” samaya bond is built on trust, how can one trust someone if there is no realistic way to examine their personal behavior? There is NO way to build a relationship with a teacher built on real trust, unless one actually KNOWS a teacher personally. Even then one can be fooled.

  4. Larry

    I don’t know if I ever will completely think this through, or integrate this all, and there is a lot more consideration I will undoubtedly do. Though this is a shoddy comparison, I am going to propose it, not because it is a complete or even accurate comparison, but because I just want to raise a single point. China before Mao Tse Tung was a highly feudalistic Society run by warlords, with serious starvation. Mao overthrew this system, began a program of modernization, killed millions of people in the process, installed himself as a permanent authoritarian ruler, took women at will, who dared not refuse him, at the cost of their lives. Was he good for China? Bad for China? We can debate this endlessly. Is Vajrayana totally good? Totally bad? We can debate this endlessly. Was Trungpa totally good? Totally bad? This too, we can debate endlessly. Pema Chodron was one of the results of his work, and is totally supportive of how she views his intention and his work, though she accepts I believe that She acknowledges there were people who feel deeply wounded by him. I don’t know if anyone has asked her, would you have changed him or his work, and if so how? Maybe that is a good question to ask her. My point is we can totally condemn Vajrayana, Trungpa, or Mao, and any number of people, organizations and nation states, but reality and life are inevitably complex. Do you support aspects of Vajarayana? Do you believe it could have been brought to the west or for that matter the east without all of this mental and spiritual wounding and scarring? Most if not all of us of us would say yes. The fact though, is that is was Trungpa who, because of his charisma brought Vajrayana to the west, and there are many people who would say that he saved there lives and rescued them from their bottomless angst, (while others condemn him as being the cause of their bottomless angst). The record is therefor mixed. We can’t reinvent the past. We can sit on our seats, and cast blame and insist on punishment, suppression of all sources of what we deem evil. Will that save us from future evil? Did the defeat of Hitler save us from Pol Pot or Donald Trump? We will always face these things, and many of us will do our best to prevent and correct the sources of suffering. Will we permanently rid the world of this? Never, at least by ordinary means. You can reject the so called extraordinary means if you like. But try as you might, you will never make this simple and the solution everlasting outside of your own minds.

    • Sam Ellen Harvey

      Dear Sandra, thank you so much for posting this. There is much to reflect upon, however, my very first personal response is that I feel it is an absolutely stunning effort, by this ‘one woman’ Andrea Winn; who undertook this investigation and brought the results in great detail out into the open! It is one of the most inspiring things I have ever seen!

      • Sam, It certainly is, isn’t it. It would be beautiful to have that kind of leadership in any Buddhist organization dealing with issues of sexual and physical harm!

    • Pete

      @ Larry

      The “single point “ you raise is very significant because it seems to suggest that we should use some sort of moral accounting system for assessing the behaviour of Trungpa and other lamas; whereby a proven amount of harm to victims can be cancelled out by a supposed amount of benefit to non-victims.

      There are professions such as medicine, the emergency services or law enforcement, where people have no choice but to make harrowing decisions about balancing harm against benefit……but to suggest that being a Tibetan lama is one of these professions is what, in the interests of politeness, I would call an extreme category error.

      To pretend that anyone has to heroically balance harm against good in the non-essential but lucrative business of teaching meditation, is just a convenient fantasy to justify abuse and exploitation. Violence isn’t a teaching method.

      The basic injunction of Buddhism is: “Do no harm whatsoever.” Harm is a choice, a decision made by the abuser, to ignore this fundamental principle of all civilized societies, just to satisfy themselves at the expense of their victims.

      For example: if a doctor, therapist or teacher carries out his work conscientiously but rapes or violently attacks one in every hundred of the people who are entrusted to his care, that one percent, a ratio of one to ninety-nine / harm to benefit, would get him arrested and struck off, because the severity of the crime, the harm and betrayal of trust, proves him to be capable of ruthlessly taking advantage of vulnerability to indulge in criminal behaviour and he will most likely repeat that behaviour. The ratio is irrelevant to the crime.

      “Well, your Honour, my client may be a fraud and a violent, serial sexual predator, but in every other aspect of his life he is a person of excellent character, a deeply religious man who has dedicated himself to establishing spiritual centres around the world and who has thousands of devoted followers who believe he is enlightened”…..

      No decent person would defend or try to excuse violence or rape on the basis of the good the rapist had done, but that’s what you appear to be doing with Trungpa, and it’s also a common argument that’s used to defend Sogyal.

      So yes, it is absolutely necessary to “cast blame and insist on punishment “ because the alternative is to ignore abuse, to create an inhumane, cultish society where the powerful think they are above the law and free to prey on the weak, where no real deterrent to abuse and exploitation exists.

      This is precisely what those who control Shambala seem to have achieved during Trungpa’s time and up to the present day. Sogyal has been modelling his behaviour on Trungpa’s and Rigpa on Shambala, because he and some of his close students admire them and desperately want to emulate their ‘success’.

      Senior Shambala staff have recently come to Lerab Ling to support and advise Rigpa on how to deal with the repercussions of Sogyal’s abuse. Dzongsar Khyentse has been drafted in for PR and damage control because he’s also a great admirer of Trungpa and he uses exactly the same apologist arguments about Vajrayana being “beyond ordinary morality and above the law.” Rigpa students have recently been given ‘permission’ to conduct Shambala-style ‘Dathuns’…….although few of them are probably yet aware of what the significance of this really is. Perhaps some kind of merger is a future possibility.

      Harm is initially denied and when it becomes impossible to deny it is justified by this and other kinds of feeble sophistry, strategic decisions are made to protect the organization at all costs. Classic cult-behaviour in fact.

      I don’t think many people believe we could “rid the world” of evil, make it “simple” or find an “everlasting” solution, but at least we can call it what it is, and try and use the law to prevent it happening again. We can refuse to accept the kind of excuses that have always invoked religious dogma to justify cruelty and oppression.

      Interestingly, these excuses are always invoked by those who stand to benefit directly or indirectly from the abuser’s status, power and money and the preservation of the status quo. They can be other teachers, enablers, passive spectators of abuse, or people who choose to remain wilfully ignorant by silence, denial, refusing to believe and even denigrating the victims.

      As we’re currently seeing , often going so far as to testify that no abuse ever took place and using lawyers to sue critics in an attempt to silence them. ( possibly another imported Shambala technique.)

      These excuses mean nothing to the victims, unless they’re so damaged as to suffer from Stockholm Syndrome and remain in the abusive environment, unable to free themselves. The lies only exacerbate the harm.

      I admit I have absolutely no idea what your “extraordinary means” are, possibly some spiritual concept. Whatever it might be, it obviously doesn’t seem to be available to Buddhists themselves to magically rid even their own communities of the abuse that is still on-going after decades.

      This kind of religious exceptionalism….”ordinary rules don’t apply to us or our teachers”…..is a particularly naïve belief that almost inevitably ends badly when the mystical shit eventually hits the proverbial reality fan…….or as the Greeks put it rather more poetically: “Hubris is always followed by Nemesis.”

      • Catlover

        @Pete,

        You wrote:

        “No decent person would defend or try to excuse violence or rape on the basis of the good the rapist had done, but that’s what you appear to be doing with Trungpa, and it’s also a common argument that’s used to defend Sogyal.”

        Much as I dislike his behavior, did Trungpa actually rape anybody? Also, I am not sure is Sogyal raped anybody either. I don’t condone their behavior, but let’s not exaggerate it either. If either one of them raped anybody, then please clarify.

  5. Rick New

    There are things we can do and there are ways we can respond that will put an end to making our dharma brothers and sisters vulnerable to these kind of exploits.

    Sadly, by giving away our power, discounting one another and adoring / demonizing our leaders we continue the same patterns that brought us here.

    How have we changed toward one another? Do we still engage one another through the filter of the bureaucracy? What damage does this do? What might happen if we face one another directly and listen, stay at the Emergent and Coalesce phases?

    Stages of social movements:

    [ Emerge > Coalesce > Bureaucratize >

    Success, Failure, Cooption, Repression, Go Mainstream >

    Decline ]

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_movement

  6. Edmund Butler

    This is a bold effort to address all types of abuse in Shambhala, some of which I have personally suffered. If Shambhala is to have ANY relevance going forward, it is efforts such as these which will avert a lawsuit being the event which destroys it. Please see my post at https://shambhalacrime.wordpress.com/

  7. Edmund Butler

    As a survivor of abuse in the Shambhala Sangha I applaud the recent efforts to find reconciliation within that Sangha. However, I wonder whether an internal resolution process could be as effective, unbiased and less prone to the internal politics at play as an independent, external process. Anybody who has insight from their experience is welcome to contact me via the link here. It tells my story… With best wishes to all on your journey.

    https://shambhalacrime.wordpress.com/

  8. Lisa

    I must take issue with the definition of this report being based on an “investigation.” An investigation requires that you actually verify an incident took place as described before reporting is as “fact.” This report contains nothing more than gossip and innuendo. It is completely irresponsible to publish as fact a report that is not backed up by evidence of any kind. Anyone can make an unsubstantiated accusation, especially when they know they will never be required to provide annoying things like facts.

    I have personal knowledge that at least one of these stories is completely false. Had the author done even a minimal amount of actual investigation, she would have discovered that the supposed victim is well-known in their own Buddhist community as an emotionally unstable, often verbally abusive bully who loves to play the role of the victim.

    Numerous community members, many of whom have known both accuser and accused for a number of years, have made sworn statements that effectively render the accuser’s testimony meritless and unbelievable. In addition, these same community members have made sworn statements supporting the accused. Their only goal has been to support a member of their community who has been unjustly persecuted. Some have even done this to their own detriment, suffering retaliation for refusing to be silenced by those who accept this report at face value.

    Based on this information, I must assume the author has been equally lax in checking the other alleged incidents. I challenge her to produce the evidence that led to the conclusions. I am happy to produce the evidence that exonerates the accused in the case with which I am familiar.

    Let’s not create new victims by publishing as fact unverified accounts of sexual abuse or harassment. It’s a very real problem and making false accusations only serves to minimize the true victims.

    Perhaps the author is not aware that electronic publications are subject to the same libel laws governing any other written document.

    • Edmund Butler

      Of the contention by Shambhala International’s Administration that, “…abhorrent” sexual abuse has been perpetrated and essentially covered up, in the coming months I expect to see evidence of that.

    • matilda7

      So if the police are called in to investigate that will also serve to verify or quash each set of allegations. So Shambhala is doing itself no favours by sticking to inhouse resolutions – they haven’t even called in the Olive Branch, have they?

    • Lisa,

      I’m happy to change the word “investigation” to “exploration.” I’m deeply sorry if any story in this report is untrue. That would be distressing. Fortunately, the stories are all anonymous and I believe intended to point to a problem that the Shambhala administration has now publicly acknowledged. Knowing that the false report of rape is extremely rare, for example, and how difficult it is for victims to come forward, I think it’s likely the bulk of the report is true. Most abuse victims are not able to verify the abuse. Should they remain silent then, and allow abuse to continue?

      • Edmund Butler

        Thanks Sandra, The more victims who speak up, the more likely it is that at least one perpetrator will be held accountable and every perpetrator will be given fresh food for thought.

    • catlover

      @Lisa,

      Unfortunately, there are many people saying that sexual abuse happened, so you can’t say they are ALL lying. If one or two people made an accusation, you could say it’s possibly just slander, but there have been numerous allegations against Shambhala, as well as Rigpa, and other “tantric” groups, so when there is that MUCH smoke, there is always a fire. Also, it doesn’t matter if one story happens to be false. That doesn’t mean that all the other stories are false, so you can’t say it’s just gossip, just because you know that one source is unreliable. There are plenty of other stories from reliable people, and the people coming forward with them can’t ALL be lying or gossiping. I tend to believe these kinds of stories when enough witnesses come forward. There are more than enough witnesses and people coming forward, and while a few of them may just want attention, or they are lying, for whatever reason, there are just too many. They aren’t all liars and slanderers.

      • Edmund Butler

        Here’s how it happened, as I see it.

        Abuse has been amassing its victims within Shambhala for years. Project Sunshine has been investigating child sexual and sexual abuse from within Shambhala since March 2016. The Kalapa Council as Shambhala’s lead Administrators were aware of both. The first because they enabled it and the second because they were repeatedly copied in on the Project’s drafts and invited to contribute. They said they would work together and pulled out at the last minute. They were only keeping themselves informed of the threat to their stinking ivory tower.

        The Council then voluntarily admitted awareness of both child sexual abuse by senior teachers and other, unspecified abuses of power. It was a very broad admission of systemic harm within the Sangha. This confirmed what the former President told me the day after he resigned, a year before Project Sunshine formally opened. The admission happened only because the writing was on the wall. It faked shock, reluctantly saying they would work with a third party in reconciling what are essentially their own crimes. They will reveal their reconciliation plan on March 19th.

        The admission was made days before the Project released its final report. It claims that the Care and Conduct Panel, Shambhala’s Justice system, has integrity but can do better etc. My blog presents those claims as false, fairly believably I like to think. The Council have now claimed, in a second public letter that they had not been coerced into making the admission. This is also demonstrably false, as above.

        The March 19th. letter will merely add to the sham. Independent counsellors will now be brought in to deal with victims, beyond the control of the Council. Counsellors’ codes of ethics oblige them to report crime, child sexual abuse or otherwise to the Police, who are then obliged to investigate and recommend prosecution if appropriate. Per Shambhala’s own protocols, Sangha crime will be reported to the Police.

        The Council is dead, killed by its own soporific deception. Many more people will be hurt and require trauma therapy, which will be easier to find now that there has been an admission. For myself, all I wanted was to be heard, and I kept getting a brick wall. I feel a huge relief this week.

        Sadly, it is a familiar story and will likely happen again, per @larry. People will continue to seek enlightenment, as they have since the dawn of time. Shambhala will likely survive because the Teachings have considerable integrity, in my view. The Sangha will have learned a very painful, and the most basic lesson in ethics: do not lie.

        Finding a trustworthy Shambhala teacher may be difficult for a while. Dues will dwindle, and slowly recover as people forget or choose to overlook the past. The cycle will likely continue until individuals break it by gaining enlightenment. Who really knows at that point though? It is beyond knowing anyway, and all the stories are all just stories of samsara, a dependably messy space despite the awesome beauty that pervades all it.

  9. Edmund Butler

    Dear Lisa,

    Rather than putting the fear of God into Andrea and Project Sunshine by raising the prospect of being sued for libel, I suggest it may be better to present your evidence to her Andrea regarding her error(s). In this way the falsely accused would be satisfied. As you have brought this discussion into this forum, I would be grateful to know how you in fact intend to deal with Andrea’s socalled false accusation, to the benefit of all concerned. Please keep us informed, as a false accusation such as you allege is often inspired by something, even if it is utterly vindictive. My suspicion is that there is likley an element of truth in the accusation, but that remains to be see of course.

    Secondly, one false accusation in a file of many does not negate the accuracy of any other, until proven otherwise.

    Thirdlly, any lawsuit in this abuse scandal will undoubtedly open a can of worms. Naturally that’s no reason to loosely accuse, perhaps with the intention of drawing fire. In my own experience, having been slandered by the Shambhala Administration in an effort to silence my claims of their abuse of their power and to retain their positions untainted I am aware, on good authority that the Administration is terrified of a lawsuit at least in my case.

    Please be aware that, by their own admission, Shambhala has buried reports of abuse and in so doing has traumatised many people going back over decades. One false accusation of culpability in their abhorrent record of injustice should not overshadow the trauma now being experienced by, no doubt, hundreds of victims.

    My own story is published and I would be grateful for your feedback.

    With best wishes, Edmund

    https://shambhalacrime.wordpress.com/2018/03/04/the-journey-begins/

    • pete

      @ Edmund Butler

      Your response to Lisa is an excellent rebuttal to what reads as a dubious comment. It’s also very reasonable and restrained, considering your own personal experience with Shambala.

      In the current situation we really need the clarity, honesty and courage of people like you, to clear the fog of denial and obfuscation that’s being used to hide and perpetuate abuse in all kinds of areas.

      I admit I have absolutely no first-hand knowledge of Shambala
      ( my experience of Rigpa was more than enough) and I’d refrain from commenting, were it not for something that struck me about Lisa’s comment.

      While it’s possible that it might be prompted by a genuine experience of an unjust accusation, it’s completely undermined by the conclusions, which are so spurious that it makes the real motivation behind it seem questionable, and unfortunately, it pretty much ticks all the boxes of classic denial tactics used by cult apologists whenever abuse is called out.

      Notably: trying to belittle and discredit the testimony of abuse victims. This testimony, as Sandra has pointed out, is something which is painful and very difficult to give and hardly ever without foundation, especially when many similar accounts of abuse emerge in the same context over a prolonged period, as is the case here, where even the organization itself has admitted it.

      Asserting that criticism is just gossip and accusations without “facts”….conveniently ignoring that abuse rarely produces verifiable facts; victims know this……and so do abusers and those who defend them.

      Claiming personal knowledge of just a single event (without actually supplying any specific “facts” either) and using that as a rationale for implying that all victims are mentally unstable and anyone who reports their experiences is lazy and dishonest.

      Insisting that: “ sworn statements render the accuser’s testimony meritless and unbelievable”, as if no one ever committed perjury to protect themselves or others.

      Claiming to be able to produce evidence that exonerates the accused, thereby proving that abuse never happened….which would be possible but extremely difficult, as by definition it’s impossible to prove a negative.

      The entire comment is couched in quasi-legal terminology and ends predictably, with a threat of litigation…..another popular cult tactic these days.

      Whatever the reality of this situation may be, this kind of blustering approach certainly doesn’t help victims of abuse.

  10. pete

    Hi Catlover

    It’s commonly thought that rape has to involve physical coercion or the threat of violence, but these days it’s well understood that this definition is too simplistic and inadequate to cover more complex situations a victim may experience.

    The law has now progressed well beyond this and the current definition includes the concept of psychological coercion; ( such as an aggressive, balding, obese, elderly guru telling a vulnerable young woman who he has succesfully indoctrinated to believe he’s equal to the Buddha, that her and her family will suffer negative karma if she refuses to have sex with him……to take just one a random example )

    The wording is : “The act may be carried out by physical force, or where the person is under threat or manipulation,…..”

    And I’m sure you already know enough about this and the other issues of consent and the imbalance of power to understand how “threat or manipulation” applies in these circumstances.

    Of course, maybe I’m misguided and all these women were just overwhelmed by his uncanny resemblance to George Clooney……the boyish good looks, the sophisticated charm…..

    • Catlover

      @Pete,

      LOL, I doubt the women thought Sogyal had boyish good looks, lol! 😀 So, he probably did coerce them, or at least trick them by promising enlightenment, or whatever. So, I do see the issue you raised about consent.

      On the other hand, women seemed to flock willingly to Trungpa, and they found him attractive, so I can’t be sure he forced them, or threatened them. If he told them he was special and tricked them, then you could say there was an issue of consent there as well.

  11. pete

    @ Edmund Butler

    Your response to Lisa is an excellent rebuttal to what reads as a dubious comment. It’s also very reasonable and restrained, considering your own personal experience with Shambala.

    In the current situation we really need the clarity, honesty and courage of people like you, to clear the fog of denial and obfuscation that’s being used to hide and perpetuate abuse in all kinds of areas.

    I admit I have absolutely no first-hand knowledge of Shambala
    ( my experience of Rigpa was more than enough) and I’d refrain from commenting, were it not for something that struck me about Lisa’s comment.

    While it’s possible that it might be prompted by a genuine experience of an unjust accusation, it’s completely undermined by the conclusions, which are so spurious that it makes the real motivation behind it seem questionable, and unfortunately, it pretty much ticks all the boxes of classic denial tactics used by cult apologists whenever abuse is called out.

    Notably: trying to belittle and discredit the testimony of abuse victims. This testimony, as Sandra has pointed out, is something which is painful and very difficult to give and hardly ever without foundation, especially when many similar accounts of abuse emerge in the same context over a prolonged period, as is the case here, where even the organization itself has admitted it.

    Asserting that criticism is just gossip and accusations without “facts”….conveniently ignoring that abuse rarely produces verifiable facts; victims know this……and so do abusers and those who defend them.

    Claiming personal knowledge of just a single event (without actually supplying any specific “facts” either) and using that as a rationale for implying that all victims are mentally unstable and anyone who reports their experiences is lazy and dishonest.

    Insisting that: “ sworn statements render the accuser’s testimony meritless and unbelievable”, as if no one ever committed perjury to protect themselves or others.

    Claiming to be able to produce evidence that exonerates the accused, thereby proving that abuse never happened….which would be possible but extremely difficult, as by definition it’s impossible to prove a negative.

    The entire comment is couched in quasi-legal terminology and ends predictably, with a threat of litigation…..another popular cult tactic these days.

    Whatever the reality of this situation may be, this kind of blustering approach certainly doesn’t help victims of abuse.

  12. pete

    Hi Sandra,
    Sorry, my comment has been posted twice, my fault for being impatient to prove I’m not a robot.

  13. Edmund Butler

    A new post from myself on my blog, regarding my own very public victim shaming. Any comments would be most appreciated there. Many thanks, Edmund

    https://shambhalacrime.wordpress.com/2018/03/18/a-response-to-joe-pratts-self-described-biased-appraisal-of-my-allegations/

  14. Is anyone talking about Osel, Trungpa’s first “successor,” who knowingly infected many people with the AIDS virus, coercing/forcing men and women to have sex with him and each other without condoms, before he himself died of AIDS complications? Appalling.

    I and others considered his actions to have been tantamount to first-degree murder (dangerous actions committed with full knowledge, malice and aforethought of fatal consequences).

    I heard about some of these and Trungpa’s and other horrific situations from several “refugees” from the Shambhala sangha, shell-shocked victims who escaped the cult-like atmosphere of that community but wanted to stay within Vajrayana in the late 1980s. Those who came to Rigdzin Ling (Chagdud Gonpa’s main center in northern California, under the direction then of H.E. Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche, who passed on in 2002) attended a retreat I was in.

    Because I shared with them that I had been part of a non-Buddhist cult in the mid-1980s that had included sexual abuse and fraud, they spoke quite frankly with me about these and other terrible betrayals by their leaders who had engaged in rape and abuse, who had broken-up and coerced/arranged marriages and revealed many more incidents leaders’ misconduct toward students that had gone unchecked (supported, actually, by colleagues and other students) for many years, apparently (decades, it seems, now).

    Very sad.

    Until this (or any) community addresses ALL of its history of abuse– all the cover-ups, complicity, denials, participation, lying, shunning of and disbelieving of victims, etc.–and the harm these have caused, intergenerationally, none of its members will be able say their harm has been dealt with sufficiently and no one can “move on.”

    It will take a lot more than nice words and public letters of apology, new “policies” and “procedures,” and new leadership to heal these fissures, if these traumas can ever be healed.

    Best to you all.

    • Ironically, just yesterday Trungpa’s son who has led the Sangha since Thomas Rich (‘Ösel Tenzin) died of AIDS alongside with his victims, issued an apology for… sexual abuse. It’s being received as a non-apology, unsurprisingly. Shambhala’s Living Buddha claims he’s human, after all. In the words of one of Trungpa’s former (five) wives, “Shambhala is circling the drain”.

      If you’re looking for genuine teachers, look elsewhere. The Sangha is so vested in the itself it will continue to rationalise any behaviour (such as my attempted murder) as reasonable, just as it did back in the day. Here’ a Wikipedia excerpt which reads more like a Shakespearean tragedy to me now. So glad I’m out.

      Stephen Butterfield, a former student, recounted in a memoir:

      Tenzin offered to explain his behavior at a meeting which I attended. Like all of his talks, this was considered a teaching of dharma, and donations were solicited and expected. So I paid him $35.00 to hear his explanation. In response to close questioning by students, he first swore us to secrecy (family secrets again), and then said that Trungpa had requested him to be tested for HIV in the early 1980s and told him to keep quiet about the positive result. Tendzin had asked Trungpa what he should do if students wanted to have sex with him, and Trungpa’s reply was that as long as he did his Vajrayana purification practices, it did not matter, because they would not get the disease. Tendzin’s answer, in short, was that he had obeyed the guru.

      Butterfield noted,

      Tendzin’s account of his conversations with Trungpa was challenged by other senior disciples, who claimed Trungpa would never have led anyone to believe that the laws of nature could be suspended by practice.” Butterfield also wrote, “it was a difficult dilemma: if you chose to believe Tendzin, then Trungpa had simply been wrong in telling him he could not transmit the disease . . but what then became of the axiom that the guru cannot make a mistake? But if you chose to disbelieve Tendzin, then Trungpa may have been wrong in allowing him to remain Regent, or perhaps in choosing him at all… I heard Tendzin’s illness explained by his servants in this way: it was not a consequence of any folly or self-indulgence on his part, but the karma of his infected partners, that he had deliberately imbibed for them. In what way they benefitted was never made clear to me, although one could safely assume the benefits did not include physical cure.

      According to Diana Mukpo, wife and widow of Trungpa, he ultimately became disillusioned with Tendzin as his heir, and during his final illness he called Tendzin “terrible” and “dreadful”, and indicated that he would have gotten rid of Tendzin had he a suitable candidate with which to replace him.[24] Rick Fields, the editor of Vajradhatu’s publication the Vajradhatu Sun, wrote that he resigned from his editorial position after Ösel Tendzin and the Board of Directors stopped him from publishing news of the events.

  15. A

    I’m not very deeply involved with Shambhala, I’ve been attending weekly meditations of our small local group during the current year, and I went through the “level one” meditation weekend. While I haven’t personally experienced or witnessed anything extraordinary neither in bad nor good, and haven’t heard any rumors of sexual abuse or such here, I find the accusations towards Sakyong and others dishearteningly plausible. I find it extremely unlikely that so many people would be levying false accusations.

    My perspective on Dharma (and spirituality otherwise, and basically everything in life, too) is a kind of skeptical one. I inspect, dissect, separate and refine what I’ve heard and learned, and search for the truth, what ever that means. I wouldn’t hold Chögyam Trungpa as a rolemodel, but I still find many his books and teachings interesting, inspiring and thought provoking. But as I said, I’ll apply the critical lens – but I also try apply it to itself, to avoid just cherry picking things in accordance to my prejudices.

    I can see some point in the “no right, no wrong” arguments, I can see why it is “beneficial” to reach beyond conventions of morality. I also don’t see that this thinking is in any contradiction with condemning some actions. I think we should not build projections about holy and pure gurus that we don’t think critically about.

    Of course, one could argue that the horrendous things done by Trungpa were a test to his students, to see how much shit they were going to swallow before they would wake up to use their capability for critical thinking, and as a skillful mean to demonstrate everyone that guru devotion is not without problems and that one should not cling to a thought of a faultless guru. But this is kind of irrelevant, ’cause this is still no justification for letting such abusive behaviour to continue, or for tolerating (let alone enabling) such behaviour from future teachers. In a way, one could see the whole life of Trungpa as a lesson about using ones own faculties of critical thinking, honesty, compassion and bravery, and how we should be willing to confront uncomfortable and painful realities, and not to wrap our selves in denial. Using this framework, I think it might be possible to discuss actions of Trungpa and other gurus in a very critical light without necessarily breaking samaya, and in the case of those who new about the abuse and played a blind eye, to turn the light on them selves, and to ask why they where clinging to the status quo and the safety and comfort it brought them, and why they weren’t standing up when it would have been necessary.

    I see that it is possible to highly respect and be fully devoted to a guru while helping a criminal investigation that leads the guru being incarcerated for the rest of their life. Such a method in teaching could even be intentionally used by a truly and fully enlightened being (what ever that means), since such a teacher would not care if they were beaten up, imprisoned or even executed. Of course, only a fully enlightened teacher could really see if the harm done is worth the reward in more enlightened beings, and as for us unenlightened ones, we’d better stick to preventing and condemning such actions and absolutely refrain from nurturing thoughts about being capable of using such methods in teaching.

    I don’t know if anything of the above makes any sense for anyone. I really hope Shambhala (and Rigpa, as well) will find a way to root out all the abuse (and abusers – I don’t see that they can be allowed (at least if found guilty) to have any signification positions. Ever. Or at least not in this life time. Also in many cases it is possible that they must be banned from communal events. They can possibly allowed to have individual contact with teachers or something like. Of course it depends on the scale of the abuse, but those who have raped or done such things I don’t see any future inside the community. ) I also hope the survivors will find some place to heal their wounds, and are able overcome all the mental pain and suffering the abuse has caused.

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