On 28 June, Buddhist Project Sunshine published their second report detailing sexual assault and sexual misconduct allegations directed at Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, head of Shambhala International. The report includes the results of a preliminary investigation conducted by Buddhist Project Sunshine, and the anonymous impact statements of three female members of Shambhala that include allegations of alcohol abuse, forced sexual favors, and multiple sexual encounters between Sakyong Mipham and female members and students, facilitated by senior members of his staff.
Buddhist Project Sunshine is a grassroots initiative started by Andrea Winn, a second-generation Shambhala Buddhist who grew up in the early years of the Shambhala community. The project seeks to raise awareness of the alleged sexualized violence in the community and explores the extent of this ongoing issue.
In February, Buddhist Project Sunshine released its first report, a 39-page document that summarized the findings of a year of informal inquiry into sexual misconduct at Shambhala. Following the report, Shambhala leadership issued a public statement acknowledging sexual misconduct in the community and promising to address the abuse and discrimination.
The second report, published last week, includes a more formal preliminary investigation, aided by lawyer and sexual misconduct investigator Carol Merchasin and Richard Edelman, who has done years of research into the history of abuse in Tibetan Buddhism and trauma and abuse in Buddhist communities in the West.
According to Winn, the findings of the preliminary investigation were sent to the Shambhala leadership on 24 March, with a call for further investigation into the allegations by a neutral third party. However, according to Winn, no response had been given by the time the report was published. The leadership of Shambhala International is currently not in dialogue with Buddhist Project Sunshine
On 25 June, just a few days before the publication of the report, Sakyong Mipham issued a public apology in which he admitted that he had “engaged in relationships with women in the Shambhala community,” and that “some of these women have shared experiences of feeling harmed as a result of these relationships.” He added: “I would like you to know that over the years, I have apologized personally to people who have expressed feeling harmed by my conduct, including some of those who have recently shared their stories.” In the public apology Sakyong Mipham states that he will enter a “period of self-reflection and listening.” (Shambhala International)
The apology by Sakyong Mipham was followed by a statement from the Shambhala leadership on 27 June, in which they state that they “acknowledge the voices of all who have been harmed” and promised to soon provide “more definitive information addressing the rumors currently swirling on social media.” (Shambhala International)
In the statement they also note that they are “actively working with An Olive Branch [an organization that help spiritual (Buddhist) communities prevent and address sexual misconduct, founded at the Zen Center of Pittsburgh] as a third party to help us improve our policies and culture around sexual misconduct” and realize that the Shambhala leadership (The Kalapa Councilors) are “predominantly white, male, and North American,” which does not represent the Shambhala community and needs to be addressed.
A second public statement by the Kalapa Council, sent out on 29 June, denies that they have received or read Buddhist Project Sunshine’s report, adding that it is “in the process of engaging a third-party investigator to review these allegations,” and is finalizing an agreement with An Olive Branch.
The second report by Buddhist Project Sunshine is the first part of the second phase of the project, which will also include the creation of an innovative worldwide community healing model to help sexualized violence in Buddhist communities everywhere.
Following the publication of the second report, a petition was launched on Change.org calling for the suspension of all of Sakyong Mipham’s teaching and governance functions within Shambhala International, taking the severity of the allegations into account, and to allow for thorough internal and external reviews.
Shambhala International is one of the West’s largest and most successful Buddhist communities, with 165 centers around the world. It is led by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, son of the famous Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Trungpa was one of the pioneers of Buddhism in America, founding the Naropa Institute (now University) in Boulder, Colorado, in 1974, which has hosted cultural luminaries such as Ram Das and Alan Ginsburg.
Buddhist Project Sunshine Phase 2 Final Report (Project Sunshine)
A message from Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche (Shambhala International)
Community message from the Kalapa Council (Shambhala International)
An update from the Kalapa Council (Shambhala International)
An Olive Branch
Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche Should Step Down (Change.org)