SEATTLE—Following the emergence of new, detailed allegations of sexual abuse by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, the former head of Shambhala International, another prominent former teacher, Lodro Rinzler, has also been accused of sexual misconduct within the community. The development follows Sakyong Mipham’s decision to step back from his roles within the organization, and the “phased departure” of the community’s governing body, the Kalapa Council.*
In response to recent developments, Ethan Nichtern, a popular Shambhala author and teacher, has announced his decision to step down from his role and title of shastri, the second-highest level of teacher within the organization, acknowledging the inherent flaws within the organizational structure of Shambhala International.
The accusations against Rinzler are detailed in a recent report by journalist Joshua Eaton, who writes for the news website ThinkProgress:
Meditation teacher and author Lodro P. Rinzler announced that he was leaving the Buddhist group Shambhala International on July 1 after several women came forward to accuse its leader, Sakyong Mipham, of sexual assault. He failed to mention that he had been accused of sexual misconduct himself.
“I am feeling a lot of pain around what is happening in the Shambhala community,” Rinzler wrote on his private Facebook page at the time. “I personally have clarity that it is time for me to officially leave Shambhala as an organization and no longer teach there.”
It was one of the most high-profile departures in an organization that’s been in [a] tailspin since the sexual assault allegations against its leader.
But Rinzler was already facing fallout from Shamabhala [sic] over an allegation against him. A woman told the organization he had pressured her into sex in 2013 even after she said multiple times that she did not want to sleep with him. After Shambhala opened an internal investigation into that allegation last month, it asked local meditation centers not to host Rinzler’s upcoming book tour. Within two days, he announced he was leaving the group, according to interviews and documents obtained by ThinkProgress.
The report then gives a detailed account of an alleged encounter between Rinzler and a woman, called “Amy” to protect her identity. Rinzler is alleged to have made unwanted advances despite being told that she was not interested, which allegedly culminated in Amy providing oral sex to Rinzler in the hope of making him stop.
Amy reportedly told two people about the incident soon after, both of whom spoke with ThinkProgress to corroborate her story. An internal investigation by senior Shambhala teachers Judith Simmer-Brown and Adam Lobel followed. What ensued was unsatisfactory for Amy, who ultimately decided not to pursue the issue after “getting thrown around these different people.” (ThinkProgress)
However, after Buddhist Project Sunshine last month published its second report on alleged sexual misconduct within Shambhala International,** Amy decided to bring her account into the formal process of resolution known as “Care and Conduct.” On 29 June she sent a letter to Lobel, matching the information reported by ThinkProgress. Shambhala then asked its centers not to invite Rinzler to talk about his new book, Love Hurts, while the investigation was ongoing. On the same day, Rinzler announced his resignation from Shambhala via his private Facebook account.
More recently, Ethan Nichtern, Shambhala teacher and author of One City: A Declaration of Interdependence (Wisdom Publications, 2007), The Road Home (North Point Press, 2015), and The Dharma of the Princess Bride (North Point Press, 2017), announced that he would give up his title of shastri,while continuing to engage with Shambhala as a lower level teacher/mentor, or kalyanamitra. (Ethan Nichtern)
After clarifying his guru-student relationship with Sakyong Mipham and the long-standing inner workings of the Shambhala International hierarchy, Nichtern turned his attention to the issue of staying in Shambhala, but without the rank he had previously been appointed by Sakyong Mipham. He writes in a blog post dated 20 July:
What I have learned more deeply than ever before in recent months is that there is always an interdependence between harmful systems and the causes of personal harm by an individual perpetrator. If we want abuse to end, we need to end the monolithic and non-transparent nature of patriarchy once and for all. This non-transparent structure has directly affected the way senior teachers are chosen in our lineage—including, sadly, a great deal of truly amazing teachers. For now, as honored as I am to have received a title among this group, I no longer feel able to participate. (Ethan Nichtern)
Nonetheless, Nichtern explains that he hopes to continue to serve Shambhala through listening and working with members and would consider taking up the role of shastri again if title were granted under a more equitable system.
* Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche Steps Down from Shambhala Leadership Amid Probe into Conduct (Buddhistdoor Global)
** Report Details Alleged Sexual Assault And Misconduct by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche (Buddhistdoor Global)