Amid accusation of sexual assault and misconduct,* Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, the prominent Buddhist teacher in the Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism and head of the Canada-based Shambhala international Buddhist community, has decided to “step back from his teaching and administrative responsibilities within Shambhala during the independent investigation of these allegations,” according to an official statement from Sakyong Mipham’s office dated 6 July.**
The allegations against Sakyong Mipham were covered extensively in an independent report published last week by Buddhist Project Sunshine,*** a grassroots initiative started by Andrea Winn, a second-generation Shambhala Buddhist who grew up in the early years of the community. The report includes three anonymous first-person accounts of abuses allegedly committed by Sakyong Mipham. The statement from Sakyong Mipham’s office,** excerpt shown below, followed an announcement late on Friday that the community’s main governing body, the Kalapa Council, would also step down in a “phased departure,” leaving the organization for the time being without a formal leadership structure.****
Last week, stories of misconduct within the Shambhala community involving the Sakyong were brought forward publicly. In light of this, the Sakyong has decided to step back from his administrative and teaching responsibilities within Shambhala during the independent investigation of these allegations. He is also stepping down from his positions and responsibilities at Naropa University.
The Sakyong fully supports a third-party investigation and wishes to provide the time and space for it to properly occur. He will use this time to enter a period of self-reflection.**
Headquartered in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the Shambhala community is an international network of more than 200 meditation centers and groups spanning over 50 countries and six continents, in addition to online communities. Sakyong Mipham, the current lineage holder, was enthroned as sakyong in 1995.
In its message on 6 July, the Kalapa Council stated: “In the interest of beginning a healing process for our community, the Kalapa Councillors will step down from our posts. . . . We recognize that parts of our system are broken, and need to dissolve in order to make room for real change.”****
The council also announced that an agreement had been signed with An Olive Branch—an independent organization founded at the Zen Center of Pittsburgh that helps Buddhist communities prevent and address sexual misconduct. An Olive Branch will act as a neutral party “for receiving stories of harm, survivor advocacy and consulting on our policies going forward.” **** Shambhala has also engaged Halifax-based law firm Wickwire Holm to investigate reports of abuse or misconduct by any of the community’s teachers and leaders.
The council’s message did not specify whether its dissolution would be permanent or only for the duration of the investigation.
Meanwhile, Naropa University, established by Shambhala founder Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche (1939–87), announced on 5 July that its board of trustees had found the accusations of against Sakyong Mipham to be “credible and believable.”*****
The board subsequently requested that Sakyong Mipham resign from his roles as ex officio non-voting board member and Naropa Lineage Holder, noting that Naropa University has been legally independent of Shambhala International since 1987, and that none of the alleged incidents of misconduct took place at the university. The announcement emphasized that: “The Sakyong has agreed to resign from both positions effective immediately.”*****
Also on 5 July, Andrea Winn, author of the Project Sunshine reports, which were instrumental in brain a spotlight to bear of the allegations of misconduct with Shambhala, announced that she, too, would be taking a step back from her role as a Buddhist activist, after working on the projects for more than a year. In a followup post on her website on 6 July, Winn stated:
Today I am retiring from a job that has been the hardest thing I have ever done – cracking open healing light on a deeply suppressed systemic infestation of sexual abuse within the most precious Shambhala community. . . My retirement today is not a full retirement, because I will continue doing things beyond the activism work – more peaceful things.******
Born Osel Rangdrol Mukpo in Bodh Gaya, India, in 1962, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche is the eldest son of Shambhala founder Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and Buddhist nun Ani Konchok Palden. He has been recognized as the incarnation of the highly revered Tibetan Nyingma scholar and meditation master Jamgon Ju Mipham Gyatso (1846–1912).
* Report Details Alleged Sexual Assault And Misconduct by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche (Buddhistdoor Global)
** A Message from the Office of the Sakyong
*** Buddhist Project Sunshine Phase 2 Final Report (Project Sunshine)
**** A Message from the Kalapa Council of Shambhala
***** Naropa University Statement Regarding Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche
****** Let’s celebrate Andrea’s retirement and all that has been accomplished! (Dream Whisperer)
UPDATED: Buddhist leader steps aside pending sexual misconduct investigation (ThinkProgress)
Leaked notes reveal Buddhist leader coerced female students into sex (ThinkProgress)
Boulder’s Naropa University removes Shambhala International leader from its board (Daily Camera)
An Olive Branch
Shambhala: Making Enlightened Society Possible