The spiritual head of the Canada-based Shambhala International Buddhist community, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, on Wednesday announced his withdrawal from all teaching and administrative duties “for the foreseeable future.” The announcement, which Sakyong Mipham shared with the Shambhala community by email, comes in the wake of new allegations of impropriety and the release earlier this month of an independent investigative report into allegations of sexual abuse within the community.
In his message, Sakyong Mipham shares that: “I understand that I am the main source of that suffering and confusion and want to again apologize for this. I am deeply sorry.”
The email from Sakying Mipham follows an open letter signed by 42 senior Shambhala teachers, or acharyas, that was circulated a day earlier, urging the renowned Dharma teacher to step back, stating:
We have an obligation to learn how to better hear and support those who have been abused, ignored, or mistreated. We cannot condone the Sakyong’s abusive behavior.
In order to demonstrate the urgency of this cry and respond to the breakdown in trust that so many of us are experiencing, we are requesting the Sakyong to step back from his teaching for the foreseeable future. We are shifting our emphasis from our role as representatives of the Sakyong to fully supporting the journey of the sangha. We will continue to teach and offer vows and transmissions for the benefit of the sangha and to help preserve the lineage.
Founded in Boulder, Colorado, and headquartered in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the Shambhala community is an international network of more than 200 meditation centers and groups with over 12,000 members spanning some 50 countries and six continents, in addition to online communities. Sakyong Mipham, the current lineage holder, was enthroned as sakyong in 1995.
Sakyong Mipham, who is currently in retreat at a monastery in India owned by his wife’s family, shared the following email with community members on Wednesday:
To the Shambhala Community:
I know you are suffering greatly in this period of tremendous pain and turmoil in our sangha. I too am in pain, and I am worried and concerned about all of you and our community. I want to express wholeheartedly how sorry I feel about all that has happened. I understand that I am the main source of that suffering and confusion and want to again apologize for this. I am deeply sorry.
I am receiving many messages and am listening to your concerns. Yesterday I received a letter from the Acharyas requesting that I step back from teaching. I have decided to honor these requests and will continue to step back from my teaching and administrative duties in Shambhala for the foreseeable future.
I hope that doing so will allow for the community to heal and determine how Shambhala can manifest and organize itself in the future. As for myself, this time allows me the opportunity to continue a process of healing. I have received many suggestions and advice about how this can occur, and I am investigating these as possibilities. Truly understanding and processing what has occurred will take time. There is no quick fix. Therefore, I ask for your patience so that genuine healing and understanding can happen.
Even though I will not be engaged in the activities of Shambhala, I will be sending my love and support.
For those students who want to maintain a relationship with me, I will be available for contact and will keep you in my thoughts and prayers. I plan to stay connected by writing occasional messages and will be in touch with my Vajrayana students in the coming days. It is very sad and difficult for me to express this to all of you and I hope that doing so allows for each of us to find a way forward and that we can still use the teachings as a way of healing and inspiration.
With a sad and tender heart,
On 3 February, Shambhala’s interim board released the final report of the findings of an independent investigation by Halifax-based law firm Wickwire Holm into the allegations of widespread sexual misconduct by Sakyong Mipham and other senior members of the Buddhist community. The report states that: “There was enough consistency for the investigator to paint a picture that the Sakyong’s behavior in the 1990s and up to 2005 included frequent sexual contact with women who were his students and, thus, characterized by a power imbalance. Although some of the women reported feeling special or honored for being asked to see the Sakyong privately, some of these relationships left the women feeling abandoned. Often, they had little to no communication with the Sakyong after their encounter. This added to their confusion and feeling of being dismissed. No one reported criminal behavior.”
A prominent Buddhist teacher in the Nyingma tradition of Vajrayana Buddhism, Sakyong Mipham previously announced on 6 July last year, after allegations of sexual abuse first surfaced in a three-part exposé report by Buddhist Project Sunshine, that he would “step back from his teaching and administrative responsibilities within Shambhala to allow the independent investigation of these allegations.”*
While the Wickwire Holm report adds to the body of evidence of widespread sexual misconduct within Shambhala International, some survivors of the alleged abuse have expressed a lack of confidence that the law firm had fairly investigated their claims. One alleged victim said, “I have no doubt that Wickwire is a respected firm, but I question whether it can serve as a neutral third-party investigator when its client is the organization that has covered up Mr. Mukpo’s [Sakyong Mipham’s birth name] egregious behaviors for many years.” (andreawinn.com)
On 16 February, six of Sakyong Mipham’s former bodyguards, or kusung, issued a detailed letter criticizing the narrow scope of the Wickwire Holm report, and asserted that: “We can confirm that Mr. Mukpo has a longstanding history of questionable behavior towards his students, ranging from crude, harmful speech to physical and psychological abuse. This has occurred both while he was drinking heavily and in the absence of alcohol.”
One of the signatories, identified as Allya Canepa, reportedly told The Denver Post that over the course of her 25 years as a personal guard, she had watched “hundreds” of women leave his bedroom, and alleged that she had comforted many of the women following their sexual encounters with Sakyong Mipham.
Born Osel Rangdrol Mukpo in Bodh Gaya, India, in 1962, Sakyong Mipham is the eldest son of Shambhala founder Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and Buddhist nun Ani Konchok Palden. He was recognized as an incarnation of the revered Tibetan Nyingma scholar and meditation master Jamgon Ju Mipham Gyatso (1846–1912).
* Message from the Office of the Sakyong
Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche’s email to the Shambhala community
Letter to the community from Shambhala acharyas
Wickwire Holm Report
Open letter to the Shambhala community from long-serving kusung
Buddhist Project Sunshine
Further abuse accusations against Sakyong Mipham, head of Shambhala Buddhism (Patheos)
Shambhala leaders urge Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche to “step back” amid new abuse allegations (The Denver Post)
UPDATED: Buddhist leader allegedly bit, struck, sexually assaulted students (ThinkProgress)
Assault survivors share why they are not participating in Shambhala’s Wickwire Holm investigation (andreawinn.com)