The Vermont Supreme Court has upheld a 2019 law that eliminated a statute of limitations, allowing survivors of childhood sexual abuse to bring civil action suits against those responsible. The ruling was made in June, but details were only unsealed this month pointing to a court case against Shambhala USA and John Weber, a former employee of Shambhala’s Karme Choling Meditation Center in Barnet, Vermont.
The alleged abuse took place in 1983, when the plaintiff was 15 years old. The plaintiff’s name is not being published by the media because he was a minor at the time.
Responding to the verdict, the plaintiff said he was “really happy, really happy . . . not just for me, but it’s part of what I wanted to do in taking action, was helping other people.” (VT Digger)
The lawsuit, originally filed in May 2020, alleges that when Weber as the art director at Karme Choling, he sexually abused the 15-year-old boy.
According to the plaintiff’s lawyers, Shambhala USA “and its subsequent entities were founded and created to honor principles of Buddhism, but instead it, and the individuals in leadership positions, lured children and young adults through a religious pretext so they could be victimized.” (VT Digger)
“Their victims, including the Plaintiff, faced additional rounds of abuse in the form of shaming—since the institutions that were supposed to have protected them then ostracized and shunned them if they or their parents spoke up or took any action to report the incidents,” the lawyers added. (VT Digger)
The court’s five members decided unanimously to allow the plaintiff to move forward with his planned lawsuit. The plaintiff has also filed a motion to unseal the case, which will be reviewed before October in Caledonia County Superior Criminal Court in St. Johnsbury.
Weber’s attorney, David Sleigh, said that his client disputed the claims against him: “We categorically deny the allegations made by the plaintiff and we think we’ll be able to demonstrate that they’re not true and we look forward to vindicating Mr. Weber in court.” (VT Digger)
Shambhala USA’s attorney, Evan O’Brien, also disputed the allegations against the organization, saying in a statement: “Shambhala respects the decision of the Vermont Supreme Court. It denies [the plaintiff’s] allegations of wrongdoing and looks forward to defending the case in court.” (VT Digger)
According to the lawsuit, the Shambhala community has long taken part in and encouraged “widespread sexual activity among multiple partners,” and that “sex with the guru” became a step “toward enlightenment.” (VT Digger)
The community followed the charismatic Tibetan teacher Chögyam Trungpa (1939–87), known for his “crazy wisdom” teachings and eccentric lifestyle. Numerous accusations against Trungpa and his followers have been made over the years, most recently the major revelations compiled by former community member Andrea Winn in her “Project Sunshine.”*
The plaintiff, like some of the others discussed in Project Sunshine, grew up in the Shambhala community, only leaving in 1987, some time after the alleged sexual assault. According to the lawsuit, around 2003 Shambhala leaders discouraged the plaintiff from going to the police with his case.
“Instead, Shambhala offered [the man] the ‘opportunity’ to have a mediation meeting with his assailant, Weber,” the lawsuit stated. “This is another example of Shambhala knowingly protecting its own interests and that of the perpetrators above those of victims, including when they were just children.” (VT Digger)
Before the 2019 law change, people in Vermont had only six years after realizing that an instance of childhood sexual abuse had caused harm to file a civil court case. The 2019 law removed the time limit and also specified that survivors could sue institutions that had permitted or perpetuated child sexual abuse.
According to Thomas Nuovo, an attorney for the plaintiff, the ruling could have ramifications beyond Vermont. “I think the decision is not only important for Vermont but it’s also important outside of Vermont in affirming what other states are doing,” he said, adding that other states had been adopting similar legislation. (VT Digger)
Related news reports from BDG
Colorado’s Drala Mountain Center (Formerly Shambhala Mountain Center) Files for Bankruptcy
Former Shambhala Member Expected to Enter Plea Agreement After Sexual Assault Charge
Police Arrest a Second Former Shambhala Member Accused of Sexually Assaulting Children
Former Shambhala Teacher Arrested in Colorado; Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche Implicated in Sexual Misconduct
Ani Pema Chödrön Retires as Senior Teacher at Shambhala Buddhist Community
Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche Steps Down from Teaching as Misconduct and Abuse Allegations Continue to Emerge