Critical Dharma for Thinking Minds
This report by Buddhist Project Sunshine includes the stories of three women who came forward to share the truth of their experience in Shambhala as victims of sexual assault by Sakyong Mipham. In addition to their own experiences of sexual assault, they were also witnesses to the Sakyong’s pattern of sexual assault of many other women over many years, not only as a young man, but long after he was married and had children, as recently as 2011.
A second report by Buddhist Project Sunshine’s investigator, Carol Merchasin, also contains an investigation into an allegation that the Sakyong sexually assaulted a woman in Chile.
The report is the result of an investigation into claims of sexual abuse in Shambhala by the Sakyong. The investigation was conducted by Buddhist Project Sunshine’s Andrea Winn, M.Ed, MCS., a team of three investigators, and Attorney Carol Merchasin, a lawyer with experience in sexual assault investigations. The attorney found that the women’s stories were credible and had limited corroboration.
I find that all of the allegations I have listed above are credible The women are from different cities, their experiences are from different time periods, and they have little or no connection to one another until now. The pattern of behavior that their stories establish is compelling. (C. Merchasin, Appendix 5, p. 7 of Memorandum, document page 52.)
The attorney recommends that a full independent investigation and criminal investigation be conducted.
“A pattern is a very strong indication of truth being told,” the investigator said, adding that any “reasonable organization” would use their resources to complete a full investigation of what might amount to “institutionalized sexual abuse.” (Tricycle article).
In addition, a man named Edmund Butler has published his own experience of financial fraud, physical assault, attempts on his life, and other criminal behavior by members of Shambhala’s leadership at Dorje Denma Ling:
Shambhala continues to perpetuate a culture of denial and delusion among its leadership and sangha, and exploitation and abuse of its sangha members. I could go on but I’m not sure there’s much for me to say anymore, that I haven’t already said, about Shambhala and other western Tibetan dharma lineages. It’s better if you read the reports yourself and draw your own conclusions.
I personally experience physical, emotional and sexual assault in the two Tibetan lineage sanghas I participated in. I have since left Tibetan Buddhism altogether and turned toward Theravada instead. I have never been personally abused in any way in Theravadin lineages, although I’m sure they’re not exempt. I have practiced in two sanghas of Sri Lanka lineage, and both treated me very well.
The main difference with Theravadin lineages is that the monks do not interact with individuals in a sangha in any significant way. As monks they keep themselves separate from the lay community, which tends to create an atmosphere of social distance, but also guards against the kinds of abuses that occur in guru-dependent lineages. The teacher in a Theravadin lineage is the teacher for the whole community, not for you personally. Furthermore, you are encouraged to become ‘independent in the dharma’, that is, to study and practice the dharma yourself until you are proficient and don’t need to rely on anyone else for direction.
Finally Theravadin lineages emphasize Buddhist ethics, the Five Precepts, which protects sangha members from harm and from doing harm to others. The Five Precepts are the most basic and essential form of Buddhist practice. If you can’t practice those with regularity and integrity, then maybe you’re not ready to go on to so-called “advanced” practices.
But personally, I’ve moved on, and there’s no need for me to repeat the past. I’m just alerting readers to current conditions in some western Buddhist sanghas because it’s something that we should all be aware of out of concern for those who might be harmed by sangha abuse.