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June 29, 2018

#TimesUp & the Sakyong.

Update: a personal statement from Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche: read original here.

To the Shambhala Community,

In a state of complete heartbreak, I write to you, humble, embarrassed, and thoroughly apologetic for disappointing you. I feel a tremendous amount of sorrow for the pain, confusion, and anger that our sangha is experiencing. I accept accountability for this pain, and want to express my commitment to personal growth.

I fully support a third-party investigator being hired to look into claims of sexual misconduct in the Shambhala community. I feel that I must, at this time, step back from my administrative and teaching responsibilities as a leader of Shambhala to allow space for the investigation to occur.

It is clear to me that I have much more learning to do. I am committed to engaging with women and others in our community who have felt marginalized, beginning this week. I will be using this time of self-reflection to deeply listen and to better understand how the dynamics of power, gender, and my actions have affected others.

I know that some of what you are hearing may be surprising and shocking for those of you who have only known me as a teacher. I wish to share with all of you some of the challenges that I have gone through. None of this is to give an excuse for my actions, but I do wish to be open with you about my journey as a human, and give some history and context to my life and behavior.

After the passing of my father, I took on the leadership role of Shambhala at a young age, followed by my enthronement in 1995. During this period, I struggled to find my way, and fumbled with unhealthy power dynamics and alcohol. I failed to recognize the pain and confusion I was creating.

Noticing this, a group of senior students came to me deeply concerned about the way I was drinking, and it was then that I began to realize how my actions were impacting others, and affecting my ability to lead in a genuine way. At that point, I realized that I needed to change my lifestyle. Again, I am not saying that this is an excuse.

In the years following this feedback, I cut back my drinking, began running and developed a more healthy lifestyle, physically and spiritually. I committed myself to deepening my own practice and teaching path. In 2005, I met and married my wife, the Sakyong Wangmo. We established our home and began a family together. She has been a teacher and partner, helping me to open my heart in a healthy way.

Since then, I have consciously worked on improving my relationship to alcohol as well as trying to improve my general behavior and my relationship to others as a teacher and as a person. Personal development and learning is a lifelong process and I know that I must continuously apply myself and hear the feedback that I am getting. I feel tremendous regret and sadness, and I commit myself to continuing this healing.

Our teachings advise that we do not give up on ourselves or on each other. I am realizing that I have much to learn and am committed to that process. I hope that by my doing this, our Shambhala community and organization can evolve, and become a true place of kindness, respect, and dignity. I am here for you, and am thinking of you always.

With love,

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche

~

Shambhala will be healthier for this sunshine and sadness will show us the way forward. We are not about theism, but we have been.

Sadness (and, then, a possibility for genuine joy) is right below the anger, and everything else. Our tender hearts will illuminate the way forward, together, whatever that looks like.

An epic journey. Sparks, East and West. Warriors. Heartbreak, love stories, marriages, divorces, children, children growing up sunflower-like into new warriors.

Douchery. Push. Advantage, high and low—but mainly high. Theism, vaunted, high: take advantage and have fun. Theism, low: put ’em on a pedestal, tear ’em down. Is Milarepa relevant, here?

Ambition. Clubbiness collapses, and they flee.

I feel sad. Beneath all the itching words and anger and defense and offense and rancor, I feel sad. And the epic journey continues.

Sit, sit, sit. Practice, serve. Feel the pain. Don’t cause it. Truth is our friend. Some will ride this wave and take advantage. Some, hit by the wave, will flee.

But warriors, simply, will feel it. Learn from it. And chart a new path forward in the dawning light of the Great Eastern Sun.

But now it is dusk: sunshine has illuminated karma and hurt and shame. And now it is dusk: we roil, conflicted, processing, our sadness an inch beneath the vitriolic surface.

We have work to do.

 

~

 

The rise, and a fall.

The rescue, and the gradual build, and shift, and decline and diaspora—and, simultaneous, a new golden age dawns.

But when one culture encounters another, greater, when time moves and progress determines different standards…when sins of excess and power move from privileged shadows to rumor-ridden sunshine—even a King may fall, and with him, the lineage, the kingdom itself, the practice, and future warriors—all begin to see their path forward fade in the glaring sunshine.

Is healing available for heaven, fallen, and earth, finally heard? Is truth discoverable? Will rancor win out?

The good news is that what was not kind or fair or dignified is now seen. But we must see clearly, and fully before moving forward. And that takes talking, and listening, and research, and support of that research, and bravery.

The good news is that, once we see fully, if we ever can—the path forward will be better than the brilliant and, yes, brutal path behind us.

~

My words may be clumsy here, above and below. This brief overview is offered without hope of making any “side” happy—that’s impossible—but in the spirit of openness and open discussion helping us all to find a way forward. If anyone who knows far more than me or has a wiser perspective would like to correct the record or offer wisdom for all of us, you can do so here.

 

“There is no need for temples, no need for complicated philosophies. My brain and my heart are my temples; my philosophy is kindness.” ~ the Dalai Lama

I offered this a few days after the report dropped, maybe a week after the letter. So it is not up to date. I wanted to offer a journalistic perspective (as opposed to ThinkProgress)—now that the project has reported, more will come forward—more corroboration and details on the very serious allegation and any others…and that will clear what is now a confusing situation. So now is a time to process and wait.
 
And, should no more comes forward, that will say something, too.
 
But mostly, as a white man, I haven’t wanted to “say” anything, and for all those of you who have been quietly reading, processing, discussing with friends and sangha—know that listening is powerful and needed, too.
 
To all those who have been both frank and kind in this process, that’s your practice showing up. We must ensure that practice and community are available for the future generations.
 
And we must also realize that we all (up to 2006 perhaps) knew that the Sakyong, as well various acharyas and leadership were dating students and our peers and friend and that while we now acknowledge that is a power and consent issue, it was not then seen as such. So we are all responsible.
 
And we are all responsible for creating theism—tearing down those we put up on pedestals is yet another manifestation of theism. The Buddha reminded us: do not idolize. We are all equal.
 
Of course: any sexual misconduct, or worse, beyond “dating” within that power imbalance–that’s where we are all gravely concerned and may everyone feel safe coming forward with truth and corroboration.
 
For those who have discussed rehabilitative justice, hai! We should listen to those who know more on that path.
 
~

Yesterday, the Sakyong, a prominent Buddhist teacher and the leader of my community, apologized for causing harm in his past relationships. More details or info appears to be forthcoming. Update: And today the report about him came out, detailing stories of three anonymous alleged victims who encountered boorish behaviour, groping, sex acts that were not clearly consensual, and evident alcoholism in a context of religious idolatry. The stories have the ring of truth, and have been corroborated in some way (not much detail on that). There is an additional but brief mention of a rumor of a rape that the report says there is not yet first-hand knowledge about, or corroboration. 

Over the last year or so, there has been an ongoing grassroots exposé of the Shambhala Buddhist community.

Context is relevant, but does not negate anything that happened: the 70s, 80s were a free-wheeling time of drugs and sex in many ways. The Buddhist sangha (community) was young, drugs were plentiful, marriages were porous. Wild times.

But some stuff wasn’t fun—it was way out of line. We’ve heard about older men dating girls (ie, below 18), and of meditation teachers coming on to new students.

And sexual and power dynamics, enlightened and far from enlightened, have continued right up until now, of course. This is a moment of shift: for us to get things right, and protect the next generation.

Today, we have newfound awareness of power dynamics. Abuse of power can come to light through a tweet—it can’t be suppressed by institutions or money or lawyers, any longer. And so we have the chance to awaken as communities, and as society as a whole.

We have the chance to not only expose the past, but to make a more enlightened society now and for our future.

May we do so coupled with facts, not merely righteous anger. May we create a kinder, transparent world, and may we heal.

~

I was a mid-level kasung (a sort of guard) on occasion over years around my teacher, the Sakyong, and never saw abuse or anything like it. I did see a lot of power and seemingly mutual dating. A lot. I was on the inside of the household for interminably boring shifts, so I feel like I might have seen some inappropriate things if they were going on. But I didn’t.

That’s not to say they didn’t happen. In the dating life of a spiritual leader, there is a power imbalance that creates magnetism for some students—and ample opportunity for abuse. We used to say that the Sakyong was like a guru + Mick Jagger–famous, good looking, enlightened, powerful, rich—how could anyone resist?

(I know one of the loves of my life couldn’t. But she also earnestly wanted to be with him. They broke my heart again and again, but that too felt like a sort of growing up rite of passage for my immature, raw heart and clinginess. It taught me, the hard way, to let go of what I loved.)

But now, as discussed at the farmers market with young and old sangha members just two hours ago, there seems to be a good deal of understanding, of this as “no big deal.” But those who regard this as sad, but no big deal, are quiet, and speak in hushed tones.

Online, there is heartbreak and anger at his letter’s tepid apology.

Both reactions are understandable: where we come from determines a good deal of our perspective.

I have to agree with some that I don’t think he’s genuinely apologizing, yet, at this point. I think, rather, he’s feeling forced and cornered, as many powerful folks are right now. I’m not sure of the path forward, but mediation often is powerful stuff, if all parties are open to it. Assuming all parties are not comfortable with mediation, I have no suggestions. I write all of this without answers, but simply in the interest of openness, and looking for a path forward for our community, or at least a way for us to, again, protect the next generation.

Theism, or cult of personality, is clearly not working.

That said.

If, as we said at the farmers market today, there was any kind of abuse that we don’t know about, all bets are off. (Update: the report mentions one allegation of rape, but makes it clear that there is no corroboration. Should that change, everything changes. For now, it is hearsay, and we wait for direct information on that front).

Whatever the truth is, it will come out, and now’s the time–and hopefully we can find a way to sincerely learn from it and heal, and create better, less old-boy’s-club community.

So let us expose, and right wrongs—but let us also make sure we have the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Otherwise, some will abuse this moment and undermine its beneficial power.

Let’s remember that facts are our friends in righting injustice—that mob rule by social media can help expose and overturn privilege and power, but it must be then coupled with the truth, with facts or reasonable corroboration (as the report does well).

Facts (or anonymous accounts well-corroborated) are the friends of justice—not a defense of the Sakyong, in this case. The facts or corroborated accounts of survivors right now are overwhelmingly against him, and will likely continue that way.

To repeat: #timesup is a blessing and its time has come. And for it to land with full and lasting effect, it must always be coupled with facts.

Facts are the ally of goodness. Truth is the ally of righting wrongs. Social media mob rule, torches and calling for the heads of those who have been unjust…is wonderful, in that it exposes power. But we must not destroy lives with rumor, we must ground rumor in fact. And then, we must see how we can heal. Many here in Boulder work to support rehabilitative paths for survivors and aggressors alike. I’m not sure what the alternative is.

Together, all of us, we can hasten a kinder and more honest society. We have work to do, and it can’t all be done through anger.

Our genuine heart of sadness, open dialogue, and the popping of the balloon of theism will show us a better path forward.

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