the author writes "sole holder of the most sacred teachings in a custody chain that goes back centuries, the only one who can transmit them, according to the traditions of his lineage." Nope, this lineage only goes back as far as the founder, one generation ago. He split from his teachers and Shambhala never acknowledges that lineage nor honors them.
Shambhala was made by the founder for consumption by Americans during his 1960 romps, he found a ready audience.
This is not a branch of Tibetan Buddhism that is ever heard of in Tibet.
JJ (Name edited to initials for privacy - Corboy)
Portland, OregonJuly 12
I was a member of the Shambhala community in Minnesota and took Buddhist vows ten years ago. I became very suspicious after two years of paying thousands of dollars to take all ten "warrior" levels of full weekend training and other workshops. When I realized the next training was on the East Coast and would cost another $1,000.00 I quit. I also couldn't trust the secret chants some members were doing in another room that I couldn't participate it because I wasn't "there" yet. The drive to become a spiritual warrior was very inviting but aside from the huge financial expense something just felt really really wrong about the whole organization. All of us heard about and knew of Chogyam Rinpoche's exploits. If this community is to survive and heal a full Western reckoning of truth and justice needs to examine and totally reorganize the spiritual practice, without a male hierarchy and hopefully without a hierarchy at all.
I studied at the Shambala center in NYC for about five years. I had heard of Shambala wives, but I had no idea what they were, so I asked a teacher during a class. What I didn't know was that the teacher's wife was a Shambala wife, which meant she had sexual relations with Chogyum Trungpa, the founder of Shambala training, and this was a sore point in their relationship. There was a gasp in the class -- which I didn't understand -- and no answer was forthcoming. In a class a few weeks later, led by the Shambala wife who I had inadvertently embarrassed, I was verbally attacked and essentially thrown out of Shambala training for asking pointed questions. At the time I was devastated. This is not to denigrate what I learned at Shambala Training, the teachings were profound and I still meditate, but I learn from many different sources now. People run institutions and power often corrupts. I'm glad I was thrown out.
I attended classes and meetings at the Shambhala Center in NYC for a few years. I enjoyed the community and many of the lessons of meditation. I found myself better able to appreciate my life moment to moment, which had been especially helpful during recent trying political times.
One evening another student said to me, “Whatever you do, don’t google the founder of Shambhala”. Naturally, as soon as I got home, I did. I was distressed to learn of his alcoholism and allegations of abuse. From that point on, the frequent reverential mentions of him in classes confused me because I was truly enjoying the teaching. Often, in between meetings, I agonized over this. Over time, I went less and less often.
My heart breaks thinking of the people in that community and what they must be going through, now that the founders’ son had also been shown to be a drinker and abuser. So many of them are kind, smart people with good intentions. However, the truth had to be revealed. Power corrupts.
Many years ago my dad went to the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado, to hear Chogyam Trungpa, then the lead teacher of Shambhala. A couple of minutes into the talk, he turned to the people seated next to him and said "He's drunk". The reaction he received from those around him was glares and disdain. People were there to worship, not learn, and he immediately left.
I became involved in the mindfulness meditation community for a while in the 2000s. There are good, common people in that community, but there are also a number of big names who have become corrupted by their own success, absorbed in their rock star status far more than they are committed to the teachings of the ancient practice. While the corruption in the mindfulness community is not the same as the abuse profiled here at Shambhala, or what has been revealed in the Catholic church and many other Christian communities, it nevertheless points to the dangers inherent in people's desire to be "led" into various forms of awakening.
The seductive power of admiration and wealth that draws spiritual or meditation teachers into corrupt uses of ostensibly healthy practices is, like a winning lottery ticket, difficult for anyone to resist. The result of such corruption is a form of gaslighting where the very path sought by those seeking insight becomes yet one more commodified scam aimed at fulfilling the interests of the guru or teacher at the expense of the student.
Los AngelesJuly 12
The cliche is that Buddhism is "wise" but in reality it has a lot to learn from Western social progress.
I read one or two of Chogyam Trungpa's books years ago and was thoroughly creeped out by them. They were clearly psychologically twisted and required a level of passivity on the part of "followers" that seemed intended to train people to be exploited.
You can try to pass "crazy" off as "wisdom" to naïve people but eventually the truth comes out that it was just a manipulation tactic for personal gain and exploitation. I feel sorry for the people still caught up in the mental game of it.
I stopped attending Shambhala in Atlanta about 20 years ago because of their strong hierarchal bent and their obvious rationalization for outrageous behavior. For a group who stresses awakening, they seemed to be in some sort of mass denial. I was told by one of my meditation instructors that the Sakyong's father, Chogyam Trungpa, died of cirrhosis of the liver. When I asked her how she dealt with this - the idea that a man who taught meditation (and who started Shambhala) and preached not harming others could drink to the point that he killed himself, her response stunned me. I was told that she thought "he drank for the benefit of others." That he wanted to experience this disease so that he could help others deal with alcoholism. They called his behavior "crazy wisdom." This from a woman who had been on year long retreats - whose 'day job' was meditation instruction, and who had been with the organization for over 20 years.
I left the organization shortly after, but it did teach me a valuble lession. Although I still meditate, I realize you can spend your life meditating and still be very much in denial. It's only one of many tools. Unfortunately, there will be many who are unable to walk away. They've invested much of their lives in the community and their entire support system is there, and of course, being taught by Shambhala instructors, they will be adept a rationalizing this away.
Essentially, Shambala and other organizations centered around gurus are merely cults, dressed up in high-falutin' Buddhist religious names and titles that allow them and their gurus or maters to fly under the radar of the law.
While essentiallly the same brain-washing as Scientology or Branch Davidians is their MO, the truth is that it's even worse for followers. If they decide to go public or leave they are subject not only to the usual dire threat and harassment techniques, but told that they are betraying Buddhism and the Buddha.
the Buddhist community has known about Sogyal and Sasaki for decades. They were aided, enabled and hidden by senior cult members who sacrificed decency in the hope of being enlighted by a predator.
There is no excuse in the world for these miscreants. Leonard Cohen, who was Sasaki's disciple, when asked about his predation, dismissed it as an old man being playful with his students. Denial and enabling of criminal conduct by celebrity cult members evidences the opaque penumbra Sasaki's followers mainained under oblique and open threats of this guru to withhold "enlightenment".
As said, serial predation by so-called enlightened masters is well known in the Buddhist community. The ones exposed thusfar are merely the tip of the dharma iceberg.
If the Dalai Lama is analagous to the Pope, he must immeditatey address this horror and "defrock" those engaged in predatory conduct.
Hah! This is also how I happened upon Shambhala...affordable retreats in lovely settings! I would also say that for many years, my local city center was a lovely community, excellent programs and welcoming to all. It really was an oasis. (I say was b/c I become less involved for a lot of reasons, mostly time, but also a shift in the vibe there). Shambhala has a lot to offer, and decentralization is likely the key. The hierarchy feels very much at odds with its own teachings nowadays. For may lay practitioners, Pema Chodron is also their way in, and her feminine energy and leadership is far more impactful. So as someone who has been Shambhala adjacent for many years and not knowing the history deeper, it is really eye opening to realize how many layers of power there are, and just what an enormous INSTITUTION it is.
The sophistication, refinement and depth of the practices that the tiny country of Tibet (a few million people) managed to preserve over more than a thousand years are amazing. this took place in a rigidly hierarchical container where reincarnated "living gods" like Mipham served as transmitters across generations. Within a Tibetan context, Mipham would have been surrounded by his teachers, advisers and a lot of ritual pomp, and his capacity for mischief would be constrained. Not so in the West, where the man's narcissism and power hunger were not checked by anyone. This was simply a matter of time.
I blame the Tibetan hierarchy (including HH the Dalai Lama) for sitting on their hands despite ample information about the Sakyong gone off rails. They did nothing with Trungpa and Sogyal either, in my view compounding the damage and tacitly encouraging subsequent abuse.
Shambhala is a true cult, i 've lost friends over mocking their starry eyed devotion to this narcissist. The influence he had - just like Trungpa - over overeducated white devotees can not be overstated.
Interestingly, Tibetans themselves often seemed to know better but were disinclined to go against one of their own.
Franck L (Surname edited for privacy_ Corboy)
New JerseyJuly 12
Same here, I was seriously turned off by Shambala's sect like atmosphere, with military titles and garb. What shocked me also was how influential, and powerful Shambala was (is) in American Tibetan Buddhism. Another way to look at it would be how power hungry the organization was (and raking dollars at the expense of American Buddhists.) Allen Ginsberg must be turning around in his grave.
raftriver commented July 12
Pacific NorthwestJuly 12
My visit to Shambala Mountain Center in Red Feather Lakes opened my eyes to the whole militaristic thing that is a remainder of Trungpa's leadership. That, and the exposure of many abuses in the Zen tradition, has led me to be solitary practitioner and meditation.
La La LandJuly 12
Back in the 'Hippie Days' I met and studied with many of these various 'teachers', from Zen and Buddhism, Hindu, Tibetan Tantra (the Dalai Lama's interpreter), Yoga, to even the guy who helped found Scientology. They all had one thing in common - they wanted guys to pay and wanted to have sex with all the girls. With excuses such as 'we are having sex for world peace' to 'it's the way of karma', etc. I warned my friends, but to no avail. They were believers. I didn't get involved. It was just too obvious, plus I wanted all the girls, too.
New York CItyJuly 12
The recent scandals in the western Tibetan Buddhist community are based on very long standing problems that were well known publicly or within their given communities. The sex abuse aspect is a symptom of the bigger picture of corruption that, it would appear, finally needs to be addressed in Buddhist communities.
Clearly, underlying the culture of too many Buddhist groups is a psychology that allows for the creation of and sustains such abuse and corruption. Unless this is directly addressed instead of change, what will emerge is a younger hipper form of artifice — new faces in power and authority who talk the talk, but don't change much of anything — masking the same intensity of human materialism, aggression and ignorance that is at the root of these recent scandals, rather than a spiritual community meant to address such poisons and generate true compassion.
Headwall, COJuly 12
Shambhala International has long had a tawdry reputation in Boulder. No surprise then that the current Rinpoche is under investigation. It is too bad as the spiritual aspects of Shambhala are admirable.
Jigme commented July 12
New YorkJuly 12
I am Tibetan and I am Buddhist , I honestly feel Rinpoche has tarnished Buddhism and Tibetan beyond his imagination. He should be locked up and who ever helped him cover up his crime
JS commented July 12
Portland, OrJuly 12
I speak as a former member of a Shambhala community. Sakyong Mipham and some of his followers are trying to rationalize his behavior by citing his struggles with living up to his father's legacy and with his own alcoholism. Neither of those things have anything to do with his abuse of young women. This is another example of the deeply rooted sexism that women live with everywhere and in all areas of their lives. Men who feel that women exist for their benefit as opposed to being fully human in their own right are in women's homes, workplaces, doctor's offices and places of worship. Thank the goddess for #MeToo
New YorkJuly 12
It rankles me when westerners I know make claims that Buddhism is somehow purer and less corrupt than Western religions. This story shows that Buddhism is like any other religion--as does the persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar, where the folks who give the most gifts to at the Buddhist temples are almost always corrupt military men.
At its heart, Shambhala Buddhism is nothing but toxic masculinity.
It's a shame that Pema Chodron does not speak out against this. Her ties to Chogyam Rinpoche taint an otherwise wonderful reputation.
sRh commented July 12
San franciscoJuly 12
Agreed: a comment from Pema Chodron would go far to allay the tensions that must arise in any practitioner upon learning of abuse by the teacher, who has undoubtedly affected his students in very deep ways. You feel so good about your practice and your devotion to your teacher, your sense of goodness must be affected when you find out this teacher has molested people.
sRh commented July 12
Portland, ORJuly 12
The Sakyong was intellectually unequipped and temperamentally unsuited to succeed his father. Nevertheless, he initially did a pretty good job of holding together a sangha in crisis.
By 2000 or so, however, something had changed. For whatever reasons, he began to jettison traditional Buddhist teachings, in favor of his own undistinguished creations. Disastrously, he also began systematically alienating the holders of other lineages of Tibetan Buddhism and barring them from teaching at his centers. (HIs father had sponsored the teachings of a wide array of important Tibetan masters.) By 2005 or so, Shambhala was in essence a breakaway sect, and the Sakyong had no peers left to confer with or to check his increasingly cultish behavior.
The Sakyong is clearly a deeply troubled man. According to the teachings on karma, he is also a man facing grave peril. He has harmed many people and shows little understanding of the ramifications. The kindest thing his students could do would be to relieve him permanently of his duties so that he could begin the work of uprooting the causes of this karma and atoning for its effects, which will likely take the rest of his life.
Meanwhile, the Shambhala community could turn again to the holders of the true Tibetan Buddhist lineages for help in restoring a genuine path of dharma. I hope that's what they do, and I wish them the best of luck.