KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, Halifax resident and Shambhala lineage holder, is being accused of sexually assaulting multiple women belonging to the global Buddhist organization that he leads, a report published by a grassroots group suggests.
Other senior members of Shambhala are accused of not just condoning this misogynistic behaviour, but actively enabling it.
The current accusations are not that much different from those recently leveled against the likes of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Donald Trump and others.
The allegations against Mipham are contained in a report issued by the Buddhist Project Sunshine, a grassroots group of current and former Shambhala members who want the Shambhala leadership to publicly acknowledge the widespread sexualized violence in the community.
In terms of power dynamics at play here, it must be noted that in the Buddhist Vajrayana tradition that Shambhala is part of, many students believe that teachers like Mipham must be obeyed without question.
One woman reports that during drunken parties Mipham would pull and grope her while actively encouraging her to go to bed with him.
“There was only one night that I slept in (Mipham’s) bed. There had been no girlfriend present that night. He was so drunk that I spent much of the night holding a bowl for him to vomit into. I snuck out of the room before dawn feeling bewildered and ashamed,” the woman told the report’s authors.
This behaviour was not unique, the woman suggests. Mipham would often call women to his bedroom, sending out senior students “to bring one or another newbie to his bed and it also occurred with longer-term girlfriends.”
Another woman tells of similar experiences where she felt compelled to perform oral sex on the teacher, or to join him while he was having sex with another woman.
One woman relates how she was sexually assaulted by Mipham in the kitchen of his Halifax residence, after his wife retired for the night with her first daughter, following the celebration of her first birthday in August, 2011.
“This experience was traumatic for me,” she is quoted as saying in the report, while rejecting the many excuses and evasions offered by the Shambhala organization.
“I can see (these tactics) — including “kindness” — coming a mile away. I will not keep grappling and replaying this by conceptualizing or justifying trauma as Tibetan crazy wisdom. I will not keep quiet and pretend it’s all ok by embodying some fucked up version of British colonial denial,” she says.
All women mention feeling ostracized and humiliated after they made efforts to raise awareness of these occurrences among Shambhala’s senior leadership.
Tricycle, a magazine targeting western Buddhists of all stripes, reports that shortly after the launch of the report, a letter from Mipham was sent to Shambhala members.
“It is my wish for you to know that in my past there have been times when I have engaged in relationships with women in the Shambhala community,” the letter reads in part. “I have recently learned that some of these women have shared experiences of feeling harmed as a result of these relationships. I am now making a public apology.”
The Buddhist leader adds that he has “apologized personally to people who have expressed feeling harmed by my conduct, including some of those who have recently shared their stories,” Tricycle reports.
As apologies go, this is pretty weasel-worded. It’s not clear at all from the statement whether Mipham recognizes the tremendous power he yields among his students, the real harm he has done, and the misogynistic roots of his behaviour.
An earlier report by Project Sunshine documented allegations of widespread misbehaviour by several of Shambhala’s senior leaders, including sexual abuse of children dating back several decades.
While not admitting to any particulars, Shambhala at that time issued a Facebook statement saying that “we are heartbroken that such pain and injustice still occurs.” It also announced an initiative “to refine and bolster existing policies and procedures to create safer environments for our members and program participants.”
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