The King of Shambhala Resigns over Sexual Assault Claims

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche is the head of the Shambhala lineage and Shambhala, a worldwide network of urban Buddhist meditation centers, retreat centers, monasteries, a university, and other enterprises, founded by his father, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. He is known as the Sakyong, a Tibetan word that translates roughly as “king”, and his students take vows to follow him that are binding across lifetimes. Sakyong’s photo in golden robes hangs above an altar and another photo sits upon a throne.  One of the largest Buddhist organizations in the West, Shambhala International, gathers thousands followers for training in meditation and mindfulness.

All those followers are angry, confused and sad these days because Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche will “step back from his administrative and teaching responsibilities”, a statement said. Actually, he resigned while allegations of sexual assault and misconduct are investigated.

The publication of a report on sexual misconduct within the group included stories from women who claim Buddhist group leader sexually assaulted them. The report, by a leadership coach and active member of the US Shambhala community, Andrea Winn, also claims Shambhala International ignored the issue.

The New York Times reports:

Late last month, a former Shambhala teacher released a report alleging that the Sakyong had sexually abused and exploited some of his most devoted female followers for years. Women quoted in the report wrote of drunken groping and forcefully extracted sexual favors. The report said that senior leaders at Shambhala — an organization whose motto is “Making Enlightened Society Possible” — knew of the Sakyong’s misconduct and covered it up.

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche apologized publicly and he wrote in a statement: "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. 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." He would, the announcement stated, “enter a period of self-reflection.”

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The Sakyong would not comment on the accounts “out of respect for the integrity of the independent investigation,” said his lawyer, Michael Scott.

Lama Tsultrim, who leads a Buddhist center in Colorado, said, “the level of institutionalized hierarchy is quite extraordinary,” with the Sakyong functioning “sort of like a divine king.” His inner circle, with its ministers and attendants, is called the “court.” He has a personal flag that local centers can buy for $350, to fly when he visits.

While many of the Sakyong’s followers are praying for him, let’s hope that the truth will come out and that Sakyong will be suitably punished if he is found to have committed sexual assault crimes.

Photo Credits: Wikimedia

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