When a monk has admirable people as friends... he can be expected to develop and pursue the Noble Eightfold Path.
In February 2018 the Buddhist Project Sunshine (BPS) report phase one was released accusing Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche of sexual misconduct. In subsequent months BPS released disturbing details not only about Sakyong's behavior but implied and literal patterns and systemic behaviors that excused and enabled these behaviors. Since that time responses from Shambhala USA and the other official entities making up the international organization have varied in scope, intent and action. The most prominent of which is the forming of an interim board who stands as the current authority for Shambhala USA after SMR temporarily stepped down.
Our local sangha, the Nashville Shambhala Meditation Group, was founded by Jill Bates and Paul Felton in 2006 as a Shambhala USA Charter. You can read this charter that's been posted online here. The tradition of Shambhala, as it adopted from its Tibetan Buddhist heritage, is monarchical. In effect, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche is our sole authority and in his absence the interim board fills that role.
Nashville Shambhala was shaken by this news and the BPS phase 2 was particularly disturbing to our community and governing council. In October we met to air our feelings and concerns for the local sangha, and while that meeting was a frank, open and raw discussion it took a noticeable turn as we collectively chose to decide what we would aspire to be moving forward rather than continuing to dwell on what was so wrong and unacceptable about the current state of affairs.
We began drafting a letter to the interim board. Let me share parts of that with you here.
We care so much about future of Shambhala—both the organization and the perpetuation of the Teachings. Many of us were shocked, saddened, heartbroken, and appalled (or some combination thereof) by the news of allegations against Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche and other senior teachers.
Then in a section entitled "What We'd Like To See" we laid out 8 principles of a new society.
We were, and are still very clear about the misconduct.
We, the Nashville Shambhala Meditation Group, do not condone, in any way, the harmful actions reported about SMR or any other senior leader. We would like to see all harmful actions owned without excuses or ego protections.
Our draft continued with conviction:
We are longing for a more relevant vehicle to carry the teachings forward. A vehicle that can hold and respect all human beings in deep and profound care and sacredness. A vehicle that turns the mirror back on itself as a way of being held accountable for the actions and behaviors of its members, the culture it has collectively created, supported, and perpetuated, and the harm it has caused. We see that it is necessary to dismantle the structure that has been in place, and as a local Shambhala Group we need a more participatory and representative organization.
There remained a majority of council members who looked with hope at the Sakyong's recovery to his position, once he thoroughly apologized, sought treatment and submitted to a new governance model installed by the interim board.
On the 18th of February a letter from 6 former personal assistants and protectors, "Kusung" of Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche detailed the inner workings of the court surrounding and closest to Sakyong. This letter confirmed and extended this unfortunate and abusive tale of Shambhala's leader.
With the Kusung letter opinions shifted on our local governing council, which brings us to yesterday's (February 24th, 2019) governing council meeting.
A motion was proposed that we revoke our Shambhala USA charter agreement and form an independant religous non-profit.
This has two intentions:
Independence is not an effort to create a sectarian expression that isolates itself from any influence, association, or teaching. We follow the teachings of the Buddha and the innovative and profound teachings of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Independence may mean we can no longer use the specific curriculum of Shambhala like levels and the every day life series but it doesn't mean we cannot teach the principles.
We are taking the month between the February 24th meeting and our meeting on March 17th to consider this motion and we want to open that discussion and consideration to all of you, our beloved sangha. Reach out to any of our board members, ask questions and share your thoughts. Feel free to use the Facebook Group page to interact as well.
I, your coordinator Joe Smith, am wanting to listen to you. I personally brought this motion to the council, and am tagged with the responsibility of bringing it to the table. I brought it to our community table in response to what I believed to be a consensus among the board. The idea of delaying a month came from members of the board, they are representing you well.
It is my opinion that the events surrounding the letters about Shambhala USA and it's worldwide leadership are an opportunity like a fire that purifies the earth. There is most certainly pain, grief and disgust, but there is hope, there are hearts of gold in our midst who've got wisdom and skills beyond what we can begin to measure. Independence or chartered we hope to reform and refresh our community and culture so we might bring the freedom and refuge of the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha to all our hearts and our society.
Respectfully and humbly,