When a monk has admirable people as friends... he can be expected to develop and pursue the Noble Eightfold Path.
Our community has been engulfed in a challenging time lately. If you’d like to review the timeline of what’s happened over the past 9 months, you can see the resource page here. The hurt and confusion experienced by many surrounding revelations of sexual misconduct and, maybe more damaging, the picture of a very broken organization, have wounded us, and at times separated us. These events have also ignited vision and fortitude, and drawn out wisdom. During the Governing Council meeting on February 24th, a motion to revoke our Shambhala Charter was proposed. Some present at the meeting were in favor of considering revocation, others were opposed, and still others were unsure. We will host a meeting this Sunday March 10th from 12:30 until 2:30 to further the conversation. We will gather again on March 17th at 12:30 to bring this proposal to the table officially. We are inviting EVERYONE who would like to have a voice to join in this discussion. In the meantime, here is some information to help clarify what we do know and what we don’t know. If you have further questions, please DO bring them to the meeting, or reach out to one of the council members before the meeting. This is a potent moment for us as a community to rely on our collective wisdom, and our care for one another, and especially on our rootedness in the teachings of the precious dharma. We want to be clear that we do not in any way shape or form condone the actions and behaviors Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche and other teachers who have caused harm
Below, you will find the following information:
This is a complicated question because Shambhala is not just one thing or one organization. Let’s be clear that talking about Shambhala the Organization is often separate from talking about Shambhala the Teachings. Although the Organization was created to protect and perpetuate the Teachings, some are questioning that protection in light of the new revelations about what was happening within the Organization.
There is technically no “international organization” of Shambhala. Rather it is made up of numerous organizations, sometimes collectively referred to as “Shambhala International”. Shambhala USA (under which the Nashville Shambhala Charter falls), Shambhala Canada, and Shambhala Europe are three of the major ones. The legal umbrella non-profit organization which has jurisdiction over all the US centers is called Shambhala USA. Shambhala USA is controlled by a corporation called the Sakyong
Potrang USA. Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche is the legal entity at the head of the Potrang. Sakyong Potrang Canada controls Shambhala Canada. These are the legal entities that control everything down to centers and groups. To quote the Shambhala USA Charter, it has “a single member (the Sole Member). The Sole Member of the Corporation is The Sakyong Potrang, a Colorado nonprofit corporation.”
The Nashville Shambhala charter states “THIS CHARTER is issued by the authority of the Kongma Sakyong Jamgon Mipham Rinpoche (the "Kongma Sakyong"), the lineage holder of the Shambhala Mandala.”… ”The Center is subject to the governance of the Kongma Sakyong as the Lineage Holder of Shambhala and the governing bodies and officers of the Shambhala Mandala and Shambhala USA in all matters of practice and instruction, organization, administration, and finances.”… and as far as disputes are concerned “The Center agrees that it shall fully participate in, comply with, and be absolutely bound by any final decision entered in accordance with such internal dispute resolution procedures, which may include mediation and mandatory binding arbitration before an arbiter or arbiters appointed by the Kongma Sakyong or his designee; that the final decision entered in such internal dispute resolution procedures shall not be subject to review or appeal by any civil court or tribunal in any jurisdiction whatsoever; and that such final decision shall be fully enforceable to the fullest extent of the law as an arbitration or similar award by the civil courts having jurisdiction over the Center.”
This is where many people feel the move to separate is necessary: One person has all legal authority over our charter. Our legal and operational status, our finances, all matters. There is mistrust around the question of our legal vs operational autonomy. An even bigger challenge is how the authority of the Potrang created a leadership group that insulated its actions and enabled corrupt and predatory behavior.
To be clear, SMR has stepped aside and is not in communication with any of the current leadership. So he is not currently dictating any of their or our actions. Furthermore, we have been told that although our assets do not belong to us, they are not going to be seized in the case of lawsuits or bankruptcy.
The Governing Board of Shambhala USA stepped down over the summer after the allegations came out. Meanwhile an Interim Board has taken over trying to sort out the legal and financial situation. Here are their financial reports to the community. As you can see, records were not well kept. The financial situation is murky at best, and legally there are still questions. In terms of what is being done by “Shambhala”, though, there has now been a Process Team appointed whose job it is to develop systems to help the community work out all the technicalities. Here is their most recent communication to the community. So there is nothing particularly definitive coming from Shambhala USA. Many centers and groups are also considering their way forward. Two have voted to leave the organization of Shambhala. Others have committed to sticking around. Many are still in the open space of considering all the options, or waiting for more information. There is a petition seeking to remove SMR’s authoritarian structure from Shambhala.
We spoke with the head of Governance Cynthia McKay on Friday, and it is clear from her that no one yet knows the technicalities of what would be entailed in leaving the organization. As we said, only two centers have chosen this path, and they are in the very beginning stages of the process. What is known is that the money in our bank account ($10K) belongs “to the lineage” and not to us individually. It is unclear what this means for the funds if we dissolved. Furthermore there would most likely be a dissolution cost if we took this path. Cynthia has offered to have a Zoom call with the Nashville Shambhala Council (and members who are interested) for further conversation and clarification.
Cynthia also stated that the Interim Board along with Alex Halpern (legal counsel) is looking at the charter, at ownership, and at many legal and financial questions regarding the future of organizational structure. There are no answers yet, but many people are gathering information and looking at potential ways forward and other unknown information.
Also Joe has spoken with Shastri Janet Bronstein, who is on the process team about how they might create a middle path toward separation, which allows for centers to operate independently of the charter but still be connected to the teachings and the lineage.
Not all of them are known—such as what our relationship to Shambhala USA would be, what the legal status would be, or how we would relate to the wider mandala.
Without clear directives from Shambhala USA we will not be able to use the name “Shambhala” on our “Letterhead”. Meaning our website, listings online and signage. While some may seek a “Shambhala Center” others are triggered or feel unsafe around that word because of the very public face of Shambhala being a sexual predator.
Will we lose the lineage? The truth is that ‘a’ lineage holder is not ‘the’ lineage. Lineage continues as long as those who follow and teach the dharma. We could and will probably choose to follow the Shambhala lineage and its teachings.
The downfall is that if we do not align ourselves with a collective vision and a lineage of teachings, it could easily become an ego show. Alignment and commitment to the lineage will be crucial going forward no matter what the organizational decision.
We will not be able to teach the Shambhala Training Curriculum as developed by the Office of Practice and Education. This includes Levels and Everyday Life series which are licensed. However, the Shambhala vision and teachings as laid out by CTR are prolific and widely available. We will be able to teach from the Shambhala message of basic goodness. Furthermore, if other centers and groups continue to offer the Shambhala Training Curriculum, one would be able to seek out those courses at those centers.
What about Advanced programs? Right now many of the large Assemblies are not being offered this year, or are being offered only once or twice instead of the usual many times in a year. Some of the content is being reconsidered since some of the programs included taking vows to the Sakyong or to his vision. The folks working with the Office of P&E are working with Acharyas and Senior teachers to re-envision what the advanced training path will look like under these new conditions. If one wishes to attend an assembly, local Shambhala membership is not a pre-requisite. One can be a member of Shambhala USA, or of any group or center that exists.
Will we change our shrine, remove our thangkas or banners? This goes back to the question of lineage. If the group chooses to leave and still aligns with the lineage, there is no reason why any of the forms need to change. We either purchased or were gifted everything in our shrine room, and therefore we own them along with any license to use those items because the license to use them has been paid.
Will we lose the formal connections with centers and people in the organization? These relationships aren’t simply afforded via our formal legal status but due to the relationships we’ve garnered over the years and relationships aren’t cut off even if one has a charter and another does not. That goes for individual teachers and students as well.
With independence would we cut ourselves off from central and cohesive teaching authority? The official “teaching path” in Shambhala has been on pause for several years now. Beyond Guide Training, there has been no formal teaching path, other than senior teachers mentoring younger teachers at their own discretion, for some time. It was said that this path was being re-vamped and would launch anew. In the meantime, lots of unofficial teaching has gone on, as folks have worked with their mentors to get trained, and communities have done their best with what they had. Furthermore, many Meditation Instructors and Guides are said to be revoking their authorizations because the oaths they swore were to SMR and they don’t feel comfortable continuing to hold that. So, yes we wouldn’t be able to get authorizations if they ever started to issue them again.
Also we would at any point be able to invite Senior Teachers to our space to teach, regardless of our charter status.
This is only the beginning of understanding the ramifications of such a choice. We look forward to many more voices, questions, and concerns joining this exploration and conversation.
Some conversations have come to a point of considering what a middle way could be. Could there be a path for centers who wish to become legally and fiscally independent but remain connected to the lineage officially? Could the Process Team facilitate such a pathway? What would it look like? We don’t really know what will happen or what is possible, or the time it will take. It seems however that one thing is certain- finding the way forward as a national community and international community will take a lot of time and a lot of people supporting the work, and blazing the way. Perhaps Nashville Shambhala will find a way forward that can be a model and support for other centers and groups!
Cynthia McKay invited us to keep having conversation with each other and to take our time around this decision, not making emotional votes. She also added that this is not a time for leadership to be tyrannical OR for members to be lazy. So we all have to step up together as a community and invite our wisdom to lead the way.
We have a community of particularly wonderful humans in Nashville who’ve created a sangha worth belonging to and working with. Our group is our people, the founders, the volunteers, long-time-members, and each new person meditating with us. This is the one part many of us are unwilling to sacrifice for any level of legal independence.
With humility and devotion,
Joe Smith joe@artdudegraphics
Leslie Gossett firstname.lastname@example.org