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Elliot BenjaminElliot Benjamin is a philosopher, mathematician, musician, counselor, writer, with Ph.Ds in mathematics and psychology and the author of over 150 published articles in the fields of humanistic and transpersonal psychology, pure mathematics, mathematics education, spirituality & the awareness of cult dangers, art & mental disturbance, and progressive politics. He has also written a number of self-published books, such as: The Creative Artist, Mental Disturbance, and Mental Health. See also: www.benjamin-philosopher.com.

SEE MORE ESSAYS WRITTEN BY ELLIOT BENJAMIN

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Is Shambhala A Cult?

Part 3: Like Father Like Son?

Elliot Benjamin

‘My honesty is what lost me my home in Shambhala and any sense of a genuine connection with my teacher.’

Well to be honest, I tried not writing another essay about Shambhala. I thought that I had said all I wanted to say about Shambhala in my previous two Integral World essays [1], and I did not expect to learn anything more that would compel me to write yet another essay about Shambhala. I have diligently assimilated all the comments to my previous two Integral World Shambhala essays, and have engaged in much reading to learn all that I was able to about Shambhala, much more than I ever wanted to know about.

Most recently, since I wrote my Shambhala: Part 2 essay[1], I was given the suggestion to read the book The Madasiddha and His Idiot Servant [2], written by John Riley Perks, who was Shambhala founder Trungpa's butler and personal servant for a number of years, and who had continuous intimately personal (non-sexual) contact with Trungpa, taking care of him and trying to keep him from creating havoc to himself and his surroundings, which proved to be an overwhelming task that eventually led Perks to leave Shambhala and start his own Celtic Buddhism movement. Perks was instrumental in the formation of Shambhala, especially inclusive of Shambhala's military perspective and components, the details of which certainly amazed and appalled me.

But the most striking and concerning reaction I had from reading this book was how utterly psychotic, juvenile, completely addicted to alcohol, and relatively helpless [3] that Trungpa was during most of the years that Perks took care of him, while Trungpa was literally worshiped by his thousands of ardent followers, inclusive of numerous young women who were all too eager to indulge Trungpa in all his sexual desires. Trungpa was technically married through all of this, but the one thing that is apparent that can be said to Trungpa's credit is that he did not try to hide his excessive antics from anyone, including his wife. Sure I learned a good deal of juicy provocative lurid details about Trungpa that I had not known before, which made it even more preposterous to me that he was worshiped the way he was, and still is, in Shambhala, but I did not feel like there was significant or novel enough material to warrant me writing another essay about Shambhala.

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche
Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche (b. 1962)

What I was hoping to learn about through reading Perks' book, was more about Shambhala's son Mipham, who has been the guru of Shambhala for the past 28 years. In my Part 1 Shambhala essay, I conveyed how through all my questioning and concerns about Shambhala, which I was able to genuinely discuss with a number of the directors and assistant directors at my Shambahla weekend levels workshops and Taking Vows workshop, the one theme that steadily stayed with me was that “the son was ethical” [1]. At this time I was quite confident that this was the case, as in all my internet searchings I was not able to find anything to the contrary. I actually publicly asked the Project Sunshine network, which is the organization of Shambhala members and non-members that exposed the ongoing sexual abuse in Shambhala [4], if anyone had any knowledge of unethical sexual behavior on the part of Mipham, and I received absolutely nothing about Mipham having indulged in inappropriate sexual conduct.

However, I did gradually start to become more concerned, as from reading Christine Chandler's book Enthralled: The Guru Cult of Tibetan Buddhism [5], and the blog of activist Shambhala Project Sunshine member Edmund Butler [6], I realized that Mipham was not a particularly caring human being, was not willing to get involved in concerning ethical situations that had the potential to damage the Shambhala organization, and was apparently quite wild in his younger years, “sharing women” with his father. But what was especially alarming to me was the Project Sunshine Phase 2 brief report that was sent out by Project Sunshine founder Andrea Winn on April 9, 2018, which included the following:

More abuse allegations ahead! I have concerns for the community because women are coming to me who have been sexually assaulted by Sakyong Mipham. I'm supporting them organizing and finding a way to get their stories out into the open. This is a necessary step in our community's healing. I do not believe Shambhala International is prepared to hold a space of healing for our community when these new allegations come out. I am committed to creating safe healing space for our community to go through these changes in a good way.

Now this struck quite a chord in me, but it was not enough at that time to justify me writing another Shambhala essay, as I felt that it was only fair to give Mipham the benefit of the doubt until and unless I saw anything more concrete and convincing about his purported sexual abuse. But it did reinforce for me why I was so diligent about listening to my gut level negative reactions at the Shambhala Taking Vows workshop to pledging to give my allegiance to the guru of Shambhala, as I described in my Part 1 article [1]. But the gates have now been completely opened, as I received the Project Sunshine Phase 2 final report yesterday, and I am still shocked by what I have read. I don't want to go overboard in conveying all the gross and lurid details of Mipham's sexual abuse with many of his women students in Shambhala for a number of years, as you can read all about this for yourself [7], but I do need to convey enough about this to justify why I am writing this Part 3 essay on Shambhala.

Mipham's Sexual Abuse

‘He said to me She won't come. Do something to help. I stood there stunned and he said: Play with her tits. Do something.’

Let me cut right to the chase. Here are some excerpts from a woman who poignantly described how Mipham sexually abused her over a number of years:

The parties all followed a similar patterns. They began with socializing and drinking, music and banter. At some point food was served and the drinking continued. Most of us became highly intoxicated, but few so much as SMR [Mipham] himself. The more intoxicated he became, the more he demonstrated various kinds of outrageous activities—spontaneous poetry competitions, long monologues, harangues of some people who had displeased him. Alongside these (mostly) harmless demonstrations, SMR also pursued another activity. He went after whichever woman took his fancy.
For me, this manifested in an experience that occurred repeatedly over years. When he was completely intoxicated, SMR would pull me into a dark corner. He kissed me and groped me while aggressively encouraging me to come to bed with him. Most of the time, another woman who had been invited to the party was already present. . . .
Trying to make sense of how he could desire me while drunk, but act as if this abuse had never happened the rest of the time, I became more and more confused about what devotion to the teacher meant. And since I was often present at the court, I began to recognize another repeating pattern. This pattern consisted of SMR calling women to his bedroom, spending intimate time with them, and then losing interest. This pattern occurred with women SMR culled from seminaries for one-night stands, sending out the Kusung [Shambhala's military personal assistants to the guru and his higher-ups] to bring one or another newbie to his bed and it also occurred with longer-term girlfriends. All these women were one moment close and the next minute invisible. . . .
I was there when women were brought to SMR in the middle of the night and pushed out the door before dawn to stumble back to their beds and await his choice for the next night. Wondering if they would be chosen again. Waiting day after day to see where his fancy might fall. . . .
When SMR turned his back on me because I told him what I thought about how he treated women, it was clear that there was no room for honesty, no room for genuine communication and no room for the exposure and purification of neuroses. . . .
It is unconscionable that he should be speaking of intolerance for sexual misconduct without taking responsibility for all the years of his own enactment of clergy sexual misconduct with so many women. Even if he is no longer engaging in these kinds of activities at this present moment, what about those women who experienced abuse from him for many years who have suffered in silence, isolation and shame? Isn't their suffering just as important now as it was then? The excuse that all of this happened many years ago holds no water. Wouldn't the three daughters of SMR want to know that their father cares about the welfare and the spiritual paths of all his students—male, female, transgender, gender-fluid? Harm was experienced. I experienced it. My honesty is what lost me my home in Shambhala and any sense of a genuine connection with my teacher, who could not face the truth of his actions.

And here are some excerpts from another woman whom Mipham had sexually abused for many years, but beware—some of this material is quite lurid:

Over many years I had several sexual encounters with the Sakyong [Mipham] that left me feeling ashamed, demoralized and worthless. Like many young woman in the sangha, I was deeply devoted to the Sakyong and did whatever I could to serve him and be close to him. I witnessed the steady stream of attractive women that were invited into his quarters and I longed to be the one that he fell in love with and was worthy of being his wife.
During a program you could often tell who the Sakyong was going to pursue that night by who he made eye contact with during the teaching or feast. One night I received a call from his kusung at 11pm or 12pm saying that the Sakyong would like to see me and that I should come to his suite. I was thrilled and nervous. When I got there, he was dressed solely in a robe with no clothes underneath. We chatted for a while. Then he led me into his room and began kissing me and removing my clothes. I said that I couldn't have sex with him. He seemed stunned. He thought for a while and then pushed my face down towards his penis and said “Well you might as well finish this.” I was so embarrassed and horrified I did it. He rolled over in bed and didn't say another word to me.
On another occasion I was invited to a dinner party where the Sakyong was encouraging everyone to drink a lot. He then insisted that we take off our clothes. He led one woman into his bedroom while the rest of us danced. After a while the kusung came out to get me to come to the Sakyong's bedroom. I went into the room and discovered the Sakyong and the woman on his bed having sex. He said to me “She won't come. Do something to help.” I stood there stunned and he said “Play with her tits. Do something.”
On another occasion I was serving in the household and took some tea to him in his bedroom where he was watching tv. He asked me to sit down with him on the bed. He was only wearing a bathrobe. After a while he opened his robe to reveal his penis and said “I was hoping you could help me out.” Again, I did it and felt completely disgusted with myself, but I was so conflicted with doing what my teacher asked of me, feeling so devoted to him and not wanting to displease him or fall from his graces. This time especially felt even more demeaning as I was in uniform. More and more it felt like he had no interest in me or my well-being. Only his pleasure. For years I struggled with these memories and my devotion to him as my guru and the brilliant teacher I believed him to be. I pushed them aside, instead internalizing the tremendous shame and feelings of unworthiness.

And finally, here is one more except from a woman who experienced sexual abuse from Mipham, who was spurred on to contribute her story after she saw Mipham's “apology” letter (see below). Note that this story of Mipham's sexual abuse occurred when he was married and was a father.

I was sexually assaulted by the Sakyong in the kitchen of the Halifax Kalapa Court after his wife, the Sakyong Wangmo, retired for the night with her first daughter, following the celebration of her first birthday in August, 2011. This experience was traumatic for me. . . . It also marked the one year anniversary of meeting my then partner, who stood in the same room as me that night and watched, did nothing, and turned the other way. . . .
The Sakyong's Chief of Staff is most certainly aware of this incident of “sexual misconduct” despite what he has said to the contrary and the Project Sunshine Mediator. Kalapa Council members know about this sexual misconduct, one of whom was supposed to be my MI [meditation instructor] around this time but never followed up. . . .
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.

Mipham's Apology

And here is Mipham's “apology” letter that he sent to the Shambhala community as an email on June 25, 2018:

June 25, 2018

Shambhala logo


To the Shambhala Community:

I write to you with great sadness, tenderness, and a mind of self-reflection.

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.

In addition, I would like you to know that over the years, I have apologized personally to people who have expressed feeling harmed by my conduct, including some of those who have recently shared their stories. I have also engaged in mediation and healing practices with those who have felt harmed. Thus I have been, and will continue to be, committed to healing these wounds.

As the lineage holder of Shambhala, I want to demonstrate how we can move toward a culture of kindness in line with our legacy of teachings. Kindness can sometimes begin with acknowledging the ways we have harmed others, even if we did not intend to do so. Thus, with the strong support of my wife, the Sakyong Wangmo, I am now entering a period of self-reflection and listening. I have found that there is no easy solution to navigating these responsibilities. Like all of you, I am human and on the path. It is important to me that you know I am here, continuing to do my best.

Above all, it is important to me that we continue to create a caring community where harm does not occur. It is my fervent wish that we be a community that relates to each other with compassion and kindness, so I have offered teachings and written practices to support such a culture. I want to encourage our community to completely immerse itself in caring and kindness. This is not easy work, and we cannot give up on each other. For me, it always comes back to feeling my own heart, my own humanity, and my own genuineness. It is with this feeling that I express to all of you my deep love and appreciation. I am committed to engaging in this process with you.

With love,

Sakyong Mipham Rnpoche

Putting the Pieces Together: Conclusion

Unlike his father Trungpa, Mipham was entirely secretive about all his sexual "relationships" with many of his women students in Shambhala.

So what do I now think about Shambhala? It is of course deeply disturbing to me to learn about the Shambhala guru Mipham's extensive sexual abuse with many of his women students over a number of years. My immediate reaction was that this very much resembled the outward behavior of his father Trungpa, which stimulated for me the title of this essay: Like Father Like Son? But on further thought, there are also some important differences between them in their behaviors. From all accounts that I have heard or read about, it appears that Trungpa, though an extreme alcoholic and “sexaholic,” engaged in essentially caring and authentic relationships with his women sexual partners, both in bed and out of bed.

On the contrary, from the above reports from the women who were sexually abused by Mipham, Mipham was not at all caring to these women, and on the contrary he was fixated on them performing sexual acts on him, and moved them to a distance, or rejected them, once he was sober. This goes along with what I had already started to learn about Mipham, which was that he was not a particularly caring person. Apparently Mipham, like his father Trungpa, would quite often get drunk, though not nearly to the extent of Trungpa's addiction to alcohol, and this is when the sexual abuse would occur. And it also seems that with the exception of the sexual abuse described in the last story, that perhaps can be construed as an isolated extramarital brief occurrence, though one that Mipham could conceivably do serious jail time for if his victim decides to prosecute him for the crime of rape, Mipham did not continue his sexual abuse once he was married (though this remains to be seen as more evidence is brought to the light by Project Sunshine).

In regard to my cults analysis of Shambhala [1], I would certainly now rate Shambhala higher in both the categories of Sexual Manipulation and Censorship, but my numbers would still keep Shambhala in the Minimal (as opposed to Moderate) Cult Danger category that I ended up with in my Part 2 essay. I had already decided that I would not be having any more associations with Shambhala, soon after I wrote my Part 2 essay, so all this new very disturbing information that I have learned about Mipham does not have any additional effect in this regard for me. But what about Mipham's apology letter? Do I think this is sincere enough for Mipham to be forgiven for all the sexual abuse he has committed in Shambhala, which apparently was essentially in the past?

This is a difficult question. There is no doubt that Mipham had little choice but to write his apology letter, once Project Sunshine exposed his sexual abuse in Shambhala, which was affirmed by a legal investigation as part of the report [7]. But unlike his father Trungpa, Mipham was entirely secretive about all his sexual “relationships” with many of his women students in Shambhala over the course of a number of years, and this secrecy was maintained and reinforced by the Shambhala organization. He now apologies and acknowledges that “some” of the women whom he had relationships with feel that they were harmed, even though he alludes to the belief that he did not “intend” to harm them. He says he is going into a period of “self-reflection and listening” and that his wife is being “strongly supportive” of him, and that he has entered into “mediation and healing practices” with the women who have felt that he harmed them. So what do I think?

Well I think it is “something” and that there is some sincerity here, but I don't think it does justice to the extent of the sexual abuse that he committed over many years, and especially not to his criminal rape of one of his women students in the seminary kitchen, in the presence of his victim's partner. I am still somewhat in shock over all these revelations, and I can only imagine how devastated I would have been if I had continued in Shambhala and had truly pledged my allegiance to Mipham as part of my taking Shambhala vows.

In truth, this is all sickening and confusing to me. On one hand I now have very little trust of Mipham, and I essentially consider him to be just another unethical guru, and that Shambhala should give serious consideration to removing him from his role of Shambhala Sakyong and “lineage holder.” On the other hand, I still must acknowledge that I have received personal value from Shambhala, as I described especially in my Part 1 essay, and apparently in more recent years Mipham has not continued to indulge in his manipulative, inappropriate, and criminal sexual abuse of Shambhala women students (giving him the benefit of the doubt, though this may not be warranted to do here). But the full story still remains to be told, and therefore I am going to end this essay on this note.

Notes and References

[1] See Elliot Benjamin (2017), Is Shambhala a Cult? Part 1: An Integrative Experiential Perspective; and Elliot Benjamin (2018), Is Shambhala a Cult: Part 2: A Combined Integrative Experiential and Non-Experiential Perspective. Retrieved from www.integralworld.net

[2] See John Riley Perks (2004). The Mahasiddha and His Idiot Servant. Putney, Vermont: Crazy Heart Publishers.

[3] I had always marveled at how productive and prolific Trunga was in writing all his many books, especially with his physical paralysis on one side of his body for many of his teaching years. However, in reading Perks' book I learned that much (and likely most) of Trungpa's writings were taken from his talks (which were apparently largely incoherent and nonsensical) which were transcribed into books by his devoted disciples.

Andrea M. Winn
Andrea M. Winn,
Founder Project Sunshine

[4] See See Andrea Winn (2018), Project Sunshine: Final Report: A Firebird Year Initiative to Bring Light and Healing to Sexualized Violence Embedded Within the Shambhala Community: February 27, 2017 - February15, 2018. Retrieved from www.andreamwinn.com

[5] See Christine Chandler (2017), Enthralled: The Guru Cult of Tibetan Buddhism. North Charleston, SC: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

[6] See Edmund butler's blog at shambhalacrime.wordpress.com

[7] See See Andrea Winn (2018), Project Sunshine Phase 2 Final Report: A 3-month Initiative To Bring Healing Light To Sexualized Violence At The Core Of The Shambhala Buddhist Community June 28, 2018, Retrieved from www.andreamwinn.com

In the News

Wendy Joan Biddlecombe, "Shambhala Head Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche Accused of Sexual Abuse in New Report", www.tricycle.org, June 28, 2018

Staff, "Report alleges sexual misconduct by leader of Shambhala community", www.lionsroar.com June 28, 2018

Sarah Marsh, "Buddhist group admits sexual abuse by teachers: Shambhala International leaders promise to take action against ‘abhorrent sexual behaviour’", www.guardian.co.uk, 5 March 2018




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