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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 230 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:


Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Is Shambhala a Cult?

Part 1:
An Integrative Experiential Perspective

Elliot Benjamin


But perhaps I should have my head examined. How in the world can I be doing all this? Me, the authentic philosopher and individualist?

As I traverse through my late 60's, to my utter surprise I have found myself involved with a spiritual community, the Shambahala organization,[1] which has its lineage in Buddhist ancestry, but was initiated in the West by Chögyam Trungpa in the 1970's.[2] Now Shambhala and Trungpa is not in my Modern Religions book[3] only because I had never experienced this religion and my book is an experiential account of my experiences in modern religious movements. However, it was common knowledge for anyone familiar with religious cults that Trungpa was a controversial guru with a reputation for being both an alcoholic and engaging in numerous sexual encounters with his devotees.[2] But Trungpa died in 1987, and his son Sakyong Mipham, who has been the Shambhala guru since 1990, is apparently a bona fide ethical and upstanding human being in his personal life.[4]

To backtrack a bit, my wife Dorothy had done a week-long Shambhala retreat in Nova Scotia a few years ago, and she completed her final Shambhala basic training level (Level 5) in November, 2016, which happened to be a few days after the U.S. presidential election. And I must say that I was struck by how “transformed” Dorothy was when she returned home, as we were initially both so devastated with the outcome of the election and our new U.S. President Trump. She came home conveying to me all about the vision of basic goodness in the world that she received from her weekend, symbolized as The Great Eastern Sun,[5] and this had a rejuvenating effect upon me as well.

Although Dorothy had previously remarked that she would love for me to experience the joy of being in a group of authentic spiritual people and that I might like Shambhala myself, I never took this very seriously as I did not see myself wanting to meditate for an entire weekend with a group of people, and neither of us pursued the idea. However, after the presidential election, seeing how transformed Dorothy was when she returned home, I started to wonder if perhaps I might also get some benefit out of doing the Shambhala Level 1 training. Furthermore, I wanted to share Dorothy's spiritual path with her, if it were at all possible for me to do so, and thus I decided to “jump” into the Shambhala Level 1 basic training weekend, in March, 2017, in Rockland, Maine.

It is now over nine months later, and I have completed the five basic Shambhala levels, as well as as the culminating Rigden level where one takes the Shambhala vow and receives a Shambhala name. Therefore I think it is high time for me to thoroughly examine what I have gotten myself involved in, and explore the issue of whether or not Shambhala is a cult. And I will do so in the same integrative (as opposed to “integral”) perspective context that I have used in a number of my previous Integral World essays[6] and conclude with an experiential cults analysis of Shambhala, relying primarily on the Bonewits Cult Danger Scale, which I utilized in my Modern Religions book.[3] However, this essay in particular relies heavily upon my own experiences from being involved in Shambhala, and I therefore refer to my perspective here as “integrative experiential.”

I Jump—My Level 1 Shambhala Training (written in March, 2017)

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche
Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche (b. 1962)

While I was at my Level 1 training, I felt concerned about the disturbing aspects of Trungpa's personal life, which I had learned a great deal about,2 but I was able to voice my concerns to both the director and one of the assistant directors at my Level 1 weekend, and I was treated with respect and taken seriously. The assistant director asked me, during my interview with her, if I would be willing to trade in the “history for the mystery.” This occurred soon after she asked me if I had any ethical concerns about the personal life of Trungpa's son and current leader of Shambhala, Sakyong Mipham,[4] and I honestly replied that I did not. Mipham has been the leader of Shambhala since 1990, and I have not seen anything controversial whatsoever about his personal life, which is rather amazing for how long he has been in this position of authority. The book that I read by Mipham, Turning the Mind into an Ally,[7] was comforting to me, and I found nothing in it that I could object to. And perhaps this is the bottom line for me, and is consistent with Dorothy's initial response to my concerns about Trungpa—as she said, “the son” is decent and ethical.

Now a part of me is rebelling in my new involvement in Shambahala, as I am wondering if I am being a hypocrite after all I have written about the dangers of modern religions,[3] and I am concerned that this will all backfire big time with Dorothy, as my feelings could easily get the best of me and I could start attacking Shambhala as a cult. But I am already signed up for Shambhala Level 2 next month, and the tentative plan is for me to do Shambhala Level 3 the month after that, Shambhala Levels 4 and 5 in the Fall, and then in December 2017 for both Dorothy and I to attend the post-levels training weekend in which we become formally accepted into the Shambhala community, take Shambhala vows, and actually receive Shambhala names.

Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche
Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche

But perhaps I should have my head examined. How in the world can I be doing all this? Me, the authentic philosopher and individualist, who is all too aware of the dangers of modern religions and cults. I cannot forget that Trungpa, in addition to having been an alcoholic, “sexaholic,” and possibly a heavy user of cocaine,[2] induced personally destructive behavior on at least one occasion, where a female participant, who attended one of his workshops with her husband, who was a well-known poet, was forcibly stripped naked against her will.[2] Even more disturbing, it may to be the case that Trungpa knew about his successor Osel Tendzin's having aides while he was sexually active with hundreds of devotees—both male and female—in the Shambhala community, and it was alleged by Tendzin that Trungpa reassured him that he could continue his sexual activities as long as he put spiritual intention into not transmitting his disease to anyone.[8] Apparently a number of people contacted aids and died from their sexual contacts with Tendzin.[8] And Trungpa is the spiritual founder of the movement that I am now engaging myself in!

Well—what more can I say here? I had a good Shambhala weekend and I liked the actual meditating as well as the one-on-one interactions and small group discussions with the other participants. The meditation was comforting and relaxing, and it was settling for me to get away from my computer for the weekend, with all my enmeshing political involvements since the election. I had lively and authentic conversations with the Level 1 director, who is quite the character, as he is a musician, therapist, and previously was an actor. Although I avoided having breakfast and lunch with the group, as well as the social chit chat during breaks,[9] I chose to go to dinner with the director, both the assistant directors, a staff member, and four other participants. As it turned out, I ended up giving everyone a stimulating and humorous lesson about perfect numbers on a napkin,[10] and I had a great time, as the director and one other participant became keenly interested in my perfect number lesson. I achieved quite the reputation from this, and I felt like I became known in this way in an important part of my real self at my Level 1 Shambhala weekend.

My Level 2 Shambhala Training—My Good Feelngs About Shambhala Continue Amidst My Continuing Concerns About the Shambhala Founder (written in May, 2017)

Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism

Dorothy ended up assisting at my Level 2 training, which was in Brunswick, Maine, and the training was rather pleasant for me, as I had worked through my conflicts about Trungpa at the Level 1 training, and I once again appreciated the peace and quiet and taking a break from my computer and political enmeshment. I didn't resonate with the Level 2 director like I did at my Level 1 training, but the Level 2 director struck me as ethical and intelligent, though she was also quite serious and much more formal than the Level 1 director. In my Saturday interview with one of the assistant directors (who was the assistant director at my Level 1 training whom I did not have an interview with), I conveyed how the training was going well for me but that I missed the small group interactions and I thought people would speak up much more easily if this were done.11

In between my Level 1 and Level 2 trainings, I had read Trungpa's book Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism,[12] which was disappointing and concerning to me. Trungpa described in this book about the concept of “crazy wisdom”[13] and conveyed alarming scenes of guru discipleship involving mental and physical abuse. He also described what appeared to me as nonsensical ramblings about mystical spiritual esoteric Buddhist beliefs, which were completely preposterous to me. Thus I had serious misgivings that this whole Shambhala mission I was putting myself through could easily backfire. But actually being in the training was relaxing for me, and although I did not feel comfortable with one or two of the participants, for the most part the participants seemed like good people to me, and I enjoyed seeing two participants from my Level 1 training, plus one of the assistant directors.

My Level 3 Shambhala Training: Still Feeling Good but I know My Limits With How Far I Can Go With Shambhala (written in May, 2017)

I asked the co-director who I had my first interview with at the Level 3 training if Shambhala had expectations for participants to adopt the Buddhist spiritual and philosophical beliefs, in particular about reincarnation, as one proceeded to higher levels in the program, including the Rigden naming ceremony where one takes the Shambahla vow and receives a Shambhala name, after completing all five basic levels. And he reassured me that there were absolutely no expectations at these levels, though he honestly acknowledged that there were expectations about this at higher Shambhala levels. When I conveyed to him about the concerns I had in regard to Trungpa that I had talked about with the Level 1 director and assistant director, [2, 8] he appeared to genuinely appreciate me bringing this up, and said that not enough people do this and it “keeps us honest.”

I stayed at the party/reception at the end of the program for a while, and I learned that this co-director had gotten his Ph.D in psychology through doing his dissertation on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), which I had experienced in a weekend a number of years ago, had good feelings about, and had included in some of my articles about humanistic psychology.[14] I also learned that both his parents and his wife's parents had been very involved with Shambhala and Trungpa in the 1970's, which together with his Asian heritage, gave me a hint about why he placed a great deal of importance on ceremonial bowing between teacher and student,[15] which he required me to do at the beginning and end of our interview, which was not particularly comfortable for me, but not a big deal either. And this co-director became more interested in me as I shared with him about my two Ph.D's in mathematics and psychology, my writings, and my life after death experiential dissertation,[16] and he said we should exchange contact information as he put my phone number and e-mail address in his computer device.

Although I know that it would backfire big time for me to go any further with Shambhala past the basic five levels and culminating Rigden training, I must give Shambhala a great deal of credit for being genuinely giving of their time to voluntarily help people without any financial compensation, and to be so open to work with people like myself, i.e., declared agnostics who appreciate the Shambhala meditative quiet and discipline but who are not willing to accept the spiritual Buddhist tenets of reincarnation, and who have concerns and misgivings about the original founder of Shambhala. I am eager to apply my cult danger analysis that I used in my Modern Religions book to Shambhala, which I will do after I complete all five levels and the Rigden “taking vows” training in December. Level 4 is not offered until September, three and a half months away, and I can use a respite.

Levels 4 and 5, Shambhala workshops with Dorothy, Rigden—Shambhala Vows and Name: I'm a Shambhalian! (written in December, 2017)

So much has happened for me with Shambhala in the nearly seven months since I have last written about my Shambhala experiences. I'm going to cut to the chase here and just briefly say that I did my Shambhala Level 4 training in June and my Shambhala Level 5 training in September, and they were both beneficial and rewarding experiences for me. At both trainings I attended the Saturday night social dinners and actually had a good time, engaging in authentic conversations with participants, staff members, and the directors. I continued to voice my political concerns about President Trump in group discussions, and I felt the benefits of meditating to keep a semblance of balance and calmness in the midst of the devastating political turmoil that I felt continuously enmeshed in. I voiced my concerns about Trungpa to the quite elderly Level 5 director, who actually had personal contact with Trungpa in the 1970's and knew Tendrin, Trungpa's assistant who infected Shambhala devotees with aids (see above). The Level 5 director acknowledged some of my concerns, but when I conveyed about how Trungpa allegedly told Tendrin that if he kept his spiritual discipline intact that he didn't have to worry about infecting people with aids when having sexual contact with them,8 the Level 5 director surprised me as he actually got upset and emotionally responded by saying “This was Tendrin's bullshit!” It turns out the he also knew Tendrin, and had nothing good to say about him. And this put my mind to rest, as I was now willing to give Trungpa the benefit of the doubt on at least this issue.

As things progressed for me through Level 5, finally some ritual and hint of future further ritual expectations was introduced. We did some chanting, the Level 5 director talked about his leaving out food or wine for “sacrifices” as part of his meditation practice, and I learned that various Shambhala centers engaged in chanting on a regular basis, even for newcomers. There was more talk about the upcoming Shambhala levels where the basic five levels are gone through from an intensive Buddhist Shambhala perspective of the religious theory involved, and I knew absolutely that this was something that would backfire for me big-time if I ever tried to go any further with Shambhala. There was also quite the sales pitch given to us at the end of our Level 5 training, to become official Shambhala members, pay yearly dues, and volunteer to help out at various Shambhala functions, including assisting at the basic level trainings. And at the social dinner I attended during my Level 4 training, I learned about the very strange esoteric part of Shamhala that involved military-type training and uniforms, for the purpose of protecting Shambhala. But I had good feelings about all the co-directors of my Level 4 and Level 5 trainings, and one of the co-directors of my Level 5 training was the original Brunswick/Portland Shambhala founder. I especially appreciated my engagement with this co-director about my political enmeshment and concerns, both in my private interview with him and in the group discussion that he facilitated, as his own background was in government and politics, and he very much related to my communications about this.

And for the other part of my Shambhala involvement, in regard to my initial motivation of jumping into Shambhala to share a spiritual path with Dorothy, things were also going well. Dorothy and I did a half-day Shambhala workshop in Rockland in June, and it was a positive experience for both of us. This got reinforced as we attended another half-day Shambhala workshop in Rockland in September, where the original Brunswick/Portland Shambhala founder held a brief ceremony and gave us and a few other people our Shambhala pins for completing the five basic levels. The stage was set for us to do our grand finale, which was the Shambhala Rigden training December 1-3, in which we would take Shambhala vows and receive our Shambhala names. And we did this about three weeks ago.

Well Dorothy and I are both Shambhalians now. Our Rigden workshop (Rigden refers to the reputed ancient Shambhala spiritual kings[17]) was in Brunswick and was basically a very good experience for both of us. The Rigden director was gay, from New York City, and quite outspoken about his lifestyle. He had a successful career in Wall Street. was apparently quite wealthy, and was an interesting character. As it turned out, he was very high up in the Shambhala organization, having been with Trungpa in the 1970's and had recently co-taught in New York City with Trungpa's son Mipham, and a number of visiting Shambhala higher-ups, including my Level 4 director, attended the Friday night session to hear him give his presentation. One particular Shambhala technique given to us by this director at the Rigden training, that I especially appreciated, was referred to as the Windhorse meditation, which involved a short meditation that lasted under a minute and could be used to prepare for events in the real world. Each of the previous five Shambhala training levels had been focused on a different kind of meditation and perspective, but for me I did not experience much difference in my meditation throughout the levels, as I just appreciated the quiet time to get in touch with my inner self. But the Windhorse meditation technique was something that I appreciated as “different,” and it was helpful for me to spend nearly 40 minutes practicing this by the lake, as part of our Shambhala Rigden exercises. It turns out that Dorothy also very much appreciated this exercise, as she had a powerful experience with it.

As the weekend continued, the focus became more and more on taking the Shamahala vow, and we were instructed that in our Saturday afternoon interview with the director, that we should formally request that we would like to take the Shambhala vow. This surprised me, as I had thought the taking of the Shambhala vow was optional, and Dorothy and I had discussed whether or not we would agree to take the Shambhala vow—thinking that we probably would but that it was not definite. However, it was helpful for me to know that the vow was essentially to work toward an “enlightened society,” seeing the potential of good in people, without any kind of esoteric religious expectations.

But soon before I would be having my Saturday afternoon interview with the director, as I read through all the specifics that I would be agreeing to in taking the Shambhala vow, I came across one phrase that disturbed me. It had to do with pledging my allegiance to the “Sakyong,” which is the title given to the head of Shambhala—originally it was Trungpa and now it is his son Mipham. Well all my work on modern religions and cults[3] came back to me, as well as my concerns about Trungpa, and I knew that even though I had no problems with Mipham, that I could not blindly pledge my allegiance to any future leader of Shambhala just because he (or she) was designated as the Sakyong. I doubted if anyone else gave this much thought, but for me it was a problem. And thus my dilemma—after all I worked for throughout Shambhala to share this spiritual path with Dorothy, and now we were at the culmination of finally being able to do this, it could all be sabotaged by my not being willing or able to take the Shambhala vow. I would be the only one in our group of about 30 participants who refused to take the vow.

But to thine own self be true—and I had no choice. However, I did have a creative potential resolution, which came to me as I had a bit of time to continue meditating until my interview with the director. What I came to is that if I thought of giving my allegiance to the Sakyong as giving my allegiance to the “principles” of Shambhala, meaning working toward an enlightened society and seeing the potential good in people, then perhaps I could feel o.k about taking the Shambhala vow. In other words, I would convey to the director that I could take the Shambhala vow if I could interpret my allegiance to the Sakyong to be not allegiance to any particular person who happens to be in this role, but only to a person in this role if he or she is upholding the principles of Shambhala, which I felt fine about. And this is what I did—and it worked!

I surprised the director by saying instead of that I would like to request taking the Shambhala vow, that I would like to “discuss” taking the Shambhala vow. And he responded well to my interpretation of giving my allegiance to the Sakyong, actually quite well. I was careful to convey how I had no problem with Mipham but was thinking of a possible future disturbing occurrence, even though I said that in all likelihood there was little danger of something disturbing like this ever occurring in Shambhala, and a bit about that I had a background in studying cults with unethical gurus. I could have let things stand with his good response to this, but I knew I had to go further to make sure that I was truly being myself before taking the Shambhala vow, and so I also conveyed to him about my concerns about Trungpa, Trungpa's allegedly legitimizing his assistant Tendrin's deadly behavior in affecting people with aids, and how I did not consider some of Trungpa's behaviors to be ethical or consistent with how I viewed the principles of Shambhala. As it turned out, Tendrin had been this director's mentor as well as lover, and he had great admiration for Tendrin, defended him, minimized the extent of his destructiveness in infecting people with aids, and offered that he could think of alternative explanations for Trungpa's violating behavior with ordering the poet's wife to be stripped naked (see above),[8] etc. Then he said we were out of time and I could ask him later about what he was thinking of for a possible alternative explanation for this. But we parted on good terms, and he thanked me for my honest and open questioning.

And there you have it. The Rigden director had a completely opposite perspective from the Level 5 director about Tendrin, who had told me that “this was just Tendrin's bullshit,” and from my perspective the Rigden director had a blind side to some of the most egregious faults in the history of Shambhala. But he accepted my questioning and concerns about this, and this was what was most important to me. Both Dorothy and I subsequently took our Shambhala vows, with a number of guests attending to observe the ceremony, and we received our Shambhala names. And the director gave me the name of “Wisdom Diamond,” which was very special to me, as this made it clear how much he appreciated my questioning of Shambhala.

This is pretty much the end of the story for me. In the next section I will be examining how Shambhala fares on my cults scale that I have used with all my modern religious involvements,[3] and I am expecting that Shambhala will fare well. However, I will mention that one concern I had as the Riden weekend came to its close, was with the power and authority of the Rigen director. He decided on Shambhala names for all the participants based upon his quick interviews with them, and conveyed to us how he chose these names very carefully and that the names were very meaningful, and that if we did not right away appreciate their significance for us, that we may appreciate their significance in a few years. Although I like my name, I don't think everyone necessarily felt the same way about their names. This does raise some concerns for me about the power and authority given to Shambhala higher-up directors, and especially the Sakyong, and my concerns about this will be included in my cults analysis in the next section.

However, my experience with the Rigden director being open and flexible with me extended to his respectful response to my publicly sharing that I was not comfortable with reciting one of the chants that we were instructed to chant during our Rigden taking vows ceremony. This chant had to do with paying homage to the ancient Shambhala warriors, and the language attested to their victories through making war on their enemies. When I asked if this referred to actual “war,” the Rigden director affirmed that it did, and defended the Shambhala warriors as fighting against the unethical powerful people in their society who were destroying their culture, and actually compared it to the situation with U.S. President Trump, as I had already been quite outspoken about my Trump concerns and he had acknowledged my concerns and apparently shared them. But without knowing the specifics of what justified these Shambhala warriors in engaging in war and killing people, I did not feel comfortable in reciting these vows that paid homage to them, which is what I conveyed publicly to the Rigden director. And once again the Rigden director listened to me respectfully, as he conveyed that if a vow was not comfortable for anyone then we should just “sit it out” and not feel any pressure to recite the vow. And I felt that there was not much more that I could ask for in setting my mind at ease that I was not blindly following a dangerous Shambhala guru.

Analysis of Cult Dangers of Shambhala

It is now time to conduct my experiential analysis of the cult dangers of Shambhala. To do so, I will utilize the same three rating scales that I utilized in my Modern Religions book, though I will now primarily make use of the Bonewits Cult Danger Scale,[18] which is the rating scale that I have found to be the most useful in my analysis of the cult dangers of all the modern religious groups that I have previously experienced and analyzed.[3] The nuts and bolts of the Bonewits Cult Danger Scale are as follows:


  1. INTERNAL CONTROL: amount of internal political power exercised by leader(s) over members.
  2. WISDOM CLAIMED: by leader(s); amount of infallibility declared about decisions.
  3. WISDOM CREDITED: to leaders by members; amount of trust in decisions made by leader(s).
  4. DOGMA: rigidity of reality concepts taught; of amount of doctrinal inflexibility.
  5. RECRUITING: emphasis put on attracting new members, amount of proselytizing.
  6. FRONT GROUPS: number of subsidiary groups using a different name from that of the main group.
  7. WEALTH: amount of money and/or property desired or obtained; emphasis on members' donations.
  8. POLITICAL POWER: amount of external political influence desired or obtained.
  9. SEXUAL MANIPULATION: of members by leader(s); amount of control over the lives of members.
  10. CENSORSHIP: amount of control over members' access to outside opinions on group, its doctrines or leader(s).
  11. DROPOUT CONTROL: intensity of efforts directed at preventing or returning dropouts.
  12. ENDORSEMENT OF VIOLENCE: when used by or for the group or its leader(s).
  13. PARANOIA: amount of fear concerning real or imagined enemies; perceived power of opponents.
  14. GRIMNESS: amount of disapproval concerning jokes about the group, its doctrines or leaders(s).
  15. SURRENDER OF WILL: emphasis on members not having to be And here are responsible for personal decisions.


And here are my Bonewits Cult Danger Scale ratings of Shambhala, along with my total and average (rounded off to one decimal place) ratings:

Bonewits Cult Danger Scale ratings of Shambhala
1 Internal Control 1
2 Wisdom Claimed 9
3 Wisdom Credited 9
4 Dogma 9
5 Recruiting 3
6 Front Groups 2
7 Wealth 3
8 Political Power 1
9 Sexual Manipulation 1
10 Censorship 1
11 Dropout Control 1
12 Endorsement of Violence 1
13 Paranoia 2
14 Grimness 2
15 Surrender of Will 2
  Total: 47
  Average 3.1

The way that I came up with my above experiential Shambhala ratings is as follows.

First off, I am quite comfortable with having given Shambhala the lowest (best) rating of “1” when it comes to Internal Control. I experienced absolutely no attempts by Shambhala to control any aspects of my personal life. On the other hand, I gave Shambhala very high (i.e., very alarming) ratings of “9” in the categories of Wisdom Claimed, Wisdom Credited, and Dogma. Yes there is a great deal of wisdom claimed by Shambhala's original founder Trungpa, and to a lesser extent by his son Mipham, the current leader of Shambhala. Furthermore, the wisdom credited to the Shambhala leaders, especially Trungpa, is certainly very high, with their pictures in prominent display as a central feature of the Shambhala altar at the Brunswick center. However, it is also the case that I was able to openly voice my concerns about Trungpa to a number of the Shambhala directors at my levels trainings, and Mipham appears to be much less of a guru figure compared to his father. Thus I refrained from giving Shambhala the highest “10” ratings in these categories. Similarly, there is a great deal of dogmatic religious kind of belief in Shambhala, following essentially all the guiding principles, esoteric religious/spiritual beliefs, and training practices as originally set forth by Trungpa. However, I also found that I was able to voice my concerns about following some of these dogmatic practices, such as publicly conveying in my Rigden weekend to the high level director that I was not comfortable with reciting one of the chants that paid homage to the ancient Shambhala warriors, and it was accepted by this director without any problem. Therefore I have refrained from giving Shambhala the highest “10” rating in the Dogma category.

I must admit that with these early three very alarming ratings that I was giving Shambhala, I started to wonder if Shambhala would rate at a higher level of cult danger than I had anticipated, based upon the generally positive experiences I have had with Shambhala. But as I continued my analysis, the ratings I was giving to Shambhala significantly started to improve. One striking observation is that I gave Shambahla five more ratings of “1,” in the categories of political power, sexual manipulation, censorship, dropout control, and endorsement of violence. Furthermore, I gave Shambhala quite favorable ratings of “2” in the categories of front groups, paranoia, grimness, and surrender of will. For a bit of explanation of why I gave these ratings as “2” instead of “1”: I had seen flyers for Shambhala talks about various topics without mentioning that these talks were sponsored by Shambhala; I had received a rather strange invitation from a Shambhala assistant that she had read about my work on cults and was inviting me to give a talk to the Brunswick/Portland (Maine) Shambhala board of directors about whether I considered Shambahla to be a cult (I decided to not respond to this invitation); although most of my levels trainings directors balanced their deep Shambhala teachings with a good sense of humor and lightness, the director at my Level 2 training was quite serious virtually for the whole training weekend; and though I did not experience giving up my will to Shambhala per se, there is an aspect in Shambhala of giving up your will to the higher universe, in a spiritual context. However, these considerations were all minor for me, and I was quite comfortable with giving Shambahla my ratings of “2” in these categories.

For the remaining categories of Wealth and Recruiting, I gave Shambhala the rating of “3.” This signifies for me that I did not have any serious concerns, but that there was some degree of caution that I experienced in these categories. For Wealth, there is a definite emphasis in Shambhala on becoming members and paying a yearly membership fee that is not unreasonable, but also not negligible. There is also an emphasis on Shambhala members making higher donations to Shambhala if they are able to do so, for the purpose of giving scholarships to Shambhala aspirants who have financial difficulty with the costs of the workshops. If one advances in Shambhala, the higher level workshops, although not exorbitant, or also not “cheap,” and all things considered I therefore felt that Shambhala was pragmatic and self-sufficient in the category of wealth, warranting a rating of “3.” And in regard to Recruiting, Shambhala very actively conveys all their events in weekly internet communications to anyone on their mailing lists, with frequent separate promotions of some of their particular events. This is certainly not at a degree that is inappropriate, but it does illustrate what I consider to be reasonable and substantial efforts at recruiting, and justifies my rating of “3” in this category.

It is now time to determine how these numbers fare in regard to Shambhala having possible cult dangers. In my Modern Religions book[3] I determined five categories of cult dangers, inclusive of a Favorable category: High Cult Danger, Moderate Cult Danger, Minimal Cult Danger, Neutral, and Favorable.[19] Based upon my experiences and numerical ratings in the three cult danger scales that I had utilized in my Modern Religions book, I placed Scientology and The Unification Church in the High Cult Danger category, and I included Neopaganaism and Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in the Favorable category. In terms of their respective Bonewits Cult Danger Scale average ratings, I gave The Unification Church the highest rating of 9.0 and Neopaganism the lowest rating of 2.1. In regard to the Neutral category, I included A Course in Miracles with a rating of 3.5. It thus appears, from the above Bonewits Cult Danger Scale rating of 3.1 that I gave to Shambhala, that we have an organization here that may fall somewhere in between Neutral and Favorable in regard to its cult dangers. More specifically, the lowest numerical rating I gave to an organization that I classified as Neutral was to the International Cultic Studies Association, with a rating of 3.4, and the highest numerical rating I gave to an organization that I classified as Favorable was to Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT), with a rating of 2.7.[3] Thus with Shambhala's rating of 3.1, it may make sense to create a new category for Shambhala that can be called “Mildly Beneficial.”

To justify further putting Shambhala in a Mildly Beneficial category, we can make use of the other two rating scales that I used in my Modern Religions book, which were the Anthony Typology and the Wilber Integral Model.[3] Without going into detail about the specifics of the formulations of these two scales (see [3] for more information about this), suffice it to say that in the Wilber Integral Model I would place Shambhala in the Transrational category, which reflects Shambhala's strong emphasis on making use of one's mind in a variety of ways, but most importantly, transcending one's mind through a disciplined practice of meditation. In the Anthony Typology I would classify Shambhala as being Monistic, meaning that all individuals are inherently good spiritual beings, and as being Multilevel, meaning engaging in genuine inner spiritual development. In regard to the Anthony Typology of Technical vs. Charismatic, I would place Shambhala pretty much in between the two, and in regard to the Wilber Integral Model of Legitimacy anchored in a tradition, I would also place Shambhala in the middle, as although there is a reputed long heritage of Shambhala (Rigden) kings over a period of thousands of years,[17] the Western form of Shambhala is very much one that was created by Trungpa in the 1970's. In regard to the Phase Specific category in the Wilber Integral Model, I would give Shambhala a low rating, as the Shambhala guru (initially Trungpa and now his son Mipham) is a lifelong position, not at all phase specific. Finally, in regard to Wilber's Four Quadrant Integral Model, I would give Shambhala high ratings, as although there is a dominant focus on one's inner experience through meditation, there is also a focus on one's body postures, breathing, physical exercises, and yoga, as well as communicating with others in dyads and small groups, and working in the broad social world to create an “enlightened society.” Thus incorporating the high ratings I give Shambhala for being Transrational, Monistic, Multilevel, and being supportive of the Wilber Four Quadrant Integral Model, I am comfortable placing Shambhala in the Mildly Beneficial category.


I do not think that that the current “benevolent” leadership in Shambhala is likely to change for the worse.

I never anticipated that I would embark on another “modern religion” as I traverse through my late 60's. But as I have described above, my motivation to do so was extremely high, and I therefore “jumped” into Shambhala, and I am very thankful that I have apparently landed with both feet on the ground. Yes there are concerns to watch out for in regard to possible cult dangers for Shambhala, in particular regarding their strong reliance on religious dogma and paying homage to their gurus. However, I believe that the decency and open responsiveness of the Shambhala high level directors has thus far safeguarded Shambhala from entering into any kind of dangerous cult activities. The fact that I was able to voice all my concerns and criticisms to a number of these directors speaks volumes to me about why I do not consider Shambhala to exhibit serious cult dangers. Of course, it is possible that this situation could change in the future, in particular through the changing of the guard in the leadership of Shambhala, once Mipham dies and one of his daughters takes over his role as Shambhala guru. However, I do not think that that the current “benevolent” leadership in Shambhala is likely to change for the worse. Furthermore, from what I have experienced in all my Shambhala trainings this year, I must say that both my Shambhala meditation experiences as well as social experiences have been beneficial to me. In this world of overwhelmingly disturbing everyday events, it is very settling for me to have a spiritual practice where I can just be by myself and feel content. And having a spiritual group that I can relate to in this way and who is supportive of my practice, is something that I have learned to value in Shambhala. And of course most important of all to me, I am now sharing this spiritual path with my wife Dorothy. So in conclusion, at this time I am willing accept Shambhala as a bona fide spiritual community without showing any serious signs of cult dangers.

Notes and References

[1] See the Shambhala organization international website at [For the Shambhala legend and its historical expressions, see]

[2] For information about the life, teachings, and controversies for Trungpa seeögyam_Trungpa

[3] See Elliot Benjamin (2013), Modern Religions: An Experiential Analysis and Exposé. Winterport, Maine: Natural Dimension Publications.

[4] For information about the life and teachings for Mipham see Note that are no controversies included in the informaton about Mipham given in Wikipedia, and in a thorough internet search I have not found any indications of unethical behavior for Mipham during his whole 28 year tenure as the leader/guru of Shambhala.

[5] In Shambhala teachings,The Great Eastern Sun represents the alleged force of basic goodness in the universe, and this is described as a fundamental premise of Shambhala in Trungpa's (1984) book Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior. Boston: Shambhala Publications. This concept of basic goodness in Shambhala is also the dominant focus of the Shambhala Level 1 training.

[6] See Elliot Benjamin: Integral vs. Integrative: A Response to Scott Parker (2007); Clinton vs. Trump: A More Integrated Perspective (2016); Trump vs. Hitler: an Integrative Perspective (2016); Fighting Against the Trump Dictatorship: An Integrative Perspective (2017); Resisting Trump: 10 Months Later from a More Narrow but More Honest Integrative Perspective (2017); at

[7] See Sakyong Mipham (2003), Turning the Mind into an Ally. New York: Riverhead Books.

[8] For information about Osel Tendrin in relation to his affecting people with aids, and the allegations regarding the related advice he received from Trungpa, see

[9] I have a dominant introspective and introverted nature, which I have described in my book The Creative Artist, Mental Disturbance, and Mental Health (2017). Winterport, Maine: Natural Dimension Publications.

[10] For information about perfect numbers, See Elliot Benjamin (2017), Numberama: Recreational Number Theory in the School System. Potomac, MD: Bentham Science; and Elliot Benjamin (2006), Integral Mathematics: A Four Quadrant Approach at

[11] As it turned out, there was a small group discussion the next day, which was very impactful for me, relating to the “cocoon” people surround themselves in, which was a dominant theme in the Level 2 training.

[12] See Chogyam Trungpa (1973), Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism. Boston: Shambhala Publications.

[13] See for a description of crazy wisdom in religious traditions. See a number of articles on the Integral World site at on the topic of the dangers of crazy wisdom as applied by gurus Adi Da and Andrew Cohen. See also Geoffrey Falk (2009), Stripping the Gurus: Sex, Violence, Abuse and Enlightenment. Million Monkeys Press, for a scathing and alarming exposé about the dangers of unethical gurus using crazy wisdom in a multitude of religions—both ancient and contemporary.

[14] See in particular, Elliot Benjamin (2007), An Integrative/Non-Integral Psychotherapy Model at

[15] As I continued to progress through my Shambhala trainings, ceremonial bowing took place more and more, as we bowed whenever we entered and left the meditation room/sanctuary and before and after each of our interviews with the directors. However, I was able to take this ceremonial bowing in stride, as I looked at it as a show of respect for the principles of Shambhala that I felt comfortable with, and not as any kind of homage to Shambhala gurus.

[16] See Elliot Benjamin (2012), An Experiential Exploration of the Possibility of Life After Death Through the Ostensible Communications of Mediums with Deceased Persons. Saybrook University: UMI 3509443.

[17] See for description of the legend of the Shambhala Rigden kings, as well as Trungpa's book The Sacred Path of the Warrior (see book information in [5]).

[18] See Issac Bonewits (1989), Real Magic: An Introductory Treatise on the Basic Principles of Yellow Magic. York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weisner. (Original work published 1971)

[19] Although it has been pointed out to me that it would have been more accurate to have weighted the various components of the Bonewits Cult Danger Scale that I have utilized, as obviously some of these components are more significant than others, I am giving them equal weight in my analysis of Shambhala in order to reasonably make a comparison of my cult danger ratings of Shambhala with those of the other religious organizations that I have used this scale for previously.

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