An open letter published Saturday by six former personal attendants to Buddhist leader Sakyong Mipham accused him of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, and financial mismanagement.
If true, the allegations stand in stark contrast to the public image that Mipham, 56, has cultivated as a bestselling author on mindfulness and compassion and the head of the Buddhist group Shambhala International.
The letter’s authors all served as “kusung,” or attendants — a position that combines the roles of Mipham’s domestic valet, butler, secretary, and body guard. The former attendants say they were motivated to come forward by “a moral obligation to alert others” about Mipham’s “disturbing pattern of behavior.” Their allegations against Mipham include:
- Groping one female attendant, Allya F. Canepa, then asking her for oral sex so that he could get to sleep;
- Hitting and biting others, including his students and attendants;
- Demanding that a group of students strip naked during a drunken party;
- Sexually harassing and belittling female attendants;
- Pursuing sexual relationships with new students and married students;
- Binge drinking to the point that one of his attendants, Ben Medrano, was allegedly given a letter empowering him to cut off Mipham’s alcohol consumption;
- Exorbitant spending on items like luxury vacations and skin-care products. Medrano reported a phone call in which Mipham allegedly screamed, “I want my fucking Audi!”
One of the former attendants, Craig Morman, also said that he witnessed part of a previously reported incident in which a woman says Mipham forced himself on her in Santiago, Chile, in 2002. Two other former attendants, Medrano and Canepa, said they heard of the incident years before it became public.
The letter alleges specific incidents of sexual harassment by other senior leaders within Shambhala, but it does not name them.
ThinkProgress has not confirmed the letter’s allegations.
A lawyer for Mipham, who has also gone by the names Osel R. Mukpo and Mipham J. Mukpo, did not return a request for comment. Mipham has previously denied engaging in any criminal sexual conduct.
In a letter to Shambhala members on Monday, the group’s interim board of directors said it “strongly disapprove[s]” of the behavior the former attendants described.
“We will now turn our attention to exploring how to go forward as we work with these recent reports of Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche’s behavior,” the letter said. “We will engage with the various Shambhala leadership groups… to determine structures of governance that make most sense for Shambhala now and in the future.”
Shambhala did not return ThinkProgress’ request for comment.
The Council of the Makkyi Rabjam, an internal governing body within Shambhala that oversees the kusung program, also sent a letter to its members saying it “recognize[s] that there is truth in these accounts.”
“We are deeply sorry for missing or not understanding some of the warning signs and for our part in enabling these behaviors to occur,” the council’s statement read. “Our mandate is to create a safe container for our community to practice in, and we are heartbroken that we failed many people in that effort.”
Mipham temporarily stepped down last July after the advocacy group Buddhist Project Sunshine began to publish a series of four reports with allegations that he sexually assaulted several of his female students.
A report issued earlier this month by the law firm Wickwire Holm, which Shambhala commissioned, found that Mipham drunkenly kissed and groped a woman without her consent, pressured other women into sex, and sought sex from his female students for years. That report only investigated two out of ten claims of sexual misconduct by Mipham, and advocates have criticized its scope.
In a letter to Shambhala members in response to the Wickwire Holm report, Mipham said he was planning to “travel and enter retreat for the next several months.” It is not clear if or when he will resume his full teaching and administrative duties over Shambhala.
UPDATE (2/20/2019): In a letter to Shambhala International members Wednesday morning, the group’s teachers, called “acharyas,” called for Sakyong Mipham to stop teaching “for the foreseeable future” and said they were “shifting our emphasis from our role as representatives of [Mipham] to fully supporting the journey of the [community].”
The letter was signed by some of the most well-known Shambhala teachers, including the author Pema Chodron, Fleet Maull, and Judith Simmer-Brown.
“No one knows what this path forward will look like,” the letter read. “However, we are committed to asking the hard questions and working with all of you, the Process Team, and the Interim Board to the best of our ability. We aspire to create a future where we can all feel safe and proud as Shambhalians.”
Do you have information about sexual misconduct in Shambhala or another religious organization? Contact reporter Joshua Eaton by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by Signal at 202–684–1030.