Sakyong Mipham, a prominent Buddhist teacher who has appeared on stage with the Dalai Lama and Queen Noor of Jordan, allegedly locked a woman in a bathroom and forcibly groped her during a drunken party in Santiago, Chile, in 2002, according to a report published Wednesday by the advocacy group Buddhist Project Sunshine.
Mipham heads a global network of more than 200 Buddhist centers called Shambhala International. The report alleges members of its board of directors knew about the incident in Chile as early as 2002.
“I found this woman very credible,” the report’s author, retired employment lawyer Carol Merchasin, wrote. “She reached out immediately after the incident to others, telling them the same story; her contemporaneous account to the Corroborating Witness further strengthens her credibility.”
Shambhala International referred ThinkProgress’ requests for comment to the public relations firm Hiltzik Stategies, which referred them to Mipham’s personal lawyer, Michael Scott, of the Halifax, Canada, firm Patterson Law.
Shambhala has hired Halifax law firm Wickwire Holm to investigate other allegations of sexual assault against Mipham published last month.
“Out of respect for the integrity of the independent investigation, my client will, for the moment, be offering no comment,” Scott told ThinkProgress in response to questions about those other allegations.
The new allegation is harrowing: During a party, Mipham allegedly pulled the woman into a bathroom, then locked the door and stood in front of it, barring her escape. Then he proceeded to grope her, put her hand on his genitals, and try to undress her, all while she said “no” and “I don’t want to do this.” When she told him she had a boyfriend, he responded, simply, “That doesn’t matter.” After about 15 minutes in the bathroom, the woman said she managed to push him away from the door and escape. By that time, all the other guests had left the party.
The next morning, the woman told a cook who was traveling with Mipham about the incident. That cook confirmed the woman’s account to Merchasin, the report says. That cook also told Merchasin that David Brown, a member of Shambhala’s board of directors and Mipham’s personal secretary, interviewed her about the incident later that year and told her two other board members, Mitchell Levy and Jesse Grimes, were trying to get Mipham to “clean up his act.”
A third woman told Merchasin that she overheard a senior Shambhala leader talking about the incident on the phone in 2002.
Brown, Levy, and Grimes did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
ThinkProgress did not interview any of these women and has not independently confirmed their stories. But parts of the account square with statements Shambhala board members made during a private video call with the group’s meditation teachers last week.
“Early in 2002 some close to [Mipham] became concerned with his drinking,” Grimes said during the call, according to notes obtained by ThinkProgress. “Mitchell Levy and I sat with [Mipham] for an intervention.”
On that same call, another board member and Mipham’s chief of staff, Josh Silberstein, addressed the incident in Chile directly: “We have first-hand witnesses who indicate it isn’t true.”
Scott and Hiltzik Stategies declined multiple requests to put ThinkProgress in touch with those witnesses or provide further details.
Wednesday’s report comes after another report by Buddhist Project Sunshine, published last month, detailed several other allegations of sexual assault, sexual misconduct, and heavy drinking by the Mipham. That report briefly mentioned the incident in Chile as a second- or third-hand rape allegation. The new report corrects and clarifies those allegations.
Three days before the last report came out, Mipham apologized for having “relationships” with women in Shambhala. He did not admit any sexual misconduct.
“I have recently learned that some of these women have shared experiences of feeling harmed as a result of these relationships,” Mipham wrote. “I am now making a public apology.”
In 2003, the reports says Mipham met with the woman whom he reportedly assaulted in Chile and apologized to her. He sent her an apology letter later, though the report doesn’t make clear whether he ever admitted to sexual assault.
Shambhala’s governing body, called the Kalapa Council, announced its “phased” resignation in the wake of last week’s allegations. Mipham has stepped down from teaching and administrative duties pending the outcome of that investigation. Naropa University, in Boulder, Colo., also forced Mipham to resign from two honorary positions.
Neither Scott nor Hiltzik Stategies would comment on whether Mipham and the Kalapa Council members will continue in their legal roles as directors of the half-dozen or so legal entities affiliated with Shambhala. They also declined to comment on whether Mipham will continue to receive a salary, attendants, cooks, travel and housing expenses, and other benefits.
“The organization is assessing the situation and taking necessary steps towards healing and rebuilding the community,” a source close to Shambhala said in a statement.
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.