UPDATE (7/6/2018, 9:20 p.m. ET): Prominent Buddhist teacher and author Sakyong Mipham, the leader of Shambhala International, announced in a letter Friday night that he is temporarily stepping down from teaching and administration pending the outcome of an investigation by law firm Wickwire Holm into charges he coerced and sexually assaulted several female students.
The move leaves Shambhala with no clear leadership structure following the announcement Friday afternoon that its main governing body, the Kalapa Council, will also step aside.
“The Sakyong fully supports a third-party investigation and wishes to provide the time and space for it to properly occur,” said the letter, which referred to Mipham by his religious title. “He will use this time to enter a period of self-reflection.”
ThinkProgress’ original story about the Kalapa Council’s announcement is below.
The main governing body of Shambhala International, a network of over 200 Buddhist meditation centers around the world, is stepping down amid allegations of sexual assault by the group’s head, Sakyong Mipham.
The Kalapa Council, which is appointed by Mipham himself, announced in a letter to Shambhala members Friday afternoon that it will step down in a “phased departure.”
“We recognize that parts of our system are broken, and need to dissolve in order to make room for real change,” the council said.
The news comes a day after Naropa University, in Boulder, Colorado, forced Mipham to resign from two honorary posts over the sexual assault allegations. The university was founded by Mipham’s father, Chogyam Trungpa. It was part of Shambhala International until 1987, when it became independent.
“We have reviewed the accounts presented by several women, who, at the time of
the encounters were members of Shambhala International, relating abuse that
occurred as recently as 2011,” Naropa said in a statement Thursday. “We find the accounts of these women to be credible and believable.”
A report released last week by the advocacy group Buddhist Project Sunshine detailed the accounts of several women who said Mipham sexually assaulted them or coerced them into sexual relationships — including one second-hand accusation that Mipham raped a woman in Chile.
Members of the Kalapa Council seemed to confirm many of those stories in a phone call with low-level Shambhala leaders on Monday, though they denied the rape allegation, according to leaked notes obtained by ThinkProgress.
One council member, Adam Lobel, recounted seeing Mipham engage in a “wild culture of drinking, spontaneous poetry, and parties” in the early 2000s, and worrying that he had an “inability to connect with women as a human being [sic].”
Pressed by an unnamed person on the call who said they had a relationship with Mipham from 2003 to 2004 that they do not view as consensual, Lobel admitted that Mipham’s position may have made it difficult for his students to turn down his advances.
“All of us are lea[r]ning a lot about power dynamics,” Lobel responded. “I no longer see those relationships as consensual in that same way. I’m sorry for any of the pain you have gone through.”
Several people on the call, including Lobel, mentioned the need for Shambhala to reform its rigid, top-down leadership structures, and some called for Mipham, the Kalapa Council, or both to step aside.
In its letter Friday, the Kalapa Council also confirmed that it has hired the Halifax-based law firm Wickwire Holm to investigate the allegations against Mipham and other Shambhala teachers. The news was first reported by ThinkProgress on Friday morning.
Shambhala has also hired An Olive Branch, which is affiliated with the Zen Center of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to review its sexual misconduct policies and independently handle any future allegations of abuse.
The Kalapa Council did not give a timeline for when its members will step down, but said it will hand over legal and financial responsibilities to a board. The letter did not say how that board will be chosen or who its members will be.
The public relations firm Hiltzik Strategies, which is representing Mipham and the Kalapa Council, did not immediately return a request for comment.
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.