Published in March, 2018 and updated July 22nd. 2018
My experience with Shambhala International from 2007 to date has led me to conclude that, despite a well-crafted aura of goodness based on high ethics, the organisation is as prone to corruption as any other. My intention in publishing here is to inspire others to tell their stories. I make no apologies for its length: it is brief compared to the review of Shambhala’s corrupt sense of justice which has long been required and which may now be starting.
Shambhala International lists 14,000 members worldwide, primarily in North America and Europe. Of these, approximately 2,000 ar5e vajrayana students of the organisations’ leader, Sakyong (‘Earth Protector’) Mipham Rinpoche (‘Blessed One’). It is reliably estimated and quoted by senior students that approximately 100,000 ‘unique visitors’ attend the 220 Shambhala Centres and Groups each year. In July 2018 credible allegations of sexual assault by Mipham and their systemic cover up by his Administrators were acknowledged by those Administrators after they had threatened legal action against their publication. Much of the trouble is a macrocosm of what I experienced in the organisation.
In 2014 I fled one of Shambhala’s four Residential Retreat Centres, Dorje Denma Ling in Nova Scotia, because Shambhala’s Administrators overtly ridiculed my evidence of numerous crimes at that centre, in particular my attempted murder by vehicle sabotage. They failed to inform either myself or the police investigation which I then initiated that they had quietly banned my main suspect from the centre for some of those crimes, just days prior to the discovery of my vehicle’s life-endangering sabotage. As the sabotage became apparent, he continued to slander me and complain about his ban to guests at Dechen Chöling, one of the other four Retreat Centres, to where he had silently gone after being banned from Dorje Denma Ling. Based on the (lack of) information they found, the Police concluded that Dorje Denma Ling was safe for me, even though my main suspect frequently visits Nova Scotia. This case is typical of the Shambhala Administrators’ habit of covering up crime while abdicating their duty of care. My inability to find either empathy or a sense of accountability within Shambhala following my voluminous reports on criminal activity within the Sangha, is evidence that the Administration’s sense of justice is deeply unethical.
In 2015, the just-retired President of Shambhala encouraged me to refer to this life-endangering sabotage as “attempted murder”. As the former Public Relations Manager of Amnesty International and a key broker in the Sri Lanka civil war ceasefire, I took his advice to heart. He also told me that the covering up of this kind of behaviour is “systemic in Shambhala”. The recent attempt by Lady Diana Mukpo to protect her husband, Mitchell Levy, from criticisms of his habitual preying on young women is a classic and very public display of this kind of behaviour in the Sangha.
I prefer to continue sharing my experience with Shambhala in public forums by way of alerting others to the destructive nepotism in the organisation and the harm to which they may be subjected should they join or remain in the group. Project Sunshine is revealing widespread child sexual abuse and its decades long cover up, involving senior teachers and others in the Shambhala Sangha. This reaches into the Shambhala International’s Board of Directors, the Kalapa Council where Levy resides as one of its oldest members. He is one of the Sangha’s most senior teachers and recently recused himself from discussions related to the now very topical issue of sexual abuse due to the many allegations of same against him, one involving a 16 year old girl with whom he had an ongoing affair as a man old enough to be her father. This nepotism, of course, extends to the Sakyong (“The Boss”, my former guru) as I narrate below. This blog is surely the tip of an iceberg and as time goes by this year, it seems that dogs are baying and skeletons are falling out of closets.
“It is not a breach of samaya to bring painful information to light. Naming destructive behaviors is a necessary step to protect those who are being harmed or who are in danger of being harmed in the future, and to safeguard the health of the community … We must distinguish teachers who are eccentric or provocative—but ultimately compassionate and skillful—from those who are actually harming students and causing trauma. These are two very different things, and it is important that we do not lump them together. There are plenty of teachers who push and provoke students to help them learn about their minds, but that is not abuse. Physical, sexual, and psychological abuse are not teaching tools.” Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, as presented by Shambhala’s own publication, Lion’s Roar.
My transition to Dorje Denma Ling
In 2013 the Kasung Command led by Jesse Grimes, Toby Sifton and Ian McClaughlin and the now former Director of Dorje Denma Ling, Lennart Krogoll invited me to take up a dual post as Rusung and Artist in Residence. As Rusung I was charged with the spiritual, emotional and physical health, safety and security of all people at the facility, including both staff and guests. My role was supervised by Kasung Command. The post of Rusung became defunct with my departure, effective with its summary ‘dissolution’ in 2014. In my role as senior management at the facility, I was junior only to the Director.
As Artist in Residence it was agreed that I would set up a Joint Venture between my furniture-making company and Dorje Denma Ling by moving an 11 ton container of machinery, lumber and a thirty-year collection of specialist hand tools from British Columbia to Nova Scotia. An existing building onsite would be converted for the workshop operations. I had sold my property in BC in order to facilitate this major life move, having provided a Shambhala-based meditation group in my community there for the previous two years. I intended to enrol my daughter in the Shambhala School in Halifax and we interviewed there for this purpose.
The Director, who from my point of view spoke on behalf of the Kasung as my most direct supervisor in my dual role, promised that I would be housed in family friendly quarters, and that my daughter’s airfares from British Columbia would be covered by Dorje Denma Ling to facilitate our relationship. I was asked to make a three-year commitment to the post, which I gladly did, having been recommended for the post by a handful of senior members of the community in both Vancouver and Nova Scotia generally. However, upon arrival in February 2014, I was only offered a one-year contract.
It quickly became clear that the Director had been numerously and formally advised between September and December 2013 by the members of Dorje Denma Ling (advisory) Council to not invite me to fill this post of Rusung/Artist in residence. This advice was offered primarily because, as the Director had grossly mismanaged the facility’s finances to date, it could not support the joint venture as proposed. While this advice is minuted in the Council’s meetings of the time, I was kept unaware of it by all concerned despite having many face to face conversations with all of them prior to my departure from British Columbia.
I soon learned that the Director also did not have the legal authority to establish a for-profit business venture between my company and the organisation due to its charitable tax status. In pursuing that Joint Venture therefore he jeopardised Shambhala’s tax charitable status in Canada and therefore its success in Canada and reputation internationally.
I therefore moved my life across the breadth of Canada at the age of fifty-one and arrived at Dorje Denma Ling under the entirely false pretences of the Director and Kasung Command. At the April 2014 Dorje Denma Ling Council meeting, nine members discussed the Director’s attempts to establish the Joint Venture without any legal or internal institutional authority, or even an internal business plan to protect Dorje Denma Ling. Council advised the Director that, “in order to avoid a lawsuit”, (Torgny Vigerstad) the Joint Venture should be wound up. Council therefore voted, unanimously and with the Director’s agreement to compensate me some $9,000 in respect of costs incurred in the moving of my container across Canada.
Although he ultimately did authorise full payment of the $9,000 as agreed, the Director attempted to reduce that payment by 50% in an extraordinarily insensitive email exchange with myself days before honoring his minuted committment in Council. Aware that the Finance Manager of Dorje Denma Ling at the time, Sandra Selva had sought to have me fired on evidently trumped up charges, he allowed himself to be persuaded by her that the proposed 50% reduction was fair. Employing aggressive logic he compounded it by suggesting, unbelievably that as I was responsible for accepting the contract to work at Dorje Denma Ling I was responsible for 50% of my moving costs. He appears to ignore the fact I experienced a disruption in my life as a result of his stubborn idealism in misrepresenting the situation beyond any possible assessment I may have made. In fact, the contract came about entirely as a result of the Director’s wishful thinking and that of the persuasiveness of a local Shambhala resident of Tatamagouche, Angela Pressburger who had a vested interest in seeing the Centre flourish on account of her Bed and Breakfast business which was intrinsically linked to the success of the Center.
Kasung Command apologised for the eighty-square-foot cubicle which the Director forced me to inhabit despite his empty promises of ‘family accomodation’ of twice that size. I was obliged to live in it with all of the furniture and possessions sufficient for such accomodation. I was told there simply was no other space available, and, “Sorry about that”.
As it turned out, the Dorje Denma Ling Development Department’s construction budget had been depleted entirely, three months prior to my arrival due to the Director’s financial mismanagement. This left the much needed 500 square foot, three bedroom staff accommodation house 20% unfinished and well over time. It serves as a monument to how he, according to Senior Administrators, “…wrecked Doreje Denma Ling”. While the ‘Hemp House’ could have been completed in six months at a cost of less than $50,000, due to the Director squandering $200,000 on a long-term infrastructure plan for the facility, devoid of any proven market need for such and in the face of considrable skepticism of same, that project also failed. Naturally I was left to pay for my daughter’s airfares myself, the Director advising I approach Kasung Command to cover his committement to meet that expense while knowing full well that the Command had virtually no operating budget whatsover and had insisted that Dorje Denma Ling pay my wages for that very reason.
Following the Director’s approval of Council’s advice to pay compensation to myself he excluded me from all of the Dorje Denma Ling management meetings for the rest of my nine month tenure, despite my appeals to all levels of the organisation’s administration and Kasung Command. The internal staff strife was at breaking point and alcohol consumption was epidemic—snow moving equipment, on which the facility depended for its daily survival, was routinely being operated by one person, Steve Ellenburg who was a known alcoholic and numerously observed to be consuming alcohol while operating it. His assistant appealed to me as a basic safety concern in this regard and, due to the Director’s inaction refused to work with Steve.
Working at Dorje Denma Ling
One month into my tenure the Director asked me to facilitate staff feedback on his, “…lack of care for Staff”. He called a staff meeting to inform us that he would be setting aside an entire day for twelve half-hour appointments to this end, the precise schedule and process to be coordinated by myself. Only one staff member of the twelve booked an appointment: Steve Ellenburg. According to Steve, the Director confided in him his surprise that he had not yet been fired. Clearly he was the most elgible of wiling candidates for the job, which appeared to number jusy one. A few staff simply ignored the exercise entirely, confiding in me their mistrust in the Director. One staff member told me, wide-eyed and waving his hand as though it were passing through the Director’s body, “It’s like there’s just nothing there.”
The Assistant Kitchen Manager, Roberta Canfield had aspirations to the Kitchen Manager’s post, naturally. She was a good cook and well organised. However, she also routinely bullied her junior staff into resignation so as to achieve her goal. Three people had succumbed to this treatment in the year prior to my arrival. One of her victims wound up in an alcohol-detoxification clinic after consuming three bottles of whisky in one day. He never returned. Although I was on leave at the time, when I returned neither the Director, Assistant Director, Michael Shadoan, Desung (Officer overseeing emotional health and wellbeing), Lilly Gleich nor the Personnel Manager, Marc Lanthier brought this to my attention as they should have. I had to ferret out the information, feeling somewhat responsible as the victim had finally turned to me as the last person on whom he thought he could rely for support. Sadly they all conspired to get rid of him when I was unable to help him, rather than deal with real issue: the well-known abuse by the Assistant Kitchen Manager. It turns out this situation was a microcosm of the way in which justice is often handled in the Sangha generally.
By her own admission, this Assistant Kitchen Manager recognised mental health issues in herself and, in her most vulnerable moment, asked me to arrange counselling. The Director failed to pursue this option even though I had arranged a suitable counsellor. At the start of my tenure he told me that his, “blind spot” was in firing people, but in reality he didn’t accept guidance, as with the Joint Venture and the Hemp House. He saw his Director’s role as governed only by the Sakyong despite Jane Arthur then holding the post of Land Center Director. He rarely sought advice in his role, and I never once heard him refer to the Land Center Director. His interactions with Dorje Denma Ling’s Advisory Council amounted to three meetings during my nine month tenure. More importantly, while the Shambhala Administration was entirely aware of his management failings via various offices and roles, it entirely failed to intervene, something of which he was clearly curious as evidenced by his discussion with Steve Ellenburg as above.
On July 11th, 2014, Dorje Denma Ling’s routine water test by the Nova Scotia Health Department returned a result showing positive for coliforms. This rendered Dorje Denma Ling’s drinking water officially unsafe for human consumption at that point. Protocol indicated that a second water test should be performed within twenty-four hours. This was not undertaken even though the Kitchen Manager, Renate Hemphill and the Assistant Kitchen Manager discussed it and agreed to do it. Apparently they were “too busy” providing for the guests at the facility.
When it discovered the error five weeks later, the Health Department issued a Boil Water Advisory. Notices were posted at every tap per Canadian law and more water testing was undertaken. Everyone, guests and staff alike, naturally became very concerned. The Kitchen Manager resigned, citing her negligence in conducting the July water test and her difficulties in dealing her Assistant Kitchen Manager.
The Assistant Kitchen Manager became the Kitchen Manager by default. She removed all of the Boil Water Advisory Notices saying there were, “…too many questions”. She began declaring that I had no role in overseeing the situation, even though I was routinely introduced to every guest at the beginning of every program as “our Health and Safety Officer”, and my posted job description clearly covered that role. At a Staff meeting in early September, the Director followed my recommendation and advised her that she was jeopardising his personal liability in removing the notices and that they should remain in place. he did not mention the possible health risk which at that point was still unknown.
She continued to remove the notices, which I was replacing with the sanction of the Diretor’s directive above. She said that the Health Department had made a “typo” on the water test and the water was potable and became very pset when I proved her to be lying. Officially, the water remained, “… non potable”, yet since achieving that distinction the Kitchen Manager had wilfully overseen its general consumption at the facility, unbeknownst to anybody else except the former Kitchen Manager. In that state, the water was consumed by over 600 guests including the Sakyong’s pregnant wife, senior students, children and Staff. One day I found one crumpled notice taped to the underside of the guest toilet seat. I had to assume that the hand of the Kitchen Manager was at play here, with sick humour.
It seems that it was a lack of requisite empathy for her victims in the Administration generally which permitted her continued employment in both the Sakyong’s private kitchen and at Dorje Denma Ling for seven months after the Boil Water Advisory.
So, while the war of notices continued with virtually no assistance from either the Director (beyond his directive) or the Assistant Director, I contacted the Nova Scotia Health Department’s Testing Facility to ascertain any anomalies in the process concerning the July water test. I was assured that there had been no, “…typo”, as claimed, that Dorje Denma Ling’s water was indeed non potable and that I was obliged to ensure that the formal Notices remain in place per Canadian Federal Law, until the Water Boil Advisory was officially declared ended by the Department. The Health Inspector firmly reminded me that we were, as ever, subject to her unannounced compliance visits.
When I informed the Director of same he made no response. In fact, when the Finance Manager, as an old friend of the Kitchen Manager, insulted me in front of him for pursuing his directive to maintain the notices without any evidence, the Director simply looked down his nose at me, silent, as if I were the offending party. A day later I was physically assaulted by the now emboldened Kitchen Manager in front of a witness when she threw me off the kitchen loading dock as I was investigating the situation, attempting to enter the kitchen to read the official water analysis document posted on the fridge. I was fortunately not injured though I fell the two feet to the ground. She unexpectedly rammed her shoulder into my sternum when I attempted to pass her in the narrow space which she had left for me between her body and the dock’s edge.
We then finally saw some action from the internal Administration. I was immediately ordered by the Assistant Director to stop posting the Health Department’s Notices despite the fact that we were obliged by law to keep them in place and the water testing was incomplete. I advised that protocols should be altered to allow the Rusung, instead of the Assistant Manager, to oversee water safety protocols at the facility. His response was typical of Shambhala Administrators—nothing to see, nothing to change, move along. In declining to effect my proposal he dimissed me with a snicker, saying, “I’m not sure how Roberta would feel about that”. He clearly had no regard for the fact that we had just served officially unpotable water to over 600 people. He apparently felt that not calling out the Kitchen Manager’s wrongdoing took precedence over repairing the ineffective administration of the facility’s water safety protocols and the disregard for the liabilities of the facility, the Director and himself.
The Director then published a still publicly available comment on a private website which monitors water safety in Canada independently of the government. The item highlights the Water Boil Advisory as above. The Director incorrectly states that the water at Dorje Denma Ling has was, “… never unsafe”, regardless of his witnessed directive to Staff regarding the Water Boil Advisory Notices and his admonsihing the Kitchen Manager for jeopardising his liability in removing them. He goes on to promote Shambhala’s mission to create enlightened society, regardless of its irrelevance in that context. I am left feeling that there is a tendency for those in power in Shambhala to live in their own bubbles of soporific belief that they are chosen warriors who will save the world. The fact is they merely represent another religious institution, as prone to corruption and deception as any other.
While I received absolutely no effective front line support from Kasung Command to this point, I then began to experience a concerted campaign of bullying, harassment and physical assault directed by the Kitchen Manager and involving two other staff, both self-important “old dog” students of Trungpa, the organisation’s founder, namely Jeremy Blackburn and Sandra Selva. By these three people, in an incident which can be seen as ‘mob bullying’, I was subjected to verbal abuse almost hourly for two months, as well as four other physical assaults after the kitchen dock incident, two of those with witnesses.
I asked the Director to suspend the Kitchen Manager pending counselling. He agreed to do this, but then declined. So, with his inaction, yete again, the stage was set to give free rein to the Kitchen Manager’s vindictive machinations. My personal effects began to be routinely sabotaged and a mixture of corn chips, grass and gravel were placed in my vehicle’s fuel tank. The Director suspected the Kitchen Manager in the vehicle sabotage while I told him that it was more likely the work of his ex-army chauffeur friend who he had recently employed in the Facilities Maintenance Department, Jeremy Blackburn. The Kitchen Manager was asked to agree to relocate her employment in mid-September 2014, following another of her abusive verbal outbursts, this time against a guest and involving slander against myself. She then turned her attention on me, saying openly that, “…because I’ve lost my job, he should lose his”.
The Director failed to intervene in this abuse for six weeks and met each of my appeals with the sadly familiar institutionalised tendency to bury reports of abuse by frequently telling me so often that it began to sound like a mantra: “She’s digging her own grave.” His puppy dog eyes failed to convince me that he was acting responsibly. In particular, the physical assault and the vehicle sabotage went entirely uninvestigated by him, and the Kitchen Manager accordingly and predictably felt emboldened by his inaction. Slander against me prevailed like wildfire. I became sleep deprived due to the aggressive, nightly and entirely unnecessary operation of dehumidifiers next to my room, occasional random kicking of my door as the Kitchen Manager enetered her room opposite my own, late at night and early in the mornings. The abuse tactics were creative, unpatterned and entirely unpredictable.
Support from Kasung Command was entirely absent, their sole advice coming from Ian McClaughlin in late September and being to, “…ignore her”. No mention was made of my pleas for their support with regard to the unfolding phenomena of mob bullying. I was being gaslighted by my supervisors as ignoring my abusers was naturally impossible in an environment where twelve of us lived in close quarters while attempting to facilitate hundreds of guests in a calm, friendly environment. Even when a participant brought me to the Director for support in her complaint against the Kitchen Manager, he met the effort with derision. The participant had asked what was for dinner and received the response, “Revenge will be served”. The Director’s response was to chuckle and say, “Ooooh! That sounds tasty. I’d like to see the recipe for that!” The participant and I left his office in disgust at his heartlessness.
By mid-October, after virtually daily appeals for help, I managed to convince the Shambhala Administration to establish in-house, professional mediation using a community member. She was naturally biased as she depended on Dorje Denma Ling for the pursuit of her decades-old spiritual path within the community, being resident in nearby Halifax. The prospect of the Director losing his post for mismanagement of the facility was one she clearly intended to diminish as finding people to fill it is historically very difficult. It is poorly paid ($21,000/year) and a 24/7, often very stressful, job.
That mediation failed almost before it had begun as the Kitchen Manager merely used it to abuse me further by spreading slander about what we discussed in it among the Staff and guests despite our pledge to confidentiality while it was ongoing. Secondly, as the victim of mob bullying I was now being subjected to humiliation among the Staff I was technically managing, by being the alleged perpetrator of abuse in a mediation process which the Kitchen Manager ensured was gossipped about across the Nova Scotia Sangha.
She then assaulted me for the fourth time, during a programme hosting 50 participants and outside the shrine room where the programme was occuring. during abreak when all the partcipants were mingling around. In front of multiple witnesses, she body checked me as I attempted to get away from her telling her very clearly to leave me alone. Unfortunately the tension by this point had become so intense that I shouted this request repeatedly as nobody, again, felt willing to confront the Kitchen Manager during her assault. Although the Assistant Director finally and reluctantly physically removed her from my person, he then immediately denied witnessing the assault leaving the Kitchen Manager idly threatening to call the Police and have me charged with assault.
Leaving Dorje Denma Ling
Kasung Command (in the US) then panicked. They appointed a local mentor, something they should have done weeks prior following my voluminous appeals to them. A few days later they advised that my post had, “…been dissolved”, and I was ordered to take a one month leave of absence immediately, with no pay thereafter, my one year contract with four months left to run notwithstanding. There was a complete lack of basic employment regulation due processs as no hearing was held to hear my view and n disciplinary action was ever taken against me, prior to my illegal dismissal.
Wanting to continue with my studies in Shambhala, having committed so much to it and hoping that this situation was an anomaly, on October 24th. 2014 I gladly began driving to Shambhala’s Vermont residential facility, Karme Choling, for a month’s much-needed rest.
About an hour after leaving Dorje Denma Ling, I discovered that the strange sound on my vehicle came from the rear-axle gears: the oil cap on the differential cover had been removed. The oil inside the differential had completely drained from it. This could have resulted in my death as the gears could have seized while I was driving, and caused a major accident on the highway. I immediately suspected the Kitchen Manager in collusion with the Director’s friend in the Dorje Denma Ling Facilities Department, the latter having quietly slipped away to Europe just days earlier without explanation. I later learned that he had in fact been banned from Dorje Denma Ling due to his slander and witnessed physical assault of me and that this had occurred without my knowledge or formal input. However, his banning clearly occurred too late.
I began to investigate what I felt at least criminally reckless behaviour and to research which laws may be applied to the situation. As I could have died in the incident which occurred in the context of relentless harrassment, and as Blackburn is most likely to have known the mechanical implications of such an action, it seems obvious that had I died there would have been a murder investigation. In addition, given that no life was lost, the overwhelming likelihood of Blackburn’s involvement in the apparent first and second vehicle sabotages makes an allegation of attempted murder plausible in this case.
In this analysis I am supported by Shambhala International’s former President, Richard Reoch. He is also the former Public Relations Chief for Amnesty International and a broker in the ceasefire in the intractible recent war in Sri Lanka. On two occasions in 2015, four months apart he was careful in assessing what I told him of the scenario, found it to be credible, and earnestly encouraged me to not refer to the incident as merely willful aggression or recklessness, but as attempted murder. He encouraged me to do what I could to pursue all avenues of investigation in this. He was also very clear that I may get nowhere with the Sangha’s internal conflict resolution processes as wrongdoing was, “…systemic…” in the Sangha. He finally told me that if I approached the Sakyong, “…even though you think he should be interested, he ain’t! He just ain’t!”
Having effected an emergency repair, I drove to Maine to spend three nights at the home of Toby Sifton, one of the Kasung Command and my main supervisor. He consoled me with apparent heart, while I arranged for a new differential to be fitted to my vehicle at a cost of $3,000. Nobody offered any compensation and it was clear it was not worth asking for any, despite it being clear to Kasung Command that a major incident had just occurred at Dorje Denma Ling.
Sifton ordered me to silence so as to, “…not feed this beast”, namely the gossip surrounding the Kitchen Manager’s storyline. In my utter confusion, I began a month of attempted healing at Karme Chöling in Vermont. I effectively suppressed any criticism of anybody elses’s responsibility in the aggression which had, preventably, come my way. However, just as the Jews are not responsible for their holocaust, I am not accountable for that aggression and the Sangha remains at risk of harm because, to this day it has been swept under the rug.
Sifton informed me via email that I would risk his personally collecting me from Karme Choling to, “…exile on Ragged Island to subsist on seaweed”, (on the coast of Maine) should I discuss my experience at Dorje Denma Ling with anybody at Karme Choling during my month there. It did seem somewhat of a harsh to toy with making me his prisoner while the Kitchen Manager was left freely crowing around the Nova Scotia Sangha, “We ejected the Rusung from Dorje Denma Ling!” The Kitchen Manager was reported to have done this in the Sakyong’s Halifax kitchen in her role as his trainee cook. Still she was not questioned, and it would be six months before she was properly fired. As a victim of Sangha crime I was being silenced while slander was allowed to generate against me.
Sifton finished by ordering me to not tell the Director of DDL how he had betrayed me. “We will do that,” he said. I had my doubts. Later, in early 2015, he emailed me to advise that I remove my eleven-ton container out of jeopardy at DDL as soon as possible. He encouraged me to get counselling, although I still can’t imagine where one goes to get counselling on a Vajra Master breaking his Samaya with his students by allowing his Administrators to so ineptly mismanage crime in the Sangha for decades. Clearly these administrators were in panicked damage control, just as they are again now.
The current Administration and Board of Directors is largely staffed by all the same people as during the events described above. The current sexual abuse scandal involves credible allegations pointing to a pattern in the Sakyong of forcing his students to have sex with him, and the cover up of those crimes by his Board of Directors.
The response to my situation by Jesse Grimes as the head of Kasung Command is especially telling. He is the highest authority in Shambhala’s so-called justice system. According to Sifton, his initial response in October 2014 was, “Fuckerty, fucking fuckers!” Yet instead of immediately reporting the events to the Police, per protocol and out of concern for the safety of the people at and near Dorje Denma Ling, even seeing that I was in complete shock he simply did nothing. After I wrote voluminous reports he finally reworded the internal protocols on crime in the summer of 2015, such that anyone witnessing crime is advised to report it to the Police. The protocol effectively remained unchanged, as did the respect for it among those accountable for overseeing it.
Writing about his discussions with Grimes on the subject to me, he said, “Our policy is to leave crime to the professionals.” Yet they both failed to help those professionals when the Police investigation which I launched became sabotaged at Dorje Denma Ling by its Assistant Director, in the shamelessly convenient absence of the Director when the Officers arrived to question him.
I reported these events to the Police in Nova Scotia in 2015, from the sanity of my new home in the UK. The junior Constable assigned to the case was enamoured by the lies of the organisation and failed to take me seriously. The Assistant Director who had witnessed one of my assaults denied doing so and persuaded him that Dorje Denma Ling had done all it could by providing mediation between myself and the Kitchen Manager, deflecting all attention from Blackburnas my main suspect. No discussion was even had of the fact that the mediation immediately preceeded an inarguably life-endangering sabotage on my vehicle in a series of crimes of harrassment against me, and the Director’s firing for not caring for staff, oh, and his absence from the appointment with the Constable.
While I was attending a program Emily Bower led at Karme Chöling during my time there, she also advised me to contact the Police. However I was too traumatized to administer such a complaint at the time as I prepared to flee Nova Scotia for Europe. However we did meet again later within the Care and Conduct Panel Complaint which I filed in 2015. By contrast, on that occasion, no such advice was then offered and I had the impression that their purpose was to gather whatever evidence of wrongdoing there may be in the various Complaints in order to protect the organisation’s legal position, and by inference, the publicising of wrongdoing and guilt of perpetrators.
In fact, while inviting me initially to explain my complaint the Chair, Dan Peterson, assured me all information would be held in the strictest confidence and not shared with anybody without my express consent. I trusted them with my trauma, naively it turns out.
Six weeks later Peterson wrote to say that he had shared my information with the various people named in the case without my consent. He explained that the policy on information disclosure had changed and that the new policy applied retroactively, without notice to myself. Mary Whetsell, who was not a member of the Panel then suddenly appeared in my inbox discussing my Complaint. She apologised for the fact that I had not been informed of the new policies, although it was unclear that she was authorised to speak on behalf of the Panel. The email was copied to the Panel’s members. Emily Bower’s response was a curt, “Thank you, Mary. Emily” rejecting both my objection to the Panel’s breach of my confidentiality and her own responsibility in it. So if anybody trusts the current administration to safely address their trauma, I am confident it is completely unfounded.
The Director of Dorje Denma Ling failed to substantially communicate with me on any of these issues, in particular the second life-threatening sabotage on my vehicle in October 2014. In fact, he has not, to date mentioned the second sabotage to me at all or the very real possibility that it may have occurred because he did nothing about the first one.
While my efforts to engage every available internal conflict-resolution process had failed, including an appeal to the President’s Office and the 14 most senior Administrators in December 2014, I began to work on the assumption that Shambhala was actively covering up the criminal activities against me. For instance, while it is a crime in Canada to harass employees to force the termination of their employment, it is also a crime to not report a crime to the Police. Admittedly I should have reported to the police far sooner than I eventually did. I fell into the majority of victims’ behaviour in not doing so for fear of retribution and shaming, as well as being at the effect of trauma and confusion related to the events and my samaya with Guru, and all amidst an emergency continental relocation in midlife due to safety concerns.
Leaving Nova Scotia
In December 2014, I therefore fled Nova Scotia for my life, even though I had by then purchased property near Dorje Denma Ling with the intention of establishing my furniture-making business independently of Dorje Denma Ling. Clearly the risks of sabotage were too great in such a tiny community as Tatamagouche, where Dorje Denma Ling is situated. I was unaware of Blackburn’s being banned at the time and had I known this I might well have stayed. But that is hypothetical.
I then arranged for the removal of my container from Dorje Denma Ling, at my own expense thus far. In a classic doublespeak, despite voluminous reports on the situation from myself, the Care and Conduct Panel’s final letter to me cited my lack of reports as reason for not compensating me further for having again to move my container on account of their false pretences and for their clear breach of my contract. Jese Grimes wrote that he had investigated my allegations against himself and found himself to be innocent of everything. Sure.
That said, my voluminous reports persuaded them to fire the Kitchen Manager in April 2015 and the Director in September 2015. Their findings stated that he would be indefinitely barred from serving as an Officer of Shambhala and fired from his Directorship at Dorje Denma Ling, “…for failing to resolve conflict between Staff”. That said, David Brown, who considered my Appeal with Jesse Grimes then wrote Krogoll up in the Shambhala Times in glowing terms and announced his departure from his post as a resignation. Blackburn was never formally interviewed on his role in these events, so far as I can tell although every other staff member was given a cursory interview and my timely complaints about his behaviour are well documented. He had literally manhandled me out of a meeting in August 2014, which I had called with a group of people who all witnessed his behaviour. He then falsely accused me of the same behaviour via emails to various people with whom I was working, including the Director. “Manhandling” is common, he claimed and should not be tolerated etc. Nobody said anything and my reputation was unfairly tarnished with the Director’s passive approval.
One can assume that Blackburn was protected by Krogoll who, along with Anna Weinstein, his successor in the Kasung’s role of Sergeant Major, is aware of Blackburn’s witnessed physical assault on me. Despite more eloquent assurances left and right, nothing was done to curb Blackburn’s violence and, not surprisingly, it increased, to attempted murder and enabled by the unwillingness in the Administration to follow its protocols in dealing with crime and old dogs bullying or gaslighting new ones for the sake of their position.
It is this sort of absence of any real empathy in the former Director which inspired Sifton to write to me in 2015 and declare him “psychoemotionally deaf”. Sifton, to his credit, wrote to me saying that he had “not jokingly” proposed shutting down Dorje Denma Ling in a meeting of the Council of the Makkyi Rabjam, the governing body of the Kasung. This fell on deaf ears, despite a pair of them belonging to one who reeled when I told him about Balckburn’s clownish, heartless, reckless antics being dismissed by Krogoll as, “Oh Jeremy’s got a different sense of humour”.
During my decompression at Karme Chöling, I discussed my experience with many. I was invariably met with utter disbelief that their friend and huggable clownish mascot, Lennart Krogoll was capable of such callous heartlessness. Sifton’s parting advice in a 2015 email was about the need to read and study (the dead) Trungpa’s teachings, regardless of the fact that my living, supposedly caring guru was alive. I should get counselling on how my guru won’t talk to me about almost being murdered while following his instruction and to not, “…publish in the Weekly World”. But now it has come to that, because charlatans must be exposed for the benefit of creating enlightened society.
Before assuming a post within the organisation, Officers are now required to sign, on seven individual pages instead of one, undertakings to report abuse appropriately and to the police if required by law. Like the current overt effort to train people in trauma management, if there’s no heart, no real empathy, policy will not be enacted. If you declare that you need training to file a Police report on ‘systemic, abhorrent abuse’, as the Kalapa Council has essentially claimed, while placing yourself on a pedestal of ethical superiority, enabling crime and yet declaring that, “…the future of the world is in our hands…”, (the Sakyong) you are only surprised by the calls of “Charlatan!” if you’ve drunk too much koolaid, whisky or both.
I became overwhelmed by the prospect of documenting events and providing evidence to the police in Canada while establishing a new life in a new country. However, I was told by Torgny Vigerstad, the person who was eventually forced by my reports to conduct an internal investigation among staff at Dorje Denma Ling that, while he failed to interview my main suspect in my attempted murder because, “I am not the Police,” I should be satisfied with the fact that I had “unseated Dorje Denma Ling’s Director”. Somehow he concluded that no Staff were involved in wrongdoing, so his efforts were clearly a very mateur whitewash. I am left feeling that these people have far too grand an idea of who they are. Krogoll is now living in Halifax, Nova Scotia, promoting himself as an advisor to entrepreneurs through an organisation called Futurpreneur. He offers courses in “Conflict Deescalation” with the sanction of the Sakyong, most recently sharing a stage with him at a major multi-organisation conference in Vienna called “Peace Now!”
As I stated earlier, the former President of Shambhala advised that I refer to the second sabotage incident as attempted murder. However, he did so one day after resigning from the post in February 2015, having ignored my October 2014 appeal to him for his intervention just one month prior to that sabotage. Having indicated “systemic” wrongdoing, I wondered whether having resigned, he felt freer to speak his heart, and whether when he initially received my appeal for help he was overwhelmed by other abuse which catalysed his resignation from the Presidency.
Indeed, in April 2015 I had written to the Sakyong directly and experienced this same lack of interest. As I explained to him, my quandary was that in following his instructions as my guru to practice with Shambhala, my life was threatened by the criminal activity which I had experienced within the organisation. He referred me to the high folluting Shambhala International Care and Conduct Panel hoo-ha, completely disregarding my alarm at having my four emails to that Panel’s Chair go unanswered for a month because the Chair wasn’t monitoring the Panel’s official email address. I ultimately found the Chair’s wife’s email address and used that with success. I received a reprimand for using a channel which wasn’t confidential, ironically and absolutely no sense of care in my evident trauma! So yes, in my view, the Sakyong ignored my attempted murder because I told his Justice System was shot and he sent me right back into it, only to be thrown under the bus. Is he a charlatan guru? Yes, without a shadow of a doubt in my mind.
The Nova Scotia Labour Standards Board Complaint against Dorje Denma Ling
During my investigations I uncovered another incident which implicates the Sakyong in other criminal activity. In 2014, the Dorje Denma Ling Development Manager, Dominic Watson-Wall filed a case with the Nova Scotia Labour Standards Board. At issue was the Director’s inability to responsibly manage the finances of and Provincial Labour Standards applicable to Dorje Denma Ling at the time. Krogoll’s mismanagement failed to provide the Province’s minimum wage for employees despite many advisory reports from Watson-Wall. After resigning, Watson-Wall filed a Complaint asking the Province to oblige Dorje Denma Ling to meet its legal obligation to pay minimum wage to its emploees.
As the Complaint neared its conclusion in 2016, it was debated by the Kalapa CouncilShambhala’s main administrative body, the Kalapa Council, which is chaired by Joshua Silberstein, the Sakyong’s Chief of Staff. Shortly afterwards, Watson-Wall tells me that he was approached by “a member of the Kalapa Council, cheque in hand” in an effort to persuade him to drop the Complaint, and allow the facility to limp along with virtually unpaid Staff and the necessarily stressed environment entailed in such a situation.
He rejected the bribe. The Nova Scotia Labour Standards Board issued its decision shortly thereafter, obliging Dorje Denma Ling to pay minium wage to all staff, retroactivately to January 2016 at a cost of some $35,000. This immediately rendered Dorje Denma Ling incapabale of opening for more than 5 months each year instead of the 12 months which it had sustained for years prior to the decision. So, clearly Krogoll grossly underestimated the disastrous potential of ignoring Watson-Wall, as did Selva as his Finance Manager.
My view of Shambhala is one of an organisation with very good intentions which does an excellent job of promoting itself as benevolent, with the taglines, “Creating Enlightened Society” and “Making Enlightened Society a Joke, sorry, Possible”. While Shambhala is content to advise that crime be reported to the police, it routinely avoids doing so for fear of damaging its image and the unquestionable benefit which it paradoxically has in improving people’s self-confidence. In my own case, through studying Buddhism and practising with Shambhala I have been able to reconcile significant family and personal issues and improve my life by achieving some significant inner peace, much like most Shambhalians.
However, it is delusional to suggest that I should continue practising with an organisation which is blind to my attempted murder and which tries, and fails, to flip my sense of betrayal by gaslighting me. To proposem, as they did, that I report their crimes to the Police, including the Sakyong and his Shambhala Administrators who then covered them up, and expect their enlightened kindness while continuing to practice in the Sangha is fundamentally naive. They have bitten off more than they can chew in life.
The current clarion call for the Sangha to employ “outside help” is often being met with ridicule. The suspicion is that the Administrators do not have the will to address reconciliation of internal abuse which derives from their blind subscription to the mantra, “We hold the future of the world in our hands.” This arrogance is not only serving denial within the sangha, but it also prevents the very acknowledgement of wrong action which Buddhism seeks to nurture.
It is further delusional to suggest that I should “practise the teachings and get counselling”, as nobody except my guru is fully qualified to counsel me on my samaya with him as that is a contract I made with him alone. The guru has become blameless and the victim, responsible in a situation where the guru’s responsibility to provide a safe space (free from attempted murder) is not and cannot be provided, not because it’s impossible but because the vajrayana view of everything is pure applies to crime, allowing to be experienced even though it is preventable.
I can only look to the example of the Buddha who ultimately rejected all of his gurus’ practices and encourage others to step onto this path with eyes wide open, trusting only oneself. I suppose it’s a good lesson really, although I do feel as though I have been “raped” by Shambhala, and numerously, for the sake of senior student’s egos.
Shambhala subtly promotes a view that we are in essence good and beyond reproach, capable of anything, of flying to the moon. However, in naively inflating a person’s potential, it routinely appoints people to roles for which they are both underqualified and under-supported. The so called “Vision of Enlightened Society” becomes such an intoxicating elixir that when mistakes or crimes occur, they are reasoned away as being the result of the excusable illusion of human existence. By this perversion of the dharma, the pain caused to others becomes acceptable collateral damage along the Sacred Path, because, “Everything is Emptiness,” or, “It’s all an Illusion”. That is called dharmasplaining, and it’s extremely dangerous.
In completing his review of my experiences at Dorje Denma Ling, Sifton told me repeatedly that I was experiencing a, “…hot ngöndro”, referring to a spritual practice, and that he was, “…jealous”, of my experience. I took this to mean that I should accept my pain as a benefit of my practice. All I could think was, “Must someone die before these self-involved, deluded charlatans sit up?” I am reminded by a supporter of this blog that somebody already did die: a woman who slept with a man callously infected with AIDS by the Sakyong’s predecessor, the Regent. The latter took vajrayana buddhist pure perception/groundlessness/emptiness to a tragic result by believing that he was protected from infecting his sex partners. Have we learned nothing about ethics as a Sangha since the late 1980’s?
Sifton made entirely ignored my suggestion that we discuss how Shambhala deals (i.e.e covers up) crime in the Sangha, presumably for the same reason of a systemic, naive allegiance to absolutist, idealist philosphy. That discussion is now coming through the back door because the Care and Conduct Panel, as Shambhala’s Justice System, are becoming understood as the fox guarding the chicken coop. A huge sigh of relief was collectively breathed when the Sakyong married because it meant less managing of his alcohol fuelled sex parties and the ellegations of sexual misconduct which slowly filtered down to the Panel despite best efforts by the Kalapa Council to keep his drama in the inner, inner, circle. It’s worth remembering that the Sakyong reluctantly took the job after being wrenched away from his mother in India to Samye Ling in Scotland, held captive there for a few years by Akong Rinpoche who placed him in a group home where he was burned with cigarrettes amongst other physical abuses and finally released to his father and his new teenage bride to be raised in Boulder as the son of an infamous alcoholic wise man with a penchant for cocaine and wives. Now in his mid fifties, having inherited a Sangha full of his father’s students who predictably disagree with the way he runs it or leave it, mocking him or respectfully (in rare cases) I have no doubt that the poor fellow needs therapy. Surely forcing a student to have sex with you during your first child’s birthday party is indication enough? Apparently this is not so for the fawning, saccharinistas who surround him, worshipping his every move hereby ensuring their position on the Ivory Tower’s ladder is securely pampered also.
The damage of such clergy misconduct and its enabling is both to the noble mission of the organisation and to the students caught in the institutionally sanctioned crossfire of the Administrative lack of empathy which is applied to any complaint of misconduct. While considering a life at Dorje Denma Ling and in Nova Scotia generally, I met many Shambhalians who told me that its four Residential Land Centres were intense places at which to live and work, yet ultimately worth every challenge. Should I have expected those challenges to include attempted murder and the systemic cover up of criminal activity at both these ‘lay monasteries’ and across the organisation as a whole? It’s not what I taught my meditation students when we read from the Sakyong’s books in the group I started in my own home two years prior to moving to Dorje Denma Ling, because his books tell a very different story. They also don’t describe how, between writing chapters he drunkenly forced his students to sexually pleasure him, knowing which the reader leaves with a rather different interpretation than not knowing.
In my view, the Shambhala Administrators collectively disregard the consequences of enabling criminal activity within the Sangha, in the vain hope that a falsely benign public image can be maintained. This is based on the application the vajrayana pure perception philosophy, recently controversially expounded by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche. That view holds that crime is acceptable if it is seen in terms everything in the world being sacred.
A former personal attendant of the Sakyong who told me that “it’s only a matter of time before Shambhala is taken down by a lawsuit”, evidently speaks the truth. Shambhala is now experiencing the same fire into which Boston’s Catholic Church was thrown under the leadership of Cardinal Bernard Law. The bold efforts to address sexual abuse and abuse of power within the Sangha by Andrea Winn and Project Sunshine is drawing much support from the grass roots of the Sangha. This is in stark contrast to the abuse directed at the Project by Shambhala’s Administrators, and, it must be understood, by extension the Sakyong. As the Report of Phase two of the Project was recently about to be published, the Kalapa Council threatened to sue the independent investigator who had written it, should she publish the allegations against the Sakyong and his Administrators contained in it. The phrase used was, “…all available action”, a phrase which the Council unsuccessfully tried to convince readers, excluded litigation. The Sangha is now reeling in confusion as a result of the Sakyong’s various wrongdoings.
In Canada, it has taken decades to acknowledge the need for reconciliation of the abuse suffered by its aboriginal peoples at the hands of those intoxicated by power. Thankfully this process is now well under way – in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand likewise; in the United States, not so much; in Kenya it has begun; across the world we are seeing a rising confidence in truth telling about the very human trait of abuse of power. The courage of victims speaking their truths with the fearlessness about which, ironically the Shambhala Teachings talk, is giving pause to leaders everywhere who may be tempted to use their positions to either directly commit crime themselves or enable it by covering up criminal activity by others.
Shambhala’s relevance will be immeasurably enhanced should it apply its teachings to creating a responsible model for dealing with crime in a religious organisation. As the Sakyong proclaims, “The future of the world is in our hands”, it seems that he is up for the challenge of processes like restorative justice with his victims. The fear and arrogance which declines independent appraisal of its Administrators’ actions presumes that Shambhala is above the temporal laws which guide the societies in which its members reside. Regardless of how much it may feel like a chosen, divinely empowered army of noble, nonviolent, warrior lay monks, crime within its ranks will ultimately be subject to the Courts wherein its soporific niceties will be rendered void and only its pleas as to restorative justice models will save the organisation from an implosion if spiritual gluttony.
The institutionalised denial which, now Buddhist Project Sunshine is facing points to the Shambhala Administrators’ fear of independent appraisal. Nobody yet says this better than Lady Diana Mukpo, the wife of one of its most senior Administrators, the now disgraced Mitchell Levy and former wife of the organisation’s founder. Mr. Levy recently recused himself from internal policymaking on sexual abuse due to decades of sexual abuse allegations against him.
Lady Mukpo’s recent letter is now ‘featured’ on the Shambhala Times website. Her reaction echoes that of Cardinal Law in response to the allegations of his covering up sexual abuse: implausible deniability for the organisation’s systemic abuse. This clip from the 2015 movie Spotlight is a timely example of how religious institutions tend to lean on whistleblowers and maintain the staus quo denials of corruoted ethics so obvious to impartial observers. The award-winning movie addresses the Boston Globe newspaper’s success in exposing the institutionally sanctioned sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in recent decades.
For Lady Mukpo to call now for a “transparent, measured, and responsible accounting of the facts”, to heal the pains which her former husband and his son’s Regent caused decades ago points to the organisation’s inability to reconcile decades of past harms. Compounding this inept response, she characterises the Project’s allegations as gossip, mob justice and an attack on her family. This is in contrast to two of Mr. Levy’s colleagues on the organisation’s governing council who are on record directly praising the value of the Project to Ms. Winn.
Such a self-serving defense of her family heritage and honour, and an attack on the well-intentioned effort towards reconciliation would be unnecessary had the Administrators themselves not failed to make that effort. In my view, her letter is a Kalapa Council sanctioned broadside across the bow of Project Sunshine and the victims which are given refuge by this vessel. It amounts to blatant victim shaming, is fundamentally contrary to the Shambhala Teachings and ironically undermines the Shambhala Administration. It puts the lie to the Council’s simultaneous February 12th. letter where they ask for forgiveness for poorly administering the systemic, criminal abuse in the Sangha on which this Project sheds such a clear light.
The only risk which I can see with Project Sunshine is that it is not totally independent of the Sangha and may become subject to the perversions of its Administration. Pursuant to Lady Mukpo’s ideals, I have indeed attempted a responsible accounting of the facts, both by the Sakyong and within the Shambhala Administration. They have completely failed me, my perpetrators and their future victims, if any.
The Sakyong’s Executive Secretary, David Brown and the head of the Kasung, Jesse Grimes wrote to me jointly in their closing my Complaint to the Care and Conduct Panel, which the Sakyong personally advised I pursue. They concluded that no compensation was due to me for breach of contract or for being forced to relocate from Nova Scotia on account of my attempted murder, because I had made insufficient effort to notify the Administration of my experiences. They ignored the fact that I had engaged every available internal conflict-resolution process, written voluminous reports, immediately notified the Director of Dorje Denma Ling of the life-endangering sabotage to my vehicle and personally approached Jane Arthur as the Director of Shambhala Residential Retreat Centres three weeks after the event. She declined to speak with me in person at that point, or at any other opportunity over the next two weeks of my time at Karme Choling, near which facility she is resident and was present.
It was in this same letter, written on an elaborate Shambhala letterhead that Jesse Grimes reported his findings on my allegations that he was remiss in not reporting these crimes to the Police. It should therefore come as no surprise to anyone, and especially Lady Mukpo, that her family is receiving a little dissent just now because such is the position of royalty. The only surprise for me, as with the former Director of Dorje Denma Ling, is that it has not happened sooner.
I am satisfied now to know that I have done a civic duty in telling my story and to let people believe (and respond) as they will.
To those who have perpetrated crimes against myself: I have the protection of my local police force. Any attempts to further harm me online or elsewhere will be noted by them as possible evidence of guilt in crimes committed against myself and others and your ongoing, confused aggression. In the latter, I sincerely wish you well.
I also wish the reader all success in your pursuit of enlightenment.