How Shambhala’s Administrators bury abuse – one survivor’s experience

“What I have seen again and again in this community is an “open mindedness” that makes people feel they are above the law – that they can break the law because we are such a spiritually advanced community. That thinking is dangerous.” Andrea Winn.

The full quote follows. It was published on March 24th. 2018

Critical information that the Shambhala community needs to know 

I am proud that Project Sunshine pushed Shambhala International to publicly acknowledge the abuse problem in our community. They worked hard to compose a public statement to release days before the publication of the Project Sunshine report, and that is a very positive thing. I am grateful for their taking responsibility for acknowledging this to and for the community. However, since that initial announcement they seem to be backing into their usual way of doing business that is based on maintaining their public image, secrecy, and ultimately re-traumatizing those who have been victimized by abuse.

The most frequent question people have been asking me is why I did Project Sunshine. After I went through growing up in this community and being sexually abused by multiple men, I felt awful on a very deep level. Don’t get me wrong. In so many ways I have created a good life for myself. But there has been a deep sick feeling inside of me for all these decades.

Shambhala looked wonderful on the outside, and there is no doubt in my mind about the spiritual blessings in these practices. At the same time there has been this incomprehensible sickness.

I finally asked myself, do I really want to live this way any more? If this is what death feels like, I’m going to take one more stab at it and try to bring some sanity into this insane situation.

My doing Project Sunshine has been about my not wanting to live like this any more. What is happening in Shambhala is wrong. I hid for all these years because of the backlash for speaking up. What I have done with Project Sunshine was based on my principles as a human being. Activity like this in our modern world is very rare. I want to inspire others into living with this integrity.

I want to work on this issue for my own healing, but also to help others – other people who were abused in the past, and also preventing more harm to people in the future, ideally preventing abuse entirely, but also making it safe to report abuse or harassing behaviors… so that future reporters are not shamed, blamed, and ostracized.

This is a very powerful vision and one that Shambhala is not addressing or making clear statements about… but it’s a goal that is clearly a part of enlightened society.

I have felt concerned this week about the communications from Shambhala International. It felt important to address it, because I believe most community members don’t know important information in order to be able to understand what is happening with the leadership.

 

May 19th communications from the Kalapa Council of Shambhala: “Shambhala Initiatives to Address Misconduct and Harm”, and “Overview: Shambhala Harm Prevention”

Quotes from the Council’s communication:

  • “created a webpage which provides detailed information… which can be accessed by all Shambhala members” “If you are a former member of Shambhala without member access…”
  • “Creating safe spaces to listen to those who have experienced harm and have not felt heard by Shambhala leadership in the past.”

As we know from numerous sources, many abuse survivors have been forced out of the Shambhala community and are no longer members. This has been convenient because it allows the Shambhala community to be a calm place without the troubling presence of abuse survivors.

The council has set up community discussion in private, member’s only spaces. This continues the age old pattern of exclusion of survivors from the discussion and will assure a calmer discussion that will be easier for Shambhala International to control. They have offered to email information about their plan to former members, but they extend no invitation to survivors like myself to participate in the discussion. I know, because I emailed and asked for the information.

To be honest, it is a slap in the face for abuse survivors to be excluded in this way. This communication has been received with anger and hurt by the abuse survivors I have spoken with this week. Why is it restricted to current members? They could easily create an open forum.

The Council’s suggestion of “creating safe spaces” comes on the heels of decades of creating re-traumatizing spaces through the Care and Conduct Policy. This communication does nothing to acknowledge the break down in trust due to this policy and to the active silencing of survivors by Shambhala leaders. It is insulting for them to suggest that survivors simply did not feel heard. The truth is that survivors have knocked loudly on the doors of leadership, right to the top, and they were actively silenced or ignored. These statements of “good faith” and concern are empty words.

  • “new effort to address issues of past harm in our community, and to refine and bolster existing policies and procedures to create safer environments for our members…”
  • “Creating new sexual misconduct strategies, policies, and procedures based on these conversations, input from the community, and guidance from third party organizations. We are in active conversation with an established organization, An Olive Branch, about taking on such a role.”
  • “create a Sexual Misconduct Policy and Procedure as an addendum to the current Care and Conduct Policy”
  • “The new policy and procedure will incorporate: (1) Feedback and suggestions from those who have reported sexual misconduct, (2) Aspects of the current care and conduct procedure; and (3) Suggestions from ‘Preventing and Responding to Sexual Misconduct and Harm: Draft Policy’”
  • The Committee will work to balance confidentiality of the matter with protecting the safety and well-being of all members.”

The Council is stating clearly that the Care and Conduct Policy will remain as the foundation for addressing sexual violence in the Shambhala community. They are planning on creating a new policy on sexual misconduct as an “addendum” to the existing policy.

They have already excluded the many abuse survivors who have been forced out of the community, so I wonder who they plan to get feedback and suggestions from. One of the problems with the Care and Conduct policy that has already been identified is how it protects the abuser’s confidentiality. It is clear that this continues to be a mandate of the Shambhala leadership even as they make changes and addendum to the policy as they state their intention to continue to “balance” the confidentiality of abusers with the safety and well-being of members.

In the absence of facing the overhaul that is needed, the Council is building on the corrupt foundation of in-house justice that has been hiding the abuse in this community for decades. They are suggesting further restorative justice approaches to keep justice in-house. This is in spite of abuse survivors forcefully calling for avenues of justice outside of an in-house system.

  • “We want to honour the many people who have been raising our collective consciousness around these issues for some time… We need to work together. If you have skills to offer or a desire to help, we encourage you to visit the website…”

I personally was shocked by the level of deception in this statement. I spent hours building relationships and working with Ministers Adam Lobel and Jane Arthur between September 2017 and February 2018. They expressed gratitude for Project Sunshine; I have emails showing how grateful they were for my work and acknowledged it was needed.

I sent them advance drafts of my report so they could stand on solid ground in their leadership of this community through the opening of our big can of worms about abuse. I have worked very hard to work *with* the Shambhala leadership each step of the way.

Instead of working collaboratively with me, they cut me off completely after I published the report. I emailed both Ministers on February 28th asking if they would collaborate with me on creating a healing path for the community. It has been nearly a month and they have not responded to that email. I sent another email the next day on behalf of community members who wanted the Project Sunshine report to be delivered to members through the Shambhala email list. They never responded to that email either. In the press Shambhala International has actively distanced themselves from Project Sunshine.

Their statements sound very open and welcoming, however, they restrict access to their members only forum. Far from honouring those who have been raising awareness, they have actively tried to suppress my efforts to help this community as well as the efforts of other survivors. I wish what they said was true, but they do not wish to work together.

I suspect the mandate of openness and true healing in Project Sunshine is not a fit for where the Shambhala leadership is currently focused – I believe it is more on public relations and protecting the stability of their leadership.

  • “community gatherings… where we can discuss our history in an open way. Students who experienced these eras will be able to share, and those who have questions or want to demystify past eras can inquire freely”

I have noticed in my conversations with Minister Lobel and in the Shambhala members Facebook forum that there is an effort to “contextualize” the sexual harm. He and others have suggested that the ‘70s and ‘80s were a time of new found sexual freedom and that somehow that makes the child abuse understandable.

What I have seen again and again in this community is an “open mindedness” that makes people feel they are above the law – that they can break the law because we are such a spiritually advanced community. That thinking is dangerous.

 

Hearing the voice of a survivor

Last night I was speaking with a deeply caring and wise woman teacher who I met through the Shambhala community. She is one of the many women who was deeply abused in this community and had to leave. With her permission, I am sharing some of what she said in response to the Shambhala International communications this past week.

“Shambhala International is so patronizing, patriarchal, top down, and out of touch with how to do these things.

The Sakyong’s letter is a total gloss over.  It really made me mad, especially when he talks about kindness and communication.  It is so duplicitous.  Most people don’t know about his total failure to engage, communicate, respond, support, not to mention his own inappropriate behaviours even recently.  They think that’s all in the past.  He and Shambhala are covering everything over with a thin layer of ‘niceness.’  It’s not fair for people not to know the truth.

Community members are fearful. Shambhala International is covering it all over. And I’m afraid that community members are compartmentalizing what they are hearing to make it ok. I did that for years before I left the community. It’s just so painful.

It’s like leaving an abusive relationship, where you don’t want to leave, don’t want to give up on it. A spiritual path is so deep, and when you don’t see an alternative, it’s easier to let the leaders whitewash it.

I like how you distinguish between Shambhala and Shambhala International. Because we all know there is something healthy in Shambhala – the teachings and the local communities.

People are afraid of breaking samaya, that they would be disloyal to the teachings. It’s not the teachings that are a problem. The teachings are indestructible. It’s the organization. It’s a worldly, ‘relative’ organization, so of course there are problems. The problem is not the problems. The problem is how they are being related to. That is a huge problem.

I’m afraid people will feel they are being disloyal. Because we know that people are basically good, that the teachings are good. The corruption that has happened is hard to believe, so we almost naturally default to denial.

There is so much love and loyalty in us for Shambhala. The crux is we have to separate the basic goodness from the behaviour. It’s like having a bad husband. He’s not evil. He is a wounded person who is not able to become self aware and do anything about it.  That doesn’t make it okay, or make our inaction okay.

Shambhala is a tribe. It’s so deep – this spiritual path. We’ve been in it so many years. It is so hard for people to untwine themselves, to disentangle the harm from the beauty of the whole thing.”

I feel she downloaded a message of truth for all of us last night. I understand that this is a lot to take in. And there is going to be a period of things feeling uncomfortable and sometimes overwhelming. But there is a way through this to the other side, where we have personally and collectively disentangled the human corruption from the dignity and goodness of the Shambhala teachings.

 

Giving a clear alternative

I will be announcing Project Sunshine Phase 2, a world-wide community healing initiative, next week on March 28. If you would like to receive announcements about this exciting work, sign up for our email list. http://andreamwinn.com/offerings/project_sunshine_2/

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12 thoughts on “How Shambhala’s Administrators bury abuse – one survivor’s experience

  1. “What I have seen again and again in this community is an “open mindedness” that makes people feel they are above the law – that they can break the law because we are such a spiritually advanced community. That thinking is dangerous.” That thinking is dangerous to both society just as much as it is to the vulnerable seekers who are drawn to Shambhala by its promises of kindness.

    We have to get past this “in” Shambhala and “outside” Shambhala. We are one society. If the people who physically assaulted me and colluded in sabotaging my car, without regard to whether I would die or not (an action which classifies as ‘attempted murder’ btw) hurt or even killed someone else, I would feel ashamed at not having made best efforts to bring these charlatans, and their enablers to justice.

    While it is of course vital to listen to the victims and promote their healing, it’s just as vital that we hold the perpetrators and enablers to account. The latter are not above the law and in time, in my view the authorities will review Shambhala International’s files on allegations of abuse, just as they are now doing with the Jehovah’s witnesses in the UK.

    Victims will of course need protection from the potential for their retraumatisation (and desire for retribution) in that process, just as any who are charged will need a fair hearing at least on their self promotion as warriors of the Dharma, ‘Natural Law’, dakinis or whatever. Shambhala International cannot hide from the world, pretending to be fearlessly holier than thou while covering up crime.

    No doubt the Teachings are very cool but it’s delusional to suggest that because we subscribe to them we are enlightened by virtue of our occasional good intentions. We are still subject to klesha, ignorance, passion and aggression the same as any other human being, and we are accountable to our fellow humans accordingly.

    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/26/mps-demand-action-over-jehovahs-witness-abuse-allegations

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I really cannot see any difference between an office, an meditation group or some other activity. Anyone thinking all of a sudden you are now in a group with only enlightened individuals is ridiculous. If a crime happens, report it. We do not leave our brains at the curb. We are all members of a society that has all kinds of people – some out to do harm etc. I feel very different. I would say those going to shambhala are actively working – most – on their issues that may include drug abuse, violence, sexual abuse etc etc, just like the wider community. Due diligence is required of us all regardless where we take ourselves.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear Helen, I feel that the first and most important way to report child sexual abuse and crime generally is by filing a Police Statement. But when it involves your friends and doing so not only threatens to destroy your identity but also to oblige you to relocate to an entirely separate, likely as yet unknown community, going to the Police to report crime becomes an inconceivable cognitive dissonance. I know because this is how my experience of crime against myself in Shambhala occurred. It is the same process which I can see happening to many others in this crisis and that is no more evident than in the recent Kalapa Council response to the Buddhist Project Sunshine Report #3.

      They detail three avenues for reporting crime (or “harm” as they euphemistically say). None includes the Police because the authors of the response dislike the prospect of prison.

      The only hope is that someone with a smoking gun will crack, for the greater good.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think then, for the most part, we are talking about different issues – crimes versus dysfunctional behaviour. Some of this sounds like a community living on a tremendous budget, not enough funds to maintain, running with volunteers etc. I think that is the nature of the organization/many not -or-profit endeavours. It can be a little hard to point the finger though without as well being honest/taking responsibility for our own lack understanding/knowledge of what we are agreeing to. These kinds of “misunderstandings” happen all the time between well meaning individuals. All the best in getting a good outcome for all involved.

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      2. I think you need to research the group dynamics of clergy sexual abuse and abuse of power before so readily pointing the finger at the survivors. Excusing criminal activity with what’s called spiritual bypassing (absolutists philosophy) has been happening in Shambhala and other New Age Religious Movements for decades, such as the Rajneeshees, Rigpa, Triratna, New Kadampa Tradition, Jim Jones, Hare Krishna etc. etc. etc.

        To refer to Shambhala’s decades of suicide, murder, attempted murder, child and adult sexual assaults, underage sex, pimping, physical assaults etc. etc. being internally reported and swept under the rug for fear of tarnishing the Church’s image as, “…dysfunctional behaviour”, is, with respect naieve and dangerous. Cardinal Bernard Law and his Catholic Church supervisors and accomplices weren’t ‘dysfunctional’ in the common usage of the term: they were engaging in clergy abuse of power over innocent people who had approached the Church for guidance, as millions had done for years.

        In my own case I could have made more of a protest of the gross abuse of power I was seeing but I would have have been thrown out for challenging the status quo sooner than I was, thereby being less effective. Secondly, I believed in the good works Shambhala was doing and wanted to remain part of it. Later I realised how much the organisation is rotten to the core, how deeply loyal so many have been (and remain) to the systemic abuse of power which sustains its Administration and allows the leader to lock women in bathrooms against their will and force them to have sex with him while failing to provide adequate legal or emotional counsel for the traumatised victim…. for over 7 years now.

        So before you blame the victims, do some research on how clergy abuse of power works. Otherwise you will simply cause more trauma by suggesting Shambhala is safe, if you keep your eyes open. The fact is, it offers itself as a society with relatively high moral values, a group that will bring enlightenment to a dark world. When you dig around a bit, anyone will find that crime is routinely explained away with absolutist philosophy and trauma and delusion are the result, not compassion.

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  3. Amen! Unless courts are involved, nothing will happen and we will see a slow reconstruction of the status quo. Even now (9/7/18) there has been a secret meeting with SMR and brainwashed Shastri women who all took an oath of loyalty to their “dear leader”. Who knows what they discussed? I doubt it had anything to do with the victims and everything to do with putting Humpty Dumpty back together again!

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    1. At this point, Frances, it seems the most likely scenario is a class action suit.

      Shambhala’s current socalled independent investigation is a sham if only because SHambhala’s lawyer gets to control the publication of its findings. It is unfolding in stark contrast to to Rigpa’s just released conscientious, genuinely arm’s length investigation into sexual abuse in that community by Sogyal Lakar and its cover up by his students, over decades.

      Their report is available as below. It lays out the investigation’s scope and methodology as well as the Rigpa Administration’s arm’s length involvement very clearly and serves as a useful indicator as to how Shambhala should conduct its own investigation.

      As Shambhala’s investigation has been shown to be tainted already, the inevitable result is lawsuits.

      https://www.rigpa.org/independent-investigation-report/

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  4. I think usually survivors do make police reports. That would be the concern… if crimes have happened they should be reported. This is not about opinions – who is right or who is wrong. I think that is why we have courts etc. At the same time there are people making false accusation and lying so it is important to be innocent until proven guilty. Lynch mobs can be wrong.

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    1. My experience in Shambhala is that survivors do not usually make Police Reports for fear of cutting themselves off from the very teachings and identity as a Shambhalian from which they have benefitted. The loss of respect for criticising the perceived perfection of the leader is additionally a major factor in why most survivors follow the internal conflict resolution processes. In my case, once all of those processes had been exhausted and it was clear that my attempted murder was being swept under the rug I went to the Police, having by then been completely ostracised from the community with no more friendships, teaching ooportunities or reputation to lose therein.

      At that point (much of this is repeating what I’ve written elsewhere in my blog) Shambhala lied to the Police. By that time I was so completely exhausted by the experience that I gave up. So that’s how justice works in this socalled enlightened society, fyi.

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  5. I for one do not think Shambhala is a sham. They are not the police and court. At the same time any organization with integrity should review complaints and concerns. It is important to review crime. Without truth, kindness, understand etc even the smallest disputes cannot be resolved. The easiest thing to do is to attack when victimised, but don’t make it like a smear campaign.

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    1. Shambhala’s Care and Conduct Panel purports to be a highly ethical internal justice system for Shambhala. It has very clearly publicised protocols obliging people to report crime to the Police should they become aware of it.

      In conducting my Complaint with the Panel I made it clear that I retained the option of filing a Police Complaint at any time and the Panel’s Chair was fine with that. My view therefore was that the Panel would assist me in determining if crime had occurred in order to assist me in filing a Police Complaint, out of a sense of care for the community.

      It became clear in my case, as well as in many others that the Panel actually serves to investigate alleged criminal activity so that institutional embarrassment can be avoided by discouraging the reporting of criminal incidents externally. In pursuit of that goal it is common to see senior members of the Shambhala community use darmasplaining, spiritual bypassing and absolutist philosophy to effectively excuse the wrongdoings of the perpetrators and enablers, as well as sweep under the rug the trauma of the survivors. In my case for instance, after voluminous reports both internally and externally all I got was, ‘Sorry for your pain’, ‘Get some counselling’, and We have investigated ourselves, found ourselves innocent of wrongdoing and closed your Complaint’.

      This treatement reflects a view which holds everyone in the organisation above the law, as reflected by Dzongsar Khyentse’s writings on the subject of the vajrayana practitioner being above the law. This approach will not stand the test of time because it is seditious and arrogant. It will also undermine the availability of the Buddha’s teachings by bringing ridicule onto the buddhist community generally.

      You suggest that I am conducting a smear campaign. That is both misinformed and ignores the evidence presented in this blog. I understand that you have difficulty accepting what I am doing but caution you to more carefully assess it before jumping to such a defensive knee-jerk reaction.

      The best example I can give of the corruption in Shambhala and the systemic abuse of power lies in Jesse Grimes’ response to my allegations that having been informed by my reports that various crimes had taken place at Dorje Denma Ling in 2014 he failed to follow stated Shambhala protocol as well as Canadian legal protocol by reporting or overseeing the reporting of those crimes to the Police in the interest of both the safety of society at large as well as the people at Dorje Denma Ling. His response was to report to me on formal letterhead that he had investigated my allegations in this regard and found himself to be innocent of wrongdoing.

      I recognise that it my be inconvenient for you to have your view of Shambhala challenged in this way and that it may rock the foundations of identities which have been established for decades. Such is the nature of ego and your trite accusation of a smear campaign merely a small result.

      Should you however feel compelled to know how the systemic abuse of power in Shambhala is harming people I suggest you consider how Shambhala’s internal investigations over the decades have served to silence and ostracise dissent by actions that fall very far below the high ethical standards of behaviour which its protocols and public image describe. This dissent is becoming increasingly publicised these last two years, and people who have left the organisation decades ago on account of it are now beginning to voice their experiences more clearly. So, in my view, Helen with the fake website attached to your name here, you would do well to correspond with your real name, engage this debate honestly and openly and do it for the sake of avoiding further clergy abuse, sexual or otherwise. I think if you do this you will find that Shambhala has become the very spiritually materialistic environment which its founder intended to challenge.

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