A person who claims to know the inner workings of the current Shambhala leadership, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche and his advisory board or “Kalapa Council” has opened up an ongoing AMA (Ask Me Anything) on the reddit site devoted to discussion of Shambhala Buddhism, saying, in part, “I know his teachings as well or better than anyone currently involved with shambhala” and “I am definitely trying to help others get out of shambhala. That is my only intention here. I wish you the best, and will check in now and then to see if anyone has asked a question.”
Below (see link for detail), the author posts a partial collection of texts and pins and other ‘insider’ items to show that he (and while gender is not established that I’ve seen, the person is referred to as “he” and “sir” repeatedly, so I follow that for now).
As the #MeToo movement emerged in 2017, several discussions also arose around allegations against Buddhist leaders, including a number within the Shambhala community. And while many stories must still be corroborated and checked, several reports have been offered by both police and investigative journalists such as Joshua Eaton of ThinkProgress. Project Sunshine, spearheaded by Andrea Winn, has likewise done incredible work to expose abuse of power within the Shambhala community. Interviewed last March, Winn gives further insight into the abuse of power in Shambhala Buddhism:
Trungpa (1939–87) himself was a colorful and controversial figure, who drew together a community of Western devotees and founded the Naropa Institute (now University) in Boulder, Colorado, before dying at the age of 48 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. It is now well known that Trungpa slept with many of his female students, and that his appointed successor, Ösel Tendzin (1943–90), also slept with many students, including while knowingly infected with HIV in the later years of his life. Despite the lack of resolution to the controversy that surrounded Tendzin’s role in Shambhala, many in the community believed that the problems of sexual misconduct were now behind them.
However, a detailed, 39-page document titled Project Sunshine: Final Report, published in February, examines the alleged abuses of power by members throughout the Shambala community and explores the extent of this ongoing issue, noting that Shambhala has since removed several male teachers from their positions.
Read that interview for more on Andrea and her experiences in Shambhala, past and present. There were also cracks in the group (similar to those in Rigpa, another major Western Buddhist organization, which echoed in some ways the major unveilings in Catholicism in recent years). In August of last year we asked, “Why can’t people just leave Shambhala Buddhism?” where the word “cult” was discussed in reference to the organization.
Today, the anonymous reddit commenter has given even more background into Shambhala, again using the term “cult” to describe its structure and the treatment of those who leave:
How did I get out? I left. That is all you can do. You have to realize that you will lose all your freinds (sic), all the people in Shambhala are going to ghost you forever. If Shambhala were not a cult, your friends would still be there. A company I worked for once but then left still employs many people who were once my friends. They still are! I am welcome to come visit, and I love to see them. Shambhala is not like that. As soon as you are percieved (sic) to have become disloyal, you are moved out.
In response to an early question, he writes:
It was really painful to leave, most of all because nobody could fathom why I would leave. Now I know that they were gaslighting me. Gaslighting is a new concept to me, but I have done my research on it, and wow, that is what shambhala is. The acharyas are employed to gaslight. Otherwise they would help people move on, not encourage them to “practice more”.
I lost a hundred friends, and spent many years trusting people who came to reveal themselves as untrustworty. I also befriended many people who were born into shambhala, and have since suffered greatly in learning about the terrible fate they face if they try to get out. Second-generation cult members face terrible odds.
Shambhala is a cult. But it is more important to get out of it than it is to take it down. This is not the same thing as simply a rogue guru who needs to be exposed (as per the Dalai Lama’s instruction). This is that, but it is a much deeper thing. It is also a very old (50 years or so) culture that hijacks people’s critical thinking and spreads a strong message of denial from day one. Get out, then, a few years on, help others get out. That is at least how I am doing it.
While the information should be taken with caution, several commenters there affirm the likely legitimacy of the author (often with thanks for his candor and information). One person responds:
This is wonderful. I’m so glad to have stumbled on your truth-telling, allthewholeworld. My last contact with Mipham was in 2001 and I was never “inner court” (though I served at the pre-court Kalapa Camp whenever I could), so I cannot confirm or deny much of what you say above, but it rings true to me.
I can confirm, though, the difficulty of getting out of the Shambhala cult for some people, and I am thrilled that you are helping others peel away from that freakshow. I was partway through my Chakrasamvara retreat cycle when I lost heart, and I lingered on the fringes for years after that, before finally giving myself permission to throw my so-called samaya on the trash-heap and walk away. It was a huge relief when I did that because you’re right, the samaya I held was nothing.
I had to work through all that on my own without any kind of counseling or debrief, and it was hard and sad. So here’s a question for you, allthewholeworld: what kind of support are you offering to people who are trying to “get out”? Or if you think that might be too self-identifying, what advice would you suggest for people struggling with the decision to leave?
Several people urge the writer to contact Matthew Remski, who has written extensively on the topic over the last year at his site, or Andrea Winn or ThinkProgress.
One user quizzes the author on his relationship to the court, specifically the Vermont court. After the author’s detailed response, the user responds, “That’s true. It’s probably bigger now than it was when you last were there. Many additions. But yes, the greanleafs moved out of it and into a smaller cottage next to it. … You’ve been there.”
Another redditor also writes:
Bravo!!! Thank you for your honesty, kindness and desire to help. I left the community thirty years ago, because I saw everything you wrote about. It’s comforting to know that at least one person in Mipham’s inner circle sees him for the pitiful/monstrous tortured/rotten person he is. I watched him grow up. I watched the sangha treat him like a pariah, because he was a nobody, no title, raised as a feral child. You have been a great friend to him by understanding his underlying character and refusing to play his game. I also applaud what you wrote about the Acharyas. Anyone who questions your veracity is a sycophant. You have shown up at an auspicious time, because there are developments happening that will expose even more of the rottenness in SI and every voice is needed now. Thank you also for your intention to preserve the purity of the teachings and well-intentioned lamas who keep their vows.
In another exchange a commenter writes, based on details that the author gives, “There is about a 0% chance that we haven’t met. It is driving me crazy.” Our author responds, “I hope that I was kind to you if we did. I was stressed by the congnitive dissonance at the time.” And the commenter responds, “You and me both.”
One note of caution is that the author’s account is brand new, as are a number of the commenters (e.g. Lostmeadow and CheredeDarievea) . It is conceivable that this is all one person, logging in to various accounts to respond to him/herself, rather than a true discussion with various independent people. However, other users such as barleyfat and lingua42 have several comments there and a long history on the site.
As noted, the identity of the main author (and others) is anonymous. But, given the information there, and confirmation by other users, his account is worthy of serious consideration.
I have also, over the past year, been in contact with a number of other ex-Shambhala members who, while unable to definitively verify the author’s legitimacy, were able to attest to the truthfulness of numerous statements and the truthfulness of his account in general. In other words, a number of people, from Reddit and beyond, have independently verified the truth of many of the author’s factual statements and the veracity of his (or her) general claims.
As with all unfolding stories, take initial impressions with caution and as an opportunity to examine your own biases (think of the story of the rope seen as a snake) but also as opportunities to act skillfully (kusala-kamma).