Two claims of sexual misconduct against the Halifax-based spiritual leader of the Shambhala International Buddhist organization have been found to be credible, a long-awaited independent investigation has found.
Andrea M. Winn
Andrea Winn and Joshua Silberstein interviewed on Canadian Radio.
Andrea Winn is a second generation Shambhalan in Halifax. She has written a report called Project Sunshine, about sexual abuse that she says is embedded in the Shambhala community. Joshua Silberstein is Chair of the Kalapa Council, which is the leadership group for Shambhala Buddhism.
One of the West’s largest Buddhist groups has admitted to failures in how it deals with “abhorrent sexual behavior” by its teachers.
Dear Noble Sangha,
I was asked by Leslie [Hayes] to say something, and it feels like the right thing to do. If community members came forward and said something when they saw sexualized violence, or really any kind of social violence, we would not be in the challenging place we are today. If we listened more to the movements within our body that resonate with the gong of truth, we would indeed be in a far more healthy and empowered place.
Leslie and I know we have radically different perspectives on, and approaches to, the violence problem in the community. And yet, we are both working in our own ways to bring healing. I appreciate how she and I have developed a wide space of honour and respect for our relationship and our respective approaches.
I took a look through the thread of discussion begun by Justin Rezzonico last night, and I witnessed similar grace being extended by people as they engaged one another and shared their divergent views. I praise the goodness in this, and in what you, and we, are doing together.
It seems we need to learn how to talk about such an overwhelming challenge in our community. At a Level 5 Shambhala Training in Toronto a number of years ago, I brought up the widespread child sexual abuse that has happened in the Shambhala community. I also spoke of what I called “insensitivity” within the community that allowed that abuse to occur, because often it happened in public and no one said or did anything. The Director of that Level 5, Eve Rosenthal, suggested that perhaps I will show the community how to have that sensitivity. I don’t know if I have the skill to do this, but I am trying.
Mitchell Levy has indeed caused great harm in our community. Many people of my parents’ generation know this. Some have told me that this is so far in the past that we can just forget about it.
However, many young people’s lives were affected by Mitchell’s selfish and harmful actions. Harm has happened that is so deep that it cannot be repaired. This is true. One great tragedy is the suicide of Ciel Turzanski after the abuse she experienced from Mitchell and other men, and her local sangha. There is no way to repair a situation like this. There are incomprehensible things we have yet to grieve individually and as a community.
Many of us have lived for decades in oppressive silence about the crimes of Mitchell and many others. The toll this has taken has not been fully understood by any of us.
I understand Mitchell has gone through two Care and Conduct processes for two of his crimes. This is a beginning. However, given the extensive nature of his crimes, he should step down from all leadership and teaching until the harm he has caused has been properly addressed.
If there is one thing Trungpa Rinpoche taught, it is that we can clean situations up. When we dirty our clothing, we can launder it, and we can again wear clean clothes.
The lineage he gave us gives us unique and powerful skilful means for cleaning situations up. It is now time to dig more deeply into our lineage and teachings and integrate them fully into a way forward in cleaning up the violence within ourselves and our community.
It would be wrong to vilify Mitchell and other perpetrators of the violence, because there is likely some element of perpetrator within each of us. We need to commit to our practices both on and off the cushion to address the harm doers within and without.
I had the opportunity years ago to do some work in a group for male abusers. In this experience I got to witness firsthand the hearts of these men. I saw their rigid, hardened defensiveness. I also heard their stories of being abused themselves as little boys. Violence is a painful dynamic that has been repeating for generations in our culture.
So let us deal with the dynamic. And let us find the skilful means for dealing with the perpetrators and healing those who have been harmed.
If Shambhala is committed to creating a culture of kindness, that flame of kindness now needs to be turned up – moment by moment – in how we relate with ourselves and each other.
We have a very challenging road ahead if we are going to find our way through this and come out the other side as a healthy and vibrant community, able to brilliantly carry forward the Shambhala lineage.
We need strong, competent leadership for this to happen. May it arise in the powerful ways now demanded.
Please read the Project Sunshine report coming out on February 15th.