Dear Shambhala Community,
Each member of the Board joined in this role with the intention, conviction and heartfelt desire to keep the Shambhala community and lineage united and together. We all continue to work tirelessly to that end. Thus, the Board is very concerned that our decision to join Dechen Chöling’s invitation for Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche to confer the Rigden Abhisheka has further polarized the community. We are truly sorry if this has been the result. Our intention has always been to find a way to provide support for all Shambhala community members and to find a way to go forward as a whole.
Our decision was neither intended to “take sides”, nor endorse one side over another, nor signal that we have completed working on the Sakyong’s relationship with the community.
Feedback from the Community and Ani Pema Chödrön
We want to acknowledge the intense response of our community over this recent decision and the challenges that centers and individuals are facing. We have received a high volume of emails from community members that have been exceptionally thoughtful and thought-provoking. We appreciate hearing from so many of our community and take these communications seriously. In this communication, we hope to address as best we can some of the recurring themes in those emails.
We also received a letter from Ani Pema (Pema Chödrön) announcing her resignation as an Acharya and expressing her disapproval of the decision and its implications in that it appeared to be “business as usual.” We have had this letter posted on the Shambhala Times (link). We recently met with her and, among other things, clarified with her that she has no intention of leaving the Shambhala community. We spoke with her at some length about her letter and her thoughts about the Shambhala community staying together as a whole. We also spoke about steps forward, and look forward to continuing our dialogue and appreciated that she expressed her respect for the Board in general.
The majority of the emails we received expressed heartfelt and thoughtful concerns. These carried strong messages for all of us, including Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche.
We would like to reflect back what we have heard from a large number of community members:
- Dismay that the that the Board is inviting the Sakyong to teach before he has communicating more directly with the community in terms of issues of harm, addressing his own accountability and showing he is taking responsibility for his actions.
- Questions about whether the Sakyong will be accountable to the Code of Conduct.
- Questions about whether the Sakyong has acknowledged, and taken steps to address, issues with alcohol.
- Concerns about the future safety of women taking Kusung or Kasung roles.
- Wanting the Board to be independent going forward to avoid things slipping back to “business as usual” two years from now.
- Concerns that the Sakyong is not attending to the teachings of enlightened society because of his seeming lack of interest in the larger community beyond Scorpion Seal.
We would also like to reflect on what we have heard from people who expressed appreciation for the decision:
- The Sakyong has apologized for his actions and contemplated what he has done.
- Shambhala is a vajrayana lineage tradition and the Sakyong, as the lineage holder, is responsible to uphold the tradition and his teaching is needed to keep the lineage going forward. A quote often expressed is, “There is no Shambhala without the Sakyong.”
- Students who have been waiting to receive this abhisheka should not be kept back from connecting with their teacher and going forward with their vajrayana path.
- People feel genuine devotion to the Sakyong, want to see him, are happy he is doing the Rigden Abhisheka and are concerned that Shambhala is not taking better care of him and his family.
Addressing the Feedback
The Board takes seriously all of the feedback we have received and recognizes that there are very divergent views. We do not see these views as necessarily irreconcilable at this time, but we are concerned they could become so without the good faith efforts of the entire mandala. Our continuing intention is to help forge a path forward with renewed vision and lungta for the whole community. We have expressed this intention to the Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche and the Sakyong Wangmo, letting them know about the strong and divergent feelings in the community.
We recognize that some people feel this decision is premature or taking sides. We do not feel that way, but recognize that there is substantial work to do. Our hope is that all community members will consider the genuine issues on all sides and contemplate how to heal and fortify our community as a whole. We feel that all community members’ opinions and feelings have weight. In this regard, we feel that the Sakyong has been genuinely supplicated to confer the abhisheka and we hope that it will benefit those students as they continue on their vajrayana path.
At the same time, we assure you that no member of the Board holds the slightest inclination to return to business as usual. While we understand, and at times share in, the voices of genuine frustration, we both ask for your patience and your help.
We also acknowledge, and are very grateful for, the wide-ranging efforts of Shambhala centers all over the globe who have skillfully and compassionately moved to change our culture in creative and meaningful ways.
Activities in Progress to Support Change
The Board is engaged in many activities to support change, and obviously we could do more. In that regard, we will continue to:
- Strengthen the Care and Conduct initiatives with Tara Templin, the new Director of Community Care and Conduct, who will work with the Care and Conduct Panel and the Code of Conduct Support Group (formerly the Code of Conduct subgroup of the Process team).
- Introduce a new Child Protection Policy in the next month and over the next year, introduce the new Code of Conduct and work with the community, including the Sakyong and the Sakyong Wangmo, on the implementation of these significant changes to our Care and Conduct policies.
- Continue Shambhala Assemblies taught by acharyas and authorized teachers.
- Explore options to strengthen and diversify the spiritual path within our community to those who are currently not inclined to study with the Sakyong.
- Work with the Process Team and others on recommendations for systemic and structural change and moving our joint proposals forward.
- Continue to strengthen Shambhala as an organization, both administratively and financially, not just in Shambhala Global Services (SGS) but throughout the organization.
- Continue to be transparent to the community about decisions and issues.
- Maintain the legal and ethical independence and integrity of the Shambhala Board and strengthen the Board by bringing in capable and dedicated individuals willing to serve.
- Continue to maintain financial separation between Shambhala and the Potrang.
Initiatives for a Path Forward
Initiatives that we need to work on include:
- Begin to outline a path forward. Over the next year, we are committed to initiating, designing, and implementing a process that builds on the Board and the Process Team’s work to date and collaboratively answers the major questions the community is asking.
- Continue to engage and work with the Sakyong and the Sakyong Wangmo in various formats around issues raised by the Process Team and the community.
- Institute trainings for teachers and leaders and other initiatives to prevent harm and raise awareness of harm that has occurred.
- After the new Code of Conduct is finalized and approved, develop the training and infrastructure to insure its effective and coordinated implementation.
- Address issues of inclusion that include gender, race, cultural, ethnic and other issues, including the older students of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and as well look to the “next generation” of students of the dharma.
- Support for the refinement and relevancy of programs and classes at our Shambhala centers, both for the current and future members.
The Board intends to work on all of this and continues to appreciate and take in all of the feedback from all of you. We take seriously our responsibility to support the community as a whole. This is not a time for “business as usual.”
However, to reconcile our views, transcend old patterns, and move Shambhala forward is not, and cannot be, solely the work of the Board. We need the Shambhala community to work together in order to succeed. We need your ideas about and involvement in the path forward and your feedback about the Code of Conduct as it is rolled out. Meeting these challenges and seizing these opportunities are our best path forward.
With our gratitude for all the efforts to date, we hope you will join and support the efforts as we go forward.
Yours In the vision of Shambhala,
The Shambhala Board