Interim Shambhala International Board Swears Religious Oath to Leader Accused of Sexual Assault

On October 17th, eight Shambhala students chosen by the Transition Task Force to form an Interim Board of Directors were sworn into service for a twelve month period.

The move comes as the global neo-Buddhist organization navigates allegations of sexual assault committed by its spiritual leader, Ösel Mukpo, also known as Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche.

The allegations against Mukpo were first publicized by Buddhist Project Sunshine in February. BPS is headed up by Andrea Winn, a life-long Shambhala member, along with independent investigator Carol Merchasin. The team’s three reports also contain allegations of intergenerational and institutional abuse within the organization, which was founded by Mukpo’s father, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, in 1971.

The revelations have shaken Shambhala International to the core, triggering the resignation of its Board and forcing Mukpo to step down from his administrative role. Recent financial reports show that the organization, which posted 18M in North American revenue in 2017, is now in financial crisis. Some local centres, including the one in New York City, will soon be closing.

Winn’s team, along with the women who provided their testimony, also prompted Shambhala to commission its own independent investigation, led by the Halifax firm Wickwire Holm. Some community members have doubted the impartiality of the investigation and its gag order on complainants.

According to its new website, the Interim Board is charged with several tasks, including keeping the crippled organization solvent, coordinating international affairs, and communicating the results of Shambhala’s collaboration with An Olive Branch, an American Zen-based group that consults on ethics policies for Buddhist groups.

The website also states that the Interim Board will “Release to the community as much of the Wickwire Holm report as is legally and ethically possible while respecting confidentiality.”

The report is due out in early January. In early December, the Interim Board will convene in Halifax, where they plan to meet with Mukpo.

Additionally, the Interim Board is to keep Mukpo “apprised” of their work, “even though he is not responding to any administrative aspects of Shambhala or the Interim Board.”

The installation of the Interim Board required that members swear this oath:

Shambhala-Interim-Board-Oath-10.4.18-

While highly unusual for any not-for-profit, this oath is consistent with Shambhala’s culture and mythology, which posits that members are living in, aspiring to live in, or trying to manifest an enlightened world, parallel to this one, governed by supernatural beings.

The “Rigden” to which Interim Board members are bowing is an archetypal ruler of that world, linked to the divine realms described in medieval Tibetan tantric literature. (The lede image for this article is of an incomplete painting of the “Primordial Ridgen”. The image is featured on many Shambhala Centre altars around the world.)

“Dorje Dradül” is an epithet for Chögyam Trungpa, who died of alcoholism in 1987, and was believed to be in telepathic communication with the rigdens.

“Kongma Sakyong, Jampal Trinley Dradül, and the Sakyong Wangmo, Dechen Chöying Sangmo” are epithets for Ösel Mukpo, Trungpa’s son and business heir, and his wife, Semo Tseyang Palmo. The term “dralas” refers to the embodied nature spirits that were a feature of Tibetan indigenous religion, prior to the arrival of Indian Buddhism in the 8th century.

The Interim Board was appointed by the Transition Task Force, led by senior Trungpa devotees, including Pema Chödrön. It is comprised of long-term Shambhala students and leaders, including the Chair of the Shastri (teachers) Council, a former President of Naropa University (founded by Trungpa in 1976), and a feminist anthropologist and psychotherapist who will teach at Naropa beginning in 2019.

Three of the Interim Board members are also practitioners of the “Scorpion Seal”, an initiated ritual meditation said to be divinely received by Chögyam Trungpa, and later revealed by his son. Part of the ritual, which is kept secret, involves visualizing the Mukpos as enlightened beings, as seen in this more introductory practice.

On their website, the Interim Board asserts that “We are especially sensitive to resisting a top-down approach that seeks to polish or smooth over harm that has already occurred.”

However, they did not respond to a request for comment on how they planned to impartially oversee the investigation of Mukpo, given their religious commitments to him as leader.

8 Comments

  • Elegantly phrased article!
    You are aware, I am sure, that the present Sakyong purchased his title of reincarnation of Mipham Rinpoche from Penor Rinpoche by paying the latter $400,000.00 for such a
    confirmation. (Ditto for Stephen Siegal). This was told to me by a fellow sangha member who was told it by Adzom Rinpoche when he had dinner with him in Nepal a few months ago. Adzom Rinpoche added that when Penor Rinpoche was dying, he said he regretted having done such a thing. Further, the original Mipham Rinpoche said he would not not be reincarnating back on earth for quite a while and therefore anyone holding his title would be a fraud.

    • When I was young we played a game called ‘The Rumor’ and it is also used as an exercise in communication training. One person tells a story to another person. That person passes what he or she heard to another person and so on. In the end the last person tells a completely different story than the first. Even after one or two persons down the row, the story changes dramatically. Leaving things out. Filling gaps. It shows how easily information gets distorted, even with the best intentions. I am sorry to hear these rumors from 3rd or 4th hand. Easy to spread, but without any proof, it doesn’t mean much to me. It is not unusual in a traditional setting to offer donation to the preceptor or the master conveying these kind ceremonies. To suggest that Mipham rinpoche bought his title, is quite a different story. Even when a donation was offered, than $ 400.000,- seems very unlikely to me and very difficult without leaving any trace behind. What did Penor, rinpoché regret? That he gave Siegal the title? That he accepted money for it or that much? That he was payed by Mipham rinpoché? It is all quite vague. By spreading these unfounded rumors on the internet as a matter of fact, one is only spreading doubt about the character and integrity of Mipham, rinpoché and others. I don’t mean that one isn’t allowed to doubt or question, please do, but please backup your story if you make these kind of severe allegations. Well, what is meant with ‘not reincarnating for quite a while’. By your post, you seem to suggest to know exactly what Ju Mipham, rinpoché meant by this. By the way, Ju Mipham (the first), rinpoché lived from 1846–1912. The Sakyong was born in 1963. That is more than 50 years later! Even when time flies, that is quite a while for me. It is all politics. Lets drive all blames into one
      https://tricycle.org/trikedaily/train-your-mind-drive-all-blames-into-one/ .

      • Do you apply the same standards of credibility to the claims (implicit or explicit) made by the principles? As in: “Sakyong” as a title has historic integrity? That CTR’s “termas” were not alcohol-influenced hallucinations? That CTR was in telepathic communication with the Rigdens? That building an actual “Kalapa court” in Halifax is coherent with Kalachakra literature and sadhana?

        Let’s think carefully about what we demand passes muster and what we don’t. What’s more plausible? Nepotistic title buying amongst exiled aristocrats, or believing that “the lineage of the Sakyongs” is a thing?

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