Cyndi Lee Interviews Matthew Remski about Working Through the Abuse Crisis in Modern Yoga and Buddhism (+ transcript)

Notice: This interview is part of the Yoga of Healing and Awakening Summit, a free online event featuring essential depth teachings and daily practices for your body, mind and soul. This recording is a copyright of The Shift Network. All rights reserved.

Transcript:

Announcer: 00:00

Welcome to the yoga of healing and awakening summit, a free online event where you’ll discover essential depth teachings and daily practices for your mind, body, and soul. Share these visionary masters and esteemed practitioners with your friends and family and join us on Facebook at The Shift Network. And now your host, Cyndi Lee.

Cyndi Lee: 00:24

Welcome everyone. We’re so glad that you’re joining us and today I’m really pleased to introduce my special guest and friend, Matthew Remski. Matthew Remski is a yoga teacher, industry consultant and author of nine previous books including Threads of Yoga, a remix of patanjali’s yoga sutras with commentary and reverie, and the survivor of two cults. His work has been pivotal in illuminating the shadows of globalized Yoga and Buddhism and showing that disillusionment and critical inquiry can be gateways to mature spirituality. Matthew, thanks so much for being with us today. Welcome.

Matthew Remski: 01:08

Thank you so much, Cindy. Thanks for the welcome. Thanks for inviting me to do this. It’s a pleasure to meet you finally.

Cyndi Lee: 01:14

Yeah, maybe some day we’ll meet each other in real life. Exactly. So you sent me your recent book, All is coming, which I read and I’m familiar with. And I would say that you’re doing some very specific work right now in the Yoga and Dharma communities that I don’t know if anyone else is doing, both uncovering of variety of abuses and abusers that may or may not have been widely known. And also what I was especially moved by and encouraged by was that you’re pointing away forward, that you’re doing really crucial work in giving us a path forward and what seems really yogic and really Dharmic to me is taking quote-unquote poison and transforming that and working towards Buddhist principles such as non-harming and Buddhist principles such as clarity and compassion. And so that’s kind of a long statement, but I’m wondering if you could talk about that.

Matthew Remski: 02:27

Well thank you first of all, but I’d have to say that it’s really a privileged position to have been able to take a number of years to put this book together, but it really sits on the shoulders of especially women who have been in smaller forums, generally talking about power abuses within the younger world and the Buddhist worlds for a long time. So the people who have been very influential to this project include, Donna Farhi who has done a lot of coverage of the yoga world and especially the Iyengar world. And then the survivors themselves who began to step forward, including the first person who really alerted me to the severity of the abuse history within Ashtanga Yoga, my friend Diane Bruni here in Toronto…

People like Diane and then the people who were able to give testimony for this book, they’ve been holding these stories and their responses to them and their own ways forward for a long time. And so the book is really capturing the crest of a wave. I’m really grateful for, for all of the work that’s gone before me. And as far as a way forward goes, I do have some proposals that come out of the research, and listening that I’ve had to learn to do to the survivors of sexual abuse within yoga communities, but also from my own experiences as a cult survivor and my review of the cult analysis literature.

So yeah, there’s the sixth part of the book, a workbook actually for critical thinking and community health. And I have the sense that it is possible sometimes to turn poison into a kind of goodness. But that’s hard one. It takes a lot of care. It takes a lot of social networking; it takes the empowerment of survivors through listening to their stories, really carefully platforming them and making them the center of any kind of reform movement. So those are pretty key ideas to me. Continue reading “Cyndi Lee Interviews Matthew Remski about Working Through the Abuse Crisis in Modern Yoga and Buddhism (+ transcript)”

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

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.

Shrine of Devotion, Betrayal, or Indoctrination? An Internal Shambhala Email, Annotated

A source forwarded the following email, sent by a Shambhala leader to volunteers and residents at Vermont’s Karmê Chöling, the Buddhist retreat centre founded by the organization’s “root teacher”, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, in 1970.

The email follows up on a group meeting of volunteers and residents to discuss whether the portrait of Ösel Mukpo, now accused of forced confinement and sexual assault, should be covered or taken down from the altar in the staff shrine room. The letter indicates the same questions are being asked about the photographs of Trungpa.

Core teaching content is delivered in Shambhala shrine rooms, as well as group liturgies, ceremonies, and empowerments. These events often involve generating deep feelings of love and devotion towards group leaders, and the teaching content. At this moment, shrine rooms throughout the organization are surely fraught spaces for many members, who may suddenly feel they are sites of personal and institutional betrayal.

What is at stake in this discussion is whether those who have been sexually assaulted (statistically one in four women who enter that room), along with those who bear other traumas, will be asked to meditate in a space presided over by the image of a credibly accused assaulter. Because the staff shrine room altar is the focus, this is also a workplace issue.

I’m posting it below with a few brief notes in red because I think it might be useful for members to track in real time how cognitive dissonance emerges and is managed by power structures at crisis moments in yoga and Buddhist communities. I believe if members can be supported in seeing this clearly, recovery time will be hastened. Continue reading “Shrine of Devotion, Betrayal, or Indoctrination? An Internal Shambhala Email, Annotated”

Spiritualized Narcissism as Trauma Response: A Review of – and Meditation on – A Death on Diamond Mountain by Scott Carney

(This article first appeared in Yoga International.)

It begins with your family

but soon it comes ‘round to your soul

— Leonard Cohen

 

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On April 22nd, 2012, Ian Thorson died in a cave in the Arizona desert.

The Cochise Country coroner ruled the cause of death as dysentery-induced dehydration. But members of the cult that effectively chased Thorson into the wilderness without the psychiatric help he needed still search for his cause of death in the garbled neo-Buddhist jargon of their leader, Michael Roach.

Due out tomorrow, journalist Scott Carney’s tangled probe into the tragedy points in a different direction: towards the dangers of spiritual striving. He begins A Death on Diamond Mountain with the question, “How much should someone strive to know their own soul?”

Full disclosure: I broke the news of Thorson’s death to the global media on May 4th with the first of three hasty, mostly accurate, and highly emotional polemics against the cult of Roach. I worked from local news reports, Roach’s deflective justification for the terrible decisions that drove Thorson to his cave, and my own vivid memories of the three years I spent in Roach’s community. So for me, reading through Carney’s book is like seeing old photos from novel angles in an album that I didn’t assemble, reading captions that stray from my own narrative just enough to make me doubt my recollections and illuminate the agendas that form them. This I know for sure: I’m too close to the story and too embroiled in how it has unfolded to have cleanly approached what Carney has succeeded with here. Continue reading “Spiritualized Narcissism as Trauma Response: A Review of – and Meditation on – A Death on Diamond Mountain by Scott Carney”

Meditation: a Conversational Model

Some thoughts in progress, in preparation for a practice seminar in Edmonton. Perhaps the skeleton of a future book. Any and all feedback from meditators is most welcome. 

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[dropcap]I[/dropcap]f I don’t count the cathedral daydreams of a very Catholic childhood, I began meditating in 1995, when I was twenty-four. First with Tibetan Buddhists, through lam-rim (beginner) and then kye-rim (Tantric initiate) forms. Then I meditated with a charismatic Course in Miracles group, which was a total trip. After that there was a lot of mantra meditation while I was studying Ayurveda and Jyotisa intensively. Next came vipassana training. I’ve also done a lot of reading in zen, which like many traditions might be cool if a person gets lucky with a non-creepy teacher. But by the time I picked up Suzuki and Dogen I wasn’t a joiner anymore.

So under the auspices of several religious traditions, I’ve cycled through the four meditation categories that researchers in clinical psychology and neurophysiology have broken down for distinct study: “focused attention”, “open monitoring”, “self-transcendence”, and “compassion-based”. These days I sit almost every morning: never for too long, liking it, not liking it, and not quite sure of what I’m doing or where it’s taking me. Feeling like a beginner pretty much always. Continue reading “Meditation: a Conversational Model”

Changing, Fast and Slow /// notes on Sam Harris, meditation, spiritual impatience, and the rising sea

Just as the ocean has a gradual shelf, a gradual slope, a gradual inclination, with a sudden drop-off only after a long stretch, in the same way this Doctrine and Discipline (dhamma-vinaya) has a gradual training, a gradual performance, a gradual progression, with a penetration to gnosis only after a long stretch.

— Uposatha Sutta,  5.5

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[dropcap]I[/dropcap]’m looking forward to September’s release of Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion, by Sam Harris. When an “acerbic atheist” (to use the phrase of ABC’s Dan Harris in his mini pre-review) who has done so much to open up discourse on faith, reason, cognitive science and ethics comes out of the closet about his personal practice of meditation and proposes to evaluate his experience in terms of neuropsychology, it’s some good times. But a number of details from this recent dialogue with the same Dan Harris give me pause. (If he has modified these claims somewhere I haven’t come across, I ‘d be happy to know.)

Continue reading “Changing, Fast and Slow /// notes on Sam Harris, meditation, spiritual impatience, and the rising sea”