Shambhala Centers Still Holding “Sealed” Retreats to Venerate a Leader Under Criminal Investigation
A New Year’s Eve email sent out from the Sky Lake Retreat Center of Rosendale, New York, invited qualified practitioners to attend a seven-day “sealed” retreat, beginning on February 23.
The event, named the “Monarch Retreat”, will be focussed on generating loyalty towards the spiritual “kingship” of the leader of Shambhala International, Mipham Mukpo, known as the “Sakyong”. Mukpo is the son and heir of the Chögyam Trungpa, the founder of the organization. In 1995, Mukpo was recognized as the reincarnation of Mipham the Great, a Tibetan philosopher, astrologer, and mystic who died in 1912.
This past July, Mukpo stepped down from his administrative leadership of Shambhala International amidst accusations of sexual assault published by Buddhist Project Sunshine. Mukpo has issued a vague apology for past behaviour, but he has since denied all criminal allegations through his lawyer.
Mukpo is a focus of a controversial independent investigation commissioned by Shambhala International, the results of which are due to be released at the end of January. According to ThinkProgress, Mukpo is also a focus of a criminal investigation by the Larimer County, Colorado, Sheriff’s office.
The rituals of the upcoming retreat will include a “heart transmission” from Mukpo to all retreatants. Mukpo will not be in attendance, but retreatants will be able to venerate a “full” portrait of him — the centrepiece of a specially-designed altar — while following a ritual schedule written by him.
The text of the invite, signed by Cynthia MacKay, who is scheduled to lead the retreat, is printed below. A critical response from Patricia Ullman, a former Shambhala Training director, follows.
MacKay claims to write “on behalf of the Pillar of Government”. In Shambhala terms, this refers to the administrative third of the organization, which includes the lead administrative body, the “Kalapa Council”. Recognizing that “parts of our system are broken,” the Council resigned in July and in October handed over control to an Interim Board assigned to handle the crisis.
A request for clarification from the Interim Board about whether MacKay is in fact writing on their behalf went unanswered.
The Monarch Retreat is “sealed” to participants who have received ritual permission to practice Tantric meditations conferred by Mukpo himself. Often, tantric meditations require practitioners to perceive and visualize their preceptors as divine or enlightened beings.
Similar Monarch retreats were offered at Dechen Chöling Shambhala Center in France this past November, at Dorje Denma Ling Shambhala Center in Nova Scotia this past June, and at the Shambhala Mountain Center in Colorado in this past February.
MacKay did not answer a request for comment.
Text of the Sky Lake email
From: Monarch Retreat Host <[email protected]>
Date: Mon, Dec 31, 2018 at 10:50 PM
Subject: Invitation to Monarch Retreat February 2019
Invitation to Monarch Retreat,
Sky Lake Retreat Center, February 23 – March 3, 2019
Dear Holders of the Rigden Abhisheka Transmission1)The “Ridgens” are mythic kings of Shambhala, a divine or shamanic realm featured in medieval Tibetan Tantra. “Abhisheka” indicates a Tantric initiation that binds the student to the teacher through a strict code of allegiance called “samaya”. Consequences of breaking samaya — which can involve as little as speaking negatively of the teacher — include rebirth in torturous realms.
On behalf of the Pillar of Government, I would like to invite you to attend the Monarch Retreat at Sky Lake Retreat Center from February 23rd through March 3rd, 2019.
This unique retreat includes receiving and practicing a heart transmission from His Majesty the Kongma Sakyong II2)Chögyam Trungpa, Mukpo’s father, was known as the first “Kongma Sakyong”.. Although the Sakyong himself does not physically attend the retreat, his presence is palpable. In light of the disturbing events and conflicts in the mandala3)“Mandala” means “protective circle”. It is used here to describe the organization as a sacred walled city. this year, it may seem surprising to be holding such a retreat at this time. Some might find it provocative. I recently attended this retreat at Dechen Chöling for my third time. There was a profound sense of tenderness and genuineness among the 22 participants as we each explored our deeply personal relationship with the lineage and with the Sakyong. It was a meaningful journey for me and felt incredibly necessary and nourishing in terms of engaging in my path for the benefit of our greater world.
My experience is that the most magical things happen during these retreats. The container provides a lot of time for practice, contemplation and conversation about what it means to be a warrior. The thin veil that separates the conventional world from the world inhabited by the dralas 4)The “dralas” are elemental and animistic energies appropriated into Buddhist discourse from indigenous Tibetan spirituality.dissolves and the kingdom of Shambhala opens up as the ground for exploration and play. The lineage is there waiting for us, trusting us and loving us.
The Monarch Retreat includes receiving and practicing a heart transmission from His Majesty the Kongma Sakyong II and a specially-designed Monarch Retreat shrine with a full portrait of the Sakyong.
In line with other Monarch Retreats, we will also study and contemplate:
- Discovering Your Bravery — His Majesty’s teaching on bravery on the path of leadership and kindness at the most recent Kalapa Garchen5)“Kalapa Garchen” refers to another Shambhala/Tantric retreat, which features the “Scorpion Seal” teachings discovered or revealed by Mukpo.
- The North Star of Shambhala, Loyalty – The Ground Path and Fruition of the Four Pillars (participants will receive the lung for this text if they do not have it already)6)“Lung” means oral transmission, without which the teaching is said to be superficial or nonviable.
- Study of The Six Ways of Ruling and practical exercises to help manifest them7)This Shambhala leader claims that these instructions date back to the Buddha, but gives no citation. Ex-Shambhala leader Lodro Rinzler lists the Six Ways as: Benevolent: “Let aggression exhaust itself”; True: “We’re both basically good”; Genuine: “Point to the logic”; Fearless: “Have faith in yourself”; Artful: “Set up your day skillfully”; Rejoicing: “Find joy in being true to yourself”. Rinzler resigned from the organization prior to being accused of sexual misconduct.
The retreat container
The Monarch Retreat is a seven-day retreat (plus arrival and departure days). It is a sealed retreat — all participants live, eat, sleep and practice in the confines of the retreat, except for outdoor exercise.8)“Sealing” is not a metaphor in Tibetan Tantric retreat protocol. Physical boundaries are set and charged according to ritual. Crossing the retreat boundary is thought to degrade the value of the retreat for everyone involved. The days are structured according to a practice text that His Majesty has written solely for this retreat.
These retreats take place from very early in the morning through to late evening. The Sakyong has structured each day to accommodate individual study and reflection as well as group practice, contemplation, exercise and discussion.
Register here: https://skylake.shambhala.org/program/1061/monarch-retreat/
If you have any registration-related questions about the Monarch Retreat, please email: Sky Lake at [email protected]
If you have any other questions about the retreat, please email: [email protected] or feel free to contact me directly at [email protected]
Closer to the time of the retreat we will send you detailed information about practical arrangements.
Again, I know this is a very tender time in Shambhala and this retreat will not be for everyone but offering it feels very important. You may be experiencing confusion and doubt during this time. It is my hope that exploring this in a safe container with other warriors will feel nourishing.
Yours in the vision of the Great Eastern Sun9)An epithet for the “kingdom” of Shambhala.,
Monarch Retreat Host
Response from Patricia Ullman
To Cynthia –
I am so sad and disturbed to receive this letter, in light of the abuse that has occurred and the many people who have been harmed. As you say in your last paragraph, “this retreat will not be for everyone” – obviously it is only for those who wish to continue excluding and ignoring those many who are finally speaking out against duplicity and revealing what many like yourself wish to ignore. Even when I thought I couldn’t be shocked any more, your letter is shocking and very disturbing, as well as unkind.
The ‘disturbing events and conflicts’ you allude to are actually sexual abuse and other forms of aggression, carelessness, unkindness, and greed. They are not ‘conflicts,’ and they have caused immeasurable suffering and harm not only to individuals but to Shambhala and to Buddhism in general. The continuing effort to cover it all over is part of the problem and perpetuates a ‘culture of blindness,’ a cultish allegiance and clinging to something that is full of holes, rotten from the inside. The teachings of wakefulness deserve better.
It seems that Shambhala has forgotten its sense of decency and courage and has lost its ability to feel shame. Shame on you for sending this letter, at this time. I don’t speak out very often but this is beyond the pale.
|↑1||The “Ridgens” are mythic kings of Shambhala, a divine or shamanic realm featured in medieval Tibetan Tantra. “Abhisheka” indicates a Tantric initiation that binds the student to the teacher through a strict code of allegiance called “samaya”. Consequences of breaking samaya — which can involve as little as speaking negatively of the teacher — include rebirth in torturous realms.|
|↑2||Chögyam Trungpa, Mukpo’s father, was known as the first “Kongma Sakyong”.|
|↑3||“Mandala” means “protective circle”. It is used here to describe the organization as a sacred walled city.|
|↑4||The “dralas” are elemental and animistic energies appropriated into Buddhist discourse from indigenous Tibetan spirituality.|
|↑5||“Kalapa Garchen” refers to another Shambhala/Tantric retreat, which features the “Scorpion Seal” teachings discovered or revealed by Mukpo.|
|↑6||“Lung” means oral transmission, without which the teaching is said to be superficial or nonviable.|
|↑7||This Shambhala leader claims that these instructions date back to the Buddha, but gives no citation. Ex-Shambhala leader Lodro Rinzler lists the Six Ways as: Benevolent: “Let aggression exhaust itself”; True: “We’re both basically good”; Genuine: “Point to the logic”; Fearless: “Have faith in yourself”; Artful: “Set up your day skillfully”; Rejoicing: “Find joy in being true to yourself”. Rinzler resigned from the organization prior to being accused of sexual misconduct.|
|↑8||“Sealing” is not a metaphor in Tibetan Tantric retreat protocol. Physical boundaries are set and charged according to ritual. Crossing the retreat boundary is thought to degrade the value of the retreat for everyone involved.|
|↑9||An epithet for the “kingdom” of Shambhala.|
This call for veneration of a person who is seen as overwhelmingly likely to have engaged in criminal activity comes just weeks before his organisations much vaunted and engineered socalled ‘independent investigation’ into the allegations against him. So while hos 2,000 or so tantric, vajrayana students have been advised to rest in the groundlessness of this deeply traumatic crisis, we are now asked to put up $1,000 to venerate him before even the organisation has evidenced confirmation or otherwise of his wrongdoing or attempted any kind of restitution for his victims.
As his students, all we have seen is his lawyer’s blanket denial of criminal wrongdoing with no explanation, and his effective resignation simultaneous with the resignation of his appointed administrators and the hiring of Matthew Hiltzik’s firm as his PR Managers. Hiltzik and Associates famously defended Harvey Weinstein while he was supposedly in rehab for similar, multiple sexual crimes. We are unaware of what therapy (if any) the Kongma Sakyong II, Jampal Trinley Dradul Mipham Mukpo is undergoing for his malaise or why he continues adding to his titles while under Police investigation and asking his students to maintain him on his increasingly wobbly pedestal. Perhaps it’s as simple as the fact that he is just that very insecure, sexually deviant young man he appeared to be when he was pushed into assuming the role of leader of Shambhala in the 1990’s.
The term Kongma Sakyong II is a new title appearing for the first time in this letter at this critical time. Prior to this letter Mipham and Chogyam, his father were referred to as the Kongma Sakyong and the Druk Sakyong respectively. Indeed, one of their main venerators penned a blindly devoted appraisal of them in this vein at https://shambhalatimes.org/2012/03/29/the-two-sakyongs/. It is interesting to note that this same “Monarch Retreat” was cancelled in August due to the embarrassing revelations but that somehow, with no apparent change in the survivors’ allegations or proof of the alleged abusers’ innocence, it is now perceived as appropriate to be running it again.
As a former vajrayana student of this made up lineage of kings and princesses my concern now is that the institution which the first self-appointed king founded in the 1970’s has become the very nest of spiritual materialism about which he warned against when he began his teaching activities in the USA, and to which the author of the above linked article refers. There is currently a cognitive dissonance at the organisational level of the trauma cause by its members abuses in the name of buddhism, which presents a risk of trauma to new students of the dharma which could not possibly be apparent to them as they approach this seemingly spectacularly enlightened, magical kingdom. In short, it now seems to me to a massive con job, as I discuss on my own blog.
I really like Patricia Ullman’s courage and directness in reminding us that these very important teachings (that are bedrock to large traditions of Buddhist wisdom and not exclusive to Shambhala) need to be well served, and that Shambhala has a duty to fix its problems. I am a Shambhala member of 23 years, but do not currently want to attend the Monarch Retreat for reasons related to Ms. Ullman’s points, particularly the glaring insensitivity here on display. However, I do not think these kinds of programs are in of themselves harmful, and that those individuals who choose to participate should decide for themselves without being judged. What would concern me is if this type of program we’re mandatory, which I do not believe it is or has been. Also, these types of programs should not be used to create circles of exclusivity or status, which has been a problem in this organization. This type of exclusivity has, as I have observed, been a root cause for some of the bad behavior Ms. Ullman calls out, most of it centered on a culture of entitlement that poisoned some of the Sakyong’s choices. Also, these types of programs wherein people explore their desire to cultivate devotion should not be used to absolve the Sakyong or protect him from many people’s desire that he fully accept what has happened in this community, including his central role in all the hurt and pain. For many of us this would include the type of honest contrition and work to repair harm on his part that demonstrates the consideration necessary for members of any healthy relationship. That type of courageous work on the Sakyong’s part may well be forthcoming and there are many in Shambhala that want to see it. Thank you for the opportunity.
If the sakyong admitted that he sexually assaulted his students, plead guilty and did his time and engaged in genuine rehabilitation then I would be interested in what he has to say about courage. Until then what a scam. Disgusting. Thank you Patricia for speaking out. It IS harmful to run these programs whilst again denying and ignoring survivors!
The vague weird “apology” is so creepy. So cowardly and pathetic. Humans make terrible mistakes. This I know and I’m guilty of terrible mistakes myself. But to keep on not only denying but teaching bravery!? Just no. Enough!
Glad to be following you!