Buddhist Leader Under Investigation For Sexual Assault Charges

Sakyong Mipham stands accused of sexual assault and clergy sexual misconduct by several women. He and all members of the leadership body in the Shambala Buddhist community have resigned their positions.

Buddhist Leader Under Investigation For Sexual Abuse Charges
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Sakyong Mipham stands accused of sexual assault and clergy sexual misconduct by several women. He and all members of the leadership body in the Shambala Buddhist community have resigned their positions.

In an effort to initiate “a healing process,” all nine members of the Kalapa Council, the highest leadership body in the Shambala Buddhist community, resigned Friday in the wake of charges of sexual assault and clergy sexual misconduct against its leader, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. The council stated in a letter to the community that, “We recognize that parts of our system are broken, and need to dissolve in order to make room for real change.” The letter did not indicate a statement from Sayong Mipham according to Lion’s Roar. He has yet to publicly comment on the charges. In a letter sent to Shambala members last week, however, Mipham admitted to “relationships” with female students, but made not mention of any misconduct in those relationships.

The council’s letter also states that a law firm in Halifax, Nova Scotia, has been hired to conduct an independent examination into the allegations against the council leader and into any allegations against other teachers and leaders in the Shambala organization. The charges were published in a report from the advocacy group Buddhist Project Sunshine that included detailed accounts by the alleged victims of their experiences.

The letter also states that they have hired An Olive Branch, an organization whose purpose is to help Buddhist communities deal with sexual misconduct issues. It states the role of An Olive Branch in this particular situation as that of “a neutral party for receiving stories of harm, survivor advocacy and consulting on our policies going forward.”

Sakyong Mipham has resigned from his positions as Naropa Lineage Holder and non-voting board member at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado, at the request of the university’s board of directors. A statement issued by the university’s board chair and president says,

“We have reviewed the accounts presented by several women who, at the time of the encounters, were members of Shambhala International, relating abuse that occurred as recently as 2011. We find these stories credible and believable.”

Think Progress reports that they obtained notes taken during a private video call that last an hour-and-a-half Monday that provided more details about the circumstances surrounding the allegations. Among those details were discussions about prior confrontations that members of the Kapala Council have had with Mipham about his heavy drinking and inappropriate behavior with women. One council member, Adam Lobel, described a “wild culture of drinking, spontaneous poetry, and parties” when he worked with Mipham in the early 2000s. He said,

“A lot of what we saw with women was consensual. What was disturbing was his inability to connect with women as a human being [sic].”

He stated that it was because of this behavior that Sakyong Mipham was confronted and then sent on a “retreat” that seemed to help as evidenced by fewer incidents of public intoxication and his 2006 marriage to Khandro Tseyang.

The alleged sexual misconduct didn’t seem to stop, however, as some details about the alleged assault were discussed in the call, among them the fact that one of the incidents happened in 2011 in the kitchen of his home in Halifax following a party to celebrate the first birthday of one of his daughters. The alleged victim described a drunk Mipham lifting her skirt, groping her breasts, and kissing her. She described not wanting to do it but feeling trapped. There was also mention of “first-hand witnesses who indicate it isn’t true.” The Kapala Council is not aware of any incidents since 2011.