An Open Letter to the Shambhala Community from Long-Serving Kusung

Here’s an update in the ongoing issue of abuse in Tibetan Buddhism in the form of an open letter by long-serving Kusung. It’s the Shambala equivilent of the letter by the eight Rigpa students that revealed Sogyal’s abuses. I haven’t got all the way through this myself yet, but … wow. I figured you’d want to get it asap, so download it above.

Once again I want to say thankyou to those who speak up. We really need to know what goes on in the inner circles of Tibetan Buddhist sanghas. Just how many of them are destructive cults like this? Will we ever know? And how long will the majority of lamas remain quiet on the topic?

Speak up, speak up. Please. Break the silence. Tell the truth about your sanghas and gurus, so others won’t fall into these abusive situations and become nothing more than surfs in the house of a feudal lord. I mean, for heaven’s sake, this is 2019! We left this kind of garbage behind with the French Revolution! I am so glad that people are waking up. So glad those eight courageous students told me the truth.

If you’d like a more private place to chat, you can join the Beyond the Temple Facebook group for discussions not about abuse but about your ongoing spiritual path, or if you need to talk about your experiences of and healing from guru abuse or about Rigpa’s ongoing bungling, ex-Rigpa students can join the secret What Now? group, (apply via the contact form here, andtell us about yourself and why you want to join the group). And if you’re not a Rigpa or ex-Rigpa person and need support related to abuse in Vajrayana you can join the Survivors of Vajrayana Abuse and their Allies group.  Note that you will not be added to these groups if you don’t answer the questions.

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26 Replies to “An Open Letter to the Shambhala Community from Long-Serving Kusung”

  1. Rob Hogendoorn and I are speaking up in our book Sex and Violence in Tibetan Buddhism — The Rise and Fall of Sogyal Rinpoche. We are using Rinpoche in the title in order to facilitate search engine recognition — following wise advice from fellow whistle blower Sogyal Truth. Publication is scheduled for May 2019. We have done our best to present facts clearly and simply with minimal verbosity.

  2. I agree that the first personal statement from a long-serving Kasung does go on a bit. But surely we can cut them a bit of slack – they are venting years of frustration. The dam has burst and it’s pretty messy.

    1. To decide to speak publically about something like this is enormously difficult. One opens oneself up to criticism and even vilification. How will someone who is thinking that maybe they should write something about their experiences feel when they see other truth-tellers criticised for rambling prose? They are not authors, they are people with a harrowing story to tell, and if we criticiise what they say in any way, others will be much less likely to speak up. What is important is what they are saying, not how they are saying it.

      In Judith Herman’s book, Trauma and Recovery, she says ‘People who have survived atrocities often tell their stories in a highly emotional, contradictory, and fragmented manner which undermines their credibility and thereby serves the twin imperatives of truth-telling and secrecy.’

      The secrecy she refers to is how the perpetrator uses the manner of truth-tellers writing or speaking as a way to discredit and silence them. Rigpa uses incoherent writing or speaking as ‘proof’ that their truth-tellers are ‘mentally unbalanced’. Surely, those of us who care for survivors of abuse should be supporting them in every way, and honouring them for speaking out, not criticising their writing ability?

      1. Sorry Tahlia — don’t agree with you on this. We learn from each other. Leaning over backwards to accommodate the difficulties involved does them no favours. What matters is to communicate effectively. Get it wrong first time –for sure, we all do that. To take on board constructive advice is a hallmark of maturity. Not usually easy — but necessary. Emotions do not rule — they endow authenticity.

        1. You’re right in terms of writing for a book, of course, or an academic paper. It really depends on the purpose of the writing. I feel that these are simply survivor’s testimonies, them sharing their stories for the purposes of healing and breaking a malignant silence.

      2. I agree Tahlia. Sometimes, the effort to be a “good communicator” can ruin the honesty, can even silence survivors. These are not simple situations where everyone wakes up and has it all figured out. It’s hard stuff and it takes time and patience. Every single person involved in Rigpa, Shambhala and the other abusive situations have their unique experiences. They have been silenced and now are finding the courage to speak out. It’s going to be messy and confusing, but that’s all part of moving forward. Here is a great conclusion from the first Kusung, now a practicing psychiatrist, who shared his experiences:

        “To conclude, I have countless thoughts around the ethical, psychological, and sociological issues that have led to this current predicament. I find I’m repeatedly saying to myself “Do not throw the baby out with the bathwater.” At times who or what the “baby” is confuses me. I’ve veered into the narrow-sighted logic of trying to simplify this man’s conduct as someone who has a problem with alcohol and women. Fortunately for me, I now have enough understanding of the human psyche to know that these issues are far more complex and malignant. Despite his voiced intention of creating a “culture of kindness”, my current observation is that we are still in the midst of a culture of fear and abuse of power influenced by longstanding beliefs that need to be further called into question. For those following spiritual leaders who justify this kind of behavior, keep in mind the blinders they might wear while explaining their rationale. Much like many other religions, this particular tradition still has generations of work to do before it fully addresses the entrenched cultural patriarchy from which it has flourished. I wish you all clarity in this process and thank you for your patience in tolerating my lengthy monologue.”

  3. I think it is important that all these issues are properly documented so people can be informed. Up to now too much information has been lost in obscure blogs on the internet. For example, I came across this harrowing account from an ex-Rigpa student who calls herself ex-Dakini. It has been in the public domain since 2012, but very little seen.
    Mary Finnigan has also put information into the public domain for many years and has been vilified by Rigpa for doing this. I look forward to reading the book. Let’s see how Rigpa will try to discredit her again. I know who I believe.

    1. That link leads to some amazing writing. How powerfully some people wrote of their experiences in Rigpa even years ago! I’m really grateful that Buddhist controversy blog existed. It was one of the things that helped me to protect myself emotionally as I began to suspect more and more. Thanks Tenpei! And ex-Dakini, whoever she may be.

  4. Keep up the good work Mary and all other whistle-blowers! HHDL encouraged people to publish as much as possible on abusive teachers and expose the issue as much as we can – I hope everyone can find healing and carry on their journey of spiritual evolution in whatever form they chose – The most tragic thing is when people are put off the Dharma because of Bad Lamas! A little while ago I would not have believed it possible – how we live and learn! Good wishes to you all and I hope you discover the truth within yourselves and don-t let these Spiritual Parasites turn you from the path –

  5. With regard to Shambhala, it’s interesting how many people wanted so desperately to believe in the possibility of an enlightened monarchy and an enlightened monarch. As a model, this seems now to have failed completely — and, historically speaking, in an incredibly short time.

    1. Fuedalism can never be the basis of an enlightened society because it has some people enslaved to others. There is nothing enlightened about that.

  6. I’ve now read the whole thing and what strikes me is the in-your-face fuedal structure – names for the different roles, a court and a King! Oaths of allegience. Though clearly the same structure, it wasn’t that obvious in Rigpa because we didn’t refer to him as a King. I didn’t even realise it was a fuedal structure until I started investigating what the hell is wrong with this religion. I didn’t know Shambala was like that, and it seems absurb to me that modern people would willingly take on such servitude, but it’s become so entwined with vajrayana that we swallow the lot whole.

    Modern Western values are the antithesis of fuedalism and fuedalism must be removed from the vajrayana if this shit is to stop. The patriarchical fuedalistic structure of a king, and his devoted servants and subjects is why these lamas think they can get away with this kind of shit – and it’s why they do, because their subjects don’t speak out for fear they will be hung drawn and slaughtered. It’s all horribly medievel and it has no place in 2019.

    His Holiness the Dalai Lama agrees. At the Central Institute of Buddhist Studies in Leh, Ladakh, India on 1st August 2017, he said, ‘I feel some of these lama institutions have some sort of influence of the feudal system. That is outdated and must end—that feudal influence.’

    In a recent Facebook post, DZK accused Western values of destroying the dharma worse than the Chinese did in the cutural revolution, but Western values don’t destroy dharma, they do, however, destroy feudalism. But feudalism, in which ordinary people have no rights and must give homage and service to the all-powerful nobility, is not Dharma, not Buddhism, and neither is it Vajrayana. Feudalism is the baggage which must be dropped from Tibetan Buddhism if it is to have relevance in the modern world.

    By this statement it appears that DZK, and no doubt plenty of other lamas, can’t separate vajrayana from fuedalism, so we can’t expect them to change anything – Kings don’t tend to step down of their own accord. It’s up to Western students not to take this kind of King and servant crap on board. But, hell, we just get so seduced by these guys! Shambala looks like a worse cult than Rigpa, but give Rigpa a few more generations and I don’t doubt you’d have the same.

  7. Memories of my abuse are vivid and contextual. When I’m asked to write about them, I have a lot of words because it was my life, my story, my pain. Maybe someone else could edit that down to something more palatable to a casual reader, but then it wouldn’t be my story. I honor the Kusung who wrote their stories in such details that I know they picture them in nightmares. Reading their stories in their words is the least I can do for them.

    1. As an editor, I know exactly that issue. It’s important to always retain the author’s ‘voice’ so it is still their story, and I am alsways careful to to that. But this is not writing for a book, as you recognise. Reading here is like listening. We witness the story of their pain as an act of support.

  8. This is still just a half-formed thought, but has it struck anyone else how easy it seems to be for some people to commit, or enable , abuses against real, feeling individuals in the name of some vague greater good like “enlightened society” or “the benefit of all beings”? This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t work for the benefit of others, but I wonder sometimes if we haven’t got the wrong end of the stick about what that really means when taken out of the abstract.

    1. Yes of course. If you’re not reaching out to people in your daily life, then you’re not even trying to work with ego.

      The women who’ve been discussing their abuse experiences in Shambhala have described very clearly the pervasive sleaziness & self-interest that the men at the top of the heap have demonstrated over the past 30 years or so. They, the men, kid themselves that they are good people and skilled teachers.

    2. I agree. Remember in the loving kindness practices Ian Maxwell taught how important it was to use specific real people. I think this is why. A vague ‘for the benefit of all beings’ thinking doesn’t do it. I think it’s also possible that they are too focused on ‘high’ practices and haven’t sufficient grounding in the loving kindness and compassion practices – but then even Pema Chodron didn’t help someone suffering. I think their other beliefs – the how to follow a teacher stuff – must overshadow their bodhicitta vow.

      1. Dear Moonfire: I think you’re absolutely right about this, that a lot of people think that Guru devotion somehow covers all the other bases. Properly understood, it might. But that would require a genuinely qualified teacher, a properly mature student, and a real grounding in simple human decency and kindness. Those things seem to be badly lacking in a lot of places.

        1. Yes, it’s the real grounding in human decency that’s missing. And even if it worked in the past, I don’t think it actually can work in the West because servitude just isn’t the way we live now. When TB started fuedalism was the way they lived, so of course the religion was set up the same way. They new nothing different. But now we live in a world where freedom of speech and human rights are important, and these are the values with which we live, and values that, let’s face it, trump fuedalism at every turn.

          I’ve decided to use my real name here now. I guess it doesn’t matter if my editing clients discover that I have another interest other than editing and publishing!

          1. Tahlia, just a quick clarification to your above : you’re not suggesting that servitude is a prerequisite to the practice of bodhicitta in our daily lives, are you?

            An open heart, an inclusive nature and the willingness to expend energy on behalf of others (rather than being entirely self-motivated) – those qualities provide fertile soil in which bodhicitta can be nurtured.

            1. No, of course not. As I see it these days, servitude has no place on the spiritual path, but some think servitude is a necessary part of Vajrayana. All it is, however, is fuedalism which has nothing to do with spirutality.

  9. Living in fear in Westminster Colorado
    After reading about what’s been happening in Boulder as well as London I feel compelled to reach out to the Tibetan Buddhist community seeking help for my communities issues with Mipham Shedra Buddhist Temple.
    I write this having never set foot inside the Mipham Shedra Buddhist Temple located in Westminster Colorado. I am however a next-door neighbor and find myself and my community at odds with its founder, Lupon Rinpoche and his parishioners. Lupon Rinpoche dreams of building a large Tibetan Buddhist temple compound in the middle of our rural residential neighborhood, despite resounding negative feedback from all the residents of our community. At a city mandated neighborhood meeting when confronted with this reality, we were called paranoid and racists by the Rinpoche and his staff. Our community does not support a large gathering place of any kind at its center. The Rinpoche’s narcissistic pursuit of his dream will be devastating to our community and the dreams of our community members, so we implore anyone who wishes to support the Mipham Shedra Buddhist Temple to please think about the consequences to our community.
    I and my fellow neighbors are seeking help combatting the growth of a temple complex in the center of our neighborhood, the city is powerless to even enforce zoning infractions due to the not so veiled threat of RLUIPA law suits. The Rinpoche’s dishonesty and disdain for our community has created a negative situation that will never be resolved as long as he continues forcing his will on our community. If Tibetan Buddhist community members are considering Mipham Shedra Buddhist Temple as an alternative to the Shamballa in Boulder, we beg you to reconsider. Supporting Lupon Rinpoche only reinforces his will to overwhelm our rural community, and we fear the growth of a feudal monarchy centered with in us.
    Please forgive any errors in grammar or titles, as this is all foreign to me.
    Thank You

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