New al­le­ga­tions sur­face against Bud­dhist leader

Re­port also de­tails fi­nan­cial co­er­cion claims

Calgary Herald - - CANADA - Brett Bun­dale

• Shamb­hala In­ter­na­tional is dis­miss­ing new al­le­ga­tions against the Bud­dhist or­ga­ni­za­tion’s spir­i­tual leader, call­ing the fresh claims of sex­ual mis­con­duct and fi­nan­cial co­er­cion “grossly ir­re­spon­si­ble.”

A new re­port by Bud­dhist Project Sun­shine re­leased Thurs­day de­tails new ac­cu­sa­tions against Saky­ong Mipham Rin­poche, leader of the Hal­i­fax-based Shamb­hala or­ga­ni­za­tion and its more than 200 med­i­ta­tion cen­tres world­wide.

He stepped back from his du­ties last month pend­ing the out­come of a third-party in­ves­ti­ga­tion into an al­leged pat­tern of sex­ual mis­con­duct high­lighted in pre­vi­ous re­ports about in­ci­dents in the Bud­dhist com­mu­nity.

Former Shamb­hala com­mu­nity mem­ber Andrea Winn said the lat­est re­port brings to light new ac­cu­sa­tions that are “more se­ri­ous in na­ture.”

“The new re­port brings to light a deeper grav­ity of the al­leged crimes and what it means to be a sex­ual preda­tor,” she said in an in­ter­view Wed­nes­day.

In ad­di­tion to al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual mis­con­duct that ap­pear to im­pli­cate other Shamb­hala lead­ers, the re­port also de­tails claims of co­er­cion for money and real es­tate.

In a state­ment Thurs­day, Shamb­hala In­ter­na­tional re­jected the re­port’s find­ings.

“These al­le­ga­tions are not only un­founded, but they each are based on spec­u­la­tive and un­sub­stan­ti­ated claims made by a sin­gle un­named source,” the Bud­dhist or­ga­ni­za­tion said of one se­ries of al­le­ga­tions in the re­port.

“For Project Sun­shine to pub­lish such sala­cious and defam­a­tory in­for­ma­tion is grossly ir­re­spon­si­ble.”

The state­ment is a de­par­ture from the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s re­sponse to ear­lier re­ports, which rec­og­nized that Shamb­hala was part of a “broader cul­tural reck­on­ing in con­tem­po­rary so­ci­ety.”

In Fe­bru­ary, Shamb­hala lead­ers ac­knowl­edged in an open letter that “ab­hor­rent sex­ual be­hav­iour” by some men in the com­mu­nity caused some women to feel un­safe.

The Kalapa Council — the gov­ern­ing body of the Bud­dhist group, which an­nounced last month its mem­bers would re­sign en masse through a “phased de­par­ture” — said the com­mu­nity was go­ing through its own “col­lec­tive wake-up call.”

Pre­vi­ous ac­cu­sa­tions against Mipham sug­gested a pat­tern of be­hav­iour of heavy drink­ing and us­ing his “kusung” or at­ten­dant to “pro­cure women stu­dents for his own sex­ual grat­i­fi­ca­tion,” ac­cord­ing to a re­port.

None of the al­le­ga­tions has been proven in court and Hal­i­fax Re­gional Po­lice said there are no charges against him.

Carol Mer­chasin, a lawyer over­see­ing the on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion with Bud­dhist Project Sun­shine, said in a memo in­cluded in the lat­est re­port that the new al­le­ga­tions against Mipham and other Shamb­hala lead­ers sug­gest “a new level of harm.”

She said she found the com­plainants — whose ac­counts are in­cluded in the re­port — “ex­tremely cred­i­ble.”

“There are sim­ply too many re­ports fol­low­ing the same pat­tern to be­lieve that this num­ber of un­re­lated women are all ly­ing,” Mer­chasin said, not­ing that Mipham al­legedly en­gaged in sex­ual mis­con­duct and an abuse of power over three decades.

Last month, Mipham apol­o­gized for the “pain, confusion and anger” sweep­ing through the Shamb­hala com­mu­nity.

“In a state of com­plete heart­break, I write to you, hum­ble, em­bar­rassed and thor­oughly apolo­getic for dis­ap­point­ing you,” the 55-yearold guru said in July.

“I am com­mit­ted to en­gag­ing with women and oth­ers in our com­mu­nity who have felt marginal­ized, be­gin­ning this week. I will be us­ing this time of self-re­flec­tion to deeply lis­ten and to bet­ter un­der­stand how the dy­nam­ics of power, gen­der and my ac­tions have af­fected oth­ers.”

He said he “en­gaged in relationships with women in the Shamb­hala com­mu­nity” and has re­cently learned that some of these women felt harmed.

“I would like you to know that over the years, I have apol­o­gized per­son­ally to people who have ex­pressed feel­ing harmed by my con­duct, in­clud­ing some of those who have re­cently shared their sto­ries,” Mipham said in the pub­lic apol­ogy.

Shamb­hala an­nounced a lead­er­ship tran­si­tion plan af­ter mem­bers of the Kalapa Council an­nounced their res­ig­na­tion.

In a letter to the Shamb­hala com­mu­nity last month, the council an­nounced that a tran­si­tion team will se­lect and ap­point an in­terim board of direc­tors, an ef­fort to sep­a­rate the cur­rent lead­er­ship from the ap­point­ment of the next board.

The council has hired Hal­i­fax law firm Wick­wire Holm to in­ves­ti­gate the al­le­ga­tions.

How­ever, the lat­est re­port by Bud­dhist Project Sun­shine said there is a “gen­eral mis­trust” of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, as it’s un­clear who hired the law firm or who it will re­port to.

Saky­ong Mipham Rin­poche

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