Halifax-based Buddhist leader apologizes to community after sexual misconduct allegations

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche arrives in the rain for his Tibetan Buddhist royal wedding to Princess Tseyang Palmo in Halifax on Saturday, June 10, 2006. The 43-year-old Sakyong, son of the movement's founder, is the spiritual leader for more than 10,000 Shambhala Buddhists around the world. Andrew Vaughan/ The Canadian Press

International Buddhist leader Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche is apologizing for the “pain, confusion and anger” sweeping through the Shambhala community amid sexual misconduct allegations against the Nova Scotia-based spiritual leader.

Mipham, who has stepped back from his duties pending the outcome of a third-party investigation, said in a letter Tuesday that he takes responsibility for the pain the Buddhist community is experiencing.

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

“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 added: “I feel tremendous regret and sadness, and I commit myself to continuing this healing.”

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READ MORE: Halifax-based Buddhist leader steps aside amid investigation into sexual misconduct allegations

Mipham is the head of the religious organization, which is headquartered in Halifax.

Inspired by Tibetan Buddhism, Shambhala is one of the largest western Buddhist movements with more than 200 meditation centres around the world.

The spiritual leader’s apology comes after a former Shambhala community member, Andrea Winn, published a report last month with statements from women alleging sexual misconduct by Mipham.

In the report, multiple unnamed women accuse the him of heavy drinking and using his attendant to “procure women students for his own sexual gratification.”

The women alleged Mipham would identify a woman during a teaching session or other event, and then use his attendant to bring her to his lodgings late at night for sex.

“Women were brought to (Mipham) in the middle of the night and pushed out the door before dawn to stumble back to their beds,” a woman described in a statement included in the report.

The women said they were concerned they would face repercussions if they rejected his advances.

None of the allegations has been proven in court and no charges have been laid.

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Members of the Kalapa Council, the Buddhist organization’s governing body, will also be stepping down through a “phased departure.”

READ MORE: Buddhist group investigating sexual misconduct claims against Halifax-based spiritual leader

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

Mipham, who is often referred to as the Sakyong, was unavailable for an interview Tuesday.

In his letter, the spiritual leader shares “some of the challenges” he has gone through.

“After the passing of my father, I took on the leadership role of Shambhala at a young age, followed by my enthronement in 1995,” said Mipham, considered royalty within the Shambhala community.

“During this period, I struggled to find my way, and fumbled with unhealthy power dynamics and alcohol. I failed to recognize the pain and confusion I was creating.”

He said a group of senior students expressed concern with his drinking, and he began to realize how his actions were affecting others.

The Shambhala leader says he cut back his drinking, began running, and developed a healthier lifestyle, both physically and spiritually.

In 2005, he met a woman and they later married. They now have three daughters.

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“Since then, I have consciously worked on improving my relationship to alcohol as well as trying to improve my general behaviour and my relationship to others as a teacher and as a person,” Mipham said.

The most recent allegation against Mipham detailed in the report is from August 2011.