‘I think it’s imploding’: Followers of Shambhala International left shaken by sexual misconduct allegations
The scandal surrounding the spiritual leader of Shambhala Buddhism is a long way from over.
As multiple investigations uncover a growing number of sexual misconduct allegations against Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, the impact has shaken the global organization to its core.
For some members of the Halifax-based faith, the allegations have begun to test the religion’s clean image.
“I’m really incredibly distraught about what’s happening,” said Julia Sable, a Shambhala member.
But she hopes the scandal doesn’t leave a permanent stain.
“It’s still doing a lot of good for a lot of people, and giving them a way to relate to things that can be difficult to relate to in their lives,” Sable said.
Leslie Hays, a former member of the international Buddhist faith, knows and understands the inner workings of the faith.
“I think it’s imploding really,” Hays said.
She describes herself as one of seven “secret wives” of Rinpoche’s father, Trunga Rinpoche, who in the 1980s moved the Shambhala headquarters from Colorado to Nova Scotia.
“People in positions of power should resign from those jobs, and allow it to fall apart, really,” Hays said.
“I just don’t think it’s safe.”
WATCH: Shambhala Buddhist leader accused of sexual abuse
Shambhala is among the world’s most popular forms of Buddhism.
There are thousands of members, more than 200 centres and groups in more than 50 countries, but mostly in the United States, Canada and Europe.
A recent report by former member Andrea Winn exposed allegations of drunken sexual misconduct and sexual abuse against Rinpoche.
In a statement, the Sakyong admitted: “I have engaged in relationships with women in the Shambhala community.”
The statement does not include any confession to sexual misconduct.
There have been no formal complaints to police.
Wickwire Holm, a law firm hired by Shambhala to conduct a third-party investigation of the allegations, says it will interview complainants, respondents and witnesses individually.
The firm says it will receive claims for three months, ending October 31.
In the meantime, Shambhala members are confronted with awkward questions, including how to display the Sakyong’s image.
In an email obtained by Global News, a Shambhala leader in Vermont tells members, “The photo of the Sakyong is now making a number of people feel uncomfortable.”
With the extent of the scandal still unfolding, the Sakyong has stepped away from his role as the international spiritual leader.
The Kalapa Council, the leadership body of the Shambhala organization and its more than 200 meditation centres worldwide, will also be stepping down through a “phased departure.”
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