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  • Emily Corley

The Shambhala #metoo Moment

Allegations of sexual abuse have recently surfaced against the head of the Shambhala community, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. The community is shocked, angry, deeply heartbroken, and reeling from this all-too-familiar instance of abuse of power.

‘Sakyong’ translates to 'earth protector'. In Chinese medicine, this is the Heart aspect of fire energy; its imperative is to name, speak, and protect the truth of our essential nature. By naming and protecting the truth of our nature, Heart manifests peace in the world. Heart requires the function, protection, and service of the remaining three aspects of fire energy to manifest its singular and imperative task. The three protective fire functions or ‘ministers’, together with Heart or ‘Sakyong’, creates ‘court’. Court and the manifestation of court is significant within the Shambhala world. The Sakyong is the head of 'court', the inner sanctum that serves and protects the function of the Sakyong as the spiritual teacher of the entire community.

By hosting, serving, protecting, and advising the Sakyong within his court, in theory, students learn about the nature and function of fire energy and its correlating magnetizing wisdom: discriminating awareness within the experience of mindfulness.

Instances of abuse are alleged to have happened within 'court', causing tremendous harm affecting both victims and the integrity of the entire community which he serves.

As a senior practitioner within the Shambhala tradition, I am inconceivably sad, as are most in the community. And I am not surprised. Partly because I am not naïve enough to imagine this doesn't happen, even within a spiritual community. Much as I want to think otherwise. All we have to do is look around and see how often this does happen. It's both terrible, and, shockingly, life is messier than we might imagine or want to imagine.

Further, while the Sakyong for many is a guru - and those unfortunate souls are deeply grieving - for me he has always been a person, an ordinary human man devoted to his path, both helping multitudes of people understand the Shambhala teachings - manifesting tremendous good - and very humanly imperfect. He, like many others before and many who will inevitably come after, was unable to hold his position of great power and remain clear. He. too, is a person brought to his knees by the truth of his actions.

The story deepens when we consider his father, the founder of Shambhala, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. He, and others in previous positions of leadership, engaged in behavior that was deeply troubling for some people, women and men. The Shambhala community has failed to broadly and collectively acknowledge these truths, which in my opinion has enabled this problem altogether and will continue until it is addressed.

Our failure to do so originates with the nature of this profoundly brilliant and magnetizing teacher, whose life work nurtured and continues to nurture immeasurable spiritual growth among his students. I know very few finer, kinder, more compassionate, funnier, smarter, more insightful, and wise people than those trained within the Shambhala tradition.

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche manifested an almost irreconcilable dilemma. He created profound goodness; he articulated an entire path of spiritual practice adapted from traditional Tibetan Buddhist teachings for these very troubled modern times. And he laid the ground for establishing a worldwide community of practitioners devoted to creating a sane human society. In these ways, he offered a singular treasury of teachings to the world. And, knowingly or not, he also fostered habits and patterns of abuse that (clearly) continue to this day. He was both utterly and brilliantly Awake and created tremendous pain.

How do we reconcile the two? Frankly, I don't know anyone who genuinely has. Upon personal reflection deeply into this dilemma, I cannot deny any-tiny-bit of his brilliance. In truth, I count his teachings to be some of the most exceptional I have ever encountered; they are the bedrock, the certain ground, the inexhaustible inspiration of my spiritual path. Nor can I deny the pain he caused nor this present pain that is continuing to manifest. Both are true. My measure of peace is making space within my experience for both of these realities to be what they are: utterly brilliant and profoundly wretched.

Peace lies in looking at what happens in our mind as we feel and think about these situations. We want to hear the story about what happened to be properly informed. We talk together to express and share our feelings - anger, rage, heartbreak, shock, and more - as we reach for a measure of understanding. We consider the profound complexities of the situation.

With awareness, we can also see the moment our mind begins to engage in gossip, judgement, blame, and become overly focused on the external dramas. And there are many! Practice reminds us to use the situation as an opportunity to look at what is getting stirred up within: perhaps our own history as abuser or victim, how we may have shrunk back into the recesses of our life or directed our unfelt wounds aggressively towards others, either consciously or unconsciously. And more, much, much more. This is rich personal territory where all of us discover something.

Perhaps the final lesson of Chogyam Trungpa's life altogether is the single most important thing he taught: how to live with an open heart, moment to moment. Unconditioned compassion and equanimity, two of our greatest human qualities, arise altogether by feeling and expressing the truth of our heart, our utterly unfixable broken heart, our genuine heart of sadness, the first noble truth, the truth of suffering.

There are enormous tasks that now sit before the community:

To fully enable all victims to freely speak and heal, past and present.

To create a society with more transparency, particularly within court.

To ensure that the student/teacher relationships are clearly and safely and explicitly defined.

To identify and correct any overt and covert messages within the liturgies, teachings, and iconography that condone or perpetrate misogyny.

To look at our organizational community structures and endeavor to manifest a system more fully expressive of our human potential.

To require all people in positions of leadership to engage a rigorous period of deep reflection about how they may have contributed to manifesting this situation.

And surely more.

As for the Sakyong, time will tell what he chooses to do and how the community will respond. My profound hope is that he comes forward, authentically, with the truth of his broken heart and confusion. That he engages a path of personal accountability for his actions. The path of Sakyong - for each of us is the Sakyong sitting in the heart of our own life - is to align with our essential nature of goodness and speak the truth of our humanity, however painful, uncomfortable, inconvenient, and consequential. This requires courage, a familiar Shambhala teaching, inspiring others to follow rather than hiding behind masks of ignorance, denial, arrogance, and self-identification. The verberations of his actions have the potential to affect all of Shambhala history and open the door for our latent neuroses to be aerated and dissolve.

In short, this situation has the potential to wake us up.

Note: I have engaged a measure of trust speaking about these subjects publicly, Should you choose to share them, I humbly ask you share the entirely of what I have written, as pieces of this read out of context may convey messages I do not wish to covey. Thank you.

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