In the Kalapa Council email to the community two weeks ago, they attempted to deny allegations made by Ann in the Buddhist Project Sunshine Phase 3 report. We are aware that Ann’s story is shocking, and it takes time to ground this new information. The depth of betrayal by loved and trusted leaders is deeply heart breaking. To be clear, BPS stands firmly behind Ann’s statement. She has been through serious assaults in the center of the Shambhala mandala, and it is long overdue for these assaults and the people involved to be brought into the light. We are happy that leaders, like Pema Chodron, are starting to come forward to confirm allegations against her in the Phase 3 report. This is important for the process of healing.
With their email, the Kalapa Council included a letter from their new employment lawyer, Steven Suflas. In response to Mr. Souflas’ letter, two of the women survivors of Osel Mukpo’s alleged sexual assaults asked BPS to share why they are not participating in Shambhala International’s Wickwire Holm investigation:
“I submitted a statement to Buddhist Project Sunshine detailing abuse I experienced from Osel Rangdrol Mukpo (Mr Mukpo) aka Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, but decided not to speak with Wickwire Holm, the law firm hired by Alex Halpern who serves as attorney for Shambhala’s board of directors and Mr Mukpo. I have no doubt that Wickwire is a respected firm, but I question whether it can serve as a neutral third-party investigator when its client is the organization that has covered-up Mr Mukpo’s egregious behaviors for many years. Additionally, Shambhala has not stated how it intends to use Wickwire’s findings or if it would share the complete findings with the Shambhala community. Therefore, I suggest an independent monitor be engaged to investigate the abuse claims against Mr Mukpo.”
“I made my decision to come forward about being sexually assaulted by SMR after many years of silence. I saw that finally safe space had been created and I will be forever grateful to Andrea W and Carol M for their professionalism and depth of understanding of trauma. They have given me a protected place to finally step forward and speak my truth. In all of my interactions with Carol and Andrea, I have only experienced support to make my own decisions that are best for myself. Any suggestion that I have been coerced by them in any way is both absurd and insulting. What I experienced with SMR is criminal behavior and I deeply regret not filing criminal charges years ago. I was beaten down and terrified and so I fled. Even with as much healing as I have done over the years, the terror remains and safe space to speak of the sexual assaults is imperative. I am not participating in the Wickwire investigation for the simple reason that this law firm has been hired by Shambhala USA, an organization run by my perpetrator, SMR. How could this possibly be a safe place for me? The so-called third party investigation being conducted by Wickwire smacks of a whitewash. The firm was retained by Shambhala and the final report goes to Shambhala. The new board, likely to be comprised of Sakyang loyalists will make a decision about what to release publicly or not. How can anyone think that this is a legitimate third party investigation? For me a third party investigation has grown in a grassroots fashion with BPS and this is sufficient for me. SMR has committed crimes. He should be held accountable for his actions by our legal system and charged in a court of law. It is my hope that other survivors out there will know that BPS offers a safe place to tell your story. I can say for me that this has been one of the most healing experiences of my life and I know that this healing energy can infuse the entire Shambhala mandala. I am so very grateful to those of you who have spoken and written in support of the survivors. Your words mean the world to me and you are in my heart.”
To conclude, here are seven quick observations from reading Mr. Souflas’s letter:
- He must have somehow managed to get an early draft of the Phase 3 report, as he is almost entirely citing outdated information about the Wickwire Holm investigation that is not in the Phase 3 report we published. He should use the published report for any response to the report.
- He is a workplace lawyer citing workplace laws. Shambhala is a spiritual community not a workplace, and there are significantly different dynamics as such. The women alleging being assaulted were not employees of Shambhala.
- BPS called for an independent investigation in the Phase 2 report to investigate Osel Mukpo. Mr. Suflas says this investigation is “in response to allegations of widespread harm” which distracts attention from the person, Osel Mukpo, who needs to be investigated
- To say that An Olive Branch conducts workplace investigations is simply false
- Both Andrea and Carol explained in the Phase 3 report why the Shambhala investigation is not sufficiently independent. Mr. Suflas does not address that and simply asserts his opinion saying “There can be no question that this investigation will be sufficiently independent”
- He refers to “Shambhala’s outside general counsel, Alex Halpern”. Mr. Halpern has been a Shambhala member from the beginning of the community.
- He says Wickwire has been “given their responsibility to make sure that Shambhala’s employees and contractors do not engage in misconduct while serving the Shambhala community.” Again, since Osel Mukpo is not an employee of the community, he has taken the lens off the true object of investigation. And since Shambhala is not a workplace, again, his workplace law perspective really isn’t relevant to a spiritual community
Carol Merchasin emailed Mr. Souflas on September 14, 2018 to inform him he was working from an early draft of the report and to offer some suggestions about the investigation, but he did not respond to her.
Would you like to be able to talk about your response to this information? Join the free Buddhist Project Sunshine on-line discussion group for a great space for reflection and connection.
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BE SURE TO TUNE IN TOMORROW:
Buddhist Project Sunshine will be making a major announcement tomorrow (Friday September 28, 2018).