How do we trust, in this time of the abuse coming out?

I have been asked to be not only a truth teller, but also a comforter in this time of change within our community. My words today come from a place of comforting.

People are struggling with many things right now, and one of the key things is Trust. When someone alleges your guru has sexually assaulted and abused women, it’s mind blowing! How on earth do you deal with something so profoundly shaking?

On the one hand, you may have had an authentic spiritual connection with your guru. This has been a foundational relationship for months, years, and for some, decades. It is the most intimate of relationships, within the tender space of your connection with spirituality, higher values, and your path as a bodhisattva.

And now this same person is being revealed as someone who has done things that you know are adharmic – things like abusing women, abusing animals, and doing very serious mind-altering drugs.

To complicate things, many of us have taken samaya vows. Prevelant interpretations of samaya say you should see your guru as a living Buddha, and never criticize anything he says or does. People also fear speaking ill of their guru to others, thinking that this will harm others’ path, and possibly cause them to break their samaya.

Most people want to be good people, and follow the rules. We are taught that samaya is the most important rule. We are taught that terrible things will happen if we break samaya, such as going to Vajra Hell. To put it lightly, the fear of God has been put into us around samaya, and I don’t think this has created a space where sanghas can sort out the things that need to be sorted out in situations where a guru has gone off the rails and committed atrocities that are clearly adharmic.

Many people are finding it hard to feel solid ground under their feet. They don’t know who or what to trust. Some people are so overwhelmed by all of this that they have gone into a place of denial.

For instance, I was listening to a talk given recently by the Kasung in Halifax on rape culture. The expert who was giving the talk referred to the recent revelation of mass abuse in the community as a “kerfuffle”. She clearly has not been able to take in the magnitude of what is happening and is not able to serve as a teacher or leader at this time.

Other people have reverted to a place of blind devotion to their guru. No matter what he has done, they completely rely on their guru. Or along the way they made an oath of loyalty to regard every member of the guru’s family as the guru himself, which then extends the blind faith to everyone in the guru’s family. No matter what any of the members of the guru’s family do, it’s all okay with this loyal student.

When people sink back into these places of blind faith, I can see that they see no option for including their own common sense, their own sense of human decency, their compassion for those who have been harmed, and for those who continue to be harmed by the guru, the guru’s family, and other representatives of the Shambhala leadership.

Trust is not an all or nothing thing. It is not about finding the “trustworthy” people and the “untrustworthy” people. I’d like to propose a different way of looking at things: Look at a person and work to discern what you can trust in them.

For instance, if I have a friend who always shows up for lunch dates 45 minutes to an hour late, this does not mean the friend is untrustworthy. Rather, I can trust that she will be 45 minutes to an hour late when we set up a lunch date.

So with your guru, ideally you will have a calm enough space to begin to discern what has been helpful in his behaviours and what has been harmful, and start to see what you can trust him to do. If he typically glosses over important situations without caring about the impact on the community, then this may well be something you can trust him to do. Ideally you want to have enough clear cognitive space so you can discern what works for you and what doesn’t, what supports your having a vibrant spiritual life and what shuts you down. Then you take personal responsibility for identifying what you need to do to create a solid foundation for your spiritual life.

Many people are not finding the safety needed at their local Shambhala center gatherings to honestly sort out for themselves what is good for their spiritual life and what is undermining their spiritual life. Furthermore, they are not getting the support they need to define a life affirming connection with their own spirituality through a clear and present discernment.

This is why Project Sunshine Phase 2 has been envisioned – to create the kind of space where people can feel safe and supported to be able to sort out their personal connection with the Shambhala teachings, lineage and community.

If you would like to learn more about Project Sunshine’s efforts to bring community healing, you are welcome to sign up for our email list. Join the Project Sunshine email list

See all the information related to abuse in Shambhala on our Main Information Page


  • Eileen Malloy

    Signing up as a private citizen of Shambhala and not as a representative of the Boulder Shambhala Center.

    April 2, 2018
  • Meredith

    Thank you.

    April 2, 2018
  • Manuel Velasco Graña

    My name is Manuel and after 11 years in Rigpa I left the organization after the letter from the 8 close students of SR. I am deeply interested in the Vajrayana teachings and I came to know the teachings of CT thanks to the book by Pema Chodron, a teacher to whom I have great respect and admiration. I also suffered a rape as a child. The love of dharma and the understanding of suffering and the human condition are the motivations that lead me to take an interest in the testimonies of the people who belong or belonged to Shambala.

    April 3, 2018
  • Anonymous 1

    Andrea, these are the most useful thoughts I’ve yet encountered on this dilemma. You’ve succinctly captured many of my concerns; I find your approach to “trust” to be immediately applicable and very helpful. Thank you so very much.

    April 3, 2018


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