Critical information that the Shambhala community needs to know
I am proud that Project Sunshine pushed Shambhala International to publicly acknowledge the abuse problem in our community. They worked hard to compose a public statement to release days before the publication of the Project Sunshine report, and that is a very positive thing. I am grateful for their taking responsibility for acknowledging this to and for the community. However, since that initial announcement they seem to be backing into their usual way of doing business that is based on maintaining their public image, secrecy, and ultimately re-traumatizing those who have been victimized by abuse.
The most frequent question people have been asking me is why I did Project Sunshine. After I went through growing up in this community and being sexually abused by multiple men, I felt awful on a very deep level. Don’t get me wrong. In so many ways I have created a good life for myself. But there has been a deep sick feeling inside of me for all these decades.
Shambhala looked wonderful on the outside, and there is no doubt in my mind about the spiritual blessings in these practices. At the same time there has been this incomprehensible sickness.
I finally asked myself, do I really want to live this way any more? If this is what death feels like, I’m going to take one more stab at it and try to bring some sanity into this insane situation.
My doing Project Sunshine has been about my not wanting to live like this any more. What is happening in Shambhala is wrong. I hid for all these years because of the backlash for speaking up. What I have done with Project Sunshine was based on my principles as a human being. Activity like this in our modern world is very rare. I want to inspire others into living with this integrity.
I want to work on this issue for my own healing, but also to help others – other people who were abused in the past, and also preventing more harm to people in the future, ideally preventing abuse entirely, but also making it safe to report abuse or harassing behaviors… so that future reporters are not shamed, blamed, and ostracized.
This is a very powerful vision and one that Shambhala is not addressing or making clear statements about… but it’s a goal that is clearly a part of enlightened society.
I have felt concerned this week about the communications from Shambhala International. It felt important to address it, because I believe most community members don’t know important information in order to be able to understand what is happening with the leadership.
March 19th communications from the Kalapa Council of Shambhala: “Shambhala Initiatives to Address Misconduct and Harm”, and “Overview: Shambhala Harm Prevention”
Quotes from the Council’s communication:
- “created a webpage which provides detailed information… which can be accessed by all Shambhala members” “If you are a former member of Shambhala without member access…”
- “Creating safe spaces to listen to those who have experienced harm and have not felt heard by Shambhala leadership in the past.”
As we know from numerous sources, many abuse survivors have been forced out of the Shambhala community and are no longer members. This has been convenient because it allows the Shambhala community to be a calm place without the troubling presence of abuse survivors.
The council has set up community discussion in private, member’s only spaces. This continues the age old pattern of exclusion of survivors from the discussion and will assure a calmer discussion that will be easier for Shambhala International to control. They have offered to email information about their plan to former members, but they extend no invitation to survivors like myself to participate in the discussion. I know, because I emailed and asked for the information.
To be honest, it is a slap in the face for abuse survivors to be excluded in this way. This communication has been received with anger and hurt by the abuse survivors I have spoken with this week. Why is it restricted to current members? They could easily create an open forum.
The Council’s suggestion of “creating safe spaces” comes on the heels of decades of creating re-traumatizing spaces through the Care and Conduct Policy. This communication does nothing to acknowledge the break down in trust due to this policy and to the active silencing of survivors by Shambhala leaders. It is insulting for them to suggest that survivors simply did not feel heard. The truth is that survivors have knocked loudly on the doors of leadership, right to the top, and they were actively silenced or ignored. These statements of “good faith” and concern are empty words.
- “new effort to address issues of past harm in our community, and to refine and bolster existing policies and procedures to create safer environments for our members…”
- “Creating new sexual misconduct strategies, policies, and procedures based on these conversations, input from the community, and guidance from third party organizations. We are in active conversation with an established organization, An Olive Branch, about taking on such a role.”
- “create a Sexual Misconduct Policy and Procedure as an addendum to the current Care and Conduct Policy”
- “The new policy and procedure will incorporate: (1) Feedback and suggestions from those who have reported sexual misconduct, (2) Aspects of the current care and conduct procedure; and (3) Suggestions from ‘Preventing and Responding to Sexual Misconduct and Harm: Draft Policy’”
- The Committee will work to balance confidentiality of the matter with protecting the safety and well-being of all members.”
The Council is stating clearly that the Care and Conduct Policy will remain as the foundation for addressing sexual violence in the Shambhala community. They are planning on creating a new policy on sexual misconduct as an “addendum” to the existing policy.
They have already excluded the many abuse survivors who have been forced out of the community, so I wonder who they plan to get feedback and suggestions from. One of the problems with the Care and Conduct policy that has already been identified is how it protects the abuser’s confidentiality. It is clear that this continues to be a mandate of the Shambhala leadership even as they make changes and addendum to the policy as they state their intention to continue to “balance” the confidentiality of abusers with the safety and well-being of members.
In the absence of facing the overhaul that is needed, the Council is building on the corrupt foundation of in-house justice that has been hiding the abuse in this community for decades. They are suggesting further restorative justice approaches to keep justice in-house. This is in spite of abuse survivors forcefully calling for avenues of justice outside of an in-house system.
- “We want to honour the many people who have been raising our collective consciousness around these issues for some time… We need to work together. If you have skills to offer or a desire to help, we encourage you to visit the website…”
I personally was shocked by the level of deception in this statement. I spent hours building relationships and working with Ministers Adam Lobel and Jane Arthur between September 2017 and February 2018. They expressed gratitude for Project Sunshine; I have emails showing how grateful they were for my work and acknowledged it was needed.
I sent them advance drafts of my report so they could stand on solid ground in their leadership of this community through the opening of our big can of worms about abuse. I have worked very hard to work *with* the Shambhala leadership each step of the way.
Instead of working collaboratively with me, they cut me off completely after I published the report. I emailed both Ministers on February 28th asking if they would collaborate with me on creating a healing path for the community. It has been nearly a month and they have not responded to that email. I sent another email the next day on behalf of community members who wanted the Project Sunshine report to be delivered to members through the Shambhala email list. They never responded to that email either. In the press Shambhala International has actively distanced themselves from Project Sunshine.
Their statements sound very open and welcoming, however, they restrict access to their members only forum. Far from honouring those who have been raising awareness, they have actively tried to suppress my efforts to help this community as well as the efforts of other survivors. I wish what they said was true, but they do not wish to work together.
I suspect the mandate of openness and true healing in Project Sunshine is not a fit for where the Shambhala leadership is currently focused – I believe it is more on public relations and protecting the stability of their leadership.
- “community gatherings… where we can discuss our history in an open way. Students who experienced these eras will be able to share, and those who have questions or want to demystify past eras can inquire freely”
I have noticed in my conversations with Minister Lobel and in the Shambhala members Facebook forum that there is an effort to “contextualize” the sexual harm. He and others have suggested that the ‘70s and ‘80s were a time of new found sexual freedom and that somehow that makes the child abuse understandable.
What I have seen again and again in this community is an “open mindedness” that makes people feel they are above the law – that they can break the law because we are such a spiritually advanced community. That thinking is dangerous.
Hearing the voice of a survivor
Last night I was speaking with a deeply caring and wise woman teacher who I met through the Shambhala community. She is one of the many women who was deeply abused in this community and had to leave. With her permission, I am sharing some of what she said in response to the Shambhala International communications this past week.
“Shambhala International is so patronizing, patriarchal, top down, and out of touch with how to do these things.
The Sakyong’s letter is a total gloss over. It really made me mad, especially when he talks about kindness and communication. It is so duplicitous. Most people don’t know about his total failure to engage, communicate, respond, support, not to mention his own inappropriate behaviours even recently. They think that’s all in the past. He and Shambhala are covering everything over with a thin layer of ‘niceness.’ It’s not fair for people not to know the truth.
Community members are fearful. Shambhala International is covering it all over. And I’m afraid that community members are compartmentalizing what they are hearing to make it ok. I did that for years before I left the community. It’s just so painful.
It’s like leaving an abusive relationship, where you don’t want to leave, don’t want to give up on it. A spiritual path is so deep, and when you don’t see an alternative, it’s easier to let the leaders whitewash it.
I like how you distinguish between Shambhala and Shambhala International. Because we all know there is something healthy in Shambhala – the teachings and the local communities.
People are afraid of breaking samaya, that they would be disloyal to the teachings. It’s not the teachings that are a problem. The teachings are indestructible. It’s the organization. It’s a worldly, ‘relative’ organization, so of course there are problems. The problem is not the problems. The problem is how they are being related to. That is a huge problem.
I’m afraid people will feel they are being disloyal. Because we know that people are basically good, that the teachings are good. The corruption that has happened is hard to believe, so we almost naturally default to denial.
There is so much love and loyalty in us for Shambhala. The crux is we have to separate the basic goodness from the behaviour. It’s like having a bad husband. He’s not evil. He is a wounded person who is not able to become self aware and do anything about it. That doesn’t make it okay, or make our inaction okay.
Shambhala is a tribe. It’s so deep – this spiritual path. We’ve been in it so many years. It is so hard for people to untwine themselves, to disentangle the harm from the beauty of the whole thing.”
I feel she downloaded a message of truth for all of us last night. I understand that this is a lot to take in. And there is going to be a period of things feeling uncomfortable and sometimes overwhelming. But there is a way through this to the other side, where we have personally and collectively disentangled the human corruption from the dignity and goodness of the Shambhala teachings.
Giving a clear alternative
Project Sunshine Phase 2, a world-wide community healing initiative, launched on March 28. If you would like to receive announcements about this important work, sign up for our email list. https://andreamwinn.com/offerings/project_sunshine_2/ or support Phase 2 directly on our Project Sunshine Phase 2 Fundraising Page
Project Sunshine Report: https://andreamwinn.com/offerings/project_sunshine/
Project Sunshine Announcements List: https://andreamwinn.com/offerings/project_sunshine_2/
Project Sunshine Phase 2 Fundraising page: https://www.gofundme.com/project-sunshine-phase-2
Kalapa Council Letter: https://mailchi.mp/a6c9992e15df/kalapa-council-quarterly-update-766967?e=2f418b5410