News

Colorado police set sights on Shambhala Buddhist leaders over alleged sex crimes

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche in 2007. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

(RNS) – Colorado police have opened a criminal probe into sexual assault allegations against the leader of Shambhala International, one of the largest Buddhist organizations in the West, according to a news report.

The progressive news website ThinkProgress reported Dec. 9 that the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office had launched the investigation, attributing the story to four sources who have spoken to investigators and to emails it had obtained.

Shambhala International denied the probe in a statement to ThinkProgress. “At this time, it is our understanding that there is no open criminal investigation in Larimer County,” the organization said.

The reported investigation follows mounting sexual assault allegations against religious leader Mipham Rinpoche, known as the Sakyong or the “king.” Since July, Mipham has temporarily stepped down from his duties after bombshell reports by Buddhist Project Sunshine, a survivors’ support group. Shambhala’s entire governing council resigned the same day.

Buddhist Project Sunshine, which describes itself as “a grassroots independent healing initiative,” was founded by second-generation Shambhala member Andrea Winn. It has published three reports over the past year detailing its unofficial investigation into Shambhala’s sexual abuse crisis. The reports included incidents as recent as 2011 and claimed extensive sexual violence in the Shambhala community, accusing Mipham of sexual assault, rape and sex abuse against minors, and and alleging serious cover-ups by Shambhala officials.

According to one of the most disturbing allegations detailed in the reports, Mipham may have locked a woman in a bathroom and forcibly groped her at a party in Chile in 2002.

Mipham’s attorney told ThinkProgress that his client “categorically denies assaulting anyone, sexually or otherwise, sexual contact with minors” or any other criminal offense.

But Shambhala leaders have acknowledged in private meetings that Mipham had previously engaged in a “wild culture” of heavy drinking, partying and sordid sexual exploits, according to ThinkProgress, and suggested the possibility of coercive sexual relationships that required “intervention.”

Mipham has apologized for “experiences of feeling harmed” that women have had as a result of his past “relationships” with them and, in a separate statement, said he “fully supports a third-party investigation and wishes to provide the time and space for it to occur.”

An independent report on the sex abuse allegations, commissioned by Shambhala International in July, is expected to be released in early January.

Though Mipham is based at the organization’s global headquarters in Halifax, Canada, Shambhala International was founded in Boulder, Colorado, by Mipham’s father, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, in the 1970s. The Boulder Shambhala Center, which has about 600 members, is the group’s U.S. headquarters and the first in a network of meditation centers that now numbers more than 200.

“The way Shambhala International has handled this situation has been re-traumatizing and further damaging to survivors,” former Shambhala member Leslie Hays, a Boulder resident, told a local news outlet, The Daily Camera, after the allegations emerged. In the 1980s, Hays was a “spiritual wife” of Trungpa. Now, she termed their relationship abusive.

Trungpa’s own sexual exploits and history with addiction are also open secrets.

“When Trungpa’s transgressions came to light, the #MeToo movement had not yet begun,” Pilar Jennings, psychoanalyst and practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism, wrote in an op-ed for Religion News Service in July. “With the revelations about Mipham Rinpoche, we are contending with another generation of spiritual teachers who have clearly caused pain and suffering to many women and their loved ones.”

About the author

Aysha Khan

Aysha Khan is a Boston-based journalist reporting on American Muslims and millennial faith for RNS. Her newsletter, Creeping Sharia, curates news coverage of Muslim communities in the U.S. Previously, she was the social media editor at RNS.

7 Comments

Click here to post a comment

  • Interesting – there is a Shambala Center near where I live in Denver and I attended an open information session once. It was so cult-like. It made me realize that sometimes some of us are just too smart for religious groups (I concluded that after that session, after doing the Catholic cult thing, trying my hand at U/U (least cultish I will say) and progressive Methodist. You really have to be a sort of follower to just go along with rituals and ceremonies and simplistic sermons.)

  • “Rituals and ceremonies and simplistic sermons” sounds like you don’t know what you are looking for.

    Buddhism is better understood as a theory of the mind. To approach Buddhism as a religion, ie, an entity with exclusive truth claims that compete with Christian theology, is to smuggle Christian theology in secular clothes.

  • Completely understand. I was lumping everything together in that phrase. I did not mean to imply that there was simplistic sermons at the Shambala center. But, just like with many protestant sects, there was definitely books to buy by Ripnoche! Also, there is nothing wrong with Buddhism as a theory of the mind or approach to the world – I like a lot from it. Just like I learned a lot from Christian teachings. Once you get a group together to practice it though, it is hard to stay if you are an independent thinker.

  • BOTTOMLINE: As the headlines below imply, Buddhists everywhere in the world are as sexually messed up as their Evangelical (my people of faith), Catholic, Atheist and other counterparts! WANTED more than ever before, therefore, are God & Jesus to save us all!

    (1) The Straits Times, August 30, 2018, “Chinese monk Xuecheng removed as head of Beijing’s Longquan Monastery amid sex probe”.

    (2) Deutsche Welle, August 16, 2018, “Dalai Lama admits he knew about Buddhist teachers’ sexual abuse: The Tibetan spiritual leader told Dutch TV he has known about the sex crimes in Europe since the 1990s. He was presented with written accounts from 12 alleged victims from Belgium and the Netherlands”.

    (3) Justin Whitaker, “An Olive Branch: Reaching Out to Those Affected by Abuse in Buddhist Sanghas”, Buddhistdoor Global, October 23, 2017.

    (4) Jamie Doward, “Fears mount over scale of Buddhist sect sexual abuse: Followers allege they were coerced into sex in 1970s and 80s with elders of UK’s Triratna order”, The Guardian, February 19, 2017.

    (5) The Canadian Press, “Windsor Buddhist monk charged with child sexual assault”, Toronto Star, August 10, 2016.

    (6) Vishal Arora, “Bhutan’s Buddhist monks accused of sexually molesting boys”, Religion News Service, June 20, 2013.

  • Or maybe a fan of Neil deGrasse Tyson, David Silverman, Lawrence Krauss, Al Franken and other a-, non- and anti-theists that the #MeToo movement has called out?

  • First the Catholic church now the Buddhists yet Hollywood which is the world’s largest producer of adult entertainment, a center of flesh trade and an industry of peddling children seldom gets accused. Men like Weinstein is about to get away with a lifetime of sexual relations with children. The child flesh trade in America is massive and it exists outside of any religious institute yet no one reads of raids and arrests on this industry.

ADVERTISEMENTs