Shambhala survivors left to do recovery work for themselves. | City | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST

Shambhala survivors left to do recovery work for themselves.

Their stories “disappeared into a black hole” in investigation.

Human nature abhors a vacuum. In the absence of a definitive official response to allegations of abuse and misconduct by senior teachers of Shambhala teachers and the group's leader, Mipham Mukpo (known as Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche), survivors and others are taking matters into their own hands.

Pam Rubin has tried for years to help Shambhala reform its care and conduct process to one that is more trauma-informed, and says she was met with resistance every time. Rubin is a lawyer and sexual assault counsellor in Halifax. She says to have this kind of support "it would have had to be a very different organization, not one that was covering up major ongoing abuses at the top."

Rubin's interest in that reformation is both professional and personal. She has her own experience of sexual assault in Shambhala, and sent her story to Selina Bath at Wickwire Holm. "I had some limited hopes that the conduct of the person responsible for all their teachers would be examined and that someone who was sexually assaultive would not be considered a suitable person for that position anymore." Rubin declined to be officially interviewed by Bath and so her story was not investigated.

So Rubin posted her story on Facebook, naming her assaulter. "I looked around at their programming and saw that he is teaching here, there and everywhere, their most advanced programs. It really upset me that right now, someone who sexually assaulted me, is teaching. I submitted those emails [to Wickwire Holm] months ago and it apparently has not made a difference."

Instead, her submission to Wickwire Holm, along with the stories of dozens of others, "disappeared into a black hole."

That black hole motivated Carol Merchasin, the retired lawyer who investigated the claims in the second and third Buddhist Project Sunshine reports, to compose an apology. "There's never been an apology," she says. "I have talked now to so many people who have been harmed. I know that they deserve an apology, and if no one else is going to write it, I knew I could make that simple, fundamental, compassionate gesture." It was initially published on the BPS website, and has since been co-signed by more than 125 former and current Shambhala International members.

Merchasin is concerned about another black hole in the Wickwire Holm report. "There are people in Shambhala who enabled this, who knew about this. I don't think you can make the kind of changes that the Interim Board wants to make, and should make, without understanding that simple part of it. Who knew, why wasn't anything done, who covered up?"

Four men and two women who served Mukpo as Kusung—literally, "body protectors"—have begun to break that silence with new allegations and observations in a document they co-wrote and released online February 16.

The document defines the Kusungs' role as "tasked with the direct care of Mr. Mukpo's body, on all levels...Becoming a Kusung is only by invitation of Mr. Mukpo. He requires loyalty, confidentiality and allegiance to his view."

The six signees served Mukpo collectively from 1994 to 2018, and most have now left Shambhala. They write: "Mr. Mukpo has a long-standing history of questionable behaviour towards his students, ranging from crude harmful speech to physical and psychological abuse. This has occurred both while he was drinking heavily and in the absence of alcohol. He has also consistently propagated misuse of organizational funds. In our opinion, his abuse of power goes far beyond the limited scope of the Wickwire Holm investigation."

The document includes personal stories including Craig Morman's account of being bitten by Mukpo hard enough that he almost blacked out while driving. Morman, who spent time at the Kalapa Court, Mukpo's mansion home in Halifax, was also present in Chile when a student was reportedly sexually assaulted.

None of the former Kusung would speak—Ben Medrano turned down an interview on behalf of the group. But someone close to the six, who has himself begun speaking out pseudonymously on social media, says "it felt to many of us that there was a plan afoot to bring [Mukpo] back into power after a short time out and that does not fit with what we know about his character and behaviour. He should be removed from all power forever."

Shambhala International has declined to speak on the Wickwire Holm report or any of the subsequent grassroots response. The organization's Interim Board has also turned down interview requests, and in its written communications to Shambhala members, has stopped well short of asking Mukpo to step down, saying they "strongly disapprove of the Sakyong's behaviour described in the Kusungs' letter" in an emailed statement to the Shambhala community.

"The entire weight of change has been placed on survivors," Rubin points out. "Survivors doggedly speaking up again and again despite shunning, despite angry messages, despite friends turning their backs on them, and warnings about hell. Survivors have bravely kept talking, and there's been a terrible cost for survivors."

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