Buddhist movements feeling pressure over sexual abuse cases

Following the crisis around Sogyal Rinpoche, the leader of the Buddhist group Rigpa International who had to retire in August 2017 after being confronted with massive allegations of abuse, and the impact of the #MeToo movement, another Buddhist group, Shambhala International, has admitted to several abuse cases. The group recently announced that “There have been instances of sexual harm and inappropriate relations between members and between teachers and students,” and that “such cases were not always addressed with care and skill.” In a message sent to all members and published on the Shambhala Facebook account (February 12), the Kalapa Council announced its intent to “move toward a comprehensive plan to address abuse and discrimination within our Shambhala culture.” In an article published in The Guardian (March 5), journalist Sarah Marsh writes that the initiative followed a report exposing a “shadow of sexualized violence,” written by a member of the Shambhala community in the U.S.

According to the report’s author, Andrea Winn, “[k]nown child abusers are freely active within the Shambhala community, [and] some are even senior teachers.” The report also acknowledges that a handful of male teachers have been removed from their positions. The Guardian article quotes Sarah Harvey, a senior research officer at INFORM (a London-based center monitoring new religious movements), who says that “[t]he majority of our inquiries at the moment concern Buddhist groups.…I think there is a popular assumption that Buddhism as a whole is unproblematic and people are surprised when they do encounter controversies or have negative experiences.”

(Statement from the Kalapa Council:  https://www.facebook.com/Shambhala.org/posts/1999897840264640; Project Sunshine, “Final Report” (Feb. 15, 2018), download: http://www.andreamwinn.com/pdfs/Project_Sunshine_Final_Report.pdf; independent website on abuse in Buddhist communities: http://howdidithappen.org)