After the Sex Scandal: Shambhala's Broken Trust

Key to navigating the strong sense of embarrassment or shame before it seeds an angry, reactive tree is to take yourself out of the equation. Buddhism teaches us that we are connected to each other. We are not enmeshed. It’s not about me. It’s not about my practice. It’s not about the whole community.


Editor’s note: A report recently came out that the Shambhala leader, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche has been accused of sexual assault by multiple women, in which an apology folllowed, by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche himself.


By Kellie Schorr


The bell has been rung.
It is echoing off every wall in my home.
It is calling me to meditate.
It is crushing my ability to concentrate.
It may never stop ringing.
It can’t be un-rung.


The bell has been rung.

Late Monday evening, my two laptops provided the only light in the den. On one I had a game I was playing; on the other, a story I am writing. I clicked the browser tab to check the origin of a word and Facebook was still on the screen.

“Shambhala Leader Issues Public Apology,” said the Lion’s Roar post.

My heart cramped, not unlike a foot curling up on itself in the depth of slumber waking me with excruciating pain. Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, the lineage holder of the Shambhala branch of the Buddhist tree, the teacher of my teacher, one of the pictures on my bookshelf, had apologized for causing sexual harm to community members. I read the article. I turned off the game.

It is echoing off every wall in my home.

Before I began writing as a full time profession I was an HIV/AIDS prevention counselor. Being an HIV tester makes you the first responder to cases of sexual abuse and assault. Women and men know it is illegal for you to disclose their truth so you’re the first the person they tell.

I could see the faces of the women who told of the Sakyong’s abuses.

I could hear their trembling, angry, courage-pressed voices emerging through determined, quivering lips. I could count the wadded up balls of tear-filled Kleenex beside them when they spoke. I burned with fury.

I could also see my bookshelf, full of the Sakyong’s airy lyric prose about kindness, communication, and running; his picture leaning up against a framed calligraphy of my dharma name. I could see my teacher’s smile when I was given that name, after my long meditation-laden journey led me to Shambhala, where I chose to build a spiritual home. I drowned in sorrow.

It is calling me to meditate.

When a trusted person, someone you respect, fails in the most harmful egregious way possible, the emotions don’t happen in a nice orderly sequence. They come to you in a barrel of scorpions. Anger, sadness, shame, avenging fire, defensive weaponry, denial, blame, destruction, depression, all battle it out in your heart and mind. All feelings are valid. All feelings have a right to be felt.

Western culture is often limited with an all or nothing mindset. You need to pick a lane. Someone is bad or good, abusive or misunderstood, wise or wicked. The truth is, almost nothing is that black and white.

The lens you look through determines what you see. The survivors may not view anything good about the Sakyong, nor should they be required to. The devoted may never see the wretched behavior, nor will they be talked into believing it.

Most of us are in the middle.

My favorite word is chiaroscuro. It means “the dynamic interplay between darkness and light.” That’s where life happens. It’s our job as meditators to find our way through the shadow and discover that all human beings have the capacity to both build and destroy. That doesn’t take away the need for accountability, responsibility and consequence. It does require compassion in action.

It is crushing my ability to concentrate.

At issue for anyone failed by leadership, organizations, employers, or loved beings, is the level of personal identification which occurs. I’ve invested a lot of heart in Shambhala, and like most who have, I’ve been beaten by this stick before.

The brilliant legacy of the founder and the Sakyong’s father, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, also contains sexual misconduct and addiction. It’s an easy target for anyone with a rock to throw.

Not long ago I joined a forum where I was the “new girl” in the group. I answered an innocent question about which branch of Buddhism you chose and I said Shambhala; it was my first post. A long-time member replied, “Shambhala was founded by an alcoholic rapist.”

Instantly I was six, standing by the slide, while the king of the playground dropped his signature brand of aggressive wisdom on me. I was forced to evolve all over again.

Fortunately, I let myself grow back up before I actually typed anything and just said, “Labels are so easy to throw but rarely tell the whole story.”

I got no reply. I might not be the only one who needs to grow up before I type.

Key to navigating the strong sense of embarrassment or shame before it seeds an angry, reactive tree is to take yourself out of the equation. Buddhism teaches us that we are connected to each other. We are not enmeshed. It’s not about me. It’s not about my practice. It’s not about the whole community.

I can’t deny this reality. I don’t have to defend it. I just have to be me. It’s hard to find your center in the midst of so much noise, but it is essential. Concentrate.

It may never stop ringing.

The first shock wave always produces a round of unhelpful aftershocks. Some folk see this as the opportunity they’ve been waiting for to sing, “My religion is better than yours.”  Others rush to defend the indefensible. Some run to the survivors offering so much support they are overwhelmed. Many will re-live their own abuse, their own journey.

A few will courageously step through the door and name their pain for the first time.

And then:

“Shambhala just needs to disband.”
“He needs to step down and go away.”
“This is why we shouldn’t have teachers or leaders.”
“<Lineage> is the only pure, true path.”

When I come across these thoughts, I hear the same discussion in my head every time.

“Honey, there’s a snake in the closet.”
“Okay, let’s get some gasoline and burn the house down.”

These extreme pronouncements actually keep victims in silence. They feel, “If I tell anyone, I could ruin everything for everyone.” We always need to affirm that speaking up doesn’t betray a community or destroy it. It helps it become better. The ever-ringing bell means change can happen; healing can happen.

A better response is to say, “Because you told what happened, we can change the power structure. We can make the tools of good practice available in safe ways. We will be accountable to each other. We will be responsible to each other. We will be compassionate to each other. We have more truth now. Let’s walk with it.”

As much as I am disappointed and despair this pain for everyone involved, I am encouraged because a community focused on the truth of basic goodness now has a chance to put that theory into action. How do we deal with bad acts in a good way?  We can’t just jettison people off the planet when they fail. If there are any communities who can compassionately figure out the puzzle of “where do we go from here” – it is my hope the Shambhala community is one of them.

It can’t be un-rung.

Am I going to keep the Sakyong’s picture on my bookshelf? I don’t know. No matter what I decide, I’ll never look at it the same. Only time and journey will tell if I see gentle wisdom or sexual harm. I will probably always see both.

Chiaroscuro—shadow and light.

When your trust is broken, or your teacher fails, give yourself time—cushion time, thoughtful time, mourning time, learning time, play time, practice time. We suffer because we cling. With time, and an open, honest heart, you will discover exactly what it is that you need to release.

The bell has been rung.



When your trust is broken, or your teacher fails, give yourself time: cushion time, thoughtful time, mourning time, learning time, play time, practice time. We suffer because we cling. ~ Kellie Schorr Click To Tweet


Photo: Pixabay

Editor: Dana Gornall


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Kellie Schorr

Columnist & Featured Writer at The Tattooed Buddha
Kellie Schorr works as a commissioned novelist who writes mystery genre novels for traditional publishers. Her published credentials also include: journal articles, short stories, and a two-year stint writing for a web-comic. Kellie’s fiction is represented by the Kathryn Green Literary Agency. Kellie has been practicing meditation for nearly 20 years. Her practice is housed in the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism. She is currently studying Vajrayana and Dzogchen as a member of the Buddhist Yogis Sangha from Ngapka International. She lives and works in rural Virginia with her partner, Cathy, and three beagles. Her favorite word is chiaroscuro. You can contact or find out more about her at The Bottom Line.