It seems like no matter which way we look, another sex scandal is popping up.
The groundbreaking #MeToo movement began with Harvey Weinstein, Hollywood producer, and soon opened the gates for more people to come forward, unearthing deeply hidden traumas and shining light on a well-known dark secret that has been percolating for decades—probably centuries. People in power—whether it be from a church, temple or sangha, an executive in an office chair, a teacher in a school setting—using that to sway, force, and coerce those not in power into sex.
Unfortunately, Buddhism has not been untouched by this.
In 2018, a woman known as Andrea Winn blew the whistle on Mipham Rinpoche, also known as the Sakyong. The project began in 2017 as Project Sunshine, which was an effort to collect the stories and evidence of abuse in he Shambhala community. Her work became the catalyst toward an inquiry which was conducted by Carol Merchasin, a lawyer and sexual misconduct investigator, and also the lead investigator for Project Sunshine.
It seemed like that was it; the Sakyong stepped away and secluded himself and many Shambhala teachers left the organization. After hearing reports that the Sakyong was returning to a public role and performing responsibilities for Shambhala once again this year after stepping way once the allegations and investigation had occurred, Pema Chodron announced her decision to retire from Shambhala.
“The seemingly very clear message that we are returning to business as usual distresses me deeply,” Chodron wrote in her retirement letter. “How can we return to business as usual when there is no path forward for the vast majority of the community who are devoted to the vision of Shambhala and are yearning for accountability, a fresh start, and some guidance on how to proceed? I find it discouraging that the bravery of those who had the courage to speak out does not seem to be effecting more significant change in the path forward.”
Dana Gornall and Brent Oliver had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Carol to discuss the investigation, how the #MeToo movement has become a ripple of change, and hear her thoughts on the growing shift in our society.
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