Dharma Brats Letter

Dear community,

Recently, a letter from the self-called Dharma Brats was sent to the Sakyong after the Piigrimage Letter went out (see previous blog post for details). In this recent letter, the dharma brats voice their views about the relationships between Shambhala, the Sakyong, and his students. This group was organized outside of any official Shambhala institution or group and, therefore, does not claim to represent any official view or knowledge of the Shambhala organization, its leadership or its community. If you would like to read the Dharma Brats letter, you can find it below.  As this letter touches on complex issues about Shambhala, you may wish to reach out to your meditation instructor or a Shambhala teacher to support you in understanding the contexts of the issues raised in the letter. You may choose to contact the Center manager, Joshua Raen Thornberry (manager[at]berkeleyshambhala[dot]org) or Meditation Instructor Jon Ransohoff (jlr00721[at]pacbell[dot]net) if you want help in connecting with someone to assist you with this.


Open Letter from 59 Dharma Brats to Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche

June 24, 2020

Dear Rinpoche,

We are writing as a group of second-generation members of the Shambhala sangha—colloquially, Dharma Brats. We were born into and raised in this community; in this way our karmic connection to this lineage and teachings is unique. Being part of this sangha is not a choice; it is part of who we are, whether or not we attend a Shambhala Center. The Shambhala teachings are formative in the core of our being: They infuse how we think, speak, and act; how we meet life’s challenges and how we teach our own children not to harm others.

We also have different paths, and we hold a diversity of views on the unfolding challenges in the Shambhala community. We all agree, however, on the preciousness of the Buddhist and Shambhala teachings of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, which you have further propagated. Like you, we were born into this community; we didn’t choose it. We will always be connected in one way or another to the Shambhala sangha, and we long to see our community—indeed, our family—learn and grow from the history of discrimination and abuse of power that has been too prevalent for too long in our community. Shambhala is not unique in this regard, but we can and must do better. It is our aspiration that the reckoning of the last two years be the beginning of an inclusive and full manifestation of Shambhala vision for humans of all types. This transformation isn’t yours alone, but as Sakyong it must include you.

We are saddened not to have seen any movement from you toward more genuine apology or toward taking full and direct responsibility for the harm that your past behavior has caused—both to individuals who were directly harmed by misconduct and to the community as a whole through emotional turmoil, the closure of Shambhala Centers, and more. We have not seen from you a sufficient public attempt to acknowledge these harms, to listen to community members, or to initiate healing in any other fashion. We are deeply concerned that the lack of genuine accountability will be the undoing of the Shambhala community and lead to the disappearance of the Shambhala teachings in our lifetimes.

As students of a genuine path of spiritual warriorship, we take sexual harm very seriously. We also believe that healing and accountability are fully embraced within the vision of the Great Eastern Sun. The vulnerability and discomfort of pursuing a path of authentic accountability are not a punishment. Rather, they are a mark of warriorship and compassion that will lead to restoring faith and trust in our relationships and in your role as an earth protector. Such a path would require bravery and willingness to do hard work guided by experts in accountability, sexual harm, and healing to truly address the needs of all those who were harmed. We believe you can do this, and we ask you to take this step as a warrior, a Buddhist, and a vajra master.

We are further saddened by what appears to be a growing ingroup/outgroup between two minorities of extreme loyalists on one end and extreme critics on the other end. Each group creates self-confirming echo chambers while community members trying their best to hold the paradox of a fallible human sakyong fade from the conversation. In this light, we feel it is important to address the recent letter that has been circulated informally by several students who describe themselves as the “Nepal pilgrimage planning group.” This letter states that you “shared that [you] will do [your] part to help facilitate healing by teaching and connecting with students in a gradual and organic manner.” We are concerned that communications in an “organic manner” will exacerbate the growing ingroup/outgroup dynamic rather than facilitating healing. What we need from you now are open, transparent communications that reach the worldwide sangha in an equitable manner; our community is too large and in too much turmoil for ad hoc, organic communications through a selective group. In the past, you created many skillful lines of communication and used them well for this purpose. Now is the time to engage the sangha. Now is the time to do the hard work of creating enlightened society.

Because we long so deeply to see community healing, we feel it is important to say a few more words about the letter from the “Nepal pilgrimage planning group,” given their claim to understand your views and intentions. This letter, while seemingly well-intentioned, misguidedly suggests that community healing can be achieved in three ways: (1) by your having had private conversations with people harmed by your behavior; (2) by your having sent several apology letters to the sangha in 2018; and (3) by members of the community continuing to practice the dharma faithfully. With respect, sir, these three ways are not sufficient to facilitate community healing. First, the entire community has been harmed as a collective, beyond individuals—centers have closed, local sanghas have fallen apart, people’s trust has been broken. While it is laudable that you have sought personal forgiveness from individuals whom you harmed, that does not constitute healing at a community level. Second, the letters you sent to the global sangha in 2018 do not in and of themselves constitute community healing. Repairing the extent of harm to the community will require more emotional work on all of our parts. Given the scope and severity of harm, several email apologies represent merely the first of many steps. Third, while we should always incorporate practice into what we do as Shambhala Buddhists, practice alone will not produce community healing. Practice is practice for showing up as warriors in difficult situations. Practice is practice for living in the challenge. Now it is time to live in the challenge—to show up with warriorship to the difficult conversations and emotional exchanges required to heal.

Sir, we ask you now to step onto a path of genuine, authentic accountability on behalf of yourself, the community, and the global Shambhala organization. We ask you to courageously take responsibility for your actions and the harm that has resulted from them. We ask you to engage in open-hearted, vulnerable two-way communication with the community, including with local Shambhala Centers across the mandala.

We know that we have our own work to do too. Especially for the majority of us who are white, it is our responsibility to examine and address the racism and white supremacy in our community, along with harm embedded in patriarchal structure. We recognize our privilege in growing up with access to the dharma, our complicity in a community culture that has silenced and marginalized practitioners of color, and the role we must play in helping the largely white sangha we inherited to examine its white social conditioning and racism in a collective capacity.

While this path of accountability is not yours alone—it is time for all in Shambhala who have abused their power to make amends—it is crucial that you lead by example. There are professionals who specialize in community healing and sexual harm that can guide us on this path of accountability and listening. With such support, please find a way to listen to the broken-hearted warriors of this lineage share the pain, confusion, and loss of heart that the events of the past two years have precipitated. We believe, sir, that you have a precious opportunity to model what it is to be an earth protector.

Our heartbreak and concern transcend community disagreements about who is right and who is wrong, what teaching path should be offered, or any of the other reasons that have led people’s paths to diverge over the past decades. This lineage is our home. It is where we were raised, where we made heart friends, and where we will raise our children. Whether waking up to the smell of juniper smoke, snatching extra candy off trays at sadhana practice feasts, building forts from meditation hall cushions, or sitting under the stars at Sun Camp, this community, lineage, and teachings are in our blood. They are why we are here and why we’ve stuck around during this extremely painful chapter in all of our lives.

Sir, our home is also your home. Like you, we have nowhere else to go. We have a bond as second-generation members of Shambhala that surpasses bias, opinion, and neurosis. We are grateful for the work of so many—our teachers, parents, and peers—that afforded us the unique gift of this magical community in all its wisdom, as well as its confusion. Despite whatever disagreements or differences of opinion we may have, we will always be family. We want our children to grow up with the community, practices, and lineage that created the magic and sanity of our own childhood experience in a world too often bereft of these. We ask you to do your part to make this possible.

With tender and raw hearts,

Madeleina Bolduc

Lasette Brown

Trevor Cervelli

Benjamin Colacchio

D’Arcy Meaghan Colby

Cecily Cordin

Gabe Dayley

Andrew Forbes

Tyler Fox

Anandi Gefroh

Vajra Granelli

Elysia Green

Maron Greenleaf

Victoria Hagens

Eve Halpern

Audrey Hall

Justin Hardin

Ciel Haviland

Elisabeth Hazell Noble

Amanda Hester

Claire Heisler Ryan

Caitlin Heinz

Nathaniel Janowitz

Amelie Laberge

Waylon Lewis

Kate Baker Linsley

Jessie Litven

Jesse Locke

Julia Löschenbrand-Bläuel

Julia McKaig

Edward McKeever

Alex Meade

Ashoka Mukpo

Bea de Munik

Lindsey Muse

Will Perkins

Liana Pomeroy

Kelsey Root-Winchester

Andrew Sacamano

David Sachs

Mikayla Sanford

Juliet Shapiro

Jamie Shapiro

Tara Slone

Colin Stubbert

Julia Tara Burnell

Alex Taylor

Sera Thompson

Mara Toombs

Evan Trimble

David Vogler

Richard Vogler

Emilia Volz

Ryan Watson

Anatta Watts (Harding)

Benjamin Williams

John Wimberly

Alana Ziegler

Leandra Ziegler