BARNET — An international scandal rocking the Shambhala Buddhist community that includes allegations of sexual misconduct at the Karme Choling center in Barnet has compelled the nonprofit to respond in recent months.
Over the summer, the center’s executive director, Myra Woodruff submitted a letter to the editor of this newspaper announcing that Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, head of the Shambala Buddhist worldwide organization, “has stepped back from all teaching and administrative functions following allegations of sexual misconduct with his students.” He is the son of the founder of the organization.
In an update from Woodruff, she posted on the retreat’s website, “We do not condone such harmful behaviors by any leader in Shambhala, including the Sakyong. We support and certainly call for the third party investigation report to be made public in its entirety, protecting the names of the victims.”
That report has not yet been made public.
Efforts to reach Woodruff at the Karme Choling Center on Wednesday for an update on the center or for more information on any reported abuse cases that are alleged to have happened in Barnet, were not successful by press time.
Reporting by an organization which has produced three reports on what they say is a 40-year+ culture of sexual misconduct and abuse within the international Shambhala community alleges that a former leader in Barnet raped a young man who has come forward to share his story.
Rinpoche stepped aside from his teaching duties in July and new accusers have continued to come forward, in reporting by the Buddhist Project Sunshine, accusing other leaders in the nonprofit across its centers.
The project was begun by Andrea Winn, a second-generation Shambhalian who says she was abused as a child within the organization.
Efforts to contact Winn on Wednesday for more information on any alleged incidents in Vermont were not successful by press time.
Recent reporting by the project includes “the account of a man called ‘Keith’ who was allegedly raped at age 15 by an older male sangha member in 1983 at the Karme Choling retreat center in Vermont,” according to an online publication, tricycle.org, posted in late August.
Woodruff, head of the center in Barnet, referenced the reporting in the Buddhist Project Sunshine, saying, “(T)he Karme Choling staff, garden apprentices and volunteers met to share our shock and distress,” after reading some of the allegations. “The leadership emphatically stressed that sexual harm is abhorrent and not to be tolerated.”
“With the publication of the third Buddhist Project Sunshine Report alleging further sexual harm, we met again,” stated Woodruff.
She said, “It is a difficult time in Shambhala and certainly for Karme Choling. We are working hard to anticipate and plan for how Karme Choling can meet the challenge of uncertainty; change what needs to be changed; and preserve the essence of the beautiful gem that is Karme Choling. We are currently gathering information and analyzing various scenarios in preparation for more in-depth strategic planning. We will continue to share updates as the fall progresses and invite your input.”
Woodruff noted in her update in recent weeks, “Eight volunteers and ten staff have left since June, some planned, some unplanned. The remaining staff have been absolutely wonderful in their continued commitment to Karme Choling, each other and to our program guests.”
In a second post to the Karme Choling website, titled, “Investigation Into Sexual Misconduct,” Woodruff referenced the allegations of sexual misconduct against some individuals in the Shambhala, including Rinpoche, the main teacher.
“A lot of details are still required in order to get an accurate picture of the situation,” the post about the investigation states. “With regards to these allegations and the ongoing investigations, we at Karme Choling are fully committed to transparency both now and in the future.”
The post goes on, “We are happy that Shambhala has engaged a law firm to complete an independent investigation into all the allegations. “It is a time of great uncertainty. The Karme Choling community is clear that we will continue on the path of cultivating confidence and to strengthen our compassion for others … Despite these painful events, we believe they are an opportunity for our community to come together and deepen how we relate to one another.”
Michael Scott, a lawyer for Rinpoche, responded to the report stating that, “The allegations are vague, un-sourced and uncorroborated,” and stated if any reports of abuse such as those referred to in the reporting happened, law enforcement authorities should be contacted.
“The Sakyong categorically denies that he has ever participated in any activity that could be construed as ‘sexual assault’, attempted or otherwise, sexual contact with minors, or any other criminal offense,” wrote Scott.
The Karme Choling center in Barnet is one of 200 centers around the world, and one of just four residential land centers, she noted at the time. Members of the organization’s central governing body, the Kalapa Council, agreed to step down and allow new leadership to be named in the wake of the scandal becoming public in June.
Rinpoche earlier had sent out a message stating, in part, “I feel a tremendous amount of sorrow for the pain, confusion, and anger that our sangha is experiencing. I accept accountability for this pain … I will be using this time of self-reflection to deeply listen and better understand how the dynamics of power, gender, and my actions have affected others.”
The Barnet center announced that while the center was “feeling deeply affected, angered and saddened by this news,” that the programs at the center would go on, “Karme Choling continues to offer programs that explore the profound view that human beings, at their core, are fundamentally awake and good,” stated Woodruff.
Woodruff said, “This land center exists to inspire people to discover that basic goodness in themselves, and manifest it in the world as enlightened society.”