Shambhala FAQ

Last updated: November 28, 2018

This summer’s revelations about sexual misconduct have been difficult for the Shambhala mandala, and most – if not all – of us have gone through a range of emotions and have had question after question. This document has been created by the Unofficial Atlanta Shambhala Working Group (UASWG) to offer answers and explanations as simply and as transparently as possible. It is not intended to be comprehensive; links are provided to more information where available. It is a living document. We have answered questions to best of our knowledge and ability, and we expect updates will happen. If your question isn’t answered here or you need clarification, please submit the request here.


In February 2018 and amid the growing #MeToo movement, Andrea Winn released the Buddhist Project Sunshine Phase 1 report, the result of a year-long look into reports of sexual abuse by Shambhala leaders and teachers. The report included the stories of five people, four with no dates given and a fifth that said the abuse began about 15 years earlier. At that time, the Kalapa Council acknowledged problems with misconduct within the mandala and the ineffectiveness of Shambhala’s Care & Conduct policy, began talks with An Olive Branch about revising that policy, and announced a series of steps to improve Shambhala’s response.

In June, Buddhist Project Sunshine released its Phase 2 report, which detailed three allegations of sexual misconduct against the Sakyong. Two of those were undated and the third was alleged to be from 2011. The Kalapa Council announced its resignation, to be official when an Interim Board had been seated, and that an independent investigation would be initiated. The Sakyong stepped back from his administrative and teaching duties following a subsequent addendum to the Phase 2 report detailing an incident in Chile in 2002. He also acknowledged that a group of senior students had approached him about his behavior and his drinking around that time.

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Investigations

Shambhala Community Care website

WICKWIRE HOLM

Canadian law firm hired by Shambhala to conduct an independent investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct by any teacher or leader in Shambhala, including the Sakyong. Firm does not represent Shambhala, per Canadian law. Outgoing Kalapa Council has recommended that the interim board release the report when it is complete; the Transition Task Force has also said it will “encourage the Interim Board to publish whatever can legally be published publicly.” The report could be subpoenaed for any legal action regardless of whether it is released.

The deadline for reporting to the firm about sexual misconduct has passed. The Interim Board is awaiting the report from the firm and has committed to releasing that report after it makes certain that no claimant’s identity is revealed if that person wants to remain anonymous.

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AN OLIVE BRANCH

Project of Pittsburgh Zen Center operating what it calls “listening posts” to hear stories of harm in the Shambhala community, to talk about options with those who make reports, and to be an advocate if they choose to take their complaints forward. An Olive Branch, which has been doing this work since 2011, is also working with Shambhala’s internal Sexual Harm and Misconduct Task Force to revise the care & conduct policy for internal reporting of harm and conduct training for the interim board.

An Olive Branch’s listening posts will be open until December 31, 2018

Contact: ListeningPost@An-Olive-Branch.org

Latest email from An Olive Branch

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SHAMBHALA’S CARE AND CONDUCT POLICY

Shambhala’s existing care and conduct policy (adopted in 2002) is still in effect until a new one is approved. Email for the care and conduct panel. This process is available only for incidents that occurred since this policy was adopted.

The Interim Board has received the new draft policy and will assign it to the Process Team to collect feedback from the sangha at large before approval.

The existing care and conduct policy requires that complaints against any officeholder – defined on page 16 of the policy – must be made to the Shambhala care and conduct panel, which may refer the matter to the local committee.

The Atlanta center’s care and conduct committee consists of Dan Phillips, Norma Harris, KC Wildmoon, and Donna Kingsman. Complaints against anyone not an officeholder should be made to this committee. To reach out locally, use this email.

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BUDDHIST PROJECT SUNSHINE

Project set up by former Shambhalian to detail sexual abuse and misconduct in Shambhala. Has released three reports with allegations of misconduct by Shambhala teachers and leaders, including the Sakyong. Recently announced that it would turn its focus away from Shambhala and toward the Buddhist community at large.

BPS website (NOTE: The BPS site contains links to communications from Shambhala, but they stop in March. For links to all communications, see the Atlanta center’s resources page.

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Shambhala governance

KALAPA COUNCIL

The Kalapa Council has resigned and was disbanded on October 17 when the interim board was seated.

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TRANSITION TASK FORCE

Acharyas Pema Chodron, Arawana Hayashi, Charlene Leung, Suzanne Duquette, European council member Katrin Stelzel, Kasung Shastri Andrew Sacamano, and regional director Sharon Owyang make up the transition task force. They have appointed the Interim Board and are now working to appoint the Process Team. Minutes of the task force’s meetings, its letters to the community, and announcements are published on the Transition website.

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INTERIM BOARD

The interim board holds fiduciary and legal responsibilities for Shambhala for one year from October 17. They will not be allowed to make any changes to the legal structure during that time. The interim board will support the work of the Process Team. The board will receive Wickwire Holm’s report and will take “time to understand all requirements of confidentiality for reporters and witnesses, and time to create and publish a version that respects that confidentiality.” The members of the interim board are: Veronika Bauer, Martina Bouey, Mark Blumenfeld, John Cobb, Jennifer Crow, Sara Lewis, Susan Ryan, and Paulina Varas. The board can be reached at this email. The board has set up a website here.

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PROCESS TEAM

The process team has a broad remit to review governance in Shambhala through the lenses of community healing and learning, cultural change, and organizational development/new governance structures, while maintaining what’s legally required. Their review would include boards of directors and bylaws as well as areas of governance not required by law. They are tasked with full engagement with the Shambhala community. There is no deadline as yet for this group to complete its work. The application deadline for this group has also passed, and the Transition Task Force is interviewing candidates. The task force will announce the team in a letter to the community.

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THE SAKYONG

The Sakyong has stepped down from all teaching and administrative duties while the investigation is ongoing. Communications from the Transition Task Force have made clear that there is, as yet, no determination if, when, or how he might return.

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Organization

SHAMBHALA INTERNATIONAL

There is no such entity. There is a “Shambhala Global Services,” which provides a variety of services to the global Shambhala community. It manages the combined operations of Shambhala USA and the Shambhala Canada Society. Through those two entities, Shambhala Global Services provides services, including but not limited to managing retreat centers (except for Shambhala Mountain Center, see below); helping centers find teachers; coordinating practice and education, governing councils, and communications; maintaining the database including membership, programs, and archives; maintaining the website; and producing texts. The two national organizations also maintain tax exempt status for all centers, which can use Shambhala texts and symbols through these organizations. Additionally, Shambhala Global Services provides support for the centers’ governing councils and all their activities.

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SHAMBHALA USA

Not for profit to administer church and association of churches in the United States in accordance with the teachings of Shambhala and Buddhist traditions. Centers and groups in the United States adopt a charter that allows them to be officially Shambhala, using all the teachings and symbols, and adopts the Shambhala USA bylaws as their own. Some larger centers have themselves incorporated as a not for profit organization under the Shambhala USA umbrella.

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SHAMBHALA CANADA SOCIETY

Same as Shambhala USA for Canada.

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SHAMBHALA MOUNTAIN CENTER

SMC is a not for profit on its own because it operates as a retreat center rather than a church and hosts many non-Shambhala programs. Its bylaws follow those of Shambhala USA. 

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SHAMBHALA EUROPE GMBH

A subsidiary of Shambala USA, holds some global and European trademarks and licenses them to European centers. Most European centers are individually operated.

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ASSOCIATION SHAMBHALA EUROPE

Operates Dechen Choling in France

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ELSEWHERE

Shambhala centers in South America, Africa, Asia, and Oceania operate individually

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SAKYONG POTRANG and SAKYONG POTRANG CANADA

Has to do with the lineage of the Sakyongs and direct activities of the lineage. The lineage of the Sakyongs begins with the Druk Sakyong, Trungpa Rinpoche, then to the current Sakyong, Mipham Rinpoche, and any future Sakyong. The potrangs hold the copyrights for the teachings, practices, religious texts, and iconography. The potrangs pay expenses for the Sakyong and his family that are permissible under laws governing charities and are funded by direct donations for that purpose; the Sakyong and his family pay for personal expenses. Shambhala Global Services pays for some functions within the potrangs related to management, teaching support, and leadership roles that provide services to both the potrangs and Shambhala. The relationship between the potrangs and Shambhala will be under review by the new board.

The Sakyong Potrang, Sakyong Potrang Canada, Shambhala USA, and the Shambhala Canada Society are all legally incorporated as not for profit organizations. What that means in a nutshell is that they are corporations that don’t have shareholders to answer to or give profit to; any profit must go back into the organization. Typically, such organizations are set up with members who have certain organizational legal responsibilities, including changing bylaws, appointing boards, and merging or dissolving entities. The bylaws as currently written make the Sakyong the sole member of the Sakyong Potrang, the Sakyong Potrang Canada, and the Shambhala Canada Society, and the Sakyong Potrang the sole member of Shambhala USA (US law allows organizations to be members; Canadian law does not). He is waiving his responsibilities as sole member once the Interim Board is seated, which means he will not be making any of those decisions. The Process Team will be reviewing governance and structure and making proposals, some of which will eventually have to be approved by the Sakyong since that is how the bylaws are written.

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KALAPA MEDIA

Is not a separate entity. Its operations are shared by the Sakyong Potrang, Shambhala Global Services, and Shambhala Europe. It manages sales and production of religious texts as well as handling IT operations (Shambhala Online, Shambhala Archives, etc).

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Local governance

GOVERNING COUNCIL

Made up of the center director (Dan Phillips), the rusung (KC Wildmoon), and the directors , practice & education (open), finance (open), and societal health & well being (Norma Harris); the chairs of the community relations committee (Brenda Collins) and the membership committee (Sally Larrick); and the representative from the Shambhala office of culture & decorum (Laura McNulty). Debra Hiers is the council secretary. Each of these, with the exception of the center director, is a volunteer position. The Governing Council has asked Shastris Jackie Muse and Sue Gilman to consult. Like the council, the shastris are volunteers, except when they’re teaching. The council meets monthly; all members are welcome to attend.

The GC’s decision-making process is very similar to that used by Quaker organizations, grounded in the belief that a group of people can respectfully engage with one another to uncover creative answers. We call this broad agreement; Quakers call it discernment or sense of the Meeting. Yes, it often takes longer. Yet the decisions taken by such a process are grounded in the wisdom of the group, rather than one or two advocates of a position, and are more organic.

The GC is also committed to exploring ways to incorporate the sangha into the decision making process. Some decisions taken at our sangha-wide gatherings have been part of this.

Email the governing council

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EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE

Broader group made up of governing council and others who take leadership roles and functions.

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General questions

WHO OWNS THE ATLANTA CENTER?

Shambhala USA owns the center, and it is operated by the governing council, serving as a board of directors. The Governing Council has considerable autonomy regarding how to operate, so long as it operates within Shambhala’s organizational bylaws. The Atlanta center is incorporated as a not for profit organization under the Shambhala USA umbrella, as are several other larger centers. 

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CAN SHAMBHALA USA SELL THE CENTER TO PAY FOR LAWSUITS?

Shambhala USA cannot dispose of the center without the approval of the governing council. Shambhala USA also cannot dispose of property to pay for personal legal issues.

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CAN SHAMBHALA USA REPLACE THE ATLANTA GOVERNING COUNCIL?

Yes. However, this is a failsafe in the organization’s bylaws to ensure that centers are operating as Shambhala centers and not going their own way.

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CAN WE CHANGE OUR BYLAWS SO SHAMBHALA USA CANNOT DO THAT?

Yes, but then we would no longer be Shambhala and could not offer Shambhala teachings and programs, and the center itself, as it is owned by Shambhala USA, would not be ours to use as we please.

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WHAT HAPPENS TO THE CENTER IF SHAMBHALA GOES UNDER?

The laws pertaining to not for profit organizations that shut down require that property be transferred to another not for profit organization. We don’t know if Shambhala USA has a plan in place for that.

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IS THE ATLANTA CENTER FINANCIALLY STABLE?

The center is on shaky ground, precipitated by a drop in revenue from decreased program registration and loss of membership since the allegations of sexual misconduct by the Sakyong, which came just as the satellite center in Grant Park was opened. In addition, significant repairs are needed for the administration building’s HVAC system. The Governing Council is looking into ways to reduce expenses to keep the center financially stable.

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WHAT PORTION OF MEMBERSHIP DUES ARE SENT TO SHAMBHALA GLOBAL SERVICES? WHY?  

Shambhala Global Services has a target of 25 percent of gross revenue from each Shambhala center. This is not a hard and fast rule, and many centers, including ours, don’t give that full percentage. The Atlanta center was giving about $800 per month but has dropped that payment entirely to save money. See the section titled “Shambhala International” for information on the purpose of Shambhala Global Services.

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HAS SHAMBHALA BEEN SUED BECAUSE OF THE ALLEGATIONS OF MISCONDUCT?

As of the latest update to this document, we know of no lawsuits or charges filed against any Shambhala entity or individual.

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If your question isn’t answered here or you need clarification, please submit the request here.