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A Look At The #MeToo Movement In The Shambhala Buddhist Community


As the #MeToo movement has spread, more and more women - and some men - have been coming forward from more and more workplaces and other institutions to share their stories and to demand change.

This is the case in the Shambhala Buddhist community. It's one of the largest Buddhist organizations in the West, with many followers in the U.S. and Canada who gather to learn from faith leader Mipham Rinpoche.

Recently, Mipham, who's also referred to as the Sakyong, which loosely translates as king, took a leave of absence following allegations of sexual misconduct. The entire governing council of Shambhala International resigned following the publication of Buddhist Project Sunshine. That's the name of an unofficial yearlong investigation into the problem of sexual abuse in Shambhala Buddhism undertaken by former member Andrea Winn, who says she's a survivor of sexual abuse. She spent all of 2017 researching sexual abuse in the community and published her findings in February 2018.

Since then, many more survivors have reached out along with a trained investigator. And together, their findings implicated Mipham and pointed to a serious and systemic problem. And Andrea Winn is with us now from Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Thank you so much for speaking with us.

ANDREA WINN: Thank you for inviting me in, Michel.

MARTIN: So tell us about your relationship with this community. You were raised in it, as I understand it.

WINN: I was. I was part of the first group of kids growing up in this community. And even though when I started talking about the sexual abuse problem in the community in the early 2000s and I was pushed out of the community, I've continued practicing on my own. So my heart is totally with Shambhala, and that's why I've come back to help clean up this problem. And at this point, I'm not an active member.

MARTIN: What made you think of compiling a report and publishing it?

WINN: You know, when I first started the project last year, I wasn't sure where it was going to go. And so I just decided, well, I'll just write up a report of everything I learned. And in the end, it turned out to be very effective. And so it was shared very widely

MARTIN: As you've thought about this, is there something about the way the community is organized that you feel contributed to this? I mean, as we've said at the beginning of our conversation, I mean, many institutions are having to think through this and think about how they may have contributed to an environment where this went on. And for example, you know, in Hollywood, a lot of people have pointed to the fact that there's a very narrow career funnel, which is in the handful of a very few powerful men and some have used that power in a really malignant way. Whether that's true or not true, I'm just wondering if you have come to any conclusions about what - is there something that allowed this to go on?

WINN: There is something systemic that's happening here. But one thing that's really clear is that in Tibetan Buddhism, there is this guru figure which plays such a central role. Like, when I think about Christianity, it's a bit similar to Jesus except it's an actual living person. That's what people are taught. And they're taught that if you see some kind of problem in your guru, then it's a problem with your perception. It's not actually that they're doing something wrong. So that right there is creating an environment where somebody could get away with murder.

MARTIN: Can I ask you, has this compromised your faith?

WINN: Of learning about Sakyong Mipham?


WINN: Not for me personally because he was never my guru. His father is my guru - his deceased father. So this has not compromised my faith. But certainly what I went through when I first spoke about the sexual abuse problem and was forced out of the community, my faith has taken a heavy, heavy blow from that. So I do have to say that this is extremely challenging. I mean, I know in my bones that there's something very good about the Shambhala teachings. There's something that needs to be protected and to be brought forward out of all of this mess that has happened.

MARTIN: How do you think you will - and other believers - will move on from here?

WINN: What I'm seeing is people drawing on their own personal connection with these teachings to finding steps forward as a community. And actually, the community is in shock. We're going through a process of grief. But at the same time, I'm seeing some very positive conversations happening - people saying that this is worth saving and that they are going to walk shoulder-to-shoulder with these survivors - they believe the survivors - and that they want to sort this out in a good way to preserve the tradition, even if Sakyong Mipham has to step aside.

MARTIN: And what about you? You indicated that you had been forced out of the community for bringing these allegations to light initially. Would you go back?

WINN: I would love to go back. I mean, it is my spiritual home, so I would love to go back.

MARTIN: Well that's Andrea Winn. She's the creator of Buddhist Project Sunshine, which exposed allegations of abuse in the Shambhala Buddhist faith community. And we spoke with her from Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Andrea Winn, thanks so much for talking with us.

WINN: My pleasure. Thank you, Michel.

MARTIN: And we would like to mention that in an open letter, Sakyong Mipham publicly apologized for engaging in, quote, "relationships with women in the Shambhala community," stating that he is committed to healing these wounds. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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