Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Wide Open Heart Failures

Welcome to Miriam's Now-Monthly Missive on the Shambhala Situation,

I am writing to you again (Letter #1 is here and #2 is here) because regularity and requests have helped me assemble my thoughts and share them. As I find is often the case with practice,  structure helps create a container to show up in. Without structure, I would be overcome by doubt, or give in to the idea that I will just do it "eventually." Instead, I know folks are waiting to hear from me, and get a sense of what I am experiencing, what my questions are, and what resources I have to share.

I offer none of these letters as answers, instead, as a showing of my path of exploration, with hopefully some angles you haven't yet considered, and information you haven't yet tracked. There are a lot of things to track, and endless ways to think and feel about what is going on.

So please, listen to yourself first. May my sharing help you share - both with yourself and with others.

This edition consists of three parts. 

The first part is excerpts from readings I've done this summer from books and information sources I had read before, but now with a new context. The three books are Eyes Wide Open by Mariana Caplan, The Great Failure by Natalie Goldberg, and A Path With Heart by Jack Kornfield.

I discovered Caplan's book through another Miksang teacher around ten years ago and was blown away by how she described relationship to practice. Her insights now about relating to teachers have taken on a whole new level with what has happened this summer in Shambhala.

Goldberg's book is her memoir about coming to terms with the imperfections of both her birth father and her dharma master, Katagiri Roshi, around sexual inappropriateness/misconduct. I read this also when it came out, and had a feeling of relief that Sakyong Mipham wouldn't do anything of the things described in the book that Katagiri Roshi did. More on that when we get to it....

Kornfield's title is one I have read portions of for Karuna Training, but someone on Facebook pointed it out it has an entire chapter on troubled relationships with teachers.

The second part is more personal reflections on leadership, holding space, and more.

The third part is similar to what I have shared at the end of each of these missives - further resources for reading, digesting, contemplating.

Please enjoy. Take breaks. Think and feel for yourself. I thank you for reading and for asking me to write about this. I take that assignment deeply inside and share back out what I find. Please feel free to share in comments - respectfully, thoughtfully, and with some space around what you have to say.


Part I - Book Excerpts and Thoughts

A. Mariana Caplan, Eyes Wide Open
It struck me early on coming back to both Caplan and Goldberg that they directly refer to Chogyam Trungpa (CTR). That's not unusual - he was a serious dharma master, and a huge inspiration to many other teachers, as well as student. This quote in particular really blew me away from Caplan. It is about the conundrum of wisdom and neurosis being the same energy - a core teaching in Vajrayana buddhism.

I feel Caplan expresses very well in this quote, ironically, the kind of experience I've been having about this very lineage lately, especially the bolded lines below:
“Your neurosis is your enlightenment,” said Buddhist master Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. How can this be? Because at the core of our neurosis lies a storehouse of buried energy that has limitless capacity to transform us at a very deep level. Tantra teaches us to turn toward this gold mine of confused experience and extract the pure energy of the life force contained within it. From a tantric perspective, our neurosis is not a limitation. What limits us is contracting and turning away from pockets of our internal experience that are so potent we are afraid to feel them—wounds so tender that we have repressed them from conscious awareness, fears so unconscious and convincing that we would rather live limited lives than open ourselves to them, repressed feelings of terror or anger so virulent that we fear we might actually kill someone if we allowed them expression.
So I wanted to share that conundrum right up front before going into the other passages from Caplan.

This is a wonderful description of our "shadow" aspects as both a lineage, and also the shadow aspects of the human existence of our current lineage holder, Sakyong Mipham (SMR):
"On a spiritual level, failing to deal with one’s shadow often results in scandal, as well as coercion, manipulation, and abuses on many levels. This is rampant in spiritual circles, as even those who work with very high and refined levels of consciousness still have shadow elements that must be dealt with. There is a common misconception in those who have achieved insight into the nature of mind and its essential insubstantiality that they are no longer under the influence of their unconscious shadow. This is a grave oversight that has resulted in countless acts of corruption related to power, money, manipulation, and sex."
It is also our responsibility to look at how we hold up teachers and what standards we hold them to and why, as Caplan says shortly after the above passage:
The tendency toward psychological denial in many spiritual circles cannot be underestimated. Even if they remain obscured from our awareness, our shadow aspects are always affecting us. The shadow is there. The question is whether or not we will choose to see with eyes wide open and assume the task of becoming conscious of it.
One of the great tensions I see right now happening in Shambhala is (and this is a dualistic extreme example in order to illustrate a point - of course it is more complex than that, which I will get to) a "battle" between those who are focusing on the relative, human acts of SMR. This "camp" tends to veer towards siding with victims, holding a spiritual teacher accountable to every act that is outside of what are considered the standards other teachers are held accountable to in the same lineage (and other lineages), and to say a teacher who acts in this way without remorse/changing their actions should be dismissed, removed from power, and the more powerful nature of mind understandings they have expressed removed from canon of teaching or taken with a great grain of salt. These folks are accused of not respecting the power of the teachings, of getting too nitty gritty, and of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

The other "end of the spectrum" focuses on the insight from the teacher, insists all spiritual teachers are also human beings who make errors. Sometimes these folks focus more on the "absolute" teachings - pointing out that we can't reject any aspect of ourselves (see wisdom and neurosis quote above) or our teachers. They encourage us to practice with this, not deny it, but also not give it more value than the teachings SMR imparts.They are accused of not believing the victims or valuing the debate enough. They are accused of holding to an old standard, protecting the teacher from being held accountable, or spiritually bypassing (psychologically denying, as Caplan says above) the issues at hand.

One of the things I want to point out there is that all perspectives are really well served by noticing both intention and impact. This is common practice in racial justice work. We can all work to assume someone has good intention when what they say triggers or hurts or insults us. The reverse is also true: when we have clearly triggered or hurt or insulted someone, investigating the impact, even if it wasn't our intention, shows real curiosity. It is only this way that we can really co-exist in space together.

I am somewhere in the muddy middle, as many of us are. Being a survivor who has a relationship with her childhood molester, I recognize the complexity of "perpetrators": the fact that most folks who perpetuate sexual harm were themselves victims of sexual harm. I also don't hold my teachers to absolute perfection, but I don't want to feel triggered when I look at the person I am supposed to revere. In particular, my feeling hurt has made it hard to do any practices which revere even simply the enlightened aspects of both SMR and CTR, because I feel I cannot separate them enough, and I don't know whether or not I should.

This isn't a debate, not even a question I am looking to answer. But something I feel Caplan illustrates well with clarity. She is pointing out that our expectations about our teachers dramatically shape our responses when we find out how they act as human beings. And I know I was in denial, which for me is a special form of complicity. I wasn't just ignorant, I was pretending. I am as curious, if not more curious, about that than I am about why other people "higher up" covered up his actions or acted in ways they thought were skillful but turned out to be drastically damaging.

I can't recommend Caplan's book enough if these passages pique you. It is solid and clear and spacious, and imminently helpful for how to regard teachers on any spiritual path.

B. Natalie Goldberg, The Great Failure
Goldberg's book is a memoir of her relationship with both her father and her zen teacher. These excerpts come from the second half, which focuses more on her relationship with Katagiri Roshi. Because they are process-oriented, I won't say much about them. I found myself mirrored in how she worked with finding out he had sexual affairs with students, and admire the way she lets herself exist in not-knowing, which is such a hard place to live in. We want to panic, to make ground out of that panic, which, as I discussed with a friend lately, is actually not ground.
We were not peers with him. It wasn't equal consent, not two independent individuals, with a horizontal relationship... 
Once I went to Roshi disturbed by Trungpa Rinpoche, a Tibetan meditation master, who I'd studied with in Boulder before I moved to Minneapolis. "Roshi, he was really terrific, but he had affairs with a lot of his students. I can't make sense of it. It felt weird." Trungpa's relationships were public knowledge, but they still crossed a primary boundary and even in my naive early thirties, I was uncomfortable with it.
I cringe as I think of the interchange now. Roshi's reply: "Buddhism is buddhism." I could tell by the straight horizontal line his lips made, his eyes looking ahead that he was incensed by my question. He rang the bell with no further discussion.
I think it was the exact year he was having an affair with Eleanor.
Just before she finds out about his affairs, Goldberg has a powerful experience of faltering faith at Green Gulch on retreat in December 1995:
...six years after Katagiri Roshi had died, in a stunning moment in the zendo that shot through me like a hot steel bolt I realized this regimented practice no longer fit me. The known world blanked out and I was lost in the moving weight of a waterfall. For me the structure was Katagiri Roshi. I learned it all from him. If I stepped out of it, I'd lose my great teacher... it was over, other parts of me needed care. Structure had saved my life, gave me the foundation and now it was cracking. It was a big opening, but it wasn't up to it.
The very next day, she begins to hear about Katagiri Roshi sleeping with students. She flies home, but can't find ground:
This was the same thing that happened with my father, different but the same. My heart loved them both, but now I held raw knowledge– betrayal dripped off my gripped hand... I tried hard to keep my balance after this landslide of new knowledge… I asked myself a pragmatic question: what power did you project on Roshi that you can now claim for yourself? That's the one all my friends asked. That's all I had to do, they said, take back the power. I tried to grab hold with that one, but I knew it did not come close to the hurricane I felt inside.
This struck me as especially poignant, considering how many of us who came on board once SMR was in charge felt safe because "At least he wasn't his father:"
While sex scandals broke up other Zen and Eastern religious communities, I felt safe with my teacher. Everyone knew he was clean. Robert Aitken, an American Zen teacher in Hawaii, had been known to repeat, "Thank god for Katagiri Roshi -- he's the one that gives us hope." My childhood had been preoccupied with protecting myself from my father. In Zen with its strict structure I felt free to explore whole parts of myself without keeping my guard up.
So many of us are having a hard time knowing who to talk to about all this:
I sat by myself through the shadowy days but I could not get a handle on this new information. I didn't talk about it with New Mexico friends. They didn't know Roshi and it was too easy to hear 'Roshi slept with a student' and just write him off. I still felt protective.
I remember Roshi said to me once in the dokusan room,"Look around you. The sangha (the spiritual community) is a microcosm of human society. You can watch it all right here." Did he know how real that statement was? I believe he did. Even betrayal was a part of life. The whole sangha was going to die someday. Everyone I ever loved would sometime leave me. By not being willing to see things as they were I deluded myself. I was trying to hold out against reality. 
But what I also understand now is that you can know about anger clearly with half of yourself and the other half that is cut off never gets the benefit of any of your clear knowledge. We've seen examples in great artists, who are enlightened in their work and function cruelly and ignorantly in their personal lives. Unfortunately we have also discovered this about spiritual leaders. I think my generation hoped that Eastern teachers would be different, free of these problems, but the splitting off seems to be cross-cultural and across religions. No one is immune. Roshi was sincere about his vows, but in a split the one part doesn't live by the same rules as the other part. So he could practice deeply, have great understanding, aspiration for compassion, and simultaneously act selfishly with disregard for the well-being of the women he slept with. 
This is NOT spiritual bypassing or psychological denial. Goldberg will speak openly and freely about her experience with both Katagiri Roshi and CTR. She also has found her own way to admire and perpetuate the powerful teachings Katagiri Roshi transmitted to her.

In some ways, this choice was "easier" because Katagiri Roshi had been dead six years when she found out. There was still a question of loyalty - should she remain loyal after death? - but it is different when your teacher is living. However, I watched her even relate to CTR as a brilliant and deeply flawed human being, simultaneously.

Goldberg was rejected by her community for writing this book. It went against all the privacy and secrecy that had perpetuated the affairs and power dynamics she addressed. Eventually, as people worked through their own challenges, she reconnected with other Zen teachers. But it was a hard, lonely haul, the writing and publishing of The Great Failure. Just like it is a hard, lonely haul to figure out how to relate to any teacher, living or dying, who turns out to be deeply flawed while also remaining brilliant.

Do I think we can ask for fewer flaws with such brilliance? Yes. I don't think they inherently come together. As I said in the second letter, however, to assume we've found some place safe and free of human/societal programming like racism, corruption, and sexual misconduct is naive and dangerous. Caplan does a good job of describing these pitfalls in her book. Where I am now, and where I find many of my sanghamates is in deciding if this is too much - if we could find teachers we at least feel are more transparent, less secretive, and more direct - and possibly less faulty (or faulty in ways that don't trigger our legitimate traumas) - in their human manifestations. Above all, is our teacher, SMR, and is our community, willing and able to do the work? Jack Kornfield addresses this aspect in his book.

C. Jack Kornfield, A Path With Heart
Chapter 18 of Kornfield's book is titled "The Emperor's New Clothes: Problems with Teachers." What an amazing title, right?

Kornfield's chapter is chock full of amazing insights, clear statements, and some advice - though not as much advice because, really, he asks us, like all good teachers do, to lean on our own intuition.

I've found my intuition out of whack in the last months - when I am triggered/re-traumatized, I have a harder time tracking what feels deep and true versus what stories I am making up to protect myself. More on that in part II. But for now, some pithy words from Kornfield, gleaned from this chapter.
When Soto Zen founder Dogen said, "A Zen master's life is one continuous mistake," he was pointing out how mistakes and openhearted learning from them are central to spiritual life.
I loved the reminder of this quote, which also happens to be the title of a great book on writing by Gail Sher: One Continuous Mistake. I think what a lot of us are feeling is missing so far in Shambhala is the "openhearted learning from them" - that, of course, takes time, but we want to see evidence that this will be a part of our future in a way it hasn't always appeared in our past.
The problems of teachers cannot easily be separated from the communities around them. A spiritual community will reflect the values and behavior of its teachers and will participate in the problems as well...Unaddressed community problems are often such a painful area that we will need all our spiritual skills, great sensitivity, compassion, and deep commitment to the truth in order to face them and deal with them.
Numerous folks have pointed out that Shambhalians could be some of the best suited people to handle this kind of struggle. And, in fact, my experience with the community at large, as well as that of many others I know, has been both challenging but also deeply inspiring - while I have had many pointless arguments about this online, I have also had deeply refreshing exchanges both online and in person, and my faith in Shambhala as a grassroots community has actually expanded.

There are also others who point out, as Matthew Remski has specialized in doing (see his posts in Part III), that using the tools of the lineage is hedgy in dealing with issues in the lineage. In this way, I and many others are turning back to basic Buddhist practices - not necessarily Shambhalian - in order to get in touch with that intuition hidden under being triggered. The fact is, whether or not one can relate to SMR or CTR or other lead teachers in Shambhala right now, whether someone feels Shambhala has changed their lives, or just the others they have met in Shambhala changed their lives, no one has entered deeply into a spiritual practice lineage without learning some powerful tools. Using those, when possible, can be deeply healing. If the tools of this lineage feel too tainted right now, look to another close lineage or trusted source. But access wisdom in a deep and spiritual way, because that is still and always available to you.
In general, these problems arise when spirituality ignores or denies our own humanity.
Please read that multiple times. "Our own humanity" - not just the humanity of our teachers, but our own. This is spiritual bypassing, and all spiritual communities do it to one extent or another. How is your spirituality, including how you do it, not just how it is presented to you, denying humanity?
Awakening is a process marked by both profound experience and periods of integration. However powerful an initial opening is, it inevitably leaves many aspects of our personal life unaffected...these unintegrated experiences can easily lead to grandiosity and inflation. Most teachers (whether they acknowledge it or not) are only partially enlightened, only partially awake...For the most part the "enlightenment" of many of (ed note: a set of 53 teachers from many traditions he interviewed about their sex lives) did not touch their sexuality.
Caplan also has a lot to say on the topic of how enlightenment often doesn't touch key areas of human life. It's a deeply empowering thing to realize for students - that we don't have to aim for or find "entire enlightenment" - and a bit disconcerting to realize about teachers we have held up to as being mostly or fully enlightened.

Kornfield speaks to "transference," something therapists are well familiar with.
"Transference," as it is called in Western psychology's the unconscious and very powerful process in which we transfer or project on to some authority figure, a man or a woman, the attributes of someone significant in our past, often our parents. Like young children, we tend to see them as all good or all bad, as we did before we could understand how complex human beings can be...People project a great deal on to their teachers... 
Transference is rarely addressed in spiritual communities, whereas in psychological, therapeutic relationships it is purposely addressed so that clients can eventually come to relate realistically to the therapist and the world around them. 
Transference and idealization have a powerful effect on teachers as well as students. They create a climate of unreality, and often feed teacher's isolation...after some time, the unmet needs and unfinished business in a teacher will arise and be drawn into the fire of the community.
The problem of transference is sometimes made even greater by the nature of the students who come to spiritual communities...People come to spiritual practice looking for family, looking for love, for the good mother or father they never had...But if the practice of the community doesn't address unfinished family issues and pain of its members, then these deficiencies will continue to intensify.
Ken McLeod has written some great articles recently, and one of them is in the most recent Tricycle (see part III for link). In it, he explicates that some folks come looking for something other than what is described above - mystical experience, something that transcends even community or self-improvement. Unfortunately, even that pursuit still carries with it all the conceptual and familial issues, though that may be even less apparent to a mystical seeker (who wind up often on the Vajrayana path).

In terms of guidance on healing, questions to ask, and suggestions, Kornfield rests mainly with questions to ask ourselves. Here are selections of statements, questions, and suggestions he makes. Of course, some of these questions can only be addressed once secrets come out - for instance, lots of us didn't know there was a dual standard in terms of sexual conduct for the guru and key teachers than the rest of us. So they are tricky, and not always answerable, but good to ask regardless. Skillfulness in how we handle all the truths, all the questions, and all the trauma is tantamount and tricky.

Is there a dual standard for the community versus the guru and a few people around him? 
When you look at the oldest and most senior students, are they happy and mature? 
Each of us must learn to become our own authority. This and this alone with liberate us. 
We must tell the truth to ourselves, and we must speak the truth in our communities. To tell the truth in a community is to make the community itself conscious. In these situations, it a great practice to name the demons and to learn to speak out loud with both compassion and clarity. We must speak with the teacher to see if they understand and will be a part of righting the difficulty. 
In some communities, to question the guru or lama, the master or priest, is considered unspiritual or ungrateful, and to question the direction of the community is considered a sign of delusion and immaturity. Yet we must be willing to ask the community, "How are we lost, attached, and addicted, and how are we benefiting, awakening, and opening?"
Speaking openly and honestly with the well-being of the community in our heart is extraordinarily beneficial...Addressing these problems can be so painful and explosive that often they are poorly handled... Getting the support of wise elders from outside the community to create a safe container for meeting is often necessary if understanding and restitution are to follow. Still, if the teacher is somewhat open-minded, the teacher and community will gradually mature together.  
When dealing with the humanness and complexity of teachers, it is helpful to keep a few other principles in mind. One is called take what's good...It took weeks of inner struggle before it dawned on me that he was a great meditation teacher but otherwise a poor role model. I realized I could take what was beneficial and not buy the whole package...we can see over and over again how one dimension of life does not automatically bring wisdom in other dimensions. Every teacher and every practice has its strong points and its weaknesses.
There are weak spots in what Kornfield is saying. Certainly the sexual misconduct in Shambhala right now is more than just weakness. But the core of what he is saying remains true to me. Can I take what's good? This is a risky note, as well, since it can lead to a sort of buffet Buddhism - take only what you want/what feels good, not what is essentially good. However, it is a great question to ask. Let me re-frame it: Am I willing to trust the Basic Goodness of the main teacher who has taught me about such principles, underneath the hurt he has caused and also re-stimulated? Even if I am not willing to trust his Basic Goodness, or decide his relative manifestation is too faulty, I still learn a lot from deeply asking and contemplating this question, instead of reflexively rejecting.

A few closing thoughts from Kornfield:
There are many powerful people who are not wise at all. There are many wise people who have no special powers other than their love and openness. Don't be fooled. Sometimes these two qualities come together in a wise, powerful teacher, but they are often confused. 
The most obvious principle in the maintenance of a wise spiritual community is the establishment of clear ethical guidelines that are followed by all.

In the traditional rules for Buddhist monasteries, the resolution of ethics violations is seen as a healing process. 
Forgiveness does not condone the behavior of students, community members, or teachers who have caused suffering, nor does it mean that we will not openly tell the truth and take strong action to prevent future abuse. In the end, forgiveness simply says we will not put someone out of our hearts. From the perspective of forgiveness, we recognize that we have all been wronged and we have all caused suffering to others. No one is exempt.
On reflecting on the shadow side of the teachings and practices you've been given:
Every style of teaching will also produce its near enemy, the way that particular teaching can be most easily misused or misunderstood.
He actually suggests contemplating this for yourself. In other words, in Shambhala context, what are the shadow sides/the near enemies of "Great Eastern Sun" and "Basic Goodness"? What are the ways those teachings can and have been - including by teachers as well as ourselves as individuals - misconstrued or manipulated?

Finally, Kornfield provides incredible guidelines for how to leave a community, if one chooses to leave.
When a teacher we have trusted or a community we love proves to be hypocritical and harmful, it touches the deepest sense of loss and rage in many students...we might ask ourselves, "How old do I feel inside when I react to this loss?" Often we feel very young, as we will see that our intense feelings are not just about the current situation but point to what is unresolved in our own past.
I don't think Kornfield means this as self-blame, or as a reason not to leave. However, if we leave without looking at this, we will carry these issues into our next community.
Disillusionment is an important part of the spiritual path...the great challenge of disillusionment is to keep our eyes open and still remain connected with the great heart of compassion...the process of healing from spiritual betrayal can take a very long time. After the rage and grief, there comes a tremendous emptiness in the heart, as if something has been wrenched out of us. However, this emptiness is not just the result of betrayal by the teacher or the group. It has been there all along in the ways we may have betrayed ourselves...For some people, disillusionment and difficulty, though very hard, are what they most needed before they could come back to themselves. I do not mean that we should seek to be abused, but sometimes it takes a misguided or false teacher to create a wise student. 
Suzuki Roshi: "Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as an enlightened person. There is only enlightened activity."

Part II - More Personal Reflections
In no particular order, I wanted to share some of the personal experiences/reflections I've had in the last month around this situation.

Firstly, Project Sunshine Report #3 came out the day before I found out my house is in an active potential flash flood zone (see this blog post for more on that). So I haven't digested much of that report yet. Though it is the most recent - amongst Olive Branch Listening Post opening soon, many letters about finances and transition teams - "big news" I don't have the bandwidth yet to digest it.

Recently, I had a conversation with my best friend, who has been in Shambhala with me since the beginning (around 15 years). She and I talked about how intuition gets ruffled by trauma - and that's a nice way to put it. Trying to figure out what our intuition is telling us to do - stay or go, believe or discredit - is very hard to do when triggered. Things seem distorted when survival mechanisms are driving the day, and yet, that's exactly the moment when we feel we should DO SOMETHING to get out of a DANGEROUS situation. Harkening back to Jack Kornfield's passage about how old I am when I feel what I am feeling, I find easily and clearly that I am drawn back to a loss of control fear that came about when my father died.

This is one of the reasons many teachers have encouraged us to feel the space and not decide/act immediately in this situation. That recommendation can easily be read as "Lay there and get harmed all over again," by a panicked/triggered state of mind. But there is wisdom in it, so long as we choose to relax and feel, and be present and not try to "fix it" immediately. Another friend noted she cannot join the Process Committee because she is too hurt to be clear right now. It was a hard realization to come to, but helpful.

This does not mean that SMR and many other teachers have not caused grave harm. What it does mean is I am less likely to be acting out of intuition and more likely to be acting out of a trauma/trigger state. Panic makes poor ground for decisions, as my best friend and I reminded ourselves.

I've also been reflecting on the role of story in all of this situation. Also from a place of trauma, it is easy to need to be vindicated, to be right, and to have our story solidified and validated by others. If they question our story (please note: I will say more on this, I don't mean our experience, but what we tell about it) we feel threatened, or as if they won't hear our experience.

Direct experience is testimony, such as the victims have offered in the Project Sunshine reports as well as numerous articles now published and postings on Facebook. Someone speaking directly to what happened to them is worthy of being trusted. However, the stories we tell about our traumas ("He is an asshole, he is incapable of treating someone like a human being,") are another issue. And in particular, whomever holds the narrative framing - in the case of Project Sunshine, Andrea Winn - should be very responsible for the framing of the experiences she is using to build a story.

I feel quite strongly after PS #3 that Winn has a story - a more common word would be an agenda - and she is using the experiences of victims to feed that story/agenda. This is deeply tragic, since sharing the stories is crucial, and though she may be a faulty framer, Winn has gone to great lengths to make sure they will be heard. However, because of her framing - the agenda/story she builds - people suspect the content of the experiences. It's easy then to blame readers for not believing victims, which takes attention off the framer, who is ultimately responsible for how the experiences are received.

Winn presents herself as a third party, objective and outside. She is not. That much is clear. A third party can't have a story, an agenda. And it points to our core problem right now at every level: Shambhala community's fear or lack of habit or lack of intelligence around asking for help from outside sources. As Kornfield points out in his book, we need wise elders from other traditions, and many of us have been seeking them - their articles, books, quotes, even direct addresses to us (see my second letter for some of these). However, so far the only real offering that is fully objective and clear about its boundaries is Olive Branch. While I have come to understand that Wickwire Holm is in fact duty-bound by law to a) not share their results with the public and also b) not required because they are retained by Shambhala International to bend the story to their will, the fact remains they are being retained by Shambhala, and have not addressed the deep concern many carry about the change this investigation could help make.

We need the wisdom and to "take the good" of Shambhala for this time, AND we need to admit/see where our weak spots are and ask for help. Lots of it. We are not the first Tibetan Buddhist, or Buddhist, or spiritual/religious organization, or hell, society, to go through all of this. So as teachers exhort us to do our practices - especially Vajrayana practitioners - they should also be encouraging us to reach out to our trauma therapists, to seek wisdom in other teachers, and deeply engage our critical devotion (title of my second letter). There are, of course, weaknesses and triggers in external voices - they assume things that aren't true, can judge us or even victim-blame us - so choose carefully.

Over time, decades now, Shambhala has narrowed. We don't let in "outside teachers" as readily as we used to. Other teachers' images - even those in our source lineages - are no longer hanging in our centers. We need to look at this vacuum-like quality on many levels and re-diversify our teachings/teachers and sources and community. Here I mean above and beyond, though also including, the aspects we normally associate with diversity - race, gender, sexuality, physical and emotional abilities.

I find myself looking, at times, for other traditions to join. However, it is getting clearer to me that I actually don't wish to leave Shambhala. I am not looking for "another place" I am looking for "additional places." The fact that I have most often taught on the margins of this mandala - Miksang, Contemplative Writing, Karuna Training - is an obvious indicator not of my not belonging here, but that I need more than just Shambhala. And that is, and should be, ok.

Part III - Resources

I have tried to keep track of the manifold resources available since the last letter. I have not captured them all here. Some are mentioned above, some are not. Please leave any other resources in the comments below.

Top recommendations:
An incredible and pithy Ken McLeod article on samaya which discusses also the reasons people are drawn to Buddhism in the first place, including the risks for"mystics," which I identify myself as being.

I found an offering of Feeding Your Demons by Lama Tsultrim Allione (brought to us by Andrea Winn of Project Sunshine) to be tremendously healing. Here's a video link to a public version she did

Shambhala Resources/articles, etc:
NYC Shambhala page on "holding harm" which has links to reports, letters, and resources. Some are NYC only, but quite a few are good online resources.

Shambhala Acharyas have been offering opportunities to discuss what is going on under the headline of various topics. See Shambhala Online here for dates, times, teachers, and links.

Another great podcast from Dr Shante Smalls, this time on whether Shambhala can get sober.

This blog post is from Fred Meyer, and helps break down the very complex financial report Shambhala International sent out on August 15.

A beautiful post about the controversies around shrine photos in Shambhala right now.

An article on Cultural Humility from Acharya Leung.

Always relevant: why people of color need their own spaces to heal.

And finally, a powerful article written by someone who went to study with Pema recently and it explores dynamics around what's currently happening and Pema's position.

#metoo and/or Buddhism:
A great NYT opinion piece by Roxane Gay, which addresses when it is time for a perpetrator to come back or not.
(I've also been reading her new compilation Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture, which is intense and amazing and includes two dozen powerful writers)

Powerful article on legacies of sexual misconduct in Buddhism and #metoo from the woman who wrote the original articles around Vajradhatu and San Francisco Zen.

Nanette, which is Hannah Gadsby's "comedy"/one-woman show.

How other organizations are handling #metoo and Religion:
Folks have pointed to a few other organizations who have done more independent and seemingly-satisfying investigations. One is Willow Creek Church, where the investigation team consisted of external Christian teachers from across the nation.

Another is Noah Levine in the Against the Stream community.

Here's a link to some powerful descriptions of working with "Institutional Betrayal."

The Sorrow of an All-Male Lineage by Norman Fisher.

Matthew Remski:
Finally, Matthew Remski is someone who investigates cults, and has taken a special interest in Shambhala in the last few months. I read his words with grains of salt, mainly because he is someone seeking to find cults where there many in fact not be cults, but he often has very powerful and helpful critiques of some of the more difficult aspects of how our leadership is handling this situation. 
One key piece is a discussion with Susan Piver after he wrote criticism about her blog post (which I linked to in my second letter). Another looks at the relationship between women - female acharyas including Pema Chodron - and disorganized attachment in our lineage. I recommend both and further, but please read with your lovingly critical mind engaged.

Tangential, but crucial: an article on how not to burn out.

1 comment:

  1. Two resources others have shared with me: https://tricycle.org/magazine/sex-sangha-again/ an article with four Buddhist teachers on sex abuse and Buddhism. Also, San Francisco, similar to NYC, has compiled a set of resources on their website: https://sf.shambhala.org/2018/07/04/resources-for-helping-our-sangha-to-understand-current-events-in-shambhala/