Home     Contact Us         Log in
Jun 30
Community Articles
Open Letter from 68 Dharma Brats to Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche

The following republishes an open letter from second-generation members of the Shambhala community to Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, the community’s leader and spiritual teacher. The letter expresses a heartfelt request for the Sakyong to engage in a path of authentic accountability for his actions that harmed specific individuals and the community at large, many of which came to light in June 2018 and thrust Shambhala into a public controversy within the #MeToo movement. The letter’s authors, often referred to informally as “Dharma Brats,” are adults who were raised in the Shambhala community by parents who studied with its founder, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, as well as with his son, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. Through this turbulent time in the Shambhala community, we have come to appreciate our unique perspective and understanding of the Sakyong and the community, thus the decision to author a letter together. We do not speak for all dharma brats, there are many with differing views to those represented here. We range from holding senior posts within Shambhala to practicing with other Buddhist teachers to mostly uninvolved. What unites us is a recognition of the value of what we were given as children and how it has profoundly shaped our lives, and a deep care for what happens to that legacy. The authors sent the letter to the Sakyong’s secretary on June 23, 2020 and published the open letter at http://www.dharmabrats.org on June 24, 2020.

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

Esther Fraund

Judith Fraund

Phoebe Fraund Linton

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

Javin Lee-Lobel

Waylon Lewis

Kate Baker Linsley

Jessie Litven

Jesse Locke

Julia Löschenbrand-Bläuel

Julia McKaig

Edward McKeever

Alex Meade

Frederick Meyer

Ashoka Mukpo

Bea de Munik

Lindsey Muse

Graham Navin

Will Perkins

Monica Peters

Liana Pomeroy

Kelsey Root-Winchester

Andrew Sacamano

David Sachs

Mikayla Sanford

Juliet Shapiro

Jamie Shapiro

Lu Slone

Tara Slone

Colin Stubbert

Julia Tara Burnell

Alex Taylor

Sera Thompson

Mara Toombs

Evan Trimble

Elle VanHouten

David Vogler

Richard Vogler

Emilia Volz

Ryan Watson

Anatta Watts (Harding)

Benjamin Williams

John Wimberly

Alana Ziegler

Leandra Ziegler

Post Tags: , , , , ,
19 responses to “ Open Letter from 68 Dharma Brats to Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche ”
  1. Philip Friedman
    Jul 13, 2020

    A PERFECT letter. If the Sakyong cannot see the heartfeltness of it, then I guess there is nothing more to say. I have left the sangha over this two year ruse of running. It is time, dear sir, to stop. The path is the goal, and we need to all be on it.

  2. Philip Beeman
    Jul 10, 2020

    The good guru

    has realized the ultimate view
    is open-minded
    is reluctant to teach
    is tolerant
    is learned
    is disciplined
    is kind and never denigrates others
    has a lineage
    is progressive
    is humble
    is not interested in your wallet, thighs, or toes
    has a living guru and a living tradition
    is devoted to the three jewels
    trusts in the laws of karma
    is generous
    brings you to virtuous surroundings
    has tamed the body, speech, and mind
    is gentle and soothing
    has pure perception
    is nonjudgmental
    abides by the Buddha’s rules of Vinaya, Bodhisattvayana, and, of course, Vajrayana
    fears wrongdoing
    is forgiving
    is skillful”

    DKR !
    Good models are so hard to find these days

  3. Vallie Stearns Anderson
    Jul 9, 2020

    Thank you for sharing what is in your hearts. And thank you to all those who wrote comments in reaction. It does feel like “we” are coming to a turning point. Mr. Mukpo has retreated with his retinue while the rest of the community is fragmenting into groups. There seems to be some kind of shedding and even polarization going on. Some are just leaving. Some are leaving but are still watching, still connected even if in anger. My focus has been on the little sangha groups in my region that I love and wondering how we can rebuild — or if we should rebuild — our little communities. I feel a lot of love for them. I am not sure of how I will relate to “Shambhala” but I feel a lot of love for you too, even those I don’t know very well. I feel a lot of love to the survivors of Shambhala sexual abuse, and never sure where to put that love or how to express it. I’m saddened to hear how they have been pushed aside. I feel like a lot of people have been focusing on their dharma “family” and how to relate to it. I’m reminded of what happens to families where children have been sexually abused, and how it effects everyone and all the relationships. Heartbreaking that the survivors get lost in the shuffle. The survivors were so brave to publish their stories, and it has been so good for the rest of us… thank you. We will get to a place of gratitude even if we”re not there yet. I don”t think we can wait for Mr. Mukpo to come around. It seems we have to just start and do the hard work ourselves without him. If we want a Shambhala community to survive. Having the generosity and patience and exertion to dialogue like this, with each other. Not leaving anyone out. What does Shambhala look like without a king? Maybe it could look really good. What if we related to the Sakyong principle and let go of any individual to be placed on a throne and receive all our projections of warriorship and enlightenment. What if we did that? Thank you again for publishing this letter. Maybe if we all published our letters to Mr. Mukpo, and read them all, it would be so hard! but maybe it would be good. Lots of love, Vallie

  4. Lanny Harrison
    Jul 6, 2020

    thanx dear Dharma Brats!
    well said
    addressing many issues
    glad you spotlighted white supremacy, patriarchy, racial injustice
    all these are completely connected to the abuse, harm & secrecy that continued for so long!
    may we continue to learn, study & dance
    in the glorious dharma
    Lanny harrison

  5. David Schultens
    Jul 5, 2020

    With an affinity formed from a similar childhood, yet of a different sangha, the idea of inclusive community implies open dialog, to which this author must laude these efforts.

    Should the Shambala organization or any individuals choose to engage with support of psychology, democratic, political organizations, therapeutics, etc.; none of these will erase these samskara impressions in experience. As children all bare witness to trauma that becomes a foundational matrix of introspective personae examination, with all our seasawing sensibility and dilapidation in adulthood leading to impermanent coping, some klesha ignorant action individuals aspire to renounce and disengage from habituation. Non-clinging to self, the path of the Shravikikaya, some aspirant’s vow to disengage allegiance with linear progression in foreseeable outcomes.

    This conciliatory collection of identity as “Dharma Brats” inseparable from a path of Buddha-Dharma purporting to offer refuge from harm, yet when in not just systemic but dare say systematic exclusionary means of perpetuating the succession cult of personality, financial oligarchy are promoted to support private sex cult activity, it will not matter who is in the “hot seat”. Deposing a succession of birds of a feather, from a perch in their wish fulfilling trees, has been, is, and will be, the activity of demagoguery steeped in the flesh fabric of being humans, profiteering by the hedonic pimpery of freedom’s path. It’s a retooling of warrior cultures, and a perpetuation of currency, control and subjugation that persists Samsara’s voluptuous glory. Wake up kids, water under the path bridge. Identification with the mental processes is going nowhere for so many years, it’s time to all just be people again. Abolish rank and file so it can just be ok at the friendly and equality levels always eroding any merit in the vast, Mahayana motivations. Your activity needs to be externalized, and there are no shortages of opportunity to anneal the resolve to putting others before self.

  6. Renya Krempl
    Jul 4, 2020

    Thank you for courageously, clearly and beautifully articulating what I have been feeling!

  7. Louise Melov
    Jul 3, 2020

    What a beautiful letter, so heart felt and meaningful. I have recently heard of divisions in Shambhala all the way in OZ and found that very distressing and outside of what I understand Shambhala is about. Are the discussions around the Sakyong starting to create a Trump like situation? That would be shocking and it makes me sick to even consider this. Yes all Shambhala communities worldwide have been affected by the revelations 2 years ago. Sakyong please read the Dharma brats letter with an open heart and do something healing and nondualistic NOW before there are no communities left.

  8. Beautiful! Thank you all!

  9. Regan A Urbanick
    Jul 3, 2020

    I am writing to support Julia, Justin, Fred, Leslie, and Helen’s responses to the dharma brat letter.
    I believe that the sexual abuse started long before Mipham. It began with Trungpa and his regent, Tom Rich. It began with the ancient idea that with sex with young girls was a valuable tantric practice. It began with the fact of sexual abuse of child monks by older monks and the abuse of nuns by monks. Sex with children and with less powerful people is found in many human communities, but it is usually publicly condemned even when it is common. I do not think that the dharma brats have no other place to go. It just feels that way to them now. It is natural for people to feel deeply attached to the people and customs of their youth even when those people and customs are destructive. Shambhala must make complete restitution to all the abuse survivors, and the king must abdicate to help heal this community,but even then it may be a house built on sand. I rewrote this letter removing some of my painful experiences in the Vajradhatu / Shambhala community hoping my letter would be printed this time.

  10. Justin Rezzonico
    Jul 2, 2020

    An alternative version:

    Dear Shambhala,

    We want to acknowledge first that as second generation Dharma practitioners we have epitomized in-group mentality. We excluded others and we’re sorry for that.

    We see now that the Shambhala we knew was not what we thought. While some experienced wonder and magic others experienced a hellish nightmare. Ultimately if it doesn’t work for some then it doesn’t work for us. If the principles we hold dear have any hope of being manifested then it is necessary to acknowledge that as it is things aren’t working.

    We recognize that the problems we face today began with Chogyam Trungpa. The problem is systemic. The institutional hierarchy baked into every area of Shambhala perpetuates racial and gender oppression. Furthermore the use of forms of oppression to transform aggression failed to protect people and even made it worse.

    We implore the Sakyong to be a true example of warriorship but we know that even having to ask such a thing means it is unlikely to happen. It is still possible to manifest the principles of Shambhala even without a central figure. Indeed that responsibility lies equally with all of us. Placing it all on one person is part of what got us into this situation. Now is the time for each of us to act.

    We are devastated by the loss of the world we’ve known. We share that pain with others all across the social/political spectrum. Knowing that things are impermanent doesn’t lessen that pain. Still, we can seek not to hang on but to try something new.

    Signed, we’re giving up the term “dharma brats” cause we’re not really special, clearly

  11. These second-generation practitioners are rightly dismayed by Mipham J. Mukpo and his epic lack of contrition. They are being hailed as brave in social media discussions, for calling him out, and it appears that the cause is trending, because a few more names get added to the list of signatories every few days.

    But here’s the thing.

    Why now? People have been expressing outrage and disappointment with Mipham since the early days of Buddhist Project Sunshine. Are these people, who signed this letter, only now waking up to the realization that they have been fooled?

    Whoever actually wrote this letter is careful to heap all blame onto Mipham, and ignore the fact that he was merely a symptom of a much bigger disease, which all of these “dharma brats” grew up with and the trauma of which they have to live with. As we speak, people who took advantage of the predatory culture of Shambhala are going to jail. Mipham did not invent this culture, but he thrived in it, and he was not alone.

    I wonder… Mipham has always had powerful enemies since the days when I knew him, and while he was diligent about purging those who were disloyal to him, there were even those within his own family who were uncomfortable with his elevation to the Monarchy. Is this perhaps the opening salvo of a coup d’état in the Kingdom of Shambhala?


    There are some important names missing here. What about the second-generation abuse survivors who came forward a few years ago and started this long process? They have suffered shunning and abuse at the hands of their own so-called friends, for daring to step out of the shadows. They are not being hailed as brave heros, in Shambhala’s inner discussions. They are disparaged and reviled, even now.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that these people, some of whom I used to know, are finally finding their voice. I just wonder, Guys, what took you so long?

  12. Leslie Hays
    Jul 1, 2020

    May you realize individuals irreparably harmed are more important than some group compromise. Also, sheesh.

  13. Helen Effron
    Jul 1, 2020

    Thank you Julia.

    I agree that actual solidarity with and support for victims of sexual abuse in Shambhala (versus new policies and procedures) has been sorely lacking in the community.
    And this is why it is puzzling to me that people are fervently imploring someone to be accountable, who in spite of “multiple apologies“ and endless spin, has not shown signs of being interested in that.

    I have heard many people say they feel that he has apologized and that is sufficient (I am not implying that signers of this letter agree with that).
    But this is why I appreciate hearing from and I think it is important to listen to someone who doesn’t agree with that, and is willing to share about a sub?culture of abuse and dysfunction that she experienced and witnessed during her young adult life in Shambhala.
    If people want to stay in shambhala and see it survive and thrive, I wish them well.
    But I don’t think that can happen until the shadows are brought into the light.

  14. Tsering Nye
    Jul 1, 2020

    The first “American Buddhists” was around mid 1800s. American in the sense of the Caucasian colonizers. Buddhism was already present among the Chinese who settled. Many built the railways. 120 years ago there were over already 400 Buddhist temples on the West Coast. What is now recognized as racism and white supremacy at that time “American Buddhists” decided to create their own brand and one of the early protagonists was Henry Steel Olcott who set up the Theosophical Society with Helena Blavatsky who were occultist supremacists.

    Isn’t 2nd generation Dharma Brats more akin to a Beat Poet romantic self idealization that seeks to define itself as a generation born to converts whilst ignoring the non-whites whose Buddhist upbringings go back through the centuries? There are hundreds of millions of “Dharma Brats” on the planet. Hundreds of millions who honor their unspoiled Buddhist upbringings. This letter looks more like a disgruntled family breakdown of people who haven’t found their place in the world. The real Buddhist world is full of mathematicians, scientists, medical professionals, academics, rich and poor and yes, even junkies or prostitutes in all sorts of countries and the many races that are somehow excluded from this letter’s dirty laundry family Politik bubble. Speaking as a simple Buddhist brat for all the many hundreds of millions of Buddhist brats around the world, we are thankful to our parents, our ancestors and to our greater extended families. Our histories know far greater tragedies than a Disney story of Life on the Prairie permanently frozen in Ang Lee’s post 60s Ice Storm.

    Perhaps Shambhala Times sees itself as seperate from those “other Buddhist families” and would reject any other insights in preference of a princely brown-headed cowbird lifestyle stuck on a farm? But wouldn’t that be a cocoon that keeps messages from the world out?

    For each and every Buddhist within the Shambhala community that this website caters for, there are 50,000 Buddhists. Although most don’t speak American. Your parents must be so proud.

  15. Sherab Gyatso
    Jul 1, 2020

    I was glad to see this letter… It is good to know that others feel similarly. While not a “brat” per se, I too am from the second wave of Vajradhatu/Shambhala students, and am of a similar age. And I too, am losing heart.

    This was an opportunity to demonstrate the 4 karmas, to show how harm caused by past behavior can be remedied. Instead, all that was demonstrated was how to get out of Dodge. Just, powerful, all-victorious are reduced to marketing verbiage if they are not put into practice. Now is the time, now is the time, be not idle!

  16. Simon Hilbert
    Jul 1, 2020

    “Rinpoche”, “vajra master”, one would think these titles would exclude ethical violations like clerical sexual misconduct and opaque unaccountable hierarchy. If they do not, then of what utility is such a credential or practice?

    This too late too tepid supplication, even if responded to, would be far to shallow of a response to the deep history of ethical violations and toxic culture beginning with trungpa.

    Here’s an incomplete collection of journalism, articles, and individual testimony that evidences the iceberg of pain under the faintest tip that dharma brats letter barely touches on:


    Until such time that the depth of Shambhala / Vajradhatu’s misconduct is admitted to and disavowed, Shambhala should not be considered by any measure to be a safe organisation.

  17. Shambhala Times Team
    Jul 1, 2020

    In reply to the comment by Julia Howell—

    From the Shambhala Times team: the full copied text of the statement exceeds the maximum comment length on the Times. This comment refers to pages 18 and 19 of the following document: Buddhist Project Sunshine Phase 2 Final Report

  18. Julia Howell
    Jun 30, 2020

    69th dharma brat posted a statement (copied below) 2 years ago. She did so independently after becoming devastatingly discouraged after closely following community discussions suggesting “commitments” to accountability, “reform” and a “cultural shift” were underway with regard to sexual violence and clergy misconduct in Shambhala. #69 shared her post with Andrea Winn (also a dharma brat, #70) and gave Winn permission to include it in the BPS 2 Report. #69’s independent post prompted two other former students of Mipham to submit statements of his abuse to BPS in the hopes exposure of the issue would curtail future harm to students of shambhala. Nothing but harm to those survivors has ensued. Many of the signatories of the above dharma brat open letter offered niceties to their peer, #69, at the time but now put their names behind this letter that refers to her abuser as “sir” and “Rinpoche” over and over. The concept of solidarity with and support for victims of sexual abuse in and by Shambhala continues to evade even those dharma brats who purport to support the best of “the lineage”, despite the last two years of “heartbreak” and reflection.

  19. I feel such tremendous gratitude for your courage and leadership in publishing this letter. I and many others have written to the Sakyong with similar views, but your expression is especially heartfelt and inspiring! I hope you will receive some response from the Sakyong, but since none of us has so far, I am prepared to follow your lead to save our beloved community!
    May it be of benefit!

Sorry, comments for this entry are closed at this time.

Website Development by Blue Mandala using Wordpress MU.
All content and source Copyright © 1994-2023. Shambhala International (Vajradhatu), Shambhala, Shambhala Meditation Center, Shambhala Training, Shambhala Center and Way of Shambhala are registered service marks of Shambhala USA
Privacy Policy
Translate »