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Letter from Lady Diana Mukpo

Office of the Druk Sakyong Wangmo


To the Shambhala sangha,

I write this letter in a difficult time for our community as well as our world. Turmoil engulfs us internally and externally as across society people wake up to the ways the institutions that surround us have failed those who they should serve. Our community is no exception, and the last three years have been a painful reckoning with where we have fallen short of our aspirations.

I spent 17 years of my life with the Vidyadhara, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and was present for nearly every step of his journey to bring his sacred heritage from his lost homeland to ours. One day, shortly after we moved to Boulder, I said to Rinpoche, “I love you more than anyone in the world.” He responded by saying, “I love you second best.” When I asked who came first, he said, “I will always love my guru Jamgon Kongtrul most because he represents the dharma.”

For two decades, I watched as he devoted every fiber of his being and life force to what he felt was his duty: to share what he brought over the Himalayas with us in these faraway lands. He believed teaching the dharma was his reason for being on this earth, and this permeated all his actions.

During his life as well as after his death, tens of thousands of people contributed to building the sangha that he inspired and guided. They lifted tents so that mountain fields could become sacred teaching environments, cooked meals for one another, washed sheets, windows, and dishes as a service to their fellow practitioners, worked tirelessly to build spaces in cities across the world, and dedicated their precious time and money to our community.

Now, what was built by all that exertion is in peril.

We must be honest. It is in peril because of us. In our zeal to see only what was nourishing and profound about the world we were creating, we failed in our duty to listen to and protect the vulnerable among us. This was a collective failure of leadership that stretched across eras, and we cannot brush it aside.

I know that this letter will be read by some of those who were abused by teachers or fellow practitioners in our community, or who were subjected to harm and dismissed when they tried to express what had happened to them. To you, I say: I am sorry. We failed you, and there are no words that can fix what you experienced. You deserved better.

Now, our community finds itself at a crossroads. The heartbreak, anger, and disappointment that we have collectively experienced has fractured us and left us frozen about how to move forward – or for many, whether we should at all. For some, this pain is new. For others, it has been carried for years or decades. One thing is clear – for our tradition to continue, it must change, and so must we.

The work of addressing the cultural and institutional patterns that brought us to this point cannot be carried out by one person, nor any small group, no matter how well-practiced or devoted they may be. It is a collective responsibility that all who wish to see the Shambhala tradition emerge from this crisis now share. The wisdom that is at the core of that tradition is owned by no one. Everywhere it has arrived, it has adapted and changed to meet the intelligence of those who have been entrusted with it.

I feel that it is important to say this clearly and without hesitation: Shambhala is all of us. It is the community of warriors, teachers, meditators, and workers who have devoted their sweat and tears to its propagation across decades and generations. Now, we must decide how to care for that inheritance so we may pass it along to others, just as it was given to us.

Throughout the history of our sangha, authentic dharma has been offered by our teachers in many forms. The insights gained on zafus, benches, and teaching chairs have transformed people’s lives and given them tools to work with their minds and contemplate the nature of reality. But that is understandably of small consolation to those who were hurt, and who left exhausted and disillusioned.

Chogyam Trungpa once told us to “never give up on anyone.” But that is not a license to evade responsibility for harmful behavior or abuses of power. When we harm others, consciously or not, we must be brave enough to face the consequences of our actions, and if we cannot do so, our positions of leadership are not inviolable. None of us is above a reckoning with that pain.

I recognize that this includes me. And I know that some of you who are reading this may feel that my own proximity to power and authority over the years makes me a questionable spokesperson for change. All of those who have held leadership positions must be willing to account for the moment we are in and how we arrived here. I am no exception to this. But this brings me to the purpose of this letter.

When the Vidyadhara died, he passed on responsibility for his legacy and sangha to a number of people. While it is undeniable that he hoped the Shambhala tradition would be carried forward by his son, he left me with control over the copyrights for all his writings, practice instructions, sadhanas, translations, and termas. I believe that this was intended to provide checks and balances in case there were difficulties in the future. After his death, in my role as the Druk Sakyong Wangmo I periodically gave authorization to sangha members who wished to practice the Werma Sadhana.

I will now be making all of that material available to those who wish to carry his legacy forward, outside of any single line of strict control. In the coming months I will be convening a representative group of practitioners across generations and eras to discuss how we can provide opportunities for all those who wish to receive those materials in the future to do so. My hope is that ultimately the sangha itself will become empowered to craft a path forward without replicating the dynamics that brought us to this painful point.

When I reflect on the Vidyadhara’s life’s work, I am struck by the array of meditative forms and teaching streams that he created to help people cultivate a relationship to the dharma. He established programs for dharma art, offered traditional Karma Kagyu-Nyingma practice instructions, invited teachers from the Zen and Kyudo worlds to share their traditions, and created a new language for Tibet’s spiritual warriorship tradition, which he called Shambhala. In addition, he built relationships with scholars and meditation masters from across the world, many of whom were instrumental in the founding of our community from its earliest days.

I hope that those who now hold these wisdom traditions in their hands – all of you – can bring them into a new era and help to shape the society that contains them.

I would like to make it clear that I am not seeking to assume administrative or spiritual leadership of the sangha, nor attempting to establish a new hierarchy through a closed process. Rather, I plan to use what power I do have – those over the Vidyadhara’s copyrights – to support those who wish to create an independent path for students to receive training in the forms and practices he taught, and to develop new environments in which they can be shared. I hope that by conferring these authorizations to a new generation, I am carrying out the responsibility that was entrusted to me by my husband before his death.

The contours of what our community choses to do with the treasures it holds is not mine alone to decide. But by opening up space for new possibilities, perhaps our collective wisdom will illuminate the way forward.

Some of this work is already being done, and has been for some time. People who were trained or raised by the Shambhala community have struck out on their own, and are currently serving as teachers in their own communities, whether local or otherwise. I find this encouraging and note that many of these environments are thriving as they commit themselves to addressing spiritual power dynamics that, if left unchecked, can breed abuse.

There can be no mandate for every teacher or sangha affiliated with our tradition to pledge allegiance to one central body. Many will wish to continue as they are and build on the work that they have been developing, on their own, without becoming too tied into any larger group. I hope to be able to give authorization for some of those teachers to share the Vidyadhara’s writings and termas so they may have additional resources to offer their students.

Many sangha members, however, are understandably unwilling to carry on with business as usual, but do not wish to see the unique forms, customs, and practices of what has been known as Vajradhatu or Shambhala over the years disappear entirely from their lives. I find myself in this group, and it is this group to whom I would like to offer as much support as I can.

None of this is happening in a vacuum, of course. In recent months, it has become clear that Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche is choosing to work with a smaller group of students, provided they are willing to continue with their samaya and the other vows they have made to him. The actions that many had hoped would take place through this crisis do not look likely to occur. I recognize the depth of commitment that some of members of our sangha have to him, and I respect their decision to remain on their journey. My aspiration is that we will continue to see ourselves as part of a broader family and not become inhospitable to or alienated from one another.

I recognize as well that many newer students have questions about Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche and his personal conduct. Those questions are valid. Nobody is beyond scrutiny, and there is much about his behavior that we have emulated in ways that have been unhealthy and dangerous over the years. However vast his mind may have been, he was still a human being.

But as someone who spent years by his side, I want you to know that I never met anyone who was kinder, more devoted to others, and more unfathomably brilliant than him. Without doubt I can say that what he brought into the world, he did so because of a bone-deep commitment to the awakenment of sentient beings. I feel incredibly lucky to have spent the time with him that I did, along with a profound commitment to his life’s work.

For his heart transmissions to survive, we will need to hand the shrine room keys to a new generation of leaders and teachers. Over the years, I have met countless members of our extended family of practitioners, both young and old. I know that we have tremendous resources to draw on, and I believe fully that our sangha can rise to the challenges we face.

At the heart of my husband’s work in his later life was the idea of an “enlightened society.” It informed and guided so much of his teaching and creativity. So much of his energy was spent building a sangha that didn’t shy away from celebration or participation in the world, but could do so from the ground of meditation practice, basic goodness, and appreciation of sacred world. It is now our responsibility to recognize where we have stumbled, and to move forward in a way that does not repeat past mistakes.

But we might also remember how fortunate we are, as well as what our tradition and community has to offer when it is at its best. To give up entirely on our sangha would be another mistake, and a grave one.

For those of you who do not want to give up, I will be doing everything I can to ensure that you have every resource that is in my power to provide.

Yours in the dharma,

Diana Mukpo

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20 responses to “ Letter from Lady Diana Mukpo ”
  1. Mr. Wright,

    I commend you for your loyalty and dedication to the teachings of the Dorje Dradul.

    However, I must disagree with your interpretation.

    The view you present is highly dualistic.

    It acknowledges form, but denies emptiness.

    The mandala that is visualized must also be dissolved.

  2. Michael Smith
    Jul 22, 2020

    Mr Wright,
    Thank you for your well written and accurate reply. I would like to add a few points. The schism already exists. Lady Diana did not create it but by acknowledging it there might be a chance of some workability. The issue in some form is the wide open large view of ‘secular’ Shambhala. It does not negate any teachings already being presented by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. The same open theme is in the resigning acharyas letter and in the ‘dharma brats’ letter. It has been a plea from the Kagyu students for decades. No one can take Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche’s seat from him.

    Lastly, you might not recognize it being where you come from, but in American football all this would be called a Hail Mary pass.

    Please contact me to discuss this further at: [email protected]

  3. Ian Powell
    Jul 21, 2020

    As a Shambhala Buddhist of 17y or so, I recall hearing Sakyong Mipham speak often during my time of ‘turning the flower outward’.. I see Lady Diana’s gesture of great generosity here as consistent with this request.

    For folks further interested in Sakyong Mipham’s vision of enlightened society, please have a look at the treatise described here: https://milwaukee.shambhala.org/enl-soc-lung/ and elsewhere.. Anyone who has received the ‘reading’ of this treatise can read it to you as well.

    In order to practice and to realize enlightened society, I read in the Sakyong’s work no stated requirement for a Sakyong, be it a king or a queen.

    Given the historical preponderance of a particular demographic make-up in the Shambhala community, it also bears noting: in order to practice and to realize enlightened society, I read in the Sakyong’s work no stated requirement to be a white, middle-class American or European.

    Thank you,

  4. If the Shambhala teachings are magical (as it were), set them free.

    Surrender the copyright to Creative Commons.

    Gift them to the world.

    If they’re self-secret, those who need teachers will find them.

    But it’s 2020.

    The organization is in denial that it is over.

    For better or worse, the corruption forever associated with its leaders will always be available with a single click.

    If the teachings are pure, please surrender them to the world and they should remain incorruptible.

    This would be revolutionary, outrageous and just, all at once.

    Thank you.

  5. Sherab Gyatso
    Jul 20, 2020

    This is good news.

    Those who wish to relate to the Kagyu and Nyingma Dharma (2/3 of new students interested in Vajrayana) will be able to do so.

    Those who wish to follow the Scorpion Seal with the Sakyong (1/3 of new students interested in Vajrayana) will be able to do so.

    Those who wish to relate to the Shambhala teachings, but not to the Sakyong, will be able to do so.

    The amazing teachings of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche will no longer be held hostage, and might no longer fade away. The Dharma is replete with great teachers’ students starting their own centres and teaching themselves. The fact this hasn’t happened with VCTR is an exception, rather than the norm.

    Whether this divides Shambhalian Sangha is up to each member of Shambhala. It is they who can be kind to each other, despite disagreements, or it is they who can tear each other apart. We will see whether their training worked.

    As to whether or not someone who behaves as an actual Earth-Protector emerges and makes Shambhala manifest, well… that’s kind of up to that person, and not up to everyone else. The rest of us can continue on our respective paths. Who knows, perhaps one of our next incarnations will be that person.

  6. Billy Boyar
    Jul 20, 2020

    Dear Lady Diana,
    I wept with happiness when I read your letter. I can only hope that the Acharyas who bravely stepped down will now step up.
    It is my heart wish that the profound Sadhanas of Vajrayogini and Chakrasamvara be handed to the next generation and be upheld as living practices on this planet.
    Thank you!

  7. Thank you for this letter. It soothed my heart and sharpened my mind. I feel more hope and lightness regarding the situation than I have in a long time.

  8. Fabrizio Martinotti
    Jul 19, 2020

    I receive the letter as an opportunity: “opening a space” is always an opportunity, especially where a few have been feeling oppressed in a way or another or even abused. Over rationalization has always been a way to protect ego and has got an aggressive side that I would like to leave behind, I found the letter with a basic sanity attitude, I believe karmic results will be good.

  9. joan Sutton
    Jul 18, 2020

    I wonder in what way “suffering humanity” has been helped by the existence of Shambhala for the past fifty years? Where is the promise fulfilled? I’m sure people can say that they themselves have benefited greatly or that they know others who have. But as far as I can see, there is no enlightened society as of now.

  10. Nick Wright
    Jul 18, 2020

    I have great respect and affection for Lady Diana, but this letter is troubling, for two reasons.

    First, I see it as the formal announcement of a schism within the Dorje Dradul’s sangha. Given the power and potential compressed into his teaching stream (he called it a nuclear bomb), I wonder if people have really thought things through in this light. Taking such a step is bound to have unknowable consequences for the Dorje Dradul’s vision and teachings, for his students, and perhaps the world. I fear we have fallen blindly into the deeply confused realm of social media and are allowing ourselves to be divided and ruled by it. We need to step back and look again.

    Second, the Dorje Dradul made it very clear that without a Sakyong (king or queen), the Kingdom of Shambhala simply cannot manifest. There must be an ultimate human warrior whose mind is an emanation of the Rigdens; otherwise, Heaven and Earth cannot be fully joined on behalf of human society. This isn’t something we can just dismiss because some of us don’t want to follow the current sakyong and think we can make up our own self-styled alternatives. It won’t work.

    Even if a parting of the ways may now be tragically inevitable, I don’t think dispersing the ‘crown jewels’ to those unable or unwilling to follow the Sakyong is the way forward. Indeed, it feels like compromising the container, based on some kind of political reaction to how the Sakyong is manifesting.

    We can empower any number of individuals to practice the Shambhala teachings, but without a true sakyong, society never transcends the setting sun confusion of competing views, political ambition and depression. There is no one with a vast vision; no one to cut through and proclaim ultimate sanity. The leadership eventually, or quickly, devolves into the mushy, grey, confused world of democracy or some other version of governance by consensus, or into a loose collection of individuals and groups fingerpainting their versions of Shambhala instead of fully manifesting it as a powerful, united community.

    Under such a system, another sakyong will be elected, one way or another, and he or she will have to manifest within a straitjacket designed by unenlightened people motivated by an aggressive distrust of power — as Lady Diana herself suggests in her letter. But you can’t have a Shambhala Kingdom where the sakyong has to ask permission to be outrageous, isn’t allowed to be inscrutable, and is subject to the dictates of ego-centred politics and social rules based on mistrust. It won’t work.

    Ironically, it’s all based on fear — of opening, of letting go of our precious self, our credentials of all kinds and our preconceptions. We are making our social identities, our personal histories and our grievances more and more solid, as the setting sun world is busy doing, not the opposite as we were trained to do, and we are demanding that Shambhala be reconfigured to confirm them. Students are currently focused above all on securing guarantees that their world will never be rocked and, most pernicious of all, demanding that the Sakyong prostrate to their conflicting emotions and confused notions of reality before they will allow him to lead them again. It won’t work.

    The challenge, as always, lies within ourselves. We must choose to follow the Sakyong or not, but pretending that dribbling out the precious teachings to those who reject him is a healthy alternative seems worse than futile.

    All of those committed to realizing the Dorje Dradul’s vision and spreading his teachings must get back to square one and figure out how to remain united, or the Shambhala Kingdom could be stillborn — a breach of faith with the Dorje Dradul, the Lineage and suffering humanity that would resound down the eons.

    With respect, and great sadness and longing,

    Nick Wright

  11. Gerry Haase
    Jul 17, 2020

    Where does all this leave the Kasung?

  12. Erin Fellows
    Jul 17, 2020

    Have we not trained in letting go, impermanence, and knowing what to accept and what to reject?

    For five decades we’ve followed the “teachings” of a broken man who drank himself to death surrounded by cheering enthrawled enablers. Following Trungpa’s “teachings” has led to one cliquish opaque secretive corrupt harmful hierarchy after another. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. It’s empirically obvious that Trungpa’s “teachings” when put into practice are failure after failure.

    What kept us coming back together as friends was more basic and wholesome. It was a simple appreciation for the essence of Buddhist philosophy. When thought or situations arise; pause, observe, learn, then take the action that is of most benefit and is of least harm… repeat.

    There is a vast world of wisdom and philosophy well evidenced to be of greater benefit than Trungpa’s disastrous legacy. Let us be the good hearted people we aspire to be and use our bravery, intelligence, compassion, and communities to move to greener, simpler, more humble, more fruitful pastures.

    Or remain frightfully and egotistically attached to this same tragically well trodden path of cliquish elitism, secret texts hoarded by / copyrighted by / fought over by the few, harm, and rot.

    We need fundamental earth moving change, not more of the evidenced broken same.

  13. Mary Fugiel
    Jul 17, 2020

    Hello to the Druk Sakyong Wangmo, thanks for your precise letter to the Shambhala Community. I do
    appreciate your insight and encouragement to those practitioners who’ve served many years in our local
    sanghas to promote enlightened society. It’s a good reminder to us to be grateful for the many practices and
    teachings granted out of the Shambhala terma. I agree that we must forge a new direction with the right
    view of GES. Wishing you , your family well at this time. M. Fugiel

  14. Stephen Miller
    Jul 17, 2020

    I am so grateful–to you, Diana Mukpo–that at least there is the possibility of CTR’s teachings (and hopefully various transmissions) to continue in one form or another. The Acharyas’ resignation letter made many of us feel like there was no path forward. I look forward to more positive developments (not divisions). Stephen Miller

  15. Joseph Fiala
    Jul 17, 2020

    thank you, your letter cones at a critical time and offers the general community a way forward. What started with one person is now carried on the shoulders of thousands, not one. Out of groundlessness all possibilities exist with freedom many ways can be explored to bring the teachings forward. Your pledge to make this possible lays the foundation for secular shambhala to flourish! And in the process perhaps will allow the continued development of the vajrayana in all traditions, but within Shambhala foremost.

  16. Ellie Sharchen VanHouten
    Jul 17, 2020

    Thank you for writing this. Growing up in the sangha because my parents were/are Rinpoche’s students, I’ve been feeling A LOT of sadness because of everything that’s happened and the way some people of ‘power’ have responded. Being in Pennsylvania, I’m feeling very isolated from the sangha for multiple reasons. For whatever reason, this letter held space for me to break open and sob for old and new sadness and tenderness and love and kindness and confusion and compassion… for all of it. Thank you for writing this. Continued studies of meditation and the dharma are SO important to me. If you’re up for it, I’d really love to learn how I can access the teachings you speak of, and others. Again, thank you for this. Best wishes to you.

  17. Beverly Marshall
    Jul 17, 2020

    Thank you for writing this letter to us. It is appreciated. I agree that it’s important to never give up on anyone, but at times it is necessary to let go if someone or something is giving us more pain than pleasure.

    Looking forward to connecting and seeing you once again in either New York or Florida. Please stay healthy and keep in touch. Warm regards to Lisa F…

    Beverly Marshall

  18. David Wilde
    Jul 17, 2020

    Does the term “copyright” as used here include the ability to give practice transmission as in a “wang”?

  19. Jonathan R Felch
    Jul 17, 2020

    Thank you, Mother-lineage Warrior. I hope this works out to exceed all your aspirations.

  20. Curtis Steele
    Jul 17, 2020

    Dear Lady Diana
    Thank you very much for this wise and heart-felt proclamation.
    Curtis Steele

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