Last week, Myra Woodruff, the Executive Director of Karme Choling who will be retiring towards the end of the year, sent out a letter to subscribers at Karme Choling, discussing whether or not to rehang the pictures in the shrine rooms of Chogyam Trungpa and Osel Mukpo.
After some equivocating, the decision was ultimately made to rehang the pictures.
This represents another layer of institutional betrayal, and will likely act to further suppress other survivors from coming forward in that setting. Seeing perpetrators of abuse being venerated sets a large cultural message and makes for a very unwelcoming environment for survivors of abuse. It is hard to imagine survivors feeling very welcome practicing in that environment.
There has been some excellent conversation and analysis around this decision.
Matthew Remski, has unpacked the letter section by section here, offering his characteristic analysis of some of the unhealthy dynamics at play within the letter, pointing out some of the false equivalences, etc, as well as framing this letter as an institutional response, rather than a personal one:
There has been a fair amount of discussion on Reddit, which can be read here:
And there has also been quite a bit of discussion in the Shambhala Open Discussion Facebook group, found here:
This article, by Barbara Heffernan, posted last year in Shambhala Times following the original BPS revelations, is especially relevant today:
Here are Barbara's especially powerful concluding points, which hold as true today as they ever did:
"So, if these photos remind some in our community of horrific events, and remind others of the sanity they receive from the teachings, whose needs and interests should prevail? One could argue that either group should be able to apply the teachings to their inner turmoil, their grasping, and their rejecting.
I would posit that those reminded of the sanity from the teachings can access these emotions in a direct way while they sit. Peaceful abiding practice is possible for them. Knowing how trauma impacts the limbic system of the brain, I don’t believe people experiencing trauma triggers can easily sit and access peaceful abiding.
If I am to engage in symbolic action, right now I would like to stand with the victims of abuse. I would like to see my community take action on the side of the victims. I ask my readers to consider the following points.
When traumatic events are of human design, those who bear witness are caught in the conflict between victim and perpetrator. The bystander is forced to take sides.
It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. The victim, on the other hand, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain. The victim demands action, engagement, and remembering. (2)
I know of no core Buddhist teaching that says to hold one human being above another. I know of no core Buddhist teaching that says one should choose one dharma teacher above all others. I know of no core Buddhist teaching that says I should hold the concept of a shrine and what it represents above the needs of a suffering human being next to me. I know of no core Buddhist teaching that says I should be attached to the form of certain photos or objects above the suffering of a human next to me.
I choose to stand in support of the victims of abuse and those currently suffering in our community from vicarious traumatization and the trauma of betrayal. I choose this, over concept and form."
The email from Myra is posted in the Reddit and Facebook groups, and is broken out section by section on Matthew Remski's site, but here it is in full, to help orient readers to the other conversations occurring:
Dear Friends of Karmê Chöling,
In the last few weeks, a number of people in Shambhala whom I respect have told me that they think it is time for the lineage pictures to be consistently back on all shrines at Karmê Chöling. Since last fall, the director of each program has decided whether or not lineage pictures should be hung above the shrine with consideration for how the participants feel.
For some, this approach is abhorrent because for them the pictures should never be up again as they symbolize continued support of patriarchal abuse of power and sexual misconduct. For others, this approach is abhorrent because for them it is a denial of the preciousness of the teachings and the lineage holders who transmitted them.
Many city centers in North America do not have the lineage pictures on the shrine in the public shrine room. Often they have the pictures on the shrine in the vajrayana shrine room, if there is one. Many city centers struggle with how to continue in Shambhala. Some centers have closed. Others continue to host community gatherings exploring what Shambhala, Buddhism, and meditation mean to them and how to go forward. Lineage, leadership, and how we arrived where we find ourselves now form core questions in these conversations.
There is a pressing need for leadership at the global level. The volunteer members of the Interim Board are grappling with severe financial issues that threaten the existence of the central Shambhala government and mandala support staff. The Process Team, containing widely divergent perspectives, has worked hard to develop structures and processes for the global mandala to engage in exploring healing and protection, governance, community building, communication and cultural change. As these are not yet in place, over the last year each city center has struggled on, with little support relative to the seismic shifts.
The Sakyong has published three letters to the community, two in July 2018 and one in February 2019. At the point of writing this, we do not know what he is intending to communicate or do next.
For some, there is no question that the Sakyong should never teach nor hold office in Shambhala again. For others, what the Sakyong has expressed in apology is sufficient and we should now return to the way things were. Another spectrum of people has debated or proposed what they consider the Sakyong needs to do in order to teach again.
In previous posts I have clearly expressed that “Karmê Chöling has already taken a public stand against all abuse and misconduct, sexual and otherwise, particularly by those in positions of power.” That continues emphatically to be my position in these last 4 1/2 months as Karmê Chöling's executive director. We have instituted mandatory staff training on inclusivity that spans the topics of identity, privilege, class, intersectionality, trauma, patriarchy, gender, ableism, ageism, and racism. These are held in the context of dharma.
Leaving after what will be almost 6 years isn't easy. My stalwart staff, for the past 10 months at 2/3 of full complement, remain cheerful, dedicated, and wonderfully committed to providing an environment that fosters relaxation, open heart and connecting to basic goodness. These participant statements reflect typical comments in our “Gratitude Box”:
I was worried that the atmosphere here would be depressed and destitute - I am so grateful instead to enter into this warm, awake space. Thank you. After 49 years of practice for some of us - we still need to come back to the deep immersion into it. At KCL, the sky, wind, greenery, and flowers, the house and pavilion, form a perfect environment to do that. Thank you so much for supporting us with your hard work, ingenuity, kindness, and care. Quick to help, cheerful, we feel your efforts and so appreciate them. Oh- and the food! Just wonderful! I hope our practice will help sweeten the world and your efforts for us will continue into the world in that way. Many thanks.
While most programs have significantly fewer participant numbers, the teaching of the profound dharma continues unabatedly for the rest of this Summer Session until October 31st. During the Winter Session, November - April, we remain open to offer individual and group in-house retreats as well as cabin retreats.
Recently J.P., a former Karmê Chöling staff member, returned after eight months of travel, during which time he spent six weeks at Tassahara. They went through a similar painful period in their sangha in the 1980s. J.P. was told it took 10 years for them to heal. We have to have a long view for the work that needs to be undertaken.
Where is Karmê Chöling in the midst of all this as the first land center seat of the Shambhala lineage?
For Shambhala to exist a hundred years from now, the teachings must continue. We have received numerous texts and practices, studied at Shambhala levels, Enlightened Society, Warrior and Sacred World Assemblies, various abhisekas and Scorpion Seal Assemblies. All of these teachings and practices exist because of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche and Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. Acknowledging that, holding the long view of a residential land center, and recognizing that there is a vast amount of work to be done to transform Shambhala, the lineage pictures will remain on the Karmê Chöling shrines. Not to signal “business as usual,” but to symbolize the provenance of our Shambhala path.
How will Shambhala and Karmê Chöling transform, flourish and endure? It will take bravery, dedication, love, unconquerable spirit, collective wisdom and faith in the essential need and impact of meditation practice, Shambhala, and Buddhism in this deeply troubled world. We are at the very beginning of the journey of healing and transformation. May we have the patience and compassion to shed what needs to be shed and nourish the healthy essence of our being.
Please come to Karmê Chöling as your home away from home. With gratitude,
Myra Woodruff Executive Director Karmê Chöling Shambhala Meditation Center