I’ve been meaning to write for a while now. You have been in my thoughts almost everyday since the allegations of sexual misconduct came out against our spiritual teacher and leader, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, almost 2 years ago. I was able to process a lot of my feelings right after it happened with the community, but for the most part I have felt utterly alone and Facebook isn’t helping (paradoxically I’m posting this on FB). I don’t even really expect many people to read this, it’s not about that. This is really an exercise to help make my often confused and conflicting thoughts into a small tangible offering and to express my love for a society that has changed my life. Shambhala, this is a love letter.
Part of the confusion for many of us, especially those of us who have samaya with the Sakyong, comes from the inherent paradox infused into the whole situation. The paradox of having a teacher that is both enlightened and a wounded, confused human being. The paradox of being in a tantric lineage which has the primordial union of female and male energies infused throughout, but which never actually talks about what being a sexually healthy person and community means. The paradox of being a monarchy within a democracy, the paradox of being “awake” but not mature. So many paradoxes. I will not solve them here. In fact, there is no answer. The journey, I feel, is learning to live within the paradox, to become comfortable within the nuance and spectrum that both everything is valid and nothing is true (except for the truth).
I took vows with the Sakyong in 2007 and he became my guru. Most westerners don’t understand what it means to have a guru, and I think we as students in Shambhala still work to understand this relationship. In Vajrayana Buddhism, it’s absolutely essential to have a teacher, someone who has preserved and practiced the lineage of teachings which are both written, oral, and mindstream teachings to guide you along the path and to point out the nature of your mind. Ultimately the guru is not above you or separate from you, in fact, they are just pointing you toward your own brilliance and enlightened nature.
I think many people feel so betrayed by the Sakyong because this relationship, the guru, which we want to be so pure, turned out to have hidden elements, and we as his students were part of that hiding. But does “pure” mean free from fault? Our nature is purity, we know this from the teachings, and yet we also have to work through our stuff. Are we upset with the Sakyong, or are we upset because we want our spirituality to be free from fault? We think to be spiritual means to not have shadow. Isn’t this the spiritual materialism we’ve been warned about?
I have searched my feelings about the Sakyong to make sure I’m not bypassing my own stuff. I too have had my share of being a victim to sexual transgressions by men in positions of power. I wanted to make sure that my eagerness to forgive him was not playing blind in the interest of keeping safe. I’ve done my personal work around this, we each have to do this, including the Sakyong. In the end I feel the personal work the Sakyong is doing will be done in his own time between him and the people he has harmed, and that we never know the whole story. Another paradox. It’s so personal and yet involves everyone. But in the meantime, I trust my samaya with the Sakyong. I can’t explain it, I can only feel it. This is one thing I know to be totally pure. We each have our own journey with our relationship with the Sakyong, some people feel strongly that he’s missing the mark. There’s room for both/and, room for everyone.
Shamahbla is a mirror of our whole society. There is dysfunction and the whole thing can feel incredibly messy. But the difference between Shambhala and conventional society is that we actually have the tools to become enlightened. And by enlightened I don’t mean full realization, I mean the capacity to handle the messiness with kindness instead of blame, with the wisdom and compassion that we don’t always see in conventional society. The past two years have been difficult for many of us because we have seen so much blame and anger, which feels counter to the kind and benevolent society we’ve worked so hard to create. The blame and anger, to me, feel like the puss coming out of a wound: gross but necessary. And now we can get to the real work of healing.
I for one, am completely committed to the vision of enlightened society. Where else on this earth can you find such powerful lhasang ceremonies? where else can you find the Kasung singing silly songs as they march along in the early morning sunlight? Where else can you find the Shambhala anthem, the songs, the camaraderie, the laughter mixed with discipline? Where else can you find the teachings on Drala? Where else can you find the ability to study in so many streams? Where else can you find the Shambhala, Nyingma and Kagyu teachings combined in such a potent and rich way? Nowhere my friends, nowhere else. This is it. This is what we’ve got. This messy, rich, crazy, beautiful society and we can either walk away under the illusion that we’ll find something more “pure” elsewhere, or we can roll up our sleeves and get to work on the project we started a long long time ago. Shambhala, I love you, and I’m not going anywhere cause there’s nowhere to go.