Recently Naropa University announced that Sakyong Miphan Rinpoche, leader of the global Shambhala community, has stepped down from his venerated role in response to allegations of sexual assault.
As many of you know, I am a graduate of Naropa University and the teachings I share from the Shambhala Tradition, including Mindfulness Meditation, Maitri, and Tonglen, have been passed down from a lineage of teachers through Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, who brought the tradition to the West in the 1960s.
My direct teachers, including those at Naropa University and Pema Chödrön, have transmitted these practices with kindness, humor, humility, and grace.
...But Sakyong Miphan is not the first Tibetan Buddhist leader to cross the lines of ethical conduct. In fact his father, Chögyam Trungpa, was notorious for controversial behavior, alcoholism and sexual misconduct, in a time when women's voices went generally unheard—before the #MeToo movement opened the floodgates of accountability.
Since his death in 1987, people have been questioning the life and teachings of Trungpa with an understandable scrutiny. It is a considerable challenge to reconcile his transformational teachings on awakened living with the more savory aspects of his own lifestyle.
In a 2013 interview with Tricycle Magazine, Pema Chödrön speaks of her teacher:
"Trungpa Rinpoche was a provocative person. In Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism he says the job of the spiritual friend is to insult the student, and that’s the kind of guy he was. If things got too smooth, he’d create chaos. All I can say is that I needed that. I didn’t like being churned up and provoked, but it was what I needed. It showed me how I was stuck in habitual patterns..."
The Shambhala Tradition is based upon being absolutely truthful. Mindfulness is cutting through the bullshit of ego's habitual self-serving patterns. Maitri is courageously staring right into the heart of the shadow, and cultivating compassion within that conflict. It is making peace with the inevitable discomfort of being human.
I am uncomfortable.
The day before hearing the news of Sakyong Mipham, Drew reminded me of the recently released film documentary on the incredible story of Osho's renegade commune in 1980's Oregon. Six hours of footage in "Wild Wild Country" tells the story of how easily corrupted the human ego can be. Three days later another friend sent me this article on the "Dangers of Tantra". It is a commercialized warning of the dark magic that has been associated with Tantra's left hand path.
I close my eyes and remember stories of perversion within the Catholic Church—the insidious abuse of power. I recall the first time I learned of the Christian crusades and the millions of people brutally murdered in the name of Christ. I was a teenager. I was devastated.
It is deeply disturbing, heart-breaking, maddening--profoundly uncomfortable—to face the shadows of humanity: to realize that no matter how pure the intentions, anything on Earth can be manipulated and used for the glory and power of the ego.
The teachings of Jesus, Buddha, and the non-dual Tantrik texts tell a different story. They offer a message of unity, compassion, freedom from suffering, and LOVE.
That is where my heart is.
Pure light is without shadow. As soon as light makes contact with any matter, a shadow is cast. Darkness is not the absence of light. It is the obstruction of light.
For some, that obstruction is as simple as holding eyes closed.
But patience cannot be cultivated without trial.
Courage does not exist in the absence of fear.
Compassion is awakened within my own sadness.
As we cried together over the world's madness, Gretchen reminded me of this:
"It hurts so that we never forget why we are here"—to Love.
It is time to open our eyes...to get courageously honest...to face the shadows that accompany the human experience as uncomfortable and as painful as it may be. Together, we must cultivate compassion for ourselves, and compassion for each other, even within the conflict.
As Chödrön writes in The Places that Scare You: “Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It's a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.”
― Pema Chödrön, The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times
R.R. Shakti, PhD