Today, Shambhala is a community-based and community-led organization. We are committed to creating meditation practice spaces, leadership processes, and a culture that are inclusive, kind, contemporary, and available to all. Our aspiration to make the dharma relevant and accessible in a rapidly changing world has deep roots in the teachings of Shambhala and Kagyu and Nyingma Tibetan Buddhism. Our history—and what we have learned from it—is deeply important to us as a community, and to our continued growth and evolution.
Our Shambhala story began with the people who became students of the Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche when he moved from India to England in the 1960’s. Originally the head of Surmang monastery in Eastern Tibet, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche was a highly respected teacher of Kagyu and Nyingma Buddhism, and presented these teachings in a fresh and unique way so they would connect to the experience of everyday people in contemporary Western society.
After he left Tibet and India, Trungpa Rinpoche taught first in England and Scotland, then in the United States and Canada. During this time, he presented both classical Buddhist teachings and, beginning in 1976, original dharma teachings on basic goodness—our innate worthiness, dignity, and bravery—and how that goodness has the potential to bring about an enlightened society. He referred to these as the Shambhala teachings. Shambhala refers to a legendary society that manifests peace, harmony, wisdom and compassion.
Trungpa Rinpoche’s community of students expanded around the world, and they established meditation groups, retreat centres, Gampo Abbey Monastery, Naropa University, Nalanda Translation Committee, and a range of therapeutic, business, artistic, and creative endeavors. Trungpa Rinpoche placed great trust in his Western students, and encouraged them to take on responsibilities as dharma teachers and meditation instructors, organizing meditation retreats, and establishing curricula and teacher and instructor training programs.
Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche inspired many highly skilled and well-trained teachers that went on to offer the dharma widely, both within Shambhala and the wider world, including Pema Chödrön and many other highly-regarded teachers. Trungpa Rinpoche also wrote many best-selling spiritual books, such as Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, and Meditation In Action, which have benefited and inspired millions of people around the world.
Trungpa Rinpoche was also a controversial figure, and some of his actions, including his use of alcohol and his sexual relationships with female students, have caused confusion and pain for many in the Shambhala community. Our community members have held many different viewpoints on his controversial behaviour, both then and now.
Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche died in Halifax, Nova Scotia on April 4th, 1987. The Shambhala community was then led by Trungpa Rinpoche’s appointed dharma heir, an American student named Thomas Rich, who was empowered by Trungpa Rinpoche as his Vajra Regent in 1976. Thomas Rich was known in the Shambhala community primarily by his dharma name, Ösel Tendzin.
The Vajra Regent Ösel Tendzin taught widely in the community, and was recognized for his brilliance as a dharma teacher and devotion to the Buddhist path. He also engaged in sexual relationships with students, which was controversial in the community both then and now. In the fall of 1988, the community learned that the Vajra Regent had not only been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, but that he had continued having sexual relationships with students after receiving this diagnosis. This led to a major upheaval in the community, and eventually the Vajra Regent was directed by HH Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, the head of the Nyingma lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, to enter into retreat. The Regent’s health declined, and he died in August 1990.
In 1990, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s son, Ösel Rangdrol Mukpo (then known as the Sawang, now known as Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche), returned to North America from his studies in India. Shortly after the Regent’s death, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and Jamgön Kongtrül Rinpoche proclaimed the Sawang as the holder of Buddhist and Shambhala lineages of Trungpa Rinpoche and the leader of the Shambhala community. Later, in May 1995, he was empowered by His Holiness Penor Rinpoche, the head of the Nyingma Tibetan Buddhist lineage, as Sakyong (Tibetan for “earth protector”), a title also held by Trungpa Rinpoche. At that time, he was also recognized as the reincarnation of Jamgön Mipham Jamyang Gyatso, a great teacher in 19th-century Tibet. Since that time, he has been known as Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche.
Between 1995 and 2018, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche served as both the spiritual and organizational leader of the Shambhala community. In this role, he led the development of innovative curricula that combined presentations of the Buddhist and Shambhala dharma, presented commentary and meditation practices based on Trungpa Rinpoche’s Shambhala teachings, and explored the manifestations of enlightened society in retreats, seminars, and practices. He also wrote popular books on meditation and the Shambhala teachings, including Turning the Mind into an Ally and Ruling Your World. During this period of Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche’s leadership, our global community grew larger and more complex, transitioning through a range of organizational forms and governance arrangements.
In early 2018, allegations surfaced of sexual misconduct and misuse of power by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche toward his students. In June of that year, he committed to entering a period of self-reflection and listening. In July 2018, he sent a letter informing the community he would step back from his administrative and teaching responsibilities in Shambhala and support a third-party investigation. As investigations and concerns continued, the Kalapa Council (the Shambhala Board appointed by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche) resigned, and Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche agreed to the establishment of an independent Board of Directors, drawn from members of the Shambhala community, to hold fiscal and organizational responsibility for the organization.
In February 2019, the Shambhala Board released the results of an investigation that included a finding of sexual misconduct and a finding of more than likely sexual and clergy misconduct by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. The day after the release of the report, he sent a letter to the community describing his journey of self-reflection and learning. Within two weeks of the report, a letter with detailed allegations of misconduct by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche was published by six longtime students, and in response, senior teachers in Shambhala and other community members asked him to continue to step back from his teaching and leadership responsibilities. Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche responded with a letter offering apologies, and a commitment to continue to step back from his administrative and teaching responsibilities for the foreseeable future. He and his family relocated to Nepal
Many community members felt that a fuller process of community healing, in which Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche would participate, was needed to move forward together. Others wished to continue as students of Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche with or without additional processes of community healing or repair. Community members held many overlapping views within a wide spectrum of viewpoints, and could not reach consensus as to the way forward. This led to division in the Shambhala community.
In the wake of these events, a group of Shambhala community members, supported by the new Shambhala Board, dedicated themselves to the work of elaborating new Code of Conduct policies and processes that would apply to everyone. A Code of Conduct Team was recruited to work with concerns and complaints as they arise, and a Code of Conduct Hub website with resources was published. A therapy subsidy and counseling program for community members was established, and “Right use of Power,” “Gender Dynamics,” and “Sexual Harm and Trauma” trainings were developed and offered widely.
In February 2022, a legal agreement between Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche and the Shambhala Board altered Shambhala’s organizing documents so that Shambhala is now self-governing and financially independent of Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. He is not engaged with the Shambhala organization and is teaching through his own organization, the Sakyong Potrang.
Senior students in the Shambhala community continue to offer teachings and trainings, maintain local meditation and retreat centres, and host eminent Buddhist teachers from the Tibetan Kagyu and Nyingma Buddhist traditions.
Within the Shambhala organization and the community formed from all parts of our history, there is a recognition both of the problems we have experienced, as well as our rich and unique dharma heritage and the Shambhala vision that we share. We have weathered many challenges and difficulties as we continue to learn how to be a kinder and more compassionate community.
We are now examining systemic issues in our culture that, throughout our history, have enabled misconduct to occur, and are working hard to implement new cultural forms to address the roots of much of the harm that occurred. And we are continually renewing our commitment to study, practice, and teaching to ensure that our profound dharma heritage remains for future generations. This is our story.