Back to All Events

Letter to the Shambhala community from Shastri David Kahane

February 21, 2019 at 4:44 pm 

David Kahane

To fellow members of the international Shambhala community,

The following is written in my own voice as Shastri; I do not necessarily speak for others at the Edmonton Shambhala Centre.

I was nominated as a Shastri by the Council of the Edmonton Centre early in 2017 and appointed by the Sakyong that fall. While my activities are local, my Shastri vow makes me a representative of the lineage and the lineage holder. Given all that I have learned in recent months and days about harm in the Shambhala community, that vow feels almost impossible.

This started as a resignation letter. But given what has happened in recent days, I am willing to stay on the field a bit longer. I want to speak my own view and in doing so to indicate that I can only stay in my role if Shambhala changes profoundly and if the meaning of being a Shastri changes profoundly. To me, for the first time in many months, that change actually feels possible.

Since June I had been waiting for signs that the leadership of our international community was committed to transforming patterns of misogyny, sexual and racialized harms, secrecy, neglect of victims, all entangled with confused understandings of devotion. My waiting ended with the Sakyong’s February 4thletter. I had fantasized a willingness on his part to model rawness, awareness of deep harms caused to victims and to our entire community, a commitment to radical personal and organizational change, and to restitution. Instead I read bland evasion and the spreading of blame.

Through this period of waiting for communication from Wickwire-Holms, the Sakyong, and the Olive Branch, I’ve had to look at my own confusion as a practitioner and leader. My yearning for community. My yearning for meditative fruition. My yearning to be seen. And the intelligence I submerged in these yearnings.

I’m a political theorist by profession. I know something about democracy, checks and balances, the pitfalls of rule by one individual or by elites, the complexity and intransigence of power relations, the challenges of equalizing power in communication and community. This intelligence has for too long been obscured by my interpretation of devotion and of the Vajrayana path of handing my admittedly shaky judgment over to a trusted guru. With that trust now deeply eroded, let me speak from my political intelligence, such as it is. None of this is the last word for me, but it represents my heartfelt judgment at this moment.

I’m done with the version of monarchy we’ve manifested. The example of the Sakyong’s abuses and how they were covered up out of confused deference and devotion shows the danger of vesting that much secular and spiritual power in one human being.

I’m done with the version of court that we’ve manifested. This much insulation of a ruler and other leaders from their peers in community enables bad judgment, corruption, and violence. The accompanying concentration of wealth and financial control is unjust and unwise, especially in a community that struggles with many forms of marginalization and scarcity, and that extracts massive amounts of unpaid labor as well as high program fees in part to sustain a life of luxury for the Sakyong and those close to him.

I’m done with the version of family lineage we’ve manifested. I don’t believe it has served our community or the Sakyong for him to be lifted onto his high throne. I question whether it is fair or wise to squeeze one of his daughters onto the throne after him. There are teachers with integrity and brilliance inside and outside of our Shambhala community who could be precious resources in this time, and we should critically examine beliefs and teachings that keep us from reaching out to them.

I’m done with the unhealthy hierarchies, gross and petty, official and implicit, that have characterized our community. The harms of these are strewn thickly around us.

My sense is that it has been Sakyong Mipham’s project for years to consolidate the family lineage, to concentrate power and wealth in Mukpo hands, and to propagate dharma that reinforces this centralization, along with particular understandings of loyalty, hierarchy, court, and more. For the community to turn away from harmful patterns it has to critically challenge these teachings.

If these patterns cannot change—patterns that have oriented so much of how we’ve manifested as an international dharma community—I cannot remain in any formal role in this community. I doubt that I can remain in this community at all.

There is a lot of health and beauty in my local centre and in circles I move through in the larger mandala. In moments I can glimpse a different Shambhala: decentralized, inclusive, engaged humbly with the communities around us, bringing our practice to understanding and unmaking harms, injustices, and confusions within and outside our sangha. But that is not the damaged and damaging Shambhala that I’ve learned to recognize around me thanks to the testimony of victims and activists who have spoken out with such bravery. To teach meditation in Shambhala, to consider myself a reformer in Shambhala, to support others’ enjoyment of Shambhala, at the moment also means building my ties and others’ ties to a mandala that is confused and harmful.

In recent days I sense this may be shifting. For me, a key sign of the shift being real will be that teachers, leaders, and community members who have perpetrated harms, enabled harms, or kept harms secret will speak honestly and be accountable. It cannot be left only to victims of harm to speak the truth, though we have their unfathomable courage to thank for whatever shot at transformation we now have. If we’re to be salvageable as a community we have to understand what’s enabled a range of pathologies to fester and grow. And we have to learn what real restitution, repair, and restorative justice look and feel like.

In closing, I wish to offer my heartfelt and abject apology to those who have been harmed by the Sakyong, and by other teachers or leaders or peers in Shambhala. We should have done so much more to create an inclusive and safe community, and we should have learned without defensiveness from those who courageously named exclusion and abuse. To all who have been hurt, I wish you justice, restitution, healing, and peace. It grieves me beyond words that this moment of reckoning has taken so long.


Shastri David Kahane