Former teacher at Boulder's Shambhala accused of sexually as

The impulse to believe the absurd when presented with the unknowable is called religion. Whether this is wise or unwise is the domain of doctrine. Once you understand someone's doctrine, you understand their rationale for believing the absurd. At that point, it may no longer seem absurd. You can get to both sides of this conondrum from here.

Re: Former teacher at Boulder's Shambhala accused of sexuall

Postby admin » Fri Feb 08, 2019 1:48 am

A Disorganized Attachment Legacy at Shambhala: Brief Notes on Two Letters and a 1993 Interview with Pema Chödrön
by Matthew Remski
July 11, 2018

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On Sunday, a unknown number of unnamed “Women acharyas” released this unsigned letter. The acharyas are a group of Shambhala International leaders, empowered by their current head, Ösel Mukpo, to represent the legacy and teaching content of the organization. Their letter responds to a call for action from members outraged by revelations of continued institutional sex and power abuse in their community.

Mukpo stands accused of sexual misconduct by three anonymous women whose voices have been recorded by Andrea Winn in her Project Sunshine report. He has posted a vague admission of guilt. Winn’s work has pried opened an unhealed wound carved out by the abuses of Mukpo’s father, Chogyam Trungpa, and his lieutenants. Those stories are still coming to light, and they are unbelievably savage.

Insiders will be able to better parse out the likelihood of whether this particular political constellation of “acharyas” is equipped to understand the dynamics within which it is embedded and strong enough break out of them. I don’t pretend to have any insights on that. I hope I can, however, point out a key characteristic of crisis communication that does not bode well in the present, and which has deep and influential roots in the past.

From the outset, the framework of the authors is flawed by the loaded language of the organization’s spiritual ideology. They write:

“The women acharyas of Shambhala are writing today to send our love and support to our community at a time of enormous groundlessness.” (emphasis added)


The term “groundlessness” here both indicates and hides the more appropriate word, which would be “betrayal”. The (non)signatories who didn’t know that Ösel Mukpo behaved like his father have been betrayed. Those who did know betrayed those who didn’t, which would mean most of the membership.

Why do the authors use the word “groundlessness”? Because the purpose of the letter, first and foremost, is to maintain the content and ideology of the group. If the writers can do that, they can then maintain interpretational authority over that content. They can still be “acharyas”. The word “groundlessness” positions what follows in the letter as a learning opportunity, but one in which the content of the abusive group will simply be recycled. “Groundlessness” is, after all, a virtuous state or realization described in Middle Way philosophy as a pathway to the wisdom of non-attachment to changing identities or phenomena.

By using it here, the letter writers conflate the trauma of having been stripped of care with the feeling of having seen into the nature of reality. This is tantamount to saying that abuse and abandonment are our natural state, or lead to it. It then follows that finding out that your leader is an abuser is actually (subtly, and with our help you will eventually understand it) a good thing, an opportunity to really put that same leader’s wisdom about “groundlessness” into practice. If that’s their interpretation of the First Noble Truth, then no thank you.

I imagine the “groundlessness” that some of the writers profess to feel here is actually a dawning realization of hypocrisy: that the organization has been talking about one thing for 40 years, and doing another.

Victims may feel stripped of care and support, but they are not “groundless”. They are the ground itself, wounded, right in front of you, under your feet. They were there all along. They don’t need to “be steady within this open space of not-knowing.” They know exactly what happened to them.

Asking the community to be “steady within this open space of not-knowing” sets victims up against members who are entrained to remain, not advocate on behalf of justice.

After this opening, the authors cite a plaintive poem from a distressed member, petitioning for restorative action. It begins with:

To the mother lineage.
Please, break the silence.
Please, approach and speak up.
Please, step up to the plate.
Please, protect the girls and women.
Please, protect the children.


Put a pin in that. Remember that members are using maternal metaphors or transferences to petition their elders.

If Judith Simmer-Brown (Distinguished Professor of Contemplative and Religious Studies at Naropa University) and Susan Chapman are part of “the mother lineage”, and also among the (non-)signatories of this letter, their capacity to offer protection is compromised by deep conflicts.

Why? Because their names are signed to this June 30th letter to registrants for the upcoming “Scorpion Seal” empowerment (July 15-26) at the Shambhala Mountain Centre, Colorado:

June 30, 2018

Dear Scorpion Seal practitioner,

Good morning! We Werma Acharyas are writing in the wake of the cascade of disclosures from the Sakyong and the Kalapa Council and the Sunshine Report regarding allegations of sexual abuse of power in our mandala. We are heartbroken about these, even while we recognize the health of openness, honest exchange, and strategies for change in our sangha culture.

This is all the more concerning because of the preciousness of the Scorpion Seal teachings we have received from our Sakyong, that have provided such a vision for enhancing human goodness in a setting sun world. These teachings have been so personally important for us, equipping us to work with the most difficult, intractable situations in our world. It is essential that these teachings continue and that they help us work with personal and societal obstacles that plague our lives.


You may be wondering about the Scorpion Seal Garchen at Shambhala Mountain
Center, what to expect, how you feel, maybe even whether to come. We can assure you that we will address the current crisis in Shambhala, sharing our personal responses and deeply listening to each other’s. Rather than retreating to a bubble that pretends nothing has happened, we plan to relate with this painful news in the context of our many practices including Shambhala Meditation and the Inner White Lotus practice of working with the dons, as well as the new practices for your particular Assembly. And we look forward to being with our Scorpion Seal sisters and brothers. We see this as an opportunity to create a fresh karmic stream for our community, going into the future.

We have supplicated the Sakyong to be at Shambhala Mountain Center with us, but we honestly don’t know what he will do. Rest assured, we Werma Acharyas will be giving all the transmissions in the event he is not there.

Please join us with your heartbreak, your doubts, your confidence, and your love of the Shambhala community and teaching, and your connection with our Sakyong. It promises to be a deep and authentic experience.

In the Great Eastern Sun,

Ashe Acharya John Rockwell
Acharya Judith Simmer-Brown
Acharya Michael Greenleaf
Acharya Susan Chapman*


“The Scorpion Seal” is a “terma” or a teaching that was mystically “found” by Chogyam Trungpa in 1980 or 1981, according to Shambhala’s narrative. But according to retreat leader John Rockwell the content “was rather secret, a bit ahead of our times.” It fell to Trungpa’s son, Osel Mukpo, to “open” it, and reveal the “Werma” or ritual practices it reputedly contained.

Whether you find this plausible or not (beliefs are like intentions here: far less important than impacts), two things are important to know.

1. This upcoming empowerment/training, with lodging, costs approximately 2000USD to attend. A source forwarded me an email from Shambhala Mountain that stated that there were “well over 200” registrants. This means that this single event could gross up to 400,000 USD.

2. If the empowerment follows the typical pattern of Shambhala-appropriated Tantric ritual, it will ask participants to make vows of allegiance to the community, the teachings, and perhaps even to the acharyas and Mukpo himself. The vows will have both emotional and financial impacts. There are several “levels” of entrainment into the “Scorpion Seal”, which, let’s remember, was “discovered” by an abusive spiritual leader well on his way to dying of terminal alcoholism.

So what shall it be, acharyas?

1. Listening in “groundlessness” and “not-knowing”? Or

2. Selling empowerments to mystical teachings you assert come from the etheric realms?

The answer, if we’re willing to look at this landscape through the lens that Alexandra Stein provides on the attachment patterning that drives cult organizations, is that the acharyas must offer both things at once.

Uncertainty and certainty. Listening and telling. Care and demand. Support and dependency. These are domesticated versions of the most dangerous dyad: the confusion of love with terror at the heart of every high-demand group.

In her riveting addition to cult analysis literature, Stein argues that the primary task that a high-demand group must accomplish in relation to recruits is to take their existing attachment patterning — instilled through familial and intimate conditioning — and, through a “groundless” alternation of love and fear, convert it into a “disorganized” state. There’s a huge literature on this; I’ll let Stein summarize the basics here:

[Disorganized attachment] responses occur when a child has been in a situation of fright without solution. Their caregiver is at once the safe haven and also the source of threat or alarm. So, when the child feels threatened by the caregiver, he or she is caught in an impossible situation: both comfort and threat are represented by the same person – the caregiver. The child experiences the unresolvable paradox of seeking to simultaneously flee from and approach the caregiver. This happens at a biological level, not thought out or conscious, but as evolved behavior to fear. The child attempts to run TO and flee FROM the caregiver at one and the same time… However, in most cases the need for proximity – for physical closeness – tends to override attempts to avoid the fear-arousing caregiver. So usually the child stays close to the frightening parent while internally both their withdrawal and approach systems are simultaneously activated, and in conflict. – Stein, loc 894-903


Now compare the two statements from the acaryas. The “mother lineage” is functioning to both comfort and make further demands. Simultaneously. Stein suggests that such a gambit is not a contradiction, but a feature of the continuously-charged feedback loop of caregiver betrayal that lies at the root of disorganized attachment. This charge will be heightened in environments of physical, sexual, financial or moral abuse.

With Shambhala International, this feedback loop is not new. There will be many examples to point to, but the one that’s fairly well-known and shows the intergenerational continuity of disorganized attachment is this 1993 interview of Pema Chödrön in Tricycle Magazine.

To be fair, this interview is now twenty-five years old, and comes from another era. However, I’m not aware of any widely-available update to these sentiments. Between 1993 and the present, of course, Chödrön has become an international spiritual celebrity. She remains listed amongst the current cohort of acharyas.

Tricycle: Would you say that the intention behind this unconventional behavior, including his sexual exploits and his drinking, was to help others?

Pema Chödrön: As the years went on, I felt everything he did was to help others. But I would also say now that maybe my understanding has gone even deeper, and it feels more to the point to say I don’t know. I don’t know what he was doing. I know he changed my life. I know I love him. But I don’t know who he was. And maybe he wasn’t doing things to help everyone, but he sure helped me. I learned something from him. But who was that masked man?

Tricycle: In recent years women have become more articulate about sexism. And we know more today about the prevalence of child abuse and about how many people come into dharma really hurting. If you knew ten years ago what you know today, would you have been so optimistic about Trungpa Rinpoche and his sexuality? Would you have wanted some of the women you’ve been working with to study with him, given their histories of sexual abuse?

Pema Chödrön: I would have said, You know he loves women, he’s very passionate, and has a lot of relationships with women, and that might be part of it if you get involved with him, and you should read all his books, go to all his talks, and actually see if you can get close to him. And you should do that knowing you might get an invitation to sleep with him, so don’t be naive about that, and don’t think you have to do it, or don’t have to do it. But you have to decide for yourself who you think this guy is.


Tricycle: Were there women who turned down his sexual invitations and maintained close relationships as students? Was that an option?

Pema Chödrön: Yes. Definitely. The other students were often the ones who made people feel like they were square and uptight if they didn’t want to sleep with Rinpoche, but Rinpoche’s teaching was to throw out the party line. However, we’re always up against human nature. The teacher says something, then everybody does it. There was a time when he smoked cigarettes and everybody started smoking. Then he stopped and they stopped and it was ridiculous. But we’re just people with human habitual patterns, and you can count on the fact that the students are going to make everything into a party line, and we did. The one predictable thing about him was that he would continually pull the rug out no matter what. That’s how he was.


There’s too much here to unpack outside of a book-length study. You can probably see the pattern, though. Chödrön employs many of the self-oriented defences I’ve listed here while showing just how powerfully Buddhist rhetoric can be mobilized to evade personal responsibility. It is also a textbook example of I-got-mine-ism.

Chödrön privileges the genius of the abuser over the time, agency, and self-direction of his prospective female student in an equally sophisticated way. The prospective student is supposed to “decide for yourself who you think this guy is”. This is after Chödrön has admitted to his sexual misconduct, as if the “groundlessness” of his teaching puts the actions of the “masked man” in doubt. Women are supposed to invest time and emotional labour in him before understanding his nature, even after Chödrön admits that he abuses power. Intentionally or not, this stunning paragraph manages to both hide and spiritualize an induction into disorganized attachment. Trungpa was brilliant, she suggests — as if this were a sign of care — because “he would continually pull the rug out no matter what.”

Chödrön’s life-long message, inspired by and inspiring Shambhala’s content generally, is about finding rest and space and security “When Things Fall Apart”. We now have to wonder whether this message has as much to do with Buddhism as it does with creating a poetic strategy for metabolizing an abusive relationship that presented itself as loving, and doing so in order for it to continue, and eventually be commodified.


The cultural impact of Chödrön’s views can only be imagined. Never mind that Tricycle thought that this was a reasonable thing to publish. How many people have been influenced by this doublespeak through contact with Chödrön’s writings via Oprah?

In the yoga world, Chödrön’s reasoning vibrates loudly. In late December of last year, Ashtanga Yoga adept Kino MacGregor recommended this very interview to her million-plus followers as a resource that would help them integrate the competing stories of love and terror that constitute the legacy of Pattabhi Jois. Whether it works remains to be seen.
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Re: Former teacher at Boulder's Shambhala accused of sexuall

Postby admin » Fri Feb 08, 2019 1:50 am

Email: "Please"
by The Women Acharyas of Shambhala
Kalapa Council Quarterly Update
July 8, 2018

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Dear Noble Sangha,

The women acharyas of Shambhala are writing today to send our love and support to our community at a time of enormous groundlessness. We hear the pain of those who have had the bravery to come forward and share their experiences of harm. We also feel for all who are silent and marginalized. Our Shambhala world has been turned upside down, and we are all holding many questions.

On July 1, we received an email with the subject line "Please" and the following supplication:

To the mother lineage.
Please, break the silence.
Please, approach and speak up.
Please, step up to the plate.
Please, protect the girls and women.
Please, protect the children.
Please, be good mothers.
Please, don’t look away.
Please, don’t be ignorant.
Please, don’t blame the women.
Please, establish enlightened society.
Please, be courageous.
Please, don’t be afraid to be powerful.
Please, come together.
Please, be the female sages of our lineage.
Please, cry with us.
Please, feel our pain.
Please, talk to us.
Please, make the community safe for us.
Please, don’t wait.
Please, be there for us.
Please, we need you now.

Over the past week, the women acharyas have gathered our voices and intentions together. As women, we have experienced the impact of systemic power imbalance in our community; some of us have also personally experienced gendered harm in our journeys. We are dedicated to a more just and inclusive society and to structural changes that are more representative and diverse.

Together, we have been reflecting on how our lineage has met great challenges in the past and has come through difficult times. Typically, in times of dissolution, there is a tendency to solidify, blame, polarize, or jump hastily to new reference points. But for new forms to be genuine and fresh, it is important for us to be steady within this open space of not-knowing. We encourage you to listen, nurture each other, and stay strong as a sangha and as friends. New and appropriate forms can then evolve—unhindered by hope and fear.

As women leaders, we wish to protect our community and its members from harm. Like the society at large, our community has karma connected with intoxication and disrespect for women. Even though this is extremely painful, we are relieved this history is becoming transparent so that the Shambhala community, all of us, can address it.

We trust that the Shambhala path is one of transformation, and we remain loyal to the lineage. We have been steeped in the teachings of inherent goodness, and we hold the perspective that we don’t give up on anyone—the teacher, the teachings, each other, or ourselves. This is our path of warriorship. We feel that healing and transformation is possible for this community. As this is happening, we are completely and fearlessly dedicated to deep and lasting change.

We support the Sakyong’s decision to step back from teaching for now. We appreciate how he has brilliantly introduced thousands of people to the path of dharma, bestowed the highest transmissions, and guided our community for decades. At the same time, we see a lot of pain, sadness, outrage, and fear in our community around gender and other types of harm.
Our eyes have been opened to many patterns. We recognize the need for brave and caring spaces to begin a healing process that will bring out our inherent dignity.

We invite you to consider this a time of unearthing old social patterns and joining together to let new ground and structures make us stronger as a community. These times are calling for deep self-reflection by the Sakyong and also ourselves. As he stated on a call with leaders, he is committed to doing “the hard work.” So must we—business as usual cannot continue.

Additionally, we are aware that some queer, trans, and especially, people of color, have been hurt by the sudden attention and resources (time, energy, money) dedicated to gender harms against white women. Marginalized communities have tried for years to call attention to patriarchy, racism, ethnocentrism, homophobia, and transphobia. Dominant group power dynamics harm everyone regardless of their social identity or culture.

We will be in touch again soon and look forward to co-creating spaces for open dialogue. The Kalapa Council's transition/resignation provides an opportunity to explore new forms of governance. We, as a community, will need to work together to ensure that what arises in its place is representative of all the diverse facets of our community.

We are committed to listening, learning, teaching, and acting. With profound respect and sadness, we want you to know we are here for you and that we are committed to a process of community transformation.

The Women Acharyas of Shambhala


This letter was composed by the women acharyas in Shambhala in response to the supplication of a woman in the Shambhala community. It has been read and is broadly supported by all Shambhala acharyas. May there be benefit!
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Re: Former teacher at Boulder's Shambhala accused of sexuall

Postby admin » Fri Feb 08, 2019 2:01 am

Letter of Apology
by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche
Kalapa Council Quarterly Update
July 10, 2018

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To the Shambhala Community,

In a state of complete heartbreak, I write to you, humble, embarrassed, and thoroughly apologetic for disappointing you. I feel a tremendous amount of sorrow for the pain, confusion, and anger that our sangha is experiencing. I accept accountability for this pain, and want to express my commitment to personal growth.

I fully support a third-party investigator being hired to look into claims of sexual misconduct in the Shambhala community. I feel that I must, at this time, step back from my administrative and teaching responsibilities as a leader of Shambhala to allow space for the investigation to occur.

It is clear to me that I have much more learning to do. I am committed to engaging with women and others in our community who have felt marginalized,
beginning this week. I will be using this time of self-reflection to deeply listen and to better understand how the dynamics of power, gender, and my actions have affected others.

I know that some of what you are hearing may be surprising and shocking for those of you who have only known me as a teacher. I wish to share with all of you some of the challenges that I have gone through. None of this is to give an excuse for my actions, but I do wish to be open with you about my journey as a human, and give some history and context to my life and behavior.

After the passing of my father, I took on the leadership role of Shambhala at a young age, followed by my enthronement in 1995. During this period, I struggled to find my way, and fumbled with unhealthy power dynamics and alcohol. I failed to recognize the pain and confusion I was creating.

Noticing this, a group of senior students came to me deeply concerned about the way I was drinking, and it was then that I began to realize how my actions were impacting others, and affecting my ability to lead in a genuine way. At that point, I realized that I needed to change my lifestyle.
Again, I am not saying that this is an excuse.

In the years following this feedback, I cut back my drinking, began running and developed a more healthy lifestyle, physically and spiritually. I committed myself to deepening my own practice and teaching path. In 2005, I met and married my wife, the Sakyong Wangmo. We established our home and began a family together. She has been a teacher and partner, helping me to open my heart in a healthy way.

Since then, I have consciously worked on improving my relationship to alcohol as well as trying to improve my general behavior and my relationship to others as a teacher and as a person.
Personal development and learning is a lifelong process and I know that I must continuously apply myself and hear the feedback that I am getting. I feel tremendous regret and sadness, and I commit myself to continuing this healing.

Our teachings advise that we do not give up on ourselves or on each other. I am realizing that I have much to learn and am committed to that process. I hope that by my doing this, our Shambhala community and organization can evolve, and become a true place of kindness, respect, and dignity. I am here for you, and am thinking of you always.

With love,

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche
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Re: Former teacher at Boulder's Shambhala accused of sexuall

Postby admin » Fri Feb 08, 2019 3:21 am

The Unbearable Smugness of “I Got Mine-ism” Amongst Cult and ex-Cult Members
by Matthew Remski
April 6, 2018

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I’ll preface this post by saying that, in accordance with the clinical research, I do not believe there are strong correlations between prior life experience and the likelihood that a person will join or stay in a cult (or “totalist”, or “high-demand” group.) What follows is a speculation, based on memory and anecdote, on why people who are already inside such a group may be more prone to the kind of enabling and moral harm that Facebook friend Joseph Teskey has described to me as “I got mine-ism” (IGM).

IGM is a defensive strategy by which a member who has not (or believes they have not) directly experienced abuse or institutional betrayal within the group deflects stories of abuse within the group by immediately self-referring, saying things like: “I don’t know about other’s experience; I find/found the teacher/teachings to be profoundly helpful in my life.” The statement is usually couched within an unwillingness to act on behalf on victims or mitigate future harm.

In my own two cult experiences, I adopted the defence of IGM to varying degrees, and I remember many others who did as well. In the circle of people I’m thinking of, none of us (that I’m aware of) had prior experience with therapy. We had all come from family and social cultures in which that just wasn’t part of the wellness toolbox. When we gravitated towards the techniques of meditation and yoga offered by the groups, we found that they could have powerful self-regulatory effects we had never felt before, and we were hooked.

I believe that many of us were under the illusion that the meditative/yogic technique was the key to our new-found capacity for self-regulation. I don’t think we understood that we’d been love-bombed, or acquired a new family / safe haven in one fell blissful swoop. We didn’t understand that our internal changes were as much relational as they were intra-personal. The messaging was always singular and privatized: “You can go within, you can find x, you can choose y, you can be responsible.” One was never encouraged to really examine who was saying this to you, or why, or what they might want.

A paradox formed part of the group’s deception: you were told you were entirely self-responsible, and yet the benefits you experienced were mostly if not entirely coming from the group dynamic. You were emotionally isolated within a group somatic process that made itself invisible.

My own, and I believe others’, prior training in self-responsibility (or lack of experience with therapy) gave us the impression that we were in a place in which we had to resolve all conflicts or grievances internally. In a cult you can’t ask people for help and expect transparency or existential honesty. It’s palpable, whether you cognize it or not, that anyone with standing in the community who you would go to for help will reframe your appeal in relation to some deeper way in which you must surrender to the teaching or the leadership. In other words: any counselling is highly motivated and manipulative. It’s designed to protect the dynamic by making it manageable. Nobody will suggest that you leave, when leaving might be the only healthy thing to do, as hard as it would be.

If you’re aware of all of these rules, I believe you’ll double-down on the hyper-individualism that makes sense and seems to keep you safe. You remind yourself that you are there for your own development: that’s all you have control over. Yes, there are problems, ups and downs, hypocrites and assholes. People get hurt. Some recover, some don’t. Such is life, you feel, and it’s the same in here as it is out there.
God is both shrugging and chuckling at the thought that you would have it be different.

And so nothing has really changed from before you were enmeshed in this new scene: you were always on your own, just you and God and the fates, and it’s the same now. And this feeling of the atomic self, equipped with nothing but a technique for self-consolation, means that you have no time for the sorrows of others. How could you bear to add them to your own?

The height of my own IGM was catching myself casting judgments on an older woman who died of cancer while in the group. Classy. She had sought out and received no care, in part because she maintained an affect of complete and total devotion to the leader. So obviously, she was fine.

Instead of being able to understand that I was part of a network that enabled harm, I criticized her in my heart. I remember distinctly feeling: her death was her own fault. She was stupid for not seeking treatment. But at some point I realized that I was criticizing her for not being able to do what I actually needed to do: reach outside of the group, restore other relationships, recognize that I had been fooled by my society into believing something that the group had expertly amplified: “You’re on your own, so you’ve got to get your own.”

I don’t want to abdicate responsibility for any way in which my IGM hurt other people, like those I hardened myself against and refused to sympathize with, even after I saw them emotionally and physically abused by a leader. At the same time I think it’s important to recognize that IGM is enforced by the isolationist dynamics of such groups. Cult members who are incapable of bearing witness to the trauma of their fellows are stunted, I believe, by a subtler form of trauma they are able to mobilize into a sophisticated defence that looks like spiritual dedication.
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Re: Former teacher at Boulder's Shambhala accused of sexuall

Postby admin » Fri Feb 08, 2019 3:34 am

Leaked notes reveal Buddhist leader coerced female students into sex: Stories of drunken parties and sexual misconduct are emerging from his inner circle.
by Joshua Eaton
July 6, 2018, 8:00 AM

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Image
Sakyong Mipham signs a book during a program in Munich, Germany, on Feb. 2, 2007. CREDIT: Robertivanc via Flickr

A senior official in the Buddhist group Shambhala International admitted Monday that its head, prominent Buddhist teacher and author Sakyong Mipham, had coercive sexual relationships with his female students, according to meeting notes obtained by ThinkProgress.

The notes come from a private video call Monday between ground-level Shambhala leaders and its governing body, called the Kalapa Council. They reveal a crisis of leadership, with members calling for Mipham, the council, or both to step down in the wake of a sex scandal that has rocked the organization.

“There is no one holding this body accountable right now,” one person told the council during a question-and-answer session. “That’s not ok [sic]. I want to see some accountability. I want to see members step down.”


Mipham and the Kalapa Council referred requests for comment to the public relations firm Hiltzik Strategies, which declined to comment on the record.

Last week, the advocacy group Buddhist Project Sunshine published a report detailing allegations of coercive relationships and sexual assault by Mipham — including a second-hand allegation that a woman in Chile accused him of rape.

Senior officials within Shambhala made several other previously unpublished disclosures during the hour-and-a-half-long call, including:

● Shambhala is hiring the Halifax law firm Wickwire Holm to investigate the allegations against Mipham.

Two members of the Kalapa Council — a governing body within the organization whose members have been appointed by Mipham himself — have held separate interventions with Mipham in the past over his heavy drinking and his louche behavior with women, one of which lead to him going on “retreat.”

A council member and another senior official seemed to admit to the facts of a 2011 incident in which Mipham allegedly sexually assaulted a woman in the kitchen of his Halifax home after the first birthday party for one of his daughters.

● Shambhala nevertheless believes the Chile allegation to be untrue and said that the organization has “first-hand witnesses who indicate it isn’t true.”

In a letter sent to Shambhala members before the report’s release last week, Mipham acknowledged what he called “relationships” with his female students in the past, but he stopped short of admitting to any sexual misconduct.

“I have recently learned that some of these women have shared experiences of feeling harmed as a result of these relationships,” Mipham wrote. “I am now making a public apology.”

Mipham echoed those sentiments at the beginning of the call Monday, apologizing again for this behavior, saying he has “a lot of hard work to do” and that he feels “sad and embarrassed” about the disclosures. He did not go into detail about his behavior or how it might have affected the women involved.

Early in the call, one member of the council, Adam Lobel, described the “wild culture of drinking, spontaneous poetry, and parties” he witnessed while working closely with Mipham in the early to mid 2000s.

“A lot of what we saw with women was consensual,” Lobel said. “What was disturbing was his inability to connect with women as a human being [sic].”

Lobel described what he saw during that time as “off and confusing.”
Eventually, Lobel said, an intervention was staged that led to Mipham being sent on a “retreat” after which he appeared to settle down — evidenced by fewer instances of drunken public debauchery and his 2006 marriage to Khandro Tseyang.

debauch verb
1a archaic : to make disloyal
b : to seduce from chastity
notorious for debauching young women
2a : to lead away from virtue or excellence
debauched by ambition
b : to corrupt by intemperance or sensuality
debauched poets
a debauched society

debauch noun
1 : an act or occasion of extreme indulgence in sensuality or carnal pleasures : an act or occasion of debauchery
2 : ORGY
a debauch of pleasure


-- debauch, by Merriam-Webster


“The story line I’ve had in my mind is one of human growth and healing,” Lobel said before admitting that the organization needs to own up to Mipham’s history with women.

But at least one woman has said Mipham sexually assaulted her since his marriage in 2006. In the Buddhist Project Sunshine report and an interview with ThinkProgress, the woman described how Mipham lifted up her skirt, groped her breasts, and began drunkenly kissing her in the kitchen of his Halifax home in 2011 after the birthday party for his one-year-old daughter.

“I felt like I just did something I didn’t want to do, and I didn’t have a way out,” the woman, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of reprisal, told ThinkProgress. “I felt trapped … There was no one there to help me. I felt alone.”

During the call Monday, two senior Shambhala officials, one of whom is on the Kalapa Council, seemed to concede the facts of that incident and said they tried to provide support to the woman afterward.

“She told me her account a couple of days after,” one of the officials said. “I said what happened was not ok [sic] and it’s not your fault. I shared my feelings with [Mipham].”


Shambhala is not aware of any incidents since 2011, according to notes from the Monday call.

ThinkProgress is not identifying the two senior officials in order to protect the identity of the woman who says Mipham sexually assaulted her.

Toward the end of the call, an unnamed person said they had a sexual relationship with Mipham in 2003 and challenged Lobel’s assertion that the relationships he saw Mipham engage in were all consensual.

“I had a relationship with [Mipham] in 2003,” the person said. “I don’t feel it was consensual, given the power difference.”


“All of us are lea[r]ning a lot about power dynamics,” Lobel responded. “I no longer see those relationships as consensual in that same way. I’m sorry for any of the pain you have gone through.”

Lobel did not respond to a request for comment on the leaked notes.

Mipham showed visible regret as he addressed the call Monday, according to a brief summary of the call posted online by the Shambhala meditation center in Atlanta, Georgia. Some of those who participated in the call expressed gratitude at what they described as his decision to discuss his past with greater honesty.

But others have said that it’s time for the organization’s rigid, top-down leadership structure to change. That will be difficult for an organization that’s viewed itself as building an enlightened society with Mipham as the literal king at its center — complete with a royal court, attendants, titles, a flag, and an anthem.

Sue Gilman, a Shambhala teacher, summarized the mood she saw among the group’s rank-and-file in an email included in the summary published by the Atlanta, Georgia center.

“The Sakyong must step down until full investigations have happened,” Gillman wrote. “The Kalapa Council has to dissolve and a transitional governing body [be] put in place. The monarchy needs to go. This needs to happen now, not in a month.”

Do you have information about sexual misconduct in Shambhala or another religious organization? Contact reporter Joshua Eaton by email at jeaton@thinkprogress.org or by Signal at 202–684–1030.
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Re: Former teacher at Boulder's Shambhala accused of sexuall

Postby admin » Fri Feb 08, 2019 4:04 am

Boulder man who set car on fire and died identified
by John Bear
Staff Writer
POSTED: 07/10/2018 07:36:46 PM MDT
UPDATED: 07/10/2018 07:38:19 PM MDT

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Image
The Boulder County Coroner's Office has identified a man who was found dead Sunday in the front seat of a car that he had intentionally set on fire. (Lewis Geyer / Staff Photographer)

Kathleen Moore spoke fifth, and gave me permission to disclose her name. Moore was the partner of the late Bill Scheffel, who died of suicide on July 8th. He immolated himself in his car a week after giving a despairing address to a community gathering to discuss the scandal.

Moore issued a direct and personal appeal for accountability amidst a culture of silencing.

Moore described having been isolated by the community after Scheffel’s death, pushed to the margin as an outsider, as someone willing to discuss toxic dynamics within the group. This follows, as she says, a pattern that impacted Scheffel himself. She began by reading a quote from Scheffel’s address:

I’m in a world of pain. When Trungpa Rinpoche died, there were many forces at work. Now there’s a phenomena of you’re either in or out. We are no longer a society. We’ve become a church. Society has division, diversity and dissonance. The rank-ism [here] creates distance and has broken me.


“Since he died,” Moore continued, “his friends who are mostly senior students of Trungpa Rinpoche, almost all of them teachers, are saying things like, I killed him, that I’m responsible for his death. No one will say this to me. I hear it from others who’ve heard it and believe those people. But what I’m experiencing is incredible amounts of silence.”

Instead of directly answering Moore’s public appeal to suggest policy that would address ways in those who criticize the group are marginalized, Simmer-Brown offered to meet with Moore in person.

“It sounds like this may be a more personal conversation between you and me and I would be delighted to talk with you one on one about that,” said Simmer-Brown, effectively silencing a discussion about silencing, and further blurring the lines between public responsibility, private resolutions, and perhaps even therapy.

-- Judith Simmer-Brown to Distraught Shambhala Members: “Practice More.” (Notes and Transcript), by Matthew Remski


A man who died after intentionally setting his car on fire near the Boulder Rifle Club on Sunday has been identified as 64-year-old William Scheffel, of Boulder.

The Boulder County Coroner's Office has completed an autopsy and Scheffel's cause and manner of death are pending further investigation, according to news release.

Boulder County sheriff's deputies responded to a report of a burning car near the 4900 block of North 26th Street on Sunday morning and found charred human remains in the driver's seat of the car.

Image
Figure 1: Partially burned car abandoned in a rural area

Arson and fire will render very difficult forensic evaluation of a crime scene, and in particular of a victim deliberately burned post-mortem.

-- “The Fire will do the Rest”: Concealing Homicide through Posthumous Burning of Corpses, by Zija Ismaili, Bledar Xhemali, Admir Sinamati and Gentian Vyshka


Scheffel's death remains under investigation, but no foul play is suspected.

My personal effects began to be routinely sabotaged and a mixture of corn chips, grass and gravel were placed in my vehicle’s fuel tank. The Director suspected the Kitchen Manager in the vehicle sabotage while I told him that it was more likely the work of his ex-army chauffeur friend who he had recently employed in the Facilities Maintenance Department, Jeremy Blackburn....

About an hour after leaving Dorje Denma Ling, I discovered that the strange sound on my vehicle came from the rear-axle gears: the oil cap on the differential cover had been removed. The oil inside the differential had completely drained from it. This could have resulted in my death as the gears could have seized while I was driving, and caused a major accident on the highway. I immediately suspected the Kitchen Manager in collusion with the Director’s friend in the Dorje Denma Ling Facilities Department, the latter having quietly slipped away to Europe just days earlier without explanation. I later learned that he had in fact been banned from Dorje Denma Ling due to his slander and witnessed physical assault of me and that this had occurred without my knowledge or formal input. However, his banning clearly occurred too late.

I began to investigate what I felt at least criminally reckless behaviour and to research which laws may be applied to the situation. As I could have died in the incident which occurred in the context of relentless harassment, and as Blackburn is most likely to have known the mechanical implications of such an action, it seems obvious that had I died there would have been a murder investigation. In addition, given that no life was lost, the overwhelming likelihood of Blackburn’s involvement in the apparent first and second vehicle sabotages makes an allegation of attempted murder plausible in this case.

In this analysis I am supported by Shambhala International’s former President, Richard Reoch. He is also the former Public Relations Chief for Amnesty International and a broker in the ceasefire in the intractable recent war in Sri Lanka. On two occasions in 2015, four months apart he was careful in assessing what I told him of the scenario, found it to be credible, and earnestly encouraged me to not refer to the incident as merely willful aggression or recklessness, but as attempted murder. He encouraged me to do what I could to pursue all avenues of investigation in this. He was also very clear that I may get nowhere with the Sangha’s internal conflict resolution processes as wrongdoing was, “…systemic…” in the Sangha. He finally told me that if I approached the Sakyong, “…even though you think he should be interested, he ain’t! He just ain’t!”

Having effected an emergency repair, I drove to Maine to spend three nights at the home of Toby Sifton, one of the Kasung Command and my main supervisor. He consoled me with apparent heart, while I arranged for a new differential to be fitted to my vehicle at a cost of $3,000. Nobody offered any compensation and it was clear it was not worth asking for any, despite it being clear to Kasung Command that a major incident had just occurred at Dorje Denma Ling.

Sifton ordered me to silence so as to, “…not feed this beast”, namely the gossip surrounding the Kitchen Manager’s storyline. In my utter confusion, I began a month of attempted healing at Karme Chöling in Vermont. I effectively suppressed any criticism of anybody elses’s responsibility in the aggression which had, preventably, come my way. However, just as the Jews are not responsible for their holocaust, I am not accountable for that aggression and the Sangha remains at risk of harm because, to this day it has been swept under the rug.

Sifton informed me via email that I would risk his personally collecting me from Karme Choling to, “…exile on Ragged Island to subsist on seaweed”, (on the coast of Maine) should I discuss my experience at Dorje Denma Ling with anybody at Karme Choling during my month there. It did seem somewhat of a harsh to toy with making me his prisoner while the Kitchen Manager was left freely crowing around the Nova Scotia Sangha, “We ejected the Rusung from Dorje Denma Ling!” The Kitchen Manager was reported to have done this in the Sakyong’s Halifax kitchen in her role as his trainee cook. Still she was not questioned, and it would be six months before she was properly fired. As a victim of Sangha crime I was being silenced while slander was allowed to generate against me.

-- The institutionalised cover up of crime in the Shambhala International Sangha, by Edmund Butler


John Bear: 303-473-1355, bearj@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/johnbearwithme

***************************************

Librarian's Comment: May 2 at 11:59 PM
https://www.reddit.com/r/ShambhalaBuddh ... dium=web2x

As a retired prosecutor and criminal defense attorney, I can only say that finding a body in a burned automobile raises serious suspicions about whether the death was a homicide, rather than a suicide. Burning yourself to death is a difficult way to kill yourself, and self immolation inside a car is almost unheard of. The only reference to a case of self-immolation in an automobile is in a paper entitled Unusual motor vehicle suicides, and was "a backup to a drug overdose."

On the other hand, burning a body in a car is a textbook way of hiding evidence of murder. Planting rumors about why the person would commit suicide is a second form of concealment, called staging: "For example, after killing a person an offender puts the victim into their vehicle and sets the car on fire with the aim of destroying any physical evidence that may have been left behind. This would be a precautionary act. If the offender does the exact same thing, but writes a suicide note, signing on behalf of the victim, speaking of mental anguish and the desire to end their life, this would constitute staging."

Getting Away With Murder: An examination of detected homicides staged as suicides

I became acquainted with the technique of burning the body in an automobile after simulating an automobile accident when I was an Oregon Deputy DA, and watched a video with some detectives of the exhumation of a body that had been buried eighteen years. Asking why we were watching this, another DA told me that a Native American in a Georgia prison was dying, and confessed to participating in a biker murder in Grants Pass where they shot the victim in the throat with a shotgun, put his body in a car, doused it all with gasoline, and pushed it over a cliff. Sure enough, Josephine County sheriffs called it a fatal one-vehicle crash. But when they exhumed the body (not much flesh left on the bones by the maggots, but there was still a cohesive spinal structure visible), they x-rayed it and -- boom! There was a wad of buckshot right in the neck.

Obviously, if a person self-immolates themselves, there's going to be a different appearance than if someone ignites their corpse. Here is the difference: "If a person is alive but unconscious before they are burned, the burned body will assume a pugilistic posture. This term arises from the similarity of the posture to that of a boxer in the ring; the arms are raised up in a defensive position and the hands are tightened into fists. The legs may be bent into a defensive stance as well. "

Burning Evidence

I don't have any information on the appearance of Bill's body, but good police forensic practices are often not followed, and homicides are taken for suicides all the time. (See the likely murders of Ferguson activists, including at least one the police are calling suicide that was almost certainly a lynching. The Boulder law enforcement do not have a great reputation for investigating homicides involving the wealthy, as we can recall from their inability to solve the Jon Benet case.

Suicide by a Dharma student is a rare thing. Sometimes people know too much. Questions should be asked, but the Boulder media isn't doing it. Somebody should get the coroner's report, and see if Bill's burned corpse was in a "pugilistic posture." If not, then he was dead before the car was burned.

Charles Carreon
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Re: Former teacher at Boulder's Shambhala accused of sexuall

Postby admin » Fri Feb 08, 2019 5:04 am

A Guided Tour of Hell: A Graphic Memoir
by Samuel Bercholz and Pema Namdol Thaye
shambhala.com
$24.95 - Hardcover

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Image

Details

Take a trip through the realms of hell with a man whose temporary visitor’s pass gave him a horrifying—and enlightening—preview of its torments. This true account of Sam Bercholz’s near-death experience has more in common with Dante’s Inferno than it does with any of the popular feel-good stories of what happens when we die. In the aftermath of heart surgery, Sam, a longtime Buddhist practitioner and teacher, is surprised to find himself in the lowest realms of karmic rebirth, where he is sent to gain insight into human suffering. Under the guidance of a luminous being, Sam’s encounters with a series of hell-beings trapped in repetitious rounds of misery and delusion reveal to him how an individual’s own habits of fiery hatred and icy disdain, of grasping desire and nihilistic ennui, are the source of horrific agonies that pound consciousness for seemingly endless cycles of time. Comforted by the compassion of a winged goddess and sustained by the kindness of his Buddhist teachers, Sam eventually emerges from his ordeal with renewed faith that even the worst hell contains the seed of wakefulness. His story is offered, along with the modernist illustrations of a master of Tibetan sacred arts, in order to share what can be learned about awakening from our own self-created hells and helping others to find relief and liberation from theirs.

Image
Inferno, 2015. Acrylic, 20.75 x 27 inches. © Pema Namdol Thaye

Image
Gates of Hell (detail) 2015. Acrylic, 20.75 x 21.1 inches. © Pema Namdol Thayel

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Momo Drollo, 2013. Acrylic, 23.75 x 30 inches. © Pema Namdol Thaye


News & Reviews

"Sam Bercholz, one of the most genuine and heartful teachers of dharma I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing, has written a harrowing and vivid account of what might await us after death. A dark thrill to read, it is also a generous gift, reminding us that what we do here matters urgently." —George Saunders, author of Tenth of December

"A Guided Tour of Hell graphically illustrates the naked consequences of the destructive side of our attitudes and actions. Buddhism says, when our mind is released from this physical setup, we could enjoy a heavenly world of peace and light, or suffer in a hellish world of darkness and pain. No one else creates these worlds for us. They are the reflections of our own past mental habits. Thank you, Sam, for returning with these mesmerizing descriptions of what you witnessed on the other side. I hope that they will make us mindful to become better people." —Tulku Thondup Rinpoche, author of The Healing Power of Mind and Boundless Healing

"This book is an astonishingly generous offering: a tour of hell, guided with love. This is not a pacifying love. Rather, it is a love that destroys illusion to leave the reader in a state of discomfiting wakefulness. If you seek a deeply refined and discerning spiritual view that will compel you to journey beyond conventional thought, never to return, this book is for you." —Susan Piver, author of Start Here Now

"An apocalyptic guided tour through the infernal Buddhist hells realms revealed during a near-death experience. A courageous and subjective account, resonant with Buddhist doctrine, that veers far from the heavenly realms of much modern NDE literature. Sam Bercholz’s narrative is vividly illustrated by Pema Namdol’s brilliant artwork." —Robert Beer, artist and author of The Encyclopedia of Tibetan Symbols and Motifs

"A fascinating and deeply thought-provoking testimony, powerfully illustrated. A must-read for anyone who wonders what might happen at the time of death." —Matthieu Ricard, author of Happiness
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Re: Former teacher at Boulder's Shambhala accused of sexuall

Postby admin » Fri Feb 08, 2019 5:13 am

A Guided Tour of Hell
by Asian Art Museum, San Francisco
Apr 20 — Sep 16, 2018

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A guided tour of one man’s harrowing descent into the Tibetan Buddhist realms of hell encourages us to contemplate the meaning of life and the consequences of negative action.

After collapsing in the hospital following heart surgery, longtime Buddhist teacher Sam Bercholz felt himself being pulled violently down into a realm beyond life, where he witnessed dramatic suffering. Bercholz recounted the nightmarish imagery and intense sensations of this near-death experience to Tibetan American artist Pema Namdol Thaye. The artist drew on his training in traditional Tibetan arts as well as his childhood obsession with graphic novels to translate these descriptions into a series of vibrant acrylic paintings; more than 20 of these works are on view in this exhibition.

Thaye’s paintings forcefully depict the karmic suffering of hell-beings in fantastical landscapes, both fiery and crystalline. These characters — among them a suicide bomber, a murderous warlord, a self-absorbed socialite, a scientist who invents a doomsday bomb — each represent a negative habit of mind: envy, hate, greed, disdain, materialism.

The artworks encourage us to contemplate suffering in order to inspire us toward greater good in life. To this end, the final painting in the series, Samsara, reminds us that hell is only one of six possible destinations on the karmic wheel of life.

On Saturday, June 23, get an inside look at the exhibition A Guided Tour of Hell with artist Pema Namdol Thaye. Learn more.
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Re: Former teacher at Boulder's Shambhala accused of sexuall

Postby admin » Fri Feb 08, 2019 5:26 am

Outcomes of patients who commit suicide by burning
by O. Castana,1,∗ P. Kourakos,1 M. Moutafidis,1 N. Stampolidis,1 V. Triantafyllou,2 Ath. Pallantzas,1 E. Filippa,1 and C. Alexandropoulos2
March 31, 2013

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Summary

Cases in which people use fire when attempting or committing suicide are not common but nevertheless constitute a cause of admission to burns units worldwide. Usually these people are suffering from stress and have been diagnosed as mentally ill. Schizophrenia, depression, and personality disorders are the most frequently diagnosed conditions. The psychological problems appear to have been overlooked by the family or not to have been presented to them. The aim of this study is to present the clinical features, characteristics, and outcomes of patients burned during a suicide attempt. The role of the psychiatrist is important, starting in the emergency room. The incidence of patients committing self-injury by burning appears to be higher in women burn patients. Deceased patients usually have a larger extent of burns and a higher incidence of other injuries and require more surgical procedures and longer hospitalization times. The problems for burn unit staff and qualified psychiatric care are discussed.

Introduction

Attempted suicide by burning (“self-immolation”) is uncommon in Western countries, accounting for 2-6% of burn centre admissions. Nevertheless, this particular patient group remains a great challenge for the burn team because of its special characteristics, placing a heavy burden on medical, nursing, and financial resources.

In 2008, according to WHO, Eurostat, and Elstat (Greek Statistics Service), the annual suicide rate in the 27 EU member states was 10.1 suicides per 100,000 population, the highest being in Lithuania (30.7 per 100,000 and the lowest in Greece (2.8 per 100,000).

In Greece there were 4042 documented suicides in the period 1999-2009, at a steady rate. Since then there has been an increase: from 507 cases in 2009 to 622 in 2010 and 798 in 2012. Psychiatrists correlate this phenomenon with the higher unemployment in the last years.

Given this increase in suicide rates in Greece we took the opportunity to review the particular subset of patient suicides by burning presenting to our Burns Unit in Evaggelismos Hospital.

A retrospective review was performed, examining emergency admissions to our Burns Unit over the past six years. We included burn patients with documented self-inflicted injuries, excluding cases in which deliberate self-harm might have been suspected but not admitted. We recorded patient demographics, marital status, previous psychiatric history, and total body surface area (TBSA) burned.

Results

The review of our records for the past six years showed that nine patients who attempted suicide by self-immolation were admitted to our burns unit (Figs. 1-​-3)3) (Table I), representing 4% of all burn admissions. This incidence does not reflect the true incidence of suicide by immolation since some patients may have died immediately and were never transferred to our burns unit.

[x]
Fig. 1: Injury pattern of patient who attempted suicide by burning.

[x]
Fig. 3: A third patient.

[x]
Table I: Demographic data of our patients

Five of the patients were female (55%) (mean age all patients, 58 yr; age range, 39-82 yr). Four patients (45%) were single/divorced at the time of their injury, five were unemployed (55%), and two (22%) were in prison.

Nearly all the patients were reported to have had a low income status (unemployed, supported by family, low pension). A psychiatric history was recorded in five cases (55%), depression being the most common diagnosis, followed by bipolar disorder and alcohol abuse. The average TBSA was 40.4% (range, 5-91%). Three of our patients sustained inhalation injury for which they were intubated, only to succumb to their injuries in the first five days of hospitalization (mortality, 33%). Eight were injured when they set fire to their clothing - in three cases they set fire to the bed linen as well; four patients used a liquid accelerant on their clothes (gasoline, domestic use alcohol) and swallowed acid solution resulting in a chemical burn. The surviving patients were taken to the operating theatre under general anaesthesia at least twice during their hospital stay. Nearly all returned for more surgery after their discharge. All of the surviving patients received immediate counselling from our hospital’s psychiatric team; two were transferred to the psychiatric ward before their discharge from hospital.

[x]
Fig. 2: A second patient.

Discussion

Characteristics of self-immolation suicide patients


The special characteristics of self-immolation victims have been reviewed and described in the literature, and a distinct difference has been discerned to this regard between Western societies and those in the East. For our review we will focus on the characteristics of Western societies: despite the low incidence of suicide attempts by self-immolation, these are associated with a much higher mortality, mean TBSA burned, frequency of complications (including inhalation injury), and prolonged hospital stay.

Most of the patients had sought psychiatric consultation prior to the event, and 43-90% were diagnosed as suffering from a psychiatric condition (including, in decreasing order, depression, schizophrenia, personality disorders, and substance abuse). The treatment of this group of patients was characterized by delayed healing, increased need for surgery, and poor cooperation. Various studies found a male preponderance, mostly in the fourth decade of life. The most common method documented is the use of a liquid accelerant to enhance the effect of setting one’s clothing on fire. The mechanism of the action together with the absence of the will to rescue oneself from the flames leads in most cases to involvement of the face, trunk, and upper extremities as also to frequent inhalation injury. Many studies also report a correlation with a low education or socio-economic status. Additional factors are loneliness, life-altering events and social stresses, the presence of chronic illness, and long-term disability.

Self-immolation victims in Greece

A previous retrospective study performed (1996-2003) at the Gennimatas General State Hospital in Athens, Greece, reported an incidence of 3.7% (53 patients), with a mean age of 53 years, 43% males, and mean burn TBSA 41.6%. A psychiatric history was noted in 43% of the patients (mostly depression). The use of flammable liquid was the most common method (70%), and the mortality rate was high (75%). The mean hospitalization time for survivors was 59 days.

Our patients generally followed the characteristics mentioned above, the majority having a psychiatric history, low socio-economic status, high TBSA percentage, high incidence of inhalation injury, prolonged hospital stay, increased need of surgery, and high mortality rate. Our group of patients showed a slight female preponderance (55%), compared to most of the series reported (yet in accordance with the other retrospective study from Athens), and a slightly higher mean age (58 yr).

Conclusion

Suicide by self-immolation represents only a small percentage of burn admissions; however, this patient group is a great burden for the specialist team because of its unique characteristics.

The nine burn patients treated in our department over the past six years generally followed the trend of selfimmolation victims in Western societies; however, the sample was too small to allow any conclusions to be drawn.

We believe that this percentage underestimates the true rate of self-inflicted burns because of the frequently observed reluctance of patients and families to admit to selfharm. Insufficient record keeping and the lack of an organized national burns database also make the evaluation of burn patients (and self-inflicted burns) difficult.

Undoubtedly this subgroup of patients deserves special attention from the burn team because of their poor prognosis, and the importance of close cooperation with the psychiatric specialist cannot be overemphasized.

_______________

References

1. World Health Organization; http://www.who.int/en .
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Articles from Annals of Burns and Fire Disasters are provided here courtesy of Euro-Mediterranean Council for Burns and Fire Disasters (MBC)
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Suicide by Self-Burning While Driving a Vehicle
by Motoki Osawa [1] *, Yoo Tanaka [1] [2], Yu Kakimoto [1], and Fumiko Satoh [1]
1 Department of Forensic Medicine, Tokai University School of Medicine, Japan
2 3rd Regional Coast Guard Headquarters, Japan
Submitted: 01 November 2016
Accepted: 17 November 2016
Published: 18 November 2016
© 2016 Osawa et al.

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Abstract

Three cases of suicide by self-burning while driving a vehicle are introduced, in which planned multiple suicide, for which more than two methods are combined, was suspected. They committed suicide by igniting flammable matter while driving and the vehicle collided with a guard rail or walls at high speed. It might be carried out to camouflage a suicidal action as an ordinary accident for insurance fraud or other purposes. No alcohol or drugs were detected, and carbon monoxide hemoglobin saturation was high: 52% on average. Unlike typical social self-immolation, middle aged males who had no history of mental disorder committed this type of aggressive self-inflicted burn.

ABBREVIATIONS

COHb: Carbon Monoxide Hemoglobin

INTRODUCTION

A vehicle fire occurred in a tunnel of an expressway one evening in 2015. The driver, a woman in her 30s, was rescued. The driver later confessed that she had attempted suicide by sprinkling kerosene on the passenger seat of the vehicle and setting it ablaze with a cigarette lighter. A survey of the Japanese literature reveals that Yamauchi et al., reported a similar case of suicide by vehicle fire, in which a vehicle in a tunnel of an expressway collided with a wall, causing a vehicle fire, after which a middle-aged man was found dead [1]. Because a melted plastic tank was found in the passenger seat, it was inferred that the driver had ignited the accelerant by himself, with the intent of suicide. It might be said that this case is one type of planned multiple suicide for which more than two methods are combined [2]. The youth tends toward aggressive behaviors accompanied by high seriousness and lethality [3,4].

As suicide means, induction of exhaust gas in a stationary vehicle has been popular [5,6], but attempt on moving wheel such as crash is rare. According to the general statement related to suicide during vehicle driving summarized by Pompili et al., based on reports from various nations and regions [7], driver suicides account for 1%-7% of all driver deaths. They concluded that, generally speaking, more than 2% of all deaths can be judged as suicide. Suicidal actions taken during driving usually show a pattern in which a vehicle with one driver causes an accident independently, although other vehicles are involved in some cases [8]. As for the specific suicidal means of automobile driving, intentional collision accidents are common, although various accidents such as plummeting into a valley also occur [9]. Shkrum et al., reviewed self-burning suicides in Canada between 1986 and 1988. Six of 43 victims reportedly found inside the compartment of automobiles, and kerosene was used as an accelerant in one case [10]. Viklund et al., retrospectively analyzed 118 cases of death caused by vehicle fire in Sweden, reporting that 5 cases (3%) were judged to be suicide [11]. However, details of the circumstances in both case reports remain unknown.

In the current investigation, accidents suggestive of intentional vehicle fire death with the intent of suicide were extracted from past autopsy cases and analyzed.

CASE PRESENTATION

Cases subjected to autopsy in 16 years of 1999-2014 at the Department of Forensic Medicine, Tokai University School of Medicine were reviewed. Self-burning suicide cases occurred 63 times during the period. Of those, 3 cases are suspected of suicide by vehicle fire. An outline of each case is presented below.

Case #1

In the evening, a station wagon collided with the right guard rail of the automobile expressway, caught fire and burst into flames in a tunnel about 200 m further down the road. After the fire was extinguished, the driver, a man in his 40s, was found dead in the driver’s seat. A plastic tank was found under the rear seat, kerosene reaction was detected in the vehicle, and parts of a cigarette lighter were found. Although no suicide note was found, he was reportedly troubled by the fact that an adulterous relationship had been discovered. He had no history of mental disorder such as depression. Autopsy and examination results revealed excessive carbonization of the entire body and soot aspiration image. Blood alcohol tests, urinary alcohol tests, and drug and toxicology tests were negative, although carbon monoxide hemoglobin (COHb) saturation was 48%.

Case #2

In the early morning, on a highway, a passenger car collided with a concrete wall divider from the frontage road, caught fire and burst into flames (Figure 1). After the fire was extinguished, a man in his 60s was found dead in the driver’s seat. In all, four metal paint cans were found in the passenger seat and rear seat. Parts of a cigarette lighter were also found. Results showed that he had large debts and had taken out more than one life insurance policy on himself. His body was carbonized, and had been incinerated to the torso. Confirmation of the soot aspiration image was difficult. Blood alcohol, drug, and toxicology tests yielded negative results. COHb saturation was 31%. No organic matter was detected in the blood using GC/MS method.

Case #3

A passenger car collided with the guard rail and burst into flames in the early morning at a downhill curve in a mountain area. After the fire was extinguished, a man in his 50s was found dead in the driver’s seat. A lump of melted plastic in the shape of plastic tank was found and kerosene reaction was detected in the compartment. He had no history of mental disorder such as depression and exhibited no speech or behavior suggestive of suicide. Autopsy and examination findings revealed that his entire body was burned excessively and soot aspiration image was noticed. Blood and urinary alcohol test, and toxicology were negative, and COHb saturation was 77%.

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION

Items common to the three cases described above are presented in Table (1). Flammable matter was ignited while driving at high speed on the express way or downhill and the vehicle collided with a guard rail or walls. The vehicle then burst into flames. The victim was found dead in the driver’s seat. No alcohol or drugs were detected. COHb saturation was high: 52% on average. Bohnert described that in deaths occurring after car fires due to collisions, the COHb value are usually <40%, often even <20% [12]. This report suggests that the victims did not attempt to escape even after the outbreak of fire and remained in the vehicle. Lam et al., found a statistically significant association between suicidal thoughts and injuries by automobile collision [13].

Table 1: Characteristics of three cases of suicide by self-inflicted burn while driving a vehicle.

Age, sex / Middle-aged men


Situations / Single driver, collision with side wall or guardrail
Burns / Severe
Accelerant / Kerosene (2), Paint products (1)
COHb content / 52% (mean)
Blood alcohol / Not detected
Other drugs / Not detected
Suicide note / None
Psychiatric history / None


In the three cases, plastic tanks for kerosene or metallic paint cans were left in the passenger compartment. In two cases, a kerosene reaction was detected in the vehicle. From these findings, all cases are deemed as intentional fire outbreak and are regarded as complicated and elaborate methods of suicide. The three presented victims clearly prepared to complete suicide. In contrast to younger age of suicide that exhibits the predisposition of impulsive and aggressive behaviors [3,4], these middle aged males, with the mean age of 56 years old, characteristically selected the planed methods accompanied by high seriousness and lethality.

Traffic accidents involving two-wheel vehicles and automobiles normally occur because of carelessness. In reality, one normally considers that fatal traffic accidents are not intentional but accidental. If someone intends to camouflage a suicidal action as an ordinary accident for insurance fraud or other purposes, a traffic accident might well become one option. It has been pointed out that fatal automobile accident data apparently fail to exclude possible suicide or suspected suicide [14]. In these three cases, fire outbreak did not occur in a stationary vehicle, although the vehicle came to a standstill after collision. Evidence indicates that the drivers attempted to camouflage their intentions as an ordinary traffic accident. Moreover, they attempted to provide beneficiaries with a favorable payment of life insurance [15]. Regarding other possibilities, they probably wanted their families not to suffer from the disgrace of suicide by pretending a traffic accident.

No victim had a history of mental disorder such as depression. Franchitto et al., reported that 42% of the patients who attempted self-burning suffered from depression. Most of them had a history of attempted suicide by some other method [16]. It is characteristic that no victim in any of the three cases exhibited a history of mental disorder. Rather, some victims had economic trouble or relationship difficulties.

As for the fire accelerant, kerosene was used in two cases; paint thinner was used in one case. If these flammable materials had not been used, the collision would probably not have produced a vehicle fire. Malic et al., reported that, in 78% of cases of suicide by self-burning, an accelerant such as kerosene was used [17]. They also reported that, in the case of self-burning, with damage intended by the victims themselves, the degree of burn injury was more severe than in cases of assault.

The frequency of self-inflicted burns as a means of suicide apparently depends on the region and sex. Self-burning suicide is generally less common in economically developed countries including Japan: self-burning suicide is used rarely, in about 1% of all suicide cases (1.3% for males; 1.9% for females) [18]. However, it is said that self-burning suicide is markedly influenced by social, cultural, and psychological factors. For example, in Tibet and South Korea, self-burning suicide reportedly accounts for about 5% of all suicide cases [19,20]. Such self-immolation as a cultural or moral statement in India is well-known [21], although no self-immolation occurs for those reasons in Japan. Although self-burning while driving a vehicle as reported this time is truly a rare occurrence, it is considered that economic aspects related to payment of insurance claim or considerations for the victim’s family are important. Similar cases are found only rarely in other countries. It remains unknown whether this phenomenon is peculiar to Japan, or not.

Hernetkoski et al., analyzed accidents in Finland and reported that fatal traffic accidents are decreasing as are deaths of automobile drivers at present, but rates of intentional accidents are increasing [22]. As for distinctive features of such cases, it is said that single-vehicle accidents of vehicles with one person aboard are increasing. Fatal traffic accidents involving vehicle fires probably include some cases of suicide where volatile accelerants are sprayed in the vehicle and ignited by the driver.

CONCLUSION

We demonstrate a social and clinical topic concerning an aggressive suicide method by self-burning while driving a vehicle. Three victims similarly committed suicide by igniting flammable matter while driving, then the vehicles collided at road side. It seemed to be carried out to camouflage a suicidal action as an ordinary accident. These middle aged males who had no history of mental disorder committed this type of aggressive self-inflicted burn.

_______________

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22.Hernetkoski KM, Keskinen EO, Parkkari IK. Driver suicides in Finland-- are they different in northern and southern Finland? Int J Circumpolar Health. 2009; 68: 249-260.
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