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 » Wed Feb 20, 2019 12:24 am

About the Time Chogyam Trungpa's Wife Gave Him a Kitty and He Tortured it to Death in Front of Her
by Leslie Hays [The Wife of Chogyam Trungpa]



It was summer of 1985. I "married" Rinpoche on June 12th of that year. I met him around May 31st at a wedding of Jackie Rushforth and Bakes Mitchell in the back yard of Marlow and Michael Root's home. That year, we had our wedding at RMDC a few days before Assembly, then we had Seminary and Encampment happened during Seminary.

That was the year he spoke of limited bloodshed and taking over the city of Halifax and the Provence of Nova Scotia. We were in the middle of the Mahayana portion of seminary teachings. For weeks, CTR (Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche) had been asking everyone he saw if they had seen a cat. He asked the head cook, the shrine master, and all of his servants if they'd seen one. We returned to our cabin late one night after a talk and there was this beautiful tabby cat sitting on the porch. I said, "Here kitty, kitty" and it came right over to me, purring and rubbing against my legs. I picked it up and said: "Here, Sweetie. Here's the cat you've been wanting."

I can't remember exactly which guard was on duty, but I think it was Jim Gimian, and of course Mitchell Levy. Someone took the cat from me and Rinpoche ordered them to tie him to the table on the porch. He instructed them to make a tight noose out of a rope so the cat didn't get away. He stood over his guards to examine the knots and make sure they were secure. I was curious at this point, wondering what this enlightened master had in mind for the cat. I knew there were serious rodent problems on the land and I assumed he wanted to use the cat for this problem.

Then, he instructed the guard to bring him some logs from the fire pit that was in front of the porch, down a slight slope. We took our seats. Rinpoche was seated to my right and there was a table between us for his drinks. He ordered a sake. The logs were on his right side, so he could use his good arm. (His left side was paralyzed due to a car accident that happened in his late twenties.)

The cat was still tied by a noose to the table. Rinpoche picked up a log and hurled it at the cat, which jumped off the table and hung from the noose. It was making a terrible gurgling sound. He finally got some footing on the edge of the deck and made it back onto the porch. Rinpoche hurled another log, making contact and the cat let out a horrible scream as the air was knocked out of him.

I said: "Sweetie, stop! What are you doing? Why are you doing this?" He said something about hating cats because they played with their food and didn't cry at the Buddha’s funeral. He continued to torture the poor animal. I was crying and begging him to stop.

I said, "I gave you the cat. Please stop it!" I'll never forget his response. He looked at me and said: "You are responsible for this karma" and he giggled. I got up to try and stop him and he firmly told me to sit down. One of the guards stepped closer to me and stood in a threatening manner to keep me in my place.

The torture went on for what seemed like hours, until finally the poor cat made a run for his life with the patio table bouncing after him. It was clear he had a broken back leg. I'm sure that cat died. I looked for him or the table for the rest of Seminary and never found either. I imagined him fleeing up the mountain and the table catching on something and strangling him.

I was completely traumatized by the event, but it was never spoken of again. Rinpoche told me the "karma" from this event was good. I was dumbfounded. A common feeling I had when around Rinpoche was that there were things going on that I simply could not understand. It seemed like other people, with a knowing nod of their heads, understood things on a deeper level than I. I was in fear of exposing my ignorance, so i learned not to question and to go with the crowd around him. They didn't appear to have any problems with what he did. Such was the depth of their devotion. I just needed to generate more devotion to Rinpoche and one day I might understand.”
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Re: Former teacher at Boulder's Shambhala accused of sexuall

Postby admin » Wed Feb 20, 2019 6:12 am

Part 1 of 2

An Open Letter to the Shambhala Community from Long-Serving Kusung To the Shambhala community
by Craig Morman, Ben Medrano, MD, Laura Leslie, Louis Fitch, David Ellerton, Allya Canepa
February 16, 2019



This letter is in regards to Mipham J. Mukpo, also known as Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. For the purposes of this letter, we will refer to him as Mr. Mukpo.

In light of the recently concluded investigations and subsequent communications from the Shambhala leadership, a group of former Kusung decided to come forward and highlight areas we do not feel were fully or properly addressed.

By way of background, the Dorje Kasung is the quasi-military group in Shambhala tasked with protecting the teachings and the community. The Kusung, meaning “body protectors,” are a subset of the Dorje Kasung who are tasked with the direct care of Mr. Mukpo’s body, on all levels. Accordingly, the Kusung are witness to Mr. Mukpo’s private life.

Becoming a Kusung is only by invitation of Mr. Mukpo. He requires loyalty, confidentiality, and allegiance to his view. More often than not he also requires Vajrayana samaya vows. Within the Dorje Kusung there are Continuity Kusung who travel and live with Mr. Mukpo for about a year, serving him 24/7. There are very few people in Shambhala who spend as much time with Mr. Mukpo.

We are all former Kusung who have held multiple leadership roles in the Shambhala community some of which we have listed below our names. Although we are a small contingent of former servants, our collective direct experience with Mr. Mukpo spans from 1994 to 2018.

Serving in these capacities has afforded us both intimate exposure to Mr. Mukpo’s conduct and ongoing access to those who’ve continued to serve or served after our duties concluded. Each of us has gradually distanced ourselves from the inner circle for a variety of reasons, primarily an overwhelming need for self-care. Most of us have left the community entirely.

In conversation with each other, and with many other former Court (personal household) staff, we’ve concluded that Mr. Mukpo has consistently shown a disturbing pattern of behavior.

Given Mr. Mukpo’s position as sole authority of Shambhala, we feel a moral obligation to alert others in order to avoid further harm and provide direct unfiltered feedback to Mr. Mukpo. The following summary highlights key observations and represents our own collective opinion. Attached to the end of this letter are six individual accounts that contributed to our general assessment.

Ms. Bath from Wickwire Holm had a very narrow mandate for her investigation. However, we know that abuse is generally underreported which speaks to a much wider epidemic in the Shambhala community. This seeming effort to downplay the number and severity of incidents is corroborated by Ms. Merchasin’s investigation.

We can confirm that Mr. Mukpo has a long history of sexual misconduct including those Claimants in the final Wickwire Holm report. While some of us did talk to the investigators about these allegations we feel that much was not fully addressed.

Mr. Mukpo has a long-standing history of questionable behavior towards his students, ranging from crude harmful speech to physical and psychological abuse. This has occurred both while he was drinking heavily and in the absence of alcohol. He has also consistently propagated misuse of organizational funds. In our opinion, his abuse of power goes far beyond the limited scope of the Wickwire Holm investigation.

We know Mr. Mukpo received feedback about his behavior from various key people at different times. He either dismissed or was unable to heed the warnings and continued to engage in these activities. We are concerned that Mr. Mukpo is unlikely to change.

Most of us have been subjected to his abuse. At times we have also been inadvertent enablers of Mr. Mukpo’s behavior. We have each struggled to understand our blind spots. It is a bitter pill to swallow that we were enablers of this man. The more we ignored our own intuition, the more people were harmed, and the more damage was propagated. As was true for us, many other Shambhala leaders may not recognize their role in the propagation of these harms. Indeed many are victims themselves.

While we cannot undo the damage, hopefully we can speak to the truth of how his behavior has hurt many of his students. We seek to further validate those who have bravely named this pattern and who likely were subjected to gaslighting or minimization. We hope our personal statements will encourage others to speak and keep speaking.

Although the Shambhala community is making changes in some areas of leadership, as well as reviewing finances, ethical conduct, and reporting policies, we doubt that these changes will be enough. Our concern is that these efforts may only act as a mere gesture of change if the center of the community cannot face the deep discomfort of its own culpability.

Currently, Mr. Mukpo is still the monarch and lineage guru in Shambhala. This is why we felt it necessary for us to be open about what we have witnessed. He is not solely defined by the terrible things -– if he was this would all be much simpler. Nonetheless, we feel compelled to draw the line here –- where the disparity gap between what he, as a spiritual leader, says to do and what he himself does, is so wide as to appear immeasurable.

We have been told (and have told ourselves) in many different ways how to obscure this line. Often there is a theme of imploring us to believe that Mr. Mukpo’s behavior is beyond our understanding. We are asked to regard such activity as the guru’s method of waking us up.
But, looking around the world, there’s nothing so prosaic as a leader using his power and position to take advantage of people under his care.

By endorsing this letter we are both affirming these words and standing in support of those who’ve been exploited or harmed.

The forthcoming statements from six of the undersigned are intensely personal accounts from people who were trained to focus on Mr. Mukpo’s needs above all else, even if it meant burying what we saw or felt. It has taken this long for us to come forward because the journey was replete with self-doubt, shame, and grief.

This group as a whole has no affiliation with any particular movement, support group, or any other organization. Although there are other Kusung staff who were interested in endorsing this letter, we do not claim to represent or speak for all other Kusung.


Craig Morman
Kusung (1997-2015)
Continuity Kusung (2002-2003)

Ben Medrano, MD
Former Continuity Kusung and practicing board certified Psychiatrist

Laura Leslie
(2002-2016) Kusung-in-Training, Shabchi (Attendant to Mr. Mukpo’s wife), staff member at Shambhala New York City and Dorje Denma Ling, Aide to the Council of the Makkyi Rabjam (Leaders of the Dorje Kasung), Meditation Instructor and Shambhala Guide, Rusung at the Boulder Shambhala Center, Board Member at Shambhala Mountain Center.

Louis Fitch
(2000-2016) Kasung, Desung, Kusung-in-Training, Boulder Rusung, Kasung Regimental Commander, Sun Camp Leadership Group, Colorado Sun Camp Admin, Personal Attendant to Lady Konchok, Co-Team Leader for Lady Konchok.

David Ellerton
Environment staff, Shambhala Mountain Center (2000-2001)
Continuity Kusung (2001-2002)
Resident Director of Shambhala Training, Shambhala Meditation Center of Denver (2003-2004)
Dragon Region Kusung Officer (2006-2008)

Allya Canepa
(1994-2018) Kusung, Camp Commander, Head of Household - Vermont, Boulder, Shambhala Mountain, Chile; and briefly, at the end, Dragon Region Kusung Commander; Karmê Chöling Accounting Office (1993-1999), Windhorse Dressage Academy (1999-2002), Marpa House Director (2003- 2006) Privy Purse (2006-2010), Ashoka Credit Union CEO (2012-2016).


Ben Medrano
February 2019

My name is Dr. Ben Medrano and I was a Continuity Kusung to Mr. Mukpo from December 2002 to October 2004. I was one of 2 such attendants and we were almost always steps away from him offering services including personal security, workout partner, butler, secretary and counselor. Prior to this, my sporadic Kusung training occurred at various programs starting at the 2000 Vajradhatu seminary where I was recruited and trained. Before that I had never met or studied with him. In fact, I knew very little about any aspect of his personal life other than he wore robes instead of the suits of his father. It’s worth noting that I was not born into this community and my participation started around the age of 19. Following my 2-year tour as his Continuity Kusung, I moved to Boulder to begin my own path towards becoming a physician specialized in psychiatry. I continued to be intimately involved in Mr. Mukpo’s household as a Kusung staff supervisor (Kusung commander) for many land center programs on an annual basis for the years following until the summer of 2011. From about 2005 to 2007 I was a regional Kusung commander for programs mostly in the Colorado area. During that time I was involved in recruitment and training of many other Kusung, some of which are still serving to this day. Upon acceptance to medical school in the summer of 2010, my service and contact with him became limited to only a couple of campaigns in total, each a month in duration with the last being at his Boulder household around December 2013 to January 2014. For those who care, my vajrayana path included traditional Kagyu Ngondro by numbers, Shambhala Ngondro, Vajrayogini and multiple Scorpion Seal Assemblies. Following my acceptance into psychiatric residency training I’ve had no direct involvement in his administrative or personal spheres. However, I did maintain my strong friendships and frequent communication with many who continued to serve him and his family. I’ve been a trusted confidant about their experiences, which allowed me a limited vantage point to continue to stay tuned-in. Prior to the release of Buddhist Project Sunshine I was not aware of the extent of harm experienced by these women and many of my former colleagues.

My retirement from service was a result of years of contemplation from which I’d concluded that it was necessary for me to no longer have direct contact with Mr. Mukpo and much of his inner circle. This period of time away from the community while training in psychiatry allowed me a unique perspective of Shambhala and it’s leader’s inner world. In light of the Project Sunshine and Wickwire Holm reports, and after reading Mr. Mukpo’s and other’s statements, I came to realized that sharing my experience was necessary in this process of reconciliation. The primary catalyst for me was knowing that others have suffered for years and many more are suffering as important questions remain unanswered. I was concerned by the fact that many key close personal staff, prior to Mr. Mukpo’s marriage, had remained silent. Furthermore, a substantial portion of the Kusung were born and raised into Shambhala, attending numerous annual military-style summer camps during their vulnerable developmental years.

The following is an account of what I observed during my time in direct service to Mr. Mukpo from 2000 to 2014 with particular focus on my time as a Continuity Kusung. Please note that any period outside of my 2-year traveling tour consisted of varied week to month long campaigns where contact with him was far more limited, as I was doing occasional service shifts or supervising other Kusung. I will try to give an honest account of my observations and context, while reserving the bulk of my personal interpretations for the latter portion of this report. Its important for me to disclose that I was socialized within this spiritual institution for over 20 years and this definitely contributes to bias. For the last 5 years, I also have had no direct contact with Mr. Mukpo or members of the Kalapa Council and they have not attempted to reach out to me.

From the summer of 2000 to late 2002 I’m guessing I’d accrued a total of approximately 2 months of direct service time to Mr. Mukpo. Much of this training occurred at Shambhala Mountain Center, Dorje Denma Ling and Karme Choling. During those periods I do remember seeing him consume copious amounts of alcohol at occasional social events. When I say occasional, there were a few for every month of service I did. At these events I also witnessed dancing, singing, poetry, toasts and one-on-one close conversation between teacher and student. I clearly recall seeing young attractive women being invited to social events and I remember witnessing him flirting with them in the manner of placing his hand on thighs or shoulders. I don’t remember seeing any groping of buttocks, breasts or vaginas. I was aware of women being invited to his private quarters and had on occasion seen them leave the morning thereafter. If now asked to describe their facial expressions on these occasions I would list a whole range of affects from elation and anxiety to sadness and shame. Rarely did I see women arise from his bedroom looking calm, happy and refreshed. This pretty much sums up all of my observations of women departing after nights spent for the years thereafter.

Prior to starting my tour as a Continuity Kusung, I had a surprise visit from Mr. Mukpo and entourage. This was the first time I was fully able to appreciate his voluminous consumption of alcohol during a binge (easily above 10 drinks). He drank from sunset to sunrise, as he would behave in a provocative manner ranging from being gentle and vulnerable to being threatening and insecure. I will elaborate more on these observations later. I don’t remember him physically harming people at this time. His behavior included demanding others to drink more and coercing some participants to take off their clothes. His behavior towards me during this time was inviting and flattering. From what I could tell he did his best to make me feel welcome. Not long after, I received an invitation to travel with him full time.

Just before my 24th birthday on my first day of tour I remember being greeted at Mr. Mukpo’s household service entry door in the midst of a closed personal retreat by a rowdy and overly casual team of Kusung. I was surprised and somewhat disheartened by their conduct as it reminded me of locker room behavior which I loathed. Much of the 3-man team appeared to be poorly groomed and in general looked emotionally worn. They had been serving extensively for many months and appeared to be at the end of their tether. This image really stuck with me and I will remark on why later. Prior to the end of this retreat, most were replaced by freshfaced devotees.

Within a month of starting these intensive duties we embarked on Mr. Mukpo’s first ever book tour for “Turning the Mind into an Ally” visiting around 20 international locations. This was when I began to see the nature of his social engagement that anchored my allegiance further. He slept very little, was constantly teaching and interacting with students. These experiences were very inspiring for me and gave an example of my own potential to extend my capabilities further than I’d ever imagined. However, the partying continued. At some point in this early period is when my experience of service started to take a turn.

One morning Mr. Mukpo invited me to his room looking worried. He stated that he had a private task for me. He stated that he could no longer be allowed to drink more than “2 wines or 3 beers” and that I should, without question, cut his drink service off at that point. At first I felt honored that he would share such an intimate moment with me. Following this I was informed in a vague manner that something very concerning had recently happened in Chile. Until recently I had been shielded from the details of this event. Evidently his conduct was so infuriating that one of his most senior staff members had threatened to resign. I was given an official letter that basically said I was empowered by Mr. Mukpo to review and regulate all social events involving alcohol. This letter stated that I was to surpass all other authority on the course of celebrations, control alcohol consumption, and dismiss guests if need be. Little did I know, this would be the beginning of a challenging period for me in my relationship with him… ultimately resulting in a protracted phase of decaying trust between us.

As my traveling tour continued, the nature of Mr. Mukpo’s intimate relationships with female students were superficially revealed to me. I use the word superficial because I had little to no idea what occurred behind closed doors. I assumed that some had sex with him, but I did not know the nature of these acts. I learned that he had a number of longstanding girlfriends, many of whom were married. There were times on our tour where they would visit him and vice versa. Having been socialized by Shambhala starting in my teens, I was initially excited to see that my teacher was continuing his father’s “crazy wisdom”. Trungpa’s teachings had already changed my life in a very positive way. I remember thinking how conceptually profound it was that these relationships existed. At the same time I toiled with what it must have felt like for these students, always feeling pushed to rationalize this as a generous offering to their revered teacher. One time we stayed at a couple’s home, whose kid I frequently interacted with. I remember feeling such empathy, realizing that he/she was probably far more preoccupied with the nature of this relationship than I was. Maybe the child was too young, maybe caught up in other things, but part of me could not shake that maybe it was just as disturbing for the kid as it is to me now.

Over time, many of those affairs with married women ended… and to my knowledge at least one marriage did as well. There’s no way for me to know what impact, positive or negative, Mr. Mukpo’s relationships with these women had on their marriage. Needless to say, to my limited knowledge, all such relationships with him had ended prior to his own marriage… some against his will. One night, just past the midpoint of my tour, I was planning a brief hiatus as things had become particularly stressful. I was sitting at a computer when I heard Mr. Mukpo come up behind me with one of these married women who had evidentially broke up with him. To my surprise he began to massage the back of my neck with one hand. This quickly turned into an uncomfortably tight clamping static grip. At first I attempted to ignore it while continuing to appear focused on typing until I could not tolerate the pain and calmly stated “Yes Rinpoche?” He then snickered and stated to the lady “See?! He can withstand the grip!” I must admit, I had forgotten this story until very recently. Oddly I did not consider it a big deal, but after giving this man countless massages to help him relax I realized this was one of the few moments of physical contact that he initiated outside of using my arm as a banister.

Around the same time of this incident Mr. Mukpo’s drinking escalated. This resulted in one of the few times that I showed the letter in order to intervene. We were at a bar and I noticed that 3 drinks seemed like too much. As per tradition he would dictate the seating arrangement and I would find myself placed at a distance that seemed strategic on his behalf. Many times this made it difficult for me to intercept guests’ offers resulting in an experience reminiscent of the childhood game of Whack-a-Mole. Only this time the moles were drinks being handed to him, much of the time these offerings were instigated by him. I would do my best to be as inconspicuous as possible and replace them with water, as Kusung take great pride in being invisible. Many uninformed senior students would get annoyed with me and some would just ignore me regardless of mentioning the letter. However, on this very rare occasion one senior student actually listened.

During our time at the bar I observed Mr. Mukpo flirting with a student’s long-term girlfriend. I could tell that the situation was uncomfortable for him. That said, for some reason, I couldn’t get a clear read what her comfort level was. This raised further alarm as I had been told that I shouldn’t allow him to make advances on less senior or experienced students… a distant rationale that I now find very troubling. As we were leaving the bar I did my usual escorting of Mr. Mukpo into the bathroom. I informed him that he had reached his limit and with a twinkle in his eye he indicated that he couldn’t care less. I was not invited to his car so I instructed the driver that he must proceed directly back to the residence. I rushed home to hide all alcoholic beverages. His arrival was marked by stomps and slamming doors. I spoke with the driver to ask what had happened and was told that Mr. Mukpo had ordered him to go to another bar and was frustrated by their not having done so. Following this, my pager rang summoning me to his room. I opened his bedroom door to find darkness and quietly asked, “May I get you anything?” A sharp and booming reply: “WATER!” Upon my return I entered the pitch-black bedroom in fear. I had heard stories of Mr. Mukpo striking other Kusung and was wary of my currently invisible distance from him while he lay in bed. Fortunately he did not hit me as I somehow managed to place the glass in the void. I left feeling somewhat relieved that a potential crisis had been averted.

The following morning I was summoned to his room and to my surprise he was awake and ready for a planned excursion. He verbalized confirmation that it was good that he didn’t drink more last night since he didn’t feel too hung-over to stick to his established schedule. As an aside, this begs mention of memories about several past events that he canceled due to hangovers. Given that positive feedback and reinforcement were rare experiences for most Kusung, I took his acknowledgement as confirmation that I was doing a good job and this encouraged me to continue serving in this way.

This event was around the time that I had completed my initial commitment of a year. Of note, during this era we were paid a modest monthly stipend of around $750 dollars for our 24/7 duties. Although this low wage was concerning to most, we felt fortunate to be able to serve in this way since Shambhala International was in a major financial crisis and running on a skeleton staff after multiple layoffs. As I understand it, Mr. Mukpo’s “support” income was priority as I hear it continues to be. This alludes to a broader topic on Mr. Mukpo and family’s relationship to money, which many find disturbing. Repeatedly I was amazed by the opulence, frequency, and duration of his luxury vacations. Long after my Continuity Kusung term I gathered that he and his wife’s toiletry/cosmetic budget rivaled my own annual salary as a resident physician. For as long as I have known him, this standard of living has never been enough. I recall a sober midday call demanding me to push for the unfeasible purchase of an Audi A8. I vividly remember his infuriated words being: “I want my FUCKING Audi!”

Returning to my original train of thought: our meager Kusung earnings were barely sufficient to maintain our daily expenditures and I found myself depleting my 401k by the end of my tour in order keep up with his social spending. At the time, his personal accountant had instructed us that we were to avoid using his funds while going out to his numerous expensive dining events.
To put it simply, I was beginning to feel that terminating my service at a year would be wise. Soon after, he requested me to renew my commitment for another year. As said in our tantric vows, “Whatever the leader commands, all that I will do.”

As I progressed through my final year of traveling there were multiple instances of Mr. Mukpo’s binge drinking that I was unable to control. All of them were marked by tense confrontations between us. One such occasion, attended by many senior staff, was at a restaurant dinner. As usual I had attempted to follow his established instructions and limit the drinking. As expected he would retract those instructions once the celebrating ensued and do everything in his power to sabotage my efforts. What made this event different was the frank verbal abuse. At one point I escorted him to the bathroom and he proceeded to verbally berate me, calling me an “asshole” amongst other things. Upon our return to the dinner table audience, he proceeded to compose an insulting poem titled “Stupid People” which was clearly dedicated to me. On speaking with others who had witnessed this event I found that hardly anyone considered this a stellar teaching moment. In fact, his seasoned scribe later told me that the poem was immediately discarded, as it was one of his “worst” literary works. After hearing the poem I made a public reply for all to hear stating “I’m just the bullet in your own gun, shooting yourself in the foot Your Majesty.” To this he smiled and cleverly stated “Yes, but I have the bottle.”

During this dinner there was a novice female student whom it was common knowledge that I was dating. At various points Mr. Mukpo made advances towards her. As I was so preoccupied with cutting off his alcohol service, I cannot remember the specifics of those advances. All I knew was that she was uncomfortable. As per my instructions, I was to remove new students on such an occasion. So I passed my duties to my teammate and made plans to escort her elsewhere as the party continued back at our residence. When I stopped in his living room I found most of our guests standing in a circle exposed. Mr. Mukpo was marching around and ordering each of them to do various things. Evidently he had demanded that everyone get completely naked, all but one woman halted this task at underwear. Some were crying and many appeared to be nervous. At this point, I imagine senior students reading this might feel encouraged, as it is again reminiscent of his father’s “crazy wisdom” behavior. When we hear accounts of such stories from that era, I think it’s worth reflecting on which participants remain in our community. Of those who have left, what are their experiences? In my experience, and others who I know well, these moments did not feel all that “enlightened”. In this particular instance, I heard that after my departure one guest took it upon himself/herself to dispose of all alcohol. This was after Mr. Mukpo began forcefully biting people, as he was known to do in the past. Those who likely consented to such assaults remarked to me that he had left bruises, which had been documented in photos. I vaguely recall seeing them. However, my memory is quite muddled with anxiety as I attempt to remember and much of this feels unreal as I put it onto paper.

To continue on this story, it was reported to me that Mr. Mukpo re-targeted his sexual advances to another woman. She was married with husband present and other staff noted a general feeling of discomfort. It’s worth noting that he seemed to prefer to target unavailable women, usually while the significant other was present. This instance led to a redirection of Mr. Mukpo’s focus on another single female who consented to entertain him and I know little of what followed.

Later that night I ruminated in frustration, sadness and anger. I could not reconcile the helplessness I felt in trying to assist Mr. Mukpo. I felt trapped and seriously considered leaving immediately. I inquired about changing my flight, but found it to be impossible. I called one of my seniors and recounted the story while emphasizing that I intended to leave as soon as possible. He encouraged me to give it some time. As I lay in the Kusung staff bedroom I looked over at my associate who was sleeping. I realized how this teammate had become like family to me and I feared the stress he would face without my support. Upon reflection of this moment I realize that it wasn’t my devotion to Mr. Mukpo that led me to continue, but my allegiance to those who struggled to make use of these experiences. At the time I recounted a story from veteran Kusung who was violently assaulted by Chogyam Trungpa. Knocked to the ground and kicked multiple times with boots on. In that instance he considered leaving as well. His point, that echoed in my mind, was “sometimes being a Kusung is just about showing up.” For those familiar with the stories of the Karma Kagyu Buddhist lineage tracing back hundreds of years, these kinds of assaults are considered brilliant moments of teaching: a complex philosophical rationale of making lemonade out of lemons. I truly believe this veteran accomplished his reframing of this assault in a way that allowed him to cope and gain further insight to Buddhist teachings. Similarly, I also wonder about other senior staff who eventually shared with me their experiences of Mipham Mukpo throwing drinks in their face or slapping them. However, I still struggled and even as I write this I feel guilt for not having the resilience to accomplish such a transmutation. At the same time I forgive myself for this and acknowledge that my socialization into this tradition is the illogical root of this guilt.

The following morning I “showed up” for my duties to find that Mr. Mukpo was amidst a major hangover. He guided me through a soup recipe passed on from his father as a hangover cure and he slept through the day with the help of pharmaceuticals. Once he regained his energy I decided it was necessary to inquire about his memories of the previous night. He indicated that he remembered little and I proceeded to recount most of the details with focus on the biting. I do not recall telling him the details of his treatment towards me. He was remorseful and asked “Should I stop drinking?” and I stated that it was not for me to decide. Seeing him in this vulnerable state of not remembering, feeling upset, and asking for help gave me hope that he could change. I continued to serve for the following months.

During the remainder of my traveling duties and beyond, I did not witness events that were as noteworthy. This is likely due to my deliberate efforts to distance myself once the bottles began to open. His drinking binges and provocative behavior did continue with a mild taper. Time and time again I would butt heads with senior staff and other Kusung about cutting off alcohol service. On most of these instances my efforts resulted in suboptimal results. Regardless, it appeared to me that his drinking was getting a little better. Similarly I noticed, at that time, that his relations to women improved as well. Many veteran Kusung would remark to me that my presence was having a positive influence on his conduct. This made me wonder how much worse things must have been before I came along.

Throughout this period, my duty to regulate his drinking was not my only task. It was also common for me to be his emissary in delivering invitations to romantic interests. This unconventional experience may be hard for others to fathom, but the reality of his role made it difficult at times to convey such communications on his own. It was not uncommon at retreat centers and in Boulder or Halifax for him to be stopped by people in devotional conversation that required his full and at times prolonged attention. Having witnessed this I empathized with him and obliged in the awkward transaction with women. Acknowledging the power differential, I would usually emphasize to invitees that there was no pressure and that they should not feel obligated to entertain his invitation. I did not indicate that there would be negative repercussions of their saying “no.” I do not remember stating that he wished to participate in sexual activity with them. Nor did he request me to say so. However, I assume that most people knew that some form of physical intimacy was likely the case.

Acknowledging that it is hard to tease out the affects of devotion from sexual desire, the majority of these communications were with women who seemed to express romantic interest as well. There were a couple of instances where women had declined and I did not observe direct repercussions for their decision. For those who did accept, many were led to Mr. Mukpo’s abode and I know nothing of what occurred thereafter. These women were sometimes one-time guests and others would frequent for the period of weeks depending on the duration of our visit calendar.
Marking yet another aspect of complexity in his being able to maintain a stable consistent relationship: our travel itinerary was quite busy. Much like a spiritual rock and roll lifestyle. Please know that these statements are in no way an excuse for an abuse of his position of power. These are simply my observations and personal rationale at the time.

After my review of Project Sunshine, I tried to recall if there were instances where I witnessed acts of frank sexual assault. I’m aware of the definition of such a thing and I admit that I have no obvious memory of such. That said, over the years I did see and hear of many women who felt disheartened, hurt and confused by their intimate experiences with Mr. Mukpo. I’ve seen a number of them leave the community and a few terminate communication altogether. I know of others who shared these observations and dealt with it in the same way that I did: avoidance. I feel ashamed as I read my own words, wishing that I had provided support for them. With certainty I know that their pain and confusion is vastly more severe than my own.

At this point I feel it’s important to mention that over the course of the second half of my travels, Mr. Mukpo indicated that it was his wish to have more integrity in his “relationships” with women. It appeared to me that he was finally considering settling down. This was marked with the termination of most if not all of his standing relationships. He seemed determined to find some stability. Not long after my tour, I found out about his engagement with his wife. To my limited knowledge, the bulk of his known experiences with female students ended with their engagement. Currently, I can’t help but wonder about the timing of the abovementioned letter and his efforts to improve his drinking and intimate relationships. What was/were this disturbing event(s) that happened before my tour that I was shielded from?

As an aside, during my final year as a Continuity Kusung I experienced multiple other instances of what most outside of this tradition would consider psychological abuse. To start, a Continuity Kusung receiving compliments from Mr. Mukpo was generally very rare. Conversely, he occasionally reminded me that I was unimportant without him. On a couple of occasions he made jokes about how unattractive I was and that he didn’t understand how women were drawn to me. I distinctly remember him boasting that “Continuity Kusung only attract women because of me.” I only share these as an example of how this preacher of kindness would treat his most devoted servants. Sure they were likely said in jest, but these words hurt me in a way that I’ve struggled to make use of. In this spiritual dynamic, a teacher’s words carried weight and he was well aware of that. Keep in mind we were all complicit in countless flattery sessions that we felt to be our duty in order to counter his frequent episodes of obvious insecurity. It appeared he just couldn’t get enough compliments.

Near the end of my travels with him, there had been conversation of my continuing for an indefinite amount of time with the title of Attaché. The mere thought of this exhausted me. Much like those previous staff members I had seen on my first day, I was nearing the end of my tether. Others noticed my burned out conduct and this was upsetting to me as I felt I was becoming a blemish on Mr. Mukpo’s representation. I began to scramble to find a replacement to fill the role and finessed this agenda into Mr. Mukpo’s purview. Eventually I succeeded and this eager new recruit was ready to jump in following our return from an exhausting trip to Tibet. My final moments in this capacity were bittersweet and I remember Mr. Mukpo telling me for the first and last time “I love you” just prior to heading to the airport.

For the years following I’d struggled with trying to find balance between my service to Mr. Mukpo while traversing my medical training. I took every opportunity to offer my experience to his household and beyond. All the while I felt haunted by these memories that did not coincide with what had initially inspired me to become Buddhist. I found myself coping in unhealthy manners and in unstable relationships. This led to a painful divorce involving some of the closest members of Mr. Mukpo’s staff. During this time I had the chance to discuss this experience with him and he was far from sympathetic. In fact, he voiced his irritation and blame for bringing drama into his home. He followed this with an insult far too personal and complex to mention here. Again, many students of vajrayana Buddhism would consider this a form of teaching. Sadly, to this day I have not been able to make such reconciliation without dismissing my own true feelings and the feelings of others who have felt harmed. As a Buddhist I believe that feelings are devoid of any real existence while, at the same time, highly informative and not to be discarded.

Soon after my graduation from medical school I decided it best to take a distant stance from Shambhala and simply focus on my career. I was matched to residency training in New York City where I hunkered down in my work. This marked the beginning of a rocky period of healing of which I feel is nearing its end. During my residency I had extensive exposure to trauma patients. Listening to these patients and providing them with support became one of my primary avenues for understanding my past. I continued to practice meditation and also engaged in therapy for myself. All of these, coupled with the generous and ongoing support of my friends and family, have culminated in my ability to elaborate on these experiences that I’m sharing with you now.

Since my departure from Colorado in 2014, I’ve had the opportunity to hear many other stories such as my own. I’ve seen numerous close Sakyong staff move on. As there is a trend of high staff turnover that is well known in Shambhala, I’ve wondered about the experiences that other, far removed, former devotees have had. For myself, I’m still in a process of integrating my thoughts and feelings about all of this. In fact, having the opportunity to share them has been surprisingly helpful.

I feel its important to take a moment to honor those who have similarly served Mr. Mukpo who may wish to share, but for whatever reason, are unable to do so. I know of many more beyond the group endorsing this statement. The decision to release this statement was very difficult for me, for obvious reasons. Because of that, I respect those who have decided to not speak or remain anonymous. These relationship dynamics are highly complex. It takes time to process. Not to mention the proposed spiritual and social consequences of betraying your teacher and friend. Knowing all the trials and tribulations Mr. Mukpo’s experienced, I still feel genuine concern for him and his family. BUT people are suffering because of his actions and it’s possible that those closest to him are currently being duped by his superficial gestures of restitution, while playing the victim to those who will have it. Yes, I’m very familiar with his use of this tactic. I think it’s only fair that I not propagate this idea of his role being above the ethics that apply to us all, as doing so could have tremendous painful ramifications for this community. We already have undeniable examples of how others have suffered under this spiritual model.

To conclude, I have countless thoughts around the ethical, psychological, and sociological issues that have led to this current predicament. I find I’m repeatedly saying to myself “Do not throw the baby out with the bathwater.” At times who or what the “baby” is confuses me. I’ve veered into the narrow-sighted logic of trying to simplify this man’s conduct as someone who has a problem with alcohol and women. Fortunately for me, I now have enough understanding of the human psyche to know that these issues are far more complex and malignant. Despite his voiced intention of creating a “culture of kindness”, my current observation is that we are still in the midst of a culture of fear and abuse of power influenced by longstanding beliefs that need to be further called into question. For those following spiritual leaders who justify this kind of behavior, keep in mind the blinders they might wear while explaining their rationale. Much like many other religions, this particular tradition still has generations of work to do before it fully addresses the entrenched cultural patriarchy from which it has flourished. I wish you all clarity in this process and thank you for your patience in tolerating my lengthy monologue.


David Ellerton
February 2019

My name is David Ellerton and I have been involved in the Shambhala Community since 1995. I have served as a Kusung in various capacities from 1999 until 2013 (when my last formal shift occurred). This service varied in terms of length and responsibility, ranging from single, daily shifts—either at various residences or events—to "campaigns," which involved week(s) or month(s) long stretches at the community's retreat centers. I also travelled as a Continuity Kusung from July 2001 until September of 2002 and served as Regional Kusung Officer from late 2006 to early 2008, the latter of which involved the scheduling, training and supervising of all aspects related to Kusung for the Rocky Mountain region. In addition to my work in the capacity as Kusung, I held other paid and unpaid positions in the community, including environment staff at one of the community's retreat centers, Resident Director of Shambhala Training, Meditation Instructor, and Coordinator of programs.

I am heartbroken. I sign this letter in solidarity with those who have experienced harm in this community.
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Re: Former teacher at Boulder's Shambhala accused of sexuall

Postby admin » Wed Feb 20, 2019 6:12 am

Part 2 of 2


Craig Morman
February 2019

I was participant in Shambhala from 1995 until around 2015. I served in a variety of roles throughout the years. I was the Rusung of Shambhala Mountain Center, a Sergeant in the Dorje Kasung, a meditation instructor, and the Director of Casa Werma in Mexico. I also served as a Kusung in a number of capacities from 1997- 2015, including serving as Continuity Kusung from early 2002 to early 2003 approximately. I have been keeping secrets for many years, I won’t do it anymore.

There is no way that I could possibly describe the entirety of Shambhala´s culture of exploitation and abuse in a short statement. I will limit my comments primarily to my experience with the Kusung. Before proceeding I need to say that many of the worst examples of abuse and exploitation that I have witnessed and experienced happened far away from the Court and often had nothing to do with sexuality, but that is for another time.

My first experience of Shambhala was as a member of the summer staff at Shambhala Mountain Center in 1995. It was the first year that it was called RMSC, about 4 months after the “enthronement”.

I very quickly found the meditation practice to be both challenging and helpful and developed a daily practice. The next summer I joined the Kasung out of a mixture of curiosity and fear. I was accepted to the 1997 Vajryana seminary. It was there that I was invited to join the Kusung.

My exposure to the Court gradually increased for a couple of years. It started as a Kasung sitting outside of the house, or driving the car. Then mornings and afternoons serving tea and food, learning how to iron and things of that sort. Exposure to the reality of things was incremental based on how much one could handle: is he or she going to “get it”?

In late 2000 or early 2001 Mr. Mukpo invited a bunch of young men out for drinks to a bar in Boulder. He proclaimed it the first meeting of the YMBA, the Young Men´s Buddhist Association. A number of current Shambhala leaders were present that night. Some way through the evening he called me over and told me that I should continue to train as his traveling Kusung. We agreed that I would serve for a year when I graduated from Naropa, yeah I did that too.

The YMBA evening went on until well after the bars had closed. A group of us ended up in the living room of a small Boulder apartment drinking heavily. At one point Mr. Mukpo started screaming dharma questions at us and pointing, demanding an answer. His response to each answer was to scream ”WEAK VIEW!”. This was one of my first tastes of the good stuff. The crazy stuff.

It was really fun, to be honest. I was just happy to be there as we sat in a circle around him and jumped up screaming our refuge names as he pointed to us. I talked to one participant about it a day or so later. He asked what I had thought of the night. When I naively told him that I had had a great time, he intimated that one guest in particular had found it disturbing, and that the “teaching” hadn’t been all that helpful. They are both Acharyas now. I’d be curious to hear their current views.

My tour started in Halifax. It was the first time Mr. Mukpo had stayed in the Northwest Arm house. I met him there as he was returning from India, he had lost a lot of weight on a low carb diet.

The first two weeks in the house were a cycle of party/recover/shop-to-stock-newhome/party-repeat. There were some meetings and teaching mixed in, but that period was focused on celebrating.

It wasn’t long after starting the tour that we traveled to Chile for a teaching visit. Most of the visit was unremarkable. Near the end of the teaching cycle there was a final dinner at the home of a sangha member. This is the night that was detailed in the Buddhist Project Sunshine (BPS) reports. I will present my recollection to the best of my ability.

The dinner started off quite politely, conversation, thank you´s, and so on. As I recall, local people had taken over the bulk of the service, so I spent most of the early part of the night helping in the kitchen. At some point the serving staff were invited to come to the front. I believe it was the host who stood and opened a fairly impressive liquor cabinet. The cook and I shared a look, concerned.

The night wore on and the crazy wisdom came back out. Writing about this part of it just kind of bores me. I had only been on the road for three or four weeks and I was already getting tired of that crap. It didn’t happen all the time, but I was already wondering why it happened at all.

At some point I had had enough and checked out. I went and sat in a chair in a nearby room, an office. I hadn’t yet learned that my primary job was to protect Mr. Mukpo from himself. To this day I feel shame.

My memory of what happened next differs very slightly from what was reported by BPS. I feel it is my obligation to tell things as I remember them. It was 15 years ago, so I can only say what I remember.

I was sitting in the chair stewing. I looked up and saw Mr. Mukpo and the young woman from the report walking into what I believed to be a bedroom. Another guest closed the door behind them. That guest is currently an Acharya. My anger toward him in that moment was physical. I couldn’t believe he would do that. I was just learning that it was normal.

I had met this woman earlier and I did not think she would find it appropriate. I felt that the Acharya was encouraging her to sleep with him by closing the door. I cannot say for certain what happened behind closed doors so I defer to the account given by the victim. I have no reason to doubt.

After some time, I don’t remember how long, the Kasung on duty, a local woman, came and told me that she was tired, and that the host would drive us home. She forgot to give me the keys to the apartment. Over the same time span most or all of the guests left.

The woman came out of the room very upset. Somehow I wound up talking to her for a while on a balcony. She told me some of what had happened. I got the impression that Mr. Mukpo had forcefully tried to get her to have sex with him. I was not told that she had been locked-in, or that he had forced her to touch him. What she told me was bad enough, but she did not tell me that part.

I only remember pieces of the conversation, mostly of me trying to rationalize the behavior in some tantric sense while still trying to be supportive. Again, I feel shame.

The rest of the story is much as told by others. I kept his secret for 15 years. I smiled and said that I had a great time in Chile. I dodged questions and avoided people who had heard rumors about “something happening”. I had passed on the information to my superiors and just blocked the whole experience out the best I could. After a year or so the interest died down and I just kind of carried it, never speaking to anyone, and I mean anyone, about that night.

That’s how it works. We didn’t even talk to each other. If we had, we would have understood just how widespread it was. We need more Kusung to talk.
Then we can see what enlightened society is really built on.

Mr. Mukpo was both abusive and tender. He seemed really lonely. He shut everyone out. Sometimes he would briefly show vulnerability only to cover it up again.

After a long day in Fort Collins we went to some bars. 2 Kusung, Mr. Mukpo and one guest, a man. As the night wore on Mr. Mukpo started flirting with a local Ft. Collins woman who was not connected with Shambhala, this made me nervous. He was already very drunk. I was sober while my fellow Kusung was also drinking, he was the good cop that night.

As they sat at the bar as Mr. Mukpo slurred come-ons such as “are you a sexual person?” to the young woman. At one point she asked me if I was okay.

She asked because I was standing with my body touching Mr. Mukpo at the midline of the two of them, just looking straight forward. I needed to be close in case he did something. He kept telling the other Kusung, “tell her who I am”.

After the bar closed we went back to SMC. As I drove up the mountain road, Mr. Mukpo sat with his feet out the windows and talked to my companion about how wonderful the woman from the bar was. My companion made a joke that I seconded. Mr. Mukpo lept from the back seat, screamed “who´s talking to you asshole?!” and bit me so hard that I lost clarity in my vision for a moment due to the pain. I could have killed us all. He bit me two or three times more.

After Trungpa arrives at the party

"I had a whole interchange with Rinpoche. I can't remember the order. I think it must have happened before ... He called me up to him. He saw me, and ... we got into this whole thing. He was picking up on my costume. The whole aggression. (She was in costume as a biker.) We started sort of like making out. I mean it was very lavish, and all these people were dancing, and sitting around (laughs), and we just started doing this whole thing. And he was being so brutal. He was being so physically brutal, and like, clawing my arm, and just, biting my lip, just so vicious. And then he did this whole thing with my cheek (bit into the skin, leaving tooth marks), and I was in this state of mind -- well, if that's what he wants, that's what I'll give him too. And I just came back with it. And we're in this intense, you know (makes unh-ing sound) like this you know, very tense, very, very tense ... Somebody else came up or something and I managed to get away. But it was very nonverbal, direct, powerful, intense brutal communication. I didn't know what to make of it at all."

-- Interview with Barbara Meier (Faigao) 6/29/77, from "Behind the Veil of Boulder Buddhism: Ed Sanders, The Party: A chronological perspective on a confrontation at a Buddhist Seminary"

As we arrived at SMC Mr. Mukpo ordered my companion to call the SMC rusung on the 2 way radio. Mr. Mukpo made him say ridiculous things. Because there are many people with those radios at SMC word got out very quickly. This upset members of the Court and, to their credit, some threatened to leave that year.

When confronted about that night by the Kusung leadership, Mr Mukpo´s response was “The Kusung need to be better trained.” That is how the King receives feedback.

After my tour I fell into a serious crisis that lasted around two years. Hardly anyone from Shambhala talked to me during that period. After I had dragged myself out of it I started to reappear a little bit within the community. A friend told me “we were all pretty worried about you.” No one said it when it would have mattered.

I did Kusung shifts sporadically over the years since, but never felt comfortable getting close again. I would later turn my attention to the Kasung and land centers as I tried to maintain a connection. Those experiences are what finally drove me to leave the community.

I enabled Mr Mukpo´s abuse as he abused me. He thinks he can clear things up by writing letters. In his most recent he says “I am beginning to understand how the power dynamics between myself as a teacher and my students could cause pain and confusion in certain situations.” First of all, why would it take so long? More importantly, it seems that he has known all along that he is causing pain. He isn’t likely to change now. He does seem to want to keep getting paid.

This statement is jumbled and incomplete, it is the best presentation I could muster of the most pertinent details. I feel sadness and regret on behalf of the people who were harmed by Mr. Mukpo. I feel shame that I inspired so many others to follow him and possibly lead them into harm’s way. I feel like a fool that I could have been so deceived for so long. To be fair to all of us, it is a clever deception.


Laura Leslie
February 2019

I am angry.

I am angry with Shambhala. A community I came to that seemed warm and understanding and offered the promise of a healthy culture. As I moved closer and closer to the leadership and Mr. Mukpo himself, it became clear that instead a culture of abuse and rampant sexism trickles down from Mr. Mukpo to all below him. Along the way I expressed concerns to my peers and the leadership and was dismissed, insulted or placated every time. Dismissing me as an angry, hysterical person, who doesn’t see clearly, is a time-honored way to silence a woman. From much of my previous leaders and peers, I expect that I will get the same reactions now. But, I hope that some of you out there may hear this and find, reflected in my stories, truths long silenced in Shambhala.

I am also angry and devastated at many of the choices I made that lured and kept me in what I knew was an unhealthy environment. My own desire to fit in, my own ambitions to get the next pin, my own moments of feeling special or powerful- I let these dictate my choices and override my intuition and morals. As I did, I became part of the problem.

The world outside of Shambhala is waking up to the insidious nature of sexism and assault. ‘Small’ comments in locker rooms can lead directly to rape and worse. Leaders create cultures where everyday sexism condones rape. Shambhala likes to pretend that they are the most ‘awake’ -- the most enlightened -– but Shambhala is falling behind. With its continued defensiveness and victim blaming our ‘King’ in his robes becomes the worst example of hypocrisy.

Abuse occurs at every level of the mandala and Mr. Mukpo is the reference point that both implicitly and explicitly fosters it. I trace my experience of the abuse climbing to the top here. While I was never personally assaulted by Mr. Mukpo, there is no doubt in my mind that many were.

I was 20 years old when I found Shambhala in New York City. I was excited to find new friends and a safe spiritual community where I could learn and grow, so I dove in headfirst -– taking all the classes and quickly becoming a volunteer for numerous hours each week.

I soon organized a large fundraising event and was honored that the President of Shambhala himself would be there. Excited to meet the President, a man in his 60’s, I approached him to serve drinks and snacks. He took hold of my arm, pulled me close, grabbed a strawberry, and while staring at my breasts, told me I was just as luscious as the fruit and how lucky were they that I was there to serve them. He stood with a male Acharya and the male leader of NYC Shambhala, all three laughed.

The President, the ‘civilian’ leader of Shambhala had just turned me into a sexual object and a joke. I was humiliated. Over the years I learned from other women that he frequently used his position of power to seduce and harass them.

I was office staff in New York and helping a woman volunteer. A male colleague verbally attacked her for her gender and sexual orientation. I stepped in and told him to stop. He got in my face, pushing me back while yelling at me. The volunteer left and never returned. My boss offered to mediate between this colleague and myself. In the meeting he once again proceeded to yell at me until I was in tears. My boss deemed it a successful mediation and sent us both back to work. I was scared of him every day that we worked in that office together.

I learned later that this male colleague regularly hurt other women. His male superior deemed his actions acceptable; why would he try to be different?

On retreat, in a tiny meditation room, my much older male meditation instructor leaned forward, put both hands on my knees and whispered that there were many ways he could teach me. (AKA, wink-wink, he could teach me to fuck.) He was meant to help me with my mindfulness and instead he tried to meet his own sexual agenda. I left the room shaking. I asked for a new instructor and after being told that I was causing trouble and being annoying in this request, was given one.

He stayed at the retreat and worked with multiple other young women. I have no idea how many he may have touched against their will, but I do know he received no feedback for what he did to me.

Retreat after retreat, deeper in and with each new layer more insults. But, I was hooked so I stayed and I began to push back. I began to ask everyone how and when it would change. I asked every female Acharya and Shastri why there was such sexism. Almost as if trained in their responses, they all told me that in Vajrayana Buddhism male and female did not exist, therefore every day sexism was empty and if I practiced more I would see this.

I was asked to be a Kusung-in-Training (KIT). I was thrilled. I was honored to be in the heart of Enlightened Society and serve Mr. Mukpo directly. On my first shift at the Court I was approached and told that I could not be a KIT. Mr. Mukpo’s wife needed attendants, and her attendants (Shabchi) had to be women. I was politely told that this would be my only way to serve in the Court, but that this was true service. That by following Mr. Mukpo’s wishes and serving Mrs. Mukpo it was the greatest offering I could make to him. But, I was pissed. So, I kept fighting to be a KIT.

Meanwhile, I was made Aide to the Council of the Makkyi Rabjam (CMR). The CMR determines all Kasung activities and practices, but they are also men who hold leadership in multiple other areas of Shambhala. While in a meeting, where I was silently taking notes on how to protect the Sangha, a member of the CMR told me I looked like a sexy teacher and that if he were younger he would want me to scold him. The other men in the room laughed then went back to making policy about community protection and Dharma practice.

Turning a female subordinate into a sexual joke is not a laughing matter. All the men in the room thought it was. The joke is that a man who claims to be the ultimate protector abuses a woman under his protection.

While fighting to be a KIT, I spent hours as a Shabchi directly serving Mrs. Mukpo, helping with the children and cleaning and cleaning. The more time I spent at the Court the realization seeped in that the problems I saw in the wider community stemmed from the Court itself. In almost every moment I could observe forms of sexism and power plays. Delusional, I thought that if I were a KIT instead of a Shabchi this would be better.

I pleaded with every man I could think of to become a Kusung and was told to wait. While I was shuttled to the side all my male peers became Kusung and were much closer to Mr. Mukpo. In the Court the Shabchi were treated like they were less valuable than the Kusung. While the male Kusung preened, stood around and did all-important duties for Mr. Mukpo, we cleaned toilets and kept house in addition to serving Mrs. Mukpo and their children. I once asked a Kusung of the Day to help me with laundry and ironing, for the household, and I was told he could not help, as he had to be available just in case Mr. Mukpo needed tea. The general atmosphere in the Court was one soaked in ancient patriarchy.

At a party with my peers I complained to Mr. Mukpo’s most senior staff person in Boulder about the problems of equality at the Court. He told me that if “you were less of a bitch and asked for things in a less angry manner”, then maybe things could change. He helped set the tone for everyone at the Court and in his opinion; a calm woman with a valid opinion was a bitch. He spent countless hours with Mr. Mukpo, I imagine learning these valuable lessons.

I told the head of the Kusung that I would quit all my volunteer time at the Court if I were not made a KIT. The next day, I was invited to be a KIT as long as I continued my Shabchi shifts in equal amounts.

I did my first shift as a KIT. I was so proud to be there wearing my best suit. At the end of a 12-hour shift, feeling elated, Mr. Mukpo walked by me, patted me on the stomach and told me I was fat. His male Continuity Kusung, my peer, laughed at me. I have rarely felt more humiliated.

In that moment something inside me died
-– my fight and my anger. Now, all I felt was sadness. Now I knew for sure that Mr. Mukpo did indeed set the tone. I had tried to blame it on his wife. I had tried to blame it on the men surrounding him. But, ultimately as the ‘King’ he sets the precedent.

I had had enough. I felt like no matter how much I fought it would never change. That the sexism was so ingrained it would not move. Part of it was a larger sense of depression in how community members treat each other. Shambhala, as far as I could tell, was not in any way a culture of kindness. All the energy, effort and certainly money, went to the Mukpos, while community members were neglected. The constant pressure, the games between peers and the lack of honesty made me see that each person had to change, beginning with Mr. Mukpo.

And, I became disgusted with myself and ashamed that the wool had been pulled over my eyes -– that I too had silenced people and put position over care of others. That women had told me of their hurts and that I had placated. I had become part of the machinery of normalizing abuse, slowly growing blinder to all the ‘isms’ playing out. Doing so, I hurt people, and for this I am sorry.

I left the Shambhala community in 2016 because Mr. Mukpo was abusive and I no longer thought that the community could change. Most of the men surrounding him knew it. Most of the men in leadership roles were either abusers themselves or witnessed it and silently endorsed it. I left because I knew unless something radical happened it would never change.

Then, something radical did happen and it still is not changing. When the Wickwire Holm Report was released, in the next paragraph the Interim Board asked for money. They always ask for money, but the accusations against Mr. Mukpo of clergy sexual misconduct and an abuse of power had just been confirmed. I was deeply offended that the immediate concern was not the victims but the financial health of Shambhala and Mr. Mukpo himself. How about instead a fund to help victims heal? I then received an email to all Kusung asking me to practice for Mr. Mukpo’s long life. No mention of people being harmed by him -– just long life for the abuser. When Mr. Mukpo apologized, there was no real claim of culpability or true remorse. As far as I can see it’s business as usual: The victims will be placated, then pushed out, then silenced or discredited and the ‘King’ will shine hypocrisy from the throne.

While some men in power have made symbolic retirements, much of the leadership has not changed. These men are still internal leaders and they are still Mr. Mukpo’s enablers, now it’s behind a curtain. These are the men who laugh at harassment and allow a culture of rape to flourish.

My experiences are the tip of the iceberg.
There is no such thing as ‘small’ abuse. There has to be an entire overhaul of how people treat each other. Change has to happen from all sides and by all members and in this insulated, abusive hierarchy it has to happen from the top as well. As long as people keep funding and supporting this power structure, there is no true motivation to change.

We all made oaths of loyalty and secrecy and Mr. Mukpo broke those oaths when he abused his power. I hope that the community can confront him and themselves directly and that the foundations of his throne crumble so true healing can emerge.


Allya F. Canepa
February 2019

“As it has been said: The lion’s corpse will not be eaten by other wild animals; rather it will be consumed by worms from within.”

~ Dorje Dradul of Mukpo, The Court Vision & Practice, Chapter 10 - Corruption

I have many stories and much to share but I am afraid to say too much. So I thought it would be best to start with myself.

Although I had lived only 7 miles from Karmê Chöling in Vermont since 1984, and attended Trungpa’s cremation at the invitation of a childhood friend, I did not enter Shambhala until 1992 when I came to help with marketing. I had been “discovered” as a possible liaison to the local community. Vermonters are standoff-ish at best and Karmê Chöling was viewed as a source of great entertainment. So I understood the problem Shambhala faced.

My colleague, and one of my first Shambhala friends, was Mr. Mukpo’s then current “girlfriend”. I remember how I perceived their relationship, noted it several times, and commented on it at least once. I attended Pema Chodron’s famous “When Things Fall Apart” dathun, a month long meditation practice program at Karmê Chöling in 1993, finished the Sacred Path of Warriorship and other requisite studies in time to partake of Mr. Mukpo’s 2nd 3-month seminary, one of the last long summer programs to be held at Shambhala Mountain, the summer of 1994.

I was an instantaneous true believer.

That fall I was invited to do my first KIT (Kusung-in-training) shift. One afternoon I was handed a bottle of lotion and was told that Mr. Mukpo wanted his feet and legs massaged. Easy enough. I went into his room where he sat in his wing-backed chair. I’m quite sure he wore only his bathrobe as it was easy to massage his feet and lower legs. I doubt that he had anything else on. I don’t remember exactly what he asked me, something along the lines of, “what do you think of my feet?” What I do remember clearly is looking up at him and asking, “is that vanity, sir?” and he said, “Yes, I’m afraid it is.” After I left the room, his travelling Kusung said, “ah, the scent of the lineage”. I still remember the smell of the pear lotion he used for years. I was disappointed when he changed brands. I no longer knew what the lineage smelled like.

I saw so many versions of that scene throughout my 25 years in Mr. Mukpo’s entourage. I am hard-pressed to count them. This flash of beginning devotion, the way he used his personal power, a foreshadowing of his downfall.

Over the years I have often thought about what I might write. At one point I briefly aspired to be the Kalapa Court historian. Even now it is much too big of a story to unveil alone and clearly too terrifying for me personally. I sob, shake, something like a muffled scream wants to come out. Or I simply freeze. I am told that is the nature of trauma. Although I have been actively engaged in trauma resolution and integration (psychiatry, psychotherapy, AA and Al-Anon, bodywork, creative group therapy etc.) for 2.5 years, when I hear the word trauma, I still believe that must be about someone else. In a way, I suppose it’s both.

Recently I woke up from a dream where I’m standing in a field of dead bodies. The “forgotten warriors of Shambhala” is how we refer to them in our liturgy. The unknown victims of abuse within the confines of an eroding fortress is how I see them.
The many of us that gave our whole selves in service of a vision that we believed was good, and who are now devastated to feel that our gift was hardly appreciated. A sad realization compounded by the sensation that “we” are the ones who helped transform this ordinary person into an insatiable king.

It is impossible for me to summarize my 25 years of experience and observation in a short document. If the community wants to know more, then more will come from all of us. Based on my accumulated memories and perceptions, I can say that I unconditionally support the survivors and those who have tried to bring forth stories that run contrary to the public face presented by Shambhala and our would-be king. We might not always get our facts straight, it might come out crazy and jumbled, but we, the survivors, are onto something, whatever we as individuals would like to call it. I personally like to think that I am witnessing the death of patriarchal rule altogether.

At 36 I had convinced myself that I was out of harm’s reach because I managed to steer mostly clear of malignant personalities who seem to enjoy bad sex and late night drinking. Because both sides of my family had normalized and codified sexual, physical, and substance abuse for generations, I was an expert at reading between the lines. The context, the allowing blind eye, the inter-generational grooming, the abuse -– it was all there. I came to Shambhala pre-groomed to see my brilliance as a gift for other and to fall into a kind of blank self-less persona when asked to serve. The only thing I was pretty clear about is that I thought alcohol was a problem. And I thought sex was a problem.

The next thing I knew I had sold my beloved home in northern Vermont and was working as a groom for Lady Diana’s Windhorse Dressage Academy in Rhode Island. I can’t remember why I ever thought that was a good idea. I had everything in Vermont that I wanted to enjoy a rich productive creative life. And then I sold it.

I found it impossible to understand, except when forced to look, why I increasingly felt, and at times acted, like a feral, cornered animal. I was “handled” over and over during the course of my 25 years of service because I was perceived as both compliant and dangerous, both a jewel and a threat. When I was good, I received treats. When I was bad, I was punished.

I didn’t exactly behave submissively. I asked too many questions. I might have on occasion even growled. To the credit of the courtiers’ twisted intelligence, I did “save the kingdom” in several instances. A natural born fixer, I don’t know how to not go in and just start fixing broken things. Gifted with a robust constitution, no matter how bad it got, how tired or used I felt, I couldn’t be broken. I kept coming back.

When they invited me to be the Dragon Region Kusung Commander, I asked, “Why now, why after 25 years am I being given a command post?” I was told, “you’re the right person for this time”. When I asked, “and what time is that?” I received back what I characterized as nervous laughter. That was in the fall of 2017. When the allegations hit our screens, I was in the Canyonlands with my brother and his daughters. In reading the Buddhist Sunshine Reports I came to realize that I could identify every woman from their stories except one. When I returned home I resigned my post. I had heard about the Chile incident over a decade ago. I have heard faint murmurings about other possible rape scenarios. In the distance I noted hushed voices intent on making the stories go away.

I had my own experiences. I kept remembering a quiet night at Prajna. Perhaps the program had the evening off, or there was a banquet for participants only. I remember sitting around the Prajna staff campfire chatting with 3 or 4 other Kasung. I remember the identity of the Kusung on-duty. I believe I was Camp Commander because that would be the only reason Mr. Mukpo would invite me to his bedroom. He liked to receive summary reports about what people were up to. Nonetheless I was surprised as he and I were not in the habit of meeting this way. Being a Kusung I went immediately to kneel at his side of the bed and waited for his question or command. I was surprised when instead he put his hand down my shirt and fondled my breasts and said, “please I just want to sleep,” firmly directing my head to his cock. I obliged and shook it off. I buried and minimized my own experiences for over 20 years.

Mostly I didn’t tell anyone. Or I curtly summarized my experience as having been blessed enough to receive a “quarter cup of bindus” from my guru.
I don’t know why I described it that way. It was the best I could do as my mind scrambled to relieve pressure from the melodic dissonance. In the Vajrayana we are taught that all body fluids, or pieces of clothing, tufts of hair, or leftover food from the guru’s plate are blessings gifted directly from the body of enlightenment. In the end, although I used those words to keep me from imploding, I was never able to discard my basic sense that this man had no idea, nor did he seem to care to have an idea, about how to create a shared space for intimacy. At least not with me. In short, I thought to myself, “well, he’s not a very good lover, I won’t do that again.”

It was late when I stepped over the body of the sleeping on-duty Kusung who, if he was awake, didn’t peep. The next morning I asked him, “so you didn’t do a final check? To see if Mr. Mukpo or I needed water?” He replied, “No, in those circumstances, I don’t go back in.” Those circumstances.
As a Kusung during Mr. Mukpo’s bachelor days I would go in to make sure the female guest had water. Regardless of whatever else was going on, I felt it was common courtesy to offer water. A strange fog of not wanting to experience or witness my own life settled into my being. Periodically I would find someone willing to chat about the bizarre fairytale we were co-creating.

I finally said, “enough”.

Shambhala has been the entirety of my adult life. My so-called productive years. The years during which I should have built a career and developed lifelong friendships, the fruits of which I would be enjoying now. I’ve held almost every service post available in Shambhala. I accomplished the highest practices available to me. If I still believed in formal practice, I would be preparing for Scorpion Seal 6 and mixing in sessions of the revered Six Yogas of Naropa practices. I went on long retreats. Sometimes I was in. Sometimes I was out. Always I was in relationship to a phenomenon that I was both attracted to and repulsed by. I had friends as long as I was good. They disappeared when I was "bad". Occasionally I was not allowed to serve. I was afraid of what I might see. At the same time I had a clear sense that the king and his courtiers were equally afraid of what I might see. Various powerful men at various times took me on as a challenge to see if they could put me under their thumb. I was often punished for my good deeds.

At the end of my time serving as “privy purse” or the king’s personal finance manager (2006-2010), in what I can only describe as an act of cruelty, Mr. Mukpo sent one of the few people he knew I would listen to as the messenger to dispose of me. I vehemently disagreed with the choices that were being made. I did not trust either of the financiers who had sidled up to the king, feeding his grandiose magical thinking, buying his favor with flattery. I had learned what Mr. Mukpo had wanted his “privy purse” to learn -– how to model the finance structure to be as lucrative as the ancient system still practiced in currently existing monasteries. I had run a successful beta-test and raised enough money to pay for the better part of the Rinchen Terdzo, the first major retreat held in Orissa. I had created a system designed to help travelling household staff track the money flow. As I rode the crest from bachelor days to the era of our married king, I worked 24/7 to keep up with his activity. I went above the call of duty to protect Mr. Mukpo from being associated with a dubious financier. And then I was summarily dismissed.

A short time later I was asked to meet with five of Mr. Mukpo’s closest advisors, all male. I was very uncomfortable. That feeling of being a caged animal. But I also thought it was humorous -– that it took 5 men to … do what I don’t know. They really wanted me to continue doing the work. I declined. I liked working alone without a boss. I certainly wasn’t going to trade that in order to work for a middle manager that seemed both arrogant and dishonest, glib. To add insult to injury, I was offhandedly accused of stealing from the king. I was delirious with paranoia, anger, and exhaustion. I was in a fury for months. After all I had done?

I managed to stay away for two years, but my trauma had not resolved and my relationship with Shambhala was not yet over. In 2012 I took on the most grueling fix-it job to-date, saving Ashoka Credit Union. My work as CEO ended in a similar way. After having successfully beached the credit union onto dry ground, I was squeezed out of my job by having to take considerably less pay than I was originally contracted for. I was thanked profusely when I chose to resign, but I was left at 58 with no income, no retirement, and very little savings.

Those two incidents forced me to acknowledge the institutionalized abuse of people working for the good of Shambhala.

Against my better judgment I returned to Chile in February 2018 as a Campaign Kusung, only to watch our would-be king on the throne we built look the pretty Chilean women up and down, assessing a desirable object within his grasp, overheard my fellow Kusung say things like, “if he does anything inappropriate, her husband will kill him,” watched as Mr. Mukpo asked for one after another of his loyal servants to be flown in on expensive last minute flights as a barricade for what might bubble up and need to be dealt with, watched as we scrambled at great expense to get him moved out of reach of the program and into a local AirBnB. I surmised that we went to these extreme measures so that he could drink without being seen and not blow his cover as an all-powerful guru. One of the excuses we used was that there were too many ants in his bathroom. I did not want to go to the traditional end-of-program Court staff dinner with him. When asked why, I said because I do not want to watch my guru and king get drunk. Again. I was asked to then please come to support the rest of us. On packing day, I looked in the mirror and said to myself, “this is your last campaign.” I was so relieved. I was starting to leave.

When the allegations became headline news, I heard that Mr. Mukpo asked how I was doing. My fury reignited. I told my superior that if Mr. Mukpo wants to know how I’m doing, then he is welcome to call me after he has successfully undergone rehab for both alcohol abuse and sexual predation and has accumulated a few years of sobriety and therapy under his belt. I have no idea if the message was brought to him. At the time Kusung were being asked to tell stories of their Kusung days and were being encouraged to write letters with any thoughts or questions they might have. I feel certain that this was intended as a way of gauging loyalty.

I was even asked if I would be interested in being in charge of the Mukpos’ financial world, as if getting my old job back could be anything other than an opportunistic dump and run. The inner circle was starting to panic.
I actually mulled it over for a few days. In the end I was unable to conceive of how much I would be willing to accept in salary. No amount of money could have brought me back into the fold, especially since I was unlikely to be paid much for long, even if I did manage to save the kingdom one more time. I couldn’t fathom that it was even possible anymore. And my body refused.

In the end my question is about what I want to be loyal to. What I am not interested in being loyal to is an immature boy-king with substance abuse issues who walks away from every harm he has caused, cowering behind his wife’s traditional skirts, and stepping on the backs of soon-to-be physically fit and mentally unprepared mostly young male Kusung who are trained to not see and to not tell. I have watched almost every Continuity Kusung come through, most of them remaining evangelical despite the near constant abuse of their person. Granted, the abuse was not always immediately noticeable. However, in my view there was always some combination of treating his Kusung as special, or as one of the chosen ones, at the same time toying with a weakness, igniting competition and insecurity, all while stealing their brilliance for his own.

Nor am I interested in hearing the mantra of goodness and kindness being used to lull me into an altogether too familiar stupor. There is no goodness or kindness available here without accountability and justice. None. Unfortunately myself and my few real friends are watching the current debacle shaking our heads, saddened by the feeling that there may well always be new acolytes willing to offer everything they have to the inevitable point of exhaustion, only to be discarded and added to the heap of corpses.

I am 60 years old. There is only one fix-it left and that is me. I have very little idea about where to even begin. I have spent my life trying to care for other, as instructed by my family and my guru. I watched hundreds of women go in and out of Mr. Mukpo’s bedroom. I held the hands of many. Rocked with them when they sobbed. Stayed with them when they just didn’t know what happened. Tried to warn them about what it feels like to be queen for a day. I saw one too many debauched nights and nursed one too many of the king’s hangovers. I feared for the women. I was disgusted by what I saw. And yet I stayed. I watched helplessly as donations were spent like tossed candy. Meanwhile I’m wondering if I’ll be able to keep what little I have left.

I experienced one too many acts of cruelty including being verbally eviscerated by Mr. Mukpo’s closest confidant, his most powerful minister and life-long mentor, the original and most feared Kusung, who in a drunken rage questioned my loyalty. A fellow Kusung hoped to shrug it off by saying, “you know how he gets.” I was on duty. I went back upstairs to the party. I was humiliated. I never even once considered reporting anything. Everyone seemed to be walking around like zombies in various degrees of collusion and denial.

Despite the proclamation that I am my only remaining fix-it, I do have one weird and ridiculous task left and that is to figure out what I can do to help Mr. Mukpo’s feisty, aging, disabled mother and her family who will have no place to live when Marpa House is sold. For my sake, I wish I could leave her in the dust. But I can’t. I’ve been holding her finances together for over 15 years. Lady Konchok is akin to the ultimate survivor in this world that was created out of nothing. Instead of selling both Courts and volunteering to put money back into the Shambhala coffers, or at least stop the flow out, Mr. Mukpo has approved selling a property that is home to 30 people and his very own family. Meanwhile, the Boulder and Halifax residences sit empty. I even heard that Mr. Mukpo is in the process of buying another property.

Cognitive dissonance.

I do not believe he feels genuine remorse. I believe that he will say what he feels he must in order to keep the money flowing in. I do not believe that he has genuine concern for whether or not Shambhala crumbles. The young man, the one I once knew and felt love for, had been further perverted by the very thing we all thought was good and true. If he merely suffered from bad judgment and poor taste, I would enjoy seeing his sweaty face as he hauls his own damn suitcases onto the tarmac of his next job. But the protective circle has closed in around him. His wealthy patrons will continue to fill his wallet. They will protect him from his own wake-up call. They will protect him from us, the ones who are willing to name the disease. They will have their own private source of platitudes to help lull their insight. I no longer envy them even as I wonder how I will find my way in this chaotic, overly bright world outside the fortress.

I wake up everyday, despite all my support systems, weary and broken. Despite my perceived intelligence and my broad-spectrum skill sets, I cannot fathom going to work. I spend days at a time never getting out of my pajamas. I am not yet able to trust people except on occasion, even ones who clearly love me. Yes, I came in with my own history of family trauma making it easy for me to fall in as prey. In no way is it ever okay for any human, or any human society, to use someone’s plea for freedom and spiritual awakening as a basis for systemic manipulation across power differentials which indulge cruel, debasing interpersonal relations. And then call it devotion. And use and use and use until it’s all used up.

And yet here we are. I truly believe that we’ve all seen or heard something. I believe we all have questions. What remains is for us to put the puzzle together, attending to the details of our own story and finding our own voice. I believe the story is important. But only because, without it, I would be left standing in the dark with my mouth open making no sound.

Therefore corruption is a dangerous disease, one that should be diagnosed and destroyed as soon as any symptom of it occurs in the Kingdom.

~ Dorje Dradul of Mukpo, The Court Vision & Practice, Chapter 10 – Corruption.


Louis Fitch
February 2019

Culture of Sexism

One of my first Kusung-in-Training (KIT) shifts was at Prajna at SMC. I was being trained by a more senior female KIT in how to serve tea properly -- what exactly Mr. Mukpo currently liked. Mr. Mukpo had wandered past us and down into the kitchen to hang out with some of the people there. At one point I heard laughter and turned around to see Mr. Mukpo ogling the KIT mentor’s butt while the other men laughed and stared along with him. The young woman turned around and saw them staring and smiling, turned slightly red, then went back to showing me how many seconds to brew the exact color Mr. Mukpo’s tea must be. Of the 4 men in that kitchen, 3 held leadership positions and have only risen since then. People may find this confusing as this is just typical behavior in this world. Even if I thought that justified it, we have no place claiming to be a community based around mindfulness if we are that ignorant.

I said nothing then. I rose through the ranks and continued to say and do nothing to meaningfully effect change. And sometimes I’d even laugh along myself, to feel a part of something. This was particularly true when I was in groups with Mr. Mukpo and being part of such blatant objectification filled my desire to be part of his inner circle. In those moments this was more important to me than the fact I found the objectification horrible. The majority of Shambhala has not and will not see this side of Mr. Mukpo as it is only with his inner crew where he felt he could drop the PC Rinpoche thing and indulge his abuse tactics.

The KIT was a person coming to offer her heartfelt service out of her spiritual devotion and was reduced to her ass. And we all condoned that. And I know the people who laughed along with him there might be horrified and angry that I would say this as they are one of the good guys. They aren’t rapists. They have never had Care and Conduct investigations about their behavior. They have tried to listen to the complaints of women and other minorities in the community. And yet, we said nothing to change the nature of the complaints we heard. We laughed along. And now we’re mostly silent when it has been made clear that Mr. Mukpo has a distinct pattern of sexual harassment and abuse. We are his closest students and we say nothing. He was born into this community and has been surrounded with this structure his whole life. Those of us who are the closest in for the most part have only laughed along. How would he know any different if we don’t confront him? How would we know any different if he doesn’t confront us?

And I’ve heard from some other Kusung and leaders that they have actually given him feedback. They continue to be publically silent in the face of victims coming forward. They continue to hold their posts.

Mr. Mukpo often cycles through people who start to give him feedback. And he is incredibly skilled at bringing in those who purely conform to his view of the world, which is part of how I have seen Kusung move towards an increasingly sexist and insular boy’s club. And he can ghost those who start to give too much feedback and cycle in someone who will feel blessed to come in. Then after a few months, he’ll bring the other person back in before they walk away. He plays games of who is close in order to keep feedback at a distance.

I am not saying that it isn’t hard to speak up. But we don’t get to pretend to be good guardians of our community’s wellbeing if we don’t treat these moments with the severity they deserve.

I look back on that moment and I know that I am in part to blame for the harms he has caused. I wasn’t there for the abuses described in the Project Sunshine and Wickwire Holm reports but I know that every time I said nothing, I played my part.

And for that, I am deeply sorry.

Money and Vanity

During one Kusung shift Mr. Mukpo was performing a set of practices to help those in the community who were sick. I went to his bedroom with the Continuity Kusung to wake Mr. Mukpo up and take his breakfast request. We kneeled on the floor while the Continuity Kusung went through the schedule saying that Lama Pegyal and Lama Gyurme Dorje –- Mr. Mukpo’s stepfather and half-brother -– would be a little late as they were still finishing the tormas and various ceremonial preparations. After being briefed on the schedule he asked who would be coming and who the primary funder of the ceremony was. After being told how much the larger donors were giving, he smiled and gave a happy grunt (interpreting grunts is key to Kusungship).

Somewhere in that day, I remember cleaning up his bathroom and wiping down all of the various face products and cosmetic creams, and wondering at just how much of that money from these students was put into these various expensive creams. And it struck me just how vain Mr. Mukpo is and how many different ways that comes across.

I mentioned this to a senior Kusung who laughed and agreed that it was excessive. But said that it was how these students sitting downstairs could connect to him and so it was how he brought them into his practice for their benefit. The more I’ve thought about that, the more it seems like trickle-down economics. Perhaps the premise of Shambhala is trickle-down enlightenment.

I know people have said that this is not a true reflection of how the finances around Mr. Mukpo work. But excessive spending clearly designed to sooth his insecurity happens and many of us know it. The breaking point was being told this was absolutely secret as people “wouldn’t understand.” I couldn’t accept that I was helping facilitate the use of people’s heartfelt gifts to salve Mr. Mukpo’s insecurity and vanity.

Culture of Silence

Why haven’t more of those of us who know Mr. Mukpo and the inner workings of the Court-trained leadership come forward?

I think you have to really buy in to the whole thing. Not everyone was born into this worldview, but I think the pattern is often similar. For those being brought in there is a process of indoctrination during which Kusung are trained to drop their own common sense and conform to the boys’ club atmosphere. As each seasoned Kusung trains the new excited devotees it is easier to shelve jaded views and leave things sparkly. Kusung are groomed to turn a blind eye. And, then the Kusung most conditioned to not confront Mr. Mukpo and hold to bro-code rise through the ranks until they permeate leadership in Shambhala.

For those born into the community we are indoctrinated from birth. My parents were Shambhala Buddhists. I am what is colloquially called a ‘dharma brat.’ I was raised knowing that Trungpa, Mr. Mukpo’s father, was the embodiment of all things wonderful and powerful. Those weren’t always the terms used, but that was the point. I know that I was unique and special because I had the good fortune to be born near Trungpa and to meet him as a baby. I am one of the chosen warriors of Shambhala here in this dark age to bring about Enlightened Society. Again, not always those words, but that was what was being communicated.

For most of my life, when there’s a moment someone might call on a higher power –- watching your car crash or some equal scare –- it is not some god or deity that comes to mind, it is Trungpa.

And all of the insane things that happened in Trungpa’s days: all the abuses, molestation, drugs, alcohol, mayhem –- those were either crazy wisdom or simply the hippy days. But the hippy days are long gone and [sie=110]the crazy wisdom argument is still used. And it’s a brilliant tactic –- if something feels or is really fucked up, that’s only because you don’t really understand that it’s there to “wake you up.”

By acknowledging the massive harm perpetrated by these monarchs, I have to face the prospect that everything I have ever known or thought about myself and the world is wrong. And if I accept that as true, I may lose my family and every person I grew up with.

All of this is a very powerful impetus to not examine too closely the underpinnings of this sangha.

Keep in mind, this is how Mr. Mukpo was raised as well. And while many of the ‘dharma brats’ feel like they are probably some version of a tulku, he has been identified as one and placed on a throne. Introspection for him means a far costlier fall from grace. And with his writing books and expanding on the Scorpion Seal, he has built an impressive suit of armor where he has no reason to think any of us are equal to him as he is The Earth Protector. Until it becomes convenient for him to be represented as human, as he did in his latest letter, so he can get out of taking responsibility for the harm he causes. He cannot choose when he wants to be Rinpoche and when he wants to be human with human foibles. If he wants to be treated as the top of the hierarchy he must act accordingly.

Though I have held many roles and have tried to address many of the cultural issues I felt were harmful, I don’t think I made any meaningful difference. For me, after a point of realizing that I wasn’t changing things it seemed to me that I was actually just enabling the cycle to continue.

I know some of my peers and leaders feel they want to repair and make it all better. I certainly felt that way for many years.

But I look at my pretty uniform and my shiny pins and all I can see is a group of Shambhala Warriors ogling women. And I know that the sexual assault and abuses perpetrated in this community –- scars that will never leave –- is because people, including myself, didn’t say anything.
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Re: Former teacher at Boulder's Shambhala accused of sexuall

Postby admin » Thu Feb 21, 2019 3:19 am

Leadership Transition Announcement
by Shambhala Dechen Choling
2 August 2018

This article is a resumption of the July 30 emailing sent by the Kalapa Council to the global community of Shambhala members.

Dear Shambhala Community,

We are writing to announce the Kalapa Council’s phased transition plan, and to inform you of the next steps in this plan.

To separate current Kalapa Council members and the Sakyong from the appointment of the next board, a Transition Task Force team will be implemented to select and appoint Shambhala’s next Interim Board of Directors while the Sakyong has stepped back from teaching and administrative duties. The Transition Task Force, which will consist of several respected leaders from our international community, will not have any legal or fiduciary responsibilities for Shambhala.

This Transition Task Force has two tasks:

1. Select and appoint an Interim Board. Within six weeks of being seated, the Transition Task Force will appoint an Interim Board of Directors to serve for a period of one year. Current Kalapa Council leadership will maintain their legal board roles until the Interim Board is appointed by the task force, at which point they will transition fiduciary and legal responsibility to the Interim Board. Please see below for a timeline.

2. Select and appoint a Process Team. Working in tandem with the Interim Board, the Process Team will develop a process which will allow future leadership, representation, and governance to be improved. This team will be comprised of sangha members skilled in process, governance, and facilitation methodologies. The Process Team will listen to the community, take feedback, and guide a process to oversee the deeper and longer process of inviting a new approach to community leadership in Shambhala.

Transition Task Force Members:
Ani Pema Chödrön, Acharya
Arawana Hayashi, Acharya
Charlene Leung, Acharya
Suzann Duquette, Acharya
Debbie Coats, Dapön and Interim European Governing Body Member
Katrin Stelzel, Interim European Governing Body Member
Andrew Sacamano, Kasung Shastri
Sharon Owyang, Regional Director
Basia Solarz (Facilitator)

How were the Transition Task Force members selected?

The Kalapa Council reached out to the international community to find respected leaders with expertise in various areas who could serve on the task force. We believe that these leaders, based on advice and suggestions from the community, will select a strong, representative body for the Interim Board of Shambhala.

What is the relationship between the Task Force and the Kalapa Council?

While the Kalapa Council and Transition Task Force will work simultaneously, they will not overlap in their duties. The Transition Task Force will focus on selecting and appointing the Interim Board and the Process Group. The Interim Board will be seated as board members for the period of one year. Once the Interim Board is seated, the Transition Task Force will dissolve.

How will the Task Force appoint the Interim Board?

The Task Force will be empowered and responsible for the process of identifying, nominating and finalizing Interim Board members. During this time, the Kalapa Council will prepare an overview of Board responsibilities and briefings by area for incoming new Board members. Once in place the Interim Board will take over all legal and fiduciary responsibilities.

What is the Interim Board’s scope of work?

The Interim Board is not a “new Kalapa Council” but rather is the legal board of directors for the Shambhala organization. Board members are the fiduciaries whose responsibility is to steer the organization towards a sustainable future by adopting sound, ethical, and legal governance and financial management policies, as well as by making sure the nonprofit has adequate resources to advance its mission.The Interim Board may not necessarily hold pillars, offices, texts, etc. as the Kalapa Council once did.

What is the Process Team’s scope of work?

The Process Team will be selected and appointed by the Transition Task Force. They will be responsible for developing a process by which future leadership, representation, and governance can be created.

Timeline and Implementation

July 30: Transition Task Force is named.

August 1: Transition Task Force is formed, seated and begins their work.

September 10: Transition Task Force finalizes and approves the Interim Board and Process Team.

September 22: Kalapa Council transitions responsibilities to Interim Board.

What is happening with Kalapa Councillors who hold other positions within Shambhala?

We have received questions about what will happen to Kalapa Council members once they have stepped down from their board positions. This varies role to role, as some also held paid positions. Here is what we currently know:

Josh Silberstein is stepping down from the Kalapa Council as previously announced, resigned from the post of Chief of Staff to the Sakyong on July 13th, and will no longer be paid effective July 31st.

Jane Arthur is stepping down from the Kalapa Council as previously announced. She resigned from the post of Minister of the Government Pillar on July 26th and no longer be paid effective August 31.

Adam Lobel is stepping down from the Kalapa Council as previously announced. Adam offered his resignation as Kalapa Acharya to the Sakyong on July 24th, and will transition out of that role completely by August 31. He will no longer be paid effective August 31.

Wendy Friedman is stepping down from the Kalapa Council as previously announced. Wendy will work with the Sakyong Wangmo and Office of Culture and Decorum leaders and delegates to determine how her role and this aspect of our world will go forward. She will continue to support the Yün teachings, and other texts that are currently held within the Office of Culture. She has never received a salary for her work in Shambhala.

Jesse Grimes is stepping down from the Kalapa Council as previously announced and will no longer be paid a monthly stipend effective September 30. He will continue in his post of Kasung Kyi Khyap and chair of the Council of the Makkyi Rabjam during this transition period.

Robert Reichner is stepping down from the Kalapa Council as previously announced. Robert will continue to support the Yün teachings along with the texts and practices held within the Economy. He has never received a salary for his work in Shambhala.

Christoph Schönherr is stepping down from the Kalapa Council as previously announced. He stepped down from the European Task Force on Harm on July 14th. He will transition out of the role of managing director of the Shambhala Europe GmbH by September 30. He will no longer be paid effective September 30.

Mitchell Levy is stepping down from the Kalapa Council as previously announced. Mitchell will continue in his role as Acharya and member of the Council of the Makkyi Rabjam. He has never received a salary for his work as a member of the Kalapa Council.

David Brown is stepping down from the Kalapa Council as previously announced and will continue as Executive Secretary to the Sakyong. He will continue to receive a salary for this work.

The Transition Task Force will be reaching out to the community in the coming weeks to introduce themselves to you. During this interim period, you can still send questions or feedback to us at

With appreciation,

The Kalapa Council
Josh Silberstein, Chair
Jane Arthur
David Brown
Wendy Friedman
Jesse Grimes
Mitchell Levy
Adam Lobel
Robert Reichner
Christoph Schönherr

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

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Part 1 of 3

On Differing Views and Paths
by Andrew Safer
Radio Free Shambhala
July 16, 2009



Radio Free Shambhala: As you know, there has been tension and disagreement between some of Trungpa Rinpoche’s senior students and some of the students of the Sakyong, regarding changes to the practice path and differences of view. Many of these senior students do not feel that there is room for them within the Shambhala mandala.

Richard Reoch: It’s true that some of the long-term students of the Vidyadhara feel like they’re not supported. I and others have been in conversation with some of the long-term acharyas to see what is the practice support that is needed that would continue to nurture their path, and not make them feel excluded.

RFS: Sometimes the samaya of these senior students has been questioned.

Richard Reoch: That’s not what I feel Shambhala vision is about. I do not believe we should be commenting on or having the presumption to comment on another practitioner’s samaya. We all have a common, deep karmic connection. Probably most of us can’t even fathom it. We are all in this extraordinary lineage stream. We have a deep shared vision, at least about what Shambhala means, in an archetypal sense, in our subconscious.

To regard someone who is maintaining samaya within the Shambhala lineage as a dissenter is a mistaken view. It is not helpful to comment on the legitimacy of another person’s practice of samaya. Perhaps this happens because we don’t have the ground for the perpetuation of lineage in this culture. If you think several generations ahead, are we going to say that the students of the next Sakyong are dissenters because they’re following the teachings of Mipham? This is a fundamental misunderstanding of lineage.

One problem with the transplantation of egoless devotion from a culture like Tibet to a culture like we have in the West is we don’t have a tradition of lineage in modern form. We don’t have the cultural roots to support that. We are all grappling with how to understand this profound teaching.

I try to use the office I hold (as President), and the authority that goes with it to deal with this issue. When members of our community are described as “border tribes”–when they write me or meet with me–I devote a lot of time and try to learn from them. I think there has been a kind of polarization in which extreme language is used. We genuinely have to go deeper, beneath this level of argument, to find the commonality. I’m definitely doing that, person to person.

kla klo - savages, barbarous members of the border tribes, one of indistinct speech, Moslems, barbarian, heathen, inhuman, pagan, wild, musalman of india, hwi-hwi or hwi-tse in china, nation without laws, uncivilized race, barbarian, savage [JV]

-- English Tibetan Dictionary

Maybe now that the current orientation of the path is getting clearer, we need to have a conversation with the senior acharyas about precisely what could be the support that can be provided for people who started on a particular element of the path of Shambhala and that needs to continue and be supported?

Five Sakyongs down the road, there will be people who say “I make a personal connection by reading the works of the Vidyadhara.” Others will say, “How fortunate it was for Shambhala that Mipham the Great reincarnated as the Sakyong.” Eventually, it’s not just about tolerating differences; it’s about appreciating the incredible richness that’s available in our kingdom.

RFS: The real question is: how are the teaching stream and legacy of Trungpa Rinpoche going to continue?

Richard Reoch: I’ve been in discussions with Carolyn Gimian since the beginning of the Chogyam Trungpa Legacy Project about the importance of that initiative. The analogy we have used is that the Legacy Project is like a presidential library, so things don’t end up smoldering and being lost. I’ve had some initial conversations with some of the longer-term students and acharyas about how to create an identifiable and helpful framework so no one is seen as being on one track or the other, or as renegades which is antithetical to the long-term survival of the lineage.

RFS: Many people who are devoted to Trungpa Rinpoche and who don’t consider the Sakyong to be their teacher don’t feel welcomed by the community, and they’re afraid to speak up.

Richard Reoch: One of the earliest statements issued by the Mandala Governing Council created after the first Shambhala Congress was a statement on the commitment to openness. I asked members of that council to list the issues that people are afraid to speak up about. We seemed to have inherited an incredible atmosphere of fear, and I did not understand that. I had no idea the extent to which this community was traumatized. When I asked what issues were not being addressed, people were afraid to name the issues. I think we all realized, “Wow, we can’t even talk about what we can’t talk about!” Opening up that discussion was like Glasnost and Perestroika in Shambhala.

Trauma is a psychological dimension of oppression. This is true not only in relation to patriarchy and gender, where the traumatic effects of oppression have been most widely explored, but in relation to all forms of oppression. James Baldwin's famous statement that "to be Black in the United States is to be in a constant state of rage" is an expression of the psychological reality that oppression is constantly traumatizing. In turn, the effects of trauma - particularly chronic identification as victim and powerless rage - create a range of obstacles to social change. These are obstacles which we need to identify and understand in order to develop more effective social change strategies.

Oppression, which is the systemic abuse of power, renders people powerless. In turn, powerlessness is the hallmark of traumatic experience. It is therefore inevitable that trauma will be pervasive in a society organized around domination, both because oppression creates countless discrete acts of domination and because institutionalized oppression in itself creates powerlessness and trauma.

This is the case with every organized system of privilege, power and inequality: racism, xenophobia, class oppression, ableism, homophobia, and ageism as well as patriarchy. The breadth and depth of domination in our society generates an extraordinary volume of recurring traumatic experience. Virtually everyone routinely runs up against forces on one continuum of oppression or another - individuals in dominant positions, images, written words, institutional arrangements, cultural norms, laws, policies - which demean or degrade or devalue or humiliate or violate or arbitrarily constrain them, and in the face of which they have no sense of efficacy or control. This happens at work, at home, at school, on the streets, in stores, in the media, and in the macro-structures of economic and political power. The result is endless, chronic opportunities for people to experience themselves as victims and to experience traumatic rage.

-- Chapter 4: Trauma and Oppression [EXCERPT], Power-Under: Trauma and Nonviolent Social Change, by Steven Wineman

I talked to Larry Mermelstein, and asked, “Is there anything we can do to reduce this climate of fear?” Some people were experiencing this fear in a very palpable way. If we can’t create a social framework in which we understand that people will have different points of view, then all the notions of fearlessness and openheartedness–everything we’re so proud of about the Shambhala inheritance–absolutely won’t take root. We can’t build an enlightened society on a basis of fear.

Wherever I go, I invite people to talk to me about this so I can out find more about it. Sometimes, because someone has said something extremely abusive, we feel like we’re going to lose membership There are people hiding out, as if they’re the old Chi Kung masters at the height of the Cultural Revolution hoping they’re not noticed by the Red Guards. It’s a slow process of personal conversation, trying to address these tendencies of people persecuting each other.

When Radio Free Shambhala was established, people contacted me as if this was the end of the world. “No, just think ahead,” I said. “If we think about the new golden age of Shambhala, there will be countless websites and social networking opportunities where people express their experience of the dharma and of different teachers, including what others might disagree with. If there’s one thing that prevents establishing the kingdom of Shambhala, it’s called fascism, and I’m not having anything to do with that.”

President Reoch writes: “I was asked by Radio Free Shambhala to talk about the current guidelines for inviting teachers and, in the course of that, asked if I could talk also about the issue of fear in our mandala. I am delighted that Radio Free Shambhala is posting that interview on its website. Along these very same lines, I was deeply touched to hear the Sakyong say recently: ‘It is not a matter of us all agreeing. It is a matter of us not giving up.'”

980 Responses to “On Differing Views and Paths”

rita ashworth on April 8th, 2010 3:22 pm

Dear James

An interesting post –very thought provoking.

Yes I have been thinking of Ash’s post about the monarchy, democracy, communism triad re Trungpa’s comment mainly personally into the way I have seen SI operating at present. For example how do all those people in SI see the whole thing playing out politically or do they even consider politics. I don't know sometimes I feel this sense is developing if that people do certain practices somehow magically an enlightened society will manifest.[/b] So yes there is that strange fascination with doing things in the ‘correct and loyal’ manner according to what is the standard viewpoint.

To me there can be no standard viewpoint even Ash’s reply about the realm of Nowness and KOS [Kingdom of Shambhala] manifesting from that was a tad suspect – as in the sense well the magic thing is entering into the conversation again, of course I know what he means and how he is employing the term but then teachers tell you to do that don't they –just sit –the whole thing will all work out ok – and I wonder about that way of doing things.

So sort of crunching along as my philosopher lecturer Mr Holly used to do I ask questions re politics and hierarchy. For example when Ash mentioned the communism angle my eyes opened up a bit wider –wow at last I thought reality is entering the situation but then again as you and Ash have unpacked the situation I thought no we are still going to have to deal with the monarch motif even to establish the glimmerings of an enlightened society and then I really thought no way again. It is something to have the guru as King or the Christian concept of the Christ within you in a religious sense but to transpose that to the running of society in samsara is a big leap forward.

Any way lets take it forward a bit with some queries as to an imagined structure re enlightened society –well if Trungpa was the King in our pragamatic workaday world and if he was still alive how would he relate to politics. Well re politics if he had founded a National Assembly what would have been his role in it. Perhaps his role would have been somewhat limited as in the sense that only if the people were having some really mega-crisis would he step in –that CCL attitude – at the end of his life for example when he seemed very reluctant to step in and sort things out –even to make any comment at all. So may be that could be a role of King somewhat….. the just watching aspect.

Could we transpose this ‘non-involvement’ to the present SI set-up – no I don't think so –now its certain path ways to get to Shambhala –the whole org is going mad in conducting interviews here and there to go forward with the correct way of entering into the whole thing, you must go this particular way to get the real hit on the Shambhala teachings etc, etc.

What happened to the CCL attitude and just letting the whole thing develop organically-what happened to the teacher leaving people the freedom to make mistakes but still some how work the whole thing out. So yes I suppose I am asking about the role of the King ok Queen as well to do just absolutely nothing but to leave it up to the students as in the sense when Trungpa said my students will be concerned with setting up of enlightened society –where the emphasis is on the students and not the King role (but of course Trungpa has instituted that method with his statement!) So yes I think the whole King/Sakyong interaction with the sangha will have to be more unpacked before we can even get some glimpse of the democracy and communism coming from it or should we say intertwined with it.

As to the conversation proceeding –yes I would like to go on with it a little more because we are sussing out ‘practical’ connections re the setting up of a society. To say that this discussion is not fruitful and that we should all just sit and just be is also not a totally good thing to do as well –because within the dharma too there is that whole thing of the study discipline as well. So yeh lets go on until we get ‘called’ on it……..ssssshhhhhhh –someones listening in………

O yeh Ash looking for stuff on utube on Marx –got this great video on Mark Steel – a socialist worker comedian –hes hilarious –you might want to check him out-a definite bolshie nutcase but very clever!

Well best
Rita Ashworth

Chris on April 12th, 2010 2:51 pm

The Practice Lineage or Remembering Who We Are:

Or: “Not letting the moralists get you down”:

“Everyone in the lineage of the practicing tradition has been extremely sarcastic and critical of the current scenes taking place around them. They were extremely critical of the subtle corruption taking place in the name of the dharma. We could say that the Practice Lineage is the guardian of the buddhadharma not only in Tibet alone, but in the rest of the world. Someone should at least have a critical view of how things should happen, how things shouldn’t happen. That particular sharp-vision, traditionally known as “prajna-vision” is very important, and that is a very lively situation, a living situation, in fact, that is why we are here.

The Practice Lineage is the most pure and is unhampered by any kind of spiritual materialism”.

From “The Mishap Lineage: Transforming Confusion into Wisdom” by Chogyam Trungpa

James Elliott on April 13th, 2010 2:24 am

Thanks Chris. I was indeed letting moralists get me down.

I know I get too wordy, but these are not simple issues to unpack, especially in a milieu in which we haven’t given them much thought, something many people before us have in fact done.

In any case, it would seem structures being established are not automatically in favor of members, and not best left to ruling elite out of touch with their subjects and in some cases I’ve witnessed reality.

Distinguishing between spiritual practice and politics has become somehow problematic within Shambhala, and as long as that’s the case, as long as ‘our’ politics is treated as something sacred, then whatever corruption occurs is unassailable, undermining one of the most fundamental needs any society must have for continuity and well being.

Here’s a poem that’s somewhat apropos, a little more on the lighter side, and I hope a bit of fun…


John Castlebury on April 13th, 2010 10:24 am

Thanks Chris,

With all due respect, the passage you quote from The Mishap Lineage [pub. 2009] is not an authoritative quotation, simply because Rinpoche didn’t personally authorize the final wording.

Who knows for sure that you are quoting Rinpoche and not his editor? So therefore how can we honestly quote Rinpoche from texts published since his death?

It’s safer if we rely on texts Rinpoche authorized while he was alive; then we can safely quote “chapter and verse”. Not to split hairs, but this is a distinction WITH a difference.

Andrew Safer on April 13th, 2010 1:36 pm


Re: your comment about the quote from The Mishap Lineage, I’m going to be honest here. I found it quite offensive. Ms. Gimian worked very closely with the Vidyadhara for many years. She is extremely well trained to edit the talks he gave and to present his teachings to the public. There is no question in my mind about that.

Having said that, no one is perfect. Even highly trained editors have to make judgment calls when committing words that were presented orally to the “permanence” of print in a published book. “Perfection” is an impossibility in this regard.

I am aware that you are in possession of a considerable amount of the Vidyadhara’s poetry (unedited), and appreciate the custodial role you have assumed in this regard. However, I’m sad to see that being in possession of such treasures has caused you to cast aspersions on the Vidyadhara’s highly trained and qualified editors.

By making a statement like this, you are suggesting that Ms. Gimian’s editing is not to be trusted. By implication, you are suggesting that all of the Vidyadhara’s teachings that have been published in book form since 1987 are substandard. I think you are doing the public a disservice by expressing this view, and don’t think it does much for your credibility. I’m also wondering if this is a subtle game of one-upsmanship we are witnessing here.

John Castlebury on April 13th, 2010 5:15 pm

Dear Andrew,

Well sorry you got so angry because you feel John cast aspersions on the noble editors, which isn’t even true. Edited text is not literally Rinpoche’s voice, is it? Or do you see an equivalency? But if a text is edited by editors, it’s no longer the text of Rinpoche’s exact words. That’s all I said, not that that’s a good thing or that’s a bad thing; it just is so.

In the case of a book designed for wider readership it makes perfect sense to edit for the sake of clarity, of course. But for purposes of quotation, a quote from material that has been changed by editors is not equivalent to an original quote of Rinpoche, even though the editors are highly trained and qualified; this is obvious.

So you found this pointing out the obvious to be offensive and cast the very aspersions at John that you accuse John of casting. I really don’t see the controversy, it’s only controversial if you twist what I said [“not to be trusted” and “substandard” are your words, not mine] to make your case.

JimWilton on April 13th, 2010 7:47 pm

Well, I guess we are all fucked then. There were no tape recorders or even paper and pencils in the time of Shakyamuni Buddha.

Nothing to do but rely on the fact that someone heard the teachings and put them into practice and passed the teachings on by discovering compassion and living their life. We’re fucked!

James Elliott on April 14th, 2010 2:11 am

I didn’t like John’s comment much either, not in a big way, please don’t take it personal John, but the timing made it seem to imply Chris’ quote was completely meaningless. I can’t see anything else it may have added to the discussion at hand.

Quotes from Trungpa Rinpoche can of course be used similarly to the way a Jehovah’s Witness uses them.

I met a guy once had a photographic memory and he used to invite door to door bible thumpers in to debate. He could, without looking in the book quote chapter and verse, ‘proving’ the opposite of whatever the proselytizers were preaching.

They would assume he was making stuff up, so he would tell them which chapter, verse, or psalm, they’d look it up and see it was true, glance at him with a tinge of fear and search in their dog-eared stickum marked tomes for another quote to refute him further, like a bouncing ball hall of conflicting mirrors. It was great fun. (I think some of his victims may have thought him some kind of demon.)

The point is quotes can be used to support whatever one wants. I don’t see the sense in demanding pure and unadulterated direct quotes from Trungpa Rinpoche. The way he spoke was very often dependent on how the person(s) he was talking to grasped what he was saying. (How much he had to explain and how much he could abbreviate.) Very often there were gaps in grammar and diction, all more than made up for in the pith teachings contained, but for written language, there are very few direct quotations from him in the purest sense of the word.

Many of the things I know he said, often because I was there when he said them or had impeccable sources, can only ever be considered paraphrasing. I don’t believe that teachings necessarily lose their pith meaning or truth as a result of being handled by … us.

Even when there is a direct quote, my thinking is we have to put something of ourselves in them in discussions or they begin to sound flat. Like bible thumpers.

In this particular case, if we don’t pick a specific target for the quote, (which would probably be an aggressive use of his words but I thought this one encouraged people disheartened by moralists and authoritarians -maybe just my take,) it is more likely than not Trungpa Rinpoche probably did say something along those lines.

Certainly the spirit of that quote is evident in the body of teachings about spiritual materialism and any number of officially sanctioned things he ‘definitely’ did say regarding credentials, the Tibetan church, courage, one’s principles, and about having a sense of humor and mistrust towards the rules laid down around us being a way of ensuring success.

In the inspiration of not reinterpreting the dharma, and not holding it at arms length either.

rita ashworth on April 14th, 2010 7:00 am

Dear Chris,

Thanks for that post re practice.

Yes there is the moralists getting us down re the one and only way etc etc –suppose that's why to a certain extent exploring other ways of seeing the whole thing or unpacking different scenarios re what we have studied in the past.

But yes I agree you can not get a definitive way that the shambhala teachings and of course the Buddhadharma teachings will manifest despite what SI states because of course with Shambhala we are discussing and experiencing a manifold awaking to basic goodness and who really knows how this will pan out. Mover-onners in all their little groups at the moment but even that may change as time passes so that we could meet in a more convivial, mad way than SI. And perhaps as you suggest if the little groups now evolving could be more loosely structured and freer that would be great as well.

Wow to Julie Greene doing the maîtri teachings in Crestone –what a gift for people –hope other teachers outside of SI will follow suit with this –this is a really interesting development.

So yes what is the tone of all the new stuff happening perhaps a wish to be less structured, less hierarchical -- seems to fit the times especially if you look at the way young people organise themselves nowadays in relation to politics aka environmental demos etc etc. Even conventionally too staid politicians seem to know the game is up on authoritarian modes of governance for example Uk in election mode at moment and we could have a hung parliament because nobody trusts anyone now after the expenses scandal. So yes anything that evolves from Shambhala in different ways in the future will have to be very fluid and open-ended and leave gigantic room for peoples continual input-don't think that will be biased anarchy but may be true anarchy because of course the teachings on basic goodness undercut ego.

Re Cape Breton and its position in all this – yes maybe Trungpa was seeing far into the future when he designated it as the main place but still I think more moves need to be made by everyone in supporting the shambhala teachings there as it is a somewhat important place in the growing mandala.

Yes also re the debate about quoting CTR –yes its difficult area. I did do a report for the Buddhist Society magazine on one of his talks in London and when I listened to the tape several times it was like listening to something very deep and almost mesmerising. May be from doing all those debates on Buddhism in Tibet he was dealing in a method of discussion that was almost ‘translucent’ certainly when I read his stuff I have the sensation of things going deeper and in a sense being more open as well so even his standard works have the sensation of poetry. But isn’t this feeling the nature of all religious/artistic language because we are dealing with imponderables which transcend the mundane, a big branch of religious studies for example is the use of religious language to exemplify connections with our ultimate nature which is of course ‘extraordinarily’ ordinary as well!. But of course also you can use the whole conception of language to mystify people so its a fine line interpreting what is going on within the religious context. Indeed at college I spent whole terms just debating certain chapters of Descartes on religion and also what people are doing when they use religious language and debate – yes a very interesting topic to discuss the use of language in all the different formats.

Well yes John hope you can get CTR’s poetry out in book form soon would love to read it that would be great.

Well best

Rita Ashworth

Chris on April 14th, 2010 12:14 pm


Thanks for your poem, by the way.

As for the quote, it was one of those auspicious “open the book and the pages fall to that particular passage.” It cheered me up, was apropos and I thought I would share it for that reason.

There has been a tendency here for some to use the Mahayana as a big stick to silence people and was how it was inappropriately used for centuries by the monastic ruling elite to keep the peasants from revolting. Gross inequalities of wealth and labor were justified by using the Mahayana teachings on “merit” and karma to keep people quiet and satisfied with their lot and to keep the ladrangs (labrangs) “full.” So , not surprising that, once again, we see people, who are supportive of this return to a feudal monastic system in SI in order, to “keep harmony” rationalizing and justifying the current SI scene by bringing out the mahayana teachings to try and silence people.

Anyway, thank goodness this is NOT 14th c Tibet and that we, as Westerners, can and should keep speaking out against the same old corruption, wherever we find it, such as this monastic, archaic system coming to shear the infantilized Western Buddhist sheep, the latter who stubbornly refuse to look at relative realty or the real History of Old Tibet in order to sustain their fantasies into old age. Some of us, however, feel that corruption of the dharma is not worth that price to keep ourselves infantalized. Particularly when it’s done in the name of Chogyam Trungpa.

John Castlebury on April 14th, 2010 5:02 pm

That quotation from The Mishap Lineage is incorrect. It is found on page 23 with the browse function at

The passage as quoted by Chris says:

That particular sharp-vision, traditionally known as “prajna-vision” is very important, and that is a very lively situation, a living situation, in fact, that is why we are here.

But the actual text says:

That particular sharp vision, traditionally known as “prajna vision,” is very important. And that is a very lively situation, a living situation, which still is up-to-date. In fact, that is why we are here.

Chris on April 14th, 2010 7:40 pm

Thanks John. Adding that phrase further emphasizes how much he was stressing that the Practice Lineage’s role, as guardian of the dharma against spiritual materialism, is for NOW. So thanks for the correction. He wouldn’t have said it in three different ways, i.e. “that is a very lively situation, a living situation, which still is up-to-date” if he didn’t mean us to really hear it.

Ginny Lipson on April 15th, 2010 11:12 am

Sorry to interrupt this thread, I didn’t know where to put this piece. It is an update on the earthquake situation, from Khenpo Tsering, just received late last night. Surmang was less affected, and the Shedra still stands! Trungpa Rinpoche the 12th is safe. However, so much else has been destroyed, if you have been following the news, including Thrangu Monastery, and also monks dead, people buried, dead children, etc. Catastrophic. Here is the letter I just sent to the Sangha. (Konchok Foundation has started an earthquake relief fund)

Dear Sangha,

I want to thank you all so much from beyond the bottom of my heart for all the donations that are pouring in for the earthquake relief situation. I won’t know the final Tally yet, as there are so many and more still coming in…and we are still scrambling to get news, and communicate with each other about what to do, etc.

Khenpo Tsering arrived safely to Jeykundo last evening (our time), managed to obtain a cell phone, and called us. Here is a first hand report, slightly edited. some good news and some really sad news:

The cell phone service is Jyekundo is intermittent, it cuts in and out. He doesn’t have a car battery charger and doesn’t know how he’s going to recharge the phone. The power is out in Jyekundo.

I was able to reach Khenpo Tsering tonight in Jyekundo by cell phone. It’s been a very long 24 hours for him since he called me from Xining last night just after the earthquake had happened. He was leaving immediately for Jyekundo at that time to help with the rescue efforts.

The road from Xining to Jyekundo is open. There are some cracks in the road and rocks on the road but it is passable. On the way down to Jyekundo, Khenpo passed at least a thousand cars or vehicles that were taking injured people up to hospitals in Xining. There is not nearly enough hospital capacity in Jyekundo for all of the injured people.

Khenpo said that Jyekundo is “completely destroyed.” He said that probably 95% of the buildings in the city have been destroyed. He said that, if anyone has seen the movie “2012,” it looks like that. Even some of the more recent larger buildings collapsed. He said that one six or seven story building collapsed “like the World Trade Center.” He went first to his own family’s house in Jyekundo to look for his family and dig them out if necessary. Unlike most houses, his family’s house did not collapse. It has a large crack in it, the back wall is tilting at an angle, and it will have to be rebuilt, but it did not fall down. His father, sister, and brother are ok and were not injured. Khenpo said that he has a number of other relatives in Jyekundo and he thinks that six or seven of them were killed.

He said that he and his family members have been spending all of their time helping other people dig in collapsed buildings, trying to find people who are still alive, but they haven’t found anyone alive. He said that he has pulled out several people who were already dead.

There are now a large number of Chinese soldiers in Jyekundo who are helping to dig but not enough compared to how many collapsed buildings that there are, and the soldiers don’t have enough heavy equipment.

Khenpo said that about eight hundred bodies that have been pulled out of the rubble so far but “there are thousands more bodies still buried in the collapsed buildings.” I said that the reports here are of ten thousand people injured and he said that it was at least that many and repeated that there isn’t enough space in the hospitals for all of them.

No one is staying inside any of the buildings that are still standing and everyone is living outside in tents or in whatever way that they can. He’s sleeping in his car.

Surmang Dutsi Til was not seriously affected by the earthquake. He has not been there in this first day since the earthquake but he was told that the earthquake was not so large there (Surmang is much further from the epicenter than Jyekundo is). He was told that no one was injured at Surmang Dutsi Til, and that several buildings have cracks in them from the earthquake, but none collapsed. He was told that there was no damage at all to the new shedra building complex at Surmang, which he described as very strongly built compared to how other buildings are constructed in the region. Khenpo has not heard yet of any damage at Surmang Namgyaltse. He has been told that the damage in the Nangchen heartland, centered around the town of Sharda, was not nearly as bad as around Jyekundo.

Trungpa XII Rinpoche is at Derge right now, which was not affected by the earthquake. Damcho Tenphel Rinpoche was at Kyere and most of the family members of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche are in that area, which was not affected by the earthquake. However, several of the Vidyadhara’s nieces or nephews have been living in Jyekundo and Khenpo has no news yet of what has happened to them. Aten Rinpoche is alright, I believe he was at Surmang at the time of the earthquake but he has now come up to Jyekundo to help out. One of Aten Rinpoche’s relatives is a khenpo at Thrangu monastery and was killed.

Thrangu monastery was the monastery most severely damaged by the earthquake from the reports that Khenpo has received. He was told that it is “95% destroyed” and that many monks there are dead, but no one yet knows how many. Benchen monastery wasn’t damaged as badly even though it is very close to Thrangu monastery. Domkhar monastery in Jyekundo was already in the process of being moved from its precarious hillside perch to a safer location in the valley and he think there wasn’t so much of a problem for them as a result. The Sakya monastery on a hilltop in Jyekundo has major damage but the buildings did not collapse.

Thirty or forty families from the Surmang area now have winter houses in Jyekundo, which they were living in when the earthquake happened. He knows all of these families and is trying to check up on them. He thinks that all of them have lost their houses and probably ten to twenty people were killed from the Surmang families.

He asked me to tell the Shambhala sangha that, if we are able to send money, that would be very helpful, because everyone who was involved in this earthquake needs help. He is going to find the Surmang families first to see how he can help them but there are many people who need help. Everyone who was living in Jyekundo has lost their house and has had people close to them who was killed or injured.

damchö on April 15th, 2010 10:22 pm

James, I love your poem, thanks. Dylanesque, somehow, but better.

Also, I liked your thought way back on the Dadaists etc.


Ash on April 16th, 2010 12:44 am

Rita, did not answer one of yr. queries a while back about ‘unpacking’ individuality issue. Nor James’ about ‘certainty of Monarchy’. Was away from home quite a bit of late, and also internet connection often slower than dialup and this page takes forever to open up.

Individuality: born in the 50’s (and now in them again!) and raised in England which perhaps had more of a sense of this than America but only to a degree, we were exposed to a more socialised culture. So-called ‘Confucian’ societies had this, and still have this, even more so, as do most traditional European cultures, and, I suspect, nearly all traditional cultures. In other words, one is part of a group, or rather one’s personal behavior is mainly a function and expression of a group, or societal, dynamic. Hence the great emphasis on speech, manners, dress, cultural expression of all sorts, all of which involve how an ‘individual’ manifests within a larger societal context. That larger context is the ‘Realm’.

During a little window of connectivity last night, I was watching some video clips of Tsar Nicholas, his coronation and marriage, probably some of the earliest news reels ever made. People all arranged according to class, traditional dress, soldiers marching, bells ringing, ceremony, ritual and so on, but what struck me forcefully was the clear bond (samaya) of the assembled population. Nobody was barking orders all over the place telling them what to do and say, and yet everyone was finely attuned to behaving appropriately.
Much in England when I was a boy there was very similar.

Now in the post war years, there has been a veritable orgy of ‘individualism’ even though, interestingly enough, people seem to have less and less individual character, both in terms of vigor and virtue. When a person devotes much of their developmental and expressive energies towards individual view and manifestation, they are by definition distancing themselves from the group and thereby heightening the sense of self and other, creating more aggression and neurosis of all sorts. And then, in order to function, they need psychoanalysis and happy pills. Strange world.

In any case, I think that is what he was referring to in terms of individualism. But that sort of negative individualism only makes sense to point out within the context of a more or less sane, vibrant culture. If you have general breakdown of social norms and virtues, then just blindly following along, i.e. failing to have one’s own individual integrity, becomes a similar problem on the flip side of the dynamic. I think that is what I was referring to. And also perhaps in the context of RFS, where there is a strong sense of the group having one astray, it is not necessarily ‘individualistic’ in the negative sense, to buck the trend.

James, I don’t have historical references handy, I am sorry to say. So speaking idealistically, perhaps I could say that when you have a strong society, then a natural Monarch principle inevitably is created one way or another and embodied by one particular, living, human Monarch.


Ash on April 16th, 2010 12:59 am

But that principle transcends any ‘individual’. It is more like a particular moment, a particular perception.

When a group is assembled and they tune into something together versus milling about aimlessly, when they focus on the same thing, group shamatha occurs immediately, and especially so in a well ordered, well socialised mandala. And when such groups assemble, they naturally wish to tune into something together. Frequently this takes the form of listening to a speaker, or witnessing a ritual. In any case, there is a single object of group focus.

In this example of a communal event, the Monarch principle is that single object of group/societal focus. For the group to have a shared moment there must be that shared object of focus, at which point the object itself becomes less important than the mutual experience, or rather the group mind that is sharing the same state at the same place and time. This is similar to the shift of shamatha to vipashana perhaps, in that once the mind is still on an object, then a wider world opens up automatically and the mind itself, which is formless, becomes the object. So society shares the same state generally, altogether, by first focusing on the same particular.

Now in the context of social hierarchy, or structure, if an individual Monarch starts taking the role as some sort of license to achieve all sorts of individualistic (often hedonistic or narcissistic) goodies, and forgets that his or her rank and role is in fact a function of the entire Realm including each and every inhabitant therein, that Monarch has gone astray, just like a meditator excited by the efflorescence of a particularly luminous state, and who, in trying to maintain that state, capture that state, separate that state from the streaming of unfolding ever-changing nowness, or being, turns it into a nyam, which is another way of saying that ego is trying to possess a sense of egolessness, which is akin to trying to imprison liberation.

So the role of Monarch, ideally, is to act as a conduit for focus (or example) within an overall societal context which is attuned to group awareness.
And since we are all basically good and sane, with fundamentally lovely hearts, such Monarch and such Subjects, by so attuning their minds together, will naturally tend to create more and more luminous, enriching, pacifying and powerful atmospheres together, and thus there will be further socialisation, sophistication and sanity of expression of goodness, skill, expression, intelligence, compassion and so forth. When a society lacks a Monarch principle, it does not have a way to have shared focus, and thus shared Heart-Mind, and thus promote mutual goodness.

Everyone watching television on their sofa is a particularly glaring samsaric perversion of the Monarch principle. It is neither individualistic nor properly socialised behavior, rather some dim ghost realm imitation delivered via a machine throwing up projections of living people, but without living people being actually there in reality.
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Ash on April 16th, 2010 1:09 am

Speaking of television, I think the funniest thing I ever saw CTR do was a private moment at the Court. It must have been a Sunday morning. I can’t remember what I was doing there, probably getting a notebook or something for Gesar who I was tutoring at the time, but I had to pop into his private sitting room. He was there on his own watching television, which had been specially brought in I suppose (or maybe it was there because I had been watching football with the Sawang the night before!?). Anyway, there he was watching TV. I found this sort of astonishing. I had never heard about his watching or not watching TV but just naturally found it incomprehensible. He was so Alive and TV being so dead sort of thing.

He was watching one of those TV evangelists, one that alternated being shouting about Hell and crying about his sins and the sacrifices on the Cross and suchlike. And there was Rinpoche, sitting on his chair, staring fixedly at the screen with a black scowl on his face, which was clearly genuine but at the same time exaggerated, sort of Kabuki-like, or like Captain Haddock in a Tintin drawing.

I paused to look first at the Preacher going through his conniptions and then at the Vidyadhara, both amused and amazed at the unlikeliness of this scenario. And then Rinpoche started shouting at the screen, things like ‘You charlatan! You Liar!” and so forth.

I found this hilarious, but not just because it was obviously funny, but also because I had the totally irreverent thought that maybe because he was a Tibetan from the Realm of Maha Ati and Primordial Now, he thought he was actually talking to the Preacher. It certainly felt like he felt that way, his expression was so earnest! So the combination of him seemingly being so stupid and so wise at the same time for some reason gave me a great case of the giggles, which of course he ignored completely because he was totally into shouting down the Preacher in the TV box, which is where I left, quietly closing the door behind me, as I went about my business.

Later, I learned that he hated TV and never watched it. So to test this out, I rented Monty Python’s Meaning of Life. I figured any true Englishman just had to like that, also I found it very TGS-y and thought he would like it, on a TV screen or no.

He did.

Which for some reason I found gratifying.

Just a story for the fun of it…

rita ashworth on April 16th, 2010 12:03 pm

Dear Ash,

Thanks for your feedback on ‘individuality and the Monarch principle’.

Yes I agree with you about the UK and its traditions because of course I was brought up with them too. There were certain standards of behaviour that were prevalent in the 1950’s and 1960’s that have somewhat disappeared in regarding primarily to trust in authority.

Of course the rebels in British society also talk of this lack of trust in a most unique way as well. Recently for example I saw an interview with Johnnie Rotten, interestingly he was brought up a Catholic and was an excellent scholar i.e. a swot, he was quoting Shakespeare a lot in the interview and talking of the role of authority and the individual in society. So yes England has always thrown up these kind of characters which want us to consider the real ziji or essence of an individual acting within society, that is also part of the English tradition to mock authority when it swerves from its interaction with the people in a cohesive and compassionate manner.

So yes I am not against the monarch principle but I think from my example that it has to be intimately intertwined with the concerns of the individuals within the society as well. Monarchs to me have to allow diversity to happen in their realms, indeed the present Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who is at the head of the established church in the UK and is close to the monarchy, has argued that some aspects of shariah law could be incorporated into British law –how this would be done I don't know for sure but its interesting to contemplate this happening in a diverse society.

So yes I agree the monarch principle is very deep within peoples psychology but of course too there is one’s own personal integrity as exemplified by the rebels and other traditions in the UK who often point to the societal inadequacies of a strict conception of the monarchy down the ages. In this respect also Princes Charles has argued that he would like to be the Defender of the Faiths and not the C of E Faith as the monarch is now.

So what is one to do with the individuality concept in this regard when monarchy goes astray from its subjects, divides opinion, is not seen to ameliorate, is not seen visibly for example also? Well to me it means that the monarch has to start having a new relationship with their subjects as indeed the present monarchy has done in the UK from its previous fussiness with protocol and precedence.

In addition the monarch principle should have a firm footing in tradition in regards to the study of history particularly western history where mega wars have engulfed the planet. Political awareness of the causes of aggression leads to more stability in society.

So there you have it – I still think under a monarchy you can allow for different takes on the Shambhala teachings indeed the study of English society and history has pointed out that when you don't allow for this diversity you get problems, which Johnnie Rotten to the Archbishop of Canterbury have pointed out.

So yes the greatness of monarchy has to be seen as a unifying principle primarily for all its citizens in times of national importance and calamity.

Perhaps also as continual rebel myself in the tradition of the UK from its history and literature I can't ignore the English conception of conscience in relating to the monarch principle – I would be indeed be going against my very English genes if I did – so yes individuality within the conception of enlightened Kingdom for all that I think I could live with.

Of course your ordinary man or women in the street may not consider these matters so deeply as I do –it might be well just give me the teachings on meditation and a community and yes what is the big deal about a monarchy any way –it wakes us up all this Tibetan stuff! Well all I can say to this is that's your choice but I also think a true King would defend the right of all his subjects to choose their way too as indeed the workaday monarchy in the UK has done. Its certainly weird that the Land of Oz has for example decided to hang out with the British monarchy and that Canada itself has not elected a President though it does have a constitution.

So yes monarchy/individuality and conscience as to connection to one’s own experiences both secular and religious – big and colossal subjects for discussion.

Well best

Rita Ashworth

damchö on April 16th, 2010 7:09 pm

I’ve been appreciating all the eloquence on this subject of monarchy. My thoughts are not so deep and perhaps even somewhat naive, but for what they are worth:

I came to VCTR’s first shambhala book well after I’d read nearly all of his published buddhist books. The first main part–“How To Be a Warrior”–blew my mind. Most of the second part did too, as well as aspects of the third. But also somewhere I think in the second half of the book–it’s been awhile since I’ve read it so I can’t pinpoint exactly where–I began to find certain ideas less compelling. Mostly these have to do with the concept of monarchy.

For years and years I held those difficulties in my mind in “negative capability”. I kept challenging myself, kept playing devil’s advocate with my views, tried to see a different way. But I just was never able to understand that part of shambhala vision. And this created much cognitive dissonance in my mind. After all, I would say to myself over and over, this guy is clearly pretty realized… And yet, the Confucianist stuff just wouldn’t stick no matter how hard I tried. It still doesn’t.

The main reason for this is simply that I’ve never come across that kind of power structure which, well, has really worked for any length of time, let alone ushered in anything close to enlightened society. Yes, I know the chants mention Ashoka, Emperors of China and Japan and so forth, but when I actually read history–not propaganda or speculation or hagiography, but careful, sober, sound history–I just don’t see “enlightened” kingship anywhere. Maybe I’m missing something–this is highly possible.

Certain reigns have been much better than others, quite obviously, but what always leaps out at me first and foremost when I study these things tend to be just the grubby, “human all-too-human” realities of power and the will to power. (Sorry for two references to Nietzsche in one sentence!–I’m not especially Nietzschean in perspective.) I see all the manifold pathways power opens up to corruption, i..e simple human grasping and aversion–from subtle through flagrant all the way up to genocidal. And I see the stoking of spiritual materialism and theism.

Of course, VCTR’s teachings on the monarch principle go well beyond merely a philosophy of the state. I realize this. Still, since I never had the chance to meet him and therefore of course have never taken samaya with him, I am free to think that, as extraordinary and powerful a teacher as he was, I simply have no reason or basis for seeing him as perfect, free from all mistakes. And so I must say that nothing I’ve seen in human behaviour, either in historical study nor in my own long experience with power and its abuse, could lead me to feel that the kind of more-or-less absolute monarchy which now holds sway within shambhala is at all desirable. But of course, maybe this is not what he meant to have happen anyway–who knows? (cont.)

damchö on April 16th, 2010 7:10 pm

(cont. from above)

Would I feel differently if I had had some up-close and personal experience with a great lama? Possibly, but I doubt it. I find I just can’t argue with the old axiom: there’s something in the very nature of power that is corrupting, and the more centralized the power, the fewer the checks and balances, the greater the danger. This is what I keep coming back to.

My last experiences at shambhala centres heightened all of this considerably. There, I saw the current head of shambhala treated as little (frighteningly little) short of a god. And I saw all the ancient shop-worn effects of this kind of culture on higher-ups and newcomers alike. Personally, I think it is a backward step. I think there are more empowering directions to take. More immediately, it simply scares me.

Stuart on April 16th, 2010 7:20 pm


~ Ash on April 16th, 2010 1:09 am

Just a story for the fun of it…

Joe Hill wrote a song for the free speech fight of 1910 and it was introduced on the streets of Spokane by HAYWIRE MAC MCCLINTOCK … he was Grant’s secretary then… he wrote BIG ROCK CANDY MOUNTAIN and HALLELUJAH, I’M A BUM! They got together a little band… T-Bone Slim… a tuba… a garbage can lid… they stood in a doorway waitin’ to leap out at the unemployed throngs and regale them with song.

They used a shill to build the crowd… you know a carny shill… someone who uses tricks to build a crowd…his name was Prescott… he wore a black suit an’ a black bowler hat an’ a string tie with an umbrella and a briefcase… looked like a banker. He’d walk down while they were hidin’ in the doorway and suddenly he’d start to yell “Help! Help! Help! I’ve been robbed. Help! I’ve been robbed.” Everybody would run across the street “What’s the matter? What’s the matter?” Soon as he’d got the crowd together he’d yell “I’ve been robbed by the capitalist system fellow workers.”

He’d talk to ’em for ten minutes and then the boys would leap out and start singin’ and this is what they were singin’ …


Mark Szpakowski on April 16th, 2010 7:24 pm

Damchö, you have posed a very well articulated and open question.

I suggest the following: how about we turn your comment into an article, so it could have its own comment stream? This is an entire discussion (and a half). What you’ve written its fine: no need for much editing.

Just posing the question well, and then holding that, is great. And I wouldn’t rush in with answers: being and sharing and deepening the question is probably way more powerful.

– Mark

damchö on April 16th, 2010 7:42 pm

Hi Mark–sure, happy to do that. I’d want to add a few little things if this were the case and unfortunately am crazily busy for a few days, so I might not be able to do it immediately. But maybe later in the weekend if that would work.

Edward on April 16th, 2010 8:03 pm

Personally, I don’t believe power is corrupting.

When people have almost no power at all–say, they are about to starve to death– this often brings out very “corrupt” behavior, such as theft, violence, madness, warfare, all sorts of things.

I don’t believe power corrupts. I do believe that a lack of feedback tends to be corrupting. Trungpa Rinpoche had a lot of power, I presume, within the sphere of his community. But he also paid attention to what was going on around him, I think. He seemed to be extremely sensitive to feedback.

A schizophrenic person who lives down the street from you might have almost no power at all, and yet shut himself up in a bubble with no feedback, and become completely corrupted by that behavior.

I think the notion that “power corrupts” is almost true, but not quite. What’s really corrupting is when people have the ability to ignore feedback. “Power” or money can help give us that ability, the ability to close ourselves off in a little cocoon. Maybe any kind of addiction functions the same way.

But saying “power corrupts” can be misunderstood and misused to make people feel guilty and afraid to have any kind of power or functional ability.

In some sense, the “power corrupts” idea is an anti-guru idea. It’s a way of claiming that no one is more realized than me. It’s a very American mindset. When the Karmapa comes to town, you hold out your hand to shake his hand, as equals. That kind of thing.

I don’t know whether that mindset is good or bad or right or wrong– it just seems to be one that doesn’t allow you to learn from anyone else.

This is because anyone in a position of power is automatically inferior to you, because you rationalize that they are corrupted. It’s a very competitive attitude.

When I used to take martial arts, as soon as the class began, there would be two levels of status in the room– the teacher, and the students. The teacher told people what to do, and the students obeyed. Without this dynamic, it would have been completely chaos, and nobody would have learned anything.

Even when some totally junior person taught the class, just giving that person a special status of “power” made the class go SO much better.

damchö on April 16th, 2010 11:07 pm

Edward, these are important points. The word “power” can certainly be used in distinctively different ways.

I would firstly make a distinction between “power” and “empowerment”. The latter conveys a sense of genuine inner strength, which has no need to feed off of others.

The former–at least in the sense I am using it–also needs to be distinguished from your martial arts example, where I would be inclined to use a word like “authority” or “teacher”. By “power” in my post I really meant political power: generalized power over others, power which has the capacity to compel desired behaviour through either force, sanctions, ostracization, or what have you.

But–a big subject. Maybe we should wait for the new thread? Which will be specifically about the question of power within Shambhala and perhaps Western Buddhism in general.

[This thread has become so epic my phone can barely load it anymore!…]


Ash on April 17th, 2010 1:23 am

Damcho, I find your following paragraph most provocative :

“The main reason for this is simply that I’ve never come across that kind of power structure which, well, has really worked for any length of time, let alone ushered in anything close to enlightened society. Yes, I know the chants mention Ashoka, Emperors of China and Japan and so forth, but when I actually read history–not propaganda or speculation or hagiography, but careful, sober, sound history–I just don’t see “enlightened” kingship anywhere. Maybe I’m missing something–this is highly possible. ”

Two aspects immediately spring forth: ”I’ve never come across that kind of power structure which, well, has really worked for any length of time, let alone ushered in anything close to enlightened society.” If I try to come up with examples from Western history, which I have some sort of familiarity with, albeit not in any great depth, I draw a blank, which makes me uncomfortable to contemplate. Indeed, my main conception of royalty comes from a combination of reading Shakespeare plays at school nearly every term from the age of seven until seventeen in the classroom, and vague notions of King Arthur. Roman Emperors seemed mired in problematic politics of all sorts, ancient Greece I never studied, although some of the old stories, like Jason and the Argonauts etc. probably made a deeper impression. Egyptian Pharaohs are more dreamlike to me than real, albeit Joan Grant’s ‘Winged Pharaoh’ made a deep impression on me when I read it as a teenager. And yet some sort of pure Arthurian type model remains deeply embedded, personally speaking, though I cannot say why. As to Asian examples, I have little knowledge, although I did have the treat once of riding in a Rolls to watch My Fair Lady in London in the Royal Box with Prince Chula of Thailand who was an Oxford chum of my stepfather’s. I enjoyed the whole thing immensely, apart from the chili-pickled mangos served up as refreshments!

But then the second aspect kicks in, re:

“but when I actually read history–not propaganda or speculation or hagiography, but careful, sober, sound history…”

In regards to the blank drawn above, I have the sneaking suspicion that European history has by and large redacted the role of royal lineages, and feudal culture in general, and this was effected partly by the hegemony of the Roman Republic, but then later by the catholic/universal/transnational initiatives of the Church. I remember years ago reading a Holy Grail book and being surprised to learn that literally hundreds of small kingdoms were wiped out in the 8-10th(?) centuries as part of homogenizing culture and political power, and most recorded history after that point was mainly written by religious clerics and thus largely propaganda. In Britain, most of our history begins with the Norman Conquest. Few have read Bede or earlier historians and indeed only a couple of volumes exist I believe. And yet at that point the royal lineages were largely already extinct in terms of being autonomous, tribe-based lineages and societies. And therefore I wonder just how much of our history has been all that well written, especially the early history, large swathes of which have been systematically eradicated by confiscation and destruction (library at Alexandria for example). It is all very murky that way.

I suspect those who can plummet the depths of Chinese scholarship could find much more. Chinese Imperial/Royal systems have arguably lasted a very long time until only a century or so ago, often producing very stable, prosperous eras. (Gunter Frank’s ReOrient is an interesting read in this regard.)

But my main sense of it as a subject is that it is not only a political system, per se, but a fundamentally natural expression of things as they are societally speaking, in that any group has to have some sort of leadership and followership dynamic in order to function as more than a random collection of independent individuals. This is true for a family, a village, a tribe, a business, a sports team, a country and so forth. And at some point there has to be a single, living human being who embodies that principle in that ultimately the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ or ‘forward’ or ‘stop’ decisions which have to be made and communicated need to come from one mouth out of one particular body in place and time within the heart of that community.

And then for me royalty also implies that there is a sacred aspect to life in general, and thus also to society in particular, because that is a living, actual truth, or dharma, of human experience when there is any level of awareness and sanity bubbling forth,
something which all people aspire to experience and pass on, just as parents naturally love and cherish their children. So royalty has to do with a clear, unrestrained acknowledgment of this sacredness as being a quintessential sine qua non of decent society and decent life. Indeed, it is ultimately unavoidable, which is why even non-religious, non-royal systems, such as the US Republic, end up treating their elected Presidents as equivalents to Royals, with very similar, albeit rather clunky, rituals and observances. You just can’t get away from it even if you try.

So if you can’t get away from it, then it should be done fully, completely, thoroughly, with awareness and passion.


Ash on April 17th, 2010 1:48 am

Footnote on Shakespeare as source: one rather credible theory is that Shakespeare was actually Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. ( ) I have not read the book – which I plan to purchase at some point, but I remember reading a while back that the de Vere family is one of the oldest Royal Families in Europe with roots going back to Julius Caesar and quite possibly to the Egyptian Royals as well; certainly they were a very old, noble lineage by the time parvenus like William the Conqueror were setting up their new dynasties, put it that way.

It was a de Vere, for example, who conducted a separate coronation ceremony in the woods for Elizabeth Ist, a very old tradition which for some reason the de Vere’s were entitled to preside over, and also a de Vere who was the individual later changed into the ‘Robin Hood’ of legend.

If this is true, then quite possibly the sense of Royalty transmitted in many of Shakespeare’s plays, is itself a form of transmission of the view of royalty handed down to us in the sixteenth century from a lineage heir whose family roots stretched deep back into the bedrock feudal past whose culture was probably in many ways far closer to the sort of ‘medieval’ or ‘tribal’ society that is invoked by the expression ‘Mukpo Clan’. So maybe reading Shakespeare to get some sense of royalty is not such a bad thing after all, and interestingly enough he communicated this not so much in the characters, but by the setup of Court mandalas which pervade the hierarchical structure of the plays.

Also if this is true – that the history of the man Shakespeare is essentially a fabricated one – it is a further example of how quite possibly the history we have read, and perhaps especially the sober, solid stuff, is mainly well-crafted lies (which is why I was looking for footage of Tsar Nicholas, having read a few 1920’s accounts of people meeting with him in Europe, as well as a couple of Russian authors, who painted a dramatically different picture from the ones we have mainly received (much as I respect Tolstoy, who was one of his detractors). Also, very few people growing up in England know that we successfully blockaded Germany after WW I forcing hundreds of thousands, if not more, to starve to death, completely dishonoring the terms of surrender, nor that we did the same thing after WW II during which many millions of Germans were starved, countless hundreds of thousands of women raped and so on. Sober historians do not present such material, and those who do are often hounded out of their jobs and polite society. So quite possibly there have been many good kings and queens in the past whose reputations have been posthumously tarnished, and in many cases during their lives, as with Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, and so on and so forth.

In other words, since there has been a concerted effort for a while to change the previous models and leadership networks it is quite possible that we have a very distorted view of what was going on even only 200 years ago, let alone 1200, which might also explain that even though the institution lasted for millennia in most developed cultures throughout the known world, we have so little knowledge of it in terms of good examples.

rita ashworth on April 17th, 2010 7:27 am

Dear Ash, Damcho, Edward and Mark

You know in some ways I can't believe that I am discussing monarchy because in the past I found it too much of an anachronism for a ‘modern’ society but there we go Trungpa Rinpoche has brought the whole thing up again so we must discuss it and not just go along with the present conception on monarchy arising within SI.

The point of me discussing British monarchy was to point out how much such a very conservative institution has changed in the UK itself. Just think with a million Muslims in the UK the monarchy must now in some way accommodate its loyal citizens more so than it has done in the past even to the point of bringing in shariah law to British law. Of course the Archbishop was roundly condemned by the media and politicians for even raising the subject but there you go he sees what is happening around him and as responsible holder of power he must put this on the public agenda. So from the Archbishops comments I would like to suggest that monarchy itself is a dynamic thing and that when we try to fixate it in established forms in some respect we are undercutting the monarchy principle itself.

Monarchy also means to me relationship –relationship in the Cosmic Mirror if we are talking Shambhala fashion so student/master power is fluid/ not fixed. We can see this relationship taking place in a most concrete fashion in Shakespeare particularly Richard II which is a very great play and seems to me to revolve around the exercise of power in a cosmic mirror way-a play worth looking at I believe on utube if you can catch it. In fact there is the end of the play which is quite marvellous when Richard II gives his crown to the new King – I don't know mirrors/power its all there.

To Edward yes I suppose you could say superficially there is a master/student relationship happening within samsara but in a Cosmic Mirror sense I think there is just pure unadulterated magnificent power. But say I take your point conventionally I don't think a teacher can be a teacher unless there is relationship and in some instances the student surpasses the master as I believe Trungpa has stated also in that here too a dynamic is going on. You can see this also in the Q and As with Trungpa when the student hits it sometimes closer than Trungpa does himself but of course he has provide the space for the student to do that.

So what I have been considering seems to me very deep because I have been thinking of it quite a bit and also very deep psychologically from what I have read about relationship and power. So for me fixating any ‘form’ particularly now the form developing in SI as the epitome of relationship seems to me a bit cock-eyed because we are talking of something that is fluid in all fields in a practical and religious sense.

But Ok take for example that I surrender to the Sakyong's way of doing things – I see the light which many people may want me to do for the betterment of my mind, ho-hum, ho-hum, ho-hum does that mean that the Rigden King as he is now depicted will appear before me –no I don't think so I think what will come out/surface is what needs to come out which could be anything due to culture, psychological disposition, karma –now we are talking about imponderables! So all the present systems within SI and without are just systems – what we meet in ‘actuality’ and here I am talking of religious/secular experience as defined in the west because that is what I know about, maybe could be Jesus, Angels that Blake depicted – or God/Vajradhara knows what!

So this is why I believe the Shambhala teachings are still wide open and why HHDKR said anyone could practice them because we are talking about relationship and our deep connection to the King/Queen principle within us which is also basic goodness, power, call it what you will (open to more suggestions also!)

So yes I think the discussion should go on both within and outside of SI for the whole monarchy principle to be unpacked perhaps you could even have a conference on it –so yes its commendable that this discussion has not stopped simply because SI thinks it has found its way to Shambhala.

Yes as Johnnie Rotten sang ‘God Save the Queen!’ but for me and others not the Queen for the select but the Queen for the many. Yes Never Mind the b#ll##ks here comes the Sex Pistols! Or since I watched Stoned last night about Brian Jones –yes happiness is boring! (you have to see the movie to get that!)


Rita Ashworth


Ash on April 17th, 2010 9:56 am

“simply because SI thinks it has found its way to Shambhala..”

Well, we could say that Shambhala is one way of doing it, not necessarily the only way. But at least it is trying and that is a rare thing nowadays as a deliberate project, so to speak.

“does that mean that the Rigden King as he is now depicted will appear before me…”

Well, our sense of Royalty – as for example how we perceive the majesty of a Richard II when reading or witnessing the play – is a form of Rigden right there.


“So for me fixating any ‘form’ particularly now the form developing in SI as the epitome of relationship seems to me a bit cock-eyed because we are talking of something that is fluid in all fields in a practical and religious sense .”

Also your comments on relationship and power.

Perhaps this is voodoo etymology, but ponder the seeming similarities in sound and meaning of : royal, role, real, realm. Very similar words. In terms of power, the power is a mutual creation. In other words, the Royalty of a Monarch is not just individually generated and projected out; it is also projected from the subjects of the realm onto the Monarch because it comes from underlying sacred perception in the first place. So the Monarch plays the role of Monarch so that the subjects can see the embodiment of sacred outlook and natural hierarchy manifest on the spot in their society. Both Monarch and Subjects make the Realm real through the medium of the role played by the Monarch.

It is also interesting that the Tib. word ‘Sa’ is in there because it seems also to mean realm/sphere/level/bhumi.

The power of the Monarch – in any truly Royal/Real/Sacred tradition – is that of Drala which is based on absence of aggression and deception, cowardice and laziness etc. at which point the Majesty/WangTang of the Monarch blazes forth as an expression of the goodness of the society as a whole, such blazing and such goodness not happening in a vacuum. DDM’s seminal 1981(?) Sakyong speech talks of having built a throne out of his own blood, sweat and tears working with each subject personally. In other words, it was societal relationship which allowed for a manifestation of a Sakyong to come forth.

It is ironic that you criticize SMR and SI for ‘fixating on the form’ when at the same time many are attacking because he has, seemingly, changed to form so much that it is perceived as unworkable. If the society is fracturing to the point that fewer and fewer identify with being part of the ‘we’, and thus no longer identify with the Sakyong as their Realm Protector, that he no longer plays that vivid role in their lives/mandala, then this is indeed a very serious affair.

But that said, it is quite possible that as the Buddha remarked, certain obstacles only arise after progress, or greatness. So again (for me) this implies that all this problematic dynamic might not be the sole product of the individual person whose role is that of Sakyong.

Finally, I think the tendency to think in terms of ‘systems’ is essentially a cop out, or insidious dynamic of the Professionals Enemy in the mix. To me theism is often evidenced wherever concept is trusted (worshipped) over direct experience. We see this all over: in political ‘systems’, medical, scientific, academic and so forth. One of the many functions of a Royal ‘system’ is to cut through that conceptual overlay or sludge so that reality can keep shining through in the realm. You don’t get rid of the power problem by diluting it in a mud of concept – you just end up with some form of totalitarian concrete at some point on way or another.

So again it is sort of choiceless: the only viable orientation in society is towards the Great Eastern Sun. Ultimately there is no other way if we wish to remain in an enlightening Human Realm.


Ash on April 17th, 2010 10:28 am


“But that said, it is quite possible that as the Buddha remarked, certain obstacles only arise after progress, or greatness. So again (for me) this implies that all this problematic dynamic might not be the sole product of the individual person whose role is that of Sakyong.”

During the Mill Village retreat, it was reported that a new text did not come through and that DDM said it was because of obstacles from the students, that we were not coming through enough. He gave a moving speech to the Vajradhatu Standing Committee about how people have to step beyond their personal comfort and survival zones if we were to go forward.

CTR blazed a mahasiddha trail into Western culture opening up a broad horizon on which could be seen, clearly rising, the Great Eastern Sun, which naturally evolves into some sort of larger, societal unfolding rather than being a personal development scheme alone, even in the dharmic sense. Most of his students bathed in the rays of this Rising Sun principle and took it to heart, because it was in their hearts from birth in any case of course. That is what I meant by ‘greatness’. But then there are the obstacles which come up in the light of that greatness and many of those obstacles are ones that we individually and collectively have to work through and I believe that much of this work has to be done on the Subjects level, which sometimes I have been calling the ‘Nyen’ level.

Also in terms of the role of Sakyong: CTR trail blazed its creation in the midst of North American culture. Amazing. But also just first dot both numerically and historically. Still amazing. But think of the difference of being the trail blazer where none has trod before, and the one who has to then assume that role, inherit that role, not trail blaze that role but simply continue it. I think CTR was not only being prophetic but definitional when he ‘predicted’ that the Sawang would surpass him. For to maintain a Sakyongship, which means also to maintain a Great Eastern Sun sangha, is perhaps far greater a task than to trail blaze it. No matter who one is or what one does, one is compared to the founder, some of whose original principles must be held as seed syllables, but many of whose forms must naturally evolve into new, and often seemingly quite different ones, just as happened within CTR’s tenure. Similarly, the sangha must evolve, both in terms of maintaining depth and continuity, but ongoing flexibility and development.

This is a very great undertaking, very great. That there are obstacles, serious ones, is par for the course. But although I respect the views expressed here, and am grateful they are being expressed forthrightly, I am still very reluctant to personalise the whole thing in terms of SMR being the alpha and omega of any perceived obstacle. To me this is a crude form of demonization. It looks like there are systemic problems right now, but I still doubt this is due to gross corruption, rather a large don or obstacle which all involved have to own as such.
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rita ashworth on April 17th, 2010 11:50 am

Dear Ash,

Wow an interesting post a lot to consider.

Yes the monarchy /subject principle is an intertwined ‘concept’ both philosophically and practically. I don't think it can be seen in any other way there is always that mirror concept there so like you say there is that ‘Rigden’ there.

Re form and the present depiction of the Rigden King I think the decision has been made to go too early with this form particularly for primarily a western membership and here we are talking about imponderables, intuitions about what kind of forms could be discovered. Yes society is somewhat fracturing but to solidfy a form too early to me excludes more than it includes. So yes this is the serious situation developing which I also think James has referred to in his discussion of culture and manners.

So to a certain degree it is a matter of timing, appropriateness, knowledge of how to proceed to take people along with you and perhaps the acknowledgement too that other terma could surface which Mr Neutral has alluded to on his post on the Chronicle Project and of course if here we are talking about other terma I think we may be possibly be talking about different forms too. So that's why I think there is room for diversity within this realm because I don't think any one knows how it is going to pan out.

Re the systems point I think I agree with you –yes if you are going to have the vision of a Great Eastern Sun you have to have some one like Mark Szp said to make the first move but first moves from where? First moves just from the monarch principle –cant be totally that-first moves could come from many sources particularly other people who are practicing much over the years. Also first moves sprang up all over the place when the teachings were introduced into Tibet –again another ‘reason’ to consider diversity within the Kingdom and in your opening sentence you have stated that there could be other ways to Shambhala as well so this resonates too with multiplicity of practices that might come about. There is also Mark Szps. Statement from Trungpa in another post which is “I will make you terma” –yes very dynamic, very fluid here.

Yes I agree I am somewhat placing my feelers into the future re the Shambhala teachings and their establishment on this earth in a practical sense but I am trying to work from own direct experience of the teachings as well in this regard too so I am not totally working intellectually from a black hole.

Yes I know it's difficult when do you go forth, when do you hold back, who do you accommodate who do don't accommodate, – all the decisions a King/Queen must make to make his realm come about. But truly great Kings and Queens have done this. The one I am thinking of in this regard is Queen Elizabeth II who faced such turmoil in her realm. (Its interesting there have been loads of documentaries on her recently on British TV primarily may be because she was so deft at ruling- I just can't believe how much I am discussing the monarch principle as do you know my Queen is costing me a canuck dollar a year –jeez I think I should get it back with interest!)

Of course too there is the whole dynamic of the psychological aspect of the teachings which Damcho might consider regarding our own connection to power so I am looking forward to some more posts on that.

But primarily myself yes I am still interested in the actual setting up of KOS from a political sense and how that can be forwarded in the world as I think I have somewhat glimpsed the psychological thingie so I am interested in taking that connection outside in to the practical workaday world.

I hope more people can post on the monarchy motif – as I would like to hear differing viewpoints.

Well best from this side of the pond –for once its very hot in the UK – and no planes eerie!


Rita Ashworth,

James Elliott on April 19th, 2010 1:58 am


Individualism or any ideology is flawed, but “The Four Foundations of Mindfulness” talk by VCTR as well as the notion in dharma that enjoins us to ‘cut the universal unconsciousness’ seems to me a call to develop the ability to be fully an individual, rather than a feather in the winds of any local zeitgeist or government.[/b]

Individualism may be problematic, though I would argue with your description of its development, causes and effects. In any case, a wiser man than I once said “Any system that ignores the individual will fail.”

I would agree that hierarchy arises automatically in any group, corporate or social. I don’t see that as proof that monarchy is therefore necessary or the only way to the highest expression of a healthy society. Nor that the individual is subsumed.

I’m surprised with Nicholas II as example of commendable monarchy.
(albeit no less so than with Shambhala’s partnership with Bhutan, a country involved in ethnic cleansing.)

Of course the coronation looked grand on film. If you believe luxury is something to aspire to, who can argue, but if that was the pinnacle of a healthy society, I beg to differ. What was not filmed was that when food and drink were handed out, the crowd rushed to get their share and people were trampled. Of c.100,000 visitors, 1,389 died and c.1,300 were injured. I don’t think that happened because of exuberance. I think they were really hungry. (And the film is silent so whether orders were being given or not… )

Consider his proclamation: “I want everyone to know that I will devote all my strength to maintain, for the good of the whole nation, the principle of absolute autocracy, as firmly and as strongly as did my late lamented father.” which lead into ‘Bloody Sunday’ and fueled the Bolshevik revolution (the Bolsheviks being the main reason Hitler was tolerated as long as he was).

Or the anti-Semitic programs Nicholas II supported and funded. He had the full support of the orthodox church and was canonized when murdered, perhaps one of the reasons it was so vilified during the following revolution?

They may look spiffy in their whites, Ash, but… something’s not right there.

In general what you are describing as ‘the monarch principle’ as necessary for a peak experience of basic goodness in society, if it isn’t just romantic whitewashing, if it can be taken positively as something to emulate, is a religious view, a description of the vajra-master/student relationship.

Even here I would take some exception. The vajrayana relationship is unequivocally not a form of self hypnosis. The overcoming of ego is not simply a matter of identification or what one believes or a matter of how one decides to approach something. There is real individual work involved in that, and the vajra-master’s job, if not just theater, is more than maintaining a cool facade we can project upon as a group.


James Elliott on April 19th, 2010 2:02 am

I think this is a classic example of how Shambhala Buddhism encourages people to project the dynamic of a very personal and intimate formalized relationship with a realized master, onto a larger political system that in theory would affect many, some of whom will not believe the same things or even be on the same path.

As a student/teacher relationship? Fine. As a structure for political power, it is not just prone to corruption, it has in virtually every instance I know of been responsible for it, maintaining power at the cost of a majority, very simply because there are no checks and balances, or any representation to speak of. (Again the Bastille option is not a form of checks and balances.)

I agree that thinking only in terms of systems is a cop out. I could care less about the ideology, honestly. If a dictator treated me and those around me properly, I would see the benefits of dictatorship.

My interest in these things began and remains because of witnessing abuse at the hands of appointed officials, and the abject failure of any official party involved to relate to those problems productively and tangibly with concern for those affected. Any manifest concern has been for appointed officials, or the image of Shambhala, not those affected.

In such a highly hierarchical structure one cannot, Ash, hold those who have been poorly served accountable for the behavior of appointed officials. That is the role responsibility and duty of those who appoint them. Holding those adversely affected responsible would mean leadership is not accountable for its decisions, the actions of officials, or any ensuing results. That would be the antithesis of genuine leadership, and would if continued lead predictably to a collapse of social cohesion.

Blaming the victim also exacerbates the frustration of people adversely affected, and activates people to do more than just grumble. Because when that happens, it becomes clearer we are not talking about simple misunderstandings or minor mistakes of people with responsibility, but rather an institutionalized denial system actively avoiding responsibility for the very things the institution and its leaders must at the very least be held responsible for.

I begin to think a highly centralized absolute monarchy will ultimately only serve the kinds of films you saw of Nicholas II’s coronation, and perhaps the noblemen and soldiers tiptoeing in order to get a glimpse of the great man. The rest of us can eat cake.

In the inspiration of what a Russian/German friend said when we visited Versailles, the luxurious Palace and gardens commissioned by Louis XIV just outside Paris: “When I look at the concentration of luxury and wealth here, I think a lot of people must have died in poverty to make it possible.”


Ash on April 19th, 2010 10:49 am

Well, that business about 1,300 dying to get food is clearly pretty bad. If true. The Bloody Sunday incident: there are two sides to that one, with some credible witnesses at the time saying it was a classic false flag type event engineered to get the soldiers to respond the way they did. Hard to say.

As usual, I agree with most of your points. My main thrust earlier was more about how only a few generations ago, or in more ‘traditional’ societies there was far more socialisation, for lack of a better term, i.e. individuals experience as such being far more wedded to being part of a collective. Like any dynamic this has both positive and negative aspects.

My impression of European monarchy is that it has been largely corrupted since the Dark Ages and perhaps never really established itself properly in any case. But I still do feel that Monarchy/Royalty is the clearest, most sophisticated and practical expression of an underlying societal dynamic which is inevitable in any group, aka the need for hierarchy. Embodying the Monarch principle – which could manifest in many ways such as democratically elected individuals or committees, or unseen oligarchies, or war chiefs or whatever, in the person of a trained and empowered public figure, is the best way, but that does not mean it is a sure thing. Indeed, it most certainly is not, which is also one of its virtues.

In the representative system, the reason for everything must publicly appear. Every man is a proprietor in government, and considers it a necessary part of his business to understand. It concerns his interest, because it affects his property. He examines the cost, and compares it with the advantages; and above all, he does not adopt the slavish custom of following what in other governments are called Leaders.

-- Rights of Man, by Thomas Paine

There is a fallacy in thinking that human affairs can be made perfect by some sort of perfect system, which ultimately is no more than a conceptual overlay, an idea versus a true “res”, which relates to the terms denoting reality and the State, interestingly enough, our ‘Sa/Bhumi/Realm’ notion again; or moreover that a system can trump the living people who ultimately comprise its component parts.

The ideal sense of Royalty, embodied however imperfectly in such events as the Tsar’s coronation (or the mass outpouring of grief at Princess Diana’s death which itself evidences the vitality of the Monarch principle even in modern society, also the shared distress at JFK’s sudden death etc.), to my mind has aspects of luminosity, sacredness, glory and goodness, some sort of pure expression of basic goodness. So what makes a leader Royal is that somehow society has mutually conspired to make itself capable of generating sacred perception which manifests in the mutual sacredness of both ruler and ruled.

I think the key fault line, though, might be in terms of the old checks and balances business. Like IF you have a ruler who is totally corrupt, how do you depose him if necessary, or protect the nobles or ordinary subjects from abuse, either from their peers or their leaders. Again, no system alone can ensure sanity and decency since ultimately it comes down to the psychic threads knitting a collective together into one society, or realm. This is similar in principle to the difference between experience-based ‘spirituality’ and book-based religion. The rule of law, an excellent thing, is not impervious to being corrupted (witness the 10+ year imprisonment of Martin Armstrong in the US without trial or evidence of criminal activity).

Underlying several of your stories and objections is the theme of dealing with civil servants who have been less than civil, or actually harmful. Personally, I think there needs to be a more formal mechanism for public complaint and arbitration put into place ASAP. Any organisation larger than a ‘mom & pop’ has this. Would help prevent festering wounds when mistakes are made.

rita ashworth on April 19th, 2010 11:26 am

Dear James, and Ash

Wow another interesting post from James re the debate between individuality and monarchy emphasising here more the role of the individual in society.

Re concrete monarchy in the UK and its literature its a mixed historical bag I believe-certainly in war time a constitutional monarchy provides some notion of strength that is not purely jingoism. For example I have seen film of George VI who was a very nervous man and stuttered a lot on film but he did try to engage with all aspects of society and that would have been hard for him coming from such a nutty class-ridden society as the UK in the 1940s-so that's why I am not totally against the monarch principle.

However in the UK there has been much talk about containing all the hangers-on around the monarchy and modernising the monarchy so that in some way it would resemble more modern monarchies in Europe where here monarchs are more in contact with their people. So then again in society the monarch maybe would resemble the European model but with the spiritual qualities of a Shinto Emperor/King/Queen so it would be somewhat of a constitutional/natural vision of a monarch not the guru principle persay.

Of course in Shakespeare we have the discussion in a lot of the plays between the monarch/individual principles and of course dissent and non-dissent so that's why the bard is still so important because of course he is talking about when we act and don't act in situations according to whether we have got the ‘chutzpah’ of a monarch to do so –so yes its all very psychological as is the student/master relationship and the dynamic flowing between the two. And here I brought up Richard II because here we have an individual/monarch who did not heed what was going on around him or the advice of older wiser heads in the kingdom and although he was capable of being a monarch and also loved by some of his people he just lost the plot because of his narcissism. So that's why I was talking about the appropriateness of how you rule and how you work with people that requires a certain level of skill both concretely and metaphysically aka meditation practice. You cannot exclude others if you want the whole thing to gel together so you have to be open to people with their arguments about stuff and indeed be amenable to changing the course of your thought and actions in the world.

Re the monarch/individuality principle the practice of theatre is also very interesting to take part in to sort of recognise how group dynamics evolve. I have mentioned the Boal workshop I attended where Forum theatre was practiced before but I would like to mention the way here a kind of leadership style evolved in much more of a democratic way. Here we all sat in a circle and people would bring up stuff that they found was bothering them in society and then we would do plays on those issues. After some time if people coalesced around certain subjects the play would coalesce around that subject also. So it was up to the individual to speak up, go forward, with his/her take on the situation and then for that to be worked out practically in the workshop. I suppose by this process you got natural leaders emerging and that even if you did not say anything and you just had the hotheads coming forward at least you had people in the group observing the process so that was ‘good’ in itself. Yes, even the seeing of ‘leadership’ whether good/bad/indifferent was of some benefit to others in developing the qualities of a leader/facilitator.

Of course the description of this process does not entirely match the leader/individual dynamic within SI and other dharma groups also because here of course we have to be more mindful of including everyone in the process even the quieter students but I think the Forum theatre method could be modified to take account of this. It also seems to me that this dynamic of the individual versus his/her role in greater society is being played out more fruitfully in Latin America where one can concretely see the divisions in society more so than in the liberal democracies of the west. So yes might be good to engage with Latin American thinkers more so at Naropa.

So yes you can see from this post I am somewhat of in a mixed bag myself about the monarch/individual principle in that I probably favour the Boal/Latin American approach more favourably than the traditional concept of a monarchy. But being rooted in my culture I cannot entirely dismiss the monarch principle both psychically and concretely but I think it has to be greatly modified but the least I can say on this re SI is that in order for KOS to evolve you have to include and not exclude different ways of the shambhala teachings coming to fruition so I think what's the problem let people go their own way with these teachings don't try to maintain the control so much.

Just a typo also in my last post it should have read Queen Elizabeth I not II – also if people want to check out some excellent documentaries on religious stuff and monarchies they can download programmes from Channel 4 to watch –there is one on Elizabeth I to download.


Rita Ashworth

Of Note : Radio Free Shambhala on April 21st, 2010 10:10 pm

[…] Lipson (here) and Lee Weingrad have reported on the effects of the magnitude 7.1 earthquake on Surmang and on […]

James Elliott on April 22nd, 2010 4:37 pm


However we frame the Tsars, when so much wealth is concentrated next to so much poverty it can never be healthy or stable. The galas wealth can throw to celebrate itself, will not mitigate the social collapse that results. That’s a universal dynamic – a concentration of wealth or resources leading to collapse –we can see it in micro-biology, nature and physics as well as history, and a potential failing of all forms of government. Clearly America’s form of democracy has not overcome this weakness.

Your assumption about monarchies sounds a bit like New Age nostalgia that primitive societies were more spiritual and in harmony with their environment than we. But I think that as humans evolved from one success to the next, populations grew, and new difficulties arose, so new systems evolved. We are probably in such a cusp now.

Before the dark ages, kingdoms were more like glorified chiefdoms, occasionally unified by force, bribery or necessity, and fought with their neighbors for resources, manpower, and land. The first thing they explain on any castle tour is how the architecture is a battle strategy. Some great halls it would be mind-blowing to have a Shambhala Ball in… but a system of governing through serfdom and indentured slavery, we are all well shod of.

(A passing thought: it may well be that monarchy faded because banking systems became sophisticated enough that the concentration of wealth was too easy, too tempting, and therefore inherently unstable.)

‘Monarchy principle’ which can manifest in any form of government evokes less resistance. (not anti-monarchy btw, though absolute monarchy looks pretty toxic.)

But I still feel uncomfortable with your descriptions of a group’s perceptual experience of a coronation, or events around famous people as examples of luminosity, sacredness, etc, in large part because it is highly questionable that people outside of the privileged circle see it in the same way.

If we experience those sorts of peak tribal experiences without knowledge or concern about origins substance or cost, are we experiencing a form of realization, a glimpse at the nature of mind, or a form of group-think, a shared ‘National Enquirer’ illusion?

I know what you mean about how inspiring that feels. We had the good fortune to know VCTR and a few other dharma kings. That experience, tangible for even non-Buddhists, was nevertheless grounded in a field of individual discipline practice and study, and compassion. In short it is a description of hanging out with a realized teacher and his sangha.

I’m not at all sure one can create a government that is dependent on, or meant to create, such feelings, for a number of significant reasons.

This is akin to problems with Gross National Happiness. When we make the government responsible for our happiness, I don’t think we enter a mutual conspiracy of sacred outlook. I think we become mutually dependent in a symbionic way that tends to discourage genuine introspection and insight.

In the inspiration of the magic inherent in being able to stop the world.


Ash on April 22nd, 2010 8:45 pm

Well, the social collapse in Russia, whose working class citizenry had the highest standard of living in Europe at the time according to some reports I have read (but cannot now cite or vouch for) was certainly helped by the simple fact that within months of the ‘revolution’ all of Russia’s gold was shipped back to the bankers in Germany, London and New York who had financed the revolutionaries. Halifax NS had a minor part in this sordid tale: after arresting Lenin as a German agent (with whom we were at war at the time, and which he was) they were persuaded (presumably by the Americans) to let him go. From Germany he went over to Russia (trip paid for by German govt) and the rest, as they say, is history.

As idealistic as my depiction of Royalty no doubt is in terms of projecting such outlook onto actual history (which shall forever remain unknowable), I think there is a certain blackwashing of the feudal past that is the product of a narrative largely pushed by those with contemporary axes to grind, and therefore not necessarily more accurate.

My main thrust has been, admittedly, more intellectual or abstract, however, and not tied to historical evidence necessarily. That said, I would be very surprised if there were not many good examples of uplifted Royal Courts in many small kingdoms, principalities or chiefdoms, not only in Western culture but also Eastern.

Peak tribal experiences/sacred perception: of course not all peak experiences are sacred. But there were two parts to the thought:

1. group experience does heighten perception/state of mind. This sort of thing is very obvious at something like a football game. Very strong energy, almost tangible it is so obvious. Of course this can flip into the power of an angry mob, but the energy is there.

2. Societies are comprised of individuals, families, communities, regions etc., but ultimately of people. And I think most people everywhere throughout history are…. basically good (surprise surprise!). This goodness, when combined with strong group energy can indeed engender a form of sacred perception. Ordinary examples are times of birth, of marriage, death ceremonies, national reaction to sudden calamity like assassinations or earthquakes. Also war, I suppose. But I think birth, marriage and death are ordinary societal events at which such perceptions most often naturally arise. This being the case, I think it somewhat jaded to insist that any social system should not have any concern for engendering more of this sort of thing, that it has to be a dry, pseudo-scientific, or objective, or emotionless, systematic approach that most closely resembles the dry, if intellectually turgid, prose which university textbooks and intellectuals of all stripes (ab)use when describing such things. I think this is yet another manifestation of a contemporary sort of superstition -the mechanical, dead, objective world fallacy, one of the principal setting sun banes of these our ‘modern’ times.

IN THE THIRD REICH the central task of culture was the dissemination of the Nazi world view. What was the place of the intellect in this culture? The National Socialist world view was based upon the rejection of rationalism, and any emphasis upon man's reason was thought to be "divisive," destructive of the unity of the emotionally centered ideology which the whole Volk could understand. Man's "creativity" was put into the foreground of his striving, which was defined through art and literature as well as politics. The very totality of the world view embraced all of these as one interrelated cultural whole.

-- Nazi Culture: Intellectual, Cultural and Social Life in the Third Reich, by George L. Mosse

Lastly, the wealth of the monarch evidenced at a coronation is in fact the wealth of the entire society made manifest. As is the wealth of the monarch moment to moment.


Ash on April 22nd, 2010 9:04 pm

“This is akin to problems with Gross National Happiness. When we make the government responsible for our happiness, I don’t think we enter a mutual conspiracy of sacred outlook. I think we become mutually dependent in a symbiotic way that tends to discourage genuine introspection and insight.”

Two little points in response to that:

a) people must be made responsible for their government. That is the great challenge of any society, how to make that both true, and at the same time have well ordered, flexible, dynamic leadership along with class systems.

b) conspiracy is, by definition, something secret; such a national outlook, is not. Key difference.

If a) is not the case and ‘da people’ are essentially serfs to the dominant order, then I agree, it’s hopeless. But this doesn’t mean that trying to put up something purely mechanical is in any way better. At best, it means you have a well functioning animal realm, little more. That’s not a very great achievement in the larger scheme of things, although it still could be better than what we have now on several levels. Perhaps.

At the same time, to return to a provocative element in CTR’s teachings, ultimately a good citizen is one who knows how to surrender ego completely, learns how to serve others. This is the ideally ‘socialised’ individual. It is sort of the enlightened side of serfdom although in legal or class terms the two might be almost identical.

In any case, there is a reason, I think, why traditional monarchies of all sorts evolve far beyond the chief model which you often cite as the root form for monarchy. Although a chief/tribal leader/elder is manifesting certain aspects of what we have been calling the ‘monarchy principle’ in abstract terms, a full-blown Royal Lineage, established in a society over generations, is something a little more than that. More to the point, in most of these Royal models, the Monarch refrains from meddling over much in governmental affairs or, when they do, have empowered various Ministers, Mandarins and Generals to take up much of that burden and letting them carry it, only retaining the ultimate authority to empower and dismiss such individuals. The point being again that people have to run their own affairs, ultimately, and even a Monarch cannot do that for them. Not a good one, anyway. That being the case, what is the role of a Monarch?

I would argue that it has far more power on the gut and heart, than the head, level. It is an example, an inspiration, an ultimate authority, but above all a role that embodies the heart of a people, and also a person embodying that role whom the people find a communal object of focus, a psychic axis around which societal basic goodness and lungta is engendered and aroused. Something like that. Which is why dry systems language alone, though fashionable nowadays when discussing societal themes, falls so far short.

rita ashworth on April 23rd, 2010 6:02 am

Dear Ash, James

Ash I believe it was Leon Trotsky that was detained in Nova Scotia not Lenin – I have just checked this up on wiki. I remember hearing about this in Nova Scotia when I was there and I thought wow the British let him go and thinking Trotsky in Nova Scotia that would make an interesting play. Seems from Wiki that he stayed in Amherst, NS.

And of course it was Trotsky who as an army commander kept the White armies at bay –also checking this period up on utube it seems many governments in the west supported the monarchies White Army so that's maybe why the Tsar was executed.
Myself from my brief reading of the Russian revolution and its causes from school and now on utube for me the Tsar did not reform his government to a constitutional monarchy as many had done in Europe of course I don't know the pressures on him from those surrounding him at the time perhaps he was hidebound by the hangers-on that surround monarchies. One does have to be a astute monarch to devise a good pathway through difficulties, perhaps he was ill-advised.

Trotsky I find more interesting than Lenin in that he was into a world wide revolution the overhaul of the complete economic system so yes he had a very inquisitive mind about politics nearly bought a book on him here recently, but the bookshop closed down. Anyway re the communism angle of the shambhala kingdom I think Trotsky is more interesting to look into than Lenin –so yes will definitely read more about him.

Re the monarchy thing again I think I am in the middle between you and James in the discussion in that I can see that a constitutional monarchy does foster a sense of for a better word pride –in the Uk you cannot avoid the impact of the monarchical system of all aspects of our life from the law to our chequered history. And of course we have the C of E with the Monarch at the head of it but may be disestablishment will come soon due to the multiculturalism in the UK. So yes the monarchy now in the Uk at the present time – I think it is looked upon fondly but it cannot seem to be aggrandising wealth to it –the press is always on its heels re extravagances.

So from this brief swish at the monarchical system I would say that a monarchy in Shambhala has to follow somewhat of the same course but with the added system of maintaining ceremonies that manifested drala. Do the cherry-blossom ceremonies do that in Japan –- not sure about that. So yes that's how I see a Shambhala monarch in the most widest sense for all religious and secular people. So yes this would still preserve the notion of seeing the Shambhala king as a master warrior as well as given in the Sacred path of the Warrior book.

Re James perhaps more emphasis on the individual –- yes you gotta have it otherwise the monarchy is in competition with the notion of underdog which as you probably know too Ash is a British favourite as well. Uk renowned down the ages for throwing up poets, scholars, revolutionaries that have pointed out the inadequacies of the monarchical system -– so there is always that tension going on between the two spheres of government so that's why in the end we have a constitutional monarchy I think.

Myself in the sphere of the revolutionaries was attracted to the Levellers in the UK from Cromwell's time (read a magazine in the 70’s called the Levellers) certainly with the Levellers more so than Cromwell we are getting ordinary people really thinking about political affairs to the nth degree even to the point of being imprisoned and having their lives threatened. So maybe with the Levellers metaphor we have a image of the democracy level in the monarchy, democracy, communism triad acting more acutely -– it also ties in with Trotsky’s viewpoint a tot one may say. So yes we don’t have a docile democracy but a very active one in relation to the monarchy –- perhaps this is my main point about the triad.

Thought the discussion had stopped……..maybe you could swap positions Ash talking more about individual in society and James talking more about where he has observed ‘enlightened hierarchy’ that would be interesting –- I would be interested in this way at looking at the discussion.

Best from an again flying nation!

Rita Ashworth

Chris on April 23rd, 2010 2:04 pm

I don’t believe that the issue is Shambhala-Buddhism versus Vajrayana Buddhism and Shambhala as a separate path.

I think the issue needs to be seen in a bigger context of New Age Spiritual Materialism rampantly consuming and subsuming the Buddhadharma. New Age Spiritualism is easily commodified and marketed, and so the Dharma is commodified and marketed along with New Age Buddhism. SI should change the name to “New Age Buddhism” since Shambhala Buddhism has much more in common with New Ageism now, than Buddhism, not only in term of its content offerings, but in its emphasis on marketing and seeing the dharma as a product and commodity.

Just take a look the defining characteristics, as laid out by New Age Buddhist marketers at Shambhala Mountain Center ”Learn how to meditate, delve into the wisdom teachings of Tibetan Buddhism, stretch beyond your limits in a yoga retreat, or practice mindfulness in one of our contemplative arts programs. And if R&R is what you are seeking, consider one of our relaxing, rejuvenating Retreat & Renewal weekends. Discover this and more at our pristine six hundred-acre mountain valley meditation retreat center, a sanctuary and training ground for body, mind, and spirit”.

Spirit? Buddhism doesn’t believe in a spirit.

Or look at the any of the current seminar offerings at Shambhala Mountain Center:

“Sourcing your Soul;” “Awakening Artistry;”, “Evolve Your Brain;” “Conscious Relationships;” “Seat of the Soul;” “Intuitive Fitness for Women Yoga;” “The Way of the Happy Woman;” ”Psychotherapy as the Path to Liberation;” “Yoga to Manage Your Mood:” etc. etc.

New Ageism and Buddhadharma have had a rather long relationship, since Madame Blavatsky and earlier, and New Ageism has often mistakenly believed that it has had something in common with the genuine buddhadharma. In actuality, they couldn’t be more different, and that is why the mixing of these two has been so confusing for so many people. Most of the people now attracted to New Age Buddhism, in such forms as the current Shambhala Buddhism of SI, would never have been attracted to the genuine dharmic path, which required a commitment that took one away from mainstream, popular culture, was shocking to ego and all its subterfuges, and demanded a ”critical questioning of consensual reality” not only of the larger reality, but also of the consensual reality of dharma institutions and teachers, throughout the path. New Age Buddhism, on the contrary, allows people to believe they are “Buddhist,” without taken many risks, or questioning consensual reality, or confronting the “truth of suffering.” In fact, New Age Buddhism is always denying the truth of suffering, and presenting a package that will distract one from the truth of suffering, and being a New Age Buddhist is now an ornament to ego, a credential, another reference point for ego.

New Age Buddhism now has so much currency in our contemporary society, that recent scam artists in Boulder, Colorado bilked millions out of clients, simply by having the name “Dharma” in the company name, thereby convincing the New Age Buddhists that this was a legitimate investment group. The “Dharma Investment Group” is now being indicted for many counts of fraud, being simply a scam group involved in another ponzi scheme.

New Age Buddhists are into health, yoga, denial of old age and suffering. New Age Buddhists, after a few courses, begin teaching about buddhism on their blogs, having practiced just enough to “calm down” and make themselves feel good, and then going about their ”business as usual.” Just enough “dharma” but not so much that it interferes with their comfy professional lives and consumerism. In fact, New Age Buddhism is all about being comfortable, and seeking the latest program, seminar, that will lead to an ever more upward, but comfortable quest for “enlightenment” which is just about to happen, at the next weekend program.

Buddhadharma is not about utopian futures where a positive new apocalyptic future is envisioned. New Age Spiritualism and Shambhala Buddhism are about envisioning a future where people exponentially lift the whole society upward into a grand utopian “enlightened” society. Both New Ageism and Shambhala Buddhism have this futuristic view that our society, and the human race, is on an inevitable thrust forward into the age of Aquarius. This is why Shambhala Buddhism appeals to people who are really New Ageists at heart and who believe, like Madame Blavatsky and the Theosophists that the human race and its next “phase of development” is inevitable.

New Age Buddhism is always about “improving the individual” and it is always eclectic in its approach. Like Shambhala Buddhism, it tries to be all-inclusive, and confuses this with being open. New Age Buddhism has a bias against rational thought and examining things. It doesn’t want to look too closely at history, or critically examine current, contemporary issues within its own institutions. It has much in common with arm-chair liberalism, but its real thrust is being competitive in consumer society, gaining a market hold, and offering perpetual novelty to the masses who are easily bored. New Age Buddhism, like its founders, Theosophy, and other mystical New Age movements are Orientalists, fascinated with Tibetology and its myths. Shambhala Buddhists, like New Age Buddhists of the present and past, are not really interested in the history of Tibet, a culture whose superficial aspects it has embraced wholesale, because this would mean confronting the unpleasant aspects of another culture, which might turn out to be not so idealistic. The utopianism fantasies, and projection of Shangri-La, which New Ageism has always projected onto Tibet, would be sadly disabused, if even a cursory study of Tibetan history was undertaken. It would read not much differently than our own Western medieval history of monastics and peasants and surfs, and unequal distribution of wealth, and exploitation of others.

New Age Spiritual materialism is supporting the spread of this pseudo Buddhadharma.

The Buddhadharma, on the other hand, is about the truth. It is not about mysticism, or eternalism, or entertainment. The real Buddhadharma is not about a path of intensified self-improvement, spiritual programming as an adornment to ego.

And the particularly sad thing about this mishmash of Buddhadharma with New Ageism is how the Lamas, who know better, have gone along with this distorted view of the dharma to appease westerners and to keep the donations flowing. They, after all know better. They know this westernized new age, consumerism Buddhism is NOT the authentic dharma. They go along with it, and they don’t really tell us the truth about the dharma. Because if they did, very few people would be attracted to the real buddhadharma, and what would that do to their fund-raising in the West?

Carl Mcfadden esq. on April 23rd, 2010 8:53 pm

Chris, your description of new age Buddhism, though long and passionate, isn’t an accurate description of what is actually happening. If that was all Shambhala Mountain was offering it would be one thing. But you failed to mention the GES [Great Eastern Sun], Windhorse, and Drala (three Shambhala Training levels over about a week) that just happened, the Half Dhathun, the winter Dhatun, Sutrayana, Chakrasamvara intensive, VY Fire Puja and intensive (separate programs), Werma and Ngondro intensives, Maitri, Sutrayana and Vajrayana seminaries, Warrior Assembly, Scorpion Seal Assemblies, or any of the programs that are actually attended by the Sangha, not to mention the visit from Khandro Rinpoche, or the Sufis who are just renting the space.

You don’t really seem to have any sense of magic. The land and the Stupa absolutely radiate the mind of the Vidyadhara. Everyone there for a few hours, or a few years experiences that, from the day visitor, to the volunteers, the core staff, to the the ones who come and sit in chairs, listening to someone talk. . . all decent people. Their presence doesn’t make the Sangha less genuine, it actually gives them an opportunity to experience a container created by Shambhalians, to experience the land, and visit the Stupa.

Retreat and Renewal consists of a room or a dorm, meditation instruction if you want, access to a shrine room and staff sitting, and of course, food.

After that you get to wander around in the barren beautiful darkness of SMC winter. That’s what they experience when they get there. Just their minds. Of course Sangha can also participate in the various feasts.

You make it sound so ugly, but since your previous posts make it clear that you really have no idea what is actually going on, that you have grown tremendously opaque, obsessing over the fourteenth century, and drawing wild conclusions based on little information, I believe you have become quite irrelevant.

Chris on April 23rd, 2010 11:19 pm

In March of 2010, 170,000 people, worldwide, investigated the Scientology. org site. That same month, 32,000 people, worldwide logged onto the site, despite a 10-year marketing blitz. Now that, Mr. Esq. is “irrelevancy.”

Carl Mcfadden esq. on April 23rd, 2010 11:27 pm

You are quite completely insane.

Chris on April 24th, 2010 1:15 am

Thank you Mr. Esq. Very nice. Of course, cult-members always resort to radical marginalization and name-calling of anyone, particularly calling someone “insane,” that dares to question what is happening. It’s so predictable now, it is boring. Fortunately, the statistics show that you are much less relevant than Scientology to the world. The world just doesn’t agree that “you have something they are dying for.” That is just the facts, despite millions spent on marketing by SI over the last 10 years, while bankrupting the community, literally and spiritually, and mixing the buddhadharma with every new age fad to come along.

Carl Mcfadden esq. on April 24th, 2010 1:54 am

Chris, I said that you are insane, not anyone else, just you. Incidentally, scientology had more hits in the eighties than Trungpa Rinpoche too, as if that was the point


Ash on April 24th, 2010 10:00 am

Rita, yes, sorry, Trotsky not Lenin. Should have googled first to check! Recommend before studying T in depth that you do a little background research into who was funding him in both US and Germany before the revolution and during WWI. Although the public narrative always emphasizes the individual as the driving force behind things like ‘revolutions’, my suspicion is that this is all mainly propaganda.

A last little thought about the monarchy/individual theme: the monarchy -– or one could say ‘perceived royalty’ is not the product of the individual person in the role alone, rather also the mutual creation of an entire society over time, and thus an expression of its net rising & setting sun qualities. I think it is partly because of the emphasis on individualism in the past century that we have a hard time viewing situations like ‘Tsars’ or ‘Queens’ with anything other than an ego-based view, whereas in fact these forms are expressions of more traditional cultures wherein there was a much greater degree of socialisation and ‘collectivism’.

There is an interesting article in the Independent (viz. UK Election) about the long-term shift from individualism in the 19th century to collectivism in the early 20th century, albeit I am not sure I buy the author’s main historical premises viz. the 19th century being the individualist era. In any case, there has certainly been a swing from collective to individual view the past few decades and of course such widely-held views affect how Buddhist teachings and sanghas, including S.I., perceive themselves and function within the overall societal context.

In other words, when discussing things like monarchy, communism, the path etc., there are deeply held a priori assumptions which are often not just taken for granted, but overlooked completely. But it is quite possible that what many of us mean today when discussing ‘monarchy’ is far divorced from what it meant in actual dynamics during periods when it was an established form.

In any case, European history the past two or more millennia is largely one of both reducing the influence of royal lineages (Greek and Roman Republics) and then reviving them mainly as a tactical means of managing affairs albeit under the authority of the Church as higher power, and then finally relegating them to largely ceremonial functions, albeit still able to remain in the heart zone of a culture providing a common reference point for national identity, something which is intellectually unfashionable but nevertheless seems to happen spontaneously as long as such figures exist (such as QE II in UK today, despite the Windsors rather questionable background as Royals in general, or British Royals in particular).

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Chris on April 24th, 2010 10:58 am

What is insane is to keep believing that 10 million are coming, (the Sakyong’s stated goal) someday, when 32,000 globally in one month (and that was the highest month ever) checked out the site. It is insane to keep “building out” on the basis of this fantasy 10 million coming, while the whole mandala is in financial crisis. That is not magic, that is magical thinking. It is insane to keep believing that this is still CTR’s mandala when he would have raged against this new age spiritual materialism bullshit mixed up with the dharma, to attract new students. All the insults in the world won’t change how this has devolved over the years. SI can’t even pay the salaries of the people who have worked for decades for them, yet is advertising for a new director for the San Francisco Dzong at 60,000 a year to what? Market Shambhala Buddhism of course in the new “hot spot”. When things don’t work out there, there is always Malaysia and Taiwan.

John Tischer on April 24th, 2010 11:27 am

I think Chris’ points would have been more glaring if SMC did not continue offering Buddhist and Shambhala programs. And I think some would reason that SMC is just trying to survive by offering a variety of programs to bring in revenue….regardless of their compatibility to the Buddhist path. That SMC is in such a shape is due to Harvard MBAs and a business model that forced it in that direction. The paramount concern was the growth of SMC, not the continuation and propagation of the teachings.

Also, the end of volunteerism as a main sustaining force has led to more compromise in what needs to be offered in order to bring people in. Instead of offering something unique and unadulterated, the “product” becomes enslaved by market forces. This was a choice, and no alternate strategy seems ever to have been considered. The culture changed at SMC. The murky, undefined and superficial qualities of “New Age” approaches couldn’t help but affect that culture. Many of the staff at SMC, myself included, were outraged when Osho students were allowed to hold programs there. Now, I imagine, no one would blink. It’s the old “end justifies means” logic that has never produced the desired outcome.
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Re: Former teacher at Boulder's Shambhala accused of sexuall

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Part 1 of 2

Liberalism, Allegiance, and Obedience: The Inappropriateness of Loyalty Oaths in a Liberal Democracy
Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence Vol. XXVII, No. 1 (January 2014)
by Liav Orgad


Margaret Roper: God more regards the thoughts of the heart than the words of the mouth. Or so you’ve always told me.

Thomas More: Yes.

Roper: Then say the words of the oath and in your heart think otherwise.

More: When a man takes an oath, Meg, he’s holding his own self in his own hands. Like water. And if he opens his fingers then—he needn’t hope to find himself again.

-- Robert Bolt, A Man for All Seasons (New York: Vintage Books, 1990) at 140

The Article explores one manifestation of loyalty in liberal philosophy and political practice—loyalty oaths for immigrants. In many democratic states, immigrants seeking to become citizens must take a loyalty oath. Although the content and form of the oath varies, its common feature is that it is mandatory—a prerequisite for citizenship.

Loyalty oaths are particularly interesting because they are a unique platform through which to examine the interrelationship between constitutional law and immigration law. Oaths serve as a means for an immigrant to subscribe to the tenets of the community. However, before imposing an oath on newcomers, the community must define its tenets. The substance of the oath we demand of them is about us. Immigration policy, thus, echoes constitutional identity by mirroring not only the qualities that we value in others but also by reflecting what defines us.

At first glance, citizenship oaths do not raise serious problems of political philosophy. After all, an oath only entails reciting a few words in a public ceremony.

However, a closer review reveals forceful reasons against the use of loyalty oaths in liberal societies. First, the duty of loyalty, imposed on naturalized persons, seeks to influence one’s character traits, emotional attitudes, and internal beliefs; it requires more than just the liberal duty of conformity to the law. Second, the obligation to take a loyalty oath in order to secure citizenship appears to limit individual liberties of the oath-takers, infringe upon their freedom of conscience, and in fact discriminate against naturalized citizens as compared to natural-born citizens, who never must take the oath. In spite of these strong claims against loyalty oaths, the institution of the oath remains an understudied topic.

The Article argues that the use of loyalty oaths is a symptom of a genuine problem in the liberal theory. In some forms, liberalism means to obey the law and otherwise be left alone. But stronger forms of liberalism further require belief in liberal values and institutions. The justification for requiring it is grounded on liberalism itself—its being essential for upholding individual liberties.1 The challenge has always been how to preserve liberal values and institutions without crossing the liberal line into ‘indoctrination.’ However, when the benchmark of loyalty becomes belief rather than behavior, when it is faith rather than action, it gets close to the point of being illiberal, even if its goal is to keep liberalism alive. The more loyalty liberal democracies demand, the less liberal they become. When liberal democracies require “loyalty to the law” (allegiance)—and not just “conformity with the law” (obedience)—they challenge liberalism itself. The Article concludes that loyalty oaths yield high costs but have low benefits, and suggests abandoning them as a legal institution.

The Article proceeds as follows: Part I reveals a global trend in comparative immigration law—the growing appeal to loyalty oaths. Part II shows that modern law still embraces a duty of allegiance in addition to the general duty of obedience and explores the differences between them. Part III traces the function of loyalty oaths and demonstrates that, regardless of the oath’s historical purpose—being a form of social contract, political test, and nation-building symbol— its modern purpose is vague. Part IV presents three liberal problems raised by loyalty oaths: 1) they infringe upon the rule of law; 2) they violate freedom of conscience; and 3) they discriminate against naturalized citizens as compared to natural-born citizens. Part V concludes.

I. The Revival of Loyalty Oaths

In formal terms, a loyalty oath is a statement made by an immigrant acknowledging a duty of loyalty before becoming a citizen. It is often called an Oath of Allegiance, although other titles exist. Technically, stating “I swear” (pledge, affirm, vow, promise, etc.) constitutes taking an oath. In substantive terms, the immigrant is not required to pronounce the words “I swear” but, instead, to acknowledge a substantive duty of loyalty by other means, such as by signing certain immigration documents specifying a duty of loyalty.2

An analysis of loyalty oaths in different democratic states reveals the following. First, oaths are a popular legal institution. Second, they are the final step in the naturalization process. Democratic states do not usually demand a formal oath as a prerequisite for entry. Third, oaths ordinarily apply to all types of immigrants, including spouses of citizens and refugees. Fourth, the object of loyalty is varied—it can include the Queen or other sovereign, the Constitution, democratic principles, the Republic, human rights, and national culture. Finally, the essence of loyalty is diverse. In Austria, for example, the immigrant has three obligations: to “be a loyal citizen of the Republic,” to “conscientiously abide by the laws,” and to “avoid everything that might harm the interests and the reputation of the Austrian Republic.”3 In Ireland, the immigrant must declare “fidelity to the [Irish] Nation” as well as “loyalty to the State.”4 In France, new regulations (2012) demand every naturalized French to adhere to “the principles, values, and symbols of French democracy” and be loyal to “French values.”5 In Australia, the immigrant must take an interesting oath providing that: “From this time forward, I pledge my loyalty to Australia and its people; whose democratic beliefs I share; whose rights and liberties I respect; and whose laws I will uphold and obey.”6

In Britain, there have been two loyalty oaths. The traditional Oath of Allegiance requires every immigrant to “be faithful and bear true allegiance to her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Her Heirs and Successors.”7 From 2004, every immigrant must also pledge loyalty to the United Kingdom: “I will give my loyalty to the United Kingdom and respect its rights and freedoms. I will uphold its democratic values. I will observe its laws faithfully and fulfill my duties and obligations as a British citizen.”8 Recently, as part of the debate on the meaning of Britishness, a government committee headed by Lord Goldsmith suggested adopting a third oath, an American-style Pledge of Allegiance in public schools. The committee had found that there had been a diminution in British identity. To foster social unity, it turned back to the old means of the oath to the Queen.9 In Canada, new citizens should swear allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in order to get Canadian citizenship. The oath declares:10

I, [name], do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada and fulfill my duties as a Canadian citizen.

The Canadian oath demands more than simply being an obedient citizen. It requires a person to be “faithful and bear true allegiance” to the Queen, the Head of the Church of England, and extends to her heirs and successors.

In Israel, the present oath of naturalization is minimal—non-Jewish immigrants should swear loyalty to the State of Israel.11 However, a new bill, suggested by the Israeli government, proposes that every immigrant shall swear loyalty to Israel as a “Jewish and democratic State.”12 Immigrants are not asked to accept the existence of a Jewish state but, instead, to swear loyalty to a Jewish state.

In the United States, the oath dates back to 1790. In one of its first acts, the Naturalization Act of 1790, Congress required every newcomer to the New World to take an oath of allegiance “to support the Constitution of the United States.”13 The Naturalization Act of 1795 added a pledge to “defend the Constitution and laws of the United States against all enemies … [and] bear true faith and allegiance to the same.”14 The oath has essentially remained the same ever since.15 In addition, the American oath requires not only loyalty to the U.S. Constitution but also to “entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty.”16 Demanding not just loyalty to the U.S. Constitution, but sole loyalty, presents a case of a “jealous” or “greedy” nation.17

The importance of loyalty oaths is also recognized in international law. The International Court of Justice held that “international law leaves it to each State to lay down the rules governing the grant of its nationality.”18 It further ruled that the process of naturalization involves both the “breaking of [the old] bond of allegiance” and the “establishment of a new bond of allegiance.”19 In fact, the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness provides that states can refuse to grant citizenship and even deprive a person of his or her citizenship—including those situations in which the person would stay stateless—in cases of disloyalty to the state or “given definite evidence of his determination to repudiate his allegiance to the Contracting State,” or whenever the person has taken an oath of allegiance to another state.20

While countries place great importance on loyalty oaths, there is no underlying theory directing them as a group. Oaths are a grab bag: their diverse objectives, content, and form present a wide range of issues. However, there is a common denominator among them—the fact that nations require loyalty to an object implies that a difference exists between allegiance to the law and obedience to the law. Both citizens and noncitizens must obey the law, yet only citizens owe an additional duty of allegiance. What is the added value of allegiance upon obedience? It is essential to discuss the duty of allegiance before exploring the duty to take an oath of allegiance, because oaths presuppose the existence of a duty of allegiance.

II. Allegiance and Obedience

A theory of allegiance was first fully articulated in the Calvin’s Case by Chief Justice Edward Coke.21 Justice Coke did not elaborate on the distinction between allegiance and obedience, yet a glimpse of medieval England provides a better understanding of this distinction.

Common law demanded allegiance to the King and obedience to acts of Parliament. Allegiance was a natural duty “due from all men born within the King’s dominions immediately upon their birth.”22 The duty of allegiance was absolute, perpetual, and indelible.23 The duty of obedience, conversely, was not natural, but legal, and thus could be relinquished.
Another difference is related to the added value of allegiance. Allegiance was “a true and faithful obedience of the subject due to his Sovereign.”24 Allegiance thus was about faithfulness and devotion to an object. A subject had to legally obey the law of Parliament, yet show faithful devotion to the order of the King—for right and wrong, for better and for worse. Allegiance was more than blind obedience to all laws at all times. It implied a positive attitude, an affection or attachment toward the object of loyalty (the law, the Queen, the King). Further, it required the “subordination of one’s own private interest in favour of giving what is due, and perhaps also the exclusion of other legitimate interests.”25

The American colonies broke away from three fundamental premises of allegiance. First, the colonists showed that loyalty to the King was intertwined with recognizing the Parliament’s authority.26 The King and the Parliament were separate entities; yet disavowing the duty to one meant breaching the duty to the other. One cannot be loyal to the King when openly opposing the laws of Parliament (or vice versa). And yet, while the American Revolution blurred the distinction between allegiance and obedience,27 old theories of loyalty still exist. In Canada, for instance, naturalized citizens must pledge to obey the law and be loyal to Queen Elizabeth II. This formula creates a potential conflict between allegiance and obedience. If, albeit an extreme example, a war breaks out between Canada and Britain, a Canadian citizen must obey Canadian law yet be loyal to Queen Elizabeth II, who is nominally the Commander-in-Chief of the British Army.

Second, the American Revolution put an end to the doctrine of allegiance to the King in his personal capacity and replaced it with a theory of allegiance to a legal entity. The English concept of subjecthood was based on feudal ties between the King and his subjects. The modern notion of citizenship, however, presumes legal rather than natural ties between a citizen and a state. Allegiance is not owed to a natural person but to a corporate personhood representing the eternal interests of the Crown.28 Thus, one can be loyal to the legal entity of the King-in-Parliament even if one opposes the King’s order. The American rebels appealed to allegiance to the eternal interests of the Crown, although they opposed the rule of King George III. The United States recognizes this idea in its preamble by according sovereignty to ‘the People,’ a legal entity that exists regardless of a specific time/place.29

Finally, the American Revolution grounded allegiance in contract law theory rather than in natural law. In common law, every subject owed allegiance from the moment he was born. Allegiance was a matter of natural law and not a voluntary act of consent. William Blackstone noted in this direction that “natural allegiance is such as is due from all men born within the king’s dominions immediately upon their birth”; it was “a debt of gratitude” for being lucky enough to be born under the King’s protection.30 During the American Revolution, allegiance became a matter of consent. Allegiance turned into a contractual obligation that is defined by law and terminated by law.31 The rapid diffusion of Lockean theories of social contract and consent challenged Coke’s and Blackstone’s old ideas of indelible allegiance. The theory of perpetual allegiance gradually lost coherence and integrity. This development was dramatic since if the law, rather than nature, creates the duty of allegiance (and constitutes its source), then, as noted by John Locke, “[a]llegiance [is] nothing but an Obedience according to law.”32 Allegiance is due because it is required by law.

Contractual allegiance implied another conclusion—that allegiance is conditional. This idea was recognized long before. The pledge of allegiance taken by subjects of the King of Aragon signified it: “We, who are as good as you, swear to you, who are not better than we, to accept you as our Kind and sovereign lord, provided that you observe all our liberties and laws; but if not, then not.”33 In Ancient Greece, a mutual oath was the foundation of the Spartan monarchy. Even the King had to take an oath of allegiance as an expression of a mutual bond. The King swore: “I will exercise my kingship in accordance with established laws of the state;” in return, the people of Sparta swore: “so long he [the king] shall abide by his oath we will not suffer his kingship to be shaken.”34 The American rebels adopted this concept. They argued that allegiance and protection are the quid pro quo of a mutual contract, each given in return for the other. If the King does not protect his people, the people are not bound by allegiance. In fact, the breach of the bond of loyalty is what the American Revolution was all about. The American colonies did not consider the revolution to be treasonous since they believed King George III was the first side to break the mutual contract of loyalty.35

The modern concept of allegiance emerged from English roots. During the American Revolution, allegiance was gradually transformed from a natural duty into a legal duty, owed to a legal entity, rather than to a living person, and based on a mutual, rather than one-sided relationship. Nevertheless, allegiance is still different from obedience in at least two senses. It is broader, because it requires devotion to the best interests of the community even when there is no legal duty of obedience. A person is loyal when he or she unquestionably follows specific patterns of behavior.36 In addition, allegiance is narrower than obedience because allegiance calls for identification. It seeks to assure not only compliance with the law, but also commitment to the law. “Faith only, and inward sincerity,” John Locke observed long ago, “are the things that procure acceptance.”37 A person is loyal when he or she faithfully feels affection to the object of loyalty.38 “Loyalty,” as once held by the U.S. Supreme Court, “is a matter of mind and of heart.”39

To sum up, historically, allegiance and obedience were substantially different. This difference was seemingly blurred by the American Revolution. Modern law, however, sustains some aspects of the old difference, thereby raising the question about the essence of loyalty and its added value. In contemporary immigration law, it seems that the duty of loyalty has three additional burdens related to an immigrant’s character traits (good citizens), emotional attitudes (patriotic citizens), and level of conformity (devoted citizens).40 In order to maintain these added burdens, liberal democracies should suggest a theory justifying the duty of loyalty.

For the sake of this discussion, I assume that the concept of loyalty is justified and that some duties of loyalty can be justified.41 I further assume that the duty of loyalty calls for some level of compliance, either because it is a legitimate duty or because it is based upon other justifications (fairness, consent, friendship, gratitude, etc.). Given these arguable but plausible propositions, I explore the wisdom of one manifestation of loyalty—the oath—and its possible purposes.

III. The Function of Loyalty Oaths

This part explores different purposes of loyalty oaths by tracing their history: First, ancient oaths, which demonstrate the function of the oath as a contract; then, reformation oaths, which present the oath as a political test; and finally, American oaths, which illustrate the oath as a nation-building symbol. On the whole, this part shows that the oath holds no solid purpose and, even if it has a purpose, there is no evidence to indicate that it is rationally served by the oath. The oath, hence, has little benefit.

A. Oaths as a Contract

Oaths can be viewed as the most ancient form of contract. Their origin is rooted in an era in which people believed oaths possessed a magical power: mere words could kill or heal people. The oath’s power relied on faith in its magic and naturally implied a belief in God or other supreme being. Oaths acted as self-inflicted curses used to secure that a promise is fulfilled.42 They included a ‘curse clause’ to indicate the expected harm for violating the contract, and a ‘blessing clause’ to mark the expected gain for its fulfillment.43 Legal sanction was not essential since a breach of an oath was tantamount to breaking a contract with God; ‘Gods became the tools whereby the oath caused to operate.’44 The expression ‘so help me God’ is the invocation of God as a partner to the oath.45 The contractual power of the oath, as Daniel Webster observed, “is found on a degree of consciousness that there is a Power above us that will reward our virtues and punish our vices.”46

In Ancient Greece, the oath gained its political nature. Oaths acted as a contract between men and society.
The Ephebic Oath, required from every man before entering into College, provided a basis for the social contract in Athens and had to be taken by every Athenian as a prerequisite for having the status of a citizen.47 The shift in the function of the oath—from a religious appeal to the Supreme Being to a social contract—can explain why the oath is required. Membership in a community requires agreement with some rules. While existing members presumably agree to these rules by tacit consent—implied by continued residence in the host country or maintaining citizenship,48 a doubtful proposition49— new members are required to express explicit consent to the rules of a community. Oaths are thus an expression of a contractual loyalty. Here, too, the oath is founded on religious roots—acquiring new citizenship is tantamount to converting to a new religion. New members must explicitly consent to the rules.

The contractual nature of an oath may also be an act of specification of a legal obligation. At some law schools, students must sign a contract before taking an exam stating their awareness of the rules of ethics and promising to obey them during the exam. The purpose of these contracts is to increase the students’ awareness of the code of conduct during exams. But this raises some interesting questions: Does the contract add new obligations to those written in the student regulations? Is a student, who cheats on an exam after signing the contract, guiltier than a student who commits the same offence without signing the contract? Or does the contract not affect legal responsibility, but instead intend to have a psychological effect that deters fraud? In common law, the function of the oath as a contract intended to concretize the duty of loyalty—but also to add a contractual duty—as Blackstone noted: “The sanction of an oath, it is true, in case of violation of duty, makes the guilt still more accumulated, by superadding perjury to treason: but it does not increase the civil obligation to loyalty.”50 The oath, then, did not affect the scope of the duty of loyalty, but added a new legal obligation; an act of disloyalty was a violation of both natural law and contract law.

The function of the oath as a contract raises some queries, which do not relate to the oath as a contract but rather to its form and content. First, as for the oath’s form, why is it necessary to oblige people to state the words rather than sign a legal document? The oath can be a written contract—a legal document that one must sign in the immigration interview, similar to the procedure of opening a bank account. One may be willing to sign a contract, yet find it difficult to declare some words publicly. Second, as for the oath’s content, loyalty oaths create different classes of social contracts since the duties of loyalty taken by naturalized citizens in the oath are broader than those required of natural-born citizens. Most oaths do not only specify legal obligations, which are written in the law, but also intend to add new contractual obligations, which are not written in the law, thereby expanding the scope of the duty of loyalty. Third, in some situations a contract is inadequate. If an oath implies devotion, then X can agree to love Y but no contract can ensure true love. And finally, the scope of loyalty depends on the contract’s terms and the circumstances in which one promises to be loyal; it yields a confined duty of loyalty.

It may be that the oath is not a legal contract but a moral promise. The fact that one makes promises does not mean that one drafts a contract. Take wedding vows.51 The bride and the groom promise to be faithful partners and love one another from this day until death. Nobody goes to court to seek a remedy because her partner no longer loves her, even though he promised to love her “in sickness and in health” until “death do us a part.” The vow is a moral statement, not a legal contract. The ceremony serves important non-legal functions, such as reminding the couple of the seriousness of their choice and of the weighty obligation they undertake. Couples who follow the vow do it not because of a religious system of rewards and punishments (though in some religions, the vow is binding) but due to a good conscience. However, the analogy of loyalty oaths to wedding vows fails, because the oath is a legal promise followed by a legal sanction. An oath-taker who breaks the oath will not merely be morally condemned for false-swearing, but may be legally guilty for breaching a contract.

B. Oaths as a Political Test

The modern concept of allegiance was developed in medieval England. Fealty tied vassals and lords52 and obligated fidelity in return for protection. Oaths of allegiance were largely derived from oaths of fealty.53 Allegiance was the obligation that subjects owed to the King in return for his protection.54 The incorporation of the oath of fealty into the public sphere occurred in 1534 when Henry VIII’s hopes of reconciliation with Rome were exhausted. Henry passed The Act for Establishment of the King’s Succession,55 forcing recognition of the validity of his marriage to Anne Boleyn. Henry invoked the oath in defense against the Catholic Church to ensure that the loyalty of his subjects was to the new Church of England and not to the Pope. He knew that his subjects had doubts as to the validity of his marriage, which could consequently undermine the validity of the throne. The oath was a mechanism forcing subjects to recognize his marriage.56

Once established, oaths became a common means. After the end of his marriage to Anne Boleyn, Henry passed a new Act that substituted Henry’s new wife, Jane Seymour, for his previous wife.57 This time, the Act provided that a refusal to take the oath would be considered high treason. In 1544, the oath was replaced one more time to state:58

I, A. B., having now the veil of darkness of the usurped power authority and jurisdiction of the see and Bishop of Rome clearly taken away from mine eyes, do utterly testify and declare in my conscience that neither the see nor the Bishop of Rome nor any foreign potentate hath nor ought to have any jurisdiction power or authority within this realm neither by God’s law nor by any other just law or means … I shall bear faith truth and true allegiance to the King’s Majesty and to his heirs and successors.

Loyalty oaths were developed in a moment of instability in English history resulting from the break with the Catholic Church. Oaths were a political mechanism to test loyalty to the Crown by obliging subjects to recognize the superiority of the King as the only governor of the realm (an Oath of Supremacy), pledge loyalty to the King (an Oath of Allegiance), and declare against transubstantiation (an Oath of Abjuration).59 The emergence of oaths continued in the next centuries—and popped up especially in times of public hysteria60—until the passage of The Promissory Oaths Act of 1868, which reduced the English oath to its current version.61

The function of the oath as a political test raises a fundamental problem. Empirically, one can reasonably argue that loyalty oaths are a fallacy. If there is one nation that knows this well, it is the United States of America. The American Founding Fathers swore loyalty to King George, yet rebelled against him. Benjamin Franklin noted that “there could be no reliance on their oaths” as they are “the last recourse of liars;” James Wilson wrote that “a good government did not need them, and a bad government could not or ought not be supported.”62 In the most detailed review of oaths in America, Harold Hyman shows that, in an attempt to secure loyalty, oaths provoked disloyalty.63 The most stringent attack on loyalty oaths came from Noah Webster. “Ten thousand oaths” could not create a faithful subject, he argued; oaths of allegiance are a “badge of folly, borrowed from the dark ages of bigotry.”64 In referring to the wisdom of the oath, Webster declared:65

If the government of Pensylvania [sic] is better than that of Great Britain, the subjects will prefer it, and abjuration is perfectly nugatory. If not, the subject will have his partialities in spite of any solemn renunciation of a foreign power … I pray God to enlighten the minds of the Americans. I wish they would shake off every badge of tyranny. Americans!—The best way to make men honest, is to let them enjoy equal rights and privileges … No man will commence enemy to a government which [gives] him as many privileges as his neighbors enjoy.

The debate over the function of the oath as a political test continued in the First Congress. Congressman John Page strongly opposed adopting oaths in America. Loyalty oaths, he argued, do not create good citizens. “If we have good laws,” he said, newcomers “will find it in their interest to be good citizens.”66 Page considered loyalty oaths as an inquisition: “Indeed, sir, I fear, if we go on as is proposed now, in the infancy of our Republic, we shall, in time, require a test of faith and politics, of every person who shall come into these States.”67 Congressman Boudinot similarly stated that he “always had considered oaths of allegiance as an imposition. They might keep away men who had scruples, because they had principles; others would swear, and break off, when it suited them.”68 Congressman Hartley found oaths to be false and thought that only a long residency requirement can “assure us of a man’s becoming a good citizen.”69

The oath’s function as a political test is not just empirically false, but also normatively problematic. Oaths act as a bond of trust; taking a loyalty oath indicates that an oath-taker is trustworthy. While this requirement may be reasonable, history shows that oaths were carefully designed to intimidate and exclude non-conformists due to political reasons. In the United States, for instance, this was the case during the Civil War, World War II, and the Cold War. As Chapter IV presents, testing one’s mind and heart yields high cost in term of individual liberties.

One final point: To a great extent, the history of the oath is a history of fear. Oaths were a sign of weakness and were used by the side which perceived a threat to its power. “No loyalty oath is required when loyalty is not in question,” Cass Sunstein claimed.70 Loyalty oaths try to restore conventions that have either ceased to exist or have been seriously jeopardized. The revival of loyalty oaths mirrors exactly the opposite. It reflects the decline of loyalty to an object because it shows the need to protect it. The words of the oath are needed precisely since they have been called into question. Sunstein rightly argued that “sometimes the purpose of oaths is to delegitimate heterogeneity by asserting unity. When this is so, the very existence of the oath tends, ironically, to confirm the existence of the problem.”71

C. Oaths as a Nation-Building Symbol

Loyalty oaths have historically been viewed as one of the greatest forces of society— a nation-building symbol, similar to the flag and the anthem. Montesquieu attributed the strength of the Romans to their use of oaths: “the oath had so much force among these people that nothing attached them more to the laws. In order to observe an oath, they often did what they would never have done for glory or for the homeland.”72 The idea of loyalty as a nation-building symbol was further developed by Rousseau. For Rousseau, loyalty is instrumental; it is a means to an end. Loyalty is relevant only to the extent that it is essential to secure freedom. In order to secure freedoms, citizens must share a bond—its minimum level is controversial— which is based upon developing irrational attachments by appealing to national festivals and rites, not only through rational self-interest in freedom.73

Oaths of allegiance promote solidarity and a feeling of belonging. They aim to create in-and out-groups but, more importantly, to unify the in-group.74 According to this view, the words of the oath are less powerful without the rite. Signing a few words on a piece of paper cannot produce in itself the required sentiment of unity. Rather, the dramatic moment of taking the oath in a public ceremony is what makes the oath memorable. The ceremony usually includes patriotic rituals, such as saluting the flag, reciting the words of the oath in public, and swearing on the Bible—all of which add to the dramatic air of the event.

The success of the oath of allegiance as a nation-building symbol, however, is not self-evidently true. Social science provides some evidence to support the proposition that some people are more prone than others to be either loyal or disloyal. It offers two ways to identify these people. The first way is relative; it touches upon character traits. Some people are more likely to be loyal than others due to specific traits they possess. The second way is situational; it defines a social structure in which people are generally prone to be more loyal. And yet, social science provides no evidence to support the premise that an oath has a positive influence on one’s sense of loyalty.75 Aside from anecdotal evidence, there is no evidence indicating that stating words of loyalty can foster social cohesion. We do not know what transformation occurs in the hearts and minds of people taking a loyalty oath.76 In fact, one may reasonably claim that oaths are counterproductive: a student reciting the Pledge of Allegiance each morning in public school may develop negative, rather than positive, feelings toward the object of loyalty. Think about a man who asks his spouse to declare her love every morning (especially when he does not do the same). After a year, would she love him more or less? Do we really believe that repetition of words—say, “I, solemnly, sincerely, and truly declare, affirm, and swear,”—leads people to be more attached to the object of loyalty? And even if oaths are effective to foster social cohesion, their efficiency obviously depends on their content and context. Forcing a Scotsman or a Catholic Irish to swear allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II, or a non-Jewish immigrant to pledge loyalty to a certain ideology or religion (a Jewish State), can exacerbate social divisions, rather than create social unity. Moreover, unlike pledges in public schools, which are repeated daily, the immigration oath is a one-time event held for just a few minutes. It is naïve to assume that the oath has enough impact on the newcomer’s identity. Civic integration is a product of a long process indeed, not a one-time event.

To be clear: my claim is not against nation-building symbols—I accept the premise that liberal states must maintain a minimum bond holding people together to survive—or against the use of legal means to encourage loyalty. I entirely agree with Gerald Neuman’s statement that “a multicultural society must be held together by loyalty to constitutional principles.”77 My doubt is rather empirical— on the nexus between loyalty oaths and the promotion of social cohesion—and normative—on the coercive nature of oaths as a direct imposition of loyalty. The law can create social conditions that promote a higher degree of commitment and identification. But loyalty cannot be directly imposed by a legal order and cannot be created by the power of oaths alone; attempting to do so would be empirically false and normatively wrong.

To conclude, loyalty oaths played a significant role in human history. To a certain degree, oaths still serve important goals in the contemporary world, especially in ceremonial functions, and in particular among religious communities who have faith in the magical power of the oath.78 However, in a largely secular world, the rationale and justification of the oath is more elusive. It is not just that the benefits of the oath are unclear. Loyalty oaths yield costs. I turn to this now.

IV. Three Problems about Loyalty Oaths

Obviously, if oaths are taken lightly—as in the case of Margaret, who asked her father, Thomas More, to “say the words of the oath and in your heart think otherwise”— they may not raise serious problems. However, oaths exist precisely because we expect that they are taken seriously by the oath-taker. This part of the Article claims that there are three liberal cases against loyalty oaths: the rule of law, freedom of conscience, and equality. First, some oaths are phrased by vague terms that are utilized to incorporate new duties and sanctions. Next, some oaths include ideological terms that infringe freedom of conscience. And finally, oaths are only enforced on naturalized citizens while natural-born citizens are exempt.

A. The Rule of Law and the Loyalty Oath

Imagine that you declare “fidelity to the Nation,” or pledge to “avoid everything that might harm the interests and the reputation of the Republic.” Can you identify your legal obligations from this oath? What about loyalty to Queen Elizabeth II “from this day forward”? Does it make sense to you? While a central tenet in law is clarity in understanding what legal responsibilities are undertaken79—under some views of the rule of law principle, the law should be clear and unequivocal— the substance of oaths is vague.80 It is not possible to understand precisely who owes what and to whom.

Even though oaths in the immigration context have never been invalidated due to their vagueness, oaths in other contexts have. In numerous cases, the U.S. Supreme Court has invalidated loyalty oaths on the ground that the oath-taker could not understand the obligations specified. The Court held that oaths put the oath-taker at continued risk because the range of activities that may be forbidden by the oath is very wide. The Court found the oath to be unconstitutional since its language was “vague, uncertain and broad … a law forbidding or requiring conduct in terms so vague that men of common intelligence must necessarily guess at its meaning … violates due process of law.”81

The vagueness of the oath, struck down by the Court in the case of citizens, has been embraced by the same Court as long as noncitizens are concerned. The oath has traditionally been a means of incorporating unspecified requirements with no measurement allowing oath-takers to identify the forbidden behavior. In one case, the U.S. Supreme Court sustained the view of the U.S. Government that the ambiguous requirement to “support and defend the Constitution” must necessarily mean a duty to bear arms.82 The Court rejected the alternative interpretation that there may be other methods of defending the U.S. Constitution apart from bearing of arms.83

Vagueness of legal terms, one may observe, is not unique to loyalty oaths; think of terms such as proportionality, negligence, and good faith. In fact, vagueness may sometimes be an advantage. The fact that there is no clear consensus about all aspects of being loyal may reduce the cost in terms of freedom of conscience, since lack of consensus leaves room for individual interpretation. Morton Grodzins rightly observes that, unlike totalitarian regimes, “in democratic states it is easy to maintain loyalty because the meaning of national loyalty is ambiguous.”84 Loyalty as a legal standard, similar to negligence, provides a wide range of discretion. The fiercest critics of Israel, for example, including those who call to boycott Israel, argue that they are the most loyal to Israel since they save Israel from itself. This fact mutes the charge that vagueness has costs; it may yield benefit.

Nonetheless, as with other legal standards, the challenge of loyalty is in refraining from abuse of ambiguous terms against certain groups. The point is not vagueness, but abuse.85 Take the promise to “support the U.S. Constitution.” Does it mean supporting judicial interpretation on abortion, gay rights, and the death penalty? When one pledges allegiance to the Constitution, does he or she promise to support any outcome that would result from the amendment procedure? Can an immigrant pledge to support the Constitution yet advocate its repeal? In the United States, for example, immigration law provides that an immigrant is not attached to the Constitution if he or she “disbelieve[s] in the principles of the Constitution.”86 American immigration law holds that the right to advocate a constitutional change stands only to the extent that “the changes advocated would not abrogate the current Government and establish an entirely different form of government.”87 But if one supports the Constitution, it can be claimed that one also supports the possibility of its repeal in light of Article V.88

The argument for supporting the Constitution yet asking for its repeal was made by Charles Roach, who sought to become a Canadian citizen. Roach was legally admitted into Canada in 1955. He graduated from the University of Toronto School of Law and was admitted to the Bar. Roach had fulfilled all necessary requirements to become a citizen, but his application was denied.89 The reason was simple. Roach refused to take an oath to Queen Elizabeth II because he objected to swearing allegiance to a monarchy. Interestingly, the Canadian Court held that Roach could pledge loyalty to the Queen and still advocate fundamental changes in the structure of Canada as long as they are performed according to the amendment procedure.90 Justice Linden dissented. In Linden’s view, Roach could not advocate the abolition of the structure to which he pledged allegiance; he cannot act to replace the monarchy, yet remain loyal to the Queen:91

If the oath of loyalty permits one to demonstrate that loyalty to the Crown by advocating its abolition, what is the point of that oath? Is that loyalty or is it disloyalty? Is the oath merely a meaningless formality? Is there any commitment to its content required? … If all the oath of allegiance achieves is to get someone to promise not to violate the criminal law and to avoid subversive and illegal political methods, something they are already obligated to do, is it of any value?

There are three possible ways to make oaths less vague. The first is to distinguish between oaths of obedience and oaths of allegiance. In some oaths, the key component is legal obedience; one swears to obey the law and observe his or her (legal) duties as a citizen. Yet in other oaths, the key component is allegiance; one swears to bear “fidelity to the nation” and “hold faith to my country,” obligations that are not generally written in the law. Although most oaths combine these two requirements—obedience and allegiance—it is helpful to clarify which specific obligation the oath-taker takes. This distinction, however, does not clarify the very duty of allegiance, which remains vague. For this, further clarifications exist.

The second distinction is between loyalty to the fundamental constitutional structure of a country and loyalty to certain constitutional norms and values. In Constitutional Theory, Carl Schmitt asserts that an oath to a constitution “does not mean an oath regarding every single constitutional norm, nor does [it mean] … submission to everything that comes out by way of [the amendment procedure].”92 Instead, it implies one obligation—to accept, or at least not to undermine, a society’s fundamental structure. In the case of the Canadian Constitution, Justice Linden held that the oath demands “an acceptance of the whole of our Constitution and national life.”93 If one accepts Schmitt’s minimalist view of oaths, and further accepts that Canada’s basic structure is based upon, among other things, its status as being a Constitutional monarchy, Roach’s citizenship petition ought to be denied because Roach seeks to repeal Canada’s fundamental constitutional structure, and not merely to challenge (or amend) a single constitutional norm.

The third distinction is between loyalty to forms and loyalty to contents. An oath can require loyalty to substance (“democratic beliefs,” “culture and customs,” etc.) and it can require loyalty to a legal form—the method for the use of legal power and for amending the legal procedure to create laws (it can, of course, require both). Although form and content are interrelated, they are not the same. Take Roach: If the Canadian Constitution does not allow amending its status as a constitutional monarchy by a particular form, say, a referendum, and the oath requires loyalty to the existing form of decision making, Roach can be excluded as long as he seeks to act differently. But if the oath requires loyalty toward a more substantial matter, Roach can show loyalty to the Queen, even if he objects to a constitutional monarchy, by accepting that a constitutional monarchy is the form of government in Canada. We take this to be the acceptance of a fact, an empirical thing, similar to accepting that there are ten provinces in Canada. This view allows him to promote a change in the constitutional amendment procedure in a way that it will include the form of referendum as a form to change Canada from a constitutional monarchy to a republic.

These three distinctions do not entirely solve the vagueness of oaths but they make the legal obligations taken clearer than their current ambiguous terms. At the end, it would depend on the oath itself to clarify the type and the scope of the duty of loyalty.
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Part 2 of 2

B. Freedom of Conscience and the Loyalty Oath

Even when the language of the oath is clear, and perhaps precisely because of that, loyalty oaths often deny freedom of conscience.94 The story of Thomas More, who was executed by Henry VIII because of his refusal to take an oath of supremacy to the Protestant Church, is a well-known historical precedent. The story of Charles Roach, whose citizenship application was denied because of his refusal to take an oath to Queen Elizabeth II, is a recent example. Born in Trinidad, a previous British colony enslaved by the Crown, Roach asserted that swearing allegiance to the Queen is tantamount to asking a Holocaust survivor to take an oath to a descendant of Hitler.95 The Canadian Court, however, did not find an oath to the Queen as infringing upon freedom of conscience. It held that the oath is religiously-neutral. The Queen is the Head of the Church of England, a Christian Protestant Church, but the Court said that the head of the State could be anyone: “a Muslim, or an Atheist … [or] someone picked at random from a 6/49 kind of lottery.”96 The Court did not explain, however, how this statement fits the simple fact that the Queen must be Christian.

Thomas More and Charles Roach stand for two cases in which loyalty oaths involved an issue of freedom of conscience precisely because the oath was taken seriously. Plenty of other examples exist as well. The U.S. decisions in the flag-salute cases come to mind: Minersville School District v. Gobitis and West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette. In Gobitis, two children were expelled from a public school because of their refusal to salute the flag and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Their dedication to the Jehova’s Witnesses faith precluded them from pledging allegiance to the flag, believing that only God is the supreme authority. Justice Frankfurter found the flag and the pledge to be symbols of national unity.97 One may think that he only advocated loyalty as conformity—reciting the pledge and saluting the flag. Nevertheless, Justice Frankfurter emphasized that what is really required for national unity is “unconscious feelings” rooted in one’s mind and spirit.98 For Justice Frankfurter, the pledge is essential because it evokes the children’s “appreciation of the nation’s hopes and dreams … [and evokes the] unifying sentiment without which there can ultimately be no liberties.”99

Following the Gobitis case, West Virginia’s Board of Education adopted a resolution ordering that salutation to the flag would become a regular part of the curriculum. This time, however, Justice Jackson held that the pledge of allegiance is wrong exactly because the “pledge requires affirmation of a belief and an attitude of mind.”100 He agreed that national unity is a legitimate end and that states can foster patriotism, but he rejected the idea that the pledge is an effective means to achieve this aim stating that “those who begin [with] coercive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters. Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard.”101 Loyalty means the freedom to dissent, not just from minor issues but also from fundamental matters that touch the heart of the constitutional order. In a classic statement, the Court ruled: “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”102 Loyalty to America cannot be derived from coercive adherence to non-American ideas such as “compulsory unification of opinion.”

The dispute between Justice Jackson and Justice Frankfurter is the core of the debate on the oath of allegiance. There is a difference between these cases and citizenship cases, but the question is essentially the same: Can an oath of loyalty legitimately interfere with a person’s state of mind? The answer to this, I argue, is largely “no.”

Generally speaking, loyalty oaths—not as such, but their specific form and content—raise five problems of liberalism. The first is related to the Kantian distinction between legality and morality. When “loyalty to the law” means a legal duty to have belief and faith in the law, rather than just obey the law, liberalism moves from a legal to a moral realm. The second is related to the content of the oath, which often requires not only loyalty to liberal values, but also to ideologies and religions, such as the Queen or a Jewish State. The third is related to the coercive element of oaths. The promotion of loyalty is not encouraged indirectly, by creating conditions in which it shall be developed, but is directly imposed by state power. The fourth is related to the absolute nature of oaths, which sometimes deal not only with the “public sphere,” such as political ties, but also with the “private sphere,” such as personal life of immigrants.103 The fifth is the perpetual element of oaths, which frequently ask loyalty “from this day forward.” When these problems are combined, the means (of loyalty) becomes the end (oath taking), and demands of loyalty may violate the very values that they seek to protect.

The illiberal aspect of oaths raises an issue of conscience. Loyalty is invoked to preserve liberal values. In Liberal Loyalty, Anna Stilz makes such a claim. Her argument is three-fold. The first premise is that the existence of just/legitimate states is morally relevant; it is a prerequisite for the existence of freedom. Only just/legitimate states can define and enforce conditions in which freedom is realized.104 The second premise is that some level of loyalty is essential for the existence of just/legitimate states.105 The third premise is that loyalty must have a particular meaning within a particular state.106 Her conclusion, then, is that some level of a particular state-based loyalty is justified as a means of securing freedom. Loyalty is instrumental. It stands only to the extent that it is essential to guarantee freedom.

Stilz advocates a liberal concept of loyalty. But even in her liberal loyalty, it is not enough to obey the law; one has to have faith in the law. Liberalism, to take the term of the British Prime Minister David Cameron, should be “muscular.” Unlike classical liberalism, which suggests that “as long as you obey the law, we will just leave you alone,” the concept of muscular liberalism demands one “to believe” in liberal values.107 Here rests the most problematic aspect of oaths.

In religious studies, God has two authorities—it tells one what to believe in and it tells one what to do. The first authority should not be coerced. It is analogous to a “good doctor who gives authoritative advice but no commands.”108 In most cases, if one has faith in the authority, its advice would be followed voluntary. But some grey areas exist. There are cases in which a command of what to do is a command to believe. A prevailing Jewish view of the First Commandment in the biblical Ten Commandments sees it as a command to “believe in God.” However, as Avishai Margalit observes, this is a closed circuit. “We accept the commandment to believe in God if we already believe in God and, moreover, already accept His authority to command us.”109 If one believes, one needs no command, and vice versa—if one does not believe, a command to believe, in itself, would end up with no belief. “Beliefs seem to behave like involuntary muscles” and cannot be commanded.110 Instead of a command to believe, we can order a person to adopt a way of life that would lead to a belief. In psychology, for example, if a person smiles enough—i.e., adopts the act of smiling—studies show that, in the end, the person will feel joy. A similar rationale applies to love—one cannot love on demand. Instead, X can command Z to date a woman and hope that, after a few dates, he would feel something toward her; this is an indirect way to encourage love. As Avishai Margalit states, “when we lack belief, we can manipulate ourselves into adopting a suitable way of life with the hope that eventually it will bring about, though indirectly, actual faith in what we want to believe. Adopting a way of life is grist for the mill of the will.”111

The distinction between a command of what to do and a command of what to believe in is important in the context of allegiance. From a liberal view, it is usually not legitimate to explore whether a person believes in the law or believes that the law is morally good. It is not belief (or the will to believe) that is important, but the will to adopt a way of life that would lead to believe. In other words, the trick is to check whether a will to adopt a new way of life exists. If, for example, a person says “I am willing to be loyal,” it would not be enough. It is like saying “I really want to love you.” The desire to be loyal does not in itself creates loyalty, but it is rather the will to adopt a proper way of life that, at the end, may lead to the attitude of loyalty. The law should create conditions and circumstances that encourage loyalty. At most, the law can explore whether a person is willing to fit in.

Should liberal democracies inquire into the reason for one’s willingness to be loyal to an object? The liberal response, I believe, is “no.” In The Concept of Law, H.L.A. Hart develops the idea of “internal point of view.” Hart’s denies the notion that people who accept legal rules should accept their moral legitimacy; people comply because they “accept” the validity of a legal rule, even if not its moral truth.112 Acceptance does not require a specific reason; people can accept a norm due to many considerations, among them self-interest.113 Thus, one may be loyal to the Queen because of moral grounds (one accepts her moral validity), epistemic grounds (one accepts the legitimacy of the framers of the norm and trust their wisdom), democratic grounds (one accepts that the norm reflects the will of the people), or self-interest grounds (one accepts the norm due to a desire for citizenship). One can show loyalty to the Queen, even if he or she disagrees with, or even objects to, a constitutional monarchy, by accepting that a constitutional monarchy is the form of government in Canada. In this view, the reason for one’s willingness to accept the object of loyalty ought not to be tested; as noted before, it is analogous to the acceptance of a fact, similar to accepting that there are ten provinces in Canada. This view may soften the cost in terms of one’s conscience since loyalty would merely mean a “declaration of acceptance” of the object of loyalty.

C. Equality and the Loyalty Oath

Even if the oath is not vague, and does not infringe upon freedom of conscience, it may be discriminatory. This is because the oath only applies to naturalized citizens. The historical reason for this practice is rooted in common law. In England, the duty of loyalty applied to all subjects in the King’s dominions. There were three categories of loyalty: natural (natural-born subjects), local (alien subjects), and acquired (denization or naturalisation).114 Natural-born subjects owed perpetual allegiance. Alien subjects owed temporary allegiance only during residence in the King’s dominions.115 Acquired allegiance emerged from the oath and was perpetual. However, the fact that only naturalized citizens had to take an oath did not mean that natural-born citizens were released from the duty of loyalty. Both groups had to be equally loyal.116

Natural-born citizens are not required to take the oath due to the premise that their sense of loyalty has been developed by being raised and educated in the country.117 The claim, thus, is that natural-born citizens and naturalized citizens each present a different case; wrongful discrimination exists only when the law does not treat like cases alike. Although there are grounds to distinguish between natural-born and naturalized citizens, we have no evidence to support the proposition that natural-born citizens are more loyal as a group than naturalized citizens.118

Moreover, the fact that only naturalized citizens must take the oath means that natural born citizens can hold whatever beliefs they desire—they can be pacifists, anarchists, or communists—while naturalized citizens cannot always hold similar views.
In Knauer v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court discussed the case of a native-born German, Knauer, who in 1937 became an American citizen. In 1943, the U.S. government instituted proceedings to denaturalize Knauer on the ground that he did not entirely abjure his allegiance to Germany. Justice Douglas found solid and convincing evidence that Knauer was Nazi before his naturalization and that he continued to be a faithful follower of Hitler even after becoming a U.S. citizen.119 He then affirmed denaturalization on the grounds that the oath “relates to a state of mind and is a promise of future conduct.”120 Justice Rutledge dissented. He refused to take away Knauer’s citizenship because no native-born American could be stripped of his citizenship in a similar case. If Knauer committed a crime, the government should prosecute him, not strip him of his citizenship.121 In practice, still, a natural born citizen is prosecuted, while a naturalized citizen can be denaturalized; a natural born citizen is subject to one burden of proof and trial procedure in criminal law, while a naturalized citizen can be subject to a different procedure and burden of proof in immigration law.122 This is likely because the sanction imposed on naturalized citizens is based on a breach of the contractual promise, not the wrongdoing of the act.

The higher standard of loyalty required from naturalized citizens is visible in other fields as well. Thus, petitions for naturalization were denied because the applicants refused to promise in advance that they would fulfill civil duties that are not mandatory for natural-born citizens. For example, petitions of Jehovah’s Witnesses, who refused to take the portion of the U.S. oath regarding voting due to their religious belief, were denied. Even though voting is not mandatory for U.S. citizens, the Court held that “we must accept our natural-born citizens as we find them,” but “we can scrupulously select those aliens upon whom to confer” citizenship; “more is demanded of an alien than a native-born citizen.”123 The Court did not explain the rationale for its conclusion. On the contrary: it held that “ironically … many naturalized citizens become better citizens than those naturally born.”124

Conclusion: Time to Say Goodbye to the Loyalty Oath?

More than a hundred years ago, English anthropologist Edward Burnett Tyler wrote in Popular Science that oaths of allegiance belong to the low stage of civilization. Tyler predicted that, sooner or later, the oath will follow the concept of ordeals and leave the stage of history.125 Oaths are a relic of sanctity and do not reflect intellectual reason. Science, he anticipated, will make the oath disappear. About a century before that, Noah Webster predicted that the time will soon come when all “oaths of allegiance, abjuration, and partial exclusions from civil offices, will be proscribed from this land of freedom.”126 Webster preferred a country that generates loyalty through its laws and policies rather than by a coerced statement. For Webster, only “a good Constitution, and good laws, make good subjects.”127 Yet, more than four hundred years after Henry VIII required Englishmen take an oath of allegiance to the Protestant Church, loyalty oaths still play a key role in modern immigration law in liberal states. In fact, a broader examination reveals that we are a “land of oaths.” Loyalty oaths exist everywhere: oaths of office, military oaths, oaths at universities, judicial oaths, and oaths of witnesses. Liberal democracies have “an oath for all seasons.”

What does not exist, however, is a strong justification for the duty to take a loyalty oath. It is not clear enough what loyalty is, why it is justified politically, and why it is legitimate to be burdened with a duty of loyalty as distinct from the duty to obey the law. It is neither clear what moral goals loyalty oaths serve nor whether any empirical evidence supports the idea that oaths rationally serve their putative purpose. In light of that, it may be the right time to say goodbye to the loyalty oath as a legal institution.



I am grateful to George Fletcher, Malachi Hacohen, Jeffrey Jowell, Christian Joppke, Avishai  Margalit, Dora Kostakopoulou, Michele Manspeizer, Barak Medina, Noah Pickus, Amnon  Rubinstein, Theodore Ruthizer, Peter Schuck, Adam Shinar, Anna Stilz, and Alexander Yakobson  for thoughtful discussions and excellent comments on previous drafts. Special thanks are due to  Richard Bronaugh for very helpful comments and suggestions as well as to Odette Simone Ansell  for excellent editing work. Earlier versions of the Article were presented at the Kenan Institute for  Ethics at Duke University, University of Miami School of Law, the Inaugural YCC Conference  of the American Society of Comparative Law at George Washington University, Texas A&M  University at Qatar, Bar-Ilan University, the Hebrew University, the Academic Center of Law &  Business, and the College of Management Academic Studies; I thank participants and commentators  for their comments. Thanks are also due to the Tikvah Center for Law & Jewish Civilization  at NYU, Rothschild Foundation, and Fulbright Foundation for their scholarship, which made the  research possible.
1. See generally Anna Stilz, Liberal Loyalty: Freedom, Obligation, and the State (Princeton:  Princeton University Press, 2009).
2. The Article refers to “loyalty oaths” as an umbrella category for oaths taken in the naturalization  process. Unless otherwise mentioned, it focuses on formal oaths.
3. Cited in Dilek Cinar, Country Report: Austria, Research for the EUDO Citizenship Observatory  (Italy: European University Institute, 2010) at 17 [emphasis added].
4. Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act, 1956, c 3, s 15(1)(f) [emphasis added].
5. French Civil Code, art 21-24.
6. Australian Citizenship Act, 2007, ss 15 and 27 [emphasis added].
7. Promissory Oaths Act, 1868, s 2.
8. British Nationality Act, 1981, c 61, Schedule 5 [emphasis added].
9. Lord Goldsmith, Citizenship: Our Common Bond (London: Ministry of Justice, 2008) at 84,  97-98.
10. The Citizenship Act, RSC 1985, c C-29, s 24, Schedule 1.
11. Nationality Law, 6 LSI 1952, s 5(c).
12. Approval of the Amendment to s 5(c) to the Nationality Law of 1952 (No. 2313), 2010.
13. Naturalization Act, 1 Stat 1790, c 3, s 1.
14. Naturalization Act, 1 Stat 1795, c 20, s 1.
15. Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 USC 1952 § 1427(f)(2). For the current oath, see 8 CFR  2010 § 337.1(a).
16. 8 USC 2011 § 1448; 8 CFR 2010 § 337 [emphasis added].
17. George P Fletcher, Loyalty: An Essay on the Morality of Relationships (New York: Oxford  University Press, 1993) at 40; Sanford Levinson, “Constituting Communities through Words  that Bind: Reflections on Loyalty Oaths” (1986) 84 Mich LR 1440 at 1464.
18. Liechtenstein v Guatemala (2005), ICJ Rep 4.
19. Ibid at 23-24.
20. 989 UNTS 1961, art 8(3)(b).
21. Calvin’s Case (1608), 77 Eng Rep 377 (KB) [Calvin’s Case].
22. William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Law of England 1765 (Chicago: University of  Chicago Press, 1979) at 357, 369-70.
23. John W Salmond, “Citizenship and Allegiance” (1902) 18 LQR 49 at 50.
24. Calvin’s Case, supra note 21 at 382 [emphasis added].
25. Cited in R E Ewin, “Loyalty in Virtues” (1992) 42:169 Phil Q 403 at 405.
26. Thomas S Martin, “Nemo Potest Exuere Partiam: Indelibility of Allegiance and the American  Revolution” (1991) 35:2 Am J Leg Hist 205 at 210. American theorists attempted to utilize  the traditional distinction between allegiance and obedience to justify their claims of independence  from Parliament. They claimed that they can be loyal to the King even when they  are not submitted to Parliament. James Wilson declared that “allegiance to the king and  obedience to parliament are founded on very different principles. The former is founded  on protection; the latter on representation.” Cited in James H Kettner, The Development of  American Citizenship 1608-1870 (North Carolina: The University of North Carolina Press,  2005) at 165.
27. American jurisprudence focused on the Constitution as the subject of both allegiance and obedience.  Every naturalized American should take an oath of allegiance to obey the Constitution  of the United States, as well as “bear true faith and allegiance to the same” [emphasis added].
28. Donald W Hanson, From Kingdom to Commonwealth: The Development of Civic Consciousness  in English Political Thought (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1970) at 62.
29. Martin, supra note 26 at 211.
30. Blackstone, supra note 22 at 369-70.
31. In re Stepney Election Petition, Isaacson v Durant, [1886] XVII QBD 54 at 55-56, 62.
32. John Locke, Two Treatises of Government, Peter Laslett, ed, (Cambridge: Cambridge University  Press, 1988) at 368 [emphasis in original].
33. Morton Grodzins, The Loyal and the Disloyal: Social Boundaries of Patriotism and Treason  (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1956) at ii.
34. Joseph Plescia, The Oath and Perjury in Ancient Greece (Tallahassee: Florida State University  Press, 1970) at 22.
35. Kettner, supra note 26 at 165. The U.S. Declaration of Independence explains that the reasons  for absolving from all allegiance to the King are rooted, inter alia, in the breach of the bond of  allegiance by the King. This interpretation contradicted common law in which allegiance and  protection were a reciprocal bond not in the sense that one is dependent on the other—allegiance  remains even when protection is lost—but in the sense of parallel existence; both were  rooted in natural law.
36. Henry S Commager, Freedom, Loyalty, Dissent (New York: Oxford University Press, 1954) at  141-42.
37. John Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration (Minneapolis: Filiquarian Publishing, 2007) at 22.
38. Robert P Wolff, “An Analysis of the Concept of Political Loyalty” in Robert P Wolff, ed,  Political Man and Social Man: Readings in Political Philosophy (New York: Random House,  1966) 218 at 222-23 [hereinafter: Readings in Political Philosophy]; John Schaar, “The  Psychology of Loyalty” in Readings in Political Philosophy 149 at 164; James Connor, The  Sociology of Loyalty (New York: Springer, 2007) at 9-34.
39. Hirabayashi v United States (1943), 320 US 81 at 107.
40. Immigration law may examine loyalty as a character trait by the requirement of “good moral  character.” It may evaluate loyalty as an emotion due to the requirement of “attachment to  the principles of the constitution,” or the requirement to “bear true faith and allegiance.” And  it can assess the potential degree of conformity by exploring the immigrant’s willingness to  “perform service in the Armed Forces,” or perform other work of national importance.
41. Stilz, supra note 1 at 27-64.
42. Edward B Tyler, “Ordeals and Oaths” (1876) 9 Popular Sci 307 at 318.
43. Moshe Weinfeld, “The Loyalty Oath in the Ancient Near East” (1976) 8 Ugarit Forsch 387 at  398-99.
44. Helen Silving, “The Oath: I” (1959) 68:7 Yale LJ 1329 at 1331; Weinfeld, supra note 43 at  398-99. For religious oaths’ history, see Omychund v Barker (1745), 1 Atk 21, 26 ER 15.
45. In the Bible, invoking God in an oath is a sacred obligation followed by a sanction: “Thou  shalt fear the Lord thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name” (Deuteronomy 6: 13).  See also John Witherspoon, “Of Oaths and Vows” in Varnum L Colins, ed, Lectures on Moral  Philosophy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1912) 130.
46. Daniel Webster, “The Christian Ministry and the Religious Instruction of the Young” in The  Works of Daniel Webster, vol 6 (Boston: Little, Brown, 1885) 168 at 175.
47. Plescia, supra note 34 at 15-17, 74, from the text of the Ephebic Oath. For the political functions  of oaths, see generally James E Tyler, Oaths: Their Origin, Nature, and History (London:  John W Parker, West Strand, 1834).
48. Locke, supra note 32 at 348.
49. Kent Greenawalt, “Promise, Benefit, and Need: Ties that Bind Us to the Law” (1984) 18 Geo  LR 727 at 737-38.
50. Blackstone, supra note 22 at 356-57.
51. For the wedding vows’ analogy, see Sanford Levinson, Constitutional Faith (New Jersey:  Princeton University Press, 1988) at 107-11. See also Leonid Sirota, “Ask Not,” Double  Aspect (July 2013), available at:  ask-not//2013/07/14/ask-not/.
52. William S Holdsworth, A History of English Law (London: Methuen & co., 1944) at 73.
53. Frederick Pollock, Essays in Jurisprudence and Ethics, vol 9 (London: Macmillan, 1882)  at 179.
54. Blackstone, supra note 22 at 354-55.
55. 25 Hen VIII, c 22.
56. 26 Hen VIII, c 2.
57. 28 Hen VIII, c 7.
58. 35 Hen VIII, c 1.
59. See, e.g., 5 Eliz I, c 1, 7 Jac I, c 6, and 30 Car II Stat 2, c 1.
60. Marcy L North, “Anonymity’s Subject: James I and the Debate over the Oath of Allegiance”  (2002) 33 New Literary Hist 215; Pollock, supra note 53 at 185-86. The function of the oath  as a test can be seen in the title of the Act—The Test Act, 25 Car II, c 2.
61. 31 & 32 Vict, c 72. For earlier oaths, see 1 Will & Mar, c 1, 13 & 14 Wm III, c 6, 1 Geo I stat  2, c 13, 10 Geo IV, c 7, 21 & 22 Vict, c 48.
62. Harold M Hyman, To Try Men’s Souls: Loyalty Tests in American History (Berkeley: University  of California Press, 1959) at 1-23, 113-15.
63. Ibid at 343 (describing oaths of allegiance as a political test during the Colonial Era, the Civil  War. World War I, World War II, and the Cold War).
64. Noah Webster, “On Test Laws, Oaths of Allegiance and Abjuration, and Partial Exclusion from  Office” in A Collection of Essays and Fugitive Writings on Moral, Historical, Political and  Literary Subjects (New York: Scholars Facsimiles & Reprint, 1977) at 151-53.
65. Ibid.
66. Joseph Gales, ed, Annals of Congress 1790, vol 1 (Washington: Gales and Seaton, 1834) at  1109-10.
67. Ibid.
68. Ibid at 1061.
69. Ibid at 1109-18, 1147.
70. Cass R Sunstein, “Unity and Plurality: The Case of Compulsory Oaths” (1990) 2 Yale JL &  Human 101 at 102-03.
71. Ibid at 111.
72. Charles D Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws, Anne M Cohler, Harold S Stone & Basia C  Miller, eds, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989) at 122.
73. Stilz, supra note 1 at 117-30.
74. Sunstein, supra note 70 at 102.
75. Grodzins, supra note 33 at 79-97; Jeremy Bentham, Swear Not at All (London: Richard and  Arthur Taylor, Shoe-Lane, 1917) at 1-16.
76. There are studies on the effect of national symbols and ceremonies, yet none of them focus  on loyalty oaths, or other oaths. See, e.g., David A Butz, “National Symbols as Agents of  Psychological and Social Change” (2009) 30:5 Pol Psychol 779; Ran Hassin at el, “Précis of  Implicit Nationalism” (2009) 1167 Ann NY Acad Sci 135. Even within a broader examination  of oaths, no study indicates that people who take an oath in courtrooms are more likely to tell  the truth than people who testify without taking an oath. See, e.g., Dennis Kurzon, “Telling the  Truth: The Oath as a Test of Witness Competency” (1989) 11:4 Intl J Semiotics L 49.
77. Gerland L Neuman, “Justifying U.S. Naturalization Policies” (1994) 35 Va J Intl L 237 at 278.
78. Loyalty is taken seriously, particularly among religious immigrants. See, e.g., Immanuel  Wallerstein, “Ethnicity and National Integration in West Africa” (1960) 1:3 Cahiers D’études  Africaines 129.
79. Peter H Schuck, “Plural Citizenships” in Citizens, Strangers, and In-Betweens: Essays on  Immigration and Citizenship (Colorado: Westview Press, 1998) 217 at 243-44.
80. Lon L Fuller, The Morality of Law (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1969) at 33-38.
81. Cramp v Board of Public Instruction (1961), 368 US 278; Baggett v Bullitt (1964), 377 US 360  at 366-67.
82. United States v Macintosh (1931), 283 US 605 at 627-29.
83. The Supreme Court overruled the Macintosh case in United States v Girouard (1946), 328  US 61 [Girouard]. The court said that “[bearing of arms] is not the only way in which our  institutions may be supported and defended … the worker at the lathe, the seamen on cargo  vessels, construction battalions, nurses, engineers, litter bearers, doctors, chaplains—these,  too, made essential contributions.” Grodzins at 64-65. Consequently, Congress amended the  oath requiring newcomers to pledge to “bear arms on behalf of the United States when required  by the law.”
84. Grodzins, supra note 33 at 75.
85. For abusing the oath’s vagueness see, e.g., United States v Schwimmer (1929), 279 US 644.
86. 8 CFR 2010 § 316.11 [emphasis added].
87. Ibid.
88. US Constitution, art V. For this dilemma, see Sanford Levinson, “Pledging Faith in the Civil  Religion; Or, Would You Sign the Constitution?” (1987) 29 William & Mary LR 113.
89. Francine Kopun, “He Says Nay to the Queen,” The Toronto Star (11 May 2007), online: The  Toronto Star—he-says-nay-to-the-queen.
90. Roach v Canada (Minister of State for Multiculturalism and Culture) (FCA), [1994] 2 FC 406  (CA) [hereinafter: Roach II]. See also Roach v Canada (Minister of State for Multiculturalism  and Culture), [1992] 2 FC 173 (TD) [hereinafter: Roach I].
91. Roach II, supra note 90 at para 56, Linden JA.
92. Carl Schmitt, Constitutional Theory, translated by Jeffrey Seitzer, ed, (Durham: Duke  University Press, 2008) at 81.
93. Roach II, supra note 90 at para 20, Linden JA [emphasis added].
94. The more abstract the oath is, the less it violates freedom of conscience, because abstract terms  allow discretion to individual interpretations. But the more abstract it is, the less legal meaning  it has, since it is unclear what one’s duties are.
95. Mark Steyn, “Windsor Hassle; What Kind of Country Will We End up with if New Canadians  are Allowed to Explicitly Reject the Constitutional Order?” Western Standard (4 June 2007) 54,  online: Western Standard ... 51&start=1.
96. Roach I, supra note 90 at para 17; Roach II, supra note 90.
97. (1940), 310 US 586 at 595-96.
98. Ibid at 600.
99. Ibid at 597.
100. West Virginia State Board of Education v Barnette (1943), 319 US 624 at 633.
101. Ibid at 641.
102. Ibid at 642. The Court did not rule that it is unconstitutional to require children to pledge allegiance  but, rather, that a child has a protected right not to pledge if it offends one’s conscience.
103. In Baumgartner v United States (1944), 322 US 665, for example, the American government  asked the Court to denaturalize a citizen based upon what he wrote in his diary—that Hitler’s  speeches are wonderful.
104. Stilz, supra note 1 at 27-64.
105. Ibid at 64-84.
106. Ibid at 113-36.
107. “PM’s Speech at Munich Security Conference” The Official Site of the British Prime Minister  Office (5 February 2011), online: The Official Site of the British Prime Minister Office https://
108. Avishai Margalit, “Revisiting God’s Authority” (2013) 80:1 Soc Res 1 at 5.
109. Ibid.
110. Ibid.
111. Ibid at 6.
112. HLA Hart, The Concept of Law, 2nd ed by Penelope A Bulloch & Joseph Raz (Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 1994) at 88-91.
113. Ibid at 198, 110-17, 255-56. Hart focuses on officials, who work within the legal system,  and says little about private citizens. While officials must take an ‘internal point of view’ of  the law—it is a prerequisite for a legal system to exist—citizens may take such a view. This  is because officials work with the rules of recognition, and people in the citizen’s role do not.  For that latter role, in order to achieve stability, citizens must obey or have seen a duty to obey.  Ibid at 116.
114. Calvin’s Case, supra note 21 at 383. The option of naturalization was first created in 1350  by an act of Parliament. The Act, De Natus Ultra Mare, provided that an alien who becomes  a subject of the Crown shall have similar rights to those of natural subjects. 25 Edw III Stat  1350.
115. Salmond, supra note 23; Martin, supra note 26.
116. Blackstone, supra note 22 at 356-57; Calvin’s Case, supra note 21 at 389.
117. Citizens, however, are required to take a loyalty oath on various occasions, including upon  joining the military, taking on a governmental job, becoming a lawyer, and (in some countries)  getting a passport.
118. Levinson, supra note 17 at 1454. See also Schneider v Rusk (1964), 377 US 163 at 168 (some  distinctions between natural-born and naturalized citizens are invalid discrimination since they  “proceed on the impermissible assumption that naturalized citizens as a class are less reliable  and bear less allegiance to this country than do the native born”).
119. (1946), 328 US 654 at 662-68.
120. Ibid at 671.
121. Ibid at 675-77.
122. Patrick Weil shows that in the United States a breach of the loyalty oath is no longer a  ground for denaturalization. See Patrick Weil, The Sovereign Citizen: Denaturalization and  the Origins of the American Republic (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012).  While the practice has changed, formal law, however, remains the same.
123. In re Petition for Naturalization of Haesoon Kook Matz, [1969] 296 F Supp 927.
124. Ibid.

125. Tyler, supra note 42 at 321.

126. Webster, supra note 64 at 151-53.

127. Ibid.
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Shambhala: Protect Meditation Students from Harm by Separating Local Centers from the Monarchy
February, 2019




In summer 2018, Osel Mukpo, the spiritual leader or “Sakyong” of Shambhala International, was first publicly alleged to have committed sexual misconduct, including assault, against several of his female students. Some of these assaults were further alleged to have been directly facilitated by Mukpo’s loyal senior students. These allegations were first made public by Buddhist Project Sunshine and while an independent review has been conducted to mixed conclusions, we recognize basic structural problems in that review. We find the lion’s share of these allegations credible. They affirm a longstanding pattern of misconduct by historical leaders of the organization. In light of this revelation, individual Shambhala centers must enact the end of the Shambhala monarchy and formally extricate themselves from Shambhala International and the Mukpo family so as to protect new and established meditation students from harm.


Shambhala International was inspired by Chogyam Trungpa’s aspiration to make secular meditation training broadly available to the general public. The organization which ultimately resulted is a centralized hierarchical body. It boasts numerous local centers on several continents. Tens of thousands of people around the world had their first experience of meditation and encountered the Dharma at these centers, affording the organization a prevalence that is unique among Buddhist organizations.

However, Shambhala has also produced an unhealthy and untenable authoritarian organizational culture; all students have been funneled towards a single guru who now faces serious allegations of sexual misconduct. This problem was described well in Ethan Nichtern’s statement on resigning as a Shastri shortly after the allegations were made public.

In recent months, we have been deeply disturbed by the response of Shambhala leadership in two ways. First, by framing this moment as some kind of collective project of self-reckoning, it has obfuscated a clear and obscene abuse of power by the Sakyong and many complicit others. Second, by allying itself with the broader emergent social movement for racial, gender and economic justice, the organization has made a calculated attempt to avoid directly confronting and remediating those harms which have resulted from the dangerous merger of an accessible educational institution and an esoteric authoritarian body.

On the second count, we wholly support all processes of institutional self-reflexivity which genuinely reckon with real issues of cultural bias, social representation and inequality, but we see SI’s current actions as a cynical withdrawal from and evasion of the more immediate need to critically examine its own unusual institutional structure and accompanying philosophy which have together enabled and promoted a culture of harm and abuse. Osel Mukpo’s transgressions represent a kind of “third strike” following on the misconduct of former leaders Thomas Rich and Chogyam Trungpa. We are especially concerned that SI’s bad-faith appropriation of a social movement stands to taint the righteous work of those many actors who have, in good faith, devoted themselves to this righteous cause.

Despite these revelations, we continue to cherish the dharma and the Shambhala teachings. We aspire to preserve what has been good and indestructible about our experiences in Shambhala yet we cannot possibly remain in the current double bind of obligatory loyalty to what increasingly appears to be a dangerous cult simply so that we can maintain our connection to our own sanghas.

We call on Shambhala International (SI) to take immediate action to modify its unique institutional structure as the organizational center of both 1) an authoritarian esoteric tradition with a body of sworn devotee students loyal to Mukpo, and 2) a highly accessible public educational meditation institution. We do not hold high hopes.

Yet this is, in the end, our sangha, not theirs. We are Shambhala.

We believe the public (outer) Shambhala teachings are robust enough to support a non-hierarchical practice community.

To this end, we call on individual Shambhala centers to demand that SI facilitate the cleavage of the two aspects described above by recognizing and supporting the centers’ transition to full organizational and financial autonomy. We also hope that local centers will explore reinventing their own organizational structures on a model of consensus and direct democracy. We are encouraged to see some centers hosting teachers, like Lama Rod Owens and Lama Tsultrim Allione, from other lineages and traditions and hope this pattern will emerge as a viable future for these centers, perhaps bound together in an informal consortium.

Sign the petition here.
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