Nearly two weeks after the release of a bombshell report alleging that Shambhala head Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche sexual assaulted members of his organization, another woman has come forward to claim that during a 2002 trip to Chile, the Sakyong locked her in a bathroom and attempted to force her to have sex with him before she escaped.
The previous report, released on June 28 by the survivor advocacy group Buddhist Project Sunshine, contained statements from two women who described being abused by the Sakyong during boozy private parties. The report also mentioned rumors that the Sakyong had raped a woman during the Chile trip and that Shambhala leaders helped cover it up. But Project Sunshine investigator Carol Merchasin noted at the time that the information was “second or third hand at best.”
However, upon hearing about the investigation, the Chilean woman approached Project Sunshine with her account of the alleged attack, said Merchasin in an update to the report released on July 10.
The woman, whose name was not released, says that the Sakyong was “visibly drunk” when he pulled her into the bathroom, locked the door, and blocked her exit. “He groped her breasts and began trying to remove her clothes,” the report says. “He forced her hand to his genitals, even though she told him ‘no’ several times.” After “15–20 minutes,” she managed to force her way past the Sakyong and out of the bathroom, the report says.
Merchasin says she was able to corroborate the claims with a kusung [attendant] and a cook to whom the woman had described the alleged assault immediately after. Merchasin, however, cautions that the investigation is still preliminary.
The Project Sunshine update quotes the Kalapa Council as initially responding, “Regarding the rape allegation in Chile, we have reason to believe that it is not true because we have actually heard from first-hand witnesses.” Merchasin notes that the statement is technically true but “misleading.” The woman’s account describes her successfully fighting off the Sakyong’s alleged assault, meaning that it would not legally qualify as rape. Merchasin suggests that this is evidence of an attempted cover-up by the council.
A Shambhala spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the latest allegations.
Buddhist Project Sunshine founder Andrea Winn lauded the “brave” Chilean woman, telling Tricycle by email, “This is a sign of the growing confidence of the women survivors of Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche’s abuse . . . Three more women have contacted me since the woman from Chile. I am very glad the women are coming forward to share their stories, connect with sympathetic people, and further reclaim their dignity.”
Winn also encouraged any survivors to contact her about a healing group that will start in the fall.
The Sakyong announced last week that he would be stepping away from his administrative roles and would no longer teach until a third-party investigation was completed. Shambhala’s governing Kalapa Council—which also announced on July 6 that all nine of its members would be resigning—said they have hired the law firm Wickwire Holm to continue the investigation.
The Sakyong and the council’s decisions were the result of sexual misconduct allegations contained in two reports by Project Sunshine. The first report was released in February and described five accounts of community-wide misconduct that included childhood sexual abuse, betrayal by senior leaders, and a male sangha member exposing himself on retreat. “Phase two” of Project Sunshine, released in late June, revealed the allegations against the Sakyong himself.
On July 10, the Sakyong sent an email to Shambhala members admitting that he “fumbled with unhealthy power dynamics and alcohol” in the years after he assumed leadership of Shambhala, when these allegations were said to have occurred. “I failed to recognize the pain and confusion I was creating,” he wrote, adding that he has “committed” to “personal development” and “improving my relationship to alcohol as well as trying to improve my general behavior and my relationship to others as a teacher and as a person.”
Winn said she was concerned by the focus on his alcoholism. “He is sexually violent to women,” she said. “Period. It is not caused by the alcohol. Many people get drunk, and they don’t abuse women.”
She thinks the Sakyong’s actions don’t go far enough. “Truly, in my heart, I believe he needs to go into detox and clean up his own heart and mind,” she said.
Update (7/11): An attorney representing Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche said that the Sakyong received the updated report, is reviewing it, and “out of respect for the integrity of the independent investigation” does not wish to comment further.