Nothing is permanent, so everything is precious. Here’s a selection of some happenings—fleeting or otherwise—in the Buddhist world this week.
Former Shambhala Member Arrested on Charges of Sexual Assault
An ex-Shambhala International member has been arrested in Colorado on suspicion of child sexual assault, the latest in a string of abuse allegations involving the Buddhist group. On June 28, the Boulder police department arrested Michael Smith, 54, on charges of sexual assault on a child by a person in a position of trust. Smith allegedly assaulted the victim multiple times, beginning in 1997 when she was 13 years old, according to the police. They had met through his involvement with the Shambhala Mountain Center in the nearby Red Feather Lakes area. A second woman also told police that Smith assaulted her when she was 11 years old at Karme Choling, a Shambhala meditation center in Barnet, Vermont. The second case will be investigated by local authorities in Vermont. Both victims contacted the Boulder police department after learning of the arrest of former Shambhala teacher William Karelis, also on charges of child sexual assault, earlier this year. In February 2018, the advocacy group Buddhist Project Sunshine began publishing reports on allegations of sexual assault against teachers and senior members at Shambhala International, including their leader, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. The Sakyong later stepped away from teaching after a law firm hired by Shambhala, Wickwire Holm, investigated the claims and concluded that the Sakyong “more than likely” engaged in sexual misconduct in at least two cases.
The Boulder center’s executive director, Melanie Klein, told Think Progress that her group has a member named Michael Smith, but he is not the same person who was taken into police custody. “There may have been another Michael Smith who was a member of the Boulder Shambhala community 22 years ago, but we have no information about that,” she said in an email to the site. “His alleged crimes should be prosecuted vigorously.”
Boulder police said that they believe that there are additional victims and urged anyone with information to contact them.
In Historic First, Two Tibetan Buddhist Nuns Are Hired to Teach Buddhist Philosophy
For the first time, two Tibetan Buddhist nuns with geshema degrees, the equivalent of a PhD in Tibetan Buddhist philosophy, have been hired to teach at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute in Dharamsala, India. In the past, these topics were taught exclusively by monks. In a message to supporters, Elizabeth Napper, the board chair and US founder of the nonprofit Tibetan Nuns Project, announced that Delek Wangmo and Tenzin Kunsel are the first nuns to teach other nuns Buddhist philosophy. Training for Tibetan Buddhism’s highest degree, which has historically been limited to monks as the geshe degree, only became available to female monastics in recent decades. At least 37 women in the exile community have earned the title of geshema, after completing a course that involves at least 17 years of intensive study.
The Dalai Lama Offers “Sincere Apologies” After Controversial Comments
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama provided “clarification and context” to his remarks that a female successor “should be attractive,” and that refugees in the European Union should eventually return to their home countries to rebuild. An official statement maintains that the Dalai Lama “genuinely meant no offense,” and that he is “deeply sorry that people have been hurt by what he said and offers his sincere apologies.” It suggests that his remarks were in reference to a 1992 conversation with the then Paris editor of Vogue, who had invited His Holiness to guest-edit the fashion magazine, and that these comments were meant in jest. The statement also addresses his remarks about the migration crisis in Europe, saying that they “may have been misinterpreted,” and samples his 2016 op-ed in the Washington Post as more representative of his views: “As a refugee myself, I feel a strong empathy for their situation . . . I can also understand the fears of people in host countries, who may feel overwhelmed.”
Buddha Statue Appears to Give Middle Finger to Sri Lanka’s Travelers
A statue recently unveiled at a transportation hub in Sri Lanka appears to show the Buddha giving passersby the finger, a photo posted by the Sri Lanka Guardian website shows. The Buddha’s hands are displaying the dharmachakra mudra, forming two circles with his thumb and index finger to symbolize the turning of the dharma wheel and represent his first sermon. While the gesture often involves the Buddha touching the circle of his right hand to the middle finger of the left hand, the ring and pinky finger (or sometimes just the pinky) on the left hand are usually extended as well. But in this photo, it appears that only the middle finger is outstretched; although on closer inspection, the pinky seems to also be extended, but because it is small and indistinct, can be seen as tucked back. A photographer spotted the statue on the upper floor of the Kottawa-Makumbura Multimodal Transport Centre, which connects various bus and train lines in the Colombo metro area and opened on March 31. The Sri Lanka Guardian claims that this is the first depiction of “Buddha’s middle-finger mudra” in history, but other statues appear to be quite similar.