Let’s talk about reconciliation

Dear Portland Sangha,

Can we talk?

I have had several fruitful conversations with various members in the past 10 days. It’s difficult to talk about sexual misconduct and the Sakyong, but I am heartened at the depth of listening and communication from the heart that I have experienced in just a handful of individual meetings. They remind me of what Acharya Fleet Maull calls “Radical Responsibility,” which he describes as “recogniz[ing]…all the ways in which we contribute to the victimization of others and all the ways in which we participate in harmful systems of oppression and ignorance, as well as all the ways in which we are not taking care of ourselves, each other, and all life on this planet.” Instead of casting blame, we seek “to see clearly the causes of suffering and causes of happiness for ourselves and others, such that we can make more life-sustaining choices that are in the mutual best interests of all.” 

I would like to briefly share my story about how I have experienced Radical Responsibility.

When I first visited the Portland Shambhala Meditation Center, I was deeply impacted by sexual misconduct and religious abuse incurred in the church organization of my youth. I had recently separated from my friends and colleagues in the church and was disconnected from my spiritual path. I had only one intention in my practice: to get some relief from the grief, shame, and rage boiling in my heart.

I was welcomed by you without demands, offered guidance in meditation instruction and dharma study. Bit by bit I was able to see how I had played a role in my own victimization, and to let go of the need to blame others for what had happened to me. I continue to feel gratitude for what I have received from the Shambhala sangha, and draw strength from the practice of our shared Dharma.

The revelations of misconduct in our global sangha two years ago felt like a betrayal of the Dharma I have learned and practiced. I have struggled again with the strong memories and emotions of the past, and I have thought seriously about renouncing my vows and leaving my council seat as well as my membership. I have stayed because I also take my vows seriously, and because I believe that this situation is ultimately workable and that, together, we can once again work toward our shared Great Eastern Sun vision. 

In the past two years we have witnessed:

  • A loss of a third or more of our global Shambhala membership, and about a third of our local membership.
  • A steep decline in attendance at practice and study events, especially our Way of Shambhala classes.
  • A pulling-back of volunteers, and increasing difficulty inviting volunteers to regular participation in our shared life.
  • A worldwide shift in our public image, from an organization seeking to foster enlightened society to one secretly fostering abuse and marginalization of women, minorities, and anyone who disagrees with the status quo.


Our Portland sangha has worked to address issues of trust between us through shared conversation, shared practice, and shared participation in classes and workshops. I feel that we have made progress, even though we still have a ways to go, and I am grateful to so many of you for stepping up and exhibiting your fearless compassion in the midst of the pain and confusion we are all feeling.

The Sakyong’s recent decision to offer the Rigden Abisheka in June to a group of aspiring tantrikas has attracted global attention. A recent letter from the interim board indicates that they have received a lot of feedback from the international community. Quoting from the letter:

We would like to reflect back what we have heard from a large number of community members:

    • Dismay that the Board is inviting the Sakyong to teach before he has communicated more directly with the community in terms of issues of harm, addressing his own accountability and showing he is taking responsibility for his actions. 
    • Questions about whether the Sakyong will be accountable to the Code of Conduct.
    • Questions about whether the Sakyong has acknowledged, and taken steps to address, issues with alcohol.
    • Concerns about the future safety of women taking Kusung or Kasung roles.
    • Wanting the Board to be independent going forward to avoid things slipping back to “business as usual” two years from now.
    • Concerns that the Sakyong is not attending to the teachings of enlightened society because of his seeming lack of interest in the larger community beyond Scorpion Seal.

We would also like to reflect on what we have heard from people who expressed appreciation for the decision:

    • The Sakyong has apologized for his actions and contemplated what he has done.
    • Shambhala is a Vajrayana lineage tradition and the Sakyong, as the lineage holder, is responsible to uphold the tradition and his teaching is needed to keep the lineage going forward.  A quote often expressed is, “There is no Shambhala without the Sakyong.”
    • Students who have been waiting to receive this abhisheka should not be kept back from connecting with their teacher and going forward with their Vajrayana path.
    • People feel genuine devotion to the Sakyong, want to see him, are happy he is doing the Rigden Abhisheka and are concerned that Shambhala is not taking better care of him and his family.


The letter goes on to lay out progress made and business unfinished. The letter concludes:

The Board intends to work on all of this and continues to appreciate and take in all of the feedback from all of you. We take seriously our responsibility to support the community as a whole. This is not a time for “business as usual.”

However, to reconcile our views, transcend old patterns, and move Shambhala forward is not, and cannot be, solely the work of the Board. We need the Shambhala community to work together in order to succeed. We need your ideas about and involvement in the path forward and your feedback about the Code of Conduct as it is rolled out. Meeting these challenges and seizing these opportunities are our best path forward. 

As you likely know, I have attempted to bring attention to these issues through a silent protest and witness. I take responsibility for altering a symbol (the Shambhala flag) which has strong associations of goodness for many of us. I apologize if this gesture is unskillful, indecorous, or unkind, but I could find no other means at my disposal for magnetizing and sustaining our community’s attention to this difficult and complex issue.

As a survivor of misconduct, and as the partner of a survivor of misconduct, I ask with all my heart that we take up the board’s offer to work together with all the seriousness that this issue demands. I am open to more conversations, as well as any ideas that will allow us to come together and find reconciliation across the divides we experience. Please reach out to me, to our Desung Kristen Mullen, or to anyone on the council with your thoughts and concerns. 

How can we together create a global Sangha that manifests as a cradle of lovingkindness for all?

With appreciation,

Mark Douglass, Council Representative, Societal Health and Well Being

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