What Should Happen with the Kalapa Council and Shambhala Governance?

The Kalapa Council has clearly not served Shambhala well throughout the Project Sunshine process. It has not been meaningfully a source of desired outcomes, helpful process roadmaps, transparency, or even genuine emotional support for the community.

Conversely, it has been a source of division, obfuscation, and untruth. Its most visible contribution has been occasional messages to the community that are almost totally lacking in specifics. These messages are often revealed to be, in part, “damage control” either shortly after — or, more recently, immediately before — painful revelations that, in private, the Council has actively sought to suppress. (For specifics, see “Examples of Kalapa Council Obfuscation” below.)

Intent of This Article

I am not an expert in governance, nor do I have intimate knowledge of the workings of the Kalapa Council. So I don’t believe that I know what needs to be done with any level of specificity.

However, I do believe I see clear patterns in the way that Shambhala has been governed for a long time, that have led directly to the poor governance outcomes we are experiencing. I wish to make the case that these patterns are the main thing that needs to change if Shambhala is to grow and flourish, more so than any particular Council member or even governing body (although those may need to change as well).

In other words, I believe Shambhala needs a much different kind of leadership — with very different appointment structures, expectations, financial practices, relationships to transparency, and cultural habits — even if the names of the people and governing bodies involved were to change relatively little.

So the intent of this document is to encourage a conversation that will hopefully lead to the right next steps for the Kalapa Council, and for leadership in Shambhala generally.

Key Cultural Problems within Kalapa Council

In my opinion, the Kalapa Council suffers from the following key problems:

Council is Compromised Due to Appointment Structure

As the Council members themselves say:

As Kalapa Councillors we were appointed by the Sakyong. We were not selected to be representative of the community, but for our connection to him and the roles that we hold.

In other words, membership on the Kalapa Council is a function, first and foremost, of personal loyalty to the Sakyong, and not, necessarily, of:

  • Training and professional qualification.
  • Ability to meet defined outcomes for Shambhala International.
  • A well-articulated appointment process that considers multiple candidates and chooses the one best able to promote the mission and institutional aims of Shambhala.

Given how Council members are appointed, it’s unsurprising that the Council’s performance has suffered. It’s also unsurprising that the Council, as individuals and as a body, has worked to protect the Sakyong personally from harm, even when that was both unethical and against the best interests of Shambhala as a whole.

Council Lacks Capacity and Expertise

In my opinion, the Kalapa Council’s poor handling of the Project Sunshine process has been heavily influenced by two major issues: a lack of capacity and a lack of expertise.

Lack of capacity

Almost every step of the Council’s response to this crisis has seemed to happen in slow motion. This is because the leadership lacks capacity: the ability to manage many large, complex projects quickly to effective results.

This is a practical issue. The Council is:

  • Not full-time.
  • Not in the same place.
  • Not fully paid.

The result has been consistently slow decisionmaking, resulting in a perception of hostility to the truth that goes well beyond the Council’s actual attempts to downplay and cover up reality.

The truth is that the Council simply has not had the available time and concentrated decisionmaking power to respond in a proactive way, or even a timely way, to any step of the Project Sunshine crisis.

See “Lack of Kalapa Council Capacity,” below, for a couple of corroborating documents on this point.

Lack of expertise

The Council has a clear tendency to rely exclusively on its own resources to solve problems that are in fact well outside the expertise both of any Council member individually and of the Council collectively.

The Council members are not primarily credentialed experts in professional fields relevant to running a complex international nonprofit, such as business, finance, marketing, or nonprofit administration.

Nor are the Council members credentialed experts in community care, mediation, conflict resolution, public relations, or the other related fields that could have helped them during the Project Sunshine process.

The Council has also been slow to engage third-party help. The mediator it engaged to communicate with Andrea Winn (and who subsequently threatened her with legal action) was only brought in many months into the process, and its relationship with the spiritual misconduct resolution service An Olive Branch is still in preliminary stages after months of discussion. These delays were probably a result of both a reluctance to spend money and an inability to make timely decisions; see “Lack of capacity” above.

Furthermore, it does not appear that the Council at any point retained an outside lawyer, crisis resolution consultant, public relations specialist, or similar domain expert, as the governing body of another 10,000-person-strong organization might have done in a similar crisis. The Council has continued to show its clear preference for handling serious problems internally, with the very limited resources available on hand.

The result has been a series of damaging and obvious mistakes. Examples include:

  • Withholding support from Project Sunshine rather than aiding in its publication, thereby setting itself as an enemy of the truth during this entire process and creating needless division within the community.
  • In response to the same report whose publication it attempted to discourage, issuing a public statement describing a history of “abhorrent sexual behavior” within Shambhala, while providing no specifics. This phrase was picked up and published in The Guardian, Newsweek, and other outlets — again without specifics (which, again, the Council sought to avoid having published) that could have established the nature and scope of the behavior to which it was referring.
  • Issuing periodic statements to the Shambhala community with virtually no concrete content, and no clear timetables or outcomes for the actions it claimed it was taking.
  • Threatening legal action on the eve of the publication of Sunshine 2, again needlessly discrediting itself; and then continuing to deny (most recently in its community letter today, June 29) that it had done so, despite there being no reason to believe its flat denial over Andrea Winn’s detailed and credible account.
  • In its community letter immediately prior to Sunshine 2, again failing to provide clear timetables and outcomes beyond vague statements that it is working “actively” with An Olive Branch and intends to undergo diversity counseling in July. In the same letter, proceeding to suggest that it may dissolve itself, helping feed into a likely leadership vacuum in a time of crisis.
  • Continuing to make carefully worded misleading statements in its community letter today, June 29 (see “Examples of Kalapa Council Obfuscation” below), on a topic — when, precisely, it knew the content of Sunshine 2 — that is immaterial to the well-being of the community.

As discouraging as these behaviors are ethically, they are also a clear manifestation of Shambhala’s preference for a “do-it-yourself” mentality that places an unrealistic burden on untrained, overworked volunteers, who are chosen based partly on qualification, partly on willingness, and partly on the strength of their relationship to people in power.

This was clearly insufficient for the needs of the Project Sunshine reports. More broadly, it’s apparent that the growth and development of Shambhala as a whole is suffering from a leadership body with very limited capacity to make or enforce decisions, whose members are not full-time, not colocated, and not fully paid, and who are not primarily credentialed experts in relevant professional fields.

Council is Nontransparent

The Kalapa Council has clearly inherited the culture of in/out-groups and silent excommunication that is one of Shambhala’s most pernicious problems. One might call this “court” culture in the negative sense, as elaborated below in “Prioritize Undoing Patronage Culture.”

In other words, what should be formal, impartial systems for the benefit of all Shambhala members are instead informal networks of personal relationships, and these networks function vastly differently depending on the individual’s relationship to people in power.

This manifests in the Kalapa Council as:

  • Sudden unavailability to people and projects who seem in danger of creating situations the Council doesn’t know how to handle.
  • A desire to handle everything informally, on a person-to-person basis.
  • A pronounced tendency to doublespeak to protect internal interests; see “Examples of Kalapa Council Obfuscation” below.

Council is Nonrepresentative

It is accurate, as the Council says, that the Council’s composition is not representative of the diversity of Shambhala itself. Addressing this by changing the composition of the Council would hopefully help, but is not a substitute for addressing the other cultural issues above.

What I Believe Should Be Done

In my opinion, the following may be the right general steps to take.

Investigate Claims from Chile Event in Sunshine 2

Project Sunshine 2 contains a very serious, specific allegation of a cover-up, by several members of the Kalapa Council, of a possible sexual assault by the Sakyong that happened during a visit to Chile (see “Text of Chile Allegation,” below).

The incident in Chile should be investigated, and we should be prepared to face the consequences, for the Sakyong and for Shambhala itself, if criminal behavior is found.

More specific to the Kalapa Council, the details of the alleged cover-up, and which specific Kalapa Council members were involved, should be pursued by Ms. Winn’s investigator. If the witness accounts are determined to be reliably consistent and accurate, everyone named as being involved should be immediately removed from leadership in Shambhala, regardless of the results of the separate investigation into the Sakyong’s behavior itself.

Fully Separate the Temporal and Spiritual Leadership of Shambhala

In my opinion, the Kalapa Council — and the governance of Shambhala in general — should not be under the supervision of the Sakyong, or under any spiritual head of Shambhala.

Shambhala is an international religious nonprofit, and should be run by an executive body with relevant expertise. This body should be answerable to meeting Shambhala’s temporal goals — creating a flourishing and growing international community that is healthy, safe, and financially secure — and not to any other higher authority.

Shambhala’s spiritual goals as a Buddhist lineage should be supervised by the Sakyong, or by another spiritual leader or set of leaders. This body should have final authority over, for example, the content of Shambhala’s religious texts and practices, the appointment of shastris, acharyas, and other teachers, and the ultimate nature of the Buddhist view that Shambhala exists partly to propagate.

In my opinion, the existing Four Pillars system can act as the bridge between Shambhala’s temporal and spiritual concerns. Practice and Education and the Kasung should take spiritual input from Shambhala’s spiritual leadership, and give corresponding temporal input as to how Shambhala should be governed (for example, to enforce guidelines on what kinds of programs can be hosted at the land centers).

However, Shambhala itself should no longer be run as an organization by a spiritual leader, in terms of the final authority for budgeting decisions, growth plans, community care guidelines, hiring and compensation practices, and other temporal matters.

Moreover, the Government and Economy pillars that will be the main secular leadership of Shambhala need to be greatly strengthened, and run by people with extremely strong track records in relevant fields such as business, management, finance, marketing, human resources, and nonprofit administration.

Appoint Leaders by Professional Competency, Not Personal Ties

Whichever current Kalapa Council members wish to remain — and are not removed subject to the Chile and any other investigations — should be invited to reapply for their roles.

The selection process should be open, transparent, and competitive. It should be based on finding best fit with Shambhala’s specific organizational goals and leadership needs as both an international nonprofit and a spiritual lineage — and not, as is currently the case, on the strength of personal relationships within the lineage’s centers of power.

As in any well-run nonprofit, leaders must be held accountable to clearly defined, transparent, quantifiable outcomes — for fundraising, program attendance, member safety, center growth, and Shambhala’s other temporal goals.

The process of moving underperforming leaders out of their roles must be clear, predictable, and transparent as well, and not based on informal relationship networks among those in power.

Prioritize Undoing Overworked/Untrained Volunteer Culture

Shambhala cannot continue to be run by dispersed, overworked, undertrained volunteers. The reliance on volunteers (at times celebrated, see Lack of Kalapa Council Capacity below) creates a culture that is incompetent, perennially burned-out, suffers high turnover, cannot avail itself of clear opportunities, and cannot make proactive decisions.

This is as true of the Kalapa Council itself as it is of Shambhala’s individual centers, land centers, and teams. The new temporal leadership of Shambhala should be fully paid, fully qualified, full-time professionals— even if that means there are fewer of them.

The temporal leadership of Shambhala must also take this cultural issue as a first priority for reforming Shambhala itself. A few (of many) important steps would include:

  • Mandatory financial literacy and management classes for center directors, coupled with full pay for center directors and staff.
  • Adequate full-time, fully-paid staff, who are domain experts, for each of Shambhala’s key organizational priorities — such as technology, marketing, public relations, and member wellbeing.
  • Much less reliance on dispersed volunteer councils for decisionmaking.

As a concrete point, Shambhala must engage a third-party management firm for help with its governance transition. It cannot rework its own governance using the overstressed, underresourced tools at hand.

Prioritize Undoing Patronage Culture

Currently, the ability to take action in Shambhala is a function of a chain of formal and informal permissions tracing down from the Sakyong. As in a European court, proximity to the monarch is the ultimate metric of one’s ability to get things done — whether or not they are the right things, have been rigorously reviewed, are coherent, and so on.

Also as in a European court, Shambhala hosts a pernicious culture of gossip as to who is in and out of favor, with abrupt excommunications of people who fall from favor being very common (as reported repeatedly in Project Sunshine 2, and as experienced by ample numbers of people not part of the conversation on sexual harm in Shambhala).

Disentangling the temporal and spiritual leadership of Shambhala, and modeling a proper process for selecting the temporal leadership that will take Shambhala forward, should be the first step in undoing this culture. These leaders should be identified based on their personal competencies and on the strength of their plans for meeting Shambhala’s temporal and spiritual objectives, and not on their existing relationships to people in power.

The new temporal governance also needs to be vigorous in modeling behaviors that will dig Shambhala — at the local level — out of the habits that propagate patronage culture.

The result should be that decisions throughout Shambhala are considered on their temporal and spiritual merits, and not on whether the person attempting them has secured “permission” from an unaccountable, bureaucratic, and nontransparent hierarchy.

Mistakes Not to Repeat

However Shambhala’s temporal governance is to change, it must not:

  • Retain the current patronage-based appointment mechanism.
  • Retain the current part-time/volunteer/dispersed leadership structure.
  • Retain the current reliance on people who are in no way trained to meet the goals of a complex international nonprofit.
  • Further exacerbate Shambhala’s leadership vacuum in a time of crisis.

Supporting documents

Lack of Kalapa Council Capacity

From a 2012 Shambhala Times article on the Kalapa Council. (I’m not sure if this situation has changed within the shifted Council composition since 2012, but the culture of reliance on volunteer labor is clear.)

It is the highest governing body of the mandala and holds responsibility for the overall strategy and the legal and financial health of the mandala. Seven of the ten members are paid to a certain extent; the remainder volunteer their time extensively. Fun fact: President Reoch clocks in at 5600 volunteer hours of work per year. That is the equivalent of two full time staff positions!

From April 20, 2018, a Facebook post from an assistant to Minister Arthur mentioning capacity as a main issue in the Council’s lack of timely response to Project Sunshine (the thread started with a person asking “Does anyone notice how the Kalapa Council offers little participation or specific answers to member’s profound questions regarding sexual abuse concerns here? Am I missing something?”):

Examples of Kalapa Council Obfuscation

Signalling support for Project Sunshine, and then closing down communication with and ostracizing the report author.

I spent hours building relationships and working with Ministers Adam Lobel and Jane Arthur between September 2017 and February 2018. They expressed gratitude for Project Sunshine; I have emails showing how grateful they were for my work and acknowledged it was needed.

I sent them advance drafts of my report so they could stand on solid ground in their leadership of this community through the opening of our big can of worms about abuse. I have worked very hard to work *with* the Shambhala leadership each step of the way.

Instead of working collaboratively with me, they cut me off completely after I published the report. I emailed both Ministers on February 28th asking if they would collaborate with me on creating a healing path for the community. It has been nearly a month and they have not responded to that email. I sent another email the next day on behalf of community members who wanted the Project Sunshine report to be delivered to members through the Shambhala email list. They never responded to that email either. In the press Shambhala International has actively distanced themselves from Project Sunshine.

Their statements sound very open and welcoming, however, they restrict access to their members only forum. Far from honouring those who have been raising awareness, they have actively tried to suppress my efforts to help this community as well as the efforts of other survivors. I wish what they said was true, but they do not wish to work together.

I suspect the mandate of openness and true healing in Project Sunshine is not a fit for where the Shambhala leadership is currently focused — I believe it is more on public relations and protecting the stability of their leadership. -March 24, 2018

Writing to the community a message implying that Andrea Winn was unreasonably refusing to talk to the Kalapa Council, when in fact the opposite was true:

Giving a description of Care and Conduct’s effectiveness since its 2002 rollout that is obviously inaccurate, and that places the burden of responsibility for any outstanding complaints on the discomfort of abuse victims — rather than a clear pattern, at every level of the community including and especially the Council itself, of trying to deal with things informally, internally, and in secret.

Post-2002, we feel the majority of situations have come to our attention, and we’ve dealt with it by removing these leaders and teachers.

However, we also understand it can be very scary and intimidating to really bring these things forward, so that there must be some people out there who didn’t feel comfortable bringing it forward at all, and we really do at this point want those people who had felt like they either couldn’t trust us, or for whatever reason felt they couldn’t bring these things forward, to really — at this point — feel like they could bring that forward, so we know everything that’s occurred within our community and can properly relate to it.

Again, from 2002 till now, knowing what we know, we’ve really taken care of everything that’s come forward to us, and now the real question is what do we not know, where is there a situation where somebody didn’t feel comfortable coming forward, and how can they feel comfortable coming forward now? -Kalapa Council Chair Josh Silberstein, May 23, 2018

Falsely stating that they had not made threats of legal action against Andrea Winn:

We want to share clearly that, despite some claims on social media, this leadership body has never threatened legal action against any survivor, ally, or mediator. -Letter to community, 6/27/2018

The Council has never threatened Buddhist Project Sunshine or anyone else with legal action with respect to allegations of misconduct. -Letter to community, 6/29/2018

Falsely claiming transparency as a priority of the Kalapa Council, when in fact it has consistently been a clear impediment to transparency, as described above, and up to and including the possible active cover-up of a known sexual assault.

We do not want to hide or cover any part of our shared history. We wish to bring everything into the light, and look with sanity, tenderness and clarity at what we can learn from our past. -Letter to community, 6/27/2018

Using a carefully worded statement to falsely imply that it was unaware that Sunshine 2 would be released. (The timing of its community letter and, especially, the Sakyong’s letter obviously reflect the imminent release of Sunshine 2, and the Council’s own mediator threatened Andrea Winn with legal action in an attempt to prevent its release the week prior. The Council may not have known the specific contents of Sunshine 2, but they were clearly aware it would be released and knew of its general subject matter.)

The Kalapa Council did not receive an advanced copy of the Buddhist Project Sunshine Phase 2 Report on May 24. These rumors are untrue. All members of the Kalapa Council read this report for the first time on June 28 when it was publicly released. -Letter to community, 6/29/2018

Text of Chile Allegation

A person came forward who alleged being present during a phone call between a member of the Kalapa Council and an unknown person. In this call, the KC member was informed that the Sakyong had been accused of raping a woman in Chile. After the phone call, the KC member said that a specific group of leaders would be put together to deal with the situation and that members of the KC would conspire to cover-up the allegation and to get the Sakyong sober (allegedly he was extremely drunk). Another Shambhala member confirmed hearing this account from a different person.




Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store