by Tara Carreon
August 13, 2019
The Shambhala organization is in crisis, and Chris Chandler is perhaps the most fearless and best-informed of its critics. Shambhala's spiritual leader, the "Sakyong Mipham," has been outed as a sexual assaulter and heavy drinker with a bad habit of assaulting his female followers, and even the internal investigators hired to sanitize the problem ended up by confirming his bad behavior. Revenues from new students and book sales have fallen off the charts, and local centers have stopped sending the required 25% of revenues to the mothership. Numerous old students have left the fold, and compromising pages on the Shambhala.org website are regularly being scrubbed. Two senior Shambhala teachers have been arrested for child sex abuse, and the organization has issued denials of corporate knowledge eerily reminiscent of the Catholic Church's approach to its own pedophile crisis.
Chris Chandler's qualifications to write an expose of Shambhala are unmatched. She devoted the better part of her adult life to serving the group, became a member of the "Kasung" corps of uniformed disciplinary officers who patrol the premises when teachings occur, and ultimately was so trusted by the Mukpo Family that she became the full time caretaker for Taggie Mukpo, the autistic son of bad-boy lama Chogyam Trungpa, whose own proclivity for alcohol and cocaine drove him to an early grave and may have cursed Taggie with fetal alcohol syndrome. Chris reveals how the Mukpo Family failed to provide for Taggie's care, and entirely abandoned him to the care of the State of Vermont, even as his mother indulged a familial taste for the finer things in life, including international travel, multiple homes, dressage horses, lavish parties, fine food, drink, and apparel.
Chris and her husband were both part of the group, and due to their insider status, were able to attend all manner of secret ceremonies and initiations that were altogether inaccessible to the public, and available to insiders only after meeting study prerequisites and shelling out lots of cash. Chris explains how the Shambhala system of "mindfulness meditation" forms the basis for cult indoctrination, fostering a blank, uncritical mind-state and an attitude of childlike dependency among followers, even as they boast that they are developing "warrior confidence," and an ability to confront the challenges in life with the "energy of basic goodness."
Perhaps most important for those who are dabbling in "Shambhala training," Chris reveals that this veneer of "secular spiritual" that supposedly does not endorse any faith-based beliefs, is actually the entryway to a supernatural view of life that focuses on weird practices like visualizing oneself as a Mongolian warlord astride his white charger, hacking down legions of heretics in order to establish an "Enlightened Society." Once Chris's book opened the door to this revelation for me, I was able to find other Shambhala apostates posting online about this "bait and switch" approach. Shambhala Training, it turns out, gradually pushes the trainees towards the doorway of cultic fetishism, and when the student gets to "Level 5," they are given a very persuasive shove through the portal, whereupon they find themselves in a place they never intended to go -- the "Kalapa KIngdom."
What is this Kalapa Kingdom? It is the pure, fanciful invention of Chogyam Trungpa, the inventor of the entire Shambhala system, that he constructed out of a hodgepodge of belief systems, relying especially heavily on the Japanese cultural traditions of calligraphy, flower arranging, and martial philosophy. Trungpa, it turns out, was fascinated with militarism, and in a master stroke of "reconciling the opposites," conjoined the sanctimonious mystagoguery of Tibetan Buddhism with the toxic heirarchicalism of Japanese Imperial Buddhism to create a bizarre hybrid that, surprisingly enough, held considerable appeal for a core group of believers.
Having come to the land of democracy, Trungpa found himself free to set up a monarchy, and surrounded himself with a "Court" of sycophants who fostered ever-grander delusions in his alcohol and cocaine-charged brain. His word was absolute law, all of his relatives were deified, and his servants catered to his every wish, believing that they were thereby paving their own path to enlightenment. Within this "Enlightened Society of Shambhala Warriors," no one could draw an independent breath, and everything went according to Trungpa's wishes. When he died at the age of 48, his body destroyed from drug and alcohol abuse, and his son took the "Kalapa Throne," the party continued unabated. But in his attempt to fill his father's shoes, the Sakyong Mipham laid down a trail of drunken misconduct that now, in the era of #MeToo, has become the bane of this imaginary monarchy.
You will, inevitably, be hearing more about the collapse of the Shambhala Empire, because its rotten foundations have begun to give way, and the entire superstructure is tilting. If you want to understand the faulty architecture of this cult, that gives itself the name of Buddhism, but deserves to be shelved next to Hubbard's Scientology and Moon's Unification Church, you can find no better guide than Chandler's compelling tome. While at times she repeats thematic conclusions that have already been well-expressed, I did not find that it impeded readability, although I occasionally skimmed over some paragraphs that presented ideas with which I had already become familiar. Those who think that she draws too many unwarranted inferences of worldwide conspiracy from the evidence would do well to research the various actors whom she implicates in the plot to take down American independent thinking -- the Dalai Lama's publicity army exists for a reason, and that reason is entirely political.