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Jun, 2019

Shambhala's Social Justice Deflection Gambit


by Charles Carreon
June 22, 2019



There’s nothing more dangerous to a tyrant than frank accusations that stick. Baker Roshi got away with bedding a lot of women who came to Zen Center to do shikantaza, not hanky panky, but it was all over in a hot New York minute once a wealthy donor who had the ear of the Zen Center Board accused Baker of having sex with his wife. Boom! They took away the keys to his Beamer and set his revered arse on the curb. Not exactly what’s happening with the Sakyong, whose lawyers are busy cleaning out the tills while he resides outside of the civil and criminal jurisdiction of US lawyers and prosecutors.


Unlike Baker, the Sakyong has a cadre of wordsmith apologists working in the social justice idiom to snarl the brains of the devoted. I first picked up on the social justice spin when I discovered that a virtual Buddhist neophyte, Prof. Shante Paradigm Smalls of hip-hop scholarship fame, had been rapidly elevated to teacher status in an evident effort to help the New York Shambhala center get its freak on. The Queer Dharma group just for the LBGTQI crowd on Fridays at 6:00 pm probably doesn’t have a lot of attendance overlap with the Shambhala Children’s Program at 10:45 am on Sunday, but hopefully the Scarsdale Buddhist moms won’t freak out if they meet in the halls. Dr. Smalls is launching the BIPOC (“Black, Indigenous, People of Color”) Sitting Group in July, and a weekend retreat for this group is coming up. Would it be impolitic to suggest that segregation is making a comeback in New York spirituality?

The NYC Shambhala is apparently Ground Zero for crisis control, with the Interim Governing Council holding “Community Gatherings” to find out “What would nourish you? What would you like to see? How are you feeling? How can we engage you?” Like they don’t fucking know what the fucking crisis is about. Well, just in case people need education, they’re holding meetings on those pressing issues that have been bedeviling the Shambhala Sangha for years – all those People of Color who have been clamoring to join the group, but just can’t come up with the money to get very far in Shambhala Training. No, they’re not rolling out a scholarship program, silly! Money’s very tight what with the Sakyong carrying off everything that’s not nailed down. No, they’ve formed a “Race, Racism & Racial Inequality Group," and a “Conversations on Patriarchy for Women and Non-Binary Group" for all you women and people with gender dysphoria who have so much trouble with those stinky men.


For all the perkiness of the Shambhala New York website chatter, the sound this group makes is soporific. You can listen to a podcast entitled “The State of Shambhala,” wherein Prof. Smalls, David Perrin, and the Shastri Formerly Known as Shastri Ethan Nichtern hold forth on absolutely everything but Shambhala’s sorry state. Temporizing under false pretenses in front of even the most compliant audience produces dull audio. Drinking game sure to result in coma: take a shot every time Shante Smalls pauses to sound deep. She takes herself way too seriously, but maybe that’s perfect for a Center that is testing the hypothesis that avoiding the issue will sustain the organization, at least in a state of suspended animation.


I learned more about the Social Justice Defense when I was reading Matthew Remski’s analysis of Susan Piver’s July 2018 crisis-control letter that presumed to provide post-scandal Shambhalians with spiritual guidance through their political storm. I came across this clever piece of spin in Susan’s sutra on how a good group member navigates an institutional crisis:

Susan Piver wrote:

“I can’t help but notice that the majority of voices calling for unilateral moves, making demands, and telling others what to do come from our friends with penises. Men. Thank you for decrying the patriarchy. However, I would like to suggest that you consider taking yourselves out of the center of the conversation by asserting black-and-white opinions, calling for reprisals, airing condemnations, circulating petitions, and so on. Try to listen. Let other voices come to the fore.”

I didn’t need Remski to unpack this for me. I can grasp the technique. First, you align yourself with all women, put your arm around them, and conjure up a noisy Sakyong-accuser. Second, you charge this straw man with being a pushy bastard promoting a vengeful agenda. Third, you tell him to shut up. You know, it’s crude, but then she caps it with a little hip talk like this -- “if my sisters and brothers want to dispute me on this, that would be awesome” -- and we’re all good.

As for what you do with all the bitterness that continues to boil in your chest after you decide not to get drawn into “calling for reprisals, airing condemnations, circulating petitions, and so on,” Susan has an app for that:

Susan Piver wrote:

When thoughts arise: The Sakyong should be fired/we live in a patriarchy/I feel so sad for everyone…just as you do in meditation, let go. Return attention to the feelings until you are ready to stop. Trust yourself. Know that in so doing, you are priming the ground of power, not desperation.

Man that is so great. Whenever you think about your oppressor, or your oppression, or the suffering of your peers, just make it go away, and when you do then you will be strong! This is so good. It’s right up there with “War is Peace,” “Arbeit Macht Frei,” and “We were only following orders.”


Susan Piver has some talent in pushing bullshit, we’ve got to give her that. But it’s kind of at the Mickey Dees level. While surfing what’s available when you search for “secret Shambhala teachings” on the Net, I came across some hi-fi Shambhala mythologizing authored by Judith Simmer-Brown. The print layout was sharp, and I found it online at this pompous little site called The Arrow, a Shambhala think-tank spigot with a logo that reeks of Shambhala style – an assymetrical mandala mashup of a Tibetan empowerment-arrow wreathed in wafting banners, overlaid with the Great Eastern Sun design, enhaloing a tiny Earth. Blue and gold dominate in the logo and on the site, but in shades different from the standard Shambhala sky blue and vibrant yellow. When we get to this site, we are signaled that what is served here is not plebeian fare – it is the caviar of crap.

I knew I’d hit paydirt when I saw the title illustration for “Cutting Through Spiritual Puritanism,” three white men in suits, with their eyes cropped out at the top, depicting only their vile, mansplaining mouths. I could sense that I was about to stick my finger in a high-voltage spin outlet, and settled into my chair to absorb the jolt. It was not long in coming, and it made Susan Piver’s deflection of the specific facts of the Sakyong’s abuse into an accusation of men in general for daring to accuse him of sexual assault seem amateurish.


Written by Gabe Dayley, a Dharma Brat, “Cutting Through Spiritual Puritanism” consciously echoes the title of CTR's breakthrough book, but there the similarity ends. While CTR actually scored significant critical points against America's theosophy-laden spiritual idiom, Dayley's shots fall short. The article oozes political sophistry, peering down at mere humans from a pedagogical height. Dayley's little policy magazine is burdened with presumptuous posturing, like its inspirator -- The Arrow was loosed from the Sakyong's bow. The Monarch of Kalapa asked the profound question that The Arrow was founded to answer: “What would it look like to explore and examine the world’s enormous social, economic, and environmental problems from a perspective rooted in the principle that human beings and society are basically good – possessing dignity and worthiness to exist on this planet?” Y’know, that would sound so much more profound if the speaker weren't a rapist.

Dayley is the Executive Director of the Shambhala Meditation Center of Washington, D.C., and for a day job, he passes out grant money to “activists around the world to develop grassroots educational projects that train civilians in the knowledge and skills of civil resistance.” Whoa! Sounds like he does useful shit for the national security state like inspire color revolutions, unrest in Venezuela, maybe even a little action in the Ukraine. But he’s not trying to get anyone riled up into an insurgent mob in Kalapaville. He’s more about promoting self-examination among the dissenters.


Like Dzongsar, Dayley launches his attack on the Sakyong’s accusers with an excoriating charge against “the West,” that put $18 Million into Shambhala’s coffers in 2017, as a land where “it is difficult for the Dharma to take root” on account of soil that “is not fertile,” where “Puritanism has dried the ground.” Having accused his fellow-American Buddhists of being unworthy to receive the Dharma, he exposes their “cherished dharmic view” as a pose concealing “rigid categories of good and evil,” that lead to “lumping all abusers into one convenient category of everything evil: rapists, child-abusers, tyrants, and Harvey Weinsteins.”

The narrative opening of Dayley's piece -- a visualization of scorched, barren earth -- makes you feel sorry for those poor lamas who had to come here and lie on the dry earth, covered with dust instead of devotion! Washington D.C. has been so ungenerous to Tibet House, the Dalai Lama. They had to get Keith Raniere and that nasty sex cult to give the Dalai Lama $2 Million to fund the holy work of the Tibetan Government in Exile, and the Dalai Lama had to sit there on stage with that sleazy bastard. That’s what the lamas have to go through to get a little donation. And all the Buddha had to do was hold out his begging bowl! India! Would that we were there and it was two-thousand years ago!


But let’s get to the core of Dayley’s argument. All of these politically untutored, unwoke men are just using the Sakyong to deflect from their own, corrupt embrace of patriarchy. They’re the nasty buggers! Go get ‘em! They reek of sanctimony when they accuse the King of Kalapa, but they probably ask their secretaries to get them coffee! They probably hold the doors open for old ladies, the condescending bastards. Hypocritical, lying bastards trying to deflect from their “participation in patriarchy” by expressing outrage at the Sakyong’s serial drunken sexual assaults with occasionally consenting and always ultimately acquiescent women and sometimes minors with their parents’ approval. Well, don’t laugh. Seldom does crap taste this nuanced:

Gale Dayley wrote:

We should condemn behavior that causes harm in the most uncertain terms. There is something questionable, however, when men use the abuses of another man as a foil, condemning the accused abuser in a self-righteous way that places the commentator above such reprehensible action, as if to imply that some men are responsible for patriarchy, while others are clean observers, on the right side of history lamenting the abuses of others. All men participate in patriarchy. (So do women.) The righteous indignation—laden with puritanical judgment of the other—creates an implicit illusion of a stark division between ‘good men’ (who righteously defend women, always) and ‘bad men’ (who perpetrate abuse, full stop).

Boy, talk about creating straw men! Who are these men who “use the abuses of another man as a foil, condemning the accused abuser in a self-righteous way that places the commentator above such reprehensible action?” Is he implying that all men sexually assault? That all men rape? That all men have sex with the children of their devoted students? That all men spend religious donations partying drunkenly in a libertine fashion? That all men have violated a religious promise to respect the chastity of their students, and instead have used sacred robes as a cloak for vice?


You know, there’s one thing I’m sure this Gabe Dayley is not, and that’s a lawyer. No lawyer would try to sell such an asinine argument, because they apply something called “the red face test.” The red face test means that an argument should be defensible enough that, if the Judge looked at you skeptically and asked if you really meant what you just said, you could say, “Yes, your Honor,” without getting a red face. This argument doesn’t pass that test. Any honest person's face would turn red in the process of trying to equate an average male, American Buddhist's behavior with the Sakyong's drunken libertinism.


An argument this bad will only persuade people who are disposed by guilt, groupthink, or weak analytical skills, to succumb to politically-correct polemics delivered in a tone of moral outrage. But it is consistent with Shambhala's lately-discovered concern for the broad class of socially-approved victims. Notably, this concern for the downtrodden arose only after the Sakyong was revealed as a drunken lecher with too many flunkies and dollars at his command. Before he was outed by a wide range of accusers, nobody worried about integrating Tantric People of Color, Dharma Transsexuals, and Indigenous Yogis into the practice. But the Interim Council is a rudderless vehicle with one oar in the water, circling in hopes of finding some direction that doesn't lead to the the Sakyong’s betrayal of his Sangha -- a black hole that threatens to swallow the organization, sucking down fortunes, careers, lifetimes of effort, book deals, professorships, and all the pleasures that arise from having thousands of obeisant students brimming with faith and devotion.


CTR's creation of Vajradhatu was a great achievement. And every great achievement can beget a great error. The great error was made by Dilgo Khentse when he put his thumb on the scale and nixed any plan to wait around for the Twelfth Trungpa to take his throne, and decided to repose the fate of a real lineage in the hands of an impostor wearing the newly-fashioned crown of “Sakyong of Shambhala.” He must have either thought that Americans were really stupid, or that the Sakyong was made of better stuff. I’d say the former.


Currently, the Shambhala scions are playing a game that status-seekers always play when a power structure crumbles. In "Homage to Catalonia," George Orwell describes how swiftly Anarcho-Communists became fascists when Spain fell to Franco under a hail of German bombs. It was just a matter of changing uniforms and learning a new vocabulary.

Currently, we see a number of different approaches among those people whose claim to being a meditation teacher derives from the Shambhala lineage.

First, a goodly number are stepping out of the group, scrubbing the Sakyong and Shambhala from their resumes, and pumping up their claims to having received Vajrayana teachings from other lamas. These people, of course, are not going to even admit their past status as Shambhala teachers, much less repent of their complicity in the misdeeds of the organization and its leadership. They maintain omerta by default. They weren't actually there, don't know much about it, and have nothing to say.

Second, another clique are in the Susan Piver category. They claim to have left, but remain loyal to the Shambhala organization, and advise everyone who will listen to them to keep an open, compassionate mind about the Sakyong's "alleged" misdeeds. Since "victims" remain hypothetical (none having been "proved" to exist), they do not extend compassion to them. If someone feels victimized, they should use Susan's Serenity Prayer, and dissolve the feeling into nothingness.

Third, another clique is in the Ethan Nichtern category. He claims to have given up his title of Shastri, but this is about as true as any statement of Trump's. There are dozens of occurrences of "Shastri Ethan Nichtern" on the Shambhala website, and he continues to teach for pay at Shambhala centers, where he teaches what he learned from the Sakyong. Of course, he claims to have been drinking Dharma from his mother's breast, because he's a bona fide Dharma Brat with CTR-lineage in his genes. So his stream of wisdom dates back to the time before Sakyong, when the waters of truth ran pure and clean as a Colorado stream into which the Vidyadara has just released a blast of coke-laden piss.

The key to the first gambit is to try and convert all the shady Shambhala karma into pure attainment, a sort of merit-laundering. The key to the second gambit is to claim to be out of Shambhala, but to remain silent about the bad things you know, and model silence as if it were a virtue. The key to the third gambit is to express lukewarm misgivings about what the Sakyong and Shambhala leaders have done, without admitting any complicity, and explaining that you're staying in to purify Shambhala.

Of course, these folks are all Buddhists, so these mental states are based on spiritual practice. They variously describe it as "no good / no bad," "holding space," and "resting in not-knowing." This may sound profound to the incurious, but it's nothing more than resting in ignorance.

It is wrong to rest in ignorance when you know of clear evidence of wrongdoing by persons you have previously venerated and helped to elevate in the minds of others. For example, if you're getting work done on your Volvo, and you tell a friend who also has a Volvo, "Wow, I've found a great mechanic. He does it all! Brakes, engine work, transmission, air conditioning, and all for a good price!" Then, two weeks later, the engine blows up right after the AC goes out and the brakes fail. Do you remain silent? Do you say, "I can't judge?" Do you say "Oh, I never went to that shop?" No, you are a good friend, so you call your friend and say, "Whoa, you know that Volvo mechanic I told you about -- don't take your car there. He totally screwed up my car, and now I'm in a pickle."

But such common sense will be derided by the wise meditation teachers. They'll talk about patriarchy, intersectionality, institutional reforms, and how putting up pictures of "alleged" sexual abusers shouldn't trigger anyone because, after all, nothing's been proven. Some people call it DARVO. I dispense with the acronyms, and call it bullshit.