Buddhist group grappling with sexual misconduct claims announces transition plan

The leader of Halifax-based Shambhala International, one of the largest Buddhist organizations in the western world, has been accused of sexual misconduct.

Halifax-based Shambhala International expects to have interim board in place by Sept. 10

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, the leader of the Shambhala International community, has been accused of sexual misconduct. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

One of the largest Buddhist organizations in the western world has announced a leadership transition plan, three weeks after its spiritual leader stepped aside amid sexual misconduct allegations.

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, the leader of the Shambhala International community, stepped back from his duties this month pending the outcome of a third-party investigation.

Members of the Kalapa Council, the governing body of the Halifax-based Buddhist organization and its more than 200 meditation centres worldwide, announced they would be resigning en masse through a "phased departure."

In a letter to the Shambhala community on Monday, the council announced that a transition team will select and appoint an interim board of directors, an effort to separate the current leadership from the appointment of the next board.

The council said the transition team will also select a so-called process team, which will be responsible for improving the Buddhist organization's future leadership, representation and governance structures.

"The Kalapa Council reached out to the international community to find respected leaders with expertise in various areas who could serve on the task force," the governing body said.

"We believe that these leaders, based on advice and suggestions from the community, will create a strong, representative body for the interim board of Shambhala."

Mipham and his bride, Princess Tseyang Palmo, smile during their Tibetan Buddhist royal wedding ceremony in Halifax in 2006. (The Canadian Press/Andrew Vaughan)

The transition plan comes after a former Shambhala community member published a report in June with statements from women alleging sexual misconduct by Mipham.

In the report, multiple unnamed women accuse him of heavy drinking and using his attendant to "procure women students for his own sexual gratification."

The women alleged Mipham would identify a woman during a teaching session or other event, and then use his attendant to bring her to his lodgings late at night for sex.

"Women were brought to [Mipham] in the middle of the night and pushed out the door before dawn to stumble back to their beds," a woman described in a statement included in the report.

The women said they were concerned they would face repercussions if they rejected his advances.

The allegations have not been proven in court and no charges have been laid.

The council has hired Halifax law firm Wickwire Holm to investigate the allegations.

An interim board and the process team are expected to be in place by Sept. 10, with the Kalapa Council transitioning its responsibilities to the interim board by Sept. 22.

The transition team is expected to reach out to the Shambhala community in the coming weeks.

The council also said the process team "will listen to the community, take feedback, and guide a process to oversee the deeper and longer process of inviting a new approach to community leadership in Shambhala."