Matthew Remski and I talk about Shambhala, guru-culture, and my blind spots.

July 12, 2018   |   58 Comments

As some of you may know, there is a great deal of trauma being exposed in the world of Shambhala where I have studied and practiced Buddhism for more than 20 years. It centers on the clergy sexual abuse perpetrated by Sakyong Mipham, the lineage-holder. The stories of abuse are captured here in a report from Andrea Winn’s Project Sunshine, if you would like to learn more. (Trigger warning for those who may have experienced sexual abuse; you may not want to read this.)

Like everyone else, I was upset and confused. I didn’t know what to say to my meditation students. After a few days, I wrote a blog post that I hoped had helpful suggestions for working with the shock, not, in my mind, to bypass anger and grief, but to find a way forward with care for all.

Matthew Remski read my post, found it problematic, and wrote a blog post about why, point by point.

For background: Matthew is a meditation and yoga practitioner who is also a wonderful writer–which I say grudgingly because I did not want to like him. This piece in particular uplifted and tore at my heart in equal measure. The writing is extraordinary but the heart it reveals is even more so.

In addition to such personal reflections, he writes about the culture surrounding Eastern spiritual forms that have taken root in the West. He has written a lot about cults and scandals in the spiritual world.

In his post about my post (here), Matthew dissected my suggestions and pointed out what he saw as their flaws. Before he posted it, he sent it to me for comment, which I appreciated. I started to read it and while it really hurt my feelings and I felt terribly misunderstood, I did key in on one point that was very important to me: that my language may in fact cause harm to those who are trying to come to grips with this new reality. I do not want to be the cause of such harm.

At first, I was just going to DELETE and hope it would go away. That felt wrong. My next plan was to get really mad and try to find a way to discredit him. That seemed dumb. Then I talked to my friend Josh who has great insight into both the Buddhist world and the world of spiritual harm. He said, basically, he has some good points. He suggested I call Matthew and invite him to a dialog that I would record so we could share it with others, which I did. Matthew was very open and generous and said yes. PS Thanks, Josh. You’re great.

I’m not going to lie to you. I was scared. Was he going to ambush me? Make a harsh meme out of my facial expressions? Be a dick? Well, check the video to see. SPOILER ALERT: IT WAS A GREAT CONVERSATION. Thank you, Matthew, for being willing to share your views so clearly and listen to my responses openly.

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  • Posted by:  Robert Schenck

    So Chogyam Trungpa died of alcoholism at age 47 after years of drinking, smoking, drugs, and—what shall we call it—free love. Osel Tendzin hid his HIV and infected students with AIDS. Sakyong Mipham frequently got drunk and sexually abused students. These three men, we must assume, had, more so than any others, integrated the principles and practices of Shambhala. They were the best living examples of its benefits, “Vidyadhara,” “Regent,” “Sakyong.” In the movie “No Country for Old Men,” Javier Bardem asks Woody Harrelson, “If the rule you followed has led you to this, of what value was the rule?” I think this is the question that Matthew Remski is asking of Shambhala. It is the question that has been asked for years about CTR and OT and, now, SMR. It is not going away. I think Matthew does a good job of explaining how the special language of Shambhala is used in this current crisis to try to rescue its principles and practices and thereby, of course, the wealth, power, and influence of the organization itself and of its title holders. I feel sad for Susan, who is obviously wounded and, at this point, basically defenseless against informed and incisive criticism like Matthew’s. It was a thoughtful and courteous conversation. It moved me. But the question remains. “If the rule you followed has led you to this, of what value was the rule?”

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      These questions should not go away. On that we agree.

      That you see me as wounded and defenseless against Matthew’s superior intellect makes me ill. You are incorrect. You are patronizing me. I am neither wounded nor defenseless. You profoundly understimate my intelligence and are blind to my meaning. I ask you with great vehemence to cease analyzing me, pitying me, or making up your nutty judgments about me, who I am, and what I feel. You don’t know me. Your lack of discernment in noticing your own projections is shocking—and that you would mask them as statements about me indicates a lack of insight on your part that is troubling and enraging.

      You do realize that you are commenting on my post yet speaking about me as if I wasn’t here? That is the alpha and omega of the problems in your comment.

      • Posted by:  Robert Schenck

        As I was the first to comment on your discussion; and as in my remarks meant to address both you and Mr. Remski, I was unsure of the use of pronouns so I went with full names. My mistake. I’m sorry. By “defenseless” I meant only that the behavior of SMR and his predecessors is hard to defend, not that you are not articulate and smart. I apologize, too, for “wounded.” I was mistaken, apparently, in thinking that was how you had in part characterized yourself in this matter. I’m sorry. I also plead guilty to projections, lack of discernment and insight, nutty judgments, and patronizing tone. I truly regret everything I wrote after “its title holders.” It deserves what you say about it and me. I appreciate your honesty and openness.

        • Posted by:  Susan Piver

          I accept your apology. It is greatly appreciated and alliance is restored.

  • Posted by:  Paul

    “The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao.” Mathhew seems to be needing to find some notoriety himself, via a “critique” of Susan’s heartfelt and obviously inquiry based response to the situation which was obviously process based. I don’t find an intellectualist hyper-rationalist “mansplaining” from the outside of value to me. I’m on the inside, and need to sort it out in a subjectively progressive and healing sort of way. Telling, at the beginning of the video response, was Matthew’s need to interrupt Susan as she was merely trying to do an introduction! Oy.

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      Paul, thank you for watching our conversation. Yes, Matthew’s approach is based more in intellectualism than is mine. That is how I see it too. He is entitled to that approach. And he did interrrupt me in the beginning—but then interrupted himself interrupting me! I appreciated that.

      It is a very complicated thing to have a conversation like this and I honestly feel we both did our best. Warmly, S

  • Posted by:  Paul

    Hi Susan. I am definitely triggered, but maybe that’s a good thing. I strongly object to the characterization by M.R. that Shambhala is not a lineage. This is like saying orphans don’t have biological parents. Perhaps there are some issues there, of course, but in my time in Shambhala we have referenced Gampopa, Milarepa, Thich Nhat Hanh, Shunryu Suzuki, and on and on. Need I even begin on the value and authentic scholarship and witnessing by Pema Chodron? Need I ? 😮
    Not to mention the CTR ate shoe leather and lost many friends just to bring us the Dharma? Do I really care if M.R. needs some kind of squeaky clean to make it work for him? Apparently. LOL. I’m mad about it. LOL. I may be leaving Shambhala, but I’ll be darned if I am not taking all that I have experienced, and all that I have learned with me… not to mention the memories of Dharmic Experiences within the Mandala. As an outsider, I don’t feel Mr. R. has a clue on that one. But then I haven’t listened/watchedto the video. His commentary pot shots on your written transcript (which, by the way, I thought was a pretty weak way to engage) are enough for me. I’m too pissed to watch the video. I don’t have time for things that aren’t of value. Am I wrong here?

    • Posted by:  Rachel Garcia

      I completely agree with you. And I’m glad to see a greater proportion of commenters that also feel this way (compared to other Facebook comment threads I’ve observed). This is classic Remski. He has done the same thing many times, with many people. He has an agenda, and it’s not kindly or benefic.

      • Posted by:  Paul

        Thanks, Rachel. It is helpful to get perspective. Right now I am a bit close to my emotions on all this. I appreciate your feedback much.

      • Posted by:  Susan Piver

        Hi Rachel. Yes, he has an agenda. I have an agenda, too. I do think he can be more attuned to his agenda than to present circumstance, but I can do that too. I was very glad we were able to talk nonetheless.

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      Yes, there are many possible triggers in a conversation about issues this traumatic between two people who have very different ideas about what is useful. Definitely don’t watch the video if it will just make you mad. But I think there were things of value in it. I think we both tried to refine our ideas about what is true rather than “win” an argument. xo S

    • Posted by:  Susan


      When/if you feel ready, I would encourage you to watch the video. To me it was a really great conversation between two people who respect each other, parsing very challenging things. I have enjoyed Susan’s teachings for a long time and also reading Remski’s critique of Shambhala and language has opened my eyes.

      He doesn’t off-handedly dismiss CTR’s lineage, but asks us to do our own investigation. How do we know that CTR held the seats he said he held? The word lineage connotes authority, respect, and legitimacy. Why do we accept this as truth? Truth without investigation….which seems the opposite of what is often taught in Shambhala.

      Susan, I was so struck by the end of the conversation and the discussion around conflict and passion, aggression, and ignorance. I recently listened to a OTM (On the Media) podcast about civility and the history of civility and uncivil speech. Then listening to your conversation with Matthew it triggered an understanding of my initial draw to Shambhala. That somehow there was an enlightened society where there was no conflict. I was definitely conflict avoidant and somehow that hope of something other than what is really drew me. I offer this only to say that I do think there’s a level of conflict avoidance in Shambhala, in individuals and in the institution itself. And that is being played out in the leadership of the New York center and SI.

      Your conversation, your bravery allowed me to see some things in myself that I’ve been opening to since the second Project Sunshine report, so thank you.

  • Posted by:  Kellie Schorr

    What a brave and interesting discussion. Thank you both for participating in this open, vulnerable, challenging exchange.

    What was not lost on me was the inherent irony that Matthew chides Susan for subtle “tone policing” when his entire analysis and explanations are intentional tone policing. Susan is explaining a personal letter to her community and he steps in from the outside to say “Here’s why you shouldn’t say these words/things ” or “here’s what’s wrong with what you say.”

    Further, as a writer for whom the proper use of the proper word is the tool of my job – Matthew seems to employ a wide-range of latitude in how words and language are analyzed. It is the essence of a linguistic double standard. On one hand “lineage” is broken down to the very atom of what it means, but he thinks “charisma” and “magnetic” are the same word and interchangeable (they are not). The problem when you key off individual words in one context (a community letter) and apply them to standards of another context (cults and damage research) is those words get cognitively translated in the paradigm shift and don’t retain an independent meaning. Also, in the “this word is bad because” view – is no recognition of the sociological reality of communal language. When the goal is to connect – speaking in the communities agreed upon words/metaphors is the connecting choice. It is a decision of cultural competence, not simply a hammer to rule the like-minded.

    That’s my biggest critique of his critique and this discussion. With a solid and passionate intent to illumine the world to the damage in cults and abusive spiritual communities, Matthew sees (like all of us) through only one lens and his rationale becomes narrow/extreme in its view. To say we should not recommend meditation as a way of working through the feelings because the abuser (Shambhala international) taught meditation is like saying “You mom spanked you with a wooden spoon, so you can’t cook with one.” Meditation is a tool. Whether it is used or misused is up to the hand it is in.

    Finally, Matthew’s lens again ignores the community Susan’s letter was written for, and instead supplants the readers with people who are easily led/mislead/victimized with little tools for self-protection. Just because Susan is personable and says “this is what I think” doesn’t meant I’m going to believe/do/legitimatize it automatically. I have a brain. I have self-protective mechanisms. Because he has clearly seen so many who are vulnerable, misled or harmed he fails to trust the readers of Susan’s letter to do any critical thinking. Readers have a personal responsibility to decide what to accept/reject. While there are some unable to make healthy critical choices about ideas, the majority of the intended community have proven themselves able to read with sustenance.

    That’s where the difference is. Susan wrote a letter of relationship and community, and Matthew sees a letter of some kind of doctrinal edict. In many ways – this discussion is simply a tale of two letters – that happen to be the same letter.

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      Kellie. This, this, this. Your abillity to offer a critique with clarity and non-inflammatory directness is deeply admirable. It is an incredible gift to be able to do so. Also, you say what I feel but have not known how to elucidate. Thank you so much. Love, S

  • Posted by:  Paul DeLong

    Thank you Kellie!!!

  • Posted by:  Tanya Smith

    Dear Susan – thank you for this incredibly brave response. I’ve got plenty of credentials, and some time on the cushion, but no more skill in holding the challenge of being human than you — nor it seems do those we looked to as leaders inside and outside of our dharma circles. Your candor and this conversation are deeply moving, and I will take time to sit with the impacts and reflect on how they are true for the many layers of betrayal I carry.
    With respect and appreciation for your voice and intention – Tanya

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      Hi Tanya. I’m glad you appreciated the voice and intention.

  • Posted by:  angela sands

    I find Matthew’s positioning of himself as an evaluator and researcher commentator so different to Susan’s positioning of herself as someone personally concerned and open to self reflection; an interiority in comparison to his exteriority. So while I admire their civility I actually learned nothing from Matthew’s ‘critique’. He says “I can see how you would be a personal guide…” which he says in a weirdly non understanding way. I don’t understand why he so separates the public and personal world.

    On the other hand I learned a lot from Susan’s open-ness and self reflection and honesty.

    I see a place for policy and systemic reflection but he did not provide that. Nor did I see any effort from him to actually understand Susan.

    I guess he won’t see this so I can’t give him any feedback. No self reflection at all!!

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      Hi Angela. Yes, Matthew and I are coming from two very different places and orient ourselves in different directions. As such, it is very hard to connect—but I think we did our best. I appreciate that he was willing to hang in there with it all and I really appreciate that you watched! Thank you. xo S

  • Posted by:  Nina

    While Matthew’s writing in the piece you linked to is exquisite, and his heart is in the right place concerning disarming structures that perpetuate abuse or shield abusers, I personally find much of methodology deeply flawed.

    He is invested in an extreme form of post modernism that leaves little humanity for individuals and instead seeks to place people in group categories for value assessments.

    In fact, Matthew hinself has become the unshakingky confident, uncompromising, distant and unnerving guru he critiques in his work. There is a strong self image put forward, and very little introspection or willingness to accept mistakes or even slight flaws in his methodology or way of seeing the world.

    Perhaps this is a product of the work.itself. i cannot remember who uttered this pertinent quote:

    “Do not argue too much with fundamentalists,
    Lest you yourself become a fundamentalist”

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      H Nina. Your points are interesting. I see what you are talking about and thank you for sharing them here. And I agree that the true enemy is fundamentalism of any sort. Warmly, S

  • Posted by:  michael

    I found this very interesting, and Susan I feel it was very brave for you to do this. I feel any benefit that may come from this conversation is due not only due to Matt’s insights but Susan also your willingness for open self reflection and I am really inspired by your bravery there!

    I have so many thoughts about this discussion but I don’t know how to word them or if they will be useful so I thought I’d instead share some thoughts on my personal experience of what’s going on with Shambhala.

    Even if CTR and SM did bad things does that take away from CTR’s teaching’s on bravery, gentleness and facing ourselves? For some people I think it inevitably will but me for me personally it doesn’t. I am inspired by CTR and a number of his students. Some of them have done harm.

    I have been to a Shambhala retreat centre and thought the culture to be somewhat toxic. I kept thinking of a story Pema tells about Krishnamurti where his actions are used as a metaphor for the Heart Sutra. I’ve found it and pasted it below.

    “So the Buddha did something shocking. With the prajnaparamita (perfection of unconditional wisdom) teachings, he pulled the rug out completely, taking his students further into groundlessness. He told the audience that whatever they believed had to be let go, that dwelling upon any description of reality was a trap. This was not comfortable news for the audience to hear.

    It reminds me of the story of Krishnamurti, who was raised to be the avatar by the Theosophists. His elders continually told the other students that when the avatar manifested fully, his teachings would be electrifying and revolutionary, shaking up the very foundations of their beliefs. This turned out to be true, but not quite in the way they had imagined. When Krishnamurti finally became head of the Order of the Star, he called the whole society together and officially disbanded it, saying that it was harmful because it gave them too much ground.”

    I remember thinking maybe CTR would disband Shambhala now if he could see it. Or at least some of the centres.Or maybe he’d bring completely new and fresh teachings that showed us all the ways we were holding on to the Shambhala teachings.

    In a way I feel some of these retreat centres have become a trap. It’s easy to pay lip service to the teachings and in my opinion a lot of what I see through the Sakyong is the institutionalisation of these teachings, as if that were possible. I don’t blame the Sakyong or anyone else, I don’t think putting these practices into practice all the time is easy. Hell I certainly can’t do it.

    In my view the teachings are more than words. CTR beautifully and imaginatively used Shambhala as a metaphor. We can’t cling to concepts of bravery, fearlessness, being a Shambhalian etc etc etc. In all books he says we have TO DO these things. The dharma is only encouragement.

    Because some of the centres may be toxic does it mean I shouldn’t visit shambhala centres. I think this is also a personal decision but organisations are made of people and I think the London centre is a very healthy, supporting and caring dharma centre, and I feel I can continue supporting it.

    Paradoxes abound, but that’s where life gets interesting.

    • Posted by:  Teresa Banning

      Hello Michael,

      I, too, sensed the toxic atmosphere at the few Shambhala gatherings I’ve attended since studying this tradition. I was not sure how much I sensed was related to my past experiences and I was being too critical. I had decided to let it be and accept I was “seeing” what I needed to.

      I appreciate what you shared regarding getting the rug pulled out of all our concepts. Mostly because it encourages me that the only way to grow through this is together. We each have our own stories, teachers and students alike, that can only be shaken in the mysterious way we did not expect. Otherwise it would not bust our bubble, so to speak.

      To this day I’m still blocked by various obstacles to being a part of a local Shambhala or any sangha. Now I see it is not so much anything “wrong”, it just is.

      Thanks again for you words.

  • Posted by:  Brian Childs

    Hi Susan,
    I was one of the commenters on the Facebook group whose post was summarized as useless and potentislly dangerous. After reading your post, I felt minimized, like my contribution to the discussion was not valid. I have to say, I really appreciate your bravery and open mindedness in engaging with this critique and posting it on your site. It was a great conversation and you both raised points I hadn’t thought of. Thank you for sharing.

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      Hi Brian. I’m sorry you felt minimized and invalidated. There is hardly a worse feeling and it echoes what the victims of sexual abuse themselves must feel–making it not just awful, but ironic. NOT IN A GOOD WAY. 😉 Thank you for watching this conversation and remaining open to learn what you need to learn throughout this experience. That is what I am trying to do, too. Honestly, I think that is both the most difficult and the most valuable contribution we can make (in addition to caring for those who have been harmed)–to open, listen, and learn.

  • Posted by:  Teresa Banning

    Thank you and please extend thanks to Mathew. It took courage for each of you. Naturally, you and Mathew (& myself) come from our own unique perspective. The iron sharpens iron to create wisdom evolved for me in this case. You each spoke without hypocrisy in acknowledging personal biases, while still clearly stating your points of strength.

    That said, I find the camps of split between “us” and “them” colored my view, as perhaps did others. I certainly sense it in the comments. The specific camps I noticed here is that Mathew comes from personal experience of being harmed by a spiritual organization, while Susan, I think you said have not been personally hurt. I say this more so to state I am in the camp of one injured by more than one spiritual group. Thus, I tended to “side” with Mathew’s perspective and want to demonize Susan’s. Interesting. I can see that neither view for me is true.

    I am every so grateful for all the teachers in my life, some of whom were quite damaging to my psyche. The only way I’ve been able to grow spiritually is to separate teachings that resonate with me and the teacher. In that context I was able to hear each of the points by Susan and Mathew. It is apparent each has continued to grow in their spiritual path and kept their heart soft/open with positive questioning. That can only happen with a platform such as this to do so. Partly due to your willingness, Susan, and partly because Mathew’s conviction to probe into areas most would not dare question. Along those lines, I have found the FB platform to be one more conducive to “black hole” type volitive discussions because they never bring any resolution. Perhaps a necessary evil, if you will, however important to recognize so we can keep things in perspective.

    On a more personal note, I wanted to say I hope these type of outside, provoking discussions will continue. It feel so encouraged that perhaps the auspicious opportunities are coming together for me to gain the courage to face the trauma I experienced. I intend to follow up with Mathew and continue working with this sangha to do so.

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      Hi Teresa. Thanks for taking the time to comment. I am so sorry you have experienced harm from spiritual groups. I appreciate that you listened through to both of us anyway and understand why you would resonate with Matthew’s views. I also appreciate your willingness to bridge both points of view to find what is valuable for you. That is everything. It is all so personal.

      I too tend to separate the teachings from the teacher. I realize that some define that as a kind of bypassing, but I do not. The teachings have revolutionized my heart and mind and I continue to derive indescribable benefit from my studies and practices. I hope you do too.

      I don’t know if you will find this useful but I have, so I share it with you here.

      The Four Reliances:
      Rely on the message of the teacher, not on his personality
      Rely on the meaning, not just on the words
      Rely on the real meaning, not on the provisional one
      Rely on your wisdom mind, not on your ordinary, judgemental mind

      With love, Susan

      • Posted by:  Teresa Banning


        I had not seen that specific way of looking at what to rely on, however will tuck in with my things to remember. Thank you.


  • Posted by:  notsohopeful

    You are not qualified to judge people’s reaction to such disturbing news and presume to ‘guide’ them in how they should be behaving.

    Deigning to accept a dharma reference as the only valid response is impossibly tone deaf! Dharma language is a massive trigger for those of us who have been abused by a spiritual teacher.

    As you say in this interview, you have no qualifications, you have no background in therapy or even a dharma education outside of the shambhala spin on the teachings of the Buddha.

    This was not a model of what a conversation about this topic should look like because neither of you broached the actual subject at hand, serial egregious breaches of trust perpetrated by spiritual leaders.

    I watched the whole encounter hoping that you might eventually at least touch on the question at hand, but all you did was go on and on about your own opinions about opinions. This is a model of complete dysfunction.

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      I agree, I am not qualified to judge people’s reactions. I was not doing so, not sure where you thought I did. I do presume to offer guidance to those who have asked me for it and they were the intended audience for my post. I was offering my responses based on my 20+ years of experience as a meditator and meditation teacher with the intention of helping people work with their minds. I’m sorry that dharma language is a trigger for you. It is not a trigger for me. It is helpful for me. I understand that you did not enjoy or benefit from our conversation. Not everyone will benefit, certainly. However, you too have voiced your opinions about opinions. I don’t say this to be unkind, truly I don’t—but to point out that, to me, you are doing the thing that you find upsetting in me.

  • Posted by:  notsohopeful

    I am referring to this statement in your blog.

    “Perhaps each of these responses is quite accurate. However, with the exception of the last one, they are useless (or worse) in this particular moment”.

    We are talking about abuse of power by ‘teachers’, you consider yourself a ‘teacher’, so I’m not in fact discussing a discussion as you an MR did. I’m sorry that I wasn’t more explicit in calling you out on an abuse of power based on your position as a teacher. People will read what you wrote and think that they shouldn’t think or feel what they are thinking or feeling. Why not take responsibility for a faux pas?

    There is a responsibility that comes with the role of teacher in any setting. At the very least you could modulate your ‘advice’ by saying ‘in my opinion’ vs these responses are useless.

    We are in fact talking about bad advice given by ‘teachers’. I would recommend that you do some research about trauma before you continue to judge people’s reactions. To use dharma jargon, you might want to look deeply into the reasons why you are so defensive about this?

    In the end it’s a lot easier to just apologize and move on.

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      Not so hopeful, I understand that you don’t like what I wrote. That is your right and I’m not suggesting you feel otherwise. I’m not hesitant to apologize when I am wrong, but in this case, I think you misunderstand me. I was not trying to tell people not to feel what they feel—in fact their feelings are accurate—but that if they rush to action without first fully feeling what they DO feel it will add to the confusion and cause them more pain. I say that based on my experience. I believe I have a right to that experience. My suggestion was to stay with what you feel, let it unfold, which I think is useful in times of great intensity. If you don’t feel that it is, fair enough. I am not telling you that you are wrong. I also feel that I am within my rights to express myself as I choose and while I appreciate your suggestion that I say “in my opinion,” I reserve the right to disregard it. I am not judging anyone or telling them what to feel. I do not know what gives you that idea. I do feel quite judged by you, however. You are telling me what to do, how to think, what to write, all based on your opinions. Again, I am not saying that to be unkind, simply to point out that you are doing what you have told me is wrong to do.

      • Posted by:  marek

        Personally, I find it very difficult to believe that you aren’t telling people how to feel.

        Both in your responses to some comments on here–particularly to this commenter’s–and to some in your “On Shambhala” post, I sense a tone of self-righteous talking down to commenters. (For example, Not so hopeful doesn’t need you to tell her that she has the right not to like your opinions–she simply HAS that right). I also have a sense that you’re pretending to be much more relaxed about people disagreeing with you than you actually feel–which comes across as fake to me.

        I agree with her (although I disagree with some of what she says) that there’s an element of tone policing here: that everything has to be said in the way that you prescribe, and somehow ratified by you, in order to have validity…otherwise you’ll block it. That’s actually the opposite of having a conversation (and ironically, given that I suspect your motives are very different, it comes closer to the style of Matthew Remski, who seems to me to be an arrogant charlatan whose intellectual wanking is mainly aimed at showing everybody how amazingly clever he thinks he is).

        This to me is somehow building up a big thing about “I’m a teacher”–which as I read it is part of the point that Not so hopeful is making. That is particularly true at the moment, when people who are involved in teaching spirituality generally, and in Shambhala in particular, are viewed with suspicion by some people because there’s a sense that their prescriptions are more to do with protecting the organisations within which abusive behaviour has occurred than in sorting out the situation or helping the victims. I think maybe that’s the tone deafness she was talking about.

  • Posted by:  Paul

    Confusion is a difficult one. I am finding difficulty in finding my own skillful means in expression at times, and so I much appreciate the intelligence of this forum. I would particularly like to thank Susan who shows she can respond to all varieties of experiences and opinion. My experience and opinion is that the balanced expression towards challenging responses is really a great model on how to stay with all of this. It is something I can aspire to, because it is being modeled, right here, right now. Thank you so much.

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      I thank you, Paul. it is indeed difficult to be clear, genuine, and open minded, all at the same time. I am quite sure I mess up all the time. One of the many things I love about this community is the willingness to try anyway and never give up. with love, s

  • Posted by:  notsohopeful

    You’re really good at turning things back on people:)

    I have not actually said anything defamatory about you, I have in fact simply pointed out that the way you’ve expressed yourself can be very triggering for victims of abusive teachers like me.

    To claim that this doesn’t contain any judgement is bizarre. “Perhaps each of these responses is quite accurate. However, with the exception of the last one, they are useless (or worse) in this particular moment”. You’ve said that people’s responses are useless, that sounds like very judgemental language to me.

    The whole idea of just ‘sitting’ with whatever arises is right out of the playbook of many abusive gurus. I’m asking you to be more mindful of your language and remember that as you said, you’re not qualified to judge what people say.

    If you are unable to take feedback, and feel the need to turn it around to claim that you’re being victimized, then well…You are the one who has taken on the role of teacher, that means you have a very different standard of conduct to adhere to. This is about accountability.

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      I’m not trying to turn it back on you. I am trying to explain myself and also point out my observations about our dialog. I am not claiming victimhood. I have been victimized by nothing and I don’t feel victimized by you. Is there any other way I can express my own point of view (which does not match yours)that would give me any credibility here?

      I am very sorry you have been victimized and truly sorry that my language triggers pain for you. but I am not doing what you say I am–judging, claiming victim status, denying other people’s pain, trying to turn tables. I am responding to you. I feel frustrated that I can’t get these points across and I imagine you feel the same. I suggest we agree to disagree and just accept that we will not see each other clearly.

  • Posted by:  notsohopeful

    I find your defensiveness deeply troubling. But we’re going no where with this so I’ll let it go.

    Please do tread lightly in this situation, these revelations are sending some people into the depths of despair, some are self harming.

    This is a realm better suited to professionals trained to help others deal with trauma, the dharma is not in fact a panacea that can cure all ills, it’s very dangerous to think otherwise and in fact one of the reasons these abusive teachers have gotten away with unconscionable behavior for decades.

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      Will do.

  • Posted by:  Teresa Banning

    Yeah, whatever. The so called professionals have no clue. That’s the point!

  • Posted by:  jose

    Thank you so much, Susan and Mathew, for this. It resonates strongly in me, as both a shambhalian and a person worried about social justice. I’ve been thinking for years that social activisim needs a spark of spirituality (aggression is rampant there), and that spiritual insititutions need some of the energy of social and political activity. I understand both of your languages. And now in Shambhala, in my humble opinion, we kind of need to open up and face our own bias and privileges (being mainly white, male, etc…). You are doing it in a very genuine way. I’ve recently been to a Shambhala program where class, gender and race has been raised by the participants (having the Sakyong portrait there, learning about serving with great devotion at the court while having family stories of power abuse in that field, the whole british-upper class thing which CTR liked so much, the fact of having a court itself), and although the acharyas and the whole assembly listened to the questions with an open heart, I’m not sure they could, in a way, be able to really respond to it, because SI is too big a structrue to understand itself and heal itself in such a short period of time. So the question would stand, for me, somewhat like this one: how do we stay open to our hearts and, at the same time, do not let ourselves shut up by our own agenda, our own cocoon, our own loyalties to great and loved companions of the path, our beloved and wise senior and junior “teachers” (formal teachers or not), our own precious dharma friends? How not to confuse loyalty (or lack of it) to the teachings and dharma with an habitual pattern?

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      I share these questions, Jose. For me, some answers to “how do we stay open…but not trapped in our agenda” are to be found in my practice. This doesn’t address your points about changing the culture of Shambhala which badly needs it. Practice is no substitute for action. Wishing you (and myself!) well in finding the balance.

  • Posted by:  Paul DeLong

    I think it is OK to keep saying this dialogue is valuable, LOL. It is creating space for breath in the forest where the nose and throat are not pushed up against a tree. It is massaging those knots of constriction where oxygen may be lacking, so that thought can flow without resistance. There is of course, no short term fix, except, of course, to keep breathing, allow the thoughts, and contemplate on the vast condition of human suffering, same as it ever was. Except, of course, that we give it pause. In the gap, there is something else. Ah!

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      FIST BUMP.

    • Posted by:  Teresa Banning

      Yes! Ah, indeed! Here we are, like it or not. Let’s dance with it, shall we?


      • Posted by:  Susan Piver


  • Posted by:  Rob Heffernan

    I haven’t even watched the video yet but I want to bow to you for your courage and honesty in undertaking this dialog and inquiry. It speaks worlds about your integrity and commitment. I had misgivings about some of what I read in the earlier blog and comments yet whether or not I feel aligned with any given specific thought or feeling is irrelevant. I feel aligned with this ongoing resolve for understanding and compassionate action.

    Thank you,

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      Thank you, Rob.

    • Posted by:  Teresa Banning


      What a worthy aspiration for us all. Thank your for reminding me, too.


  • Posted by:  Joan Sears

    I notice a lot of respondents in this chain speak of your “bravery” and “courage” in having this dialog with Matthew Remski. I see it differently – I see it as open heartedness in action. Buddhism does not have a monopoly on such open heartedness – it can be found in many places and circumstances. I was fortunate to have been exposed to some truly remarkable teachers in the women’s peace movement, most notably Barbara Deming, who made it her life’s work to always reach out respectfully and lovingly to anyone who was willing to engage in dialog. This video reminded me that the dharma, when practiced sincerely, with right intention and an open heart, can be a powerful path to self understanding. I appreciate your willingness to listen and consider Matthew’s points of view in the interest of self knowledge. I think such humility is a manifestation of don’t know mind and I’m glad I tuned in.

    PS. I’m also a believer in the feminist slogan “The personal is political” which jumped to my mind when Matthew was trying to propose that one can somehow separate the two.

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      I agree that Buddhism does not have a monopoly on open-heartedness–and that open-heartedness and not knowing are connected. I even named my online community “The Open Heart Project” because I subscribe so thoroughly to these notions. BTW, I also agree that separating the personal and the political is not possible. How would one even do that?

      Thanks for listening to/joining the conversation.

  • Posted by:  robert heffernan

    I watched the video and found the conversation very compelling. And again would like to commend Susan for being willing to engage in such a dynamic discussion. When I have more time I would like to offer more reflections on it.

    There is a new piece in Tricycle by a former member of Shambhala and student of Trungpa that might be of interest:

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      Thanks for watching, Rob. And many thanks for the link. I hadn’t seen it and I look forward to reading.

    • Posted by:  Teresa Banning


      Thanks for article. I am new to Buddhism, however found the article compassionate, clear, and good food for thought. Very much inline with a universal waking to following a teacher on “blind faith” in many traditions. In a recent encounter I see how this can happen. The student felt like a “spiritual vampire”, even to me, a beginning student. Yes, it is a two-way street. We need teachers, we need students, and we all need to open our eyes wide in a compassionate and intelligent way of relating.


      • Posted by:  Rob Heffernan

        Hi Teresa,

        I too thought the article had a lot of food for thought. Though I’m not sure who you are referring to when you wrote “the student felt like a spiritual vampire…to me”

        BTW here is another recent article in Tricycle about Samaya:

      • Posted by:  Rob Heffernan

        Hi Teresa,

        I found the article providing much food for thought too. I’m not sure who you are referring to when you wrote: “The student felt like a “spiritual vampire” “.

        BTW here is another recent article in Tricycle focusing on Samaya:


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