2019-05-15

Local Shambhala group transforms into new society

by Gayle Wilson

  • <p>GAYLE WILSON PHOTO</p><p>David Walmark (left) and Richard Wurtz, members of the board of the South Shore Buddhist Meditation Society, stand outside their revamped meditation space in the Mahone Bay Centre.</p>
  • <p>GAYLE WILSON PHOTO</p><p>Although in the exact same spot, the new Mahone Bay Medication Centre replaces the former South Shore Shambhala Meditation Centre.</p>
  • <p>GAYLE WILSON PHOTO</p><p>David Walmark, left, is a director and Richard Wurtz the vice-president of the South Shore Buddhist Meditation Society</p>
  • <p>GAYLE WILSON PHOTO</p><p>A shrine in the new Mahone Bay Meditation Centre, run by the South Shore Buddhist Meditation Society.</p>

Members of the former South Shore Shambhala Meditation Centre in Mahone Bay will hold a grand opening May 19 to introduce the public to their new Mahone Bay Meditation Centre.

Located in the Mahone Bay Centre on School Street, in the exact same spot as the former Shambhala Centre, the revamped meditation space is now run by a new organization, the South Shore Buddhist Meditation Society (SSBMS).

The society is comprised of members who broke away from the Shambhala International group, one of the largest Buddhist organizations in the Western world.

Shambhala International, headquartered in Halifax, has been embroiled in scandal following multiple sexual misconduct allegations against its Buddhist spiritual leader, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, and accusations of complicity within the upper echelons of the group.

"Speaking personally, that's where I felt, betrayal isn't too strong a word," one of the directors of the SSBMS, David Walmark, told LighthouseNOW.

Richard Wurtz, a meditation instructor and the society's vice-president, says there have been "dramatic changes" at Shambhala International.

Before the scandal came to the forefront last August, he says the local chapters were receiving less and less autonomy.

"They started to change what we taught. They restricted us only to teaching certain things."

Wurtz complained that Shambhala International, which reportedly had about 200 centres and groups in 50 countries, was becoming top-heavy and controlling. "And I didn't like that at all."

Walmark agreed members were seeing a "narrowing of focus" with Shambhala. "We rebelled about that," agrees Walmark.

Since the scandal over the sexual allegations came to the forefront last summer, Sakyong has withdrawn from all duties, and the leading governing body, the Kalapa Council, resigned en masse.

"It's been a lot of turmoil. They've also lost a huge number of members, and more than half of their funding has just disappeared," says Wurtz.

The South Shore Shambhala community held a meeting last September and came to a general agreement that the group should separate at that point, though a couple of members chose to stay with Shambhala International, according to Wurtz.

Meanwhile Wurtz had already been "changing my allegiance, as it were," to another group in Halifax, Nalanda Bodhi, which follows another tradition of Buddhism.

Wurtz says it's been "a long process" in essentially dissolving the South Shore Schambhala Meditation Centre and establishing the new independent group, including registering with the Registry of Joint Stocks and obtaining non-profit society status.

The group meets Wednesday evenings, in sessions that are open to the public, and on Sundays.

The SSBMS website suggests it's intended "to be an inclusive and open group for the practice and study of meditation as handed down from the many traditions that developed after the life of Shakyamuni Buddha.

"This community of practitioners is intended to further the individuals' own practice and understanding of the Buddhist teachings, but also to be engaged in the larger community to help with social and environmental issues that are common to all human societies," says the SSBMS.

A free event, the grand opening begins with an open house at 11:15 a.m., followed by an Indian lunch at noon, welcoming remarks at 12:45 p.m. and a cake cutting following that.

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