A Useful Analogy?

November 12, 2008 by     Print This Post Print This Post

There’s a possibly useful historical perspective and analogy that might apply to the question of whether the Shambhala Vision (as well the Dharma Art) of Chögyam Trungpa and of many of his followers is in its breadth and in its depth fundamentally for Buddhists, or equally for people of any religious practice.

Jesus Christ, the founder of Christianity, was himself a Jew, as were all his original disciples. Yet very soon, though not without controversy, Christianity opened itself up to people who were not Jewish. As it says in one of its texts (Galatians 3:28), there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female.

This seems roughly comparable to the situation with the Shambhala of Chögyam Trungpa, who was himself a Buddhist, and whose Buddhist students made up 99% of the original citizens of his Shambala Kingdom. Yet it was always clear to me, as one of those Buddhist students, as well as to my fellow participants in this grand experiment, that the intention was quite explicitly to have Shambhala and the full range of its teachings and practices available to all. As Chögyam Trungpa says in Great Eastern Sun, The Wisdom of Shambhala, p 133:

Shambhala vision applies to people of any faith, not just people who believe in Buddhism… the Shambhala vision does not distinguish a Buddhist from a Catholic, a Protestant, a Jew, a Moslem, a Hindu. That’s why we call it the Shambhala kingdom. A kingdom should have lots of spiritual disciplines in it. That’s why we are here.

Now in the last few years there has much of what I would call revisionism and antidestablishmentarianism (yet another historical perspective), with the mainstream Shambhala Buddhist organization saying that Chögyam Trungpa’s Shambhala was always intended primarily for Buddhists, with non-Buddhists able to share some of the beginning practices, but that ultimately they can not be full, first-class citizens and subjects. Mitchell Levy, for example, in his recent Chronicles podcast, says that non-buddhists can participate in a Shambhala society but not in the Church (which, if it’s Buddhist, is understandable), the Military, or the Government. I think that the root of such a view lies in equating Chögyam Trungpa’s Shambhala exclusively with the Tibetan Buddhist Kalachakra teachings (he explicitly says it’s not just that). This view, for many, ignores the very heart and essence of Shambhala vision and of the ever increasing relevance  of its simple, precise language to our 21st century world.

The analogy with the relationship between Christianity and Judaism is not perfect: among others, the Buddhist/Shambhala relationship is not one between two religions, but between a religion and a society/state/kingdom. Nevertheless, I think it can be helpful in offering some perspective on an issue that currently divides communities inspired by Chögyam Trungpa.

– Mark Szpakowski


9 Responses to “A Useful Analogy?”

  1. Lee Weingrad on November 13th, 2008 4:48 am


    there is only one basis for Shambhala being Buddhist, it’s because “I said it’s so.” Now exactly who you want to attribute that quote to may be one of a number of people — Mitchell, and most importantly the Sakyong.

    The only basis for making this claim is as SMR said, in response to your in person challenge a few years ago is because Elvis has left the building. The Vidyadhara is dead.

    Now those of us who don’t agree with this statement, who live in the presence of his vital vajra body, speech and mind, curiously don’t depend on past relationships to Rinpoche or any other teacher support the idea that Shambhala can be the place, the view, the action that can accommodate all kinds of liberation and all kinds of suffering as well.


  2. Aba Cecile McHardy on November 13th, 2008 8:24 am

    Crazy Wisdom [Nice using Image of President Elect Obama] to illustrate a point. Part of the challenge of folk who look like Obama is actually about having access, about being listened to, not simply being heard. Posted a 3 Part ‘story’ to sangha-announce and peace2shambhala but apparently its been bounced as inappropriate for those fora. So please indulge me with your kindeness.
    Part 1 – Offered for the Benefit of all Sentient Beings

    “We can be humble enough to understand that it’s a crime against life to act like a know-it-all who has everything all figured out.

    We can inspire each other to perpetrate healing mischief, friendly shocks, compassionate tricks, blasphemous reverence, holy pranks, be Wisdom Crazy”.
    Excerpts from Rob Brezsny ‘Pronoia is Antidote for Paranoia.’

    ‘I love our relationship. You feel like my extended family. A substantial minority of you aren’t Americans, and so have had only a marginal interest in the electoral spectacle that we Americans have been enthralled by for so long. Other readers don’t think I should sully myself with any kind of political meditations at all, but should remain above it all.

    I’ve welcomed your dissidence and complaints about these issues, as I do any time my writing piques your desire to speak out. One of my favorite tasks is to inspire you to liberate your imagination. To do that well, you have to be eternally primed to question the ideas and motivations of any so-called authority, expert, leader, or teacher — including me.

    And besides that, I love the fact that my extended family is a diverse group of wildly different characters. I certainly don’t want to hang around exclusively with people who are like me.

    With all that as a preface, I’ll go ahead and express my joy in Obama’s ascendancy. More than a vindication of a particular ideology or political agenda, his selection by a majority of American voters (ratified by an even vaster majority of the world’s citizens) is a triumph of intelligence, thoughtfulness, reasonableness, compassion, and the higher powers of human consciousness. It is a profound sign that Americans are growing up and have begun to say no to being motivated by fear.

    I think the rise of Obama also vividly demonstrates an important point about pronoia. Many of us have been absolutely convinced that we’ve been living through a New Dark Ages; we’ve been entranced by the belief that the world is in terrible trouble and we’re all on the brink of disaster. Even those of us who don’t swallow that cynical meme have had to acknowledge that some crazy bad stuff has been happening.

    At the same time, the election of a smart black man who is a good listener and has a flexible mind is not some impossible miracle. The truth is that many of us have been preparing the way for this outbreak of pronoia for years. Obama’s emergence as our tribe’s leader is a natural evolution of the work we’ve all been doing behind the scenes and outside of the media’s spotlight — both on ourselves and on our local institutions.

    …you and I, have a lot of work to do. The resuscitation of America will have to be accomplished primarily by we-the-people, and as much on the local level as in the federal realm. This won’t just be a matter of political organization. It will also require us to be continually at work on ourselves, purging the parts of us that resonate in harmony with the dying world and feeding the parts of ourselves that are capable of creating a paradise-on-earth.
    As much as we might be dismayed at the actions of our political leaders, pronoia says that toppling any particular junta, clique, or elite is irrelevant unless we overthrow the sour, crippled mass hallucination that is mistakenly called “reality” — including the part of that hallucination we foster in ourselves…’

    To be continued

  3. Aba Cecile McHardy on November 13th, 2008 8:44 am

    Part 2 reads like an invocation to Vajra Dakini [am awed and delighted to find CTR’s energy entrained and scattered through the realms like this as bees seeking nectar pollinate plants]. Do you recognize this tantra – thread of continuity?


    All hail the Tricky Goddess of Benevolent Mischief, also known as the Cosmic Instigator of Healing Trouble. Let us praise and ratify her ingenious plan to turn the status quo upside-down.

    The vivid exposure of greed, corruption, and delusion among the top echelons of the American political and financial hierarchy is a blessing on all of humanity.

    The eruption of fertile chaos is making it difficult to carry on with business as usual, and we could not have received a more energizing gift.

    Oh Wise Trickster Goddess, You Compassionate Conjurer of Relentless Change, You Righteous Rascal in Charge of Keeping a Steady Flow of Sacred Uproar Pouring into Our Lives:

    Please continue to influence the masters of plutocracy and war and their media minions to be ever-more obvious as they spin out their perversions of your glorious creation, so that more and more of our sleeping tribe will wake up to the Open Secret.

    Inspire the enforcers of mass hallucination to display their hypocrisy in an ever-escalating melodrama of spittle flecks and sour faces, as in a slapstick morality play from the Middle Ages, so that we, their captive audience, may convulse with purgative guffaws that shatter the mass hallucination.

    And if you don’t mind, Sweet Divine Rebel Goddess, please allow us to nurture a spark of hope that the breakdown in the Way Things Have Always Been Done will lead to fresh, hot, tidal-wave breakthroughs of beauty, truth, justice, equality and love everywhere we turn.

    Burglarize houses, but instead of stealing, leave behind beautiful and confusing gifts. Spread gossip about the unsung genius of people who don’t get nearly enough credit for their good work.

    Scrawl the following graffiti in courthouse lavatories and on playground walls: “I dare you to scare yourself with how beautiful you are.”


    Let me remind you who you really are: You are one of the chosen ones. You’re a luminous being. A primordial miracle. A resplendent avatar. You are a deity in disguise–not a Buddha or a Christ, but of the same lineage and made from the same mojo.

    I want to be sure you get what I’m saying. Let me put it another way. You’re a rebel creator longing to make the whole universe your home and sanctuary. You are a dissident bodhisattva joyfully germinating the seeds of divine love that are packed inside every moment.

    It’s time to remember. You are a shimmering burst of spiral hallelujahs that has temporarily taken on the form of a human being, agreeing to endure amnesia about your true origins. And why did you do that? Because it was the best way to forge the exquisitely unique and robust identity that would make you such an elemental force in our 14-billion-year campaign to bring heaven all the way down to earth.

    Lately, I must admit, our work has seemed almost comically impossible. Many of our brothers and sisters believe that everything is upside-down and inside-out. Is war really peace? Is slavery really freedom? Is ignorance strength? How did it all get so insane?

    Even many of the smartest among us seem to have lost their vision. Cynicism has become a supreme sign of intelligence. Compulsive skepticism masquerades as perceptiveness. Mean-spirited irony is chic. Beautiful truths are suspect and ugly truths are popular.

    At this peculiar turning point in the evolution of our 14-billion-year-old master game, it ain’t easy to carry out our mission. We’ve got to be both wrathful insurrectionaries and exuberant lovers of life. We’ve got to cultivate cheerful buoyancy even as we resist the temptation to swallow thousands of delusions that have been carefully crafted and seductively packaged by those among us who bravely volunteered to play the role of deceivers.

    We have to learn how to stay in a good yet unruly mood as we overthrow the cockeyed mass hallucination that is mistakenly referred to as reality.

    Maybe most importantly, we have to be ferociously and single-mindedly dedicated to the cause of beauty and truth and love even as we keep our imaginations wild and hungry and free. We have to be both disciplined and rowdy.

    That’s especially thorny because of the fact that a genocide of the imagination is raging world-wide. It threatens to render our imaginations numb and inert and passive and tame.

    I know you know what I mean.

    Your imagination is supposed to be the engine of your destiny. Your imagination is your power to create mental pictures of things that don’t exist yet and that you want to bring into being. Every human creation on this earth has begun as a vision in someone’s imagination.

    Too many of our brothers and sisters have fallen victim. Their swarming terraforming always-morning brainstormers have been cruelly fooled into acting as if their deepest desires are impossible lies. As a result they live incoherent lives corroded by chronic anxiety.”

    To be continued

  4. Aba Cecile McHardy on November 13th, 2008 9:11 am

    Part 3
    Remembering Trungpa Rimpoche the Crazy Wisdom Guru who is
    always with us – may the war mongering Doom and Gloom factions be pacified, their confusions clarified. If this was still an ORAL culture, there
    never would arise an issue of ‘plagiarism’, ‘copy rights’ – these are excerpts from Rob Brezsny – Pronoia is antidote for Paronoia. In the tradition of Anna Deavere Smith, am simply ‘wearing his words’

    “I for one am no longer willing to tolerate the epidemic obsession with big bad nasty things and flashy trite empty-hearted things. I say it’s time for us to re-consecrate and regenerate and lubricate and liberate and take back our imaginations. .. periodically go on a media fast. For a week at a time, once a season…avoid all TV, movies, novels, yalk shows, newspapers, magazines, and Internet…

    ..learn to tell the difference between your own thoughts and those of the celebrities who have demonically possessed you.
    …refuse to be entertained and entranced by bad news–by stories whose plots are driven by violence, abuse, terrorism, bigotry, lawsuits, greed, crashes, alcoholism, disease, and torture…

    There is another force that fuels the war against the imagination–and that’s fundamentalism. The fundamentalist takes everything way too seriously and way too personally and way too literally. He divides the world into two camps, those who agree with him and those who don’t. There is only one right way to interpret the world, and a million wrong ways. The fundamentalist not only enslaves his own imagination to his belief system, he wants to enslave our imaginations too. The liberated imagination, God forbid, is taboo.

    In one of her poems, Diane DiPrima declares that a war against the imagination is raging worldwide. And who are the fundamentalists? It’s not just the usual suspects,,,There are many kinds of fundamentalists, and some of them have gotten away with practicing their fundamentalism in a stealth mode. Among the most successful are those who believe in what Robert Anton Wilson calls fundamentalist materialism. That’s the faith-based dogma that swears physical matter is the only reality and that nothing exists unless it can be detected by our five senses or by technologies that humans have made.

    There are many other varieties of fundamentalism. Every ideology, even the ones I like, has its share of true believers, fanatics who judge all other ideologies as inferior, flawed, and foolish.

    I know Buddhists who adamantly decree that the inherent nature of life on earth is suffering…

    There are true believers everywhere. And they don’t like to hear that there are at least three sides to every story. They don’t like to hear that everyone has access to truth…

    And here’s the really bad news: Many of us here, including me, are infected with the fundamentalist virus. Each of us is fanatical, rigid, and intolerant about products of the imagination that we don’t like. We wish that certain people would not imagine the things they do, and we allow ourselves to beam hateful, war-like thoughts in their direction…

    We even wage war against our own imaginations, commanding ourselves, sometimes half-consciously, to ignore possibilities that don’t fit into our neatly constructed theories. Each of us sets aside certain precious beliefs and symbols that we give ourselves permission to take very seriously and personally and literally.

    Our fundamentalism, yours and mine, may not be as dangerous to the collective welfare as, say, CEOs who worship financial profit as the supreme measure of value and the scientists who ignore and deny every mystery that can’t be measured.

    But still: We are all infected, you and I. We are fueling the war against the imagination.

    This has got to stop. We are primordial miracles. Resplendent avatars. Deities in disguise. It is our sacred duty to keep our imaginations wild and hungry and free, and to make sure that all of our fellow messiahs, even those who volunteered to play the roles of ignorant deceivers, have the chance to keep their imaginations wild and hungry and free.

    How might we start curing ourselves of the virus and move in the direction of becoming more festive, relentless champions of the liberated imagination?

    For starters, we can take everything less seriously and less personally and less literally.

    We can laugh at ourselves at least as much as we laugh at other people. We can blaspheme our own gods and burn our own flags and mock our own hypocrisy and satirize our own fads and fixations.

    We can enjoy the pleasures of healing mischief, friendly shocks, compassionate tricks, irreverent devotion, holy pranks, playful experiments, and crazy wisdom.

    We can inspire each other to perpetrate healing mischief, friendly shocks, compassionate tricks, blasphemous reverence, holy pranks, be Wisdom Crazy.”

    Dearly beloved its AWAKENING time. Please don’t squander your legacy.
    Ashe with Joy and Blessings.

  5. Mark Szpakowski on November 13th, 2008 3:58 pm

    Lee, the interesting question is how is it that people can so easily forget? Transmission is truly fragile, or we are such weak vessels, no matter how high up or close to the center we were or are. CTR often noted that just because someone has an important position or is a close attendant to him does not mean that they are more realized than some other person (and ditto for being a monk or a Rinpoche or a tulku). And for people he himself empowered, whether it be the Regent or the Sakyong, he noted that

    My confirmation of you will only go so far. The rest you will have to do by yourself. If that were not the case, we would have been corrupted a long time ago.

    Still, it’s been somewhat of a shocking experience for me. I probably needed that 🙂 Now go out into the world, Mark!

  6. Edward on November 14th, 2008 3:47 am

    As a new person (I recently took Level III for the first time), I feel it’s really sad that many of Trungpa Rinpoche’s students have chosen to ignore Trungpa Rinpoche’s explicit wishes relative to the Shambhala teachings (as quoted for example in your article from the book “Great Eastern Sun”)

    As a result of Shambhala being labeled “a form of Buddhism”, I feel less comfortable inviting non-Buddhist friends to attend Shambhala training weekends. People I know aren’t necessarily ready to accept the label of being “Buddhist” just to go to a weekend seminar.

    This is just one example of the problem I see with these revisions. Shambhala is less open to new people, it seems to me, which is sad. As a secondary matter, fewer people being served would mean less revenue.

    By the way, I say that Trungpa Rinpoche’s students have made these changes, because, as far as I can tell, they all have a responsibility (or put another way, have the honor) of preserving his gifts and transmissions, as best they can. I don’t think we can say that only this person or that person has that responsibility.

    Anyway…. Feeling confused and sad about a lot of this, and realizing that my confusion and sadness would not “go away” by magic, I recently asked a senior student at my local Shambhala center about some of this. I tried to build rapport first by schmoozing a bit. I told him that for some reason I connect better with Trungpa Rinpoche’s teachings than I do with the current Sakyong. He nodded and said that was fine. Then, after beating around the bush for a few minutes, I told him I felt a bit confused by the current Sakyong changing things that Trungpa Rinpoche established. He told me in response:

    “The Sakyong is free to change anything he likes, since he’s a recognized Rinpoche.”

    Now, it’s possible that I misheard him, as the conversation became awkward at that point. But I was not happy with his response. I was, however, happy with the bluntness of his answer. The bluntness felt very clean and pure. There’s a lot of goodness in that kind of bluntness. I felt relieved to finally be given an explanation.

    I’m not sure what else to say.

    As somewhat of an outsider, I have a hard time understanding why people don’t think twice about going against Trungpa Rinpoche’s explicit instructions. To me, it’s like there’s a huge elephant in the room that nobody wants to acknowledge.

  7. Edward on November 14th, 2008 4:27 am

    Just to clarify, I think it’s great that Mipham Rinpoche has his own style and point of view about everything. It’s no doubt essential for teachers to develop their own style. I hope he continues this.

    My confusion is about his role in preserving his father’s work. Does he have the responsibility to preserve his father’s transmission? Who does? I’d like to find those people and spend time meditating with them. I’d like to help them pass on the Shambhala teachings to new people, in whatever ways I can.

    General Patton once said “Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way.” Patton probably had a thing or two to learn about tact and diplomacy– certainly according to how he is portrayed in the movie and so on– but it’s clear he was a masterful tactician. He felt a great sense of urgency during the war, and he sometimes felt compelled to take strong actions because of what he felt was at stake.

  8. Suzanne Duarte on November 18th, 2008 1:07 pm

    Edward, Thank you for speaking up. You say:

    “As a new person (I recently took Level III for the first time), I feel it’s really sad that many of Trungpa Rinpoche’s students have chosen to ignore Trungpa Rinpoche’s explicit wishes relative to the Shambhala teachings (as quoted for example in your article from the book “Great Eastern Sun”). . . . By the way, I say that Trungpa Rinpoche’s students have made these changes, because, as far as I can tell, they all have a responsibility (or put another way, have the honor) of preserving his gifts and transmissions, as best they can. I don’t think we can say that only this person or that person has that responsibility. . . . As somewhat of an outsider, I have a hard time understanding why people don’t think twice about going against Trungpa Rinpoche’s explicit instructions. To me, it’s like there’s a huge elephant in the room that nobody wants to acknowledge.”

    I believe you are correct that “Trungpa Rinpoche’s students . . . have a responsibility . . . of preserving his gifts and transmissions, as best they can.” Perhaps some of them have had a hand in making the changes, but I suspect that most of them who are loyal to Sakyong Mipham simply went along with what he proposed, rather than exercising their critical thinking. But I feel quite certain that the Sakyong could not have succeeded in implementing those changes without the full cooperation and support of a good many students of the Vidyadhara. And I agree that this is an (if not the ) elephant in the room that nobody wants to acknowledge.

    I have heard some of these people say “Sakyong Mipham is my king but not my guru,” as if that absolves them from conflict of interest or collusion or disloyalty to the Vidyadhara. I’ve never bought it myself. I was perfectly happy to embrace the Dorje Dradul as a cosmic monarch, but, since he was my root guru, I didn’t do it because I felt I needed a “king.”

    I don’t know. Perhaps these former students of CTR (my erstwhile vajra brothers and sisters) who now support and defend SMR think that they are being loyal to CTR by upholding his Shambhala successor and, in some cases, holding high positions in the mandala, and teaching according to CTR. However, it seems to me that they have developed amnesia regarding CTR, or a kind of blindness to the differences that SMR has instituted. In any case, they are silent about what has been lost, as far as I know. So I think it is fair to say they are the elephant in the living room.

    Even Mitchell Levy, who was so intimately close to CTR and whom I will love forever as a vajra brother, seems to have forgotten, according to what he said in the recent interview on the Chronicle Project http://www.chronicleproject.com/chroniclesradio_dispatches/index_dispatches.html It seems he thinks his job is to “protect the Vidyadhara’s family,” but not his legacy. Not the integrity of the mandala.

    One of the things CTR said in his will was that his successors should keep the sangha together. It always seemed to me that that was one of his most heart-felt desires, and sadly it has not happened. First the Regent split the sangha, and now SMR has split it even further. (I’m assuming you know HOW MANY CTR students have left the SI mandala. FYI, some left early in SMR’s tenure and more have followed.)

    So when supporters of SMR say, ““The Sakyong is free to change anything he likes, since he’s a recognized Rinpoche,” as a “senior student” told you, I just shake my head. I can only attribute this kind of attitude to amnesia.

    Edward, you say, “My confusion is about [SMR’s] role in preserving his father’s work. Does he have the responsibility to preserve his father’s transmission? Who does?”

    Ah, that is the question we wrestle with here, isn’t it? Here on Radio Free Shambhala, a few of us dare to question. We feel obliged to do that out of loyalty and gratitude to the Vidyadhara. It’s taken us 21 years to take this step.

    Thanks again for speaking up, Edward.



  9. John Tischer on July 9th, 2013 12:54 pm

    Another one, Mark.