The Genuine Chögyam Trungpa

March 25, 2009

Commentary by Bernie Weitzman

I address what follows to students of the Vidyadhara, Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche.

The years since Rinpoche’s parinirvana have been uncomfortable for many of his students.  Many of us have felt alienated from the community and from the Sakyong’s teachings.  We have, of course, dealt with the situation in individual ways. There are, though, commonalities.  Some of us have continued to participate fully, some of us have withdrawn, and others of us have continued to teach but have kept ourselves otherwise distant.

A concern that has become increasingly acute for me personally is that Rinpoche’s unique vision, the world altering presentation of the dharma that was my gateway, my access to sanity, is in danger of being lost.  I heard many teachers before him, during his time with us and have heard many teachers since Rinpoche’s death.  It is clear to me that, if not for him. I would still be wandering in search of a teacher.

I have recently found a significant level of comfort with and confidence in the path the Sakyong is developing.  The new format for Shambhala training will, in my view, be a truly fruitional movement in the direction of Trungpa, Rinpoche’s vision.  The retreat sequence, climaxing in the Scorpion Seal Retreat, moves Shambhala training and the Kagyu and Nyingma practices into a potentially enriching dialogue — but it’s a step towards that dialogue.

In order for that dialogue to unfold, we students of the Vidyadhara need to enter the discussion.  The way is open.  We are free to teach within the community.  Frank Berliner has coined the topic heading that I feel we all might use: “The Essential Chögyam Trungpa.”

H.H. Karmapa once said to a group of tantrikas, “Your teachers plant yeast in you.  It grows and expands in you.  Pass it on to your students.”  Each of us is yeasted.  Each of us has a unique “Essential Chögyam Trungpa.”  Let’s pass it on to the current generation and join the Sakyong in fulfilling his father’s vision.

Bernie Weitzman is in private practice as a psychotherapist in NYC. He became a student of Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche in 1972, and has taught at Karme Choling and at the NY and Philadelphia Shambhala Centers.

Creating Enlightened Society, Part 2

March 24, 2009

Creating Enlightened Society

by Dr. Robin Kornman

Part 2


Shiwa Ökar holding cosmic mirror

Shiwa Ökar holding cosmic mirror

Let’s take the first page. It’s the page [1] that you have in your manual. It begins:

From the great cosmic mirror

This is going to talk about how society comes into being. Now, ordinarily, your theory of how society comes into being is that people live together and they form tribes and then the tribes form city-states that form countries. There are a lot of interesting books. Rousseau came up with a theory, which is a theory that I personally love, which is the theory of the social contract which is that people live together and they realize that they have to specialize. Some people are going to be farmers and some people are going to be warriors, and they create a society by entering into a social contract. They form a contract and that’s the nature of their society. To some extent, that’s the way Americans view their society. The contract is the Constitution. That’s the way the French view their society, and that’s the way the liberal democracies of Europe view their societies. Those are societies that are created by some sort of contractual arrangement, some understanding or agreement. Everyone in the society has assented to follow the laws of that society.

But this approach to the development of society (points to text) is more primordial than that. It shows how society is actually a primordial idea. Society is part of the nature of the existence of your inner mind. And society comes into being when you begin to think of yourself as an autonomous individual. When you begin to perceive that you exist in a world as a separate being. So, this passage in Tibetan poetry describes that a bit. It describes the moment when people woke up to the fact that they were individuals, and had to deal with that. It’s put in terms of a Tibetan myth, that in the beginning, there was no world. There was no existence. No planets, stars, trees. It was just a vast mirror, and it was called the cosmic mirror. The si-pe me-long. So the first sentence says:

From the great cosmic mirror without beginning and without end

Human society became manifest.

Now, you have to imagine to yourself that there is no space, no time. There is just a huge mirror, and if you look in the mirror you see the universe. In the mirror you see planets, stars, people on the planets. In fact, you can see in the mirror, yourself, on a planet called Earth, in a town called Milwaukee. There is nothing but that mirror. There is actually nobody looking in the mirror. The mirror is full of images, and those images are the idea of me and the idea of you. As a matter of fact, that’s the way a mirror is. If you look in a mirror, it looks like there is space inside the mirror. It looks like you can reach into the mirror, you can walk into the mirror and talk to the people in the mirror. But actually, the mirror is just this thin (indicating a bare thickness with his fingers). The mirror is almost non-existent. It’s just an image. And the Buddhist understanding of the nature of the universe is that the universe is a vast mind, a vast unlimited awareness. That awareness is the ground of all things, and when that awareness is aware of Robin Kornman talking in this seat, Robin Kornman comes into being as a display in that mind, as a perception in that mind, as a display in the mirror. So, it says:

From the great cosmic mirror without beginning and end

Human society became manifest.

In other words, in the beginning was the great cosmic mirror without beginning and without end. The word “cosmic” is the word si-pa. (In Tibetan,) Sridpa, srid means world, it means possibility, it means society, it means politics, it means existence, and it means cosmic. There’s no way of translating srid directly into a word in English. There’s no word in English that combines all these notions. Ordinarily, if there’s a word for society, that word for society isn’t going to refer to anything primordial; it’s not going to refer to anything natural. It’s going to refer to something contractual, something that is an agreement. Something that is artificial, that people put together. But the Tibetan word for “society” is also the word for possibility, the word for existence. So the Tiebtan society is innate in the nature of mind. So you could say this is the mirror of society, or the mirror of existence.

It says:

From that great cosmic mirror…human society became manifest.

At that time liberation and confusion arose.

Simultaneously. In other words, there were people who were liberated and people who were confused. What caused the liberated people? What caused the confused people?

When fear and doubt occurred

Towards the confidence which is primordially free

Countless multitudes of cowards arose.

And that’s confusion. When people arose from the mirror, exited the mirror, pretended that they existed outside the mirror, thought of themselves as autonomous, thought of the world as real and not just a great mind, then some of them experienced fear and doubt towards the confidence which is primordially free.

Now, once again, I’ve got to explain to you a Tibetan word that doesn’t have any equivalent in English. The word “confidence” is ziji which means “splendor”, “majesty”. When a king appears on his throne, the king has a kind of light that shines about his shoulders, about his head. A majesty that awes the people who see the king. That majesty is called ziji. Ziji is literally “splendor” but it is also, in the Shambhala tradition, the word for innate confidence, innate dignity, when you have confidence in yourself, perfect confidence in yourself, beyond relativity. When you have a confidence that cannot be shaken by any facts, and it’s possible to have such a confidence, it’s possible to have a confidence in yourself based upon seeing your basic nature, a confidence that I would keep and not lose no matter how much I fucked up. I can lose all my money. I could alienate all my friends. I could burn all the food I cook. I could wreck my car. I could forget my job. I could screw up my whole life, fail at all the things we’re not supposed to fail at. The things where if you succeed at them, you have confidence in yourself. I could fail at all of those things, but seeing my basic nature, still feel confidence. That’s primordial confidence. That’s the confidence that comes from seeing your basic nature. And the word for that confidence is ziji, “majesty”, because all human beings possess an innate majesty. A majesty that comes from the fact that we are magnificent displays in the cosmic mirror, that we are innately bright, brilliant displays.

We put up colorful thangkas on the walls–all these religious icons with all their colors–to talk about display because the nature of display is ziji, brilliance, majesty, wonder. All manifestation is wondrous. All of it is the display of basic primordial ground of basic wisdom. Now, when the fear and doubt about the confidence arise in those who just emerge from the mirror, then they become cowards. Doubt of your basic nature makes you a coward. In the language of Shambhala, a coward is a person who creates a decadent society, an unenlightened society—what we call a setting sun society. And so it says “Countless multitudes of cowards arose”.

On the other hand, when the confidence which is primordially free was followed and delighted in, when people emerged from the mirror and delighted in that ziji, in that confidence, and followed after it and cultivated it and tried to enact it in their daily life, those people became warriors. So now you have two people reacting to the same thing. You emerge from the mirror, you feel that you exist as a separate person, but you know that in the background is a primordial mind and you’re just part of that mind. Your subconscious mind knows that you don’t truly exist as a separate thing, and that idea is always in the back of your mind. And if that idea is threatening to you, then you become a coward because you can’t look back at the source from which you arose. You have to constantly protect your ego, you have to protect your sense of self-existence. And if you glimpse your origins, you’ll lose that sense of self-existence. You’ll feel like you’ve fallen into an abyss. Fear of that mirror that’s in everybody’s background, fear of that brilliant abyss, that makes you a coward. But if, when you sense that that abyss is there that you arose from it and that you still live in it, if that gives you delight, if that makes you feel free, if that makes you feel creative, then that makes you a warrior. And two kinds of society are created: Countless multitudes of warriors, and countless multitudes of cowards. Then it says:

Those countless multitudes of cowards

Hid themselves in caves and jungles.

They killed their brothers and sisters and ate their flesh,

They followed the example of beasts,

They provoked terror in each other;

Thus they took their own lives.

They kindled a great fire of hatred,

They constantly roiled the river of lust

I think we originally said “roiled in the river of lust”. Roiled in the river? What does roiling mean, anyway? Actually, it was my word (laughter). I’ve never looked in the dictionary to see if it’s a real word. Everyone at the table took it for granted that was a word. I couldn’t believe it when I said: “Roil in the river of lust”, and everybody said, “Great! OK, we’ll use that word.” And I thought ‘I’ll never get away with this’, but I did and here it is, my word! (Laughter). Now, don’t you roil in lust! (Laughter) Don’t you do that!

They wallowed in the mud of laziness;

The age of famine and plague arose.

And Iraq came into being. Well, it is Iraq, isn’t it though, really? Hid themselves in caves and jungles, killed their brothers and sisters, ate their flesh, they followed the example of beasts, they provoked terror in each other.

OK now, think about it. We are shocked and horrified by what happens when a society falls apart and becomes, well, what Iraq is today. When the police arrest somebody and automatically begin to torture them right away, for no reason, even when they don’t have any information to extract. We can’t understand how people can do that. We’re horrified by the nature of such people. When I look at myself I don’t find a monster like that, and I don’t understand how there can be so many monsters like that. How can there be all those people who did lynchings in the South? What could have been in their hearts? Is it true that there were two completely different kinds of human beings: one human being is a beast and one human being is a proto-angel? Can it be? No, it can’t be. The people who became cowards are just like the people who became warriors. They’re just slightly different. The slight difference is that they had a fear of an aspect of their basic nature, and when they indulged that fear, all sorts of other emotions cascaded forth leading to aggression, hatred, destruction, the willingness to torture others and rejoicing in it. Human beings who are beasts are just like us, but for that one inability: to face the abyss. The inability to rejoice in the cosmic mirror, the inability to face our unmentionable origins, our ineffable origins. That creates an evil society. That’s what evil is. On the other hand,

Of those who are dedicated to the primordial confidence—[the good guys]—

The many hosts of warriors,

Some went to highland mountains

And erected beautiful castles of crystal.

Some went to the lands of beautiful lakes and islands

And erected lovely palaces.

Some went to the pleasant plains

And sowed fields of barley, rice and wheat.

They produced art. They produced it naturally, and they produced it in abundance. The reason they produced art in abundance is because they were trying to enact, to represent, to talk about the fundamental display nature of themselves. Sensing that they are displays in the cosmic mirror, they rejoiced in that primordial nature, and they tried to represent it, and when you represent it you produce beautiful art. Like that Medicine Buddha over there is so elegant with its red and blue.

When I was a young man, I wondered why Buddhists built such huge palaces, why Tibetan temples had all that garish red and blue, why they used all that lacquer. After all, the Buddha was a poor man and he represented his purity by not having any money. Wasn’t the essence of Buddhism to be poor and pure? And I figured that when Buddhism constructed these huge palaces, it was some kind of decadence that developed. You know, you began with an honest sangha, an honest community of poor people, getting their food from alms. And then some of those people became bureaucrats, monastic bureaucrats, and as soon as you’ve created bureaucrats, you’ve created a corrupt church. And then the church built buildings and everyone settled down and became corrupt. In my purity as a teenager I figured that was what it was all about and I understood perfectly Mahayana Buddhism as a falling away from the Buddhist ideals. But now I realize it’s not. It’s an expression of the Buddhist ideal. It’s an expression of the innate display quality of reality, of the fundamental dignity and confidence of the ziji. So the more you accept the non-existence of ego, the emptiness of ego, the more splendid and glorious is your expression. And the elegance, the delicacy of the spires and the filigree, the ropes and the pearls hanging out of the mouths of golden alligators and all of that stuff that you find in a Tibetan temple, all of that stuff is a necessary statement about the nature of the world. It is an enlightened society, and so those who are dedicated to the primordial confidence created all these beautiful things. They sowed their beautiful fields of barely, rice and wheat, they erected their palaces.

Now, to understand how you get from being dedicated to primordial confidence to having an architect build a palace, we have to understand what the word “primordial confidence” means in greater depth than we do right this second. OK, well, that’s going to take a long time. That’s the nature of the philosophical exploration of the Shambhala teachings: to take the word dö-me ziji, primordial confidence, and understand deeply what that means. So we don’t do that in an evening or a weekend. It’s something we meditate on and, over the years, develop an understanding of. In the other lecture I’m going to give I’m going to try to explore it further, and I hope we will also be able to give podcasts developing some of the particular ways Trungpa Rinpoche showed the nature of primordial confidence. In any case, I just want to show that word, let it hang there. It’s something that we’re going to try to understand more deeply, because as you understand it, you’ll understand why a certain kind of society is natural. And the society is not made up of arbitrary conventions. It’s not made up of social conventions. It’s not made up of agreements. It’s made up of direct expressions of basic nature.

It says more about these warriors. It says:

They were always without quarrel,

Ever loving and very generous.

That word “loving” is actually in Sanskrit the word maitri: friendly, merciful. They were always merciful and generous. We have the word in Tibetan: daring to give. And there’s this very important line:

Without encouragement, through their self-existing inscrutability,

They were always devoted to the Imperial Rigden.

Without encouragement is an important word in Tibetan: kulwa mepa. Encouragement in Tibetan, kulwa, means when you call somebody to work. Like you say, “Hey you guys, come over here, bring hammers and saws and let’s work on this. Let’s make a table.” People look at you and say, “Shall I go?” And you say, “I’ll pay you. Here’s materials. If you don’t come over here, I’ll kill you.” You know, whatever incentive I give you. Come forth, and let’s make a table. That’s kulwa, calling somebody forth. That’s encouragement, incentive. And modern political theory has a lot to do with figuring out what the incentives are that hold society together. For example, the incentive could be money, or the incentive could be that we all believe in the communist vision. Communism and capitalism debated for a century: what would be a natural incentive for creating a healthy society? The debate still goes on. The communists basically lost their end of the debate. The capitalists didn’t win their side of the debate. The communists just disappeared and they figured they won because nobody was arguing with them anymore. But this enlightened society has no incentivization. Without encouragement they did their work. Because when you’re devoted to the primordial essence, then you naturally build crystal palaces. You naturally work well with others, you naturally form teams. The ability for several people to form a team and to happily be part of a team, to happily be the third chair or the fifth chair or the twenty-fifth chair, to happily be at the end of the line holding up the end of the line, to happily be a non-entity in the middle of the thing, to just be a nurse in the hall. The ability to do that and feel completely fulfilled by it, that is doing something without encouragement. That’s what “without encouragement” means, and so these warriors were always without encouragement.

Without encouragement, through their self-existing inscrutability

Now, inscrutability is an English translation of a Tibetan word that means: so wise that other people can’t see why you did something.  Let’s say you’re looking at a situation, and when you see the situation absolutely clearly you understand how it works. Then it’s perfectly obvious what you should do. “I should pull this lever here.” Other people are looking at the situation and don’t see how it works and they don’t know which lever to pull. Now, when you pull that lever they say “How wise indeed you are”. You are inscrutable; your inscrutable wisdom. Inscrutable wisdom is doing what’s obvious when nobody else sees that it’s obvious which is the nature of primordial wisdom.

I always give one example. I used to be called to Montreal to give talks in French. Even though my French was pretty bad, I could give meditation instruction in French, I could give interviews in French. In the early days before we developed a lot of teachers who taught in French in Quebec, I was invited to go to Quebec quite often. Now, at the end of a long day of giving talks and having them translated and listening to the French and trying to understand the French, my ability to understand French would completely run out. I’d be giving interviews and I couldn’t understand what anybody was saying. I would just sit there, you know, completely dazed. The guy comes in and he sits down and we bow to each other, and I have a certain advantage. I’m the teacher and this is the student and he feels a certain sense of awe towards me. And if I just hold it together, I’m going to make it through this interview. He starts to talk and I have no idea what he’s saying. He could be speaking Swahili. I know he’s talking about his inner life, because that’s what everybody does. I know what people talk about in meditation and I look at him and after a little while I have to say something because there’s a pause. He’s waiting for my answer. He’s asked me a question, but I can’t understand the question either. I say something really obvious like, “You look tired”. And he says, “What a brilliant remark! That’s my problem! I’m just tired. Thank you. You’re so wise.” And they’d leave and I was the all-wise American. This lasted for a year or two before they figured out that I didn’t know what they were saying. I’ve got a feeling that my guru did that in the early days. He would sit there smoking a cigarette and every once in a while he would say something completely disconnected from what you were saying, and you would say, “Oh! What a penetrating remark!” That’s inscrutability. It’s the wisdom that sees what’s obvious to you that’s not obvious to other people, but really is obvious. If people weren’t so terribly confused and self-involved, they would see it too. Inscrutability is a Shambhalian word for “highest wisdom”.

(To be continued)

 [1]This same text appears in Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior, in Part One, How to Be a Warrior, on page 23 in the standalone book editions and on page 15 in the Collected Works edition.



Creating Enlightened Society, Talk 1: Part 1 | Part 3

Creating Enlightened Society

March 19, 2009

By Dr. Robin Kornman  

Transcribed by Andrew Safer

Robin Kornman gave four public talks on Creating Enlightened Society in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in February 2007. These can be seen on Google Video.

Talk #1 will appear in three installments on Radio Free Shambhala.

Robin was one of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s first North American students. I didn’t know him well, but when he came to Halifax in 2007 we spoke and I was struck by his honesty, his humour, and his frailty. Robin died shortly after, from complications of the mesothelioma he contracted as a result of working around asbestos as a teenager. 

When I saw him in the crowded vestibule of the Halifax Shambhala Centre, Robin looked at me and said, simply, “I’m dying,” not sadly or with any particular emotion. It was a matter-of-fact statement that struck me as extraordinary in its directness and openness.

Robin was one of the founding members of the Nalanda Translation Committee which is the group of students Trungpa Rinpoche worked with on the translation of Tibetan texts into English. The translation group remains active today. Robin received a PhD in Comparative Literature from Princeton University. He was a Resident Scholar at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC from 2001 to 2002, and then taught comparative literature at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.  Robin gave this series of talks over a weekend at the Milwaukee Shambhala Centre.

I would like to thank Michael Sullivan for providing the link to Robin’s talk in a comment he posted on Radio Free Shambhala, and for arranging for permission to publish the transcription here.  

 Creating Enlightened Society

Part 1

We’ve gone to a lot of trouble to fix up the centre. We’ve hung a lot of thangkas and a lot of decorations. Each thangka relates to the subject matter of the program and all the decorations connect with the program. We have a display of books in the back of the room. There are a lot of things going on here, things on the walls that don’t usually go on the walls of the Milwaukee Shambhala Centre. What I’m trying to do is just give a little echo of a very elaborate physical environment we had at Kalapa Assembly in the old days. When the Shambhala teachings were first given, they were given at programs called “Kalapa Assembly”. Trungpa Rinpoche’s oldest students were brought to an off-season ski resort, and we fixed up the place. We made it elaborately beautiful. There was art on the walls, we lived a very formal life, we dressed up in suits for every single talk. What we were doing is we were recreating in a Western context a thing that Trungpa Rinpoche called the Court principle. A lot of this weekend, I’m going to talk about what the Court principle is.

When you see a manadala of Tibetan deities, a classical diagram that shows the deity in the middle of a square, there are different colours, and deities in four directions on the face of the square. That complex diagram represents a palace. The palace represents the whole universe, the world as an enlightened being would see it. Actually, it’s a picture of a palace, with a king living in the middle of the palace. The king has ministers, servants, queens, body guards, and all sorts of different principles represented by deities in the mandala. Of course, you memorize these mandalas, and imagine yourself being the king in the middle of the mandala. The idea is to see your world as the court of the king, and to understand that the nature of civilization is somehow involved in this court. If we saw the world the way it truly is, we would see it as the court of a king. Now, when we look at the world, it’s full of countries, disasters, mountains and rivers, cities falling down and being built, wars, animals being born and dying, and forests and streams. It looks like a complicated bunch of biological and sociological things going on. But if you could see it the way it really was, you would see it as innately pure—innately, beyond the dualities of life and death, of winning and losing, of happiness and unhappiness, of good and bad. You would see something magnificently beautiful, with a structure which reflected a profound message, and that would be the world the way an enlightened person would see it. Tibetan Tantric Buddhism has represented the world the way it truly is: as the palace of a king.

And so, at Kalapa Assembly, we tried to create a palace culture. Our teacher, Trungpa Rinpcohe, was the king of the palace, and everybody else was some dignitary in the court of the king. All of our activities became formal and symbolic. They symbolized something about the profound inner nature of reality. When you see the profound inner luminous nature of reality manifest, then you see a world of brilliant displays, of magnificent beauty and goodness. Enlightened society is based upon that principle of the goodness of that Court. Of seeing the world as innately like that Court. In this program, this weekend, I’m going to build up the idea of an enlightened society, from the ground up, in stages, and you’ll see us constructing the notion of the world as a Court. That’s why we fancied up the centre, and why all the staff are wearing suits. That’s why there’s so much formality. Because we’re trying to recreate that atmosphere and that message that was in the atmosphere of the Kalapa Assemblies when we were first taught that the world, the universe, is a court of an all-creating monarch.

[Asks for manuals to be distributed]

In The Golden Sun of the Great East, Trungpa Rinpoche introduced the ideas of the Kingdom of Shambhala and the teachings of the Kingdom of Shambhala. Those ideas were introduced in the book, Shambhala: The Sacred  Path of the Warrior, and were taught at Kalapa Assembly as well. That book is based upon a bunch of books like this: these are terma, or scriptural texts, on the teachings of the Kingdom of Shambhala that the Dorje Dradul, Trungpa Rinpoche, received one by one. He received them in Tibetan, and translated them with the Nalanda Translation Committee. I was on the translation committee when they were translated, and we published them like this, Tibetan on one side and English on the other side. The people who went to Kalapa Assembly got these books. Nowadays, if you take Shambhala Training  all the way up to Warrirors’ Assembly and beyond, you will get one by one all of these books, which were written in a really concentrated way.

But the first teaching is given on the first page of Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior. We’re going to start out with an exceptionally deep, difficult to understand teaching. I’m going to teach it tonight and you’ll have to think about it as time goes on. It’s the basis for the idea of an enlightened society. Before I go into the text, what do we mean by an enlightened society? I mean that the way we live in our society is reorganized so that our whole life is a path that leads to enlightenment. Right now, most people live a life which is, from my point of view, arbitrary. Their aim is to do the next step in life: to go to school, to get a degree, to have kids, to grow older, and to die. But people who are on the Buddhist path, their aim is to gain enlightenment. Their life has more focus. The Shambhala and Buddhist paths are both paths which have that focus. Enlightened society refers to the notion of reorganizing our society so that everything you do—from going to school, to getting married, to getting a job, to buying your clothes, to taking a vacation in Hawaii—everything you do is reorganized so that it advances you along the path. It speeds you towards enlightenment.

Eventually, because of the way that society is organized, and the way you are taught to live in the world, you could achieve meditation in action; you can manage to meditate all the time. Everybody knows the image of the Buddhist monk or the Buddhist nun who spends all of his or her time in a monastery or in retreat meditating. If this person meditates eight or ten hours a day, for 30 or 40 years, they will become an enlightened person—some level of Buddha, or a bodhisattva at one of the higher levels.  All that meditation is necessary to gradually transform your mind—from the mind of an ordinary person into the mind of an enlightened being. To transform your mind from the confused mind we have, into the unconfused, wise, penetrating compassionate mind of an enlightened being. The way you do it is to meditate 10 hours a day for your whole life. There are lots and lots of Tibetans who when they hit the age of 30 or 40 go into life-long retreat, try to gain enlightenment in one lifetime and plan on being reincarnated enlightened and helping the world. But our teacher, Trungpa Rinpoche, when he came to the West, he had another approach to introduce to us. It wasn’t that you spend your life in retreat in order to gain enlightenment. It was that you transform your world and the way that you live in the world, so that eventually you are meditating eight or ten hours, well, you’re meditating 24 hours a day because everything you do is part of your meditation. Your whole life is a meditation practice. He called that Meditation In Action, and it was the name of his first book.

For five years, he taught the Tantric Buddhist path, which is, step by step, how to do meditation in action and gain enlightenment in one lifetime. Then he introduced the Shambhala teachings and enlightened society. It’s a Buddhist tantric idea, but it was introduced to us through the Shambhala teachings. And we rely on the Shambhala texts he wrote to introduce it today.

(To be continued)

Published by permission, Cam Kornman.


Creating Enlightened Society, Talk 1: Part 2 | Part 3

The transcription of “Creating Enlightened Society” is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.

Tribute to Robin  |  Robin Kornman – A Work in Progress | The Scholar Who Got the Highest Teachings

Sangha As Herd

March 18, 2009

Commentary by Sebo Ebbens

Sangha as herd

Some discussions within the sangha have produced in me a number of feelings about our sangha, which I would like to share with you. I have tried to express these feelings in this article. As a basis for my reasoning, I will start by discussing the difference between a mob, a herd and a community. I have taken this from a book by Korteweg and Voigt (Helen of delen [Healing or sharing], 1990, chapter 2). Their thoughts have helped me to gain a better understanding of and a firmer grasp on the functioning of learning communities, and of spiritual communities in particular. The theme of learning communities has intrigued me for a long time. To come straight to the point, I think our sangha is usually more of a herd than a spiritual community. I’ll explain further.

Mob, herd, and community

The three-fold division made by Korteweg and Voigt describes a developmental process. They say that a mob is focused on idols, as at a football match or a pop concert. The individual is taken over by the mob and becomes part of it; and worships the idol – the football player or the pop star – as one entity. Individuals have no personal responsibility. It is not an expression of one’s own personality. 

If the mob becomes a smaller collective group with a more personal character, we call it a herd. A herd focuses on common ideals or common values. Examples are a church, or an organization like Greenpeace or the WWF. You become a member because you share the same values. 

If the connection is stronger, the herd then has a large degree of community spirit: you share the same goals. At the same time, however, free thinking or feeling does not exist: viewpoints must express the values of the herd. There can be no criticism of its aims or methods: ‘that simply isn’t done’ or ‘you just don’t say that’ are often heard. Sects are a degenerated example of this.

This is why some people sometimes don’t feel at home in a herd. These people feel the need to control their own lives, the need for authenticity. They no longer want to be guided by the common social values of the herd, but to follow their own values and learn about them. This choice means that you go through life alone, because you can only follow your own conscience. In addition, you seek connections with people with whom you can travel the same road. This means you usually have to go through a period of loneliness or being alone in order to make those connections. When you have found that group, you enter a community (I call it a community; Voigt and Korteweg call this a circle). A characteristic of a community is that it usually is temporary and that it stimulates you to make your own personal journey. In a talk about this with Dale Asrael (one of our Acharyas) she said that the community might also stimulate you to leave the community if necessary, because you would be better off following another path. The community doesn’t push. The principal characteristic of the community is that it helps you to realize your human potential and to express yourself in the real world, whether within or without the community.


I would like to illustrate my viewpoint that our sangha is more of a herd than a spiritual community on the basis of two examples. One example comes from the Shambhala Mountain Centre (SMC, also a part of our sangha) where I have the pleasure of staying for four weeks every summer, as a teacher at Naropa University. The other example comes from our own sangha in the Netherlands. 

The first example: the Sakyong was about to arrive at SMC after an extended period of absence. It was suggested that we all go to the shrine tent to welcome him there. Suddenly someone shouted that we should go and stand by the road and everyone should take a little flag to wave on his arrival. The flags were next to the tent entrance. Everyone ran to the road with their little flag. After a while a car with blacked-out windows drove by. Everyone waved. My first thought was that there might not even have been anybody in the car. You couldn’t see anything. I felt embarrassed, and like part of a herd, nearly part of a mob. There was something extraordinarily stupid about standing there waving a flag with everybody else without seeing the Sakyong.

The second example: over the last few years I have attended a number of courses. At two of these courses I felt that the manner of teaching was inadequate; in the others it was perfectly satisfactory. On one occasion I reported this to the board as well as to the teacher concerned (who ultimately reacted well). But the initial response made me feel that criticism should not be expressed. Or that it should be expressed differently, in another tone of voice or with another sentence construction. It was clear that we don’t know how to react to a message such at that: you shouldn’t say anything about the quality of the teaching. The inadequacy of the second teacher was discussed extensively by the group that participated in the course. But the teacher knows nothing of it, as far as I know. For that matter, that is also not done. Here, too, there is evidence of a herd: the teacher always deserves to be praised. And of course that’s true. But even teachers deserve their own individual paths. Another herd characteristic is to toast the teacher and to sing his or her praises. And to praise each other. Always. That’s how it ought to be.

Sangha as spiritual community 

I could also give other examples. Consider the way we follow Eva Wong, who was asked to rearrange the building of Shambhala Amsterdam. She proposed to change the beams in the shrine room: a very expensive operation. There was not a real discussion about this proposal and it happened as proposed. I personally think that beams in the meditation room are acceptable. Or how we propagate the idea of enlightened society even if we don’t demonstrate it. But to me the examples are not the point.

To me what’s important is that I want the sangha to be a spiritual community where we support each other in following our own path, in our practice as well as in our daily lives, while maintaining respect for each other’s personal paths. Our path is a difficult one. It is a solitary path. But if we are members of the sangha, this is the path we have chosen. In that sense the sangha is a spiritual community and not just a social club. The sangha does not function as a spiritual community if we can no longer say what we think because that isn’t done. Or where we can hide behind what is done or not done or behind what someone else says. We develop for ourselves what is done and what is not, within our own tradition. That makes us a living spiritual sangha. 


Things are never as bad as they seem. Of course there are moments in our sangha when I feel that we do manifest as a spiritual community. Of course our sangha is also made up of some outstanding people. In addition, there are many satisfying weekends and good courses organized by all those members. But in one way or another, herd thinking quickly creeps in. If we were asked, everyone in our sangha would have a different view of what is and isn’t acceptable in the sangha.

And this article… is this acceptable? 

Sebo Ebbens is a long time member of Shambhala in Amsterdam. By profession he is a teacher trainer. He also taught at Naropa University in Boulder for several years in the Department of Contemplative Education. His web site is Center for Contemplative Practices.


Herd photo is from

Vajradhatu-Tradition Group Retreat

March 4, 2009

Proposal by Charles Marrow

It has been interesting to see how the insight and good wishes of the sangha have unfolded through this web site. My good friend Mark Szpakowski and I have had occasional chats over the last year regarding how much of a community environment can be created in a web based format. He takes the general position that you can do a lot in a cyber/web format and I generally go with the old school notion that a community really needs a bricks and mortar environment. I have enjoyed the exploration of this theme with Mark and also found it satisfying to contribute a main article to Radio Free Shambhala

I would like to go further with the principle of sangha-ship by presenting a proposal for the consideration of the sangha and students of the Vidyadhara and Shambhala. I will be somewhat specific here, realizing that there may be good suggestions forthcoming that would result in modifications to what is said below. It is also possible that the following plan may meet with general approval from people and that this idea could go forward in a straightforward manner. The proposal is to:

Have a Vajradhatu Style Group Retreat to Practice and Study the Teachings of the Vidyadhara 

Location: Province of Nova Scotia
Time: Summer 2009

A. I would propose this be undertaken with the following philosophical understandings-

  1. That the sangha  would do so recognizing that Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche is the true holder of the lineage of the Shambhala Sakyongs and, as such, has the duty and samaya to represent the dignity and goodness of Shambhala in the presentation of his office. This duty of the Sakyongs relates to manifesting Great Eastern Sun culture to those abiding as citizens of Shambhala and the world at large. The Sakyong is, furthermore, wonderfully supported in this sacred responsibility by the presence of the Sakyong Wangmo.
  2. That the social and political theory of the Kingdom of Shambhala recognizes the diversity of the aspirations of its citizens as may be held by individuals, families and communities guided by the principles of basic goodness and the vision of the Great Eastern Sun. 
  3. That with consideration of the principles mentioned above, in Shambhala society, various valid spiritual traditions, both Buddhist and other traditions will be respected and nurtured. Furthermore, that some students of the Vidyadhara, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche may want to create a sangha situation that focuses on the teachings and spiritual traditions presented by Trungpa Rinpoche in a manner very close to the way he taught during his lifetime. Trungpa Rinpoche presented these teachings variously under the names of the Kagyu, Nyingma and Shambhala lineages and also as the Vajradhatu tradition.
  4. That a true sangha, so convened, must take the responsibility to maintain an attitude of a tamed or shinjanged approach in conduct and in speech according to the basic teachings of the Buddha. The sangha needs to also maintain the gentleness of Shambhala and a common sense of civility and respect that would be held in esteem in the broader reaches of society.
  5. That the issues of practice and textual traditions fundamental to any valid Vajrayana tradition be respected in the manner taught by Trungpa Rinpoche. Furthermore, the issues regarding the process of vajrayana transmission will need to be addressed by the sangha as the process of the change of generations continues. This issue can be worked with in a gradual, respectful and intelligent manner. 
  6. That in order to enhance the quality of harmony, the following texts be considered to be intrinsic to the program:  Unlimited Friendliness (the Metta Sutta), Shambhala Edict of Wholesome Human Conduct, and the Bodhisattva Vow from the Bodhicharyavatara.

B. The following considerations pertain to convening a Vajradhatu tradition group retreat and relate to the format of practice and study. 

  1. The retreat be held in a modest but comfortable facility in the province of Nova Scotia for about 10 days during the summer of 2009.
  2. That the retreat be organized with an emphasis on group sitting practice, listening and discussing recorded talks of Trungpa Rinpoche. Also, the schedule would have Sadhana of Mahamudra and Vajrayogini and Werma sessions for practitioners already having those transmissions. 
  3. That certain understandings would be accepted and adhered to by any individual participant regarding the participation in the program. Those would  relate to attendance at the meditation and study sessions, observing good conduct and meeting prearranged financial and work commitments.

C. That in order to expedite the proposed program, a working committee be requested to do the practical and administrative work to accomplish the group retreat. [Important Note – NONE of these individuals (excepting myself) have been informed in advance of this request]

  1. Ken Friedman – coordinator for tape plays of Trungpa Rinpoche talks and the related discussion group.
  2. Charles Marrow – coordinator for meditation practice sessions and shrine room protocol.
  3. Mark Szpakowski – general dekyong and coordinator for communications.
  4. Andrew Speraw – coordinator of facility and finances
  5. Other interest contributors can be included

This concludes the proposal for a Vajradhatu tradition group retreat. I fully trust the intelligence and good wishes of the Sangha to consider what has been presented in a balanced and mature manner. As a request / suggestion for web comments…..I feel that given the practical (and visionary) nature of this particular topic, that those responding include their full name, city or town of residence and a method of contact, number or email address.

Thank you for your interest.

Charles Marrow 
545 Main St. 
Mahone Bay Nova Scotia 
Ph: (902) 531-2491