A Progress Report

April 27, 2009

Update By Bill Karelis, April 26, 2009

On January 21st, 2009, I wrote a letter to the Vajradhatu sangha and the Shambhala community, stating that from this time forward it is my intention to focus on the propagation of the teachings of my root guru, the Great Vidyadhara, Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche, and his predecessors. It has been about three months since this letter was posted on sangha-announce, and much has happened.

I am grateful for the invitations being offered by the Shambhala Times and to the Radio Free Shambhala website to report on the progress of this work.

Dharma program in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, April 3, 2009

To begin with, the Shambhala Prison Community, which is separately incorporated from Shambhala International, continues strong; and it also has been evolving rapidly. We have begun to authorize meditation instructors, and to create a path into instructorship for those doing prison work. The Shambhala Prison Community is not a non-profit organization in the conventional sense of establishing territory in its field, consolidating that territory, and expanding from its established base. We have no home office function to speak of; we spend 96% of every dollar raised on work in the field, providing service to prison inmates, correctional personnel and volunteers. We have been training case workers in the Polish prison system; last December 2008, I conducted our fourth three-day workshop outside of Warsaw for ten participants. Our organization in Oregon has put on about 18 weekends for offenders in the Maximum Security Penitentiary, originally via Shambhala Training. This year that program is shifting its emphasis to the Four Foundations of Mindfulness and other basic Buddhist practice topics.  This March I visited prison workers the SPC trained two years ago in Amsterdam. Three of these individuals now belong to a group of four full-time staff employed by the Dutch government to provide Buddhist services to inmates; that group covers over 80% of the prisons in The Netherlands, which has one of the most progressive governmental systems in the world in the area of concern for the human development of its inmate populations.

Trying out the cushions before the program

Trying out the cushions before the program

While in Europe this winter and spring, I made several prison Dharma presentations, notably with the Amida Trust in Narbrough, UK, at a university conference for mindfulness practice in the field of psychology in Warsaw, and in France.

Most of my activity, as it has been for some years, is conducted outside the prison field—straight Dharma, unmingled with worldly dharmas, presented to meditation groups. This presentation falls generally into the two categories of cutting through spiritual materialism, and Buddha Nature, in the context of all three yanas; and the Shambhala parallels. I have just this April completed a two-month tour of nine countries, mostly in Western and Central Europe (I also presented a program in the United Arab Emirates). My activity is dividing out into three major components:

  • Collaborating with senior students of our lineage on Vajrayana practice and the Shambhala teaching of the Vidyadhara, and maintaining communication generally among the Vajra Sangha, who are often painfully dispersed and isolated—at least as much as I am able.
  • Teaching in Zen, Karma Kagyu and other centers and venues—programs and individual talks, in equal measure.   This activity comprises a great part of my work. It includes relating with teachers of different lineages.
  • Establishing non-aligned groups, which operate under the principle of personal mentorship, rather than that of institutional process, and which follow the teachings of the Vidyadhara. There are now five of these, one in each of five countries.
Dubai harbor by night

Dubai harbor by night

This has been, without question, the most dynamic and creative period of my practice and teaching path. It is characterized by exertion, hopelessness and a tremendous sense of the need for our teaching stream in the world at large. In fact, the world is starving for what we know. My overarching feeling is that we should stop trying to sell the Dharma, and start giving it away to those who request it, for whom the karma is ripe.

Anyone wishing to know more, to collaborate or to help is welcome to write to me or call me at bkarelis@yahoo.com, or 1 303 444 0043.  

 Bill Karelis has been practicing and studying the Buddhadharma and the Shambhala teachings for 37 years. For the last 15 years he has been presenting these teachings internationally.


Photos by Bill Karelis 2009  |  © Bill Karelis 2009

On Poetry

April 13, 2009

Initiative and Poem by John Tischer

My critics are those that want me to learn to write poetry their way, and I say there are as many ways to make art as there are to make love… someone gets off on Van Gogh, someone else on Norman Rockwell… It’s not so much that some art is intrinsically better…. it’s the art’s ability to communicate that measures its worth. Poetry uses language as its palette, but it is an art of communication, not of language, just as music is not an art of sounds and painting is not an art of paints.

I could be a “better” poet, and I am from years back, but my goal is not to be a better poet. It’s to write poetry. For many years I rarely shared my writing, but now that I’ve achieved a certain level of mediocrity,  I’ve found that some people like some of my poems, so, my ambition has found its natural limit. If I become a better writer, it’s merely a side effect.

Allen Ginsberg was a brave man, and one attitude he had towards poetry that I loved, was that everyone should write poems to each other, that it was amenable to community and sharing and fun and why not? There’s always the effete faction that considers whatever art there is to be subject to their sublime judgment, but that’s a lot of horse manure.

I think Ginsberg’s Howl and either The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock or else The Wasteland, by Eliot, are at least two of the greatest English language poems of the Twentieth century. Their subjects are exactly the same, and they each are eloquent in their own style.  The effect they each had was vastly different. The intelligentsia ga-gaed over Eliot in part because of the intricate weaving of classical references in his poems. You didn’t have to know Greek and Latin and a dozen other languages to appreciate his poems, but it didn’t hurt. Meanwhile, he was addressing a world societal upheaval and change that would be echoed down the line by Aldous Huxley, Orwell and others…the death of the soul in modern society.  Eliot was one of the documentarians of this zeitgeist.

Howl was not the logical death knell one would expect would be the pronouncement on what had been happening historically over the previous forty years.  It was a call to life, a battle cry of the sacred tender heart that would not die, and it arose precisely at a time when there were a multitude of ears ready to hear just that. Howl was a bombshell that helped waken the children of the fifties from the engineered stupor that was the legacy of the process that Eliot saw.

And what does this have to do with the subject?  Ginsberg and the Beats were vilified by a writing establishment that worshipped the style of Eliot, but not the substance. Truman Capote called On the Road “typing,” not writing.  As the world changes, art changes, because art is “now.” Ginsberg and Burroughs were given establishment honors in later years, Mother Columbia clinging the world renowned successful artists to her ample and fetid bosom.

I only had one professor in college that said anything that made a lick of sense. He was one of my English professors, and he said: “If you want to be a writer, write!”

I suggest a stream here on Radio Free Shambhala were each post is in the form of a poem.  Why not?  It would certainly tend to make one consider one’s words.

Here’s how:

  • a Post starts off a poetry / doha thread / mala
  • each person responding continues the poem, adding to it through comments
  • one (1) comment only per person!
  • pay attention to the content and style suggested by the initial post
  • the person who started the poem ends it with a final comment: after that further comments are disabled

Here’s the startoff stanza:


Swimming towards the other shore
worried about drowning…sometimes floating
in the current



John Tischer has been a student of Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche since 1972. Now Living in Tepoztlan, Mexico, John divides his time between meditation practice, writing, and doing nothing.

Creating Enlightened Society — Part 3

April 4, 2009

Creating Enlightened Society

by Dr. Robin Kornman

 Part 3

Now, I’m going to talk about what Rigden means. The Rigden was the king of the mythical kingdom of Shambhala. He was the man who spread the Kalachakra teachings across the world. By the end of this weekend, you’re going to know what the Kalachakra teachings are and who the Rigden is, and what the idea is in being a Rigden. But for right now, let’s just say that the Rigden king represents the wisdom of the Court principle. And when these people are devoted, because of their intelligence, to the Rigden king, they work together well and they form a society. So it says,

Thus a good human society was created on this Earth.

And that’s the end of the section. I’ve been studying this section for years, and if I had more time I’d work through every word in Tibetan. Actually, I’d like to give a word-by-word commentary on it, but we don’t have time tonight. Still, I think you have the basic idea: Society is a natural thing. It comes into being when your mind perceives the basis of things. Society is created, not by two or three people getting together, which is what Aristotle said about politics. It’s created by glimpsing the origins of human intelligence, and how you accept your glimpse of origins of human intelligence, that tells you what kind of society you are going to create.

We build an enlightened society in the Shambhalian way by giving people a practice that enables them to face their primordial nature, to face their own nature, and that is the sitting practice of meditation. The first thing we do in Shambhala Training or in Buddhism is teach you how to sit, and we tell you to follow your breath. But the idea isn’t for you to become an expert at focusing on your breath. The idea is that you are using the breath as a crutch to do something else: to look at your own mind. My mind is following the breath; my mind is looking at the breath. My mind is the “I”. The breath is the “it”. “I” look at “it”. What I want to do is look at “I”. I want to turn and look at myself, and the sitting practice we do aims to do that. That’s what it fundamentally is. You follow the breath, and after a while you begin to discover that you can’t follow the breath too much. Thoughts come up and distract you, and you begin to complain that your mind is full of uncontrolled thoughts. You have a monkey mind, full of thoughts. It swings from thought to thought, like a monkey swings from branch to branch.

You complain about your lack of discipline, but you’re seeing your thoughts. You’re beginning to turn towards your mind. That first glimpse of the business of your thoughts is the beginning of your turning towards your mind.  That first glimpse of the business of your thoughts is the beginning of your turning towards mind itself. As you begin to slow down in meditation, you begin to see the arising, dwelling, and cessation of the thoughts. You begin to see the beginning of the thought, the middle of the thought, and the end of the thought. When you see the beginning, middle, and end of a thought, now you are turned away from the phenomenal world and you’re looking back towards the cosmic mirror, and you’re watching the thoughts arise from the mirror.

The thought arises from something. When you turn towards that something, rather than the thought, you’ve made that great turning, the 180 degree turn. The Yogacharans call it “the great turning”. The longer it takes you to do it, the better. The more agonizing it is, the better. If it takes you 20 years to turn, you’ve made a great turning, and you’re going to have a great realization. That’s what the meditation practice is, and that’s where we begin. We’re going to learn to construct an enlightened society and the first step is learning how to look at the abyss, at the vast mind. Tomorrow morning I’m going to go into the technique of looking and I’m going to talk about how you develop a capacity, from that meditation practice, which enables you to construct palaces and plant beautiful fields, join with others in complex projects, and design a society.

Actually, if you wanted to prepare for the talk, in the manual there’s a paper you could read called A Prolegomena to a Theory of Contemplative Education by Robin Kornman. When I was studying Comparative Literature at Princeton, I learned that if you begin a paper with a Greek word that nobody knows, it gets published! (Laughter) It just does! Stephen knows… So I want this paper published, so I begin with “Prolegomena”, and I’m not going to tell you what it is. That would remove the magic and mystery.  This is a Prolegomena, but you’re going to have to guess what that means. In any case, if you wanted to you could prepare by reading this, because this is what I’m going to talk about tomorrow morning.

Then tomorrow afternoon, I’m going to take the different pieces of an enlightened society and talk about them separately. I’m going to hearken back to oral teachings that Trungpa Rinpoche gave me, gave us in the early days. He taught us, I don’t know, it seems like hundreds of techniques of meditation in action. Each one of them was an aspect of building an enlightened society. I’ve made a rough list of those teachings he gave that didn’t get written down anywhere. Now, some of them did get written down, but if you want to know his techniques for meditation in action, or his techniques for building an enlightened society, it’s hard to find them by reading his writings. Thanks to the work of people like Carolyn Gimian we have the collected writings of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche [The Collected Works of Chogyam Trungpa] in those gorgeous yellow books. And in addition to them, we have all the seminary transcripts from the early Vajradhatu Seminaries. We have tons and tons of writings by him, but I reckon he gave about one-third of his teachings casually and orally in his living room to different students. We knew that they were important and we spread them. We talked to all the other students we could talk to and we made sure that these teachings got propagated. So that community of Trungpa Rinpooche’s original students did a very effective job of spreading these teachings.

I was at Karme Choling, a Buddhist meditation Centre in Vermont, and I would come back from spending an evening at Rinpoche’s house and people would say, “Well, what did you talk about?” And I would say, “We talked about this, and this, and this…go through the whole list, and then everybody would talk to each other about it. Somebody else would spend the evening there and come back and say, “Well, we talked about such and such. We talked about sex. Would you like to know what he says about sex?” “We talked about cooking, we talked about clothes, we talked about politics. Whatever was discussed got passed on, and passed through the community, and became part of what the senior teachers taught in their more casual moments in the lectures they gave. Now, we stand in danger of losing those teachings because they weren’t written down in books. They weren’t recorded.

So a bunch of us have been rushing around, finding people who were privately taught something by Trungpa Rinpoche, and getting those people to talk it into a camera. We post it on The Chronicles web site; we make them available in general. For example, Jack Niland spent hours and days with Rinpoche learning an approach to painting based upon Dzogchen. It’s an approach to painting that even includes a Dzogchen way of preparing the canvas. You actually polish the canvas and cover it with a kind of clay which you polish until the canvas becomes a mirror. The canvas becomes the cosmic mirror, and then you paint what arises out of the mirror on the canvas. It’s a whole system of painting and he just taught it to Jack Niland. Jack kept notes and Rinpoche did drawings for him, and he kept the drawings and a couple of us learned about it two years ago and we began having Jack give programs in New York, and filming the programs. So now we’ve documented those private sessions. So I’m going to make a list of whatever I can remember of private teachings that need to be discussed, and talk about them. As the months go on I’m going to just give them into the camera and we’ll make podcasts and put them on the web. And I’ll find other people who have had private instructions like that and add them to the list.

In the afternoon tomorrow, I’m going to start a list of oral instructions on details of an enlightened society. Any that you can remember, add to that and we’ll collect as much as we can. There are a couple of old timers here.

On Sunday I’m going to take the material on enlightened society that you’ve heard in these three talks, and follow it out in some of the Tibetan scriptures from which these teachings come. All of the teachings that I’ve been talking about – we find them in the Shambhala texts. We received them from Trungpa Rinpoche in his lectures and we got instructed on them in private lectures with him or with the Sakyong, whoever your guru is in the Shambhala lineage. But they all come from Tibetan scriptures. On Sunday, I’m going to go through two or three of the Tibetan scriptures in detail that are origins for these teachings on enlightened society. Actually, there are lots more than I’m going to have time to do on Sunday but Sunday will be a beginning, and then we can have podcasts of the rest. So that’s the weekend. We’re going to have music and art and a book fair. I’m going to mention lots of little details and I want you to enjoy yourself and enjoy contributing to this environment as we try to remember the dreams we had in the early days of the Court, and recreate the sense of Court. It seems pretty complete.

I wanted to just say one thing and I’ll talk more about it later.  I just realized that that table in the corner might seem very mysterious to you. It’s meant to be a table full of aphorisms. We’re going to talk about the role of proverbs and aphorisms in enlightened society, so I grabbed a bunch off my shelf and put them there. These are texts which are designed to be read by 14-year-olds. I’ll talk about the training of teenagers in an enlightened society, and the use of those texts. Also, you’ll see Recalling Trungpa Rinpoche which is a book that Fabrice Midal edited. A lot of work went into this book. It’s meant to be a way of presenting Trungpa Rinpoche’s ideas to the non-buddhist world. It’s a collection of essays written for philosophers, academics, critics, and artists who aren’t committed to a path, the beginning of making him one of the people you study in school when you study the thinkers of the twentieth century. It’s being published in French and in English. I don’t know if the French translation is going to really happen or not, but the text has been translated into French. You’ll find the articles there very interesting. Some of them are average but a lot of them are very brilliant. Reggie Ray has a very good article, Traleg Rinpoche has a brilliant article. This is a way of getting a really different insight into the thought of Trungpa Rinpoche, looking at him as a twenty-first century philosopher, not done just as a buddhist teacher. 

OK. So let’s bow to each other and fold our tents and steal silently into the night.

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