Interview with Richard Reoch, by Andrew Safer
On-line discussions on the Radio Free Shambhala  web site and various listservs have been pointing out that there are students of Trungpa Rinpoche who are continuing along the path he set out for them, and who don’t feel welcome within the current-day Shambhala community. It no longer feels like “home” to them. Sometimes they are disparaged by community members who cite their “lack of loyalty” to the current Sakyong.
Andrew Safer of Radio Free Shambhala recently had the opportunity to ask Richard Reoch, President of Shambhala, to comment on this state of affairs.
Radio Free Shambhala: As you know, there has been tension and disagreement between some of Trungpa Rinpoche’s senior students and some of the students of the Sakyong, regarding changes to the practice path and differences of view. Many of these senior students do not feel that there is room for them within the Shambhala mandala.
Richard Reoch: It’s true that some of the long-term students of the Vidyadhara feel like they’re not supported. I and others have been in conversation with some of the long-term acharyas to see what is the practice support that is needed that would continue to nurture their path, and not make them feel excluded.
RFS: Sometimes the samaya of these senior students has been questioned.
Richard Reoch: That’s not what I feel Shambhala vision is about. I do not believe we should be commenting on or having the presumption to comment on another practitioner’s samaya. We all have a common, deep karmic connection. Probably most of us can’t even fathom it. We are all in this extraordinary lineage stream. We have a deep shared vision, at least about what Shambhala means, in an archetypal sense, in our subconscious.
To regard someone who is maintaining samaya within the Shambhala lineage as a dissenter is a mistaken view. It is not helpful to comment on the legitimacy of another person’s practice of samaya. Perhaps this happens because we don’t have the ground for the perpetuation of lineage in this culture. If you think several generations ahead, are we going to say that the students of the next Sakyong are dissenters because they’re following the teachings of Mipham? This is a fundamental misunderstanding of lineage.
One problem with the transplantation of egoless devotion from a culture like Tibet to a culture like we have in the West is we don’t have a tradition of lineage in modern form. We don’t have the cultural roots to support that. We are all grappling with how to understand this profound teaching.
I try to use the office I hold (as President), and the authority that goes with it to deal with this issue. When members of our community are described as “border tribes”—when they write me or meet with me—I devote a lot of time and try to learn from them. I think there has been a kind of polarization in which extreme language is used. We genuinely have to go deeper, beneath this level of argument, to find the commonality. I’m definitely doing that, person to person.
Maybe now that the current orientation of the path is getting clearer, we need to have a conversation with the senior acharyas about precisely what could be the support that can be provided for people who started on a particular element of the path of Shambhala and that needs to continue and be supported?
Five Sakyongs down the road, there will be people who say “I make a personal connection by reading the works of the Vidyadhara.” Others will day “How fortunate it was for Shambhala that Mipham the Great reincarnated as the Sakyong.” Eventually, it’s not just about tolerating differences; it’s about appreciating the incredible richness that’s available in our kingdom.
RFS: The real question is: how are the teaching stream and legacy of Trungpa Rinpoche going to continue?
Richard Reoch: I’ve been in discussions with Carolyn Gimian since the beginning of the Chögyam Trungpa Legacy Project about the importance of that initiative. The analogy we have used is that the Legacy Project is like a presidential library, so things don’t end up moldering and being lost. I’ve had some initial conversations with some of the longer-term students and acharyas about how to create an identifiable and helpful framework so no one is seen as being on one track or the other, or as renegades which is antithetical to the long-term survival of the lineage.
RFS: Many people who are devoted to Trungpa Rinpoche and who don’t consider the Sakyong to be their teacher don’t feel welcomed by the community, and they’re afraid to speak up.
Richard Reoch: One of the earliest statements issued by the Mandala Governing Council created after the first Shambhala Congress was a statement on the commitment to openness. I asked members of that council to list the issues that people are afraid to speak up about. We seemed to have inherited an incredible atmosphere of fear, and I did not understand that. I had no idea the extent to which this community was traumatized. When I asked what issues were not being addressed, people were afraid to name the issues. I think we all realized, ‘Wow, we can’t even talk about what we can’t talk about!’ Opening up that discussion was like Glasnost and Perestroika in Shambhala.
I talked to Larry Mermelstein, and asked, “Is there anything we can do to reduce this climate of fear?” Some people were experiencing this fear in a very palpable way. If we can’t create a social framework in which we understand that people will have different points of view, then all the notions of fearlessness and openheartedness—everything we’re so proud of about the Shambhala inheritance—absolutely won’t take root. We can’t build an enlightened society on a basis of fear.
Wherever I go, I invite people to talk to me about this so I can find out more about it. Sometimes, because someone has said something extremely abusive, we feel like we’re going to lose membership. There are people hiding out, as if they’re the old Chi Kung masters at the height of the Cultural Revolution hoping they’re not noticed by the Red Guards. It’s a slow process of personal conversation, trying to address these tendencies of people persecuting each other.
When Radio Free Shambhala was established, people contacted me as if this was the end of the world. “No, just think ahead,” I said. “If we think about the new golden age of Shambhala, there will be countless Web sites and social networking opportunities where people express their experience of the dharma and of different teachers, including what others might disagree with. If there’s one thing that prevents establishing the kingdom of Shambhala, it’s called fascism, and I‘m not having anything to do with that.”