Vajradhara Thangka in Boulder

January 27, 2010

It appears that the Vajradhara thangka in Boulder, which was commissioned by the Vidyadhara, placed by him over the shrine there, and blessed with the handprints of the 16th Karmapa on the back, will be displaced by the “Rigden thangka”, as has already happened with the Vajradhara and Buddha representations throughout the Shambhala International organization over the last few years.

For the story of the “great Vajradhara thangka”, as we shall refer to it now, and a discussion of its unique place in our mandala, please see the article by Clarke Warren, published at the Chronicles of Chögyam Trungpa website.

In 2000 and 2005, when Dorje Dzong was used as collateral to secure large loans for Shambhala Mountain Center, the Boulder sangha was not consulted. Again, the Boulder community has not been included in the decision making process regarding this change, which is so central to our lineage and to our spiritual direction.

It seems important to offer clear, nonaggressive, honest feedback to the Shambhala Adminstration on matters of such importance to our dharma practice.

Therefore, to spark conversation, below are three questions to contemplate.    Please feel free to offer comments.

  1. Do you feel it is appropriate to remove the great Vajradhara thangka from its current position in Dorje Dzong, Boulder?
  2. What is your personal practice relationship with the Karma Kagyu lineage?
  3. Where do you think this kind of change will lead?

Appeal to Prevent the Vajradhara Thangka in the Boulder Shambhala Center from Being Removed

by Clarke Warren

It is highly probable that the Vajradhara thangka in the main shrine room at the Shambhala Center in Boulder will be removed.  It is to be replaced with a painting of the Primordial Rigdin.  I learned this after having spoken with a member of a committee at the Shambhala Center to study and make suggestions for the redesign of the main shrine room.  From what I was told, one option is for the thangka to be rolled up and put in indefinite storage, although no decision has yet been made as to the fate of the thangka.

Yet since the removal of the Vajradhara thangka has not yet taken place, there is still an opportunity to appeal for the thangka to remain.

The Vajradhara thangka is a paramount embodiment of the teachings and activities of Vidyahara the Venerable Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche.  He commissioned the thangka, and it was painted by his close friend, the renowned thangka master Sherab Palden Beru. The Vidyadhara placed it at the center of his mandala, composing a profound poem of blessing on the back.  The thangka was also blessed by the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa, Rigpe Dorje, who placed his own handprint on the back of the thangka, a rare and powerful blessing.

For more information on the history and significance of this thangka, please see an article I wrote for the Chronicles of Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche. The follow-up letter from Mark Nowaskowski presenting the Vidyadhara’s poem of dedication on the back of the thangka, and my follow-up to his comments provide further perspective on the “inner” significance of the thangka. The link to the article is:

I am making an urgent appeal to all and anyone who will register their support for the Vajradhara Thangka to remain as the main shrine object at the Boulder Shambhala Center.  Please support this appeal to the leadership of Shambhala Intl by sending in your own words an appeal for the thangka to remain.  Or you can simply cut and paste, or modify, the following:

“The great thangka of the primordial Buddha Vajradhara in the main shrine room of the Boulder Shambhala Center is a major legacy and continuing embodiment of the life, realization and teachings of Vidyadhara the Venerable Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and the Kagyu lineage.  Please permit the thangka of Vajradhara in the main shrine room of the Boulder Shambhala Center to remain as the main shrine object.”   Signed, your name.

As a second approach, please participate in a discussion of the issue of this thangkas removal on sangha-talk, sadhaka talk, or any other site.

Your appeals can be sent to the following e-mail addresses: (I include my own address at the end, as I would like to document this effort):

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, via his secretary David Brown:

The Kalapa Council, c/o David Brown:

The Shambhala Intl. acharyas:

Secretary for the acharyas:

President of Shambhala Intl. Richard Reoch:

The Sakyong Council:

The Mandala Council:

Ulrike Halpern, Director, Boulder Shambhala Center:

Jim Fladmark, Director, Office of Practice & Education, Boulder Shambhala Center:

The Governing Council, Boulder Shambhala Center: c/o Ulrike Halpern:

The Building Committee of the Boulder Shambhala Center Main Shrine Room, c/o of Steve Vosper:

– Clarke Warren:

The summary of addresses for all the above is:,,,,,,,,,

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter,

Clarke Warren

Shambhala Buddhism and Vajradhatu Buddhism

January 16, 2010

Commentary by Mark Smith

The following was written in response to an email by Andrew Safer (reproduced below).

Andrew, (et al)

Thanks for your kind response below.

I am trying to be very direct—and as precise as I can be—in my posts and to remove any unnecessary harshness from my posts as emotions are easily inflamed. I make no special claim to realization or to any lineage holder/teaching credential (being a student of the Vidyadhara seems to me to be sufficient credential).  My view on the matters set forth below underlies each of my posts. Maybe this can provide the first of many ‘tent pegs’ per your email.

Please read the paragraphs below slowly and with at least an attempt to restrain emotional responses (either positive or negative). I have posted this to both Sangha-Talk and Sadhaka list and sent to some other folk. I encourage each reader to circulate this for discussion to any persons within our extended Sangha who you believe might be interested.  My contact information is below, and I will attempt to respond (if there are any communications to me) privately and/or publicly as appropriate to any persons who have comments, questions, etc. as I believe this  is a very important topic.

Photo courtesy of Walter Fordham

As you are aware, there are innumerable (well not quite that many) ways in which SI/Shambhala Buddhism has ‘morphed’ away from what I denote as the Vajradhatu Buddhism in which we were raised by the Vidyadhara. Few, if any of the changes are bad in themselves—and many appear to represent powerful insight by SMR into aspects of the Vidyadhara’s teachings/transmissions. But cumulatively the changes are large.

If one is willing to undertake even a relatively shallow investigation, it is not possible to deny that there now exist large ‘differences’ between the Shambhala Buddhist Path (‘SB Path’) and the Vajradhatu Path unless one has some strong agenda pursuant to which one elects to suppress prajna.  Without judgment as to ‘better or worse’ for any particular practitioner, the cumulative changes have created a qualitatively different, new path which the Sakyong intends to have SI follow.

These differences include:

  1. merging Shambhala & Buddhist streams into Shambhala Buddhism (with related curriculum changes),
  2. changes in shamatha/vipashyana practice,
  3. changes in the order of practices with the new Shambhala Ngöndro and Werma Sadhana practice (and possibly Scorpion Seal Retreat) (plus numerous ‘new liturgies and practices’) before:
    • the initial Buddhist/Kagyü Ngöndro,
    • Vajrayogini/Chakrasamvara Yidam practices and
    • the subsequent practice of Sadhana of Mahamudra retreat, Kagyu/Mahamudra practices &  Nyingma  Ngondro/Yidam practices (Vajrakilaya and the Longchen Nyingtig/Konchok Chidu/Rangjung Pema Nyingtig terma cycles) which the Vidyadhara instructed us to practice in parallel with and at the same time as we studied/practiced the Shambhala terma transmissions of the Dorje Dradul thru the progression of Shambhala Training/Graduate Levels & Kalapa Assembly/KOS/Werma.

The SI/Shambhala Buddhist path (‘SB Path’) appears to present a strong and full path for those who are karmicly connected to it and elect to pursue it.

But there can be no doubt that the SB Path with the changes outlined above (and many other changes) adds up to a materially different path than the path into which the Vidyadhara/Dorje Dradul entered his students. Pointing to/admitting the differences in no way requires judging the two paths individually or against one another—and I personally have no reason/need to ‘judge’ the changes.

As I have stated in some of my postings (here and elsewhere) and private communications, I believe that SMR’s synthesis of Shambhala Buddhism & the SB Path is a quite valid expression/extension of the Vidyadhara’s teachings/transmissions but it is only one path derived from the Vidyadhara and not the only valid path—the Vajradhatu Buddhist path promulgated by the Vidyadhara himself during his lifetime certainly must be recognized as an AT LEAST equally valid path.

Many of the Vidyadhara’s disciples, including me, find themselves without a strong dharma/karmic connection to SMR’s SB Path synthesis.

Rather, we are samaya-bound/karmicly connected to the Vidyadhara’s Vajradhatu Buddhist transmission/teachings/path (‘Vajradhatu Path’) in the context of KOS.

Further, I believe we are samaya-bound not only to practice this path but to propogate/preserve/promulgate/teach the Vidyadhara’s Vajradhatu Path going forward for the benefit of all beings who may have karmic connection with this very powerful/potent and very unique transmission/presentation of the Dharma.

The Vajradhatu Path in which I was raised by the Vidyadhara is basically outlined as follows (this very short outline is not meant to be comprehensive and entirely omits reference to both the multitude of ‘forms’ initiated by the Vidyadhara and the various ‘arts’ transmissions from the Vidyadhara):

  • commences with the Vidyadhara’s powerful/unique presentation of shamatha/vipashyana practice, the Sadhana of Mahamudra & sitting practice/nyinthun/dathun combined with the Vidyadhara’s extensive teachings re: i) spiritual materialism, ii) development of maîtri/cool boredom/etc (to provide ‘Hinayana ground’), iii) emphasis on guru/disciple form of transmission lineages (Tilo/Naro/Marpa/Mila/Gampo) which CTR repeatedly stated that he favored (in contrast to tulku and/or family transmission) for the Buddhist side of his teaching stream, iv) taking refuge, v) etc. .—- each of which set of teachings/practices were expressly structured/taught by the Vidyadhara in a manner designed to provide the ground for, and collectively serve as a vanguard to, the particular Vajrayana view/path/embodiment which the Vidyadhara taught/transmitted, rather than to produce Arhats;
  • followed by lojong/tonglen practices (for entry into the Mahayana) & Bodhisattva Vow and extensive teachings related to these matters; .—- each of which set of teachings/practices were expressly structured/taught by the Vidyadhara in a manner designed  to provide the ground for, and collectively serve as a vanguard to, the particular Vajrayana view/path/embodiment which the Vidyadhara taught/transmitted., rather than to produce Bodhisattva Mahasattvas;
  • then proceeding thru the Seminary training/Vajrayana TGS transmission process and Kagyu Ngondro;
  • proceeding firmly onto the Vidyadhara’s oft discussed ‘householder yogin’ path of VY/CK yidam practice (with multiple Vajrayana paths/practices to choose from after that point);
  • all of which practice/study takes place while under the umbrella of Shambhala/KOS view and while Shambhala teachings/transmissions are studied and practiced in parallel.

The teachings we have from the Vidyadhara for this unique Vajradhatu Path– preserved and available in innumerable recordings/videos/transcripts of seminar/ITS/ATS teachings plus transcripts/recordings/videos of Seminary Teachings, Vajra Assemblies, VY Tris, etc. (thank you Archive & PUBs & Chronicles & Legacy Project, etc & all who contributed to this availability over the decades)— are amazing and comprehensive.  We are so blessed with this unique and wondrous oral teaching/transmission stream. This teaching stream, and the Vajradhatu Path it relates to, needs to be preserved/propogated/taught and made available as presented by the Vidyadhara for the benefit of beings with a karmic connection to CTR and the particular path he taught while he was alive.

While substantial portions of the Vidyadhara’s teachings have been incorporated into the SB Path/curriculum as part of SMR’s synthesis, the inclusion of the Vidyadhara’s teachings in the context of a DIFFERENT PATH does not eliminate the need to teach the Vidyadhara’s Vajradhatu Path taught by CTR to those persons who have a karmic connection. Similarly, the wonderful recent ‘adornments’ to teachings at SI venues including the recent ‘Essential Chogyam Trungpa class @ Boulder Shambhala Center (portions available on the Chronicles website) and/or the Videodhara programs in no way eliminate the need to teach the Vajradhatu Path manifested by the Vidyadhara as a full/complete path.

I am personally clear that such inclusion in the Shambhala Buddhist Path does NOT satisfy my samaya obligations or relieve me from the responsibility to pursue/preserve/propogate the Vajradhatu Path with which CTR blessed me.   Many others of my dharma/vajra sisters/brothers, I believe, have come to the same conclusion.

My ‘ideal solution’ to the quandries posed by the fact that the Vajradhatu Path is no longer being taught in SI would be for Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche to ‘do the right thing’ and:

  • publicly acknowledge that the SB Path & the Vajradhatu Path are different paths and that both are valid and need to be preserved/practiced/propogated/taught (and to join in doing so);
  • ‘sponsor’/’authorize’ (as a ‘royal act’) the ‘re-establishment’ of ‘Vajradhatu’ (under KOS) as an organization dedicated to holding/preserving/propogating/teaching/tranmitting the Vajradhatu Path;
  • make it clear that there would be no ‘disloyalty’ if any student (from a beginning meditator to an acharya) elects to follow/propogate the Vajradhatu Path within Vajradhatu rather (or in addition to) the Shambhala Buddhist Path and that such students/teachers are all invited to pursue that approach while fully welcome within KOS.

Obviously, many details would need to be worked out, but this matter could proceed rapidly if the Sakyong were to endorse it. With SMR’s blessings, this approach would relieve great anguish among large numbers of the Vidyadhara’s students (even those who have now embraced the SB Path), allow many of the Vidyadhara’s students to migrate ‘home’ and prevent more fragmentation from taking place. Please note that it is highly likely that a promulgation of the Vajradhatu Path will take place even without the blessing of SMR/SI.  However, without such blessings, it will probably proceed in a manner which causes more anguish, is less systematic and continues to plague the Vidyadhara’s entire legacy (including SI) for decades to come.

This approach represents no threat whatsoever to SI if SMR steps up.

The re-establishment of Vajradhatu in no way represents ‘schism’ within the Vidyadhara’s sangha as both paths already exist and are already being practiced.

Vajradhatu would be under the umbrella of KOS.

SI/Shambhala Buddhism can be the ‘state church’ of the Sakyong & Vajradhatu would be recognized as a separate ‘church’ under and loyal to KOS.

(Additionally, implementing this approach would also provide a model to use to include other (more than one) ‘real teaching/transmission streams’ derived from the Vidyadhara’s teaching/transmission (that have already developed outside of KOS) under the ‘umbrella’ of KOS.  The existing splits with other streams such as Reggie Ray/Dharma Ocean & Patrick Sweeney/Satdharma, etc. could be ‘healed’ over time with their acceptance as parallel/alternative ‘churches’ derived from CTR teachings/transmissions recognized under KOS.  Each would be viewed/accepted as legitimate expressions/holders of at least parts of the magnificent splendor which we received as the legacy of the Vidyadhara. And each would flourish and benefit those beings with the appropriate karmic connection.)

I view this post both as a supplication and  pre-petition to Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche (and have therefore copied Mr. Brown and Mr. Reoch in the hope that it reaches SMR) and as a document intended to clearly start a (hopefully non-emotional) discussion of the matters set forth above.

Once again I ask that each reader reflect on these matters while restraining emotional response (positive or negative).

I do not believe I have stated anything which attacks any person or path.  If someone experiences such an attack, I apologize.

I do not believe I have made any statements which are clearly false and, if you believe I have been mistaken about parts of the content below or my emphasis on particular points, I invite clarification and critique.  Some may agree with my description above but not my ‘ideal solution’. If so, please critique my proposal and propose alternative approaches.

But please also reflect on the central point: 2 paths exist and only the SB Path is currently being taught in SI while the Vajradhatu Path is no longer being taught.

If anyone wants to contact me directly, my email and phone contact info are below.

My intention in making this post is to commence dialoque/conversation among sangha/vajra brothers/sisters regarding these matters.

Each reader is invited and authorized to share this email with others who may be interested.  I also authorize posting this email on other sites.

As I wrote above,  I will attempt to respond (if there are any communications at all to me) privately and/or publicly, as appropriate, to any persons who have comments, critiques,  questions, etc. as I believe this  is a very important topic. I will attempt to respond privately to each communication within a reasonable period of time (but not necessarily immediately).  If appropriate, I will periodically reply to matters in these public forums.

In the Aspiration that the Glorious Vajradhatu Path Taught by the Vidyadhara Chogyam Trungpa, Dorje Dradul of Mukpo, Be Practiced/Preserved/Promulgated for the Benefit of Mother Sentient Beings.


Mark A. Smith
Email (read aloud and transcribe): mas1 at ctelco dot net

About Mark Smith: “I have had the good fortune to be a student of the Vidyadhara since 1973 and to practice the full range of CTR’s Buddhist Lineage Transmission under the glorious umbrella of KOS, I aspire that my mother sentient beings continue to have the opportunity with which I have been blessed.”

The message above was in response to the following email from Andrew Safer


I appreciate your posts… your relentlessness, and your precision.

The conversation is beginning to take on the feeling of echo, like the sound of a seashell–not at all a bad thing, since there are elements of the Vidyadhara that are taking on a life of their own.

In recognition of the need for a tent peg,




ATS Advanced Training Session

CK Chakrasamvara

CTR Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche

ITS Intensive Training Session

KOS Kingdom of Shambhala

SB Shambhala Buddhism

SMR Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche

SI Shambhala International

VY Vajrayogini