The following are 2 open letters on the current social and institutional state of the sangha of Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche: an initial letter by Tashi Colman to Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, and a response by Clarke Warren (published here with their approval).
Open Letter by Tashi Colman
Open Letter to Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche
31st August, 2014
After living and working in Bhutan the last several years, I returned to Nova Scotia this past summer for my first extended (3-month) visit back in five years. After living far from our Shambhala sangha for so long, I was deeply moved and gratified to experience again the extraordinary richness of the support for our dharma practice and study available in our wider Shambhala community.
I want to emphasize here that I personally am profoundly appreciative and grateful to you for all you are doing to teach and explore further the precious Scorpion Seal termas. Indeed, having now completed four Scorpion Seal Assemblies, I remain fully committed to that path. To be blunt, despite my deep commitment to creating Shambhala society, I confess that my Werma practice used to be episodic and pale to say the least, and it has come to life with ever greater vividness as a direct result of the Scorpion Seal practices you have introduced. Thank you so much for that!
I also recognize that the Buddha taught the dharma in 84000 ways, that not every one relates to the Scorpion Seal path, that the Kagyü, Nyingma, kasung, dharma art, and many other practices so kindly given us by the Vidyadhara are all entirely valid and authentic paths that suit particular people, and that the Shambhala umbrella is big enough to incorporate the Vidyadhara’s entire legacy.
For me personally, the Shambhala, Kagyü and Nyingma paths are part of a single fabric and inseparable. As the Vidyadhara said in answering a question after his Windhorse talk at the 1982 Kalapa Assembly:
“…. The drala practice is like the sharp edge of a sword blade which deals with day-to-day life already, automatically. The Vajrayogini practice is like the other edge of the sword blade, which carries the weight so that the sharp edge can cut. It’s like the two sides of a coin.”
But I also realize that the Kagyü, Nyingma, and Shambhala paths are all entire paths in themselves, and that others may not choose to join them.
And so I was deeply disturbed during my visit back this past summer to see how widely accepted and ‘normalized’ the rift in our sangha has become. From afar, of course I was aware of and saddened by that split, but I never had to deal with it on an ongoing basis, and so I never got used to it and find the present divisions entirely unacceptable. Those entirely loyal to you and those entirely alienated remain equally my heartfelt Shambhala brothers and sisters.
On the one hand, we learned long ago that furthering disharmony in the sangha is a serious breach of our vajra commitments. On the other hand, what struck me over and again was how unnecessary and easily resolvable the present divisions are.
And so I am moved to write this open letter to you to plead and supplicate you for very simple actions that can not only heal the present wounds but I feel will also greatly strengthen and broaden your own leadership of the Shambhala Kingdom. Indeed, I really don’t believe we as Shambhalians can be any kind of effective model for the world or for our wider society while we cannot accommodate each other or heal our own fractures.
I want to emphasize here that none of the modest (and perhaps naïve) suggestions that follow would even slightly detract from or prevent your own present teachings, writings, assemblies, and other activities from proceeding apace, nor would they diminish even slightly the number and quality of students following the Scorpion Seal path and the various practices and teachings you are giving. On the contrary, I feel certain that the humble gestures suggested below would strengthen the paths you are propagating by virtue of their unifying influence and their accommodating so many more students under the broad Shambhala umbrella.
I have discussed the following specific suggestions in some detail with your secretary, David Brown, during a meeting in Halifax last month:
- At Gampo Abbey, just restoring the Seven-Line Supplication to Padmakara and the Supplication to the Takpo Kagyü to the morning liturgy would do wonders to heal present wounds. Abbey folk have plenty of time, and the extra 2 minutes in the morning would be greatly welcomed in the Shambhala practice centre with the deepest commitment (e.g. 3-year retreat) to preserving our Kagyü and Nyingma inheritance. As well, the Shambhala aspiration could be alternated in the evening liturgy with the aspiration to fulfil the wishes of the Vidyadhara written by the Abbey’s own abbot, Ven. Thrangu Rinpoche.
- At Karme Choling, the Vajrayogini shrine room has become the community room and the ngondro shrine room has become the exercise and music room. If Karme Choling is to continue to be a ‘deep training facility’, then restoring dedicated shrine rooms for the Kagyü and Nyingma practices would be ever so accommodating and greatly appreciated by many dedicated practitioners.
- I am sure you agree that the three-volume Profound Treasury of the Ocean of Dharma is a true tour de force for our Shambhala sangha, a magnum opus that systematically brings together the Vidyadhara’s core teachings on the entire Buddhist path like never before. What could be more central to our Shambhala sangha than thirteen years of the Vidyadhara’s Seminary transcripts, beautifully compiled, arranged, and organized by one of our most gifted, practised, and genuine senior teachers in 25 years of dedicated effort? This is a reference work that will be studied for generations to come.
- And yet the annual Profound Treasury retreats taught by Judy Lief are held in Maine, outside our Shambhala practice centres. Why not simply invite the Profound Treasury organizers to have the annual retreats at Karme Choling? I can think of no program that more definitively belongs in the very heart of our Shambhala community and practice mandala.
- If just once a year, Sir, you were to give a Vajrayogini tri, and if you would allow entering vajrayana students (new tantrikas) the option to pursue the path of Kagyü ngöndro in addition to the Primordial Rigden ngöndro, this would again be greatly appreciated by so many genuine students and practitioners. My understanding is that all the acharyas have the authority to give the necessary permissions for these Kagyü practices within the folds of our broad Shambhala sangha. Without that, we are in danger of losing a vital and precious component of our inheritance – “the other edge of the sword blade” to use the Vidyadhara’s words cited above.
There are many other similar and very simple gestures that would work wonders in healing present rifts and accommodating all our Shambhala sangha in the broadest sense without in the slightest detracting from your present path, teachings, and trajectory. It is perfectly understandable, Sir, to make a distinction between your role as teacher (focussing on the Shambhala and Scorpion Seal paths) and your broader organizational role as leader of the Shambhala sangha (which can embrace a much wider range of skillful means and students committed to other authentic components of the Vidyadhara’s legacy).
I felt this past summer that, at bottom, all us Shambhalians – those most loyal and those most alienated – are one sangha deeply sharing a vision and an inheritance that are precious beyond imagination. The present painful rift is truly unacceptable and it would take so little to bring us together again in full harmony. From the bottom of my heart, Sir, I supplicate you to take the simple actions needed to make that happen. Thank you again for your kindness, skill, and generosity in teaching the Scorpion Seal terma, and for considering this heartfelt plea.
Yours in the dharma,
Response by Clarke Warren
I have read and contemplated the letter that Tashi Colman has recently courageously submitted to the Sakyong. It didn’t take long, however, to see the cracks in this proposal, as robustly honest and good hearted as it is. In short order, they are nice thoughts and aspirations. But a bit presumptuous that there is or ever was “one sangha”. Or that it would ever be a good idea. The very idea of “one unified sangha” attacks creativity, stifles initiative, broadcasts a dictate of uniformity, and attempts to curtail the very brilliance that the Vidyadhara lived, in all his highly unique style and outrageousness. By the Vidyadhara’s description, sangha is not a unified conglomerate group, but individuals standing on their own, lonely yet together, inter-dependent but not co-dependent. As it is up to individuals to ignite the transmission of the Vidyadhara, so it is natural that an attempt to reduce individuals to a corporate identity is itself a contradiction and violation of the meaning of “sangha”. And for those who do not naively submit to an agenda of defined and enforced “harmony”, the road is far more unencumbered to actually enact the vision of the Vidyadhara in myriad ways.
It was, however, neither a coercive mandate of conformity nor a counter, subversive influence, that has “split” the more unified strains of the past, but the very force of the Vidyadhara’s and the lineage’s transmission and teaching. The community talk Flowers and Lids (in Collected Community Talks) spoken by the Vidyadhara himself, speaks eloquently to this forceful phenomena. The very branching of the “four great and eight lesser lineages”, is testimony to this, as are the 84,000 dharmas, or the 6,400,000 tantras of the Nyingma.
Even if the Sakyong were to adopt the suggested measures, it would be viewed by many, I believe, as highly suspicious and self-serving. But , even if he did (highly improbable), I doubt very much whether it would “unify” a diversified sangha that has already broadcasted to a much larger world, unencumbered by organizational self-interests, than could ever have transpired otherwise. The organization is already outdated, despite its grasp on infrastructure, its regimented prescriptions, and its increasingly vivid indications of the pitfalls of organized religion. The influence of the Vidyadhara, on the other hand, has been released to the world in a myriad of expressions and potent practicalities, like the exploding seeds of a dandelion in a gale wind. Not likely to be “reigned in”. [sic]
In that regard the so-called lack of unity, itself, could already be the good news, the blessings of the lineage. The Vidyadhara’s influence has far outflanked the organizational ambitions of more fundamentalist strains. This is how Mahayana outflanked the earlier, highly conservative social constraints of the Buddhist tradition. Narrow views and prerogatives, which define themselves as universals, tend unerringly toward the climes of irrelevance, or in more aggressive cases, infamy. The Vajrayana, on the other hand, even more so than doctrinal Mahayana, in essence, style, and influence, represents the explosion of unconstrained Dharma to the world. And that explosion is the actual momentum of Shambhala vision.
But, more dismally probable is that Tashi’s letter, even if it does (doubtfully) make it before Sakyong’s eyes, will be ignored. It is this very arrogant disregard that has led to things as they stand now. What an utter contrast to the uncanny openness of the Vidyadhara! That was the openness and utter absence of territoriality that actually did bind us together! On the other hand, though, the absence of that has ironically propelled the Vidyadhara’s display of genius and compassion to a much broader spectrum of humanity precisely because the more creative and courageous of the Vidyadhara’s students have bolted from any suggestion of sangha as a constraining orthodox corral.
I, like Tashi, returned to North America after years of living in Asia, to find a highly disseminated world of the Vidyadhara’s students and legacy, an atmosphere, on the organizational side, dismissive of criticism, and dismissive even of the place of discriminating intelligence as an essential element of bodhicitta/awakened heart. And the retirement of many of the practices and teachings of the Vidyadhara, so lovingly, powerfully and skillfully planted in the rich soil of the West. Ironically, the world I encountered resembled everything the Vidyadhara warned of. It was an eclipse of everything I had appreciated, an umbra of the Vidyadhara’s brilliance. But in the process, I have witnessed many highly inspiring sun flare endeavors of unleashed disciples! Let the eclipse pass rather than feed it, and the sun will burst forth even more brilliantly. And the unconstrained constellations of lineage will be there to nurture us and cheer us on, as they are this very moment.
Response by Tashi Colman
Thank you for your letter. Of course I fully agree with you that the last thing we would ever want is one conformist sangha that stifles creativity and initiative in the name of enforced uniformity. And of course the only possible ‘harmony’ is through diversity.
For that very reason, the operative word in my letter to the Sakyong is “accommodate” (said 4 times), reinforced over and again by phrases like: “…recognize that the Buddha taught the dharma in 84000 ways, that not every one relates to the Scorpion Seal path, that the Kagyü, Nyingma, kasung, dharma art, and many other practices so kindly given us by the Vidyadhara are all entirely valid and authentic paths that suit particular people, and that the Shambhala umbrella is big enough to incorporate the Vidyadhara’s entire legacy.” Etc. etc.
So I was just a bit surprised that you read my argument for accommodating the diverse paths given us by the Vidyadhara as implying a “unified conglomerate” sangha, when the intent and language of the letter were precisely the opposite….
Warmest wishes, Tashi
Clarke Warren responds in the Comments below