Continuity of Practice & Teaching Stream

April 21, 2010

Article by Andrew Safer

Preserving the Continuity of the Vidyadhara’s Practice Path and Teaching Stream

The fact that two practice paths have developed within Shambhala International is well established. Between 1970 and his death in 1987, the Vidyadhara, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, introduced both the Kagyü-Nyingma Buddhist path and the Shambhala path, with clear instructions on how to proceed. Between 1995 and the present, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche has introduced the Shambhala Buddhist path, also with clear instructions on how to proceed. To the best of my knowledge, there is no single comprehensive document outlining these different practice paths, but much of the detail was captured in Mark Smith’s article.

There are also marked differences in the teachings that both teachers have presented. After combining the Shambhala and Buddhist paths, the Sakyong has been focusing on the development of peace, joy, contentment, the mahayana aspirations of bodhichitta and compassion, windhorse, the four dignities, and the path to the Scorpion Seal retreat. On the Buddhist side, the Vidyadhara was a crazy wisdom mahasiddha and inheritor of both the Kagyü and Nyingma lineages through his root guru, Jamgon Kongtrul of Sechen, Khenpo Gangshar, and His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. He taught on themes including spiritual materialism, egolessness, buddhadharma without credentials, prajna and upaya, vajra pride, and relating with the raw and rugged nature of reality. He also introduced the Shambhala teachings to the West.

There are many students of the Vidyadhara who have practiced according to his instructions who are alive today. They are in a position to contribute to the perpetuation of his practice tradition and teaching stream in the roles of meditation instructor and teacher. I believe many feel it is their duty to do so.

In the last few months, Shambhala International announced support for the Vidyadhara’s practice path. It is noteworthy, however, that this support is  only available for sangha members who are already on this path. Others have the single option of pursuing the Shambhala Buddhist path after completing what is now called Shambhala Vajrayana Seminary.

Since the Shambhala Vajrayana Path document was issued several years ago, sangha members have been directed to receive the Primordial Rigden Abhisheka after Seminary and to proceed with the practices of the Rigden Ngöndro and Werma Sadhana.

According to that document, the path continues with a Period of Service, Mahamudra Investigations, and then Kagyu Ngöndro, followed by Vajrayogini and Chakrasamvara.

I asked the Dorje Loppon Lodro Dorje for an update regarding the practice path and he indicated that as of now, Kagyü and Nyingma practices will be available to sangha members following the Scorpion Seal retreat. This path through the Scorpion Seal retreat can be expected to take 8 to 12 years.

A significant break in the continuity of the Vidyadhara’s practice path has therefore been built into the structure of Shambhala International.

During this time, sangha members who are qualified to teach the Vidyadhara’s practice path will have little opportunity to do so within Shambhala International. Some who are qualified to teach have already left the organization, some can be expected to leave under the current circumstances, and others will probably die during this period.

The image that comes to mind is that of a tree ripe with fruit. The question is: will the fruit be picked, or will it fall to the ground and rot?

Please consider these questions:

  1. Are you concerned that the practice path set out by the Vidyadhara Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche may not survive the current generation?
  2. Do you believe that sangha members should have the option of choosing which practice path they want to follow after Seminary?
  3. Can a student of the Vidyadhara who is qualified and ready to teach his practice path and teaching stream fulfill his/her duty to do so within Shambhala International, as it is presently constituted?
  4. [April 23, additional question posed by Mark Smith] Is it appropriate that it is no longer possible for a student to enter into the particular Vajradhatu Path/Transmission which the Vidyadhara taught us while he was alive?

Chögyam Trungpa Legacy Project–Update

September 20, 2009

Report by Andrew Safer

Carolyn GimianThe publication of On Different Views and Paths, an interview with Richard Reoch, President of Shambhala International, which appeared on both the Radio Free Shambhala and Shambhala Times Web sites in July, inspired a follow-up interview with Carolyn Gimian, Director of the Chögyam Trungpa Legacy Project (CTLP).

The following exchange from On Differing Views and Paths prompted this writer to ask Ms. Gimian to provide an update on the mandate and activities of the Legacy Project:

Radio Free Shambhala: 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.

The following Q’s and A’s are excerpted from interviews conducted with Ms. Gimian in late July and early August.

Vision and Mandate

Q: In 2007, the vision of the Legacy Project was to provide “a very large tent of dharma space as vast and open as Trungpa Rinpoche’s mind”. Is that still the case?

A: Almost without exception, all of Trungpa Rinpoche’s students and students of Shambhala internationally feel a tremendous connection to the Vidyadhara and his teachings, which leads to a sense of us being choicelessly a family and community. We are all united by our love for the Vidyadhara. Sometimes our connection also leads to people feeling either that they are being recognized for their connection or maybe they’re not, and conflict also arises out of that. I think the idea of a huge tent is that it transcends divisions as much as possible and provides a larger space for appreciating and propagating his teachings, which is in the spirit of how he taught.

Presidential Library

Q: Mr. Reoch spoke about a presidential library. What is meant by that?

A: In the United States, starting with Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the presidential libraries provide a place where the vision of the president is kept intact. This is necessary because each administration goes in a new direction. For example, the Kennedy Library is extremely different from the Bush Library. Presidential libraries include museums, exhibits, audio-visual archives, programming, and extensive oral histories. You need a place where the vision of the president is kept intact. For example, there’s a huge oral history project at the Kennedy Library, which is a collection of taped memories of President Kennedy, based on interviews with his colleagues, family and friends.

If we had a physical location for an institute dedicated to the Vidyadhara’s vision, we would have a place where people could come and practice and study and experience the Vidyadhara’s teachings. We could have a shrine room because he was a great contemplative teacher. There should be a library of his own books, as well as books and texts he had a connection with, reading rooms, and a place where people could watch videos and listen to his talks. We would have a museum that would showcase some of the sacred objects he owned as well as show us something about his life from seeing his desk, his suits and ties, and many other things. In the case of the Kennedy Library, Kennedy had a connection with Hemingway so they have a Hemingway room at the Kennedy Library. We could have, say, the archives of Shibata Sensei, and his life would be celebrated in some way, as well as collections for other senior teachers who were contemporaries or students of the Vidyadhara, and archives and records of members of his family. It would give you a sense of the fullness of the world in which he was teaching.

Q: What are some of the projects that the Legacy Project is planning?

Comprehensive Virtual Archive

A: We would like to help develop a comprehensive virtual archive in partnership with the Shambhala Archives and the Chronicles of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. The Archives has completed the digitization of almost all of the Vidyadhara’s teachings that exist in audio format, which is 3,000 talks. Libraries of about half that material have been supplied to a large number of Buddhist centers—mostly Shambhala Centers. Naropa University also has this library of close to 1,500 of the Vidyadhara’s seminars and talks, and Jamgon Kongtrul III’s monastery in Pullahari, Nepal has also participated. Thanks to donations from many centers, as well as several private donors and the Shambhala Trust, 25 centers on four continents have libraries in the form of CDs. All of the major land centers have this library

Now that we have the digital files, we can think about organizing the material and making it available online and in other ways. The centers that have CDs know the title of the seminars, where they took place, and when, but a lot of people can’t use this effectively without more information. They need to be able to search on keywords and to have a synopsis and indication of how to use the material. For example, there are a few seminars on the Battle of Ego…What are they about? We need a synopsis. We’re starting to do some work on this, thanks to a small donation to evaluate the project. To do it properly (to make the CDs keyword search-enabled) would require a budget of at least $25,000. That’s probably low. This doesn’t include the money for the programming, software, server, etc if we want people to be able to access material on-line.

I don’t think most people want the MP3s for 3,000 talks on their hard drives, but they’d like to have access to the material when they want it. Working with the Archives and the Chronicles, we’d like to form a library that would provide membership online, for a membership fee of something like $8 to $10 per month, or people would pay what they can. Members would access all this material on-line and pay a separate fee if they want the recording as an MP3. That way, you could take your MP3 to the gym!

Editorial Apprenticeships

Another important project that’s in the discussion phase is to develop a program to train young people as future editors. There are probably 40 to 50 more volumes of original material by the Vidyadhara that need to be edited and published. There’s a great deal of material on the great forefathers of the Kagyu lineage, for example. To start, we might invite a group of 25 or 30 young students to come together to study the Vidyadhara’s teachings for four to six weeks, possibly during the summer. Some of the instructors would be senior editors who had worked with him. They would present the material from their point of view so the young person could learn to approach it as an editor. Presenters might include Judy Lief, Sherab Chodzin, David Rome, Sarah Coleman, me and others—especially the editors of Rinpoche’s work during the last ten or fifteen years of his life. At the end of the period of time, we would elect a small group to become editorial apprentices (depending on the available funding). The Nalanda Translation Committee has a program where they fund several apprentices. We might model what we do on their approach. We would like to pay the young people a stipend, and they would work for a couple of years with the editors on books. We’re thinking of having up to six young people in the group. We might also have a dharma art apprentice or apprentices for other aspects of the Vidyadhara’s teachings. The point would be to enable the next generations to really begin to take responsibility for his teachings.

A lot of this is in the discussion phase. In fact, a lot of it is just in my head! We don’t have a formal endowment fund, which is really what’s needed to ensure the dharma legacy of Chögyam Trungpa remains available to the future. As it stands now, people can include the Legacy Project in their will, set up an endowment within their own estate planning, or set up their own trust.

There really should be an endowment fund to ensure future editorial work on the Vidyadhara’s books and other projects. There’s a gap between the funding that can come from sales of books and what’s necessary to raise so that people can continue to do this work for future generations. Trying to do it on a cost-recovery basis is nuts; well, it’s unlikely to succeed. Buddhists traditionally have a practice of funding the teachings as merit. Some communities—particularly in Asia—are able to produce books at no cost to the reader and give them away. I wish we could do that with the virtual library and some other projects. If there was a big donation, a really big donation, that would make this possible. Occasionally, we have had patrons who underwrite the cost of a specific publication…A donor paid for many copies of the Sadhana of Mahamudra to be placed in Shambhala Centers, for example.

Chögyam Trungpa Annual Lecture

We have also been discussing the idea of hosting a Chögyam Trungpa Annual Lecture. We were very fortunate to receive the teaching gift from Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpooche’s visit to Halifax last year. Unexpectedly, he donated his whole teaching gift to the Legacy Project. The Chögyam Trungpa Annual Lecture would mark this generous gift. Someone who has a connection to Trungpa Rinpoche, such as another Buddhist teacher or a student of the Vidyadhara’s, would be invited to give the lecture about something related to his teachings, or something that came out of his work. We are asking Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche to give the first lecture. This could start in 2010. By the way, I don’t think the Sakyong knows anything about this yet, so he may be a little surprised by this idea.

Root Text Project

We support the work of the Shambhala Archives in many ways, as well as the editorial efforts of the Vidyadhara’s senior editors. We have a fund to help support editorial work. Right now, we’re emphasizing donations to the Root Text Project—the amazing efforts Judy Lief is making to edit the Vidyadhara’s teachings at seminary, and condense and organize these in an appropriate way so these books can be published by Shambhala Publications, and made available to the public.

I am going to work with Judy for about six months next year, and I’m very excited to be able to contribute to this project in some direct way. I recently spent about a week working with her. I was absolutely stunned by the depth and the breadth of the material, which begins to shine through when the editing is polished and the various talks are merged. There are close to 400 talks that she is working with in the three volumes. It’s truly amazing work. I think the publication of this three-volume work will establish Chögyam Trungpa as one of the most important scholars of the Buddhist tradition in the 20th century. I think it will shock people who have viewed him as a great popularizer but haven’t understood that he was actually transmitting the heart of his tradition and many of its details as well. I’m so thrilled that Judy is doing this work She has such a thorough understanding of the material and she is such a highly trained editor. Many others are supporting her, especially Ellen Kearney. Shambhala Publications and Shambhala Media are supporting this work, as are many individual donors. But Judy really deserves our thanks for undertaking and persevering in this project.

What Activities are Outside the Mandate of the Legacy Project?

Q: When Mr. Reoch was asked how the teaching and practice streams of Chögyam Trungpa will be kept alive, he mentioned the Legacy Project. What aspects of the continuation of his teaching stream will NOT be covered by the Legacy Project?

A: I think the Legacy Project can support a lot of different efforts, but I don’t think it will be the vehicle for preserving the teaching stream and practice streams that you’re describing. I think the Vidyadhara was such a vast person who influenced so many people that I also don’t think any one institution is going to be able to lay claim to him completely. He empowered his son, the Sakyong, to continue to teach, obviously, and that sense of lineage is very important.

I firmly believe that many students of the Vidyadhara—disciples and other people he influenced—have received important transmissions from him and that all of us have a responsibility to carry that forward. Almost every senior student—and there are hundreds—have a very deeply felt sense of wanting to preserve the Vidyadhara’s legacy. In the Lojong teachings, there is a slogan that advises us to hold the principal witness. You have to trust your own integrity and sanity. In the last many years with the Archives and the Legacy Project, I’ve realized there are these jewels everywhere, which are the human beings who have extraordinary ideas about what it means to pass on Rinpoche’s teachings. Again, I don’t think any organization can contain all of that.

He gave so many teachings that were applicable to the time when he gave them. I really do believe that many were like terma—little time bombs going off as time goes on. None of them are trivial. Of all the talks he gave and all the times I heard him speaking about the dharma, I can’t think of one instance that was trivial. His contribution was so vast, it’s really important to try to be sure that the breadth of his work and the depth of it is available, both for us and the future. Rinpoche’s students were so fortunate, we’ve gotten so much…The big issue now is not so much do we have enough; it’s more, how can we share it with the world?

The Vidyadhara developed many important forms,dathun, for example. I don’t think it existed until he developed it. We have to be sure that these forms survive. How do people communicate what they actually know? For myself, I’ve been at times really lazy. I felt this stuff is all out there, we just have to keep the machine rolling. I don’t think that’s true anymore. Even if it were a terribly well oiled machine, I would still have the responsibility to work with the teachings he gave me and communicate whatever I understand. There’s always a danger a lot could be lost if people don’t step up. It’s a big wake-up call.

I was recently reading a seminar given in 1974 by the Vidyadhara on Jamgon Kongtrul, about what is the genuine contemplative approach: bringing the teachings together with experience. If we don’t do that continually, we can have something that looks good but actually has no depth to it: there’s no there there. Jamgon Kongtrul said if you approach sharing the teachings with others like being a milkman, you’re really missing the point. If you just take the bottles of milk and sell them, you haven’t actually milked the cow yourself. You haven’t drunk the milk.


Q: These are very ambitious projects! What sort of budget is the Legacy Project working with?

A: The unaudited budget for 2008 was $43,000, which was huge for us. More than one-third came from Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche’s gift. The ongoing donations we can count on are between $12,000 and $15,000 a year. This year total revenue will be closer to $25,000. Obviously, to fulfill our big plans, we will need more than this on an annual basis.

Q: Does Shambhala International donate to the Legacy Project?

A: There are no direct donations, but there’s a lot of in-kind support—services we have access to.

Trungpa Teachers

Q: It seems that a big part of preserving the Vidyadhara’s teachings is to have teachers who teach what he taught. Can the Legacy Project assist with this work of training teachers?

A: The Legacy Project doesn’t necessarily have a direct role here. Yes, it’s a very important area. I feel that as a group all the senior students of the Vidyadhara need to be respected more than they are. As a mark of respect for the Vidyadhara, it’s important to respect all of the aspects of his teaching. That would include the Buddha, dharma, and sangha principles. Regarding the sangha—his senior students—I think we were incredibly well trained. Trungpa Rinpoche’s students had a very good education. He taught us to think as contemplative people, to apply the teachings to our experience, to understand what things meant, not just to memorize a lot of categories. He worked hard to make people think about how the dharma worked for them individually. That needs to be respected. Where that is not happening, it’s very sad.


Q: Another important element of keeping the Vidyadhara’s teachings alive has to do with having access to the texts (such as the sadhanas).

A: Access to the texts and similar materials does not fall under the purview of the Legacy Project. You’ll have to ask the Nalanda Translation Committee about that.


Q: It would seem that preserving the unique way that the Vidyadhara gave actual teaching transmissions, such as pointing out instructions, is another key element of keeping the his teachings alive…

A: The Vidyadhara gave teachings that were very important to different lineages, to different Buddhist teachers and their students. For example, his teachings on Zen and Tantra have been well received in the Zen world through the recent book The Teacup and the Skullcup. One reason it’s important for the Legacy Project to be involved in seeing that this root material is preserved is so that many people can benefit from his teachings. However, we’re not in the business of giving pointing out instructions, abhishekas or distributing restricted materials. Traditionally that has to come from an association with a root teacher.

Most Concerned to Protect

Q: What is the aspect of the Vidyadhara’s work that you are most concerned to protect?

A: I’m greatly concerned that we don’t have everything he taught transcribed. At the same time, if we lose his voice, if we lose the audio recordings, we won’t have a total record. And then, in the long run, I’m concerned that he gave a lot of teachings on Mudra Space Awareness, Mudra Theatre, and Maitri and many other unique applications of the teachings to Western culture. A lot of the early material is not very available to people..

I’ve been listening to the Jamgon Kongtrul seminar I mentioned earlier, how Jamgon Kongtrul went around Tibet and received the transmissions and practices for something like 108 different contemplative schools. A lot of them were on the verge of going out of existence because nobody had practiced these teachings in so long. He kept the material from going out of existence by getting the transmissions himself, and practicing, and sharing with others. I believe that much of the Rinchen Terdzo is a reflection of his efforts.The Vidyadhara’s work is so vast that we are in danger of losing some of it. Some parts are hardly practiced anymore. Sometimes people think that, for the moment, a particular teaching is no longer relevant, but that’s really not the case. People have realized that the teachings he gave to Mudra Sapce Awareness, for example, are related to Dzogchen Ati teachings. And they may have much to offer to actors and others in the theatre. If we don’t keep them alive, we’ll lose that whole stream of teachings he gave.

Whither Independence?

Q: I understand the Legacy Project was planning to be independent from Shambhala International…

A: Yes, we had discussions with people within Shambhala International moving toward independence. The original reason for that, in part, was to have the Legacy Project reaching really out on a large scale. There are many people in the world—artists and others—and people from many different organizations who appreciate Trungpa Rinpoche’s teachings. That includes people at Naropa Institute and many other Buddhist teachers, not just Tibetan Buddhists but Zen teachers and communities, Theravadin teachers, and many others. But it became clear that the Sakyong and his family and Shambhala International wanted to have the Legacy Project remain within Shambhala.


Q: What does it mean to “come under the protection and blessings of Kalapa”?

A: I don’t know entirely. Practically speaking, I’m working fairly closely with Richard Reoch, in the sense that he and I are working on a two-year plan. I’ve been talking with him about the Legacy Project for three or four years and he has shown an interest for a long time. As far as I can tell, Kalapa is still in the forming stages, so it’s hard to say. I hope it means that the Kalapa Council will lend their support to the efforts of the Legacy Project.

Protection and Change

Q: On Radio Free Shambhala, “Tsondru Garma” posted this comment: “Can the Legacy Project really be in danger of being changed while protected? That’s a scary prospect indeed.    I sincerely hope that the Project is not in any danger of revisionism. Too painful or difficult to even imagine.”

A: I think the best protection of the Vidyadhara’s legacy is to take the biggest view. That really can’t be corrupted because it’s beyond any individual interpretation. We need to remember that the Vidyadhara was Padmasambhava for our age. If you keep that in mind, that tells you that whenever people are trying to make a decision about what to do, it should be made from that highest viewpoint. Small mindedness is going to come from many corners. Whatever my role may be, I have to deal with my own small mindedness first, which is usually the bigger obstacle, rather than what anybody else is going to foist onto me.

Whatever may happen to the Legacy Project, the actual legacy of Chögyam Trungpa is incorruptible. I believe that with all my being, or non-being.

Thanks, Andrew, for this opportunity to say something about the Chögyam Trungpa Legacy Project. Also, may I mention that we are in the process of redoing our Web site. Right now, it’s not much. But I hope the new site will be up in about a month. You can find the web site of the Legacy Project at

Carolyn Rose Gimian is a senior editor of the work of Chögyam Trungpa, as well as the director of the Chögyam Trungpa Legacy Project and the Director Emeritus of the Shambhala Archives. She edited The Collected Works of Chögyam Trungpa and Shambhala The Sacred Path of the Warrior and other titles, including the forthcoming Smile at Fear: Awakening the True Heart of Bravery. She lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

*Photo of Carolyn Gimian by Marvin Moore

Kalapa Council Report

August 3, 2009

A Look at the New Kalapa Council

by Andrew Safer

In July, 2009, Shambhala International released the first Report of the Kalapa Council.   The Governance page has a link to it:

The Kalapa Council makes decisions and acts on behalf of Kalapa, a non-profit corporation described in its articles of incorporation (in Colorado, in 2007) as a “church of the Sakyong lineage of Shambhala”.  Originally registered under the name of “Kalapa Court”, the name was changed to “Kalapa” in early 2008. Kalapa has been described in several articles (KalapaLabyrinth) published by Radio Free Shambhala. This article updates those.

In the Sakyong’s 2008 Shambhala Day address, he said

In thinking about the notion of lineage–who we are–I have created a new format, a new structure that I’m calling Kalapa. Kalapa will be the storehouse and protector of the Shambhala lineage, and in particular, the Lineage of Sakyongs.

What follows are selected sections of the first Kalapa Council Report, with  a few comments and questions listed after each section.

Creation of the Kalapa Council

The Sakyong appointed the Kalapa Council to assist him and the Sakyong Wangmo in the integration and governance of the mandala. The Kalapa Council is the Lha body of Shambhala Governance. It’s role, described by the Sakyong, is “to disseminate and govern” and is “the structure for the Sakyong to express his direct command and wishes.” (1)

…The Kalapa Council now has nine members.(2) The Sakyong holds the position of director of the first class in Kalapa, as he does in Shambhala International. The other members of the council include:

The Sakyong Wangmo, Khandro Tseyang (3)

The President of Shambhala, Mr Richard Reoch (chair of the council) (4)

The Lamen Kyi Khyap, Dr Mitchell Levy (5)

The Kalapa Acharya, Mr Adam Lobel (6)

The Makpön, Mr Jesse Grimes (7)

The Chagdzö Kyi Khyap, Ms Connie Brock (8)

The Chief of Staff of the Sakyong Ladrang, Mr Josh Silberstein (9)

The Head of the Office of the Kalapa Court and Secretary to the Sakyong, Mr David Brown, has a standing invitation to attend the meetings of the Kalapa Council, as does its Chief Legal Counsel, Mr Alex Halpern. Mr Brown also serves as the Secretary to the Kalapa Council. (10)

(1) The Council exists to communicate the Sakyong’s ‘direct command and wishes’.

(2) This document says there are nine members including the Sakyong; the Kalapa Council page says there are eight. Only eight are listed (in total). 

(3) Khandro Tseyang, the Sakyong’s wife, is the second member of the Sakyong’s family on the Council (the Sakyong being the first).

(4) President Reoch is also Chair of the Sakyong’s Council.

(5) Dr. Mitchell Levy, the husband of Diana Mukpo, the Sakyong’s stepmother, is the third family member on the Council. He represents the Kalapa Council on the Sakyong’s Council. Dr. Levy is the only senior student of Chögyam Trungpa on the Council.

(6) Mr. Adam Lobel is Kalapa Acharya and also the Acharya representative on the Sakyong’s Council.

(7) Mr. Jesse Grimes also serves on the Sakyong’s Council, and is Commander of the Dorje Kasung.

(8) Chagdzö Kyi Khyap means Bursar General. Ms. Brock is also Treasurer of the Sakyong’s Council, a board member of the Sakyong Foundation, a core member of the Shambhala Trust, and Finance Director of the Minneapolis Shambhala Centre.

(9) Mr. Josh Silberstein is Secretary to the Kalapa Council and also President of The Kalapa Group, a company that “represents high profile ventures of the Sakyong including publishing, media and speaking engagements that help to support the Sakyong’s charitable activities”.

(10) What mechanism is in place to ensure that views and communication from other than the mandala center will reach the Sakyong?

The Role of the Kalapa Council

The role of the Kalapa Council as described by the Sakyong is “to disseminate and govern” and is “the structure for the Sakyong to express his direct command and wishes.”

The Council fulfils these functions by:

1. Receiving. The members of the council, individually and collectively, receive the direct expression of the Sakyong’s evolving aspirations, often before they take specific shape. (11)

…4. Advising and Assisting the Sakyong and Sakyong Wangmo. The Council acts in an advisory capacity to the Sakyong and the Sakyong Wangmo. Both may refer matters to the Council on which they are seeking advice. The Council itself may wish to offer advice to their Majesties on any matter that it deems appropriate. The Council has also been asked by the Sakyong to assist in the governance of the mandala in areas such as manifesting mandala principle, protecting and sustaining the lineage (12), ensuring financial coherence, monitoring the global impact of the lineage (13), directing international relations and advising on court appointments in the mandala.

The members of the Kalapa Council serve as the board of Kalapa, the entity that gives legal form to the Kalapa Court. (14)

(11) “Receiving” does not reference receiving input or feedback from the Council members, or from members of the worldwide Shambhala community.

(12) What is meant by “the lineage”? Who does it include?

(13) What is meant by “monitoring the global impact of the lineage”?

(14) What is the legal relationship between the corporate entities Kalapa, Sakyong Ladrang, and Vajradhatu (Shambhala International)? How do Kalapa Council and Sakyong Foundation relate to those? Who owns, or intends to own, what?  What are the legal responsibilities of the Boards of Kalapa, The Kalapa Group, Sakyong Ladrang, and Vajradhatu/Shambhala International?

Reporting and accountability

The members of the Kalapa Council are appointed by the Sakyong and serve at his pleasure. They report directly to him and are accountable to him. (15) The Kalapa Council will report periodically to the mandala as a whole on its activities. This report is the first such periodic report.

(15) It appears that the Sakyong, alone, appoints and retires the Council members. The sole accountability is of them to him.

The work of the Kalapa Council, August 2008 – July 2009

Among the various topics to which the Kalapa Council devoted its energy after its inception were the following:


Kingdom of Shambhala responsibility. The Sakyong made clear to the Kalapa Council and to the Warrior General (16) that with the establishment of Kalapa and the creation of the Kalapa Council that primary responsibility for the protection and manifestation of the vision of the Kingdom of Shambhala was now to be held by the Kalapa Council. (17) The implications of this for the role of the Council of Warriors, together with the wish of the Sakyong and Sakyong Wangmo to establish a Shambhala Office of Culture and Decorum, have been a regular feature of the discussions of the Kalapa Council since its inception and are continuing. (18)

(16) The Warrior General role is now subsumed under the Shambhala Office of Culture and Decorum?

(17) Noteworthy: primary responsibility for the protection and manifestation of the vision of the Kingdom of Shambhala was now to be held by the Kalapa Council.

(18) Council of Warrors: Does this mean the Council of Warriors will no longer have a role in relation to the “protection and manifestation” of Shambhala vision?

Establishment of the Office of the Sakyong Wangmo. The Sakyong requested that an Office of the Sakyong Wangmo be established. (19) The council recommended to him that he and the Sakyong Wangmo appoint a Secretary to the Sakyong Wangmo and that this (voluntary) position be integrated into the Office of the Kalapa Court. On this basis, Ms. Basia Solarz was appointed to the position of Secretary to the Sakyong Wangmo.

(19) What activities will this Office undertake?

Establishment of the Sakyong Ladrang. (20) The council devoted considerable time to discussion with the Sakyong of the importance of establishing the Sakyong Ladrang and how this could best be supported within the framework of the unfolding Kalapa Court. The Ladrang has now been established and legally registered. (21)

(20) What does “ladrang” mean? What is its role in the traditional Tibetan hierarchical structure, and how is it being adapted to the Western context? Is it a family trust?

(21) The Sakyong Ladrang is registered as a tax-deductible Buddhist religious organization. Its articles of incorporation are identical to those of Kalapa. The Web site: was live for a short time but has since been taken down.

What is the purpose of the Sakyong Ladrang? 

International relations. The Sakyong requested that responsibility for international relations be located within the Kalapa Court under the direct supervision of the Chair of the Kalapa Council. (22) The separate role of the Office of International Affairs came to a formal end on Shambhala Day 2009, and its work was subsumed into the work of the Office of the Kalapa Court. (23)

The Sakyong established a new position, Head of Protocol in the Office of the Kalapa Court. He appointed Michael Gayner, former attaché to the Sakyong, to this position to assist the Chair of the Kalapa Council with relations not only with major teachers, but also the increasing number of public figures making contact with Shambhala. Lodro Gyatso, a monastic in the Shambhala Community formerly residing at Gampo Abbey, will be the point-person in the Office of the Kalapa Court for receiving and responding to most of the incoming emails from centres and then forwarding them to others who need to be consulted. Peter Volz will serve for a period of time as an adviser on international relations in view of his long experience. Frank Stetzl will continue to be the principal link for Shambhala Europe. The Chair of the Kalapa Council is now working to establish a group of acharyas who will be available to act as high-level emissaries to build and strengthen our relations with lineage holders and teachers on behalf of the Shambhala Mandala.

(22) Since the late 1970s, the Vajradhatu Office of External Affairs has facilitated the establishment of contacts with lineage teachers and cultivated these relationships, as well as managed many aspects of relations within the broader Buddhist context, and beyond. Under the leadership of Chögyam Trungpa, this office had as many as four people working full time, reflecting its high priority. In recent years, the staffing commitment has been reduced to two part-time positions. The Office of External Affairs has been closed and Peter Volz, a senior student of Chögyam Trungpa with considerable experience in lineage relations, has been retired.

(23) The Office of External Affairs of Shambhala International has been removed. Relations with lineage teachers are now under the purview of the Office of the Kalapa Court.

The Kalapa Executive. The Sakyong indicated to the Kalapa Council the importance of identifying and empowering an executive body for the mandala as a whole. This is different to the policy-making and governing bodies – the Kalapa Council and the Sakyong’s Council. The Kalapa Executive would coordinate the highest level executive officers of the Three Pillars. The Kalapa Executive will include the officers who are currently responsible for major operations in all areas of the mandala. Further work will be needed to formalize the roles and authority of the members of the Kalapa Executive. This will be a further step in providing coherence (24) to the central governance of the mandala under the overall leadership of the Sakyong. (25)

(24) “Coherence” means “the quality or state of cohereing, especially a logical, orderly and aesthetically connected relationship of parts.” What parts are being included, and how?

(25) What value will this new level of bureaucracy add?

Chögyam Trungpa Legacy Project. The Sakyong had previously given his blessing to the initiative to explore the creation of a Chögyam Trungpa Legacy Project. On receiving a report on the ground laid by this exploration, he made it clear that he wished the project to come under the protection and blessings of Kalapa (26), since it had long-term implications for the propagation of the lineage (27) teachings. well ino the future and because the form it would take could be the model for the preservation and propagation of the teachings of successive Sakyongs of Shambhala. The Chair of the Kalapa Council was asked to work with the project director, the Sakyong and Lady Diana Mukpo to establish how best this could be done. Broad agreement was reached on this and work is now underway to discuss a two- year work plan for the project.

(26)  “he made it clear that he wished the project to come under the protection and blessings of Kalapa” 

(27) Which “lineage” is being referred to here? (see note (12)

Relations within the mandala.  The council sees as part of its responsibility to help ensure coherence and a spirit of mutuality throughout the mandala. This is, of course, a major responsibility of the Sakyong’s Council, on which all of the members of the Kalapa Council sit as well. Nonetheless, particularly since the Kalapa Council has the function of bringing together the most senior officers of the three pillars of Shambhala, it can also pay attention to collaboration between these strands of the Shambhala brocade. It also monitors the impact and implications of the new curriculum and other ways in which Shambhala is unfolding on the community as a whole. Part of those discussions have related to expressions of concern by longer-term members of the community (28) and the council sees as part of its role to discuss how those can best be addressed (29) so that the community as a whole can embrace diversity and change with mutual respect and support for as many practitioners as possible. (30)

(28) These “longer-term members of the community”, of whom there are many, are not represented on the Council.

(29) Are the harmony meetings part of this “how”?

(30) The Council has responsibility for providing “support” for these “longer-term” individuals. Specifically, what “support” is being referred to here?

Financial responsibilities.  The council received regular reports and proposals from the Chagdzu Kyi Kyap on how best to structure the different financial responsibilities of the Ladrang, Kalapa and Shambhala. An interim division of responsibilities was discussed by the Sakyong’s Council, which has formed the basis for the budget being used by Kalapa in the course of this past year. The council is now considering fresh proposals for the future so that there can be maximum clarity established for annual and long-term budgeting. (31)

(31) Will there be transparency in the financial reporting of the various interlocking organizations (Kalapa Council, Kalapa, Sakyong Ladrang, Sakyong Foundation, Shambhala International)?

Does, or will, the authority of Kalapa, exercised through the decisions and actions of the Kalapa Council, supersede the authority of Shambhala International?

On Differing Views and Paths

July 16, 2009

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.”

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

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

Self-Improvement, Windhorse, and Spiritual Materialism

January 2, 2009

Commentary by Andrew Safer

It’s normal to have ambitions, goals, and expectations when one enters the spiritual path. At 15, I was fortunate to go on a family vacation with my mother and sister to Tassajara Zen Mountain Center where I met Shunryu Suzuki Roshi. I was immediately struck by him. Whatever he had–composure, equanimity, fathomlessness, big mind–I wanted it. Later, when I was in university, I sat zazen with Kobun Chino Sensei and Jiyu Kennett Roshi.

Zen training was uncompromising. I soon found out that what I was hoping to achieve was beside the point. What kept coming back was: just sit! When I started studying with Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, the practice environment was less severe, but the message was the same. The sitting practice of meditation was always paramount. What I was striving for—my version of enlightenment—was, well, hardly the point. Over time, I started to learn that there was a great distance between what I wanted, and reality.

My sense is that the same is true of any authentic spiritual path: it’s not about what the practitioner wants. It’s about the practice itself, contacting a bigger world, and dedicating oneself to others.  

When I recently read Ruling Your World by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche I found much of the book instructive, but I was also concerned because there are many instances where the four dignities and the practices are spoken about in terms of the result: if you do A, then B will happen. While this approach will interest the beginner who is achievement-oriented, I’m concerned that it is sending the wrong message to that same person who rereads the book once they’ve entered the path, and to everyone else who reads it.   

My reference points are my early teachers and my root guru, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. In Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind, Suzuki Roshi says (emphasis mine):

Especially for young people, it is necessary to try very hard to achieve something. You must stretch out your arms and legs as wide as they will go. Form is form. You must be true to your own way until at last you actually come to the point where you see it is necessary to forget all about yourself. Until you come to this point, it is completely mistaken to think that whatever you do is Zen or that it does not matter whether you practice or not. But if you make your best effort just to continue your practice with your whole mind and body, without gaining ideas, then whatever you do will be true practice. Just to continue should be your purpose. [p 43]

It is therefore a bit jarring to read, in the chapter in Ruling Your World on “The Confidence of Equanimity”: “We realize in an outrageous moment that if we approach all beings with kindness, appreciation and love, we can be happy anytime, anywhere.” [p 138]

As Suzuki Roshi said, “just to continue should be your purpose.” When one’s own happiness is brought about by an act of kindness, this seems to be a different kettle of fish entirely. (This theme was also explored in Not About Happiness.)

When we take the bodhisattva vow, we vow to liberate all sentient beings before ourself. Even though it’s impossible, we vow to do so. This is not only the height of magnanimity, it’s also pragmatic, because it sidetracks the practitioner from thinking of himself. Pragmatic, because this way, he doesn’t waste any time thinking about, or catering to,  his ego—which, as we eventually discover, in fact, doesn’t exist.

The theme of killing two birds with one stone—serving oneself while serving others—reappears throughout the book.  In the chapter on “The Confidence of Delight in Helping Others”:

We may be sitting there contemplating others, and in the back of our mind thinking: “I need to do more for myself.” By thinking of others, we are doing more for ourselves. Generating joy by helping others is a secret way—and the best way—of helping ourselves. Every time we think of someone else’s happiness, we are taking a vacation from the “me” plan. It’s like getting physically fit by helping our neighbour shovel the snow from the driveway. [p 116]

In the era of new-age this and new-age that, perhaps it’s fitting that the Buddhadharma and Shambhala teachings have been repackaged in a way that appeals to “the marketplace.” One could argue that this represents a skillful means, that in this way, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche is making the teachings accessible to many more people. This may indeed be the case, but at what cost?

On the topic of self-improvement and the achievement of goals, Trungpa Rinpoche said (emphasis mine):

Trust and compassion for oneself bring inspiration to dance with life, to communicate with the energies of the world. Lacking this kind of inspiration and openness, the spiritual path becomes the samsaric path of desire. One remains trapped in the desire to improve onself, the desire to achieve imagined goals. [Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism: p 98]

Windhorse (lungta in Tibetan)—the self-existing energy of basic goodness that has been described as “the breeze of delight”—is an important theme in Ruling Your World.  Once again, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche breaks new ground in the way he discusses this key Shambhalian principle. “We are not afraid of the power of windhorse, which brings worldly and spiritual success.” [p 179]

Clearly, this is a description that will appeal to the self-improvement types. But even in the context of a new-age version of windhorse which is all about “what’s in it for me?”, this description is one-sided. Consider this passage by Trungpa Rinpoche from Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior:

The warrior who experiences windhorse feels the joy and sorrow of love in everything he does. He feels hot and cold, sweet and sour simultaneously. Whether things go well or things go badly, whether there is success or failure, he feels sad and delighted at once. [p 85]

In the last pages of Ruling Your World, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche expands on the outcomes of windhorse:

Windhorse brings spiritual and worldly success—personal power, harmony with others, strong life force, and material prosperity. [pp 192-193]

The notion that spirituality can be used to attain one’s personal goals was anathema to Trungpa Rinpoche. He made this quite clear in his ground-breaking book, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, which was published in 1973.

It would be foolish to study more advanced subjects before we are familiar with the starting point, the nature of ego. Speculations about the goal become mere fantasy. These speculations may take the form of advanced ideas and descriptions of spiritual experiences, but they only exploit the weaker aspects of human nature, our expectations and desires to see and hear something colorful, something extraordinary. If we begin our study with these dreams of extraordinary, “enlightening”, and dramatic experiences, then we will build up our expectations and preconceptions so that later, when we are actually working on the path, our minds will be occupied largely with what will be rather than with what is. It is destructive and not fair to people to play on their weaknesses, their expectations and dreams, rather than to present the realistic starting point of what they are. It is necessary, therefore, to start on what we are and why we are searching. [pp 121-122] 

The results-based orientation of the Sakyong’s teachings and his appeal to the self-help market are key characteristics that distinguish him from Trungpa Rinpoche. 

Having coined the phrase “spiritual materialism,” Trungpa Rinpoche defined it in this way:

There are numerous sidetracks which lead to a distorted ego-centered version of spirituality; we can deceive ourselves into thinking we are developing spiritually when instead we are strengthening our egocentricity through spiritual techniques. [p 3]

He was particularly diligent in pointing out the pitfall of self-deception so that the practitioner can be aware of it and recognize it when it rears its ugly head.

Ego is very professional, overwhelmingly efficient in its own way. When we think that we are working on the forward-moving process of attempting to empty ourselves out, we find ourselves going backwards, trying to secure ourselves, filling ourselves up. [p 56]

 “Self-deception is a constant problem as we progress along a spiritual path,” continues Trungpa Rinpoche. “Ego is always trying to achieve spirituality. It is rather like wanting to witness your own funeral.” [p 63]

Reading further in Ruling Your World, in addition to happiness, personal power, and worldy and spiritual success, luck is also identified as an outcome for those who practice the path of virtue. This is articulated in the following two passages:

As the golfer Ben Hogan once said, “The more I practice, the luckier I get.” In Tibet, this luck is known as tashi tendrel—auspicious coincidence.  [pp 158-159] 

By acting virtuously, exerting ourselves in service to others, we are blessed in return by harmony and good luck. [p 160]

From a conventional point of view, there’s no argument here! But is it dharma?

Again, in Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, Trungpa Rinpoche comments on this orientation towards results (emphasis mine).

So the point we come back to is that some kind of real gift or sacrifice is needed if we are to open ourselves completely. This gift may take any form. But in order for it to be meaningful, it must entail giving up our hope of getting something in return. It does not matter how many titles we have, nor how many suits of exotic clothes we have worn through, nor how many philosophies, commitments and sacramental ceremonies we have participated in. We must give up our ambition to get something in return for our gift. That is the really hard way. [p 80]

This passage echoes a well-known line in Trungpa Rinpoche’s Sadhana of Mahamudra : “I make these offerings without expecting anything in return, and without hope of gaining merit.”

The contrast between the teachings of father and son is extreme. Of course, it is Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche’s prerogative to teach as he sees fit. But the fact that the apple has fallen so far from the tree is worth noting, in the interests of helping to preserve the legacy of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche for both present and future generations.

Photograph of Lohan by Robert Newman. The Karme-Chöling shrine room has a series of Lohan images.

Going Down With the Ship

November 8, 2008


Much communication has been taking place lately across the electronic airwaves about the state of the Shambhala community. This exchange of views is a good thing.  

I believe much of the “problem” is structural. A particular mandala set-up organically grew up around Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche.  The mandala that developed was a mutual creation of his, his students, the mahakalas, dralas, and other non-theistic entities Rinpoche was/is connected with. As the Vidyadhara (crazy wisdom holder), he was inscrutable in the way he occupied the space at the centre. One could say that the centre of the mandala was empty, or one could say that the centre was like an axis which exists according to some universal principle, but does not exist in any tangible way. For the most part, the Vidyadhara was in the background, hidden by the hustle and bustle of what was going on…the activity of the mandala itself. (He’s still in the background, but, for me, it has gotten harder and harder to see the relationship between him and the current mandala.)

When Trungpa Rinpoche was the central mandala figure, sometimes he was in the foreground. When he taught, he was “the man”. The spotlight was on him. The rest of the time, because he showed us how to meditate and work with our mind, because he empowered us to take our seat and be who we are, we were the actors in the ongoing movie, or, more often than not, the unfolding drama–and he was in the background.   

Lots of things went right, and some things went wrong. When they went wrong, typically, he didn’t fix them. My understanding of this–and this is pure conjecture on my part–is that he had faith in the intelligence of the mandala, he knew karma would take its course, and, generally speaking, he had no inclination to step in to “save the day” in any case!

From a theistic point of view, this is hardly acceptable. The person in charge should right the ship when it’s listing, dammit! But in our case, when things start to go south, there is no Superman. There is no magician to pull a rabbit out of a hat. It’s up to us.

But we do know one thing. When things get rough–when there’s a lot of pain, confusion, and divisiveness–one thing we can do is practice tonglen, and go from there.

Quite a few years ago, in the question period at a seminar, I asked Trungpa Rinpoche about tonglen. (I don’t recall which seminar it was, but judging from his response, he was probably not teaching Hinayaya or Mahayana.)

 “If you’re doing tonglen for someone who has cancer,” I asked, “and you’re doing it properly, does that mean that you won’t get the cancer?”

 “No,” he said. “You get cancer.”

 “So, you go down with the ship?”

 “Yes.” (I believe he was smiling at this point!) “You go down with the ship!”

This exchange has always stuck with me because it’s so unsettling. Recently, I was reading  “Crazy Wisdom” in The Collected Works of Chogyam Trungpa, Volume Five, and came across the following passage which gave me a bit of a clue as to what Trungpa Rinpoche was talking about [my emphasis]:

There still seems to be some kind of timidity in our general approach. We are timid in the sense that, no matter how subtle or obvious the teachings may be, we are still not reconciled to the notion that “pain and pleasure alike are ornaments which it is pleasant to wear.” We might read it, we might say it, but still we find it magnificent to twist the twist and feel that misery or negativity is good: “We have to work with it. Okay, I’ve been doing that. Lately I’ve been finding all kinds of rough and rugged things going on in my mind and in my life. It’s not particularly pleasant, but all in all it’s interesting for me.” There is some tinge of hope. The idea of finding the negativity “interesting” is that somehow as we go along we will be saved. The unspoken implication is that finally the whole thing is going to be good and pleasurable. It’s very subtle. It is almost as though there’s an unspoken agreement that in the end all roads lead to Rome.

Ego is always trying to come out on top. We hope/expect that we will end up smelling like a rose. Trungpa Rinpoche’s message to us was, simply: Good luck, sir (or madam)!

Regarding our current situation, along with the mantle he has assumed as leader of the Shambhala community, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche has inherited the Vidyadhara’s mandala set-up. On the face of it, it makes perfect sense that we would keep the mandala intact–if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it–and pass it along from Sakyong to Sakyong. I’d go so far as to say that this happened without so much as a thought that it could be otherwise.

When the Sawang became Sakyong, it was as if we, as a community, figured that–suddenly–the training wheels could come off the bicycle.  I was far from the centre of the action at the time, so I’m going to speculate as to why we did this. Perhaps the Sawang-turned-Sakyong was eager to start riding on his own, but we were also very keen for him to take his ‘bicycle seat’ at the centre of the mandala. We longed, even ached for this because we had been living for so long  with the gap that Trungpa Rinpoche had left behind. This absence was painful. The notion of waiting any longer–if it had occurred to us that this was even an option–would have been quickly squelched by our desire for the new Sakyong to lead the community, fully fledged. That way, the uncomfortable gap would go away.  (Hindsight is 20/20!)

So, the Sakyong took his seat at the centre and gradually began to “grow into” that spot. It was as if, on receiving the Sakyong empowerment,  he emerged fully hatched, like a garuda.  

Now, a dozen years later, we find that there’s an elephant in the living room. Ignoring it is not helpful. There’s a difference between a vidyadhara occupying the centre of the mandala, and someone who is still on the path occupying that same spot. The latter is in a vulnerable position because checks and balances and training wheels were not built into the Vidyadhara’s mandala.  In the Shambhala International mandala, there is no authority to whom Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche must listen and pay heed. Technically, the Board of Directors can step in to create a boundary but to my knowledge, this seldom happens.  

We know from history that absolute power corrupts absolutely. I believe this can and will happen to anyone who is still on the path–anyone who has not dissolved the last vestiges of ego–who finds him/herself in the centre of the Vidyadhara’s mandala . 

The first time there was serious divisiveness in the sangha the Regent was the leader. Much pain and handwringing took place over that messy situation over a period of years, and deep schisms roiled the sangha. While there are significant differences between the Regent and Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, what is similar is that they were both put in positions with unchecked power and authority. Now, in retrospect, we can see the consequences. 

There is nothing wrong with making mistakes, but making the same mistake twice can have severe repercussions.

I submit that whenever someone who is still on the path occupies the Vidyadhara’s position in the mandala there will be problems, because only egolessness can “survive” that particular spot unscathed. As a result, if we fast-forward to today, we see that decisions have been made that are creating a great deal of discord in the sangha. Among them are the following:

  • In the path that Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche has recently articulated for his students, the practices of Vajrayogini and Chakrasamvara have become optional after completion of the Scorpion Seal retreat.  When the Vidyadhara transmitted these crown jewels of the Mahamudra tradition and teachings to his senior students,  indeed, there was (and is) nothing ‘optional’ about them! This is just one example of key teachings and practices that have either lost their priority or been altered to fit a new agenda.
  • If I wanted to join the Shambhala community today, I wouldn’t be able to because, as it says in the St. John’s Shambhala Meditation Group Membership document, I cannot make a “personal commitment to the path of Shambhala Buddhism” because this view is not in accord with my training. My understanding is that the Shambhala and Buddhist paths are closely related, but separate. This is one of a number of reasons why a significant number of senior students have either dropped out or been terminated from membership, due to non-payment of dues.
  • Discussions are underway to transfer the ownership of Kalapa Valley, The Great Stupa of Dharmakaya (!), and Trungpa Rinpoche’s copyrights to an entity that exists outside the purview of Shambhala International. Some of us are disturbed by this.
  • There is a “need” for the current Sakyong to have multiple expensive residences. At the moment, there’s Halifax, Boulder, and Cologne.  There is also talk about building a Gesar Palace at Shambhala Mountain Center, which would include a residence for the Sakyong. Does this consumption and display of wealth really reflect Shambhala values?

I think it’s time to roll up our sleeves, practice tonglen–and go down with the ship.

Not About Happiness

September 21, 2008

Since Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche died in 1987, the Internet has revolutionized the way we communicate. The Sakyong is taking full advantage of this medium at

A review of this web site brought to light, for this writer, some of the key differences between the teachings of the Sakyong and those of Trungpa Rinpoche.

Firstly, the Sakyong is described as:

  • “one of Tibet’s highest and most respected incarnate lamas”
  • “King of Shambhala”
  • “the eldest son of the Vidyadhara Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche”
  • “the incarnation of Mipham the Great, who is revered in Tibet as an  emanation of Manjushri, the buddha of wisdom”
  • “descends from the Tibetan warrior-king Gesar of Ling”
  • “holds the Kagyu and Nyingma lineages of Tibetan Buddhism”
  • “head of the Shambhala Buddhist lineage and is spiritual director of Shambhala, a borderless kingdom of meditation practitioners committed to realizing enlightenment and social harmony through daily life”
  • “the lineage holder of Naropa University”
  • “has studied with the great masters His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche–teacher of the HH Dalai Lama and the king of Bhutan–and HH Penor Rinpoche”
  • “is married to Princess Tseyang Palmo, daughter of His Eminence Namkha Drimed Rabjam Rinpoche, head of the Ripa lineage”
  • “has written two books, the national bestseller Turning the Mind Into an Ally, and the prize-winning Ruling Your World”
  • “is a poet and an artist”
  • “runs marathoms to raise money for Tibet through the Konchok Foundation”
  • “in September 2006 he offered the first Living Peace Award to HH the Dalai Lama at the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya in Colorado”.

The Sakyong’s bio brings to mind Trungpa Rinpoche’s phrase “Buddhadharma Without Credentials”…only here, it’s With Credentials. One gets the impression that some effort is going into crafting his on-line persona.

One of the credentials is that he is the incarnation of Mipham the Great. I don’t recall hearing anything about this before the Sakyong Enthronement in 1995. It is noteworthy that neither of the great tertons/mahasiddhas, Trungpa Rinpoche and His Holiness Khyentse Rinpoche, recognized the Sakyong (who was the Sawang then) as the incarnation of Mipham the Great during their lifetimes. It seems odd that such an important fact would have eluded these great visionaries.

The audio, video, and text files in the Archive section of the site reflect a recurring theme about Happiness. In the video “What About Me”, the Sakyong says, “You know what? When you’re happy, I’m happy. That’s the formula.”

Putting other before self is what Buddhism is about, but it’s the “I’m happy” part that adds a new twist to the teachings we received from Trungpa Rinpoche.

In the audio clip “If You Want to Be Happy” the Sakyong talks about using a type of contemplation to switch one’s thought patterns from focusing on oneself to focusing on compassion and love. The title implies that adopting this approach will make you happy.

While this approach is well-intentioned, there is a danger that students might conclude that there are “good thoughts” and “bad thoughts.” It also gives the impression that discursiveness can be harnessed to achieve a desired result. Even if this type of contemplation is, to some degree, successful in developing compassion, the danger is that, by fiddling with discursiveness in this way, the practitioner–unbeknownst to himself/herself–is sacrificing the development of prajna in the process.

In another audio file, “Chicago Public Talk” (August 2007), the Sakyong talks about karma and interdependence. “Every action we’re engaged in is the result of many things coming together, and they say [this is also true of] our emotions, and whatever happens to us. We say: ‘I’m sitting here feeling sad. How do I feel happy?’ [There is a] way to be able to shift the energy of our karmic situation. We need to orient our karmic situation so that we’re developing the seed, so that has a possibility.”

Trungpa Rinpoche’s teachings on the life of Naropa provide a useful context for considering this view. In the talk titled “Meeting Reality” (New York, January 1972), he said, “Naropa’s experience of discovering Tilopa is connected with finally giving up hope. We have to give up the hope of getting what we want to get; the search for an ultimate answer has to be given up.” He further explained that we have a love-hate relationship with ourselves. “That’s precisely why the samsaric mind and samsaric point of view of trying to gain happiness is regarded as holding the wrong end of the stick.”

In the talk about Naropa’s life titled “Continuity” (Karme Choling, December, 1975), he said, “The role of the guru, at this point, is to tell you you’re hopeless…or that you will never solve your problem.”

However, explained Trungpa Rinpoche, hopelessness here is different from despair. He equated despair with laziness and lack of intellect, and hopelessness with intelligence, inspiration, and challenge.

The divergence of these views on happiness and hopelessness hinges on egolessness. In Trungpa Rinpoche’s dharma teachings, there is no shortcut around egolessness, and nothing trumps it–not happiness, not power, not fame, not a 12-gun salute, nothing. “The great symbol (Mahamudra) which does not involve any metaphors,” he said, “relates to things directly and completely and allows no compromises.” According to what he taught, rather than bettering oneself, the path is about giving up ground. Becoming less, not more.

The Vidyadhara’s students are proud inheritors of the lineage of the Takpo Kagyu. In our morning chant, we recite: “Great Vajradhara, Telo, Naro, Marpa, Mila, Lord of Dharma Gampopa…” In this one line, we invoke the lineage of the ones who realized Mahamudra, attained enlightenment, and benefitted sentient beings immeasurably.

When we study the lives of these great teachers, we see that their paths were arduous, to say the least!. The effort they expended is difficult to fathom.

Naropa’s experiences are particularly instructive. After a distinguished career as a learned one, he struck out on his own in search of a qualified teacher—Tilopa. Along the way, he met up with all kinds of disturbing situations. One man was washing the insides of another man’s stomach. Two old people were killing and eating the insects they found in the furrows they were plowing. Naropa then saw one-eyed people, a blind man who could see, a man with no ear who could hear, another without a tongue who could speak, another who was lame, running, and a corpse fanning itself. These were just some of his encounters along the way. When these people called out to him for help he refused because his sights were set on finding the guru. Eventually he learned that they were inseparable from the guru, but his attachment to habitual patterns and conceptual mind prevented him from seeing this.

After Tilopa agrees to take him under his wing, Naropa’s life doesn’t get any easier. At one-year intervals, Tilopa says to him: “If I had had a disciple he would… build a bridge over a pool of leeches. (Naropa does and is eaten by leeches and other vermin); bring fire, reeds and fat, if he wants instruction. (Naropa does and Tilopa dips the ends into the fat which had been heated on the fire, and held them against Naropa’s body; the pain became unbearable); throw the queen down and drag her about. (Naropa does and the king and his followers beat him to within an inch of his life). These are just a few of the trials Naropa went through.

Although very different, Milarepa’s trials were every bit as arduous as Naropa’s. Marpa told Milarepa to build a stone and mud house. Then when it was built, he had him tear it down and put the stones back where he found them. Then Marpa told him to build another house, and another, etc. After that, Milarepa had to build a nine-storey tower for his guru’s son before he could receive teachings.

Such was the nature of the guru-student relationship back then. It has been said that the traditional ngondro practice was developed as a way to approximate the dynamics of this intense and personal relationship in modern times when this close way of working together is no longer possible (for example, Tilopa worked with Naropa for 12 years).

But now that the Sakyong has introduced the Rigden Ngondro, these practices can be accomplished in less time and with less effort. Where will the Milarepas and Naropas of the future come from if this abbreviated form of training becomes the norm?

There is another element of the web site that suggests an entirely different teacher-student relationship in the age of the Internet: the fundraising appeal. It reads: 

For generations in Tibet and other Buddhist countries, it has been the tradition for students to offer what they feel is appropriate for receiving the teachings from an authentic teacher. This creates a situation where we become personally motivated to give back in acknowledgment of the gift we have received and in recognition for the years of training and understanding the teacher has cultivated. Please think about what gift you would like to give in return. Please know that all gifts will be put back into the further development of this site as well as support the Sakyong’s activities world wide. Thank you for your generosity.

Giving a teaching gift is a traditional way for the student to express his/her appreciation to the teacher for conferring a particular teaching. Within the Shambhala community, typically, the teaching gift also helps the teacher to defray expenses associated with travelling from his/her home. 

In the case of this fundraising appeal, there is no reference to a particular teaching that is being given. It appears that the donation is meant to support the Sakyong’s activities, so the use of the phrase “teaching gift” is confusing. After visiting other sections of the web site, one can interpolate that perhaps the teaching referred to is that which is contained within the audio, video, and text files in the Archive section, but this is not at all clear.

As the first lineage holder of Shambhala Buddhism, the Sakyong has broken out of a mold and is charting a new course, one which involves extensive use of the Internet, via web sites and e-mails (Shambhala News Service, etc.) sent to members of his organization.  It seems that the Internet is now mediating between the Sakyong and his students/public, which suggests that it is no longer necessary to meet the teacher in person or be in his/her presence to hear the teachings. The teacher-student relationship has become easy and convenient, but what is being lost in the process? 

The more the Sakyong articulates his view and teachings, the more apparent it becomes to this writer that both his medium and his message are markedly different from what Trungpa Rinpoche taught.

As the Talking Heads song goes, “This is not my beautiful house! This is not my beautiful wife!”

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