Pönlop Rinpoche—time for a change

January 3, 2011

Commentary by Barbara Blouin

I just read Dzogchen Pönlop Rinpoche’s new book, Rebel Buddha: On the Road to Freedom, published by Shambhala Publications. When I read this short passage from the final chapter, I thought it could prompt some interesting discussion here.

The pioneers of Western Buddhism had to overcome certain barriers in order to make sense of this “new” tradition and practice it. They were not only meeting a foreign culture, they were also meeting alien concepts like selflessness and emptiness that made little sense to the Western mind. But they said yes to meditation and working with ego.

Now, roughly fifty years later, it’s time for a change. We’re stuck at a certain level of our spiritual development. What at first woke us up now barely stirs us from our thoughts. What supported our inquiry into who we are now blocks our realization of that. Now we have to ask ourselves how to break through again. This time we’re challenged to break through our attachment to all that brought us to this point—the spiritual cultures that we so respect and emulate that they’ve become another trap for us.

What is “Our Future Fund”?

March 31, 2010

Investigation by Barbara Blouin

Version 2 of this article, based on corrections sent by Connie Brock (April 7, 2009).

President Reoch sent an e-mail to vajrayana students shortly before Shambhala Day,  announcing a new fundraising vehicle called Our Future.


Shambhala Day will be different this year. I am writing to all Vajrayana practitioners, including you, so that you know what is happening and how you can support it. … The annual fund-raising will be for a new, unified fund known as Our Future. Our Future will not only support Shambhala’s core services that all of our centres benefit from, but also the Sakyong’s year of retreat. For more information about this integrated fund please click here.

I will be launching the fund on the Shambhala Day broadcast, and I would love to announce that our Vajrayana students around the world have already paved the way with their donations. That would definitely inspire others to follow your example when they gather on Shambhala Day.

Please consider making your annual Shambhala Day offering today so that we can boost the energy on the broadcast. It would be a tremendous gesture of support for our beloved Sakyong and his mandala.

If this captures your imagination, and you want to help me get this message of generosity across to the whole mandala on Shambhala Day, please click here.

In the radiant vision of Shambhala,

Richard Reoch

Here is the Our Future Fund web page which was linked to the President’s letter. I have put certain parts of this document in bold because I  have questions about them. As you are reading this, if you too have questions, please post them at the end of this article.

Our Future: Building Strength in the Year of Retreat

Financial Overview

The “Our Future” appeal aims to strengthen the ground for the future of our lineage and also for the central services of our mandala as a whole.

The goal is to raise sufficient funds to meet the following targets in the course of the Sakyong’s year of retreat:

1. Direct support to the Sakyong for his expenses during the year of retreat, and to provide monthly income since he will not be receiving the same level of teaching gifts in this year when he is not teaching widely. This includes the cost of travel, housing, communications and the offerings he will make at the monasteries where he will do his retreat and the pujas he will perform.

Estimated: $263,000 (expenses); $144,000 (annual income, distributed monthly)

2. Strengthening the ground for the lineage manifestation during and beyond the year of retreat. This involves improving the salary level for the Tibetan attendant to Khandro Tseyang, raising funds that will help to maintain the lineage residences in Boulder and Cologne, and generating a significant sum that can help to stabilize the financial strength of the lineage at this time of change.

Estimated: $ 9000. (attendant support); $77,000 (Boulder and Cologne Courts); $100,000 (financial stabilization)

3. Support for teachings and program development. The Sakyong has been teaching on  multiple levels and the fruits of the teachings that he is offering need to be gathered and presented so that they can be much more widely and systematically offered. This includes transcribing the commentary that he is almost continuously dictating on the Shambhala Terma of the Druk Sakyong, continuing work on the development of the Way of Shambhala program which he is working on with Acharya Adam Lobel, and maintaining the current level of staffing in the Shambhala Office of Practice and Education.

Estimated: $26,000 (transcriber); $54,000 (salaries for acharya and part-time staff member)

4. Putting Shambhala on a firmer financial foothold and use this year to experiment with taking a step towards a more integrated approach to fund-raising for the mandala as a whole. Thus, Shambhala will not conduct a separate fund-raising appeal at the end of the year, nor on Shambhala Day. Both these occasions will be rolled into the integrated campaign for “Our Future”. The funds to be raised to stabilize the Mandala Services at the centre of the mandala in the course of this campaign will be used in three ways. First, we aim to meet the target previously set for the end of year campaign for 2009 ($85,000). Second, we aim to meet the target previously set for Shambhala Day 2010 ($130,000). Third, we are seeking to raise sufficient funds to restore the shortfall in previously planned donations for 2008 and 2009 ($170,000).

Speaking tour in North America: explaining and promoting Our Future

After Shambhala Day, Lodro  Rinzler, Development Officer, and Joshua Silberstein Chief of Staff of the Sakyong Ladrang, have been traveling around North American centers to speak and answer questions about the new approach to fundraising. They came to Halifax on March 13. Around sixty sangha, young and old (though more old ones than young ones) attended the Halifax meeting. Several people expressed deep confusion about the new fundraising approach, and about the Ladrang. For example, one person said, “I don’t understand the relationship between the Ladrang and Shambhala International. Why isn’t it more fully explained at the nitty-gritty level?” I do not think Mr. Silberstein answered the question directly, but readers can decide for themselves. (You can hear the whole Q & A for yourself on the Chronicles web site.

Someone else asked, “Why is there another name? Why another legal entity?

Mr. Silberstein explained by saying that in the West we lack a cultural entity that would correspond to ladrangs in Tibet, and that it would be good to follow the Tibetan model.  This was his only response to the question. The same person asked, “Is Our Future an entity within the Ladrang?” Once again, Mr. Silberstein did not answer directly. He said, “Our Future [and the Ladrang] are joining together to support each other in raising funds…. As entities, they’re both nonprofit organizations.”

This answer only deepened the confusion because, I think, he was referring to the Ladrang and Shambhala International, but not to Our Future, which has no separate legal status. (There is more on this matter later in the article.) At this point Lodro Rinzler jumped in and said, “The account itself is a joint account.”

The next questioner asked about existing unrestricted automatic withdrawals, which  for many years have been directed to Shambhala International. Where, she wanted to know, would they go now? Mr. Rinzler replied, “If you are already giving to Shambhala [International], it continues to go to the same Shambhala account. … It continues to support the Our Future campaign. It just is not in the same bank account.”

Finally, a very senior student asked what was essentially the same question about unrestricted donations. “Is there another fund? I know what the Ladrang is, and I know it is being handled separately. So there’s a lot of confusion that started on Shambhala Day. I myself am confused as well.” Mr. Silberstein replied, “We may not be able to resolve the confusion, [ed: !] but let me take another stab. … Every gift that has been given to the Ladrang or to Shambhala since October 1, 2009 is part of Our Future.”

Then Mr. Rinzler spoke up: “It [the Future Fund/Ladrang] supports both. Sorry. What I mean by that is: Normally, when you support Shambhala, you’re supporting the Sakyong and his activities and the core staff that carries out his vision. So nothing’s changed there. Only, if you’re giving to Our Future, it’s going into a separate account.”

Other Halifax sangha members also expressed their confusion and asked for clarification. But most of the explanations seemed only to create further confusion. What it comes down to in the final analysis is that all donations to Shambhala International, other than restricted donations (for example, to local centres and practice centres) go to the Sakyong Ladrang, which is now called Our Future Fund. And there is no oversight of the Ladrang because the only directors are the Sakyong and the Sakyong Wangmo. (This statement will be clarified in the section called “More about the Ladrang.”)

Back to the text of the Our Future appeal.

Although I have been able to learn a few things about Our Future, much remains either unclear or completely opaque. The best place to begin is with what I have learned.

When the various dollar amounts spelled out in the text are added together, it looks like this:

°In the first three categories—for the Sakyong’s year of retreat, which also include amounts earmarked to support  the Sakyong Wangmo, and donations to monasteries, which presumably include monasteries founded by Namkha Drimed—the total fundraising goal is $673,000 ( $56,083 a month, or $1,844 a day).

° The fourth category is called “Putting Shambhala on a firmer financial foothold” and refers to “the mandala as a whole.” The total goal for this category is $385,000 ($32,083 a month, or $1,054.79 a day).

In other words, of the total fundraising goal, the amount earmarked to support the Sakyong and his projects is 57%, compared to 43% for the rest of the mandala.

“The Our Future appeal aims to strengthen the ground for the future of our lineage…”  It isn’t hard to read behind the lines here: the primary goal of this fundraising is for the Sakyong Ladrang, but the Ladrang itself is not named. “United States donors can make checques [sic] out to ‘Our Future’ and send them to Historic Highland Building, 885 Arapahoe, Boulder, CO 80302.”

¿ Was there no space to accommodate the Ladrang at the Shambhala Centre in Boulder?

More questions

¿ When a sangha member makes a donation of, say, $500 to Our Future, or an unrestricted donation to Shambhala International,  how is the money allocated? Is 57 % given to the Sakyong and his projects, and 43% for staff and related expenses? Who makes decisions affecting exactly how this donation is allocated? Are certain expenses prioritized above others?

¿ A portion of the Sakyong’s expenses in his year of retreat is for “offerings he will make at the monasteries where he will do his retreat and the pujas he will perform.”

What, exactly, does this refer to? Which monasteries will the Sakyong visit? Do they include any or all of the monasteries that form part of the Sakyong Wangmo’s father Namkha Drimed’s organization: Rigon Thupten Mindrolling in Orissa, India; Rigon Tashi Choeling Monastry in Pharping, Nepal; and (I think) another monastery in Tibet.

How much money does the Sakyong plan to offer? No information is provided on this possibly very large expense.

¿ In the second category the goal is $186,000. This money will be used for “generating a significant sum that can stabilize the financial strength of the lineage at this time of change.” What does this actually mean? Of this total, $9,000 will be used to top up the salary for the Sakyong Wangmo’s Tibetan attendant. A large amount, $77,000, is for two of the Sakyong’s residences—in Boulder and Cologne. $100,000, a nice round figure, is intended for “financial stabilization.” Other than the salary, how will these monies be used? For mortgage, taxes, heat, etc. for the Sakyong’s residences? Or for renovations and furnishings and so on? Or for both? How will  a large amount to “stabilize the financial strength of the lineage” be used? $100,000 earmarked for “financial stabilization” offers no information whatsoever. What is the distinction between these two categories, one of  which includes the other, which are described in almost identical terms? What does “stabilization” mean in this context?

¿ $26,000 is earmarked for the salary of a transcriber for the commentary that the Sakyong “is almost continually dictating.” Compared with the very low salaries for most core staff of Shambhala International, $26,000 is a large amount of money. (In the “real world,” $26,000 isn’t much, but it is a question of scale, and I find myself wondering just how much the services of core staff are valued.)

The fourth and last category is described as “putting Shambhala on a firmer financial foothold and us[ing] this year to experiment with taking a step towards a more integrated approach to fund-raising for the mandala as a whole. … The funds to be raised to stabilize the Mandala Services at the centre of the mandala in the course of this campaign will be used in three ways. First, we aim to meet the target previously set for the end of year campaign for 2009 ($85,000). Second, we aim to meet the target previously set for Shambhala Day 2010 ($130,000). Third, we are seeking to raise sufficient funds to restore the shortfall in previously planned donations for 2008 and 2009 ($170,000).”

This is a big subject, one that deserves a much fuller exploration than I am able to give here. First, I want to say that I find this quite alarming, especially since so much more money is being asked for the Sakyong and his projects when compared with funding for administration. My guess is that by now, everyone who pays dues and  is wired (most of us) knows that core services (called “mandala services”) are suffering from severe underfunding, and that this has been going on for many years.

¿ What is the amount of the shortfalls? $85,000 for 2009? $170,000 for 2008 and 2009? The way this is worded, it looks as though 2009 has been listed twice. Is that correct? Does $170,000 represent $85,000 each for these two years? What about the “target ($130,000) previously set for Shambhala Day 2010”? What does “previously set” mean here? What has been changed, and what has not been changed?

¿ Finally, the meaning of the following words is confusing: “The funds to be raised to stabilize the Mandala Services at the centre of the mandala in the course of this campaign will be used in three ways.” It seems as though the ways in which the money will be used are essentially the same—to attempt to make up for shortfalls in donations in previous years. Why, then, is this goal described as “three different ways”?

This seems as good a place as any to comment on the poverty-level salaries given to Shambhala International staff. According to the 2008 return submitted to the Canada Revenue Agency, 26 full-time and 15 part-time staff were working for Shambhala International during the fiscal year. The total amount paid to these 41 staff was $247,242, or an average of about $6,000 per staff member.

These figures speak for themselves. They raise the question:

¿ How do staff manage to support themselves, let alone save anything for retirement, at these levels? To be fair, I need to say that “It has ever been thus.” During the lifetimes of the Vidyadhara and the Regent, salaries were also far too low.

More about the Ladrang

The Ladrang was incorporated in Colorado in January, 2009. Portions of the Articles of Incorporation state

The corporation is organized as a church of the Sakyong lineage of Shambhala and a charitable organization as defined in Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986. The supervision and control of the corporation shall be vested in a Board of Directors which shall include at least one (1) director. No part of the net earnings of the corporation shall inure to the benefit of or be distributable to its directors, officers, or other private persons; except that the corporation is authorized to pay reasonable compensation for services rendered and to make payments and distributions in furtherance of the corporation’s charitable purposes. …

To put this in plain language: the Ladrang is set up as a “charity” whose control is in the hands of two directors—the Sakyong and Sakyong Wangmo. There are no other directors; in other words, there is no board of directors. Connie Brock, bursar, and Sol Halpern, who does strategic development for the Ladrang, manage this account. Although the Sakyong and the Sakyong Wangmo are not supposed to receive the net earnings of the organization, there is an exception: “Except that the corporation is authorized to pay reasonable compensation for services rendered and to make payments and distributions in furtherance of the corporation’s charitable purposes …” In other words, although it may be in keeping with IRS rules for a significant portion of the net proceeds to go directly to the Sakyong, it seems to me to be a stretch to call the Ladrang a charity. [Posted April 7:] I have overstated the degree of opacity. I have learned from Connie Brock that “the 2009 year-end financial report and the 2010 Shambhala central budget are in final review and will be posted to the Shambhala web site in the next two weeks.” (Connie Brock in an e-mail, April 6)

The heart of the matter

Historically, Shambhala International/Vajradhatu has been accountable to its board, now called the Sakyong’s Council. However, there is no equivalent board for the Ladrang. The Sakyong’s Council has a lesser authority than the Kalapa Council, and the Kalapa Council has a lesser authority than the Ladrang.

The Kalapa Council, created by the Sakyong in 2008, appears to have a much diminished role and no direct relation to the Ladrang. Minutes of the Kalapa Council  are not accessible to the sangha.

Therefore, knowledge of the activities and finances of the Ladrang are entirely limited to what the Sakyong (and his wife) choose to release to the sangha and the public at large. So far, if we are to judge from the “financial overview” of the Our Future campaign discussed in this article, that knowledge may be hard to come by because the goals described are so  vague. In other words, there is so little accountability that we do not really know what is going on, and we do not know how our donations will be used. [ed: Eventually we may learn more, once the budget for 2010 is posted in 22011.]

This raises the matter of what I see as a danger for the Sakyong, as well as for the administration. If sangha are unable to understand—and, therefore, trust—Our Future (the Ladrang) and how it is related to Shambhala International, there is likely to be a decrease in donations altogether, and possibly a shift in the proportion of unrestricted and restricted donations.

¿ Has this danger been considered and prepared for?

The next step

Radio Free Shambhala is sending this article to President Reoch, Joshua Silberstein, and Lodro Rinzler. We will be asking them to answer the questions raised in the article. If we get a response, we will post it.[Update: On April 2 I received a brief e-mail from Lodro Rinzler: “Dear Barbara,I’m sorry to hear you felt disturbed after the Halifax community meeting. I wish we had a chance to touch base after so I could have heard your feedback in person. Perhaps it might be helpful for people on Radio Free Shambhala to listen to the audio recording of the community meeting. That audio has been placed on the Chronicles Project should you wish to link to it. I believe President Reoch and Josh Silberstein are in a Kalapa Council retreat at this time. I will get in touch with them when they are back about responding to your suggestion. Best, Lodro Rinzler”

This response makes it clear that Mr. Rinzler did not take the time to read this article. I am still waiting for responses from President Reoch and Joshua Silberstein.

Out of balance

November 26, 2009

Reporting by Barbara Blouin

Out of Balance and Unsustainable
Shambhala Mandala Financial Picture, Q4 2009

I find myself worrying increasingly that the Shambhala mandala may be becoming financially unsustainable. Will the sangha be able to continue to support the Sakyong, Shambhala International, and the 214 Shambhala Centers, Shambhala Groups and practice centers around the globe? My purpose in writing this article is to explore these questions.

There are two main strands in this history; it is difficult to keep them separate because they are interdependent. In explaining what appears to be happening in the Shambhala mandala, I have found it necessary to go back and forth between these two strands, which are: (1) money that is directed to the Sakyong and his activities, and (2) the financial needs of maintaining a very large international structure.

As the winds of economic change continue to blow across the world, a number of factors make financial management of Shambhala International more difficult. One of these is the weak U.S. dollar. This is particularly hard on Shambhala International, whose central administration is located in Halifax. When the U.S. economy was stronger, the U.S./Canada exchange rate worked to the advantage of Shambhala International because most individual contributions and transfers from Shambhala Centers and Groups originated in the United States. A second key factor is that sangha, as a whole, have less disposable income than before the recession. Exactly how, and to what extent, this has affected Shambhala International and local centers is hard to determine because sangha continue to contribute substantial amounts to special fundraising campaigns, such as the campaign earlier this year for the Rinchen Terdzod. One effect of these targeted fundraising campaigns is that less money is available to support Shambhala International and the local centers.


The Sakyong Ladrang

A recent development appears likely to further redirect sangha contributions away from Shambhala International: the new Sakyong Ladrang. The creation of the Sakyong Ladrang marks the latest, although possibly not the final, stage in the evolution of the governance structure of the Shambhala International mandala.
According to the web site of the Sakyong Ladrang:

The Sakyong Ladrang supports the Sakyong and the Sakyong Wangmo in their worldly activities. It also acts to safeguard the sacred holdings of the Sakyong lineage to ensure the continuity of the Shambhala teachings. This allows these rulers of Shambhala to reveal the brilliant sanity of the Great Eastern Sun so that Shambhala may flourish for the benefit of all sentient beings.

The Ladrang became a legal entity earlier in 2009. In a report from the Kalapa Council to the Sakyong’s Council, it is described as

the innermost structure of the mandala. . . . It is solely concerned with the innermost protection and support of the lineage, its properties and succession. . . . The Sakyong will be the sole director of the Ladrang.

The establishment of the Ladrang as a legal entity means that individuals who wish to make gifts or donations directly to the Sakyong and the Sakyong Wangmo, to support them personally or to support their family and projects, may now do so. [Governance Update to the Sakyong’s Council, June, 2009]

This is of importance to the mandala and the sangha because it creates a mechanism whereby funds can be directed to support the Sakyong, outside of Shambhala International.

Once certain legal measures have been taken, properties now owned by Shambhala International, such as real estate (for example, Kalapa Valley and the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya), terma texts, copyrights, and so on will be transferable directly to the Ladrang. This development will become the focus for a future article.

More Sakyong Fundraising, More Cutbacks for SI, Less Revenue for SI and Centers

On one side of the ledger, the glass appears to be half full; on the other side, it looks half empty. In a Shambhala News Service post on October 12, President Reoch referred to the Sakyong’s upcoming retreat:

… Our beloved Sakyong [is] going into his year of deep retreat — a vital and life-preserving necessity for him and for all of us in his sacred mandala.

The announcement continues:

In preparation for this decisive juncture in his life, he has created the Sakyong Ladrang, a legal structure that will preserve and protect the lineage succession, transmissions and properties. Together with the leadership of the Shambhala mandala as a whole, we are launching a major funding appeal to establish a far stronger ground for our lineage than we have ever had before.

It is noteworthy that the President spoke about strengthening the lineage but not the community or its organizations.

Shambhala Mountain Center

Three days later, another Shambhala News Service e-mail dated October 15 announced major cost cutting across the mandala:

As the global economic crisis continues, strong measures are being taken to bring expenditure into line with income at key points in the mandala. . . . The President, Richard Reoch, and the Chagdzo Kyi Khyap (Bursar General), Connie Brock, have outlined steps to meet financial challenges on three levels: internationally, in Europe, and at Shambhala Mountain Center. All involve significant cutbacks in expenditure, combined with renewed development efforts, to comply with the Shambhala Principles of Financial Sustainability. … The aim for Shambhala Mountain Center is to reduce average monthly expenditure, including debt payments, [emphasis mine] from November to March, to approximately $128,000 (US) from the current level of $227,000 (US).

A later Shambhala News Service announcement (November 24) from the Treasurer (Connie Brock) describes  SMC as in “the most serious financial crisis it has ever known.”

A monthly reduction of $99,000 at Shambhala Mountain Center (SMC) is drastic indeed. It is my understanding that this will put the survival of SMC at even greater risk. I have not been able to gather as much financial information about SMC’s debt and deficit as I would like because information is not easily available. However, in 2005 a bond issue for $5.1 million provided SMC with capital for building projects. A few years later (sometime before the summer of 2008), according to the last figure provided by SMC , the debt (including the $5.1 loan) had grown to $6.8 million.

Three weeks after the announcement from the President and the Chagdzo Kyi Khyap , two former SMC staff members posted messages to sangha-announce: they were looking for work. After reading these e-mails I contacted the human resources director at SMC, who, I learned, will also be leaving soon. She told me that as of mid-November, 21 people had been laid off and five had left voluntarily. Thirty-nine people will remain at SMC, and another five who work in Boulder (including those working at the call center) will remain as support staff. A smaller staff will reduce expenses in the short term, but in the longer term, if the financial situation does not improve, insufficient staffing will seriously impair the ability of the center to function effectively. There is a big risk that this deficit/debt/inadequate staff situation could become a vicious circle.

Halifax Shambhala Center

The financial crisis at SMC is not the only trouble spot in the mandala. On November 9,  Bob Hastey, the comptroller of the 500-member Halifax Shambhala Centre, sent an e-mail to its members titled “Stark naked reality.” He wrote:

One part of our financial model is no longer working in the way that we have become accustomed to. General program revenue is down substantially and we are projecting a forty to sixty thousand dollar deficit in the coming year. In the near term we are facing a thirteen thousand dollar deficit by the end of December, which means that we will not be able to pay December salaries. Most of the staff will have to be laid off for a few months in order to catch up and get back on track.

Two weeks later, an even more urgent e-mail from Yeshe Fuchs, Director of the Halifax Shambhala Centre, explained that “All five half or full-time staff will be laid off for a period of four months. Thankfully, some [ed: three people] will be able to receive part of their [part-time] salary from the Employment Insurance for this time.” Clearly, the situation in Halifax is going from bad to worse.

Big plans elsewhere in the mandala

In the meantime, plans for the very expensive Kalapa Capital Centre in Halifax are going forward. On June 1, according to an announcement:

The Kalapa Centre, to be established in Halifax, the Shambhala capital, will be the international centre and beacon for the entire mandala. It will be the seat of the Sakyong and Sakyong Wangmo at the heart of Shambhala, along with the central government and executive. It will provide the long-wished-for drala site for major international Shambhala events, as well as housing the Halifax Shambhala Centre. The huge project will also include a civic cultural space for the city of Halifax so that the intermingling of Shambhala and Nova Scotian society can manifest fully.

At the recent Congress in Halifax (November, 2009) Steve Baker, director of the new center, gave a fundraising talk. The amount being sought, for now, is $15 million.

In the San Francisco Bay area, plans are going forward to create a dzong (“fortress”). “The Northern California Shambhala community will establish a dzong in San Francisco to help fulfill the worldwide Shambhala vision of creating enlightened society. . . . The world needs the teachings and vision of Shambhala now more than ever.” I have no further information, but it is reasonable to assume that this is a very expensive project, and that the Bay Area centers must be hard at work to raise the funds.

Financial difficulties are not limited to SMC and the Halifax Shambhala Centre. The Shambhala News Service e-mail I referred to above makes it very clear how bad things really are. This announcement refers to impending cuts to Shambhala International of $7,200 (CAN) per month, which would be $86,400 on an annual basis. A cut of this magnitude would have to include laying off some staff, because salaries is the biggest expenditure category. Since the staff of Shambhala International is already quite small, further cuts will put a severe strain on the organization’s ability to function.


In Europe the financial situation is also tenuous. The October 15 Shambhala News Service announcement says:

At the European level, spending is being reduced from Euros 23,000 a month to Euros 20,000. This will bring expenditure into line with current average monthly income of Euros 25,500 (down this year from a previous level of Euros 27,000 in 2008) in order to bridge an estimated budget gap of Euros 14,000 and outstanding payment obligations of around Euros 50,000.

Knowing something about the background of the situation in Europe is helpful. Almost two years ago, Shambhala Europe posted a comprehensive “Finance Report 2007,” which showed that—since 2004, with the exception of 2007, when the Congress was held at the Shambhala Center in Koln, triggering a large payment for use of the center—in a four-year period, Shambhala Europe had annual deficits of up to 17,000 Euros. The 2009 deficit was projected to be even higher—at almost 21,000 Euros. Several reasons were given for these financial straits:  Only half of all Groups and Centers were paying dues; overall membership had declined slightly; donations, particularly those made on Shambhala Day, were declining. An added expense was the expectation of increasing Shambhala Europe’s contribution to the Sakyong’s household and to Core Services. As the years pass and these deficits continue to add up, it seems that the situation in Europe is becoming increasingly difficult.

It would be helpful to have access to a similar overview for Shambhala Centers, Groups, and practice centers in North America. Because the large majority of Shambhala Centers and Groups are in North America, particularly in the U.S., putting together a comprehensive report, such as the one for Shambhala Europe, would be very difficult. My hope is that the overall situation is not as bad as I fear it could be.

In general, it is very hard for the average sangha member (such as myself) to gather much financial information about Shambhala International. I am aware of how many times in this article I have written “I don’t know . . . .” I do not think it is a matter of state secrets. Rather, the mandala is large and complex, and so are its finances. Therefore, even getting specific information on one income or expense category, let alone an overview, is hard to achieve.

The Sakyong’s Income Sources

My efforts to learn specifics about the Sakyong’s income have, so far, been fruitless. The occasional budget figures available to dues-paying members of Shambhala International, called Sakyong Support and Mandala Services, do not provide an up-to-date or complete account of the Sakyong’s income and expenses because only certain categories are accounted for.

The Sakyong has several sources of income. Financial transfers both from within the mandala and from a smaller number of outside sources are shown in a diagram, which originally appeared in my article Navigating the Labyrinth: Understanding Shambhala International’s Financial Arrangements,  Part 2 (2008). This diagram needs to be updated to reflect the new reality that has emerged now that the Sakyong Ladrang has come into existence.

Most of the Sakyong’s income comes from the following sources:

  • The Sakyong’s salary, paid by Shambhala International
  • Payments made by practice centers and Shambhala Centers for teachings and ceremonies
  • Teaching gifts for teaching and conducting ceremonies. Although a specific amount is always requested, these gifts are voluntary. To cite an example, at the Scorpion Seal Assembly in Nova Scotia, the recommended teaching gift was $200.
  • Direct donations. This is probably the most complicated category and the hardest to track. Other than teaching gifts, donations are made through a variety of fundraising campaigns, and most recently, directly to the Ladrang. Before the Ladrang became a legal entity in 2009, most donations were made to Shambhala International via centers, groups, and practice centers.
  • A portion of annual  donations made on Shambhala Day. Traditionally, sangha members gather in shrine rooms across the mandala on his day, and fill out gift cards, indicating the amount of their pledges. These donations are for both the Sakyong and for the administration of Shambhala International. Many of those who give may not realize that a large proportion of the combined donations is directed to the Sakyong and his activities (called Sakyong Support). For the 2009 Tibetan calendar, approximately 34 percent, or one third, of the total amount given was directed to Sakyong Support. (This figure includes an amount budgeted for the Dorje Kasung. Excluding the Kasung, it is 29 percent.)
  • Smaller amounts are also directed to the Sakyong through the Sakyong Foundation. Although most of the money raised by the Sakyong Foundation is redirected to a variety of projects of the Sakyong’s choosing, some is given directly to the Sakyong. Currently (November, 2009) the Foundation’s web site [http://www.sakyongfoundation.org/] lists a parsonage allowance of $54,000 and a Lineage Fund, of $40,000 which also supports the parsonage allowance. Parsonage allowances provide a legal exemption from income tax for the expense of residences and related costs. Information is not provided whether this combined total of $94,000 is for the current year or for a longer period.

The Privy Purse

The Privy Purse is mentioned briefly in the Governance Update to the Sakyong’s Council. According to this document, the Privy Purse “manages the Sakyong’s personal finances.” I have attempted to learn something about this office from Allya Burke, the Keeper of the Privy Purse. However, Ms. Burke informed me that this matter is private.

The Sakyong’s Fundraising Campaigns in 2009

The Rinchen Terdzod

2009 has been a year of major fundraising for the Sakyong and for projects important to him, such as the Rinchen Terdzod in Orissa, India. At this three-month event, His Eminence Namkha Drimed, the Sakyong’s father-in-law, gave this important collection of teachings to the Sakyong, Namkha Drimed’s monks, and a small gathering of Western students. A large number of sangha members donated for this event, but I do not have a figure for the total amount raised.

The Shambhala Vision Campaign

Not long after the Rinchen Terdzod campaign, the Sakyong Foundation launched a four-month Shambhala Vision Campaign in June. The Foundation intends to make a $100,000 challenge grant, with the aspiration of raising $300,000 “to express the community’s support for key priorities the Sakyong has highlighted for this year. It is imagined to be the first of an annual series that supports the regular renewal of the Shambhala community’s sense of forward motion and success in realizing Shambhala vision. The funds will be granted based on a ratio of $1 of matching funds for every $2 of general support.”

There are four projects the campaign plans to support: The Rigden Lineage Thangka: $ 50,000; one Scorpion Seal Retreat Cabin, to be built at Karme Choling: $75,000; the Kalapa Centre in Halifax: $75,000; Shambhala Mountain Center: $100,000. To date, no information has been provided about the success of this campaign.

The Sakyong Ladrang, Gesar Trakpo Abhisheka, Tenshuk Ceremony, and Birthday Party

Fundraising became particularly intense in October and November in advance of the Sakyong’s forty-eighth birthday. The goal of the practices and fundraising was to “dispel obstacles for the Sakyong, Jamgon Mipham before he enters his year of retreat.” [Shambhala News Service, November 6]  Namkha Drimed conducted the Gesar Trakpo Abhisheka in Halifax (registration $150 CAD). The following day, His Eminence conducted a Tenshuk ceremony, for the purpose of dispelling obstacles. The fee was $75, which included the Sakyong’s birthday party in the evening. A “suggested” gift of $50 was also requested for this event.

How will the monies raised through these events, as well as general fundraising for the Ladrang, be used? As for how donations made to the  Sakyong Ladrang will be used, a page from the web site says:

To read more about our appeal, how the funds will be used to sustain and strengthen both our lineage and our mandala, and to find out how to make your offering, please CLICK HERE.

However, as readers discover when they click on the link, no information is provided regarding how their donations will be used. The link is a donation form, asking for donors to supply credit-card information.

Big Job, Big Expenses

Being the Sakyong is a big job involving many expenses. His staff needs to be paid; mortgages and other expenses for his houses (and apartment in Germany) need to be kept up to date; and plane fares and other travel expenses for the Sakyong and his entourage are considerable. When Namkha Drimed, his wife, and other family members travel to Shambhala Centers for ceremonies and other events, these costs can be very high.

The Sakyong Wangmo also has considerable expenses, as well as a small salary. For example, a source in Halifax told me that whenever her father, Namkha Drimed, teaches or gives ceremonies in Halifax, the Sakyong Wangmo comes to Halifax for the occasion. When this happens, the Centre is billed (typically $5,000) for her air fare. Unfortunately, the presence of the Sakyong Wangmo in Halifax, though always welcome, does not generate revenue.

Looking at the big picture, it appears that income and expenses have been out of balance for some time—not just in the area of Sakyong Support but in other areas of the mandala as well. Historically, a valuable example is provided by Shambhala Mountain Center, which took out major loans (for one of them, Dorje Dzong and Marpa House in Boulder were mortgaged as collateral) for the construction of new buildings. Although SMC was in need of more facilities, the amount spent for construction and salaries during the major expansion stage was significantly out of balance with realistic income projections, and there is now an enormous debt that SMC cannot afford to repay.) Currently, as previously noted, the Sakyong wants to have a Kalapa Capital Center in Halifax. Has an effort been made to show how this $15 million expenditure can be justified at this time?

At the same time, SMC has laid off one-third of its staff and the Halifax Shambhala Centre will have to lay off most staff for at least three or four months. Are the right hand and the left hand operating independently of each other?

Heaven, Earth and Common Sense

One way of looking at the current financial situation in the Sakyong’s world is by applying the Druk Sakyong’s teachings on Heaven, Earth, and Man. As we know, Heaven is vision, Earth can be described as practicality, and Man joins Heaven and Earth. Too much or too little Heaven or Earth leads to imbalance. The Sakyong has been manifesting a lot of Heaven: he has created a new concept—Shambhala Buddhism—and introduced and taught The Scorpion Seal to large assemblies. Another priority for him is the creation of a large, magnificent Kalapa Capital Center.

An ambitious dzong is underway in San Francisco. The Rigden Thangka—also large and quite expensive—is in the works. A substantial amount of money went into a months-long Rinchen Terdzod empowerment conferred on the Sakyong by his father-in-law, Namkha Drimed – while, at the same time, a Rinchen Terdzod empowerment was going on at Mindrolling Monastery, from November 8 to March 15, attended by many prominent Rinpoches and a large number of monastics.

There is a term for Earth that is not found in the Tibetan teachings: good old common sense. A common-sense view of handling income and expenses is to try to balance the two and live within our means as much as possible. This approach appears to be lacking, at least at the top, the level of the King. When income and expenses are out of balance, things tend to go wrong, as they have been doing. It’s quite straightforward, actually. This currently imbalanced situation is also intensified by the worldwide economic downturn.

Another way to look at the imbalance is that there is a trade-off between supporting Shambhala International and the Shambhala Centers, Groups, and practice centers—the Earth, in this case, the ground of the mandala in its earthly form. This appears to be a no-brainer: when people give more for the Sakyong and his projects, except for the most affluent students, they have less to give to support the ground. A verse in the Shambhala anthem (written by the Druk Sakyong) goes: “The Sakyong King joins Heaven and Earth.”  The current Sakyong seems to be, not so much joining the two, but adding more and more to Heaven, thereby undermining Earth.

The Truth of Suffering and the Path of Liberation

June 28, 2009

The Truth of Suffering and the Path of Liberation

“For many years, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche wanted the talks he was giving at the Vajradhatu Seminaries to become the basis for a series of scholarly books. His presentations often were based on teachings in Jamgon Kongtrul’s Treasury of Knowledge, and he wanted this material to be broadly available to students and teachers of dharma in North America and beyond. However, during Rinpoche’s lifetime, we were not able to fulfill his wishes.

In the last years of the millennium, Acharya Judy Lief  began working with the material from the hinayana volumes with the support of Ellen Kearney, the Managing Editor at Shambhala Media. They decided to work on several smaller, thematic volumes as a way of getting into the material as a whole. The first volume based on their work can be seen in The Truth of Suffering and the Path of Liberation, which has just been published by Shambhala Publications, in association with Vajradhatu Publications. Judy and Ellen are now hard at work on the three-volume series that will present The Root Texts of Chögyam Trungpa. There will be a large volume for each yana, the fruits of the compilation and condensation of the original transcripts. The vajrayana volume will be edited to present material appropriate for a public audience.” 

– Carolyn Gimian, Director of the Chogyam Trungpa Legacy Project

“This wonderful book presents the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism in a way that is completely fresh and original while at the same time never losing contact with traditional sources. I was extremely fortunate to have Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche as my root teacher, and I’m so glad this new book of teaching is available so that readers can continue to benefit from his profound understanding.”—Pema Chödrön

“An invaluable resource for anyone seeking the truth. With disarming honesty and humor, Trungpa Rinpoche guides us through the Buddha’s teachings, bringing us face to face with our many misconceptions and our true potential.”—Sharon Salzberg

“In this book we can hear Rinpoche’s uncontrived, genuine voice illuminating the fundamental teachings of Buddhism on the cycle of suffering and freedom from suffering—profoundly inspiring all of us.”—Tulku Thondup Rinpoche 

To buy The Truth of Suffering and the Path of Liberation, if you are lucky, you may find it at a local bookstore. Otherwise, take a look at this information from the publisher.

Shambhala Buddhism and the new curriculum

June 16, 2009

An Interview with Acharya Adam Lobel

Reporting and commentary by Barbara Blouin.

It was in 2000 that Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche first announced that Buddhism (according to the Kagyü and Nyingma traditions taught by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche) and the Shambhala teachings of Chögyam Trungpa were no longer separate or distinct, but were “inseparable.” Trungpa Rinpoche also spoke of the Buddhist and Shambhala teachings as inseparable, but he also said that Shambhala had its own independent basis. By creating what is now called “Shambhala Buddhism,”  the Sakyong has undermined that independent basis.  Since he first spoke of “Shambhala Buddhism,” various changes have occurred in the way the Buddhist path and the Shambhala teachings have been presented and organized. It is significant that the name of the organization founded by Chögyam Trungpa – Vajradhatu – was changed to Shambhala International, and, more recently, to Shambhala.

The Sakyong’s underlying purpose of bringing together Buddhism and Shambhala is to create a “unified path.”

By asking our students to move through a unified path, they will be exposed to a range of skillful means that best represents a complete expression of our mandala as a whole. The view of a unified path is not to blend the Buddhist and Shambhala language until it is indistinguishable. The view is to allow the singular power of both expressions to nourish, challenge, and deepen our students. The Shambhala teachings and the various practices and views of the Buddhadharma each have their own distinct purposes and we must understand their differences.

[This] path does not necessarily lead to seminary or advanced Vajrayana practices. Instead, a person struggling in the darkness and fear of the setting sun could be sufficiently inspired, roused, processed, and softened by these stages to find themselves living a healthier and more dignified life. People of all faiths and backgrounds can walk this path; no Buddhist commitment is requested until entering Vajrayana seminary.

Source: The Way of Shambhala Overview in the Shambhala Training Manual

Before “Shambhala Buddhism” came into being, there were the Buddhist teachings and there were the Shambhala teachings of Chögyam Trungpa. How could Shambhala Buddhism join these traditions without changing both of them profoundly? I thought that 1 + 1 = 2. But here, 1 + 1 = 1, -or so it seems.

My attempt to understand what “Shambhala Buddhism” means eventually led to learning as much as I could about what is being called “the new curriculum.” Although this is only one part of major changes the Sakyong has made in the way both the Shambhala and Buddhist teachings are presented, I decided not to try to do too much – to only chew on what I might be able to digest. My first step was to contact Carolyn Mandelker, who is Director of the Shambhala Office of Practice and Education. We met in Carolyn’s office at the Halifax Shambhala Centre and talked for close to an hour. That meeting with Carolyn was useful, but I also felt that what I learned was not much more than a road map: This is what happens first, and next …. and next … Such-and-such programs have or haven’t been changed. Carolyn repeatedly told me: “This is a work in progress.” It became clear to me that this was a much bigger subject than we could explore in any depth in the time we had together.

My next step was to send an e-mail to Acharya Adam Lobel to ask for an interview. It was Acharya Lobel, together with Carolyn Mandelker and Acharya Christie Cashman, who worked together intensively to create this curriculum, under the guidance of the Sakyong. In April I spoke with Acharya Lobel by phone; we talked for close to two hours. An edited and abridged version of that interview is the basis for this article.

1. What is the new curriculum? 

Somewhere between one and two years ago,  Shambhala International began to  introduce “the new curriculum.”  Currently, this curriculum is being piloted in 16 Shambhala Centres – eleven in the United States; three in Canada; and two in western Europe. These sixteen pilot programs are distributed among small, medium, and large centers, including one practice center: Dorje Denma Ling in Nova Scotia. Other centres continue to offer Shambhala Training without the classes.

The new curriculum is a key component of The Way of  Shambhala. Following Shambhala Training Level I, now a briefer one-evening-and-one-day program, participants may choose to continue with a series of six evening classes called Meditation in Everyday Life, which is not a part of the new curriculum.

The new curriculum begins after Level II. During Level II, participants are encouraged, but not required, to register for the Tiger series of six weekly evening classes. Tiger and the rest of the new curriculum – Lion, Garuda, and Dragon – can also be taken independently of  Shambhala Training. In the centers where the new curriculum is offered, it alternates with the Shambhala Training levels. Dragon, the final series, happens after Level V.  Students also have the option of following the Shambhala Training levels without the classes.

2. Interview with Acharya Adam Lobel

Adam: The basic process of creating what we’ve been calling “the new curriculum” was initiated in 2005. The Sakyong arranged a conference call with Carolyn Mandelker and Acharyas John Rockwell, Christie Cashman, Jeremy Hayward, and myself. We were the people who the Sakyong gathered to say: let’s look at our curriculum overall. After that we went through a series of meetings and retreats. We spent five days together at to Dorje Denma Ling, practicing the Werma sadhana and thinking about what the Sakyong was asking us to do, as well as how to respond to the needs of centers.

The intensive, on-the-ground portion of our work has been carried out by myself, Carolyn Mandelker, and Christie Cashman. A lot of this new curriculum has been based on the requests and the needs of centers that we’ve been hearing from for the last maybe twenty years. The Sakyong has been talking about this curriculum from a lha, or heaven, perspective, but he also wanted us to connect with earth. A lot of our work has been trying to look at our huge, diverse community with a wide range of different needs. There are large centers with many teachers, and small centers with no teachers. We have centers where people can only do programs on weekends, and we have centers where people can’t do weekend programs. And we worked hard to offer programs that will be skillful in these different contexts.

Question: How, exactly, have Buddhism, in the Kagyu/Nyingma tradition of Chögyam Trungpa, and the Shambhala teachings been brought together in the new curriculum? From what I’ve seen so far, two things seem to be going on: Buddhist and Shambhala teachings are presented side by side; and in at least one instance that I know of, Buddhist and Shambhala teachings are mixed together, in such a way that new students would be unable to distinguish which is which. For example, the Four Immeasurables chant that appears on a handout for Lion, which ends with the last line of a Shambhala chant. That bothers me.

Adam: Why does it bother you?

Q: Because it’s the joining of a traditional Buddhist chant, and a Shambhala chant that was created by Chögyam Trungpa. I don’t know how often this kind of thorough mixing takes place.

Adam: As far as I can recall, I don’t think there are other examples quite like that. The way the Sakyong guided us, and most of our intentions throughout developing this curriculum, was to try to think of the student, and to ask: What would be of benefit to students at this stage in their journey, in terms of the incredibly vast range of teachings that we have in this tradition? What are some of the kinds of key words, teachings, practices, and ideas that will really touch a person at this stage in their journey, someone who is trying to understand what we’re all about? Along the way, we would often present something to the Sakyong. Then he would say something, and we would give that some form. He’d often say things like: “Stop thinking about the categories that you have in your mind, that you think students should know, and start thinking about what really would be of benefit.”

Q:  I said that it seemed like Shambhala and Buddhist teachings are being presented side by side. Would you agree that that’s an accurate statement?

Adam: It’s definitely an accurate statement. The language that the Sakyong has been using, and that we’ve been using, is a “unified curriculum.” It’s trying to draw on the richness of all of Trungpa Rinpoche’s teachings, and put them together in an accessible, inviting, experiential, and transformative way. When we talk about the the new curriculum, which is part of The Way of Shambhala I, it is one portion of a pre-seminary curriculum for people who are headed in the direction of Seminary.

There are three main components to the new curriculum. The first is the outermost stage of offerings. The outermost offerings are programs that have no prerequisites, and they are open to anyone. Shambhala Training Level I is in this outermost category, but it also can be envisioned as part of the Way of Shambhala.

The next part is what most people refer to as the new curriculum: the series of the classes on the four Dignities, called Tiger, Lion, Garuda, and Dragon. That’s what we have really worked through. There has been a tremendous amount of work and all sorts of failures and mistakes and re-envisionings, and going back to the drawing boards. We’re still revising the curriculum.

The final phase of the pre-seminary curriculum includes the Sacred Path material, as well as a deeper study of Buddhist teachings such as abhidharma and lojong. There will also be a public introduction to the vajrayana, including a Sadhana of Mahamudra weekend.

The basic approach to The Way of Shambhala is to map out an experiential journey. The first part of that journey is to develop basic mindfulness and a relationship with basic goodness and a sense of gentleness.

Q: Using the Tiger series as an example: in the first class, are students introduced to the qualities exemplified by Meek?

Adam: Yes, and these qualities also seem to have a resonance with some of the qualities of an arhat, a dharmic person—the way Trungpa Rinpoche describes the Buddha and the dharmic person, who move with grace and gentleness and a kind of composure. The emphasis in the first class is to give students a sense of the basic quality that they’ll be practicing and studying and contemplating. The analogy for Meek is the tiger: moving carefully and with mindfulness, incredibly aware, senses awake and attuned, with discipline and gentleness and humility.

Q: It seems, from looking at the schedule that Carolyn gave to me, that some qualities of each of the Dignities are presented in each of the levels, but not all of them. For example, the quality for Tiger here is contentment, but the other qualities to be cultivated are not named. Does the teacher talk about those other qualities as well?

Adam: In a sense we are emphasizing a central quality – “contentment” here. One way to translate the Tibetan word for contentment is “meek.” And we felt that, with guidance from the Sakyong, contentment was a kind of seed syllable for what we’re trying to communicate to students and give them an experience of. What comes with that, of course, is the relationship of contentment with the absence of arrogance.

We always explore what the Dignity refrains from. I think it’s one way to understand how Buddhism and Shambhala support each other. We look at the obstacle of arrogance, for example, for the Dignity of Meek. And then after exploring it, we look personally, experientially at our own arrogance. And we have an opportunity to study Trungpa Rinpoche’s teachings on  the three kinds of suffering, in order to give students another language, another angle to understand where obstacles arise. I do not believe that we have exhausted the entire principle of Meek, but, rather, given one experience of it. Nor, of course, have we exhausted the teachings on the hinayana, by any means. We’re trying to give students an experiential taste that actually sticks with them in their body and their experience.

Q: I noticed some new words in the schedule for the Tiger classes – and one that is not in either the Buddhist or Shambhala vocabulary: “stress.” That was a surprise to me, and I’m not comfortable with it.

Adam: Trungpa Rinpoche used to talk about speediness all the time. I think it’s interesting to use the word “stress” because there is so much stress and  speed, and overall chaos, that so many people are experiencing in our world. And that’s precisely why the ground of this journey is a kind of mindfulness and gentleness.

Q: The schedule I’ve been talking about displays a basic logic: The first two classes are ground; the next three are path; and the last is fruition. There is also a clear pattern in each series, which is always the same: The first class is  … hmm, what? It’s not shown on the chart. The chart only says “Introduction.” Is the first class Shambhala and Buddhist? Classes two and three present Shambhala teachings, and classes four and five are Buddhist. The sixth class is Shambhala. Would you comment on this use of logic?

Adam: I’ve stopped thinking about it in terms of which is Shambhala content and which is Buddhist content. There are elements of both trying to support each other. They offer a different language and perspectives, but they are not essentially different. For example, one student might connect with the teachings on the experience of the cocoon, and another student might feel supported by the clarity of the presentation of the five skandhas.

Q: One aspect of my discomfort with this approach is that Trungpa Rinpoche clearly and repeatedly said that Shambhala is a secular path, and its purpose is to create enlightened society. And Buddhism, even though it’s nontheistic, is classified as a religion. There’s a priesthood, et cetera. So when you bring the two together, what happens to the secular teaching? I know there’s a lot of discomfort about that in our sangha. Have you heard that?

Adam: Sure. Speaking for myself, Carolyn, and the other acharyas I’ve been working with, we’ve all had our questions about Shambhala Buddhism, and we’ve  questioned the Sakyong and each other. We’re trying to understand what it means when those two words are uttered at the same time. In terms of the secular question – what do we mean by “secular”? And how did the Dorje Dradul use that word? And what was he trying to get at?

Q: Well, for one thing, Shambhala was something that anybody could learn and practice. Trungpa Rinpoche said that very specifically. You could be a Christian or a Jew or a Muslim. Or you could be an atheist. So it was secular and it did not lead to Buddhism. However, in the “old days,”  the Shambhala population was 99% Buddhist. In later years participants were less likely to be Buddhist; probably the majority of the nonBuddhists were Christian. I’m speaking from my own experience here in Halifax.

Of course, it is true that Buddhism and the Shambhala teachings are compatible, but to the uninitiated, the Buddhist part was invisible. Some of those Christian Shambhalians were quite committed. (I am using the past tense, because I think they have “dropped out.”) They were considered sangha – by themselves as well as by the Buddhist sangha. Some of them were quite distressed when the Shambhala teachings became “Shambhala Buddhism.”

Adam: The vision hasn’t changed at all. This path is open to people of any religion, and the new curriculum is explicit about that. There’s no requirement to take refuge and become a Buddhist—unless someone wants to go to Vajrayana Seminary. So that means that people can go all the way through the new curriculum, including Sutrayana Seminary and Warrior’s Assembly, without being Buddhists. And that’s not just a bureaucratic point; it has to do with our view, which is the view of basic goodness, which is not based on religious affiliation. The whole point of enlightened society, and the whole point of our efforts to teach and to practice together, is because of trust in basic goodness, and extending that to the world. The Sakyong is encouraging us to move beyond the idea of giving students a choice before they have even been exposed to any real depth of experience or learning a practice, where we would say: “Are you a religious type? Do you want to be a Buddhist? Or are you a nonreligious type and want to be a Shambhalian?” Somebody at a Shambhala Center where I was working described it this way: she was standing on two logs in a river. One log is Shambhala and one is Buddhist. She felt that the two logs were getting further and further apart, and her legs stretched into a kind of split. And one of the things she appreciated about the new curriculum is that the two were together, and that offered her a stronger stance.

Q: Does it matter whether some, or maybe many, of the students going through this curriculum aren’t really able to discriminate which of the teachings are Buddhist, and which are Shambhala? You’ve been talking about that anyway – saying that the point isn’t to see which is which, but whether it works. For some people, it’s a big issue. Non-Buddhists no longer have the opportunity to explore the inseparability of Shambhala vision and their traditions: the deepest parts of Shambhala vision are marked with Buddhist language, imagery, and tradition.

Adam: I think it’s very personal. There are some students for whom that kind of analysis and understanding is very important, and there are others for whom it isn’t important. If a student asks me, “Is this Shambhala or is this Buddhist?” I would try to give as clear an answer as possible about the source of a given teaching.

I have spent a lot of time studying the Shambhala terma teachings, and I kept asking myself: What is different here? And what is the same? I’m happy and honoured to be able to spend my life exploring those questions. There’s so much richness condensed into this language of the terma that we are just beginning to unpack. Take anything – the Golden Key text, let’s say. What an incredible poetic masterful work. It’s amazing! To me, that’s what Shambhala Buddhism and this new path are all about: realizing that we are the ones who inherited this stream of teachings from Trungpa Rinpoche, and there’s no one else on the planet who is in that situation. And it’s our job to dive into it and to understand it and to unpack it – and then pass it on.

3. Finally …


My root guru and heart teacher has been dead for twenty-two years,  but his teachings continue to live in me and in so many others – through his books, through audio and video recordings, through the memories and personal testimonies of those who knew him, and through the devotion of an increasing number of those who never knew him during his lifetime.

We know that Chögyam Trungpa, from whose vast mind the Shambhala teachings arose, considered the purity of the Buddha’s teachings to be of the highest importance. In 1983, on the occasion of the installation of the Kangyur in the shrine room in Boulder, Rinpoche referred to other editions of the Kangyur (see a little background on the Kangyur) in Tibet or in China, that had been heavily edited by other sects. Those who altered these texts, he said, had inserted their own ideas and beliefs into the original teachings. He described the edition of the Kangyur that was being installed as pure and straight and unaltered.

What he said that day in Boulder might be a clue for us, but we will never really know what the Dorje Dradul would have thought of the mixing-together of the Shambhala and Buddhist teachings, or of the new moniker “Shambhala Buddhism.” The only thing we can do is to connect with our own hearts and ask ourselves what we think about those changes, and how we feel.

Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche always insisted that his students not accept as givens what they were taught, but closely and critically examine everything they read and heard – and only then would they be ready to make up their own minds. In this matter he was always absolutely uncompromising and fierce.

In working on this article I have done my best to present “Shambhala Buddhism” as it was presented to me by two students of Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. I must admit that this process of asking questions and listening carefully to the responses that were given has not been easy for me. Although I have usually been able to follow the Sakyong’s logic, as it was offered to me through the filter of Acharya Lobel’s admirably clear intellect, in my not-so-secret heart, what I learned just didn’t feel right. It still doesn’t.

The way I see it, as Radio Free Shambhala has evolved, what is most interesting of all, and most vital and important, are comments from readers. I am eagerly looking forward to what you who are “out there” have to say, both the old dogs and the new pups – and especially those who disagree. I am also particularly interested in hearing from newer students who have started coming to Shambhala Centers since the advent of the “Shambhala Buddhist path.”

From Lion: The Windhorse of Delight:


May all beings enjoy happiness and the root of happiness.
May they be free from suffering and the root of suffering.
May they not be separated from the great happiness, devoid of suffering.
May they dwell in great equanimity, free from passion, aggression, and ignorance.
May all beings enjoy profound, brilliant glory.

On Divisiveness

January 19, 2009

Commentary by Barbara Blouin

I don’t remember when the dreams began. For a long time I dreamed that a practice center where I had practiced many times had become unrecognizable, even alien, to me. The details of these dreams are too long for this commentary, but my dream-feeling was one of penetrating sadness, loneliness, and irrevocable loss. 

For years I didn’t understand what those dreams meant. Then gradually, my waking experiences of walking into my local Shambhala Centre (Halifax) started to resemble my dreams. I felt like I no longer belonged, and in ways that were partly specific and partly indefinable, the centre felt foreign to me. I felt that, in that place, the presence of my root guru, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, which I had always experienced so strongly, was waning, that it was being lost.

Several months ago I became involved in the creation of this web site, to which I contributed two articles. When I first started going to the meetings that culminated in the web site, I said, “I’m afraid I could lose some friends because of this,” and this fear has, in fact, become a reality with one person. I have deeply upset another friend. They and others see my role, and that of RFS, as divisive. That is painful to me and even more painful to them. I regret that I have caused my friends pain and wish I felt I had a choice, but what I was doing seemed — and still seems — choiceless.

Those who are upset about Radio Free Shambhala see our “divisiveness” as damaging to the fulfillment of the Vidyadhara’s vision, as disrespectful of the Sakyong, and as harmful to the sangha. They say that we are creating a “schism,” a “faction.” What they seem to fail to recognize — and I find this odd — is that the sangha is already divided. It has, in fact, been divided for a long time. 

Does divisiveness (I am calling it by the label that others have chosen, although I would not choose it) inflame already existing divisions? Should I and others stop taking actions because some regard them as divisive? Should we keep our thoughts to ourselves and keep our pain inside? Do we even have a right to speak out publicly? 

The subject of divisiveness was explored and debated for three days by the Mandala Governing Council in Boston in December, 2004, just over four years ago. The statement that was drafted after this meeting, called The ground of openness and trust (PDF) is found in the Members’ section of the Shambhala web site.

The contents of this statement address divisiveness head on: 

The Mandala Governing Council, meeting in Boston from 4 to 7 December 2004, wishes formally to affirm that the continuing emergence of Shambhala Society must be based on the profound realisation of unconditional openness and trust in basic goodness that are the heart of our Kagyü, Nyingma, and Shambhala lineages. …we urge our community at all levels to reflect on the ways in which we can create containers for sane society within our mandala. Thus we can work compassionately with our differences and conflicts, so that there is respect for each other’s commitment to different streams of teachings and practice. No one should face derision, exclusion, rejection, or retribution for holding or expressing their views or for dissenting from the views held by others, including the policies and practices of the leadership of the mandala. … The process of community reflection and renewal in which we are now engaged must be conducted in such a way that it includes all generations, embracing elders, emerging leaders, the second and third generations, as well as those who feel they have been marginalized in our community over the years. 

As Shambhalians, our trust for the Sakyong varies widely from individual to individual. At one end of the continuum, a number of devoted students are deeply concerned that the Sakyong is systematically dismantling the Vidyadhara’s vision. At the other end of the continuum, equally devoted students feel the Sakyong is completely and brilliantly manifesting the Vidydhara’s vision. 

The sangha is divided because there are a great many students of Chögyam Trungpa who “are deeply concerned that the Sakyong is systematically dismantling the Vidyadhara’s vision.” These students cannot, however, be described as a group, or lumped together. They have no organization, no web site (RFS notwithstanding), no way to communicate with each other except one by one, or in small informal local groups. They have no place in which to gather.

Yet I would go so far as to say that they — we — are a sangha, a disenfranchised sangha that exists both within and outside the Shambhala organization. No one knows how many of us are out there. According to one estimate, as many as 70 % of Chögyam Trungpa’s original students have left Shambala International. In my opinion  that estimate is too high, but whatever the number or percentage, there are a great many such students. Some remain members of Shambhala Centres, while others have stopped paying dues. Some have completely cut their ties with the organization, while others continue to go to programs and to practice at urban and practice centres. There is no way to create a profile of a typical, for want of a better word, “disaffected” sangha member. My hope is that those who disagree with their views have not simply dismissed them, written them off.  

The divisiveness issue came to a head recently in Halifax because members of a local group devoted to Chögyam Trungpa announced a meeting to discuss the idea of forming a delek (working title: CTR Delek). We asked to hold the first meeting at Coburg House, which is a complex of four buildings. Everyone in Coburg House is a participant at the Shambhala Centre, although some only at the level of open house. Permission was given and an announcement was posted on the nova-scotia-announce mailing list that the meeting would take place on Sunday, January 18. That announcement provoked a heated controversy, and the Coburg House offer was revoked. Some people felt that calling this group a delek was improper. The delek system, they claimed, was based on neighbourhoods, and because this group was not neighbourhood-based it could not rightly call itself a delek. 

This is not the place to go into the details of the opposition to the formation of the CTR Delek. Probably few of us remember, or ever knew, that in 1982, Chögyam Trungpa, who created the delek system, told his students at Seminary:

I want you to know that we are not setting up a solid and fixed idea about how things should run, how things should go. We are giving a lot of leverage and a lot of freedom to you people to decide how you would like your sangha, your world, your enlightened society to function. We are leaving a lot of it up to you. The responsibility is yours, people, all of you, to elect dekyongs and come into the delek system altogether. So it requires a lot of your involvement.

Would Chögyam Trungpa have approved, or disapproved, of what we are doing? It’s an open question. 

After the announcement of our delek meeting at Coburg House, Nick Wright, a resident, sent a private e-mail to Madeline Schreiber, the Coburg House manager. Nick has given me permission to quote his letter and to use his name.

I noticed that Mark Szpakowski’s invitation to form a “Chögyam Trungpa delek” mentioned Coburg House as the meeting place. I have some questions.

1) Why are they not using one of their houses? … Are you inviting them here because you support their views?

2) Why are we hosting a group that is working hard to undermine the Sakyong? I don’t think it is good for Coburg House to be associated in people’s minds with that kind of energy and intention. Respectful disagreement is one thing, active subversion is something else again.

3) Why is Coburg House fostering the formation of a faction within Shambhala — which is the clear intention of this group? Their arrogation of the name “Chogyam Trungpa” for their proposed deleg makes that abundantly clear. All of the Vidyadhara’s students feel we are carrying on his legacy, from the Sakyong on downward. It is merely offensive that any sangha group is arrogant enough to presume that they are “the true holders of his legacy”; I feel it is dangerous (for them and newer students) to give them encouragement and support in such a view.

I have  chosen to reprint most of his letter because I think Nick has clearly articulated some of the objections, not only to the CTR Delek, but, more broadly and more importantly, to the existence and purpose of Radio Free Shambhala and its ilk. He is far from being the only sangha member who has problems with  this web site and its views. 

This letter provides plenty to chew on, partly because a number of assumptions are made about the organizers of the CTR Delek:

  • We are working hard to undermine the Sakyong
  • Evidence for this is abundantly clear and an arrogation of the name ‘Chögyam Trungpa’ for our proposed deleg. (According to the Oxford English Dictionary: arrogate means to “take or claim [something] for oneself without justification”).
  • We are engaged in active subversion.
  • We are fostering the formation of a faction within Shambhala–which is [our] clear intention
  • We are arrogant : It is merely offensive that any sangha group is arrogant enough to presume that they are ‘the true holders of his legacy’.
  • Our goals are dangerous.

Since the sangha is already divided, can an argument be sustained that “we” of RFS are causing divisiveness?  To me, this is the key point, and I don’t think it holds up to scrutiny. How can something be divided that has already divided itself?

I think the same can be said of the accusations that “the formation of a faction” is our goal, and that we are “actively working to undermine the Sakyong.” There is in fact no faction. The many disaffected sangha members do not belong to a group or an organization; they are simply a collection of individuals. If it were possible to gather them together in a large room and have a discussion, I’m sure they would find plenty to disagree over. There is no unified view.

We — in this case, a small collection of disaffected Halifax sangha — are not “subversive” because we have no hidden agenda. The purpose of Radio Free Shambhala is clear:

Radio Free Shambhala is not affiliated with Shambhala International, a Shambhala Buddhist church. It has arisen because many people, both within and outside that organization, are looking for further means to connect to and to fulfill their inspiration, to think bigger. This is true for those whose emphasis is on the Buddhadharma way and lineage of Chögyam Trungpa, and for those who may or may not be buddhists, who see his Shambhala Vision as a secular/sacred way of meeting this world and society. We hope that the Radio Free Shambhala web site will be one of many vehicles for communicating about this view, its practice, and its action in this world.

The intention of Radio Free Shambhala is simple: to provide an open space for practitioners of Shambhala Vision. We are hosting your voices, but may not necessarily agree with any particular view. We will, however, work with you to protect the genuineness of that open space, through all that we are learning about right speech, decorum, conquering aggression, and action in the world.

If you, who are reading this article, think that this purpose is subversive or sinister, we would like to hear from you. Granted — subversiveness can be sinister. I went again to the OED for the definition. Subversive means “seeking or intended to subvert an established system or institution.” We have no such intention. There are plenty of obvious examples of subversive activity. The first one that comes to my mind is the CIA, which has organized and carried out numerous plots to overthrow legitimate, democratically elected governments. 

I hope that by this time I have made my point. There is no need to address all of the accusations made in this e-mail. What strikes me most about the language is the fear that lurks behind it. 

Radio Free Shambhala is threatening to Nick Wright and to others, but so far, none of our critics has used the word “fear.” No one has said: “I am afraid of what you are doing,” although Nick Wright has called us “dangerous.” The fear, I think, may be twofold: the continuation of the legacy of  Chögyam Trungpa is being undermined, and Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche and his teachings are under attack. These two go together, because loyalty to the Druk Sakyong is often interpreted as automatic loyalty to the current Sakyong. Loyalty in this sense is a huge subject that I would like to see as the basis for another RFS article. 

It is important to surface the subject of fear because, I believe, it lies at the bottom of most of the criticism of the RFS web site and the efforts to create a CTR Delek in Halifax. As we all know, fear provokes a variety of responses. At the most basic, physiological level, fear triggers fight or flight or freeze, and I believe this is at the root of the anger that RFS has provoked.  Two responses to my article Navigating the Labyrinth are useful in understanding the controversy — including the fear —that my article, and RFS in general, have generated. It is noteworthy that this exchange is between two second-generation sangha members. Nyima Wimberly wrote:

I still find it hard to believe that there is this hateful contingent of sad, bitter students who are so driven to twist anything Shambhala into an evil act. Can you see yourselves becoming zealots?

Andrew Speraw responded: 

Why does it have to be either the Sakyong is ‘up to no good’ or people who question are ‘up to no good’? Why do we undervalue the process of debate? Is there really something to be afraid of or something that we need to protect against? Is it really necessary to bring things to that painful point? In an enlightened society there is a place for both questioning and devotion. We need to learn how to open our hearts to those who both agree and disagree with our views. Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche did not promote blind faith and I think you need to respect the process of questioning that some people are going through. They may or may not become students of the Sakyong and that is OK. Trying to silence those who hold different views will only result in further division.

To end this commentary, I ask that those who are upset and angry with RFS, and those who have been supportive of the view of RFS, open their hearts and listen to what Andrew Speraw is saying. Loyalty is not dogmatism; questioning what the Sakyong is doing is not subversive; wanting to meet outside the umbrella of the organization is not factionalism. 

And I ask that all of us be more open to really listening to each other with open hearts. Just listen. We all have something to say that is worth hearing.

Navigating the Labyrinth, Part 1

October 23, 2008

Understanding Shambhala International’s Financial Arrangements

There is much that is unclear about how money is gathered in and distributed in the Sakyong’s world, particularly with the recent introduction of new entities such as Kalapa, Kalapa Group, and the Sakyong Foundation. My interest is in understanding how money operates at the center of the mandala, and how financial support for the Sakyong is provided.

This is a long article. In order to make it easier for readers to digest, it has been divided in two parts. This is Part 1. Click Part 2 to get to the second part. Look for a preview of Part 2 at the end of this page

Part 1

For a long time I have been curious about, and confused by, some of the many announcements that appear in my e-mail inbox from Shambhala News Service. In particular, I have been puzzled by the workings of money in Shambhala International: where it comes from, through what channels it flows, and where it goes. The purpose of this article is to shed some light on the complex and often confusing entities that, taken together, serve to provide the money necessary for the Sakyong to teach and for Shambhala International to function. My interest was in understanding how money operates at the center of the mandala, and how financial support for the Sakyong is provided.

Staff and leadership of Shambhala International have been working to make the details of its financial activity more accessible. In 2008 a policy was adopted [PDF] called the Shambhala Policy on Financial Transparency and Integrity.

The crux of this policy is this statement:

As a matter of financial policy, Shambhala is committed to transparency. This means that all members of Shambhala, on whom the mandala’s financial support depends, are invited to receive accurate information, both detailed and summary, about the organization’s finances. Both traditional accounting reports and reports designed to make information easier to understand will be provided.

This new policy is a positive step. At the same time, it isn’t easy to understand the large and complex web of financial structures that make up the Shambhala International mandala, and I found that my questions were starting to multiply. So a few weeks ago I asked Terry Rudderham, Director, Shambhala Office of Finance and Development, Shambhala International, if she was willing to explain the financial structure of Shambhala International to me. The notes from my conversation with Terry became the starting point for this article. I later interviewed Connie Brock, the Chagdzö Kyi Khyap. Portions of that interview will follow in Part II of this article.

The Sakyong Foundation, The Kalapa Group, and Kalapa

Over the past two and a half years, three new legal and financial entities have been founded: The Sakyong Foundation, the Kalapa Group, and Kalapa. (All three are incorporated in the State of Colorado.) I also wanted to learn what I could about these new entities. I soon learned that gaining that knowledge would not be so easy.

I was also curious to know how the Sakyong Foundation, the Kalapa Group, and Kalapa were financially related to Shambhala International. And I was particularly curious about the Sakyong’s role in all of this since he is at the center of the mandala. In spatial and symbolic terms, the center of the mandala is the Kalapa Court. I wanted to know what portion of the Sakyong’s income and expenses are reported to dues-paying members on the Shambhala International website, and what parts of his income and expenses (if any) lie outside of this reporting.

I wanted to learn to what extent the Sakyong makes the major decisions regarding how money is spent, and to whom within the mandala he might be accountable for financial decisions and spending.

Core Services and Sakyong Support

The administrative center of the mandala is described on the Shambhala International website:

The term ‘Core Services and Sakyong Support’ indicates those services provided by Shambhala to its centres, groups and members. Included in Core Services is Sakyong Support, Office of the President, Council of the Acharyas, The Dorje Kasung,The Shambhala Office of Practice and Education,  The Shambhala Office of Finance & Development, International Affairs, Communications, Administration (legal, insurance), Governance (Sakyong’s Council and Mandala Council, Congresses), Kalapa Valley and IT Service.

Terry Rudderham is a member of Shambhala International’s Core Services and Sakyong Support staff, and our conversation focused on that portion of what is in fact a very large and very complicated mix of interwoven financial (and legal) structures that span much of the world. The scope of this article does not include the practice centers, the Shambhala Centers, Shambhala Training, etc.

Terry Rudderham: People have been working to make it [financial information for Shambhala International] accessible, transparent and easy to find. Extra staff were added to the Finance & Development office in the late spring. I feel it will be close to a year before the staff has gone through all the training and will be fully functional and be able to produce reports in a timely fashion.

Barbara Blouin: Who at Shambhala International is higher than you in the chain of command?

Terry: I report to Richard Reoch, and Connie Brock is the Treasurer. [Both Connie and Terry are on the Sakyong’s Council, the Board of Shambhala International].  I’m the working person and Connie is the vision person. I give her details and we work together. Although there is a natural hierarchy, Connie doesn’t have authority over me. But she is in a higher position. Connie is also the Chagdzö Kyi Khyap which translates roughly as Bursar. In this role, which is different from the Treasurer role, she is the person who oversees all of the finances connected with the Sakyong’s activities.

Q: Please tell me about the other financial entities besides Shambhala International: The Sakyong Foundation, Kalapa, and the Kalapa Group.

Terry: The Sakyong Foundation was formed because a number of people have made connections with the Sakyong and want to support some of his activities. Generally, they are not into Buddhism or Shambhala or meditation, but rather, into his other activities, like building peace in the world. In addition, some people connected with SI also give to the Sakyong Foundation because they want their donation to be directed by the Sakyong and not directed by Shambhala International. The Sakyong Foundation has its own board. It doesn’t report to Shambhala International.

Gregg Campbell recently made a second donation to the Sakyong Foundation of $200,000, and it is intended to be used for Shambhala Centers. Thanks to Gregg Campbell’s earlier $250,000 donation to the Sakyong Foundation and another large, anonymous donation, made directly to Shambhala International, the operating debt for Core Services is gone. The other large donation was an anonymous bequest for $950,000 and was also given for Core Services. This donor also left money to other parts of the mandala.

The Kalapa Group is more like a business. It is the holder of the Sakyong’s personal business interests. For example, if the Sakyong writes another book, the income would go to the Kalapa Group, and the Kalapa Group would pay the associated expenses. [ed: I later spoke with Joshua Silberstein, the President of the Kalapa Group. He gave a very different account of the activities of the Kalapa Group.]

Kalapa is not fully defined yet. What I know is as much as anybody knows. Kalapa has a board, called the Kalapa Council. The intention behind Kalapa is to hold ritual instruments that are used for abhishekas, terma texts, and other things for the lineage of Sakyongs. The other purposes for Kalapa are being worked out.

Q: Would it include some of the properties that are part of the mandala?

Terry: It  might include Kalapa Valley and the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya.

Q: Are there any other properties?

Terry: I don’t know. The Sakyong and the leadership are thinking about what needs to be protected for the Lineage of Sakyongs and looking carefully at the effect that might have on Shambhala.

Q: The “Lineage of Sakyongs”? But there isn’t one.

Terry: There are only two Sakyongs so far; there will be more in the future. The Sakyong is trying to look into the future to protect the Lineage of Sakyongs.

Q: Why do they need protection?

Terry: Well, I think that the idea is to protect things that are directly related to the Lineage of Sakyongs. For example if Shambhala International was to be sued at some point it would be good to know that certain things such as terma texts and ritual instruments are protected. Kalapa will not affect the operation of SI.

Q: I’m not sure how many houses the Sakyong owns. [ed: This interview took place before the announcement of the new Kalapa Court in Cologne, Germany.] I know he has one in Boulder, besides the Court  in Halifax, and I have heard he wants to have another house at Shambhala Mountain Center.

Terry: He does want a house at SMC, but the clear priority is to stabilize SMC first.

Q: What is the relationship between the Sakyong’s houses and the Shambhala International budget?

Terry: The budget shows all Core Services expenses and income that are related to the Sakyong — absolutely all of them.

Q: What about the Sakyong’s house in Boulder?

Terry: It isn’t owned by Shambhala International. It is in the category of his personal expenses.

Q: Does the Sakyong have expenses and income that are not shown on the web site?

Terry:  He has personal income and expenses, but I can’t speak to that-in much the same way that I cannot speak to your personal income and expenses and you cannot speak to mine.

Q: Then the Sakyong’s expenses do not affect the finances of Shambhala International?

Terry: No, not directly. I think that there is also an energtic exhange: Shambhala International supports the Sakyong and he supports Shambhala International through activities of the Sakyong Foundation. The recent matching grant for the Shambhala Centres is an example of this.

This interview answered some of my questions and raised a whole host of new ones. I needed to learn more than Terry had told me about the Sakyong Foundation, the Kalapa Group, and Kalapa.

The Sakyong Foundation

According to the Sakyong Foundation web site:

The Sakyong Foundation’s mission is to contribute to the growth and strength of the Sakyong lineage and the Shambhala vision of enlightened society. … The Foundation is organized as a public charity and was formed to provide support to organizations and projects throughout the world whose activities are aligned with our mission. The Foundation is an advocate for the many projects and meditation centers that are under Sakyong Mipham’s direction.

The Sakyong Foundation was incorporated as a charitable foundation in May, 2006. Its board consists of five members: The Sakyong, Jesse Grimes, Alex Halpern, Denny Robertson, and Jeff Waltcher, who has been the Executive Director from the beginning.  He was in various high-level management positions at Shambhala Mountain Center, a beneficiary of the Sakyong Foundation. There was a seven-month overlap between Mr. Waltcher’s employment at Shambhala Mountain Center (May, 2006 to December, 2007), during which he was working for both organizations. This seems to be a conflict of interest, particularly since SMC received over $200,000 from the Foundation during that time.

So far, other grants made by the Foundation have gone to: Shambhala International for partial repayment of a large debt: $250,000 in 2007 and $200,000 in 2008; the Sakyong’s own expenses, known as “parsonage expenses, ” in 2008 ($25,000+); funds for the Dorje Kasung ($75,000), and for Shambhala Centers and practice centers. The Foundation also gave nearly $100,000 for health care in Orissa, India. Although not so named on the Foundation web site, Orissa is the seat of the Sakyong’s father-in-law, Namkha Drimed Rinpoche. It seems logical, then, to conclude that this money is for one of the Sakyong’s father-in-law’s projects. More  information about grants that have been made is available on the Sakyong Foundation web site.

The Foundation appears to have close ties to the Kalapa Group. In 2008:

The Foundation held a fundraiser in Aspen for Surmang and the Sakyong’s other projects in Tibet. Inspired by the Sakyong’s desire to bring the wisdom of Shambhala to conversations about world peace, the Foundation, in partnership with The Kalapa Group, has received a grant to further develop the Living Peace Award (first awarded to His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama in 2006), and a related social networking web site, Viva Peace. In the fall of 2008 the Sakyong, along with Queen Noor [of Jordan] and Rabbi Irwin Kula, will host conversations about peace at four universities. The Sakyong Foundation will be one of the beneficiaries of this speaking tour managed by The Kalapa Group.

The Sakyong Foundation differs from many public foundations in two key respects. First: Most foundations accept funding proposals and make grants to organizations primarily outside of their own sphere of interest. However, in this case, almost all of the money disbursed by the Sakyong Foundation  is returned to Shambhala International, to the Sakyong himself, and to projects of his choosing. In other words, whereas most public foundations look outward, the Sakyong Foundation, on the whole, appears to be supporting internal priorities.

Second: Although the Sakyong Foundation is not a “pass-through foundation” (“a pass-through foundation is a private grantmaking organization that distributes all of the contributions it receives each year [1 www.minnesotagiving.org]) it appears to operate as one. To put it another way: Most of the grants the foundation makes come directly from donors, rather than from the endowment. This allows the foundation to make grants that are quite large in proportion to the small size of its assets. According to the Foundation website: “Since its inception the Sakyong Foundation has received over $2 million in gifts, earned over $300,000 of investment profits, [ed: for a total of $2,300,000] and made grants of over $500,000.” Based on these figures, which are not exact, in its first two years the Foundation, has given approximately 21.7% in grants. This is an unusually high percentage of grants for a foundation with such a small asset base. Gross assets for its first year, reported to the IRS, were only $647,850. Accurate financial information after the end of the first fiscal year is not yet available. While there is nothing wrong with running a foundation in this way, we might wonder about its long-term viability.

The Kalapa Group

I conducted a brief phone interview in September with Joshua Silberstein, President of The Kalapa Group and a student of Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche since 1998. Mr. Silberstein was an Attache and Continuity Kusung from 2004 -2006. He is also the secretary of the recently formed Kalapa Council.

The Kalapa Group, a for-profit organization, was founded in 2006 and is funded by individual investors, whose identity is confidential information. Its two staff members are Silberstein and a web designer. At present the Kalapa Group has two projects: organizing speaking tours for the Sakyong and Viva Peace, a social networking website:

Viva Peace is the collective expression of people living peace in their daily lives. We believe that peace is a real thing and that by celebrating it we can do something more powerful than change the world: we can let what is already there begin to transform it. We were born out of the friendship that blossomed between a Compassionate Businessman , a Tibetan Lama and a world famous DJ. We are not about profit and we are not about religious beliefs. We are simply trying to provide a space where people can share the inspiration to live peace today.

The founders of Viva Peace are the Sakyong, Jerry Murdock (the “Compassionate Businessman” referenced above), and Charissa Saverio, better known as DJ Rap. Viva Peace is primarily a collection of images and short videos that either celebrate peace or show areas in the world where peace needs to be expressed. Silberstein explained that Viva Peace is “not text oriented” because, for the young generation, who relate strongly to such web sites as Facebook and MySpace, images are more powerful than words.

I encourage readers to take a look at the Viva Peace web site so that they can see what  this approach to promoting world peace is about.

In addition to Viva Peace, the second type of activity the Kalapa Group engages in is organizing speaking events and tours for the Sakyong. These events are not sponsored by Shambhala International or directed towards the Shambhala sangha. In the summer of  2007

The Sakyong Jamgon Mipham Rinpoche was invited for the second year to present at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Aspen, Colorado. … Last year [ed: 2006] the Sakyong taught on Ruling Your World, and this year [he] participated in several discussions including a panel on “Compassionate Leadership” with Her Majesty Queen Noor and Rabbi Irwin Kula. [2 Shambhala News Service]

In September, 2008 the Sakyong participated in a speaking tour, once again, with Queen Noor and Rabbi Kula, called Compassionate Leadership: Cultivating the Leaders of Tomorrow. Moderated by  Jerry Murdock, three Compassionate Leadership events took place at New York University, Tufts University, and Goldman Sachs – during the throes of the Wall Street financial crisis.

The Sakyong Group was reluctant to provide me with information about its sources of support, except to say that there are “some investors.” I discovered, however, that the teaching gifts made at  the Sakyong’s personal web site (the “make a teaching gift” requests are featured on several pages) go directly to the Kalapa Group. This might come as a surprise to some who make teaching gifts there.

Who is the “Compassionate Businessman”?

The unnamed supporter of Viva Peace, Jerry Murdock, described on the Viva Peace website as a Compassionate Businessman, has a very visible role in the Sakyong’s activities as well as a major though somewhat hidden role in funding the Sakyong’s activities. Jerry Murdock is a wealthy venture capitalist and serves on the board of several IT companies. He is also a member of the Boards of Trustees of The Santa Fe Institute and The Aspen Institute.

In addition to moderating the three Compassionate Leadership events held in September, 2008, Murdock also moderated a panel discussion called Music, Technology and Community at the 2007 Aspen Ideas Festival, featuring the Sakyong, Charissa Saverio and two other pop musicians. (The 2007 Aspen Ideas Festival also included four talks by Karl Rove, three by Colin Powell, and one by Bill Clinton.)

The minutes of the May 22 meeting of the Sakyong’s Council report that “some of the items on the [Sakyong’s] wish list would be funded by a private benefactor of the Sakyong, Jerry Murdock. Mr. Murdock had offered to pay for the Sakyong’s travel for particular purposes …  and for the positions of executive director of Shambhala [International] and the Sakyong’s chief of staff for a determined number of years.”

Mr. Murdock’s donations are directed to the Sakyong Foundation, which channels them to the Kalapa Group, to help support the Living Peace Award and the Compassionate Leadership speaking tour.

Jerry Murdock seems to represent a new phenomenon in Shambhala, one that Terry Rudderham mentioned when I interviewed her: wealthy benefactors who are not Buddhist but who are inspired by the Sakyong and want to support some of his activities — particularly those that are focused outward, away from the Shambhala International sangha. Are there others like Jerry Murdock who are completely anonymous? If so, and I think it likely that they exist, they remain under deep cover.

This is the end of Part 1.

This diagram attempts to visualize some of the money flows discussed here.






Part 2is about “Kalapa,” which the Sakyong spoke of on Shambhala Day, 2008. He said:



In thinking about the notion of lineage — who we are — I have created a new format, a structure that I’m calling Kalapa. Kalapa will be the storehouse and protector of the Shambhala lineage, and in particular, the lineage of Sakyongs. … I do not hold it lightly, as it’s obviously both a blessing and a burden. … The notion of the lineage of Sakyongs has to continue. It’s the source of spiritual blessing and teaching. It felt important in terms of all the teachings and the artifacts of the Vidyadhara, as well as those that I am continuing to produce, that all those will be safeguarded in Kalapa.

Kalapa has been institutionalized as a legal entity. Its potential power is far-reaching. To learn more, please read Part 2.

Navigating the Labyrinth, Part 2

October 23, 2008


This is Part 2 and a continuation of Navigating the Labyrinth, Part 1.

Shambhala tradition says that Kalapa was the capital of the Kingdom of Shambhala. We know how important that was to the Druk Sakyong and to the Shambhala terma he gave us. The Druk Sakyong also gave the name Kalapa Court to his residence in Boulder to signify that it was the center of the mandala of the Vajradhatu organization. He also gave the name to a remote and beautiful valley in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia — Kalapa Valley, which was later identified by Eva Wong as the energetic center of the entire Shambhala mandala.

Kalapa is now also the name of a nonprofit corporation registered in its articles of incorporation as a “church of the Sakyong lineage” in Colorado in 2007. The original registration was in the name of Kalapa Court, but in 2007 the name change occurred. Since it was turned into a legal entity, Kalapa has acquired new meanings. The Sakyong spelled these out, to some extent, in his Shambhala Day address in February, 2008: 

In thinking about the notion of lineage — who we are — I have created a new format, a structure that I’m calling Kalapa. Kalapa will be the storehouse and protector of the Shambhala lineage, and in particular, the lineage of Sakyongs. … I do not hold it lightly, as it’s obviously both a blessing and a burden. … The notion of the lineage of Sakyongs has to continue. It’s the source of spiritual blessing and teaching. It felt important in terms of all the teachings and the artifacts of the Vidyadhara, as well as those that I am continuing to produce, that all those will be safeguarded in Kalapa. 

The Sakyong’s vision for Kalapa was later described by President Reoch[1] as: 

the structure for the Sakyong to express his direct command and wishes; ensure the preservation of the lineage and teachings of the Sakyongs; provide the container for the lineage succession, seals, texts and properties of the Sakyongs; and disseminate and govern.

From an inner perspective, if by Kalapa we mean the center of Shambhala, it can’t be preserved or protected legally because a mandala is not an entity that is recognized by the laws of the United States. Neither can spiritual lineages or the buddhadharma or the Shambhala teachings be protected by legal means.

What Kalapa, the nonprofit corporation, is meant to protect according to the Sakyong’s wish and command is tangible things, such as terma texts, copyrights, practice implements, and quite possibly also property — in particular, the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya and Kalapa Valley. 

What, exactly, does it mean when the Sakyong says that the purpose of Kalapa is to be the storehouse and protector of the Shambhala lineage, and in particular, the lineage of Sakyongs?

I had hoped that a careful reading of minutes from recent Sakyong Council meetings would shed light on my questions. Minutes of these meetings are available to dues-paying members on the Shambhala International website. However, what I read left me more puzzled than informed. First, from the May 22 meeting:

Confusion was expressed around the category of items on the wish list which were labeled as “Lineage items” and which would be receiving funding from “Kalapa patrons”. Connie [Brock] was asked to explain the relationship between the Shambhala budget/funding and these other expenses/funding. Connie explained that the current process of establishing financial priorities and budget for Shambhala was happening alongside a process of considering a budget for the newly forming “Kalapa”. [some words seem to have been omitted here] The process [is?] underway [words missing] Kalapa is currently trying to determine which of the Sakyong’s expenses would belong in which category (personal, official). Finance and legal affairs would meet to consider the draft legal document for Kalapa and the draft budget for Kalapa in the near future. Connie clarified that the two budgets — Shambhala and Kalapa — would remain separate and would be reported separately. … Kalapa will have its own funding sources … The Sakyong had himself determined the prioritization of the Lineage items.

In case readers are confused by the meaning and possible consequences of these minutes, I am just as confused as you might be. 

There is more on the subject in the minutes for the following meeting (June 5, 2008):

Further clarification was requested on the items on the list [the wish list referred to earlier in the minutes] which were indicated to be funded by “Kalapa Patrons.” Connie [Brock] explained that these were items which would not need to be funded through the Shambhala budget, because there were patrons of Kalapa who had pledged money or who would be asked to pledge to fund these items. She clarified that those items listed in the Kalapa Budget were not being put forward for approval by the Sakyong’s Council, because they were the responsibility of the Sakyong and the Kalapa Budget. However, those items funded by Kalapa Patrons and listed under the Shambhala Budget would require consideration and approval by the Sakyong’s Council (such as the Executive Director position). 

In an e-mail on 2008/9/27 I asked Terry Rudderham about some questions that arose from reading these minutes. I have rearranged our e-mails so that Terry’s responses follow my questions. 

Question: I read the minutes of the Sakyong’s Council meeting on June 5, this year. You were “there,” in phone space [meetings are accomplished by conference calls]. Can you tell me:

1. What are Kalapa Patrons?

Terry: Kalapa Patrons are sangha donors that take an oath to actively embrace generosity as their path of practice, and commit to making large monetary gifts whenever possible. Often times, but not always, these are gifts that support the activities of the Sakyong. i.e. A patron may pay for Rinpoche to go on a retreat in India if there are not sufficient funds in the Shambhala budget to support this activity.

2. What is the Kalapa Budget?

Terry: When the organization Kalapa is formed, it will have a budget. Much of the funding for that budget will come from Kalapa Patrons. 

3. How do each of these relate to the budget of Core Services and Sakyong Support?

Terry: At this point it is still being contemplated what elements will be covered by the Kalapa Budget. What are currently known as Core Services will likely remain the same, covering the Shambhala Office of Practice and Education, the Shambhala Office of Finance and Development and similar functions that provide support services to the Shambhala Centres and members. Some aspects of the current budget for Sakyong Support would likely be reclassified as part of the Kalapa Budget, but this is still being contemplated and worked on.

Kalapa has a board called the Kalapa Council and they will have the responsibility of making decisions for Kalapa. The Sakyong’s Council is the board for Shambhala and their decision making will be focused on Shambhala. While they will not be involved in the day-to-day matters of Kalapa, they will be involved in matters that interrelate.

After reading Terry Rudderham’s e-mail, I contacted Connie Brock to ask for an interview, which she graciously gave. Connie is Chagdzo Kyi Khyap, which means Bursar General. Connie explained: “The Sakyong asked me to serve as a coordinator of finances across his mandala. There’s a function loosely referred to as the Treasury, which  includes all the entities at the inner court level, and it also includes the new entities you referred to [Kalapa, the Sakyong Foundation, and the Kalapa Group].”

Connie Brock is a key person in the mandala. In addition to sitting on the Sakyong’s Council and the recently formed Kalapa Council, she is a board member of the Sakyong Foundation, a core member of the Shambhala Trust (a separate organization), and the Finance Director of the Minneapolis Shambhala Center. 

The following are portions of my interview with Connie Brock.

Question: What is the role of the Kalapa Council?

Connie: Part of our responsibility is  to work through exactly what all this means, how Kalapa should be legally set up to take the Sakyong’s idea of Kalapa forward. So we’re working with that over the next couple of months, and hopefully by the end of the year we’ll have a clear recommendation for the Sakyong about how to move forward.

Q: In terms of governance, will Kalapa and the Sakyong’s Council  be at a level that could be described as parallel and equal? Or will one have a higher authority than the other? 

Connie:  I think from a governance point of view the way we’ve been describing it is more like nested oryoki bowls. You have the Sakyong as the inner bowl, then you have the Kalapa Council, and the next bowl is the Sakyong’s Council, and the next bowl is the Mandala Council. And then you have the Congresses. And they’re nested in the sense that every member of the Kalapa Council is on the Sakyong’s Council, and every member of the Sakyong’s Council is on the Mandala Council. Each bowl is bigger, but each bowl contains the previous one. The value of that is that it creates integration, and it probably looks more like a mandala than what we might think of as traditional organizational structures. 

Q: So it’s not a question of hierarchy?

Connie: No, I don’t think so. It’s a matter of each bowl having its purpose. So, for example, the kinds of questions that Kalapa Council looks at are ones that are beyond the scope of the Sakyong’s Council, typically because the Kalapa Council crosses church, state and military (Kasung).

Q: On Shambhala Day, the Sakyong said that “it felt important in terms of all the teachings and the artifacts of the Vidyadhara, as well as those that I am continuing to produce, that all those will be safeguarded in Kalapa.” What, exactly, will Kalapa contain and protect? Would it include Kalapa Valley and the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya? 

Connie: Whether or not it makes sense to put property in Kalapa is still very much an open question. But what is quite clear is this notion of maintaining what you might call the key lineage assets: the terma, the copyrights, et cetera, as well as the ritual objects.

Part of this arose out of the fact that, when the Vidyadhara died, there had been no legal arrangements for any of this, so much of the copyrights went to Lady Diana, because she was his widow. And obviously the intent is that these be carried by the lineage. President Reoch spoke about that: that Lady Diana very much supports this idea, and does want to be able to transfer the copyrights to Kalapa as a lineage institution, so that they are carried from Sakyong to Sakyong. So that’s obviously a very key point. Because we’re considering the possibility of transferring assets, like Kalapa Valley or the Stupa, then there are a couple of ways you could structure things legally. For example, you can set up a trust to hold properties, or it could be through Kalapa as a church. Those questions are still open. It’s a bit complicated legally because whatever we set up, we want it to work for both scenarios: whether it’s just lineage objects and service marks, et cetera, or whether it’s also property. 

Q: When Kalapa has its own funds, what will they be used for?

Connie: The Kalapa Budget will probably house a couple of things. For example, the Court staff, which includes two continuity kusung for the Sakyong, one continuity kusung and an attendant for the Sakyong Wangmo, and support for the machen (cook) services. There’s a core of volunteers who can provide those machen services, but you can’t always get one in the right place and the right time. So there’s a budget of maybe $12,000 so the machen can be flown around where they might be needed to fill in. So those relatively modest salaries and related expenses, like cell phones, are probably going to be housed in Kalapa. And because the Sakyong Wangmo now often accompanies the Sakyong when he’s out teaching, the cost of travel for the whole party has basically doubled, and it’s too much for local centers to pay. So we are creating a travel subsidy, where maybe as much as fifty percent of travel expenses will be covered by Kalapa.

At this point the subject of the interview shifted course and began to include a broader subject: the transfer of both money and expenses from one legal entity to another. 

Q: Where will the funds for the Kalapa Budget come from?

Connie: There is already a chunk of funding that will come from the Sakyong Foundation. 

Q: Is that the part that is designated for “parsonage expenses”? 

Connie: No. These parsonage expenses come from people who make annual donations to help pay for the Boulder residence—mortgage, taxes, utilities, and insurance—so that the Sakyong can actually be in residence in Boulder. Right now, donations for the house in Boulder flow through Shambhala International. At this point we’re thinking it would make more sense to move those donations and the parsonage expenses to Kalapa. It’s a different situation than in Canada, where Shambhala International actually owns the Court and pays the mortgage and other expenses. The Boulder house is  owned by the Sakyong personally. [ed: It was recently announced that a donor in Cologne, Germany has purchased an apartment that will become a Kalapa Court for Europe. In this case, the Court is owned by the donor.] 

Q: Will some of the income that now goes to Shambhala International be redirected to Kalapa? 

Connie: None of the revenue would be redirected, but the expense that would be moved is the personal staff: the continuity kusung, the machen services, the Sakyong Wangmo’s personal attendant, and some travel, as I explained. As well, the Sakyong Foundation is able to provide a small stipend of about $36,000 a year to support the Sakyong.  That also will come to Kalapa to help cover expenses. So, because I want to be very clear, we’re moving expenses from Core Services to Kalapa, but we’re not moving any revenue, other than the parsonage allowance.  The other revenue to Shambhala International—transfers from centers and individual donations—still goes to cover Core Services, the Court in Halifax, et cetera. 

The Sakyong’s Private Finances

Q: Does the Sakyong have an income independent of Shambhala International? 

Connie: He does have other income. What Shambhala International provides him is a fairly modest salary. Of course, we also provide the residence in Halifax, and we cover some travel and various expenses. He also has direct personal income from teaching gifts and from fairly modest book royalty income. 

Q: Where is that income housed?

Connie: It’s his personal finances and goes into his personal accounts. These accounts cover his personal and family expenses, as well as his charitable donations. 

The Path of the Patron

In addition to the three new legal entities that have arisen in the past two and a half years, the Sakyong has also created a new type of dharma program, called The Path of the Patron. The first of these programs, which are private (by invitation only) though not secret, took place this summer at Shambhala Mountain Center. What I learned about this program explains the origin of a new category of financial supporters for the Sakyong and his projects: the Kalapa Patron, which Terry Rudderham and Connie Brock have explained. 

In May, President Reoch sent letters to an unknown number of individuals inviting them to attend the program. He wrote:

The Sakyong said that he would like to gather a number of the major benefactors of the mandala together to give teachings on the role that the patron has played historically in the development of the buddhadharma and its communities, the path of the patron as a major element of the Buddhist path altogether and how to go forward with “clarifying, delineating and enhancing” that path. He will develop a new practice for patrons, reflecting our distinctive Shambhala Buddhist inheritance, and offer that at the program.

I asked Rinpoche what sort of offering he thought might be appropriate in appreciation of his teaching and this initiation of the practice. He said he thought it might be appropriate for us to make an offering towards the forthcomng Sakyong Wangmo Empowerment.

Yours in the radiant vision of Shambhala,

Richard Reoch 

I have been able to learn some details about this event from a sangha member who was present. He sent me an e-mail in which he described his experience: 

There was an evening social and dinner on a Friday night. The next day, there was morning practice, and a passionate and candid discussion among attendees that spontaneously focused on the financial sustainability of Shambhala Mountain Center.  

In the afternoon, we were joined by the Sakyong. He spoke about his reasons for wanting to gather donors. In particular, he explained that working with wealth was one way of supporting the mandala. [In Tibet] the patron was considered an indispensable condition for the presentation of dharma. Traditionally, there was a seat at monastery events for the main patron. Patrons are often acknowledged in traditional aspirational chants, as do some of our feast liturgies. So he wanted to recognize the patron principle as a seat and a practice within the mandala.

The Sakyong offered a preliminary draft of a practice he wrote for this gathering. He gave a lung and we did the practice together for a short while. He then offered a vow which was taken by approximately 11 of the 24 people in attendance. The vow was a promise to practice generosity. Finally, he offered a pin for the occasion. 

It is my understanding that following this pilot, the Sakyong plans to offer similar programs at major practice centers next year. 


Comments by Author

What I learned, what I was unable to learn, a few generalizations, and many questions

It is difficult to know what to say about what I learned without straying into conjecture. What is clear is that the Sakyong and his closest advisors have been very active in the past two-and-a-half years, creating three new legal entities for receiving and spending funds, and a new type of dharma program, called The Path of the Patron. 

The financial and legal landscape of Shambhala has changed markedly since these new entities came into being. As long as Shambhala International (under its various legal names) was the only game in town, financial and legal transactions were relatively straightforward. Now, however, there are complex financial, and in some cases legal, relationships between Shambhala International and the new entities. 


If it was possible to measure the success of the transparency policy by looking at the finances of Shambhala International alone, without adding in the new legal entities and the Sakyong’s personal finances, I would be satisfied that Shambhala International is doing what it says it is doing.

However,  the question of transparency becomes more complicated and much less clear when applied to the new legal entities created by the Sakyong.

About Kapala, I asked Connie Brock (after the interview) whether the minutes of the Kalapa Council would be posted on the Shambhala International web site. Her response was: “The Kalapa Council has had only one meeting and one conference call so far and has not worked out its procedures. It does not yet have a webpage, for example. So it is too early to say exactly how we will function, keep a record of meetings or share those with others. We will be working all that out as we get underway.”

When I asked for financial information from The Kalapa Group, I hit a wall. I asked Joshua Silberstein for a statement of revenue and expenses for the most recent fiscal year. His reply: “Unlike the Sakyong Foundation and Shambhala, where due to their structures they have a responsibility to publicly file information, the Kalapa Group is a privately held corporation. We reserve the right to not share these details.”  This response makes it clear that the Kalapa Group is not only the least transparent of the three new entities, it is basically opaque

The Sakyong Foundation is more transparent than the Kalapa Group, but there is definitely room for improvement. The web site offers financial information (although in rounded numbers), but so far there has been no annual financial statement. I asked  foundation staff for a financial statement for the most recent year and received this reply: “To date, we have not published a formal annual report but hope to do so in the near future.” Most public foundations provide annual reports to their supporters and the public, providing names of grant recipients, the amounts of grants made, and expenses such as staff, office expenses, fundraising, and so on. These reports typically include at least one audited financial statement. The Sakyong Foundation is still young, and it is my hope that in the future it will become more transparent. 

Accountability and Kalapa

Kalapa is another area where many questions remain. When I asked Connie Brock about the relationship between the Kalapa Council and the Sakyong’s Council, which functions as the board of directors for Shambhala International, she described the three councils (including the Mandala Council) as a series of nested oryoki bowls, with the Sakyong at the center. She explained that it was not a hierarchical relationship. I find this assertion somewhat hard to believe because the Sakyong is the monarch of Shambhala International, and monarchies are hierarchical, top-down structures. As the monarch of Shambhala International, is the Sakyong really accountable to the other members of the Kalapa Council? Or are they there to carry out his “wishes and commands”?   

To whom is the Kalapa Council accountable?  Should the Kalapa Council be held accountable to the sangha? This is a difficult and tricky subject because the Sakyong is a monarch, (as was the Druk Sakyong) and, with the exception of constitutional monarchies, accountability is not required, or even expected, of monarchs. 

Other questions about Kalapa point in a different direction — toward the question of the Sakyong’s leadership and how it has evolved. Why does the Sakyong now believe that it was necessary to create a legal entity in order to protect the teachings (including their copyrights) of the Druk Sakyong, as well as his ritual objects, terma texts, and — though contemplated, still undecided — Kalapa Valley and The Great Stupa of Dharmakaya? Is this legal form of protection really necessary? Is Shambhala International really not capable of providing this level of protection?

Command and Protect

It becomes important to understand the notions of “protection” and “command” as they apply to the formation of Kalapa. According to the August 12, 2008 Shambhala News Service, “The Sakyong’s vision for Kalapa was described by President Reoch as the structure for the Sakyong to express his direct command and wishes. ” What do command and protection mean here? And what was their original meaning, as set out by the Druk Sakyong in his intensely personal work with his students over a period of many years?

For the Druk Sakyong, command was all about a back-and-forth relationship between the guru and his students, in this case, the Kasung. According to James Gimian in his introduction to True Command: The Teachings of the Dorje Kasung, Volume I:

The Dorje Dradul insisted on a phase between issuing a command and the execution of that command within the Dorje Kasung. He called this the “yogurt” phase. This is the formative time for a practitioner to consider the truth and accuracy of the command he or she receives, to test it personally, to integrate it and thereby make it genuinely one’s own, or not.[2] 

The origin of the word kasung is interesting. “’Ka’ has the sense of command, as in the exhortation to be awake, and thus takes on the meaning of the dharma or what is true altogether.”[3]

So command is used in the sense of “ka”, lineage transmission, utterance of truth. There is also the sense of “ka” as alpha-pure, so kasung is protecting the brilliant primordial purity, the essence. Ka-gyu is continuity of that. It does not mean the power of a commander of a conventional military to tell his subordinates to carry out his orders. Between the Druk Sakyong and his students there was two-way communication. 

About protection, the second part of the word kasung, sung, means “protector,” and “the overall meaning of Dorje Kasung is ‘the indestructible protector of the dharma.’”[4] The Druk Sakyong said, in an address to the Kasung in 1978: “The military is closely linked with the notion of protection, which means cutting through any neurosis that comes up with the community, as well as outside the community.”[5]

In light of these statements, can we have confidence that the Sakyong correctly understands, and is using, command and protection in the way the Druk Sakyong intended them to be used? I’m not sure what the Sakyong means by “command,” but the way the word was used in the Shambhala News Service announcement leads me to believe that it refers to a one-way communication from the monarch. If this is true, then command has lost the meaning it had when the Druk Sakyong used this word.

As for protection, there is a clear shift in emphasis. By creating Kalapa, the Sakyong has set up a legal and financial structure designed to contain the ritual objects, the copyrights legally held since the Druk Sakyong’s death by Lady Diana Mukpo, the terma texts, and quite possibly also Kalapa Valley and The Great Stupa of Dharmakaya. 

Why does the Sakyong feel the need to protect these things in this way? Why is what is now in place no longer sufficient?

Concentration of Power and Money at the Top

Does establishing Kalapa as a legal entity give the Sakyong increased control and ownership of what has traditionally been held by Shambhala International, which is accountable to the sangha? Is the net effect of the creation of Kalapa (and the Kalapa Council), as well as the Sakyong Foundation and the Kalapa Group, to concentrate power in the person and position of the Sakyong, and to diminish the power of sangha, as represented by the Sakyong’s Council, the Mandala Council, and the staff of Shambhala International? Are these new entities accountable to the board of Shambhala International (Sakyong’s Council)?  So far, from what I was able to learn, there appears to be communication and cooperation between the Kalapa Council and the Sakyong’s Council. As Connie Brock explained, all members of the Kalapa Council sit on the Sakyong’s Council. The Sakyong Foundation, so far, transfers most of the donations it receives either to Shambhala International or directly to the Sakyong. In 2009 it will begin to transfer money to Kalapa. It remains unknown whether statements of revenues and expenses of Kalapa (the Kalapa Budget) will be made available to sangha. As for the Kalapa Group, it is clear from Joshua Silberstein’s response to  my query that this corporation is accountable only to the Sakyong: “The Kalapa Group is a privately held corporation. We reserve the right not to share these details.”

All three of these entities are, then, accountable directly to the Sakyong. Although two have  boards (the Kalapa Group does not), I do not know whether they are accountable to anyone other than the Sakyong. 

The existence of three entities that are accountable, so far as I know, only to the Sakyong also changes the balance of power in the Shambhala mandala. It is obvious that more money is now in his control, and some of that money (housed at the Kalapa Group) is completely unknowable. We also know that the Sakyong has at least one, and probably more than one, private major benefactor outside the sangha. So how much money does the Sakyong now have in his control? That we will probably never know. 

It looks like these new structures will further empower the Sakyong to pursue his wishes and  commands as he sees fit. Whether this is a positive or a negative shift depends entirely on the perspective of the observer. From the perspective of this observer, this concentration of power makes me very nervous.


Money flows diagramThis diagram attempts to visualize some of the money flows discussed here.






[1] From the Shambhala News Service post of 2008/08/12, Sakyong appoints Kalapa Council.
[2] True Command, Trident Publications, Halifax, 2004, page xxxix
[3] Ibid, page xix
[4] Ibid, page xix
[5] Ibid, p. 45

Namkha Drimed in Shambhala International

July 28, 2008

Since the Sakyong’s marriage in 2006, Namkha Drimed, Rinpoche, the Sakyong’s father-in-law, has been handed a major role in Shambhala International — giving empowerments and teachings in North America and Europe. This short article takes a look at Namkha Drimed and some possible outcomes of his dharma activity in our mandala.