Shambhala and the Kagyu Lineage

January 21, 2009

Commentary by Jim Wilton

The Sakyong’s activity is clearly focused these days on developing the Shambhala path through to the practices of the Scorpion Seal retreat.  Since my practice has been almost entirely focused on Kagyu Buddhist practice in recent years — I feel somewhat left behind.  For example, the Sakyong’s retreats starting this year will no longer have a “track” for Vajrayogini practice.  So my choice is to join Werma practice or not to participate.  For me, it will probably be a few years before I can circle back and fully engage with Werma practice and the Scorpion Seal path.

I don’t view the Sakyong’s approach as a move away from Kagyu Buddhist practices as much as a move toward Shambhala practices — recognizing that we are the sole holders of Shambhala terma and that time is short.  I write this because I was recently reading Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche’s autobiography Blazing Splendor and found a similar tension expressed regarding Rinpoche’s Barom Kagyu lineage and his unquestioned primary focus on propagation of Chökyur Lingpa’s New Treasures terma.  Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche expresses some regret and wistfulness in acknowledging that his lineage’s one pointed focus on the New Treasures has resulted in a lack of attention to traditional Barom Kagyu practices (other than certain protector practices).

This experience seems to me to be in some way similar to the situation in our mandala.  I know that there are practitioners who regret both the connection of Shambhala and Buddhism as concepts and the perceived neglect of the Kagyu Buddhist lineage — which in CTR’s vision was passed to VROT as lineage holder.  And perhaps Kagyu practices will become an “advanced” practice in our mandala for old students.  This in some sense is a shame because CTR’s extraordinary teachings on Vajrayogini and the excellent annotated sadhanas that we use for Kagyu yidam practices are currently unavailable to other Kagyu sanghas and increasingly will be underutilized in our sangha.  I don’t think that we are yet at the point where we are neglecting Kagyu practices (although I expect our feasts may have sparser attendance as newer practioners defer practice of Kagyu ngondro in favor of the Shambhala path).

However, it would be a greater tragedy to fail to fully transmit the Shambhala terma.  These are my mixed feelings.  I don’t know if others have thoughts about this.  I’d be interested in hearing them.


Jim Wilton is member of the Boston Shambhala Center since 1986.  He lives in Newton, Massachusetts with his wife Erika and son Nick.