December 4, 2011
by Mark Szpakowski
An ongoing question for various types of Buddhists, especially those who have been in a relationship with someone they consider “enlightened”, is how to carry on in the absence of such an individual. This certainly affects the Vajrayana students of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, with whom they were in a student/master relationship, and whom they considered the authoritative center of an enlightened mandala.
Trungpa Rinpoche’s first teachings on mandala referred to it as society. It is not surprising, then, that the Shambhala  students of Trungpa’s secular manifestation as Shambhala King feel the same issue: if you had some glimpse, through his leadership, of what an enlightened society could be, how can you carry on and realize that vision in the absence of such a figure? Is enlightened society possible without an enlightened leader?
In both cases these are profound and edgy questions, and also deeply disturbing to those for whom democracy is the best answer yet to the question of how to govern.
One venue where this has been explored, whether willingly, wittingly, or not, has been at the Alia Institute. Alia – Authentic Leadership in Action – originally the Shambhala Institute for Authentic Leadership, was founded by a group of the Shambhala students of Chögyam Trungpa, who felt that the vision of a society that acknowledges and embodies both the secular and the sacred – beyond religious affiliations, including Buddhism – was worth realizing. The Institute welcomed those who, in technical Shambhala vocabulary, were warriors: those with a strong personal discipline of awareness, openness, and care, without aggression. Beyond welcoming, the Institute discovered such individuals already out there, who also welcomed the Institute back into their own spaces. Over the course of a decade, the Institute grew to not just include, but also to be coming from these individuals and their particular roots. Program after program, the participants built and held a container which felt open yet precise, not ignoring but kind, to the point yet playful. This was done as a cyclically recurring, and somewhat nomadic, community, with several programs a year, many in Nova Scotia, but also throughout the world.
The Open Dojo is one term that has emerged from this. It refers to a space of group practice that does not belong to anyone. It is no man’s land (to use a phrase Trungpa used in this context). It is a practice ground of listening, communicating, and acting. At the same time it is uncompromising, not swayed by wishful thinking and the sly fudging of ego. It is authentic – and its source and guardian is not one central figure, but a community of diverse practitioners. The Dojo is a container for practicing the way. The amazing thing is that it is possible for people, coming from various contemplative and leadership traditions, to recognize each other, and to recognize ground cultivated and allowed by them individually and collectively, held without ownership. This is a challenge – including and especially for those who feel they are holders of an authentic practice DNA that needs protection.
From this point of view, the Open Dojo is the heart of enlightened society. This is true for those who experienced that possibility through the presence of what seemed to be an enlightened being manifesting as leader. It is also true for those who never had such an experience, and may not believe it is possible or desirable, but who nevertheless have aspiration for and experience of Open Dojo.
Does that mean that the idea of a society ruled by a monarch – who, classically, joins heaven, earth, and man – is passé? Looking around us, we certainly see lots of anti-open-dojo patterns in a parade of dictators, kings, powerful individuals and their family dynasties, not to mention elected rulers. But that suggests something further.
How is it that so many smart, tough people in a two decade span late in the 20th century were willing to see Chögyam Trungpa as an enlightened leader? Sudden rememberance: because that person embodied the Open Dojo. He was embodiment of no man’s land: he lived the space where any trace of pretence and ego was obvious, and could not survive. If you thought you knew him, you quickly learned different. This is a scary, yet magnetic, place. Unblinking, yet nakedly genuine – and also attentive and kind.
It comes down to the same thing. At the heart of enlightened society is the Open Dojo, whether held by the group or embodied and held in a single individual. If the erstwhile ruler is not an Open Dojo, the people sense that, and ultimately he or she can neither command nor rule. The inner and personal space of the ruler must itself be no man’s land. To re-coin an old phrase, no man’s land and king are one.
It goes further, of course, because individuals must also hold themselves that way: otherwise, they cannot recognize the presence or absence of the Open Dojo. Before you can consider an external king, you must be king of yourself . And to recognize open space that is genuine yet not owned by any one individual – a group Dojo – you have to a) recognize such spark in yourself, b) recognize it in others, and c) gradually realize that it is b) more than a) that is the path and the goal.
Something interesting opens up here: if the citizens or subjects are not themselves kings and queens of themselves, then even with the most enlightened leader the vision of an enlightened society will not be realized. We cannot get away from it – it is our ground that must be first cultivated and realized in its own open nature.
The Open Dojo is not mythical. It is not the extraordinary of long ago fable or Hollywood movie. It is the extraordinary of the ordinary, whether at an Alia Institute gathering, or at – can we dare – an Occupy the Future gathering, or your next get together. It is necessary for monarchy as well as socialism as well as democracy. It is more essential than any of those forms, because it is the heart of their success, if any.
A final note, in Buddhist language: In 1968 Chögyam Trungpa gave a talk in which he said that Maitreya, the buddha of the future, would not be an individual, but society. For both the religious buddhist, looking up to a “master”, and the secular enlightened society advocate, yearning for enlightened leadership, this is provocative. It says something about how we think, and hints how future society can shape itself.
 I am using the term “Shambhala” here in the way Chögyam Trungpa used it, pointing to the idea of an enlightened society that brings together both secular and sacred outlook, inclusive of but not dependent on any one religious tradition. This is not to be confused with “Shambhala Buddhism”, in which Shambhala teachings distinguish a particular form of Buddhism. For an excellent concise summary of Trungpa’s Shambhala vision, see the just published article Ocean of Dharma, Shambhala Sun (January, 2012]).
November 27, 2011
Thomas Merton and Chögyam Trungpa: a dialogue and collaboration continued.
April 4, 2011
Chewyguru’s (Gesar Mukpo’s) slide/music collage tribute to his perfect teacher and dad, on the anniversary of the death of Chögyam Trungap, Rinpoche.
October 28, 2010
I think this gap was good to have, and to be in. And it continues in the question of what RFS, the Radio Free Shambhala website and community, is about, and of how it manifests that intention day by day, activity by activity.
One area to consider is the tone of articles and comments, which really is a matter of decorum. As the late Beverley Webster, who compiled the Shambhala Decorum Manual, says:
Shambhala Decorum is not to be regarded as a rigid set of rules or fixed code of behaviour, but as a flexible system of signs, symbols and signals, ceremonies and social gestures, in a continual process of adapting itself to the evolving needs of our evolving society.
There are two problem areas with comments:
- Toxic comments. These use inflammatory or aggressive language. They are somewhat easy to spot: I notice a physical reaction in my body when I encounter such comments. It’s clear that strong language can come from the author’s personal pain, or their meeting a sharp edge of perceived truth. We do not want to blunt experiencing the sharp edges, or deny the energy that arises at that point. However, what you do further with that, which includes _how_ you express it, is very much your doing, your creation of further karma, and your responsibility, and this affects others. “I hurt” is an important communication to make. This can be stated forthrightly. Bringing drama and sharp pointy gestures into the mix is unnecessary and, often, aggressive.
- Lengthy, multiple, and off-topic comments. Often these end up bouncing back and forth among just a few commenting regulars. They constrict the quality of the space, and drive out other people. There is ignoring the quality of the common space, and there is ignoring one’s personal space and its awake openness, which allows subconscious voices to eek out. Such comments often have good nuggets buried within them, but these get lost in the noise. When writing a comment, include the context: “am I dominating the space?”, or “am I using this topic in order to further my own new topic?”
Both of these problem areas call for us to manifest, moment by moment and in detail, the “enlightened society” we talk about. The medium really is the message: if we don’t talk about such a society in a sane and considerate manner, there’s little likelihood of actually manifesting it.
Critical Articles and Forward-Looking Articles
There will probably always be a need for critical, discriminating articles, such as regarding the setup of Shambhala International and its relationship to Chögyam Trungpa’s Shambhala Vision and to the greater Chögyam Trungpa sangha. However, what we are about is manifesting this vision, which includes supporting the emergence, community, practice, and study of the Vidyadhara’s sangha.
So this is one focus area for RFS: to provide resources on practice and study, meditation instructors and teachers, and sangha and programs.
We will tighten the commenting guidelines and software regarding length and frequency of commenting, and also explore moderating comments. Moderation basically means that comments go into a queue, and are only actually published when okayed by a moderator. This has upsides, but also significant downsides, including the time commitments required of moderators. It also calls for more explicit “right speech” guidelines that both commenters and moderators can refer to.
As part of a site redesign and refocus, we will be adding some new functionality, including groups and discussion forums. Joining groups and discussions will require registering with the site, and providing a verified email address.
Comments on this article are welcome: respect the floor as you take it.
Several more articles will appear in the next little while. We are particularly interested in contributions regarding study and practice resources, and ways that the Shambhala vision of Chögyam Trungpa can be found and shared in this world.
April 25, 2010
In discussing how to create enlightened society, Chögyam Trungpa suggested, with the Standing Committee for Nova Scotia in 1982, the idea of using a coffehouse form for conversation, and proposed the name Sunshine Café. I hosted such a café at my home for a while back then.
Here we could do a virtual, on-line form of that. I have created a Sunshine Cafe “category” for articles. Each such article can serve as a table, with some people sitting at that table. Conversations take the form of comments, hopefully mindful of speech, attentive to elocution, aware of intention.
For example, such a table could host the ongoing Ash – Rita – James conversations. Anyone is free to join it, but that table is a place for Ash and Rita and James to continue their discussion, and for their comments which might take off from another article’s topic but which drift from it.
I have received lots of feedback from RFS readers that the sheer volume of some comment threads is drowning out the conversation on those threads. Hopefully café tables can be one way to provide an outlet for such discussion.
As head waiter here, I will try the experiment of being diligent about attending to comments, pruning them if they seem to digress off topic, while at the same time encouraging their authors to use café tables for those.
If you or a group would like a café table, let me know.
Your comments on and participation in this experiment are welcome.
– Mark Szpakowski
December 16, 2009
or, What is Lineage?
Gregg Eller’s Recalling a Buddha: Memories of the Sixteenth Karmapa, The Life and Death of an Awakened Being, is out on DVD and in limited theatrical circulation. This isn’t a “general interest” movie, but for those in the lineage of the Buddha, as it traces through the mahasiddhas of India and on through the Kagyu cave and monastery yogis of Tibet, it is a must see. It is pretty much focused on the story of the Karmapa from what might be called a practice point of view, and it offers a real glimpse into the meaning of lineage within a practicing tradition.
The movie, while it shows a number of historical clips (along with a Black Crown ceremony and many extra features), mainly consists of interviews with the people around the Karmapa, including students, attendants, translators, his “dharma children”, the four princes (Tai Situ, Jamgon Kongtrul, Gyaltsap, Shamar) and Thrangu Rinpoche, Achi Tsepal, Tenga Rinpoche, Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche, Ponlop Rinpoche, Tenzin Palmo, Gene Smith, Mitchell Levy, etc.
What’s striking: the meaning of lineage. This was the great lesson invited and enabled by Chögyam Trungpa when he brought Karmapa XVI to the west in 1974: for the first time his students saw Trungpa Rinpoche acting in dedicated service to a master of his lineage. The Karmapa was presented as a Dharma King, able to transmit the regal yet totally relaxed essence of mahamudra – “liberation through seeing”. Then, in the movie, lineage echoes again when someone mentions that Karmapa XVI, normally a mountain of shunyata, would tremble at the thought of his own guru.
The Loppön Lodro Dorje recently alluded to how Chögyam Trungpa worked with creating a teaching container into which he could invite other teachers to open up and present in detail aspects of the dharma. Tenga Rinpoche was one such figure: Trungpa Rinpoche insisted that the first Chakrasamvara abhisheka he gave only take place after Tenga Rinpoche had had time to work with the translators and others on presenting the traditional details of this key practice. For some this meant a post-Vajrayogini wait of 6 to 8 years. Trungpa Rinpoche took his time, and included his sangha in that patience, to present the Chakrasamvara dharma within a full and thoroughly prepared container that was at the same time vaster and deeper.
Presenting dharma is not a solo activity: it is built on generations of human beings actively working on their awake, and that awake is invited through the lineage for the benefit of current students and of all beings. A glimpse of the Karmapa is invited, and that glimpse echoes through a whole social network of enlightening beings (many of whom appear in this movie). What we see here are some of the individuals who helped educate Karmapa XVI, many who were taught and brought to realization by him, and many who now in turn have been teachers of the next Karmapa, the XVIIth.
This is also reflected in the intention and framing of practice, which is within a very wide lineage tree. Something like guru yoga is not just addressed to, and coming from, one’s immediate guru, but to and from his guru and family of awake. This is a hidden enabler, which Trungpa Rinpoche’s immediate students are perhaps discovering. For them, the guru yoga was addressed to Karmapa, “Karmapa Kyenno”. Many of those who practiced in that way, are finding that, on encountering Karmapa XVII, “the Karmapa never left”, and that a much larger container of dharma continues unfolding. But that’s a another story…
Photo from Garuda IV, p 76, by George Holms
December 4, 2009
To the greater Shambhala sangha….
& Dylan fans.
(includes practice instructions 🙂 )
Sinéad Lohan’s superlative version of Bob Dylan’s “To Ramona”. Taken from Donal Lunny’s “Sult – Spirit of the Music” TV series – recorded around 1996.
October 9, 2009
You can now listen to the September 9, 2009 Halifax Community Gathering with Adam Lobel: the MP3 (right-click to download (on Mac, control-click)) is available on the Halifax Shambhala Centre’s web site [mirrored here]. Shambhala Buddhist Acharya Lobel starts off with a talk on Time and Timelessness, but the vivid discussion by the participants soon cuts to the chase of raw essence, what’s been missing, what is manifesting right there.
This is a two-hour tape. It’s worth listening to the whole thing, but if you’re really pressed for time, start at the one-hour mark, with some eloquent and incisive remarks by Lodro Dorje on how Trungpa Rinpoche’s approach was to create a rich practice container which invited further teachings from the great Kagyü and Nyingma lineage masters.
The highlight though, comes later: Lynn Friedman – trembling but courageous, gentle and articulate. As one text says:
The heart placed fresh in the palm, nothing else.
This is what we miss, but – surprise! – this is what we are.
Madeline Schreiber adds outrageousness and humor, exclaiming about the Rigden Thangka, “it’s bad art!”
There’s a lot more. Adam confirms again that the cornerstone and signature of the Sakyong’s approach is what is being termed “the Shambhala Terma”. A couple of people bring up conflict, skirmish, as itself a vehicle.
At the end, recently-appointed Halifax Shambhala Centre director Yeshe Fuchs expresses dismay at how people are whining.
Listen for yourself. Listen to the voices. Listen to yourself.
Energy fools the magician. – Brian Eno
September 8, 2009
Imagine – a civilization, a culture, a country or countries, where the sacred is acknowledged in every aspect of personal, family, and community life, as well as in the details of business, finance, and government. Imagine, not “no religion too“, but “your religion too“, so that such a society would respect equally the genuine practice traditions of the many faiths of its citizens. This is what I hear the 21st century, and the millenium we’re entering, calling for. This call is also the real source – terma, actually – of the Shambhala vision of Chögyam Trungpa.
I will explore two aspects of this here, very briefly: secular/sacred, and drala.
A new balance, or indivisibility, of secular and sacred seems to be needed, in which the sacred is fully acknowledged in all the institutions of government and society, but in which they are not tied to any one religious faith. The founding fathers of the United States made a very conscious and brilliant effort in this direction, basing the state on fundamental natural principles while separating state from church, but as we can see in today’s American society this is not the final word – a more complete synthesis is necessary. The sacred has become the preserve of official religions and of fundamentalisms, while the secular has been left to be terrorized by market darwinism and peculiar beliefs such as that good trickles down from attachment and greed.
Looking beyond the shores of North America, we see that much of the world does not buy into McGlobalization, and is suggesting that other outlooks are equally or more valid: an Islamic example is that of a Caliphate, with formally integrated calls to prayer throughout the day, as a better way to be for human beings. I think there is great accuracy in this latter aspiration, and it finds echoes in the lifestyles of Hasidic Judaism, in life as sadhana for Hindus and Buddhists, etc. But how can it be realized in a manner that can be shared by adherents of more than one religious practice?
In my understanding and experience this is exactly the question and the need from which the Shambhala vision of Chögyam Trungpa was extracted, and it is this that the Shambhala project – experiment – in creating a secular expression of the sacred is seeking to address. Its motivation is not an attempt to find “who we are”, but rather, what kind of radically open space, in which the sacred presents, can we uncover, manifest and share – for us and others?
The divorce of the efficient instruments of economy, business, finance, and law from the sacred – evident in mantras such as “business is business” and in notions such as that the bottom line can be expressed as a number – have led to devastating exploitation and destruction of our environment, and of the entire fabric of life within which we arise. Drala is the Shambhala term for the understanding, relationship, and practice which brings experience of the sacred together with the world of appearances, resources, and perceptions. Drala is finding the cosmic mirror in a blade of grass, in a sheaf of wheat, in a kitchen utensil. It is drala that calls for an explicit role in the very guts of our systems of sustainability and care, in the DNA of our financial and engineering systems – and we need to find language and forms to express that. Drala also offers a way to bring together the sometimes more abstract notions of emptiness and nature of mind with the textures of the living world, and more and more vocabulary for it is emerging within science itself.
The Source is in Front
On a personal note, this is why Shambhala Vision feels ever more relevant: it is a genuine attempt to go from but also beyond one’s personal practice into the open space of others, and it offers some useful language and practice to bring such aspiration down to earth. This is also something not unique: I am finding that the more I look out and interact genuinely with people, the more I meet such vivid openness. It is not of my making, or my belonging, but through mutual letting go the space feels held, and common language, understandings, and forms emerge. It’s possible for people to meet in no-man’s land, and to learn to be there with integrity, decisiveness and confidence – then it turns out to be pure gold, drala’s home, and warrior’s way.
More than that, it’s necessary for our world to be so, and for us to develop such ways of being, along with the forms, culture and institutions to actually embody these. Sustainability needs sustained drala practice, for example. This is a radical project, to create a new secular vocabulary of the sacred, which includes explicit personal and communal recognition of drala in our food, clothing, land, and homes – where we live. That space and its yearning is where our legacy comes from.
Over the centuries, there have been many who have sought the ultimate good and have tried to share it with their fellow human beings. To realize it requires immaculate discipline and unflinching conviction. Those who have been fearless in their search and fearless in their proclamation belong to the lineage of master warriors, whatever their religion, philosophy, or creed. What distinguishes such leaders of humanity and guardians of human wisdom is their fearless expression of gentleness and genuineness – on behalf of all sentient beings. We should venerate their example and acknowledge the path that they have laid for us. They are the fathers and mothers of Shambhala, who make it possible, in the midst of this degraded age, to contemplate enlightened society.
– The Shambhala Lineage, the final chapter in Shambhala The Sacred Path of the Warrior
Mark Szpakowski, earth cadet and habitat partner, develops software for collaboration and care, and has been a co-conspirator with Chögyam Trungpa since 1972.
July 30, 2009
Article in The Coast, Volume 17, Number 10 (July 30 – August 5, 2009)
The Coast, Halifax’s what’s-happening-around-town free weekly, just published a short article on Radio Free Shambhala. In paper it was titled Sham. dissent (probably for width reasons), while on the web it’s Dissent in the Shambhala Community.
Here’s the text of the article.
Dissent in the Shambhala community
New website Radio Free Shambhala illuminates a disagreement over the relationship between Buddhism and Shambhala.
An unusually public display of dissent and controversy among the Halifax-based Shambhala community is playing out on a provocative website that questions the present leadership direction of the organization.
RadioFreeShambhala.org was started about a year ago, says Mark Szpakowski, a web developer who came up with the idea for the site with fellow Shambhalan Ed Michalik. “It came about because there wasn’t a venue for discussion, and there were a whole lot of topics that some people thought weren’t being talked about at all,” explains Szpakowski.
The heart of the issue is a disagreement over the relationship between Buddhism and Shambhala.
“Shambhala” is a collection of teachings from Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a charismatic Buddhist scholar who, at the age of 20, fled Tibet as Chinese armies were moving into that country in 1959. Trungpa went on to become the leading figure bringing Tibetan meditation practices to the west, and became established among the 1960s counterculture—Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs, for example, taught at Trungpa’s Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado.
In 1986, Trungpa moved his operation to Halifax, and many of his supporters followed him here, establishing the local Shambhala community.
Trungpa died the following year, and after a mostly behind-the-scenes power struggle lasting two years, his son, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, took control of the organization.
“Many people who are devoted to Trungpa Rinpoche and who don’t consider the Sakyong to be their teacher don’t feel welcomed by the community, and they’re afraid to speak up,” comments dissident Andrew Safer on the Radio Free Shambhala site.
“Chögyam Trungpa had done the Buddhist thing, and he was an absolute master of them, and took a very rigorous approach to that,” explains Szpakowski. “But he saw that for the next long period of time, what the world needs is some kind of relationship that brings the sacred and the secular together.
“There was a whole stream of teachings that were presented that were independent of Buddhism, which were the Shambhala teachings, even though of course Chögyam Trungpa obviously came from Tibet and he himself was a Tibetan Buddhist.”
Trungpa taught that anyone at all, from any religion, or an atheist, could use Shambhala practices. And, in fact, many of Trungpa’s followers don’t consider themselves Buddhist; Michalik, for example, describes himself as a devout Roman Catholic.
But, say commenters on the Radio Free Shambhala site, Sakyong Mipham has insisted on re-asserting the traditional Tibetan Buddhist lineages, and generally bringing religion back into the organization.
That kernel of disagreement has widened into broader disagreements, including over organizational finances.
The Shambhala organization did not respond to a request to be interviewed for this article. —Tim Bousquet