September 11, 2012
Recollection by Kevin Lyons (see note below)
As the summer of 1974 came to a close, The Venerable Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche, was busy teaching the Vipassana seminar at Tail of the Tiger in Barnet, Vermont. At that time, before the land was cleared and the current meditation center was built, Rinpoche would come to teach at Tail of the Tiger three or four times a year. In the cold winter months, seminars at Tail of the Tiger normally took place at the old Town Hall in Barnet village, and as the weather warmed and summer approached, a large circus style tent would be erected near what is today the visitor’s parking lot. The tent would then be filled with rugs and zafus and irregular-sized cushions of all kinds and colors; and a dais would be built with a table and chair from where Rinpoche would sit and teach. Although the tent was subject to the winds, and dust and sometimes the racket and din of raindrops pounding on its canvas roof, it had a comfortable intimacy and it was a wonderful place to spend a summer afternoon with Rinpoche as he turned the wheel of dharma.
From its beginnings, Tail of the Tiger has always been special. Tucked into the foundations of three large hills in Vermont’s northeast kingdom, it is a wild and vertical landscape of high granite outcroppings that are often hidden by low clouds and at once give the impression of being remote and magical. At its foot is a fast moving river partially fed by the numerous streams that originate at the higher pastures and in autumn reveal themselves only by mist rising above the forest canopy. The summers are hot and the winters often long and bitterly cold. Living there was a total gateway into the Dharma. Apart from the normal schedule of work, there was study and three hours of meditation each day. Beginning in February 1974, the community would close to the outside twice a year for Dathun, a month long sitting retreat. It was then, as Trungpa Rinpoche would say, that encountering oneself through work, study and practice, was a continual unmasking. It sometimes felt like a persistent assault on one’s comfort because life at Tail of the Tiger was both a struggle and surrender. If you wanted to stay, and were willing to commit yourself to living in the community, it was difficult to escape the intensity. The only place to hide was in the basement with the feral cats and the skunk.
As Rinpoche was teaching the seminar, sanghas across the country, but especially those at Tail of the Tiger and the New York Dharmadhatu, were busily preparing for the first visit of H.H. the Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa to the North American continent. Although Rinpoche had spoken about the Karmapa a number of times in the past, on the whole we really didn’t know a great deal about him and we certainly didn’t know what to expect. After all, less than a year before, participants at the first Vajradhatu Seminary in Jackson Hole, Wyoming had returned to their individual Dharmadhatus and study groups and shared with sanghas what they had learned during the Hinayana and Mahayana sections of seminary. It was only then that many of us really began to understand the complexity and vision of the Tibetan Buddhist path. So with the upcoming arrival of the Karmapa, Trungpa Rinpoche was able to share with us his greater vision of lineage, and it would also gave legitimacy to the work that Rinpoche had been doing since arriving in America. In many ways the Karmapa’s visit would be a formal introduction into the trappings of the Vajrayana Path.
While at Samye Ling in Scotland, Rinpoche gave many of the conventional Vajrayana teachings. America, however, was an entirely different place. The country had just gone through one of the most divisive periods in its history due to the unpopular war in Vietnam and the emergence of the civil and feminist rights movements. People who went to hear Trungpa Rinpoche speak were, for the most part, well educated and eager to learn but, the counter culture was inundated with so many wild ideas about meditation and spirituality that Trungpa Rinpoche needed a meditation practice that would not create any more confusion and was by its nature grounding and universal. Trungpa Rinpoche introduced his students to the sitting practice of samatha-vipashyana meditation. It would be this practice that many of his students did for two or three years before being introduced to Vajrayana at seminary.
The year before the Karmapa came to the United States, he sent a remarkable woman and unlikely emissary in the form of Sister Palmo. Freda Houlston Bedi, the future Sister Palmo, was a graduate of Oxford University. While still a student, in the early nineteen thirties, she met her future husband Baba Pyare Lal Bedi, a man from a prominent Sikh family. In 1934 after their marriage they left England to begin their new lives in India. Eventually and inevitably Freda was swept up in the protracted Indian National Independence movement, and on one occasion, while attending one of the Mahatma’s Satyagraha, a principle in Gandhi’s movement of non-violence, Freda was arrested and detained along with her two children.
Freda worked for most of her life in India’s Ministries of Public Welfare. It would be the invasion of Tibet in 1959 and the momentous refugee crisis, that brought Freda into contact with the Tibetan Diaspora and subsequently changed the course of her life. The Indian Prime Minister Nehru, who looked with empathy at what was fast becoming a crisis on India’s border with the occupying Chinese, asked Freda to give assistance to the Tibetan refugees streaming from Tibet into India. Freda with the encouragement of the Dalhi Lama opened the Young Lamas School in Delhi. It was there that Freda was to first meet Chögyam Trungpa, who she asked to teach young Lamas. During this time she also met the Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa. In 1966 Freda went to Rumtek Monestary in Sikkim and the following year was ordained by His Holiness, and by doing so she became the first westerner to be ordained a Tibetan Buddhist nun. In the Autumn of 1973, Sister Palmo visited a number of Kagyu centers in the United States. She came to test the waters, and to gather information for a possible future trip by His Holiness. The Karmapa, who had great trust in Sister Palmo, gave his consent for her to give a number of lungs and other teachings. That autumn I was introduced to Sister Palmo when we took a long meandering road trip from Boston to Tail of the Tiger. While on that journey, due to my curiosity about her life, she told me a story about a mutual decision that she and Bera had made. Both of them wanted to spend their last years pursuing a spiritual life. Bera went to seek his Sikh roots and Freda her Tibetan Buddhist Path. I have no doubt that Sister Palmo’s favorable account to the Karmapa was partially the reason he would come to the United States the next year.
My encounter with the Karmapa began when Michael Chender of the New York Dharmadhatu asked me if I would go to New York City to assist the monks traveling with His Holiness. I understood that apart from the more obvious tasks of caring for the monk’s transportation, lodging and meals there was a greater purpose in making them feel comfortable and welcomed. I planned to attend the upcoming Vajra Crown Ceremony and I knew that I would see The Karmapa during the ceremony, but other than that, I had no real expectations of spending any time with the him. I was going to be busy enough. It turned out that the Karmapa had one practice that I wasn’t aware of: when the Karmapa went somewhere, his whole entourage went with him.
The night before the Karmapa landed in New York City, there was a community meeting at the New York Dharmadhatu. Trungpa Rinpoche explained to the New York Sangha what to expect in the coming week. New York City was fast becoming a magnet of the Kagyu Lineage. Kalu Rinpoche was in town giving an empowerment, and Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche wanted to go to JFK to greet His Holiness as he passed customs and officially entered the United States. During the sangha meeting an unfamiliar person who obviously had some mental health issues interrupted Rinpoche by making a loud hissing sound and using his fingers like a rake across his mouth. Rinpoche, who was usually very accommodating, stuck out his arm like an exclamation point and said get him out. This was for me the first understanding of how important this visit was for Rinpoche, and that we couldn’t resort to being laid back and hoping that everything would work out. This was significant to him and he convinced us that it was of great consequence to us as well. No one left the room with any doubt in their minds.
The next day, with all the waiting and anticipation over, His Holiness the Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa’s plane landed at JFK Airport. A room was set aside for an official greeting and since I was there anyway waiting to meet the monks, Rinpoche asked me and a few other students to prostrate to the Karmapa in a traditional Tibetan welcome. After the prostrations, the official dignitaries made offerings of khatas to the Karmapa. He seemed very touched by the joyous welcome which was, for some, a happy reunion. It was for me the moment when this legendary person I had heard about became flesh and blood before me. And my worried anticipation about meeting him was swept away by his joyful mood and glowing smile. It was difficult not to get swept up in the festive moment and enthusiasm. I recall being surprised that for a large man he was so graceful on his feet. With the greetings ended, and the fatigue of the monks and His Holiness evident, we left for a lovely compound on Long Island Sound that was owned by a patron. After everyone was settled, the Karmapa and his monks recited their evening prayers after which His Holiness retired for the evening. I slept on the floor in the library which had a lovely spiral staircase leading to the room occupied by His Holiness and the Vajra Crown. That night I slept with one eye open.
Quite early the next morning, His Holiness and his attending monks began their morning chants and prayers. Practice for them continued wherever they were. The Karmapa was extremely generous, encouraging us to join in. Of course we didn’t understand what was being said because it was all in Tibetan, but nevertheless, sitting practice was the perfect rejoinder because it didn’t intrude and actually contributed by promoting awareness, and through silence. After breakfast we headed to New York City but made a short stop at Stonybrook University and its extensive collection of Tibetan texts. The Karmapa was given a tour of their library by the faculty and through the translator spoke for an hour about different books the library owned.
Without any further delay, we left in three cars for New York City. As we entered lower Manhattan, the curiosity and excitement of the monks was growing, Every window in the car had a face pushed flat against it as they marveled at the manmade mountains towering above them. It was one of those moments when a translator wasn’t needed to understand what they were saying.
Our first destination was a tour of the United Nations. A U.N. representative walked with us through the empty halls of the General Assembly and the Security Council explaining to His Holiness how the United Nations works Our final stop in the U.N. was the chapel where His Holiness was to give a short puja and blessing. The U.N.chapel had all the splendor of a conference room. The chapel itself was a fusion of the religious beliefs of all the member nations, and in the end was so inoffensive, it represented none of them.
After the United Nations, with the required diplomatic visit behind us, it was time to do what everyone does when coming to New York City for the first time. We went to the Empire State Building. The major renovations to the Empire State Building were still a decade away, and the Art Deco lobby was partially hidden by a lowered ceiling. We took a few elevators that shook occasionally and trembled, but when we reached the observation level the elevator ride was forgotten and everyone was in a joyous spirit. It was a beautiful afternoon and the visibility without haze was as close to perfect as you can get. Things became a little more relaxed while all the monks and the Karmapa took their time slowly moving about the observatory. We spent a couple of hours and went through many quarters while using the coin-operated binoculars.
That afternoon the Karmapa gave an abhisheka that was open to the public. I had never been a part of an empowerment and it was a new experience to most of the people in the room. We all paid attention and tried to participate as well as we could. Trungpa Rinpoche assisted the Karmapa by passing him the ritual objects needed for the abhisheka. After His Holiness blessed an object he would pass it back to Trungpa Rinpoche, which then with the help of a small cadre of helpers worked its way quietly through the room, with Rinpoche explaining what was happening along with the proper responses for different parts of the ritual. When the ceremony was over people approached the Karmapa with khatas and gifts. This was the first opportunity the Karmapa had to meet with students.
The next morning after prayers and breakfast we went to the Bronx Zoo Aviary which had recently opened. We were so fortunate because we received a tour of the beautiful facility early in the morning before it opened to the public. The Aviary was built like a tropical rain forest, with occasional piped-in thunder and monsoon rains from sprinklers high up on the dome.Viewing from an observation platform, you could watch the tropical birds fly from tree to perch.The Karmapa had a wonderful time. I had heard stories about the compassion that he showed towards animals and his love for them was unmistakable.
Later that morning we entered the zoo for large mammals. We were met by a zoo official who drove the Karmapa here and there on a golf cart. Unexpectedly the monks became upset because they lost sight of His Holiness and his golf cart. Fifteen minutes later, just as panic was beginning to show on their faces, the Karmapa reappeared as unexpectedly as he had left, smiling broadly as if he knew the torment this would cause his monks. It was at the gorilla enclosure that His Holiness really became animated and began to call out and play to the gorillas using monkey sounds and a deep resonant imitation of gorilla-speak. Some of the gorillas even howled back. I think that the morning we spent at the Bronx Zoo was the highlight of his fun time in New York.
Around midday we were off again to a luncheon at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. I thought that it was going to be a small affair but there ended up being about one hundred and fifty guests. Business people, local luminaries, priests, reverends and rabbis all welcomed the Karmapa who was having a wonderful time. He seemed delighted and surprised by the friendship and acceptance that was shown to him. A handful of us took on a new task–security for the Karmapa. For the most part it was for show because this group of people were fascinated by him. As his Holiness settled into his chair at the head table all of the guests took their seats. What happened next surprised me and has endeared me to the Karmapa ever since. When all the guests had been served, the Karmapa signaled one of the officials and told him that he wanted his security detail to sit down and have lunch as well.
On the morning of the Vajra Crown ceremony, His Holiness was shown a newspaper clipping about a bird store in the Lower East Side that sold bamboo bird cages. The Karmapa, as we had previously heard, was a devoted bird watcher, and when he was home in Rumtek Monastery he enjoyed going to the roof of the palace to watch them. With newspaper clipping in hand, the Karmapa decided we must all go to this bird shop, and forty-five minutes later the Karmapa, one translator, twelve monks and various hangers on descended on this little bird shop, to the shock of the proprietor.The Karmapa ended up buying four cages, but the owner was certainly at a loss about who his new maroon customers were.
That afternoon I went to the auditorium where the Vajra Crown Ceremony was to be held. Thankfully it was across the street from Macy’s since there were a number of trips back and forth to purchase bolts of satin which at the time was quite popular. Once again I was asked to be part of the security team which was just moving about the hall as unobtrusively as possible. In retrospect, there was little need for security because the crowd was so reverent. For most of the people attending the Vajra Crown Ceremony it was their first glimpse of the Karmapa and very exciting. On the stage of the auditorium, the Karmapa sat on a large throne with cushions draped with rich colors, and on a table before him were the ritual objects that were to be used during the ceremony. The Karmapa seemed oblivious to the noise of the auditorium that was quickly becoming full.
After receiving a mandala offering, he began reciting the Seven Limb Prayer. The Karmapa displayed a remarkable characteristic during the ceremony. When he raised the Vajra Crown to his head, he was absorbed with eyes turned inward as he said mantras, telling them with his crystal mala. It was not unusual that during different parts of the ceremony the Karmapa manifested in different ways to different people. During the part of the ceremony that the Karmapa wore the crown, monks played long horns, cymbals, and darmarus.
At the end of the Vajra Crown ceremony the crown was returned to its special box and His Holiness concluded the rites; all of the participants approached him in single file to receive his blessing. The Karmapa was grinning the entire time, especially enjoying babies who were presented to him for his blessing.
On the last day of his splendid and historic trip to New York City, we left for JFK airport. The Karmapa bid farewell to members of the New York City Dharmadhatu and thanked them for all their effort in making his first visit to New York so warm and welcoming. I went along to the airport to help the monks with their luggage and to say goodbye to each of them. As we all approached security there was a conveyor and metal detector that the baggage was required to go through. One of the customs officials picked up the box containing the Vajra Crown and put in on the conveyor. At that moment, the monk whose one responsibility was to safeguard the Crown jumped on the conveyor with no regard for himself, to try and rescue it. He was certainly ready to ride through the metal detector to recapture his prize! Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed and when it was explained to the customs officer about the precious artifact that was in the elaborate box, he let everyone through. With a final wave of the hand they were gone.
It has been nearly thirty-eight years since His Holiness came to America for the first time. Soon after he left New York he would go to Tail of the Tiger and change its name to Karme Choling. He would then go on to Boston, Boulder, and other cities. After the Karmapa’s first visit everything changed. Gone were the hippie days. The counter culture became the culture and we became respectable members of it; but in the end both sides of the equation had their purpose and beauty and would define the years ahead. I will always be grateful to Michael Chender for asking me to go to New York City and be part of that remarkable week. I have attempted to put to paper events as I remember them.
EDITORS’ NOTE: We are publishing this recollection for a number of reasons.
One is to encourage others to put up similar accounts of encounters or experiences that affected their understanding, practice, and realization: these could be part of a series.
Another is to pose questions around this kind of account. What does it serve? If it’s your story, what does it mean now, in your personal practice? What benefit does it have to share it with others? How helpful is it to refer to past experiences with beings that you may consider special: how is that specialness, or ordinariness, transmitted through such a story, or through the effect it continues to have in your life?
June 1, 2011
How will the Vidyadhara’s original, authentic teachings be perpetuated beyond our lifetimes? Without living examples of the forms that he developed for the path that he taught, will books, CDs and DVDs be enough to perpetuate his teachings? Suzanne Duarte explores our options.
We will be haunting you
Along with the dralas.
Jolly good luck!
~ The Vidyadhara Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche
The Third Jewel
Traditionally, to become a Buddhist in one’s heart, one takes refuge in the Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha. The Buddha is the teacher or guru – the awakened mind at the center of the mandala. The dharma is the teachings or the speech of the guru. The sangha is the community of practitioners who follow the teachings of a particular teacher. Thus, sangha is also referred to as “the body of the guru.” “The three jewels,” referring to the Buddha, dharma and sangha altogether, implies the unity of body, speech and mind altogether.
The Buddha/teacher alone cannot carry the dharma/teachings forward for countless generations. Therefore, a strong, cohesive sangha ensures the continuity of Buddha and dharma; for the sangha is where the teachings are circulated between disciples and between generations. As the body of the guru, the sangha acts to carry out his or her wishes and is the vehicle for the teachings and practices. The sangha, it is said, is the unsurpassable guide – perhaps because we can keep each other honest.
But sometimes we forget that the sangha is equal in value to the other two jewels. Sometimes we become fixated on the Buddha or the dharma at the expense of the sangha. Sometimes we take the sangha for granted and neglect it – or even denigrate it. But one of the things for which the Vidyadhara Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche was remarkable was the passion and dedication with which he nurtured his sangha.
One of his students has said that the Vidyadhara told him, “Our business is people.” And that was my observation and experience. A large part of the Vidyadhara’s buddha activity was to cultivate people as individuals, according to their proclivities and talents. And the cultivation of his students was inseparable from teaching the dharma and developing the sangha. In Trungpa Rinpoche’s mandala, the sangha was no less important than the buddha and the dharma because the dharma as he taught it could not be planted in the West without a well-trained sangha; it was up to us, his students, to perpetuate the dharma that he taught. Therefore, the buddha, dharma and sangha were interdependent, all of a piece in our experience
However, the Vidyadhara’s style of buddha activity, I’ve been told, was unusual. To have close personal relationships – almost like ‘pastoral’ relationships in the West – with hundreds of lay (non-monastic) students is not necessarily the practice of other teachers in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. This may be because the lay sangha in Tibet was nurtured by the monasteries, which also perpetuated the lineages through generations and centuries.
But the Vidyadhara was bringing his tradition ‘out of the closet,’ so to speak – out of Tibet, and out of the monastery, where it had been sequestered for over a thousand years – to the West with its numerous challenges to transplanting the dharma. Trungpa Rinpoche was on his own with no back up, no monastic system, and no other cultural reference points to use as support. In fact, he found Tibetan cultural reference points to be an obstacle. So, as he said, he had to work with what he had, which was us, his students, his sangha.
Concern for the Second Jewel
In private conversations that I’ve had with other direct students of the Vidyadhara during the last few years, I’ve found that those who are not aligned with Shambhala International (SI) often share a common concern. This common concern is usually expressed as a question: How will the Vidyadhara’s original, authentic teachings be perpetuated beyond our lifetimes? How can the Vidyadhara’s legacy be promulgated if the sangha no longer practices in the ways that he taught us? Without living examples of the forms that he developed for the path that he taught, will books, CDs and DVDs be enough to perpetuate his teachings?
We know that the propagation of his teachings greatly concerned the Vidyadhara, for – in addition to making sure all his teachings were recorded – he trained many of us as meditation instructors and teachers specifically to teach the dharma as he taught it to us. The fact that many of us who were so trained cannot teach, for one reason or another, under the institutional umbrella of Shambhala International (SI) has caused some of us to be increasingly apprehensive about the perpetuation of the Vidyadhara’s living teaching stream.
A healthy sangha, a glowing third jewel, is the best insurance for the perpetuation of a teacher’s living teaching stream beyond his death, but the Vidyadhara’s sangha has been twice divided. A kind of heartsickness seems to affect many senior students who no longer feel able to pass on the Vidyadhara’s teachings because we have lost the means – particularly the sangha infrastructure – to propagate our teacher’s vision and instructions as we received and practiced them, and as we were trained to teach them. We know that doing our practices at home alone until we die will not perpetuate the Vidyadhara’s teachings in the world.
There are other reasons for heartsickness. Some students have become disheartened due to the loss of a safe, functional (undivided) sangha within which to grow old – or because they have felt compelled to compromise their integrity in order to remain within a compromised sangha. Unkind and dismissive remarks about “older students” from various quarters have probably had, in some cases, a demoralizing effect upon individual and collective lungta.
In fact, Mark Szpakowski went so far as to assert on this website that it is necessary to dissociate from Shambhala International in order to recover one’s lungta: “From my point of view it feels like a lot of natural lungta has drained from the situation and from people. You really do have to leave the organization and community on some fundamental level to recover your own unconditional connection to your goodness.”
And, aside from heartsickness and loss of lungta, we are well aware that we are dying off. For example, between March 22 and May 5th, 2011, at least five senior students of the Vidyadhara died: Jose Arguelles, Bill Gordon, Eamon Killoran, Peter Lieberson, and Chime (Carol) Heller.
In recent years, motivated by the perception of paralysis among members of our generation and anxiety that our time is running out, a number of senior students have proposed ideas about what “we” – the Vidyadhara’s direct students – can do to perpetuate his unique presentation of the dharma. Some of these ideas have generated interest among our peers; but any ideas that require Rinpoche’s students to organize ourselves for collective, coordinated, sustained action to perpetuate his legacy have gained no traction, as far as I can tell. As one colleague observed, trying to organize the Vidyadhara’s early, direct students at this point is a lot like trying to herd cats.
Nevertheless, small-scale, quiet, localized efforts by the Vidyadhara’s students to teach his teachings outside of SI seem to work quite well. I would like to describe one of these endeavors, which demonstrated to me that it is not too late to arouse ourselves and do something, as the Vidyadhara pleaded with us to do:
I’m quite desperate. A lot of other teachers must have experienced this desperation. I am so desperate. You can help the world. You, you, you, you, and you – all of you – can help the world. You know what the problems are. You know the difficulties. Let us do something. Let us not chicken out. Let us actually do it properly. Please, please, please!
~ Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Great Eastern Sun.
What Are We Waiting For?
Due to hesitations and fears about going ‘freelance’ (outside of SI), a number of the younger tulkus (younger than us!) as well as elder vajra masters have been consulted about options for senior students of the Vidyadhara. It seems safe to say that all of the Rinpoches who have a significant connection with the Vidyadhara’s lineages and his students know all about what has taken place. One of them suggested that the karma of the Vidyadhara’s original, senior students is unique and requires each of us to follow the path of the independent yogin – maintaining our bond with and commitment to our root guru without looking for other authority figures or getting entangled in other sanghas.
Many of us were, after all, empowered by the Vidyadhara to teach the dharma. There is no dharmic sanction against becoming a freelance teacher of the Vidyadhara’s hinayana and mahayana teachings if one has already had that training and experience. The world is obviously more in need of the Vidyadhara’s teachings on basic sanity, contained in his hinayana and mahayana teachings, than ever.
Traleg Kyabgon Rinpoche is one of the younger Kagyü teachers who has deeply studied the Vidyadhara’s teachings. He tells us that there is no need for him or any other Tibetan coming to the West to “reinvent the wheel” because Trungpa Rinpoche already did it. The Vidyadhara blazed the trail for teaching Westerners, and paved the way for subsequent Tibetan teachers in the West. Traleg Rinpoche’s The Way of Basic Sanity: A Brief Overview of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s Perspective on Sutric Buddhism is a not-so-brief study of the Vidyadhara’s presentation of hinayana and mahayana in the West. It provides an excellent review of what made the Vidyadhara’s presentation unique and valuable.
But the point is, if the younger tulkus are studying him and following his example, what in the world are we – Vidyadhara-trained students – waiting for?
As Bill Karelis said in a comment on Questioning in a Spiritual Community,
According to the vajra masters with whom I have discussed this matter, it is fine for us, the senior students of the Vidyadhara, to provide opportunities such as week-long sittings for new practitioners. In fact, it is our obligation to propagate his intentions and activities. Without ourselves presenting the teachings in such contexts, it would be difficult to put the Dharma principle into operation. Many of us already have teaching permission and experience. It would be a regression or expression of depression now to disclaim that experience and withdraw, in the face of institutional disenfranchisement. (Jan. 1, 2011, 4:16 pm)
In fact, some of us are finally waking up to the fact that the Vidyadhara’s hinayana-mahayana teachings are ours to pass on to future generations, at least as much as they are SI’s. Mark Szpakowski put it this way: “I feel that there is something very important and strong and fresh being said in the teaching, and in a very vivid and direct and non-theistic way by its author, Chogyam Trungpa, which does not fundamentally belong to “the org.” Dan Mongomery put it simply: “The lineage is not the organization. We are all the lineage.” (May 12th, 2011)
A Group Retreat for New Practitioners
I recently had an opportunity to renew my experience of the power and magic of the Vidyadhara’s shamatha-vipashyana teachings at a group retreat for new practitioners. It was organized and taught by a friend who I’ll call “Keith.” The retreat was an ‘eight-day sit’ patterned after the Vidyadhara’s dathün* format. Since it was for beginning meditation students, it was like a light weekthün** – only eight hours of sitting per day and no oryoki!
Having staffed a number of dathüns before, I knew Keith needed help when he asked me to be a meditation instructor for this program. I also welcomed the opportunity to renew my familiarity with dathün practices; for I hadn’t staffed a dathün for 17 years or so. What I didn’t anticipate is the joy I experienced during that week. I had forgotten how rewarding it is to relax into the discipline of the hinayana and encourage new students to do likewise.
The venue was a small Buddhist retreat center that had simple accommodations, similar to those of Marpa House in Boulder. Vegetarian meals were provided in a common dining room where staff and students ate together. I had not staffed a residential dharma program in a facility that was not on Vajradhatu (now Shambhala) property since 1985, and I found that it had the advantage of leveling the playing field – none of us in the program were hosts, we were all guests.
Keith warned me at the beginning of the week that there might be attrition. He said he would not be surprised if one or more of the new practitioners didn’t make it to the end of the program. Keith’s talks each morning were on the four noble truths, taken from Trungpa Rinpoche’s The Truth of Suffering and the Path of Liberation. Thus, these new students were plunged head first into the truth of suffering and pain – just as the Vidyadhara had taught us, his students.
I soon learned that at least two of the participants had not realized that this program had a spiritual basis. They thought they were coming to a program on meditation and awareness and didn’t realize it was about Buddhism, much less that it was totally based on Chögyam Trungpa’s buddhadharma. When I heard this, I wondered whether these students would make it to the end of the program.
But in fact all of the students made it through the week with flying colors, and the program was a complete success from Keith’s and my point of view. Each student, individually, went through an authentic process of working with his or her own mind and body. All were surprisingly honest – much more than we were 40 years ago! – about their fears, discomforts, difficulties, and resistances. They each discovered the heroism of facing themselves and developing a genuine sense of grounded discipline. And, after all that work, they each had a real experience of awareness, of gap or space or cessation, even of prajna – a shift in perspective, a hint of egolessness at work. It just happened: ping, ping, ping, throughout the group, right at the end of the program on the last full day of sitting.
By the morning of departure, their faces were wide open. They were soft and glowing with warmth and dignity – and they were all enthusiastic about coming back next year for more. On that last morning, during our last meditation interviews, I picked up a faint aroma that brought back floods of memories of the old days at Karme-Chöling and Rocky Mountain Dharma Center (Shambhala Mountain Center), when the Vidyadhara’s teachings were taught all the time. I later realized that it was the aroma of practitioners who have begun to be “shinjanged,” who have begun to process their minds through the discipline of shamatha. Being in the midst of these students that morning was very moving to me. It brought tears to my eyes and joy to my heart. It felt like magic, like the adhishthana of the Kagyü lineage.
At the time, I thought it was simply the magic of the dathün form (based on the vinaya) that the Vidyadhara had inculcated in those who were trained as teachers. I assumed that following the form completely and precisely, as Keith had done, was what had invoked the magic. However, in retrospect, I realize that the success of the program was also due to how Keith filled the form; for he designed, guided and taught the program with a deft, gentle, flexible, sensitive touch.
Recipe for Planting the Vidyadhara in People’s Hearts
Keith is a people person. To lay the foundations for teaching, he cultivates warm personal relationships with potential students wherever he goes. Keith both cultivates people and perpetuates the Vidyadhara’s teachings by teaching new students the forms and practices that the Vidyadhara created for the buddhadharma and Shambhala paths. His intention is to keep the forms alive by adhering strictly to what we received from the Vidyadhara, and passing them on to new and younger students outside of SI. For obvious reasons, he restricts his teaching to the basic practices of the hinayana and mahayana.
For the program that I staffed, Keith did all the preparatory work: gathering students, lining up a suitable venue, and designing every aspect of the program. Many of us who were trained and taught within Vajradhatu are capable of doing this in our own localities. However, there were factors that made our program different from any Vajradhatu dathüns or other programs that I had staffed in the past.
To encourage other Vidyadhara-trained people to consider the possibilities for doing something similar, and for my own and others’ future reference, I’d like to describe some of the ingredients that made our program a success. Since planting Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche in the hearts of students was our foremost intention, ‘success’ meant that students introduced to the Vidyadhara’s teachings experienced enough genuine connection with themselves that they finished the program and felt inspired to continue practicing meditation. So the following are some ingredients for a recipe for a residential program that presents the Vidyadhara’s teachings on shamatha-vipashyana outside of SI and its facilities.
• Choose a venue with a compatible lineage
The facility in which you conduct a residential program – where participants eat and sleep – will be most conducive if it is managed by and dedicated to a spiritual lineage that is compatible with the Vidyadhara’s teachings and lineages. The energies or vibes of a place do make a difference.
• Vidyadhara only
Perhaps needless to say, the teachings, meditation technique, chants, and other forms that we used were all the Vidyadhara’s. The Sadhana of Mahamudra was introduced and read on his Parinirvana day. On the last evening, we all watched a video of the Dorje Dradul Chögyam Trungpa introducing the concept of enlightened society. While the emphasis on the Vidyadhara’s influence and inspiration was light-handed, matter-of-fact, and nontheistic, I believe that what invoked the magic – the blessings of the Vidyadhara – was our devotion in adhering to the spirit, words and forms of his teachings. The magic of the Vidyadhara cannot be faked, as he often told us in various ways. So being true to him and genuine in our intentions is essential for the success of such a program.
• You need at least a week
A seven- or eight- or ten-day sit will have a different effect on new students’ experience of sitting meditation than a weekend will have. That is, to plant Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche in peoples’ hearts, a week-long residential program will be more effective than a shorter non-residential program.
• Invite people who are receptive to meditation and with whom you have a personal connection.
New practitioners with whom you have a personal connection will help to create the sense of mandala for the new people you don’t know.
• Atmosphere of safety
The tone of the program, set by Keith’s example, was gentle, warm, and personal, as well as open, spacious, nonhierarchical, and non-militant. This approach created a sense of safety for new students to express themselves without fear. A number of them expressed vulnerability, and were given the space to be vulnerable. When they really needed to skip a meditation session in order to take a run or take care of some other personal need, and if Keith saw that giving them a ‘spacious meadow’ would refresh their experience of being on the cushion, he gave them space. There seemed to be a common understanding between us all, teachers and students: We are all wounded and meditation is part of our healing process, in the sense that healing is about becoming whole, and meditation is wholesome. It worked – they each came back to their cushion after a little time in their spacious meadow.
• Face time
Students had a lot of ‘face time’ with both instructors – at meals, in daily discussion groups, at meditation instruction interviews, and during breaks. Keith built social time into the schedule to balance the rigorous practice discipline, which included half-days of silence, so the atmosphere was relaxed as well as wakeful – not too loose and not too tight. I had the feeling that Keith and I were both ‘on’ and available to the students at all times, yet it didn’t feel hectic or exhausting.
• Presence of old dogs
The presence of a number of older Vidyadhara students strengthened and enriched the program for new students. These ‘old dogs’ were people who started their path and met the Vidyadhara before he died. Thus, they were program participants who were already relatively shinjanged.***
Keith had invited these people to join the program to refresh their own practice and also to create a stronger mandala for the new students. Like Keith and myself, they knew that modeling the discipline for the benefit of the new students was the highest priority. In addition, other old students of Rinpoche, who often came to the center to practice, spontaneously showed up during our program. They ate with our group in the dining room and occasionally joined us for meditation practice, chants, or talks.
I knew some of these old dogs and not others, but discovered a warm, intimate sense of sangha with them all. The warmth between us was evident to the new students, I’m sure, giving them a foretaste of the possibilities of sangha. Thus, I felt that having members of the senior sangha on site was essential to the success of the program because their presence supported everyone: the instructors and the new students as well as their own practice. A mandala spontaneously arose and the participation of the older students reinforced the discipline within that container.
• Affordability rather than profitability
Last but not least, the cost of the program was bare bones. Student fees just covered program expenses, so it was easily affordable. Keith and I donated our time. So, although the students did give us modest teaching gifts at the end, it was clear that we were not teaching this program to make a profit. This pricing is in keeping with the Vidyadhara’s policy in teaching the dharma, and I believe it is an essential element in teaching a genuine Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche program.
For me, the revelation provided by staffing Keith’s 8-day sit was that we invoke the magic in the Vidyadhara’s teachings and forms by practicing them as he taught them, and that this simultaneously revitalizes the third jewel. The disciplines he taught us are like a suit of armor. When we squeeze ourselves back into them, they restore our confidence and courage. Sharing the disciplines of the hinayana with new practitioners evokes tender open-heartedness and basic sanity. Basic sanity makes itself known like a kiss or a blessing to confirm the rightness and wholesomeness of the situation. This magic can cure heart sickness, revive a sense of sangha, and propagate the Vidyadhara’s dharma legacy and lineage all at the same time! With care and precision this kind of situation can be created anywhere, any time by the Vidyadhara’s direct students who have the permission, experience, and inspiration to teach.
*Dathün is a month-long group retreat consisting of 8 – 10 hours a day of sitting and walking meditation, chants, oryoki meals, talks, periods of silence, and short work periods. This was the basic program for training the mind – almost the equivalent of “boot camp” – for all of the Vidyadhara’s students. A dathün was required before most students could be accepted for the three-month seminary where further teachings were given and received.
**Weekthün is one week of dathün practice. A dathün consists of four weekthüns, which enables some students to join a dathün for only one week.
***Shinjanged: tamed, processed
Suzanne Duarte was known as Suzanne Head in the Vidyadhara’s sangha until 1994. She first met the Vidyadhara in 1972 in San Francisco, and began working at Vajradhatu (Rinpoche’s headquarters in Boulder) in 1975. She attended her first seminary in 1976, and held a number of positions within the mandala until 2009. Those positions included teaching buddhadharma and Shambhala Training at Karme-Chöling, RMDC and urban dharmadhatus; and environmental studies and ecopsychology at Naropa University.
January 7, 2011
Buddha’s Last Words
Stephen Batchelor has recently written a particularly interesting book, Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist. In it, he tells his own story of embracing, then rejecting, both Tibetan Buddhism and Zen. He weaves in his interpretation of the life story of the Buddha. He attempts to strip out all the elements that Siddhartha would have received from his culture, to shine a light on what may have been truly unique about his realization as a Buddha. I find Batchelor a bit too much of a rationalist for my taste, but his critical framework is interesting and useful as a starting point.
For more, check out his recent interview with Tami Simon.
Batchelor examines the Pali Canon in detail to learn what we can most reliably say about the life of the Buddha, based on the earliest records that were written down.
What emerges is a very human portrait.
This Buddha rejected his own kingship. He lived in the woods. He rejected all credentials other than his own intelligence, and the wisdom of the Earth herself. After enlightenment, he dealt with the politics of the day, but never assumed any kind of temporal power or wealth. He taught, he gathered a sangha, but did not appoint a successor.
When his time came to die, his last words were very simple. There are a number of translations of the Mahaparanibbana Sutta out there, but here is a well-researched favorite:
Now the Blessed One advised the bhikkhus – Well now, bhikkhus, my counsel is: experience is disappointing, [it is] through vigilance [that] you succeed. These were the last words for the Tathāgata.
Other translations place more emphasis on sosotharpa – individual liberation – such as translating the bit about vigilance as “work out your salvation with diligence”, emphasizing the need to, in the end, practice mindfulness and do it yourself. Also, most other translations make the first statement more objective and philosophical, e.g., “Decay is inherent in all component things”. But there’s something much more powerful in the more subjective and psychological statement ….
“Experience is disappointing”.
Most of us reading this site likely feel that Buddhist view and practice has had a tremendous positive impact on our lives. At the same time, there is much concern about the relevance of some elements of the Tibetan cultural and political overlay that has developed around Buddhism over the past thousand years. Some of these elements are at best distracting, and at worst corrupting, when held up against the values of fairness, equality, scientific logic, democracy and transparency that characterize the West.
Some of these elements might include:
- The tulku tradition
- The myth of Shambhala
- Theocratic government
- Shamanistic elements, such as protectors
- Reliance on and devotion to a Lama
At the same time, is there something unique and valuable about Vajrayana, as it has been practiced in Tibet, that sets it off from what the Tibetans have tended to disparage as the Hinayana (Theravadin) and Mahayana (Zen) schools?
How much is essential and how much is merely cultural?
And how do we know the difference?
Dan Montgomery began studying with Trungpa Rinpoche in 1972 at the tender age of 19. He lived in Boulder for a number of years, obtained a degree in Master’s in Buddhist and Western Psychology from Naropa University, and moved to Halifax in 1989. After a number of years of progressive cognitive dissonance, he dropped out of the Shambhala sangha and left Halifax in 2005. Today he lives near Boulder. His practice focuses on yoga and body-centered meditation approaches, including study with Yogi Amrit Desai, Geshe Tendzin Wangyal, and Reggie Ray. In his workaday life, he obtained an MBA and works as a management consultant.
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.
December 20, 2010
The Role of Questioning in a Spiritual Community
Spiritual communities vary of course, but there is a history, with its corresponding literature, of how some of them have not only abused power but also undermined the confidence and goodness of their members.
Most of us enter a spiritual path with curiosity, openness, and a willingness and desire to be genuine. We may be searching for answers to deep, existential questions. It might be a transitional time in our lives or a time of crisis, or maybe we just want to make the world a better place.
The spiritual group may promise us hope for a happier life and answers to the world’s problems— if we follow the program and spiritual advice of the leader and his close associates. Our new spiritual family also provides an instant social network and feeling that we are part of something bigger, such as working towards world peace, saving the environment, or another good cause.
However, the community may not be as open as it appears to be. We start to see this other side when authority is questioned, and when dissent is discouraged. Rather than respecting the critical intelligence of the members, those-in-power focus on business as usual and staying the course. When this occurs, dissent is marginalized and conformity and loyalty are rewarded.
For members of a spiritual community, it is not always easy to discern this form of rigidity. Most of us never get much time in the back-stage rooms of the teacher and the organization, which would afford us the opportunity to use our critical-thinking skills and truly examine both the teacher and the inner workings of the organization. Even if we do see behavior that belies the belief system
of the group, there are many ways we can rationalize these behaviors. We may file these observations away, until they accumulate in an avalanche of undeniable contradictions that scream out for acknowledgement.
To facilitate collective denial, community members tend toreframe questionable behavior as a “teaching” or remind us that our perceptions must be false and clouded because of our own inferior awareness or understanding.
Being Taken in By Appearances
Even though on a spiritual path we are supposed to thoroughly examine the teacher, using our critical intelligence prior to making a commitment with this person, scrutinizing is often discouraged. We, as humans, are vulnerable to appearances and can be extremely impressed by sales professionals and advertisers in our day-to-day consumer lives. How much more so in our spiritual lives? Even though so much is at stake and we are exhorted to examine and question a spiritual guide, we are often so open and vulnerable on a spiritual journey, that we can be easily impressed.
In organizations that lack transparency of finances, members don’t tend to openly question where their monies are actually going. Administration fees remain a mystery because questioning is seen to be disloyal. It seems the organization has been set up to keep this information vague, mysterious and oblique, and healthy questioning is thus eliminated from one’s spiritual journey.
If one does question, this can lead to the threat of marginalization and abandonment by the leadership and the group. Once one has been convinced that one’s own perceptions are not to be trusted and that the teacher is operating from a higher realization and view, and therefore could never do anything wrong, questioning the finances would be seen as anathema. In a Tibetan Buddhist context, this can be seen as tantamount to breaking samaya. The set-up is further reinforced when the teacher only allows unquestioning students in close proximity to the actual realities of the situation, thus further walling off the back-stage behaviors from the front-stage appearances. The inner circle of students is so devoted that everything the teacher does in the back-stage setting is reframed as part of their view, and every detail is made sense of within that view.
Consequences for Questioner
One-upsmanship and various forms of verbal and psychological abuse are reactive tools available to those who cannot entertain the possibility of critically questioning the leader and the situation. Instead, their response enables and supports the leadership and strengthens community members’ inclination to conform to the status quo.
There might be censure tactics against fellow students who speak out, or moralistic attacks that, in the case of Buddhist communities, appropriate the Mahayana and Vajrayana teachings to quell dissenters. Questioning is extremely threatening to those deeply invested in going along with the situation. Since loyal students are loath to believe anything critics say, having become the teacher’s instruments of silence, egregious behaviors that are exposed fall on deaf ears. In fact, the person who is disclosing the information becomes the issue, rather than the behavior of the leadership or the organization.
The discloser’s motivation, sincerity, honesty, and even sanity are called into question, thus assuring that seamless unquestioning will continue in the group. The moral authority of the teacher, even if it is simply a projection of the loyal followers, is far greater than the critic’s authority. Broaching the subject of improprieties of the organization and teacher is a very slippery and difficult road, so the deck is stacked in favor of the status quo continuing. This is particularly true when organizations encourage group thinking and experiencing, and use the media and internet to offer a seamless, teflon flow of “positive” information to the public.
It is difficult to overstate the effects these tactics have on members of a community, particularly if they have spent years embedded within the community. They don’t want to admit it has happened. This couldn’t have happened to them, they are too smart, too savvy and sophisticated to be fooled. They think this only happens to others – it can’t happen here. Many remain in a sort of no man’s land, neither denying nor admitting it.
The questionerwho is marginalized might experience feelings of loss, sadness, anger and confusion, oscillating with feelings of betrayal, of being a fool, blaming themself, and distrusting ever again to put themself in such a position. For those who fear to question because they are part of the group largely for social reasons, exposing the community’s underbelly is a form of social and tribal suicide, particularly when associated with the group for much of one’s adult social life. Most humans cannot easily extricate themselves from the complex social network of friends and associates that has been sustaining them. The situation is like that of a recovering addict who has to leave his still-addicted friends in order to lead a healthy life.
Consequences of Not Questioning
Some of us may never seriously consider the possibility that our spiritual path may actually have been hijacked. Many will vacillate between seeing clearly one day, then the next day burying their perceptions, and chastising themselves for being so disloyal for even having such thoughts. The majority will watch from the sidelines, as those who speak out are made to feel crazy, disempowered, ostracized, ridiculed, taunted, or stonewalled by the true believers, and so decide it is not worth it. Better to just keep quiet, go along, and convince ourselves that this is the true path, rather than allow ourselves to raise points that bear further scrutiny.
We may rationalize that we are somehow protecting the authentic teachings by remaining loyal to the situation, but our silence actually enables the situation to continue. Some of us will just go away and never face the feelings that arise, ranging from shame and guilt to confusion and betrayal.
If the reality is that our spiritual journey was hijacked and we cannot face it, we will be blocked on our own spiritual journey. We may become closed and cut ourselves off to other opportunities to connect with a teacher and the teachings. Or we may blindly jump into another fantasy of projections with another teacher and situation, repeating the same patterns of blind devotion, once again leaving behind our critical faculties.
For some in such a situation, the time may come to sweep away the cobwebs of vagueness, ambiguity, uncertainly, self-doubt and hesitation and start to critically process and honestly discuss it.
- How do such characteristics manifest in a – our – spiritual community, and how can we help each other truly recover?
- How do we implicitly or explicitly perpetuate personal and group behavior that favors going-along, and discounts individual intelligence ?
- Closer to home, in Shambhala language, do we trust our own perceptions? Do we have confidence in their, and our, unconditional basic goodness? Do we project that outwards while denying it in ourselves?
We are responsible for the choices we make, and for our own active ignoring. We need to consider the possibility that we have fallen in line with something very different from what we signed up for, and that we may not be trusting our intelligence.
If we do not learn from this experience, we leave ourselves vulnerable to jumping into another scene and repeating the same patterns of naive devotion. This will affect others as well as ourselves. Taking stock and moving on requires understanding what has transpired, and learning from it, so it doesn’t happen again. We need to think clearly about our commitments, and examine the leadership and group in which we place our trust, especially when it has to do with something as important as the path to our own and others’ sanity.
This article was submitted to Radio Free Shambhala by an author who requested anonymity. It is published here after further editing by RFS staff.
December 9, 2010
Here’s a roundup of some of the latest goings-on related to Shambhala International and to dharma in today’s world.
Jim Gimian conducted a video interview with Khyentse Yangsi Rinpoche, the tulku, still a teenager, of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. This makes a great follow-up to Gesar Mukpo’s Tulku movie (trailer on YouTube), and might even be somewhat controversial, as the Yangsi says quite openly that he feels his teachers made a mistake in recognizing him as a tulku.
The project is housed within Kalapa, the central governing structure of the mandala, with the Sakyong Jamgon Mipham Rinpoche and Lady Diana Mukpo as its patrons. It has an executive director and advisory board appointed by the Sakyong who work in close association with the President of Shambhala.
The upcoming Chögyam Trungpa documentary Crazy Wisdom, directed by Johanna Demetrakas, surpasses its “Kickstarter” fundraising goal.
Chronicles Radio Dispatches starts a new series with an interview with Richard Reoch, president of Shambhala International, who discusses the Sakyong’s letter, how the Sakyong’s sangha is the life-force pole of a greater mandala, and other issues.
The Kalapa Capital Centre project, aiming to create the “Capital Building of Shambhala”, provides a couple of updates on its current and planned activities.
October 29, 2010
compiled by Norm Hirsch
(The former, by CTR, are in regular type) (The latter, by SMR, are in italics)
Nobody has given up hope of attaining enlightenment. Nobody has given up hope of getting out of suffering. That is the fundamental spiritual problem that we have.
CTR, The Lion’s Roar (LR), p. 22
What I always try to encourage is that we really know why we’re meditating. That’s always important, and the reasons why we’re meditating. So that’s something you have to think about. It could be just simply needing some relaxation, some stress reduction, peace, could be all the way up to, you know, we want to attain enlightenment, and we’d like to follow in the footsteps of the Buddha and have tremendous wisdom and compassion.
SMR, SMR meditation instruction video, SI website and Youtube
We might actually question what is the purpose of meditation, what happens next, but actually the idea of meditation is to develop an entirely different way of dealing with things, where you have no purpose at all. One just simply sits without aim, object, purpose, without anything at all. Nothing whatsoever. One just sits.
CTR, The Truth of Suffering and the Path of Liberation (TOS), p. 117
. . . the mind has to be strong, stable, and clear. That’s why we meditate.
SMR, Turning the Mind into an Ally (TMA), p. 57
Whenever we have a dualistic notion such as, “I am doing this because I want to achieve a particular state of consciousness, a particular state of being,” then automatically we separate ourselves from the reality of what we are.
CTR, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism (CTSM), p. 14
It is just simply creating a space, a space in which we can unlearn and undo our subconscious gossip, our hidden fears and hidden hopes. And begin to bring them out. Meditation is simply providing space through the discipline of sitting down and doing nothing.
CTR, Tibetan Buddhist Teachings and Their Application (TB), Collected Works (CW), Vol. 3, p. 522
Off the cushion, we’re no longer lost in daydreams. . . Our mind is a powerful ally that helps us focus on what we need to do: study, play sports, cook.
SMR, TMA, p. 56
Although many books on Buddhism speak of such practices as shamatha as being the development of concentration, I think this term is misleading in a way. One might get the idea that the practice of meditation could be put to commercial use, and that one would be able to concentrate on counting money or something like that.
CTR, Meditation in Action, pp. 75-6
Stabilizing our mind any time of the day or night is like taking a mineral bath. It dissolves our stress and revitalizes us.
SMR, Ruling Your World (RYW), pp. 100-1
I went snorkeling recently, and it was a very vivid experience. My body felt light and buoyant, and there was a penetrating clarity to the sunlight shining through the turquoise water on the fish and the coral. Mindfulness and awareness bring us into such a space, and as we stay there longer, that space gets bigger and bigger.
SMR, TMA, p. 55
The natural quality of meditation relaxes into boundless, unimpeded freedom and space. The dualistic struggle is over. This is peace.
SMR, TMA, p. 57
Meditation is not a matter of trying to achieve ecstasy, spiritual bliss, or tranquility. . . . It is simply the creation of a space in which we are able to expose and undo our neurotic games, our self-deceptions, our hidden fears and hopes.
CTR, The Myth of Freedom (MF), p. 2
When we meditate, we’re training ourselves to see our weak points and strengthen our positive ones.
SMR, TMA, p. 30
So if your reason for sitting or doing postmeditation practice or any other kind of practice is self improvement, it is like eating poisonous food.
CTR, Training the Mind and Cultivating Loving-kindness, CW, Vol. 2, p. 206
. . . great meditators become so centered that they can feel their blood flow. They can actually sense the atomic level of their cellular structure.
SMR, TMA, p. 44
In Tibet we say, “Only a Buddha can explain the reason for every color in a peacock’s feathers.”
SMR, RYW, p. 55
Contemplating specific parts of the body like this, we are invoking drala. We can invigorate ourselves in this way. That’s how Milarepa, the Tibetan yogic saint, could fly…
SMR, Community Talk, Boulder, CO 1/10/03
. . . we can’t do publicity by having testimonials for meditation practice. If we did, it would be disastrous.
CTR, The Path is the Goal (PG), p. 135
Our meditation has come to perfection. When we sit down we engage with the breath in a completely fluid and spontaneous manner. Our mind is strong, stable, clear, and joyous. We feel a complete sense of victory. We could meditate forever. Even in the back of our mind, there are no traces of thoughts. We’re in union with the present moment. Our mind is at once peaceful and powerful, like a mountain. There’s a sense of equanimity.
SMR, TMA, p. 126
The basic point is to experience cessation rather than to have a theory or a dream about it. As several contemplative gurus in the lineage have warned, too much description of the outcome is an obstacle to the path.
CTR, TOS, p. 67
HOW TO PRACTICE MEDITATION
When thoughts come we say, oh, I shouldn’t be thinking right now because I don’t want to be thinking about that, I want to be paying attention to my breathing because I know that’s helpful, this is what I want to be doing. So just bring some calmness… and feel the peace and relaxation… simply breathing. . .a thought comes up say “I don’t want to be thinking about that”. Pay attention to the breathing and feel some peace.
SMR meditation instruction video, SI website and Youtube
For instance if you meditate, you might experience ordinary domestic thoughts and at the same time there is a watcher saying, “You shouldn’t do this, you shouldn’t do that, but you should come back to meditation.” These pious thoughts are still thoughts and should not be cultivated.
CTR, CTSM, p. 161
Before it even arises, we can prevent a thought from destabilizing our mindfulness. This is how we prolong the continuity of peaceful abiding.
SMR, TMA, pp. 55-6
One should try not to suppress thoughts in meditation, but just try to see their transitory nature, their translucent nature. We do not become involved in them or reject them, but simply acknowledge them and then come back to the awareness of breathing. There should be no deliberate effort to control and no attempt to be peaceful.
CTR, TOS, p. 116
Although shamatha is abiding in peace, it takes effort to stabilize our wild mind in that peace.
SMR, TMA, p. 100
Trying to achieve a restful state of mind reflects a mentality of poverty.
CTR, MF, p. 48
[The Buddha] began to realize that there was a sane, awake quality within him which manifested itself only in the absence of struggle. So the practice of meditation involves “letting be.”
CTR, CTSM, p. 9
We can imagine the mind’s activity as circles of light radiating outward. Peaceful abiding is like taking the dispersed light and gathering it into ourselves. As we gather it closer, it grows brighter.
SMR, TMA, pp. 59-60
The meditation practice is not a way of entering into a manufactured state of tranquility or equanimity. . .
CTR, Dome Darshan (DD), CW, Vol. 3, p. 540
The reason why the technique is very simple is that, that way, we cannot elaborate on our spiritual materialism trip. Everyone breathes, unless they are dead. Everyone walks, unless they are in a wheelchair.
CTR, PG, p. 20
So in meditating properly, we’re strengthening aspects of our mind that are already there. It’s like working out. . . .I didn’t become strong from lifting one massive weight at once, but from doing repetitions consistently and regularly and building strength over time. This is exactly how we strengthen mindfulness and awareness—through consistent and regular practice.
SMR, TMA, p. 50
Rangjung Dorje, a great teacher of the Kagyu tradition, in his commentary on the Hevajra Tantra, says that the ultimate materialism is believing that Buddha nature can be manufactured by mental effort, spiritual gymnastics.
CTR, Dawn of Tantra, p. 9
You could sit down and do nothing, just sit and do nothing. Stop acting, stop speeding. Sit and do nothing. You should take pride in the fact that you have learned a very valuable message: you actually can survive beautifully by doing nothing.
CTR, Journey Without Goal (JWG), p. 142
Buddha did it two thousand five hundred years ago. He sat and wasted his time. And he transmitted the knowledge to us that it is the best thing we can do for ourselves—waste our time by sitting.
CTR, PG, p. 9
The more we’re able to gather our attention and focus, the stronger our mind becomes, the stronger the experience becomes, and the stronger the result becomes.
SMR, TMA, p. 117
According to the Buddhist tradition, the spiritual path is the process of cutting through our confusion, of uncovering the awakened state of mind. . . . So it is not a matter of building up the awakened state of mind, but rather of burning out the confusions which obstruct it. In the process of burning out these confusions, we discover enlightenment.
CTR, CTSM, p. 4
We have to learn to be willing to die, to subside. This particular “me” that wanted to attain enlightenment has to go away. When that happens, then you actually attain enlightenment.
CTR, The Mishap Lineage (ML), pp. 4-5
THE SPIRITUAL PATH
In other words, to make this perfectly clear, the difference between spiritual materialism and transcending spiritual materialism is that in spiritual materialism promises are used like a carrot held up in front of a donkey, luring him into all kinds of journeys; in transcending spiritual materialism, there is no goal. The goal exists in every moment of our life situation, in every moment of our spiritual journey.
CTR, Crazy Wisdom, p. 15
The ball flew about 175 yards, came back on the green, and went into the hole. Jeff said, “It works, it really works!” That’s the power of discipline.
SMR, TMA, p. 204
…we’re talking about having a continual relationship with the phenomenal world that is not based on either a good or a bad result.
CTR, Smile at Fear (SF), p. 70
After years of practice and study, I’ve begun to understand why those realized teachers don’t need to go out to have fun. It’s not that they are antisocial or afraid of the world. They already have what everybody else wants and is looking for—contentment and joy.
SMR, RYW, pp. 70-1
We have the expectation that spirituality will bring us happiness and comfort, wisdom and salvation. This literal, egocentric way of regarding spirituality must be turned completely upside down.
CTR, CTSM, pp. 158-9
Contemplating, thinking about, and generating bodhichitta is a sure way to be happy, to be at peace.
SMR, TMA, p. 175
We realize in an outrageous moment that if we approach all beings with kindness, appreciation and love, we can be happy anytime, anywhere.
SMR, RYW, p. 138
I could say, “Soon you’ll feel good. Soon you’ll forget your pain, and then you’ll be in a beautiful place.” But that would be an enormous falsity, and in the long run, such an approach is ungenerous and extremely destructive to the spiritual path.
CTR, JWG, p. 47
We develop an aura that makes us seem bigger and more beautiful to others.
SMR, RYW, p. 193
Our potential is to become totally happy.
SMR, TMA, p. 138
We can quite safely say that hope, or a sense of promise, is a hindrance on the spiritual path. Creating this kind of hope is one of the most prominent features of spiritual materialism. There are all kinds of promises, all kinds of proofs. We find the same approach as that of a car salesman. Or it’s like someone demonstrating a vacuum cleaner and telling you how well you could clean your house if you would just buy it. If you would just buy that vacuum cleaner, how beautiful your room would be, completely free of dirt and dust, down to the last speck! Whether it is a vacuum cleaner salesman or a guru, we find the same level of salesmanship. That is why both are included in the same bag of materialists. There are so many promises involved. So much hope is planted in your heart. This is playing on your weakness.
CTR, Illusion’s Game, p. 61
People often ask me why I seem so happy. They think that I must have some kind of secret. I do—exertion.
SMR, RYW, p. 66
Exerting ourselves toward virtue creates stability in our lives—happiness that we can depend on.
SMR, RYW, p. 71
The teachings do not present another form of security at all, but bring the absence of any kind of security. Enlightenment is the complete absence of any kind of promises.
CTR, TB, CW, Vol. 3, p. 518
The more peaceful, cheerful, and generous we are, the more successful we are in attracting friends, as well as everything else we need.
SMR, RYW, p. 77
True spirituality is relating with the day-to-day living situation rather then hoping for or seeing your dreams coming true.
CTR, DD, CW, Vol. 3, p.542
Buddhism is the only nontheistic religion. It doesn’t contain any promises, or doesn’t permit any.
CTR, LR, pp. 23-4
Windhorse takes us beyond the “me” plan. As we release that small-mindedness, a natural magnetic energy arises. There is something charismatic about us. It’s not just that we look good from the outside; we are radiating from the inside out. We exude success and enthusiasm.
SMR, RYW, pp. 18-9
…you are neither on the side of success nor on the side of failure. Success and failure are your journey.
CTR, SF, p. 73
When we begin to mix wisdom into our secular life, we have success—both spiritual and worldly.
SMR, RYW, p. 2
The ancient Chinese Book of Changes, or I Ching, often talks about success being failure and failure being success. Success sows the seeds of future failure, and failure may bring a later success. So it’s always a dynamic process. For warriors, fearlessness doesn’t mean that we cheer up by saying “Look! I’m on the side of the right. I’m a success.” Nor do we feel that we’re being punished when we fail. In any case, success and failure are saying the same thing.
CTR, SF, pp. 70-1
By acting virtuously, exerting ourselves in service to others, we are blessed in return by harmony and good luck.
SMR, RYW, p. 160
Because we have aligned ourselves with basic goodness, the environment begins to reflect our open quality. We effortlessly, as if by magic, attract what we need.
SMR, RYW, p. 19
When we are connected with our basic goodness, it inspires our every breath, action, and thought. With the resulting brilliance and confidence, we can accomplish whatever we wish.
SMR, RYW, p. 6
Many practitioners in our culture are motivated by worldly concerns and use spirituality to successfully accomplish their wishes. It’s fine to use spiritual practice to get what we want.
SMR, TMA, p. 180
The only way to deal with spiritual materialism as such is to develop an ultimately cynical or critical attitude toward the teachings and the teachers and the practices that we’re involved with. We shouldn’t let ourselves be sucked in, but question twice, thrice, from the point of view, “Is this spiritual materialism to me, or isn’t it?”
CTR, DD, CW, Vol. 3, p.539
Windhorse brings spiritual and worldly success—personal power, harmony with others, strong life force, and material prosperity.
SMR, RYW, pp. 192-3
The warrior who experiences windhorse feels the joy and sorrow of love in everything he does. He feels hot and cold, sweet and sour simultaneously. Whether things go well or things go badly, whether there is success or failure, he feels sad and delighted at once.
CTR, Shambhala, The Sacred Path of the Warrior (S), p. 85
You see the image of windhorse printed on the prayer flags that flutter in the breeze all over Tibet. It is the ability to bring about long life, good health, success, and happiness.
SMR, RYW, p. 21
The fruition of invoking windhorse is symbolized by the universal monarch with a broken heart.
CTR, SF, p. 120
APPROACHES TO DAILY LIFE
I’ve received many instructions from my teachers about how to be a ruler. The simplest and most helpful is “Upon arising, have a positive and open attitude.”
SMR, RYW, p. 42
Being a warrior is being simply here without distraction and preoccupation.
CTR, SF, p. 123
When I wake up in the morning, first I stabilize my mind by placing it on the breath. When a thought arises, I acknowledge it and return my focus to the breath. Then I orient my mind in the direction of how I can be helpful, how I can learn more that day, or how I can raise my windhorse….. I know that if my mind is in the right place at the beginning, I am going to have the upper hand in ruling my day.
SMR, TMA, p. 30
So the only way that is feasible is developing an attitude of hopelessness, something other than future orientation.
CTR, DD, CW, Vol. 3, p. 539
In our sitting practice, we’re trying to penetrate our speedy exterior by reducing our activities and stabilizing our ability to be present. Then we carry that practice into our day, continually reflecting on what to cultivate and what to discard in order to strengthen windhorse.
SMR, RYW, p.46
Awareness is like a wind. If you open your doors and windows, it is bound to come in.
CTR, PG, p. 116
As I live my day, I always try to have a contemplation going—whether I’m talking to people, riding in a car, giving teachings, or eating.
SMR, RYW, p. 31
Accepting yourself—rather than trying to be good by being solemn and religious about your behavior— leads to uplifted confidence in body, speech, and mind.
CTR, SF, p. 122
If we’re driving on the freeway, if we’re working in an office, if we’re having dinner with our friends, if we’re changing diapers, if we’re at the movies, we can visualize ourselves sitting tall in the saddle of patience astride the horse of meditation.
SMR, TMA, p. 211
We often invent and substitute somebody else for ourselves, some mythical person who doesn’t even exist. Then we fail to find our own human quality, and we run into a lot of trouble.
CTR, SF, p. 95
Having enlarged our mind in meditation, we continue to cultivate thoughts and actions that take us in a positive direction—away from the “me” plan and toward peace, compassion, and wisdom.
SMR, RYW, p. 31
Q: You seemed to say that compassion grows, but it was implied that you do not have to cultivate it.
A: It develops, grows, ferments by itself. It does not need any effort.
CTR, CTSM, p. 105
GOOD AND BAD
For students who see the world in a very naïve way and have naïve attitudes toward spirituality, goodness is the issue, peace is the issue, euphoric states of Samadhi are the issue; therefore, they try to cultivate those things.
CTR, TOS, p. 98
The most practical way to ensure forward movement on the path of rulership is to train for a short time each day in changing our attitude—just ten percent.
SMR, RYW, p. 28
We decide to decrease the percentage of time spent in negative emotion, and increase the amount of time spent in thoughts and ideas that lead somewhere.
SMR, RYW, 36
Little mind becomes smaller with bad habits. Big mind becomes bigger with good ones.
SMR, RYW, p. 49
As soon as a notion of polarity between good and bad develops, then we are caught in spiritual materialism, which is working to achieve happiness in a simple-minded sense, on the way to egohood.
CTR, MF, p. 68
Giving, opening, sacrificing ego is necessary. . .We lose our grip on the wishful-thinking world of pleasure and goodness. We have to give up trying to associate ourselves with goodness.
CTR, DD, CW, Vol. 3, p. 539
There are certain places we shouldn’t go in our mind. Angry, grasping, or greedy thoughts darken our view and deplete our energy.
SMR, RYW, p.24
Meditation practice is based on dropping dualistic fixation, dropping the struggle of good against bad.
CTR, MOF, pp. 44-45
Hanging out with the wrong crowd, be it the crowd of thoughts in our head or the people we call friends, only reinforces discursiveness and negativity. Nonvirtuous companions are like termites that eat away our noble qualities.
SMR, RYW, p. 74
Insights come only when there are gaps in our struggle, only when we stop trying to rid ourselves of thought, when we cease siding with pious, good thoughts against bad, impure thoughts, only when we allow ourselves simply to see the nature of thought.
CTR, CTSM, p. 153
When we speak of basic goodness, we are not talking about having allegiance to good and rejecting bad. . . It is not a “for” or “against” view, in the same way that sunlight is not “for” or “against”.
CTR, S, pp. 42-3
The ultimate implication of the words “peace on earth” is to remove altogether the ideas of peace and war and to open yourself equally and completely to the positive and negative aspects of the world. It is like seeing the world from an aerial point of view: there is light, there is dark; both are accepted. You are not trying to defend the light against the dark.
CTR, CTSM , p. 102
Sadness and joy are one in basic goodness. Don’t try to push out the nightmare, and don’t try to bring in the bliss. Just rest your being in a state of basic goodness.
CTR, SF, p. 89
PERSPECTIVES ON KARMA
Buddhists consider physical illnesses to be the results of previous negative actions. . .
SMR, RYW, p. 23
Karma moves in two directions. If we act virtuously, the seed we plant will result in happiness. If we act nonvirtuously, suffering results.
SMR, RYW, p. 32
Perhaps we think that our ambition has brought us a beautiful house, a nice car, a loving family, and all the money we want. But according to the law of karma, that happiness came from previous virtuous actions.
SMR, RYW, p. 56
Even if we are sowing seeds of good karma, we are nevertheless still encircled in a samsaric fortress. So from this point of view, meditation practice is a way of altogether transcending both good and bad.
CTR, Karma Seminar, 1972
We all want to be happy. No one wants to suffer. So the point of contemplating karma is to look at what causes and conditions come together to produce happiness, and what causes and conditions come together to produce suffering. Then we can point ourselves in the direction of happiness.
SMR, TMA, p. 161
The attitude you bring to spirituality should be natural, ordinary, without ambition. Even if you are building good karma, you are still sowing further seeds of karma. So the point is to transcend the karmic process altogether. Transcend both good and bad karma.
CTR, MF, p. 45
Our motivation stretches further when we begin to think about how our current actions might affect us after death . . . With this motivation, we practice spiritual teachings to assure a favorable afterlife or rebirth, depending on our beliefs.
SMR, TMA, p. 181
Particularly the talk about reincarnation in Eastern religions is exciting to a lot of people. They regard it as the ultimate good news. We could go on after all! We could be ourselves all the time, eternally. Such an approach seems to be utterly simple-minded. We haven’t solved the problem of giving, dissolving into nothingness.
CTR, DD, CW, Vol. 3, p. 538
Our aspiration to help others is so great that we would gladly spend an eternity in hell even to help a child be less afraid to speak in class.
SMR, TMA, p. 207
Caring for others is the basis of worldly success. This is the secret that we don’t learn in school.
SMR, RYW, p. 18
We may be sitting there contemplating others, and in the back of our mind thinking: “I need to do more for myself.” By thinking of others, we are doing more for ourselves. Generating joy by helping others is a secret way—and the best way—of helping ourselves. Every time we think of someone else’s happiness, we are taking a vacation from the “me” plan. It’s like getting physically fit by helping our neighbour shovel the snow from the driveway.
SMR, RYW, p. 116
There’s a self-denying tendency that everybody knows of. At least they’ve read or heard that to gain a higher state of consciousness, to pursue the spiritual quest, you have to lose your selfishness, your egohood. However, that tends to become a strategy, a plot. Ego is pretending to itself it doesn’t exist; and then ego says, “Okay, now you got rid of me, now let’s both look toward our mutual happiness.”
CTR, DD, CW, Vol. 3, pp. 537-8
By remembering the basic intention of a ruler—to ensure others’ welfare—we are laying the ground for enriching our family or business, and ultimately for our own happiness and success.
SMR, RYW, p. 112
Just thinking about how to help others relieves stress, brings joy to our mind, and has fantastic karmic repercussions.
SMR, RYW, p.111
By acting virtuously, exerting ourselves in service to others, we are blessed in return by harmony and good luck.
SMR, RYW, p. 160
So the point we come back to is that some kind of real gift or sacrifice is needed if we are to open ourselves completely. This gift may take any form. But in order for it to be meaningful, it must entail giving up our hope of getting something in return.
CTR, CTSM, p. 8
In the story of the Buddha’s life we hear of the temptations of Mara, which are extremely subtle. The first temptation is fear of physical destruction. The last is the seduction by the daughters of Mara. This seduction, the seduction of spiritual materialism, is extremely powerful because it is the seduction of thinking that “I” have achieved something. If we think we have achieved something, that we have “made it,” then we have been seduced by Mara’s daughters, the seduction of spiritual materialism.
CTR, CTSM, p. 119
The attainment of enlightenment from ego’s point of view is extreme death, the death of self, the death of me and mine, the death of the watcher. It is the ultimate and final disappointment.
CTR, MF, p. 6
Everyone in the lineage of the practicing tradition has been extremely sarcastic and critical of the current scenes taking place around them. They were extremely critical of the subtle corruption taking place in the name of the dharma. We could say that the Practicing Lineage is the guardian of the buddhadharma, not only in Tibet alone but in the rest of the world. Someone should at least have a critical view of how things should happen, how things shouldn’t happen.
CTR, ML, p. 5
A few years ago, my friend Greg told me that his brother was going on an expedition to climb Mount Everest. He asked me if there were something I would like him to take. I gave him the flag of Shambhala. . . . Now a huge nylon flag from the West is radiating the confidence of windhorse from the rooftop of the world.
SMR, RYW, pp. 194-5
The tantric journey is like walking along a winding mountain path. Dangers, obstacles, and problems occur constantly. There are wild animals, earthquakes, landslides, all kinds of things, but still we continue on our journey and we are able to go beyond the obstacles. When we finally get to the summit of the mountain, we do not celebrate our victory. Instead of planting our national flag on the summit of the mountain, we look down again and see a vast perspective of mountains, rivers, meadows, woods, jungles, and plains. . . That is ati style. . . So maha ati is the beginning of the end and the end of the beginning.
CTR, JWG, p. 133-4
Norm Hirsch has been a student of Chögyam Trungpa since 1973.
October 21, 2010
April 21, 2010
Article by Andrew Safer
Preserving the Continuity of the Vidyadhara’s Practice Path and Teaching Stream
The fact that two practice paths have developed within Shambhala International is well established. Between 1970 and his death in 1987, the Vidyadhara, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, introduced both the Kagyü-Nyingma Buddhist path and the Shambhala path, with clear instructions on how to proceed. Between 1995 and the present, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche has introduced the Shambhala Buddhist path, also with clear instructions on how to proceed. To the best of my knowledge, there is no single comprehensive document outlining these different practice paths, but much of the detail was captured in Mark Smith’s article.
There are also marked differences in the teachings that both teachers have presented. After combining the Shambhala and Buddhist paths, the Sakyong has been focusing on the development of peace, joy, contentment, the mahayana aspirations of bodhichitta and compassion, windhorse, the four dignities, and the path to the Scorpion Seal retreat. On the Buddhist side, the Vidyadhara was a crazy wisdom mahasiddha and inheritor of both the Kagyü and Nyingma lineages through his root guru, Jamgon Kongtrul of Sechen, Khenpo Gangshar, and His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. He taught on themes including spiritual materialism, egolessness, buddhadharma without credentials, prajna and upaya, vajra pride, and relating with the raw and rugged nature of reality. He also introduced the Shambhala teachings to the West.
There are many students of the Vidyadhara who have practiced according to his instructions who are alive today. They are in a position to contribute to the perpetuation of his practice tradition and teaching stream in the roles of meditation instructor and teacher. I believe many feel it is their duty to do so.
In the last few months, Shambhala International announced support for the Vidyadhara’s practice path. It is noteworthy, however, that this support is only available for sangha members who are already on this path. Others have the single option of pursuing the Shambhala Buddhist path after completing what is now called Shambhala Vajrayana Seminary.
Since the Shambhala Vajrayana Path document was issued several years ago, sangha members have been directed to receive the Primordial Rigden Abhisheka after Seminary and to proceed with the practices of the Rigden Ngöndro and Werma Sadhana.
According to that document, the path continues with a Period of Service, Mahamudra Investigations, and then Kagyu Ngöndro, followed by Vajrayogini and Chakrasamvara.
I asked the Dorje Loppon Lodro Dorje for an update regarding the practice path and he indicated that as of now, Kagyü and Nyingma practices will be available to sangha members following the Scorpion Seal retreat. This path through the Scorpion Seal retreat can be expected to take 8 to 12 years.
A significant break in the continuity of the Vidyadhara’s practice path has therefore been built into the structure of Shambhala International.
During this time, sangha members who are qualified to teach the Vidyadhara’s practice path will have little opportunity to do so within Shambhala International. Some who are qualified to teach have already left the organization, some can be expected to leave under the current circumstances, and others will probably die during this period.
The image that comes to mind is that of a tree ripe with fruit. The question is: will the fruit be picked, or will it fall to the ground and rot?
Please consider these questions:
- Are you concerned that the practice path set out by the Vidyadhara Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche may not survive the current generation?
- Do you believe that sangha members should have the option of choosing which practice path they want to follow after Seminary?
- Can a student of the Vidyadhara who is qualified and ready to teach his practice path and teaching stream fulfill his/her duty to do so within Shambhala International, as it is presently constituted?
- [April 23, additional question posed by Mark Smith] Is it appropriate that it is no longer possible for a student to enter into the particular Vajradhatu Path/Transmission which the Vidyadhara taught us while he was alive?
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,
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
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?
¿ 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.