Continuity of Practice & Teaching Stream

April 21, 2010

Article by Andrew Safer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please consider these questions:

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

What is “Our Future Fund”?

March 31, 2010

Investigation by Barbara Blouin

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

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

Dear

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

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

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

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

In the radiant vision of Shambhala,

Richard Reoch

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

Our Future: Building Strength in the Year of Retreat

Financial Overview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speaking tour in North America: explaining and promoting Our Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to the text of the Our Future appeal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More questions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These figures speak for themselves. They raise the question:

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

More about the Ladrang

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

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

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

The heart of the matter

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

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

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

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

¿ Has this danger been considered and prepared for?

The next step

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

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

A Question of Separated Events

February 19, 2010

Discussion by Suzanne Townsend

During the recent Shambhala Day event-planning period, there was some phoning and emailing among friends to gather outside of Shambhala International because they did not feel at home there. But it was hard to find a place big enough. In one email, I made the observation that it seemed that ANY home in the Halifax area would probably be too small to hold all the local practitioners who do not feel at home at SI, and maybe next year we could plan to rent a local hall.

I then received a response that while it’s true that very many practitioners do not feel at home at SI, there is a big concern that any large gathering outside of SI would be “dividing the sangha” and therefore breaking samaya. What does everyone think?

To be clear — I think the issue here is not gathering per se, but by renting a hall it would be gathering in a “public” space.

Shambhala is as old as the hills, and belongs to human beings all around the world, in many forms. At the Buddha Eyes entrance to Shambhala in Mongolia, travellers write all their sins on paper, and burn the paper in a hole in the rocks. From

Vajradhara Thangka in Boulder

January 27, 2010

It appears that the Vajradhara thangka in Boulder, which was commissioned by the Vidyadhara, placed by him over the shrine there, and blessed with the handprints of the 16th Karmapa on the back, will be displaced by the “Rigden thangka”, as has already happened with the Vajradhara and Buddha representations throughout the Shambhala International organization over the last few years.

For the story of the “great Vajradhara thangka”, as we shall refer to it now, and a discussion of its unique place in our mandala, please see the article by Clarke Warren, published at the Chronicles of Chögyam Trungpa website.

In 2000 and 2005, when Dorje Dzong was used as collateral to secure large loans for Shambhala Mountain Center, the Boulder sangha was not consulted. Again, the Boulder community has not been included in the decision making process regarding this change, which is so central to our lineage and to our spiritual direction.

It seems important to offer clear, nonaggressive, honest feedback to the Shambhala Adminstration on matters of such importance to our dharma practice.

Therefore, to spark conversation, below are three questions to contemplate.    Please feel free to offer comments.

  1. Do you feel it is appropriate to remove the great Vajradhara thangka from its current position in Dorje Dzong, Boulder?
  2. What is your personal practice relationship with the Karma Kagyu lineage?
  3. Where do you think this kind of change will lead?

Appeal to Prevent the Vajradhara Thangka in the Boulder Shambhala Center from Being Removed

by Clarke Warren

It is highly probable that the Vajradhara thangka in the main shrine room at the Shambhala Center in Boulder will be removed.  It is to be replaced with a painting of the Primordial Rigdin.  I learned this after having spoken with a member of a committee at the Shambhala Center to study and make suggestions for the redesign of the main shrine room.  From what I was told, one option is for the thangka to be rolled up and put in indefinite storage, although no decision has yet been made as to the fate of the thangka.

Yet since the removal of the Vajradhara thangka has not yet taken place, there is still an opportunity to appeal for the thangka to remain.

The Vajradhara thangka is a paramount embodiment of the teachings and activities of Vidyahara the Venerable Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche.  He commissioned the thangka, and it was painted by his close friend, the renowned thangka master Sherab Palden Beru. The Vidyadhara placed it at the center of his mandala, composing a profound poem of blessing on the back.  The thangka was also blessed by the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa, Rigpe Dorje, who placed his own handprint on the back of the thangka, a rare and powerful blessing.

For more information on the history and significance of this thangka, please see an article I wrote for the Chronicles of Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche. The follow-up letter from Mark Nowaskowski presenting the Vidyadhara’s poem of dedication on the back of the thangka, and my follow-up to his comments provide further perspective on the “inner” significance of the thangka. The link to the article is:

http://www.chronicleproject.com/stories_103.html

I am making an urgent appeal to all and anyone who will register their support for the Vajradhara Thangka to remain as the main shrine object at the Boulder Shambhala Center.  Please support this appeal to the leadership of Shambhala Intl by sending in your own words an appeal for the thangka to remain.  Or you can simply cut and paste, or modify, the following:

“The great thangka of the primordial Buddha Vajradhara in the main shrine room of the Boulder Shambhala Center is a major legacy and continuing embodiment of the life, realization and teachings of Vidyadhara the Venerable Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and the Kagyu lineage.  Please permit the thangka of Vajradhara in the main shrine room of the Boulder Shambhala Center to remain as the main shrine object.”   Signed, your name.

As a second approach, please participate in a discussion of the issue of this thangkas removal on sangha-talk, sadhaka talk, or any other site.

Your appeals can be sent to the following e-mail addresses: (I include my own address at the end, as I would like to document this effort):

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, via his secretary David Brown:  dbrown@shambhala.org

The Kalapa Council, c/o David Brown: dbrown@shambhala.org

The Shambhala Intl. acharyas: acharya3@shambhala.org

Secretary for the acharyas: lin-waters@comcast.net

President of Shambhala Intl. Richard Reoch: richardreoch@gn.apc.org

The Sakyong Council: sakyong-council@list.shambhala.org

The Mandala Council: mandala-council@list.shambhala.org

Ulrike Halpern, Director, Boulder Shambhala Center: uhalpern@boulder.shambhala.org

Jim Fladmark, Director, Office of Practice & Education, Boulder Shambhala Center: warrior@boulder.shambhala.org

The Governing Council, Boulder Shambhala Center: c/o Ulrike Halpern: uhalpern@boulder.shambhala.org

The Building Committee of the Boulder Shambhala Center Main Shrine Room, c/o of Steve Vosper:   sgv@arch-inc.com

– Clarke Warren: senge9@yahoo.com

The summary of addresses for all the above is:
dbrown@shambhala.org, acharya3@shambhala.org, lin-waters@comcast.net, richardreoch@gn.apc.org, sakyong-council@list.shambhala.org, mandala-council@list.shambhala.org, uhalpern@boulder.shambhala.org, warrior@boulder.shambhala.org, sgv@arch-inc.com, senge9@yahoo.com

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter,

Clarke Warren

Shambhala Buddhism and Vajradhatu Buddhism

January 16, 2010

Commentary by Mark Smith

The following was written in response to an email by Andrew Safer (reproduced below).

Andrew, (et al)

Thanks for your kind response below.

I am trying to be very direct—and as precise as I can be—in my posts and to remove any unnecessary harshness from my posts as emotions are easily inflamed. I make no special claim to realization or to any lineage holder/teaching credential (being a student of the Vidyadhara seems to me to be sufficient credential).  My view on the matters set forth below underlies each of my posts. Maybe this can provide the first of many ‘tent pegs’ per your email.

Please read the paragraphs below slowly and with at least an attempt to restrain emotional responses (either positive or negative). I have posted this to both Sangha-Talk and Sadhaka list and sent to some other folk. I encourage each reader to circulate this for discussion to any persons within our extended Sangha who you believe might be interested.  My contact information is below, and I will attempt to respond (if there are any communications to me) privately and/or publicly as appropriate to any persons who have comments, questions, etc. as I believe this  is a very important topic.

Photo courtesy of Walter Fordham

As you are aware, there are innumerable (well not quite that many) ways in which SI/Shambhala Buddhism has ‘morphed’ away from what I denote as the Vajradhatu Buddhism in which we were raised by the Vidyadhara. Few, if any of the changes are bad in themselves—and many appear to represent powerful insight by SMR into aspects of the Vidyadhara’s teachings/transmissions. But cumulatively the changes are large.

If one is willing to undertake even a relatively shallow investigation, it is not possible to deny that there now exist large ‘differences’ between the Shambhala Buddhist Path (‘SB Path’) and the Vajradhatu Path unless one has some strong agenda pursuant to which one elects to suppress prajna.  Without judgment as to ‘better or worse’ for any particular practitioner, the cumulative changes have created a qualitatively different, new path which the Sakyong intends to have SI follow.

These differences include:

  1. merging Shambhala & Buddhist streams into Shambhala Buddhism (with related curriculum changes),
  2. changes in shamatha/vipashyana practice,
  3. changes in the order of practices with the new Shambhala Ngöndro and Werma Sadhana practice (and possibly Scorpion Seal Retreat) (plus numerous ‘new liturgies and practices’) before:
    • the initial Buddhist/Kagyü Ngöndro,
    • Vajrayogini/Chakrasamvara Yidam practices and
    • the subsequent practice of Sadhana of Mahamudra retreat, Kagyu/Mahamudra practices &  Nyingma  Ngondro/Yidam practices (Vajrakilaya and the Longchen Nyingtig/Konchok Chidu/Rangjung Pema Nyingtig terma cycles) which the Vidyadhara instructed us to practice in parallel with and at the same time as we studied/practiced the Shambhala terma transmissions of the Dorje Dradul thru the progression of Shambhala Training/Graduate Levels & Kalapa Assembly/KOS/Werma.

The SI/Shambhala Buddhist path (‘SB Path’) appears to present a strong and full path for those who are karmicly connected to it and elect to pursue it.

But there can be no doubt that the SB Path with the changes outlined above (and many other changes) adds up to a materially different path than the path into which the Vidyadhara/Dorje Dradul entered his students. Pointing to/admitting the differences in no way requires judging the two paths individually or against one another—and I personally have no reason/need to ‘judge’ the changes.

As I have stated in some of my postings (here and elsewhere) and private communications, I believe that SMR’s synthesis of Shambhala Buddhism & the SB Path is a quite valid expression/extension of the Vidyadhara’s teachings/transmissions but it is only one path derived from the Vidyadhara and not the only valid path—the Vajradhatu Buddhist path promulgated by the Vidyadhara himself during his lifetime certainly must be recognized as an AT LEAST equally valid path.

Many of the Vidyadhara’s disciples, including me, find themselves without a strong dharma/karmic connection to SMR’s SB Path synthesis.

Rather, we are samaya-bound/karmicly connected to the Vidyadhara’s Vajradhatu Buddhist transmission/teachings/path (‘Vajradhatu Path’) in the context of KOS.

Further, I believe we are samaya-bound not only to practice this path but to propogate/preserve/promulgate/teach the Vidyadhara’s Vajradhatu Path going forward for the benefit of all beings who may have karmic connection with this very powerful/potent and very unique transmission/presentation of the Dharma.

The Vajradhatu Path in which I was raised by the Vidyadhara is basically outlined as follows (this very short outline is not meant to be comprehensive and entirely omits reference to both the multitude of ‘forms’ initiated by the Vidyadhara and the various ‘arts’ transmissions from the Vidyadhara):

  • commences with the Vidyadhara’s powerful/unique presentation of shamatha/vipashyana practice, the Sadhana of Mahamudra & sitting practice/nyinthun/dathun combined with the Vidyadhara’s extensive teachings re: i) spiritual materialism, ii) development of maîtri/cool boredom/etc (to provide ‘Hinayana ground’), iii) emphasis on guru/disciple form of transmission lineages (Tilo/Naro/Marpa/Mila/Gampo) which CTR repeatedly stated that he favored (in contrast to tulku and/or family transmission) for the Buddhist side of his teaching stream, iv) taking refuge, v) etc. .—- each of which set of teachings/practices were expressly structured/taught by the Vidyadhara in a manner designed to provide the ground for, and collectively serve as a vanguard to, the particular Vajrayana view/path/embodiment which the Vidyadhara taught/transmitted, rather than to produce Arhats;
  • followed by lojong/tonglen practices (for entry into the Mahayana) & Bodhisattva Vow and extensive teachings related to these matters; .—- each of which set of teachings/practices were expressly structured/taught by the Vidyadhara in a manner designed  to provide the ground for, and collectively serve as a vanguard to, the particular Vajrayana view/path/embodiment which the Vidyadhara taught/transmitted., rather than to produce Bodhisattva Mahasattvas;
  • then proceeding thru the Seminary training/Vajrayana TGS transmission process and Kagyu Ngondro;
  • proceeding firmly onto the Vidyadhara’s oft discussed ‘householder yogin’ path of VY/CK yidam practice (with multiple Vajrayana paths/practices to choose from after that point);
  • all of which practice/study takes place while under the umbrella of Shambhala/KOS view and while Shambhala teachings/transmissions are studied and practiced in parallel.

The teachings we have from the Vidyadhara for this unique Vajradhatu Path– preserved and available in innumerable recordings/videos/transcripts of seminar/ITS/ATS teachings plus transcripts/recordings/videos of Seminary Teachings, Vajra Assemblies, VY Tris, etc. (thank you Archive & PUBs & Chronicles & Legacy Project, etc & all who contributed to this availability over the decades)— are amazing and comprehensive.  We are so blessed with this unique and wondrous oral teaching/transmission stream. This teaching stream, and the Vajradhatu Path it relates to, needs to be preserved/propogated/taught and made available as presented by the Vidyadhara for the benefit of beings with a karmic connection to CTR and the particular path he taught while he was alive.

While substantial portions of the Vidyadhara’s teachings have been incorporated into the SB Path/curriculum as part of SMR’s synthesis, the inclusion of the Vidyadhara’s teachings in the context of a DIFFERENT PATH does not eliminate the need to teach the Vidyadhara’s Vajradhatu Path taught by CTR to those persons who have a karmic connection. Similarly, the wonderful recent ‘adornments’ to teachings at SI venues including the recent ‘Essential Chogyam Trungpa class @ Boulder Shambhala Center (portions available on the Chronicles website) and/or the Videodhara programs in no way eliminate the need to teach the Vajradhatu Path manifested by the Vidyadhara as a full/complete path.

I am personally clear that such inclusion in the Shambhala Buddhist Path does NOT satisfy my samaya obligations or relieve me from the responsibility to pursue/preserve/propogate the Vajradhatu Path with which CTR blessed me.   Many others of my dharma/vajra sisters/brothers, I believe, have come to the same conclusion.

My ‘ideal solution’ to the quandries posed by the fact that the Vajradhatu Path is no longer being taught in SI would be for Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche to ‘do the right thing’ and:

  • publicly acknowledge that the SB Path & the Vajradhatu Path are different paths and that both are valid and need to be preserved/practiced/propogated/taught (and to join in doing so);
  • ‘sponsor’/’authorize’ (as a ‘royal act’) the ‘re-establishment’ of ‘Vajradhatu’ (under KOS) as an organization dedicated to holding/preserving/propogating/teaching/tranmitting the Vajradhatu Path;
  • make it clear that there would be no ‘disloyalty’ if any student (from a beginning meditator to an acharya) elects to follow/propogate the Vajradhatu Path within Vajradhatu rather (or in addition to) the Shambhala Buddhist Path and that such students/teachers are all invited to pursue that approach while fully welcome within KOS.

Obviously, many details would need to be worked out, but this matter could proceed rapidly if the Sakyong were to endorse it. With SMR’s blessings, this approach would relieve great anguish among large numbers of the Vidyadhara’s students (even those who have now embraced the SB Path), allow many of the Vidyadhara’s students to migrate ‘home’ and prevent more fragmentation from taking place. Please note that it is highly likely that a promulgation of the Vajradhatu Path will take place even without the blessing of SMR/SI.  However, without such blessings, it will probably proceed in a manner which causes more anguish, is less systematic and continues to plague the Vidyadhara’s entire legacy (including SI) for decades to come.

This approach represents no threat whatsoever to SI if SMR steps up.

The re-establishment of Vajradhatu in no way represents ‘schism’ within the Vidyadhara’s sangha as both paths already exist and are already being practiced.

Vajradhatu would be under the umbrella of KOS.

SI/Shambhala Buddhism can be the ‘state church’ of the Sakyong & Vajradhatu would be recognized as a separate ‘church’ under and loyal to KOS.

(Additionally, implementing this approach would also provide a model to use to include other (more than one) ‘real teaching/transmission streams’ derived from the Vidyadhara’s teaching/transmission (that have already developed outside of KOS) under the ‘umbrella’ of KOS.  The existing splits with other streams such as Reggie Ray/Dharma Ocean & Patrick Sweeney/Satdharma, etc. could be ‘healed’ over time with their acceptance as parallel/alternative ‘churches’ derived from CTR teachings/transmissions recognized under KOS.  Each would be viewed/accepted as legitimate expressions/holders of at least parts of the magnificent splendor which we received as the legacy of the Vidyadhara. And each would flourish and benefit those beings with the appropriate karmic connection.)

I view this post both as a supplication and  pre-petition to Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche (and have therefore copied Mr. Brown and Mr. Reoch in the hope that it reaches SMR) and as a document intended to clearly start a (hopefully non-emotional) discussion of the matters set forth above.

Once again I ask that each reader reflect on these matters while restraining emotional response (positive or negative).

I do not believe I have stated anything which attacks any person or path.  If someone experiences such an attack, I apologize.

I do not believe I have made any statements which are clearly false and, if you believe I have been mistaken about parts of the content below or my emphasis on particular points, I invite clarification and critique.  Some may agree with my description above but not my ‘ideal solution’. If so, please critique my proposal and propose alternative approaches.

But please also reflect on the central point: 2 paths exist and only the SB Path is currently being taught in SI while the Vajradhatu Path is no longer being taught.

If anyone wants to contact me directly, my email and phone contact info are below.

My intention in making this post is to commence dialoque/conversation among sangha/vajra brothers/sisters regarding these matters.

Each reader is invited and authorized to share this email with others who may be interested.  I also authorize posting this email on other sites.

As I wrote above,  I will attempt to respond (if there are any communications at all to me) privately and/or publicly, as appropriate, to any persons who have comments, critiques,  questions, etc. as I believe this  is a very important topic. I will attempt to respond privately to each communication within a reasonable period of time (but not necessarily immediately).  If appropriate, I will periodically reply to matters in these public forums.

In the Aspiration that the Glorious Vajradhatu Path Taught by the Vidyadhara Chogyam Trungpa, Dorje Dradul of Mukpo, Be Practiced/Preserved/Promulgated for the Benefit of Mother Sentient Beings.

Mark

Mark A. Smith
303-517-5302(cel)/719-256-5329(off)
Email (read aloud and transcribe): mas1 at ctelco dot net


About Mark Smith: “I have had the good fortune to be a student of the Vidyadhara since 1973 and to practice the full range of CTR’s Buddhist Lineage Transmission under the glorious umbrella of KOS, I aspire that my mother sentient beings continue to have the opportunity with which I have been blessed.”

The message above was in response to the following email from Andrew Safer

Mark:

I appreciate your posts… your relentlessness, and your precision.

The conversation is beginning to take on the feeling of echo, like the sound of a seashell–not at all a bad thing, since there are elements of the Vidyadhara that are taking on a life of their own.

In recognition of the need for a tent peg,

Best,

Andrew


Abbreviations

ATS Advanced Training Session

CK Chakrasamvara

CTR Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche

ITS Intensive Training Session

KOS Kingdom of Shambhala

SB Shambhala Buddhism

SMR Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche

SI Shambhala International

VY Vajrayogini

Recalling a Buddha

December 16, 2009

or, What is Lineage?

Gregg Eller’s Recalling a Buddha: Memories of the Sixteenth Karmapa, The Life and Death of an Awakened Being, is out on DVD and in limited theatrical circulation. This isn’t a “general interest” movie, but for those in the lineage of the Buddha,  as it traces through the mahasiddhas of India and on through the Kagyu cave and monastery yogis of Tibet, it is a must see. It is pretty much focused on the story of the Karmapa from what might be called a practice point of view, and it offers a real glimpse into the meaning of lineage within a practicing tradition.

Chögyam Trungpa and the 16th Karmapa, 1974

The movie, while it shows a number of historical clips (along with a Black Crown ceremony and many extra features), mainly consists of interviews with the people around the Karmapa, including students, attendants, translators, his “dharma children”, the four princes (Tai Situ, Jamgon Kongtrul, Gyaltsap, Shamar) and Thrangu Rinpoche, Achi Tsepal, Tenga Rinpoche, Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche, Ponlop Rinpoche, Tenzin Palmo, Gene Smith, Mitchell Levy, etc.

What’s striking: the meaning of lineage. This was the great lesson invited and enabled by Chögyam Trungpa when he brought Karmapa XVI to the west in 1974: for the first time his students saw Trungpa Rinpoche acting in dedicated service to a master of his lineage. The Karmapa was presented as a Dharma King, able to transmit the regal yet totally relaxed essence of mahamudra – “liberation through seeing”. Then, in the movie, lineage echoes again when someone mentions that Karmapa XVI, normally a mountain of shunyata, would tremble at the thought of his own guru.

The Loppön Lodro Dorje recently alluded to how Chögyam Trungpa worked with creating a teaching container into which he could invite other teachers to open up and present in detail aspects of the dharma. Tenga Rinpoche was one such figure: Trungpa Rinpoche insisted that the first Chakrasamvara abhisheka he gave only take place after Tenga Rinpoche had had time to work with the translators and others on presenting the traditional details of this key practice. For some this meant a post-Vajrayogini wait of 6 to 8 years. Trungpa Rinpoche took his time, and included his sangha in that patience, to present the Chakrasamvara dharma within a full and thoroughly prepared container that was at the same time vaster and deeper.

Presenting dharma is not a solo activity: it is built on generations of human beings actively working on their awake, and that awake is invited through the lineage for the benefit of current students and of all beings. A glimpse of the Karmapa is invited, and that glimpse echoes through a whole social network of enlightening beings (many of whom appear in this movie). What we see here are some of the individuals who helped educate Karmapa XVI, many who were taught and brought to realization by him, and many who now in turn have been teachers of the next Karmapa, the XVIIth.

This is also reflected in the intention and framing of practice, which is within a very wide lineage tree. Something like guru yoga is not just addressed to, and coming from, one’s immediate guru, but to and from his guru and family of awake. This is a hidden enabler, which Trungpa Rinpoche’s immediate students are perhaps discovering. For them, the guru yoga was addressed to Karmapa, “Karmapa Kyenno”. Many of those who practiced in that way, are finding that, on encountering Karmapa XVII, “the Karmapa never left”, and that a much larger container of dharma continues unfolding. But that’s a another story…


Photo from Garuda IV, p 76, by George Holms

A Way Forward

December 4, 2009

Proposal by Charles Marrow

A few years ago a vajra sister recounted an exchange she had with Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche at Seminary in 1985, at a teacher/meditation instructor meeting. Rinpoche had just recently finished a year of retreat in Nova Scotia and was not entirely well physically. Also, from time to time, he would go into a kind of other-worldly realm in his manner of communicating and manifesting. This lady, well ahead of her time, had the thought that Rinpoche might not be with us too much longer, and she was brave enough to address her sensibilities directly. She had a simple line of questions with the Vidyadhara that went to the effect of: “Sir, when you leave us, what advice do you have regarding who will lead us?” Rinpoche responded in a matter-of-fact way: “I am the guru.” This lady went on to probe a little further, asking: “Won’t [so and so] be able to help us?” Rinpoche replied somewhat more forcefully: “I am the guru!” And she went further: ‘Won’t the Vajra Regent continue your teachings?” And the Vidyadhara became adamant at that point, with an even more forceful response, saying, “I am the guru!” [1]

As we know, fundamental issues of practice and lineage have been extensively considered in this web-based forum and in other situations, such as various Shambhala Congresses. The change in lineage orientation, practice, and study that has been taken by Shambhala International has been recognized by many sangha members as disruptive and disheartening. Many of us feel like it is important to maintain a much closer connection with Trungpa Rinpoche’s teachings and his approach to dharma practice, and that this would bring a greater sense of meaning and joy into our lives. This has been discussed extensively numerous times.

I think it is necessary for those of us who have these deeply felt concerns to shift our approach and determine how we may go further, and what kind of approach is spiritually satisfying and realistic. The years have moved along, and, while maintaining a keen sense of lineage tradition, we also must acknowledge the fact of impermanence and that times have changed. It is easy to point out where there are shortfalls, but at some point we need to clarify what we want to do in an affirmative way. We need to determine what kind of effort we can apply to the situation and make a commitment to go forward.

That being the case, I would like to present for the sangha’s consideration what, in effect, becomes a statement of purpose for those of us who would like to return to the spiritual principles we were brought up with by the Vidyadhara. The points made below might seem so obvious as to be hardly worth stating. But if we are to proceed in a practical manner and reignite our sense of sanghaship and lineage connection, then it is probably useful to explore our feelings by stating what may be obvious.

Going a step further, some sympathetic readers may look at this and say, ”Well, that’s great, but it is pie in the sky. How are we going to implement such a thing?” In regards to this response I would like to ask that we apply patience and take things step by step.

We could consider our concerns in two stages. The first stage is akin to prajna, i.e., let us define what it is we feel as valuable to put our energy into. Then, once that is somewhat clarified, we can move to an upaya orientation, and work on the how and the practicalities of accomplishing such things.

Having said this, I will break my own rules slightly and suggest that, first of all, there are avenues of influence that exist within Shambhala International that have not been fully developed. I think the Vidyadhara defined “vajra politics” as a group’s collective expression of buddha nature. If there is some straightforward person-to-person and group-to-group collaboration that is willing to address difficult issues, I feel our sangha has the sanity to navigate through this process. On a very nitty-gritty level, we have lots of real estate in terms of practice center space that, in many cases, is currently underutilized. In spite of the economic downturn, it is highly likely that there are levels of untapped participation from sangha members who feel there has not been an adequate response to their spiritual concerns over many years and have reduced the amount of money they contribute as a result of those feelings. On an important philosophical level, we have the wealth of the Ri-me, i.e. non-sectarian, tradition of Jamgön Kongtrül the Great, and with a genuine approach of open-mindedness, I am confident a new style of leadership can arise within our organization, where the various approaches to practice and study can be accommodated in an intelligent, respectful, and balanced manner.

In terms of natural hierarchy, the teachings and practice approach of Trungpa Rinpoche must be given the proper attention and space that they deserve within the organization. It is not reasonable to have Shambhala International “cut, paste, and morph” what Trungpa Rinpoche gave us, and expect that this kind of treatment of the dharma will be accepted across the spectrum of the sangha.

To return to practical considerations, it seems important to be aware that we must take individual responsibility in regard to considering what we are doing. We are probably approaching the end of what can be substantially accomplished by a high degree of reliance on the internet. The recent Radio Free Shambhala thread of “Heart in Palm” has over 400 reader comments attached to it. This has been a useful process, but we have to move on. If there is interest in going forward, there will be the need to rouse the energy and commitment to do the multitude of obvious things. Maybe some of us will have to drive a couple of hours to attend a nyinthün, a deleg meeting, or a dharma discussion. There will have to be mountains of patience put into the discussions and interactions with others in the sangha in order to come up with acceptable solutions that respect a wide range of feelings.

Having said all of this, let us return to the prajna side of things and see if we have a coherent vision that is inspiring and worthwhile for our efforts. Please read and consider the following. Comments are appreciated, but pretty soon there will need to be phone calls and face-to-face meetings. In my mind, more full-scale nyinthün practice is exceedingly important under these circumstances. Lastly, I would like to remind everyone: “Be careful what you ask for because you might get it!”

In draft form, the following policy directions are presented for consideration by the sangha. They emphasize the importance of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s Kagyü and Nyingma lineages, dharma teachings, and path of practice. Further, the Shambhala Training Levels as taught for the past twenty-year period are regarded as essential to be continued. These general statements are presented in more detail as follows.

The Vajradhatu Shambhala sangha should focus its energies in order:

  • To support a sangha that studies and practices the buddhadharma as presented by the Vidyadhara, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche as he taught in the context of the Kagyü and Nyingma traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. This is generally known as the Vajradhatu tradition.
  • To support a sangha that studies and practices the Shambhala teachings of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. The Shambhala Training and graduate levels that have been established for many years should be maintained, including the Warrior’s Assembly and Kalapa Assembly.
  • To encourage the practice of sitting meditation for all levels of membership. This practice opens up the depth of nonconceptual insight. Nyinthüns, daily sitting practice, and dathüns are essential. Dharma teachers and administrators should be at the forefront, setting an example for shamatha-vipashyana practice.
  • To encourage spiritually beneficial relationships with eminent Kagyü and Nyingma Tibetan Buddhist masters. In particular, close relationships with Karmapa Urgyen Thinley Dorje, the Ven. Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, and others should be furthered.
  • To establish and confirm specific shrine-room spaces, where the shrine imagery and liturgies are consistent with Vajradhatu practice traditions and principles. To encourage teaching and meditation sessions whereby the sangha may practice according to Trungpa Rinpoche’s teachings in these shrine rooms. In particular, effort should be applied to increase the activity of the full weekend nyinthün, and the Vajrayogini and Chakrasamvara feast practices.
  • To promote the social and cultural traditions of Shambhala and Vajradhatu that were created during the lifetime of Chögyam Trungpa.
  • To remember to further the manifestation of Nova Scotia as the geographical center of Shambhala society.
  • To make every reasonable effort to reintegrate sangha members who have drifted away over the years. In particular, to utilize the deleg system for this important purpose.
  • To request Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche and the Sakyong Wangmo to officiate at Shambhala events, and thus present the dignity, basic goodness, and spiritual inheritance of our Shambhala and Buddhist world. Furthermore, to request that they increase their presence at the Halifax Kalapa Court and convene regular Kalapa Assemblies.
  • To respect that some sangha members will want to follow the practice path set out by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, and to see that shrine-room space and administrative support is appropriately allocated for this purpose.

If we are to pursue this general direction, we will need to proceed with energy, intelligence, and a sympathetic attitude towards a wide range of sentiments. The Vidhyadhara taught that virtuous and enlightened activities are always difficult and require manual effort, like laying brick upon brick to create a useful building. He also taught that negative activities are much easier, and usually come with a big sweep because they go along with habitual tendencies. With that in mind, I would suggest that it is helpful to consider simple, practical questions from the outset, such as:

Would we take advantage of the direction proposed, and attend feasts and nyinthüns organized along these lines?

Would we be inspired to teach and staff the traditional Shambhala levels? Does this direction represent an approach we could recommend to others?

Can we find the leadership and dharma teachers from among our ranks who we can support and respect?

An array of realistic and kitchen-sink-level considerations such as these need to be kept in the picture from the very beginning. I trust that this is helpful in furthering the sangha’s noble aspirations.


Charles Marrow
PO Box 595, 525 Main St.
Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia
B0J 2E0, Ph. (902) 531-2491


Edited from the original version of the article, following corrections sent in by people present.

Out of balance

November 26, 2009

Reporting by Barbara Blouin

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

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

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

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

Dzong

The Sakyong Ladrang

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The announcement continues:

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

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

Shambhala Mountain Center

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

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

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

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

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

Halifax Shambhala Center

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

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

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

Big plans elsewhere in the mandala

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

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

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

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

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

Europe

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

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

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

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

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

The Sakyong’s Income Sources

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

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

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

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

The Privy Purse

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

The Sakyong’s Fundraising Campaigns in 2009

The Rinchen Terdzod

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

The Shambhala Vision Campaign

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big Job, Big Expenses

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

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

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

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

Heaven, Earth and Common Sense

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

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

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

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

Dharma in Europe

October 23, 2009

Report by Bill Karelis   – Propagating the Dharma in Europe, September – October 2009

I am grateful to the Radio Free Shambhala website for publishing this introduction to the photo essay which is to be found on the Shambhala Times site.  The photo essay includes a few remarks on the various cultures in Europe I have savored.

By way of summary, I have toured Europe for Dharma purposes about thirty times in the last fifteen years, including for 4 ½ weeks this September – October, 2009.   This time, I visited the United Kingdom , the Netherlands , Germany , Poland , the Czech Republic, Lithuania and Romania , offering a total of sixteen public talks or intensive programs in twelve locations.   I am happy to report that the Dharma practice of some of the people I have met over the years is taking root, and small groups are forming, based on the teachings of the Vidyadhara Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche and his predecessors.

Romanian Sangha at Complete Teachings of Mahayana program

I have been asked my intentions for this work by many senior students.   I feel I am, in the words of the Vidyadhara, “just propagating the Dharma”–as I have been doing more or less without cease since 1994.    There is no change in direction on my side at all, although there is a change in sponsorship and venue.   My feeling is that the teachings of the Vidyadhara are for all humankind, and that they could and should be disseminated much more widely.    I do not feel that I am doing something special, nor that I am special by doing this.

It is traditional to propagate in the world at a certain point in one’s Dharma trajectory.   I have been informing my teachers of my direction, and so far there is no objection.   In fact, I have received encouragement to continue on.   I see no contradiction to the Dharma work of Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche and Shambhala International.   It is just more Dharma.   I am in no sense leaving the Vajradhatu sangha, or the Shambhala community–in fact, it is turning out to be quite the opposite.    There is directness and honesty now which has been liberating to some communications, and the heartfelt bond remains as before.

In my travels, I have encountered a great number of the Vidyadhara’s senior students, who feel shy for some reason to contribute their Dharma understanding and practice experience to others.  In the spirit of inclusivity, I would like to invite anyone interested to advise me, discuss with me, and possibly join with me in this work, according to their own inspiration and training.   The invitation also includes newer students.   Feel free to write to bkarelis@yahoo.com.

Heart in Palm

October 9, 2009

You can now listen to the September 9, 2009 Halifax Community Gathering with Adam Lobel: the MP3 (right-click to download (on Mac, control-click)) is available on the Halifax Shambhala Centre’s web site [mirrored here]. Shambhala Buddhist Acharya Lobel starts off with a talk on Time and Timelessness, but the vivid discussion by the participants soon cuts to the chase of raw essence, what’s been missing, what is manifesting right there.

This is a two-hour tape. It’s worth listening to the whole thing, but if you’re really pressed for time, start at the one-hour mark, with some eloquent and incisive remarks by Lodro Dorje on how Trungpa Rinpoche’s approach was to create a rich practice container which invited further teachings from the great Kagyü and Nyingma lineage masters.

The highlight though, comes later: Lynn Friedman – trembling but courageous, gentle and articulate. As one text says:

The heart placed fresh in the palm, nothing else.

This is what we miss, but – surprise! – this is what we are.

Madeline Schreiber adds outrageousness and humor, exclaiming about the Rigden Thangka, “it’s bad art!”

There’s a lot more. Adam confirms again that the cornerstone and signature of the Sakyong’s approach is what is being termed “the Shambhala Terma”. A couple of people bring up conflict, skirmish, as itself a vehicle.

At the end, recently-appointed Halifax Shambhala Centre director Yeshe Fuchs expresses dismay at how people are whining.

Listen for yourself. Listen to the voices. Listen to yourself.


Energy fools the magician. – Brian Eno

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