On Divisiveness

January 19, 2009

Commentary by Barbara Blouin

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

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

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

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

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

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

The contents of this statement address divisiveness head on: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew Speraw responded: 

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

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

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

Experts fear illumination of dark matter

September 10, 2008

from http://voanews.com/english/2008-09-10-voa6.cfm

Project leaders say the machine will also let them probe so-called Dark Matter – the invisible matter that makes up 80 percent of the universe and that has been one of science’s great mysteries.

Some European and American scientists have filed a lawsuit to stop the experiment, saying it may create microscopic black holes that could swallow the Earth.

Project leaders call these fears “ridiculous.”

I Wish I Were

July 29, 2008

Martha Wainwright: I Wish I Were

A song about fear, and about today (the video is unofficial, by whoever made the YouTube video – maybe close your eyes).

Mark Szpakowski Illuminates Dark Matter

July 28, 2008

In this first podcast, Ed Michalik interviews Mark Szpakowski, who talks about allowing the Dark Matter in the greater Shambhala sangha to self-illuminate.

This is an introduction to Radio Free Shambhala.

Audio MP3

Click the Play button above to listen to the podcast.

Right-click (control-click on Mac) to download high-speed version (36’48”).

Right-click (control-click on Mac) to download low-speed (dialup) version (36’48”).