Navigating the Labyrinth, Part 1

October 23, 2008 by     Print This Post Print This Post

Understanding Shambhala International’s Financial Arrangements

There is much that is unclear about how money is gathered in and distributed in the Sakyong’s world, particularly with the recent introduction of new entities such as Kalapa, Kalapa Group, and the Sakyong Foundation. My interest is in understanding how money operates at the center of the mandala, and how financial support for the Sakyong is provided.

This is a long article. In order to make it easier for readers to digest, it has been divided in two parts. This is Part 1. Click Part 2 to get to the second part. Look for a preview of Part 2 at the end of this page

Part 1

For a long time I have been curious about, and confused by, some of the many announcements that appear in my e-mail inbox from Shambhala News Service. In particular, I have been puzzled by the workings of money in Shambhala International: where it comes from, through what channels it flows, and where it goes. The purpose of this article is to shed some light on the complex and often confusing entities that, taken together, serve to provide the money necessary for the Sakyong to teach and for Shambhala International to function. My interest was in understanding how money operates at the center of the mandala, and how financial support for the Sakyong is provided.

Staff and leadership of Shambhala International have been working to make the details of its financial activity more accessible. In 2008 a policy was adopted [PDF] called the Shambhala Policy on Financial Transparency and Integrity.

The crux of this policy is this statement:

As a matter of financial policy, Shambhala is committed to transparency. This means that all members of Shambhala, on whom the mandala’s financial support depends, are invited to receive accurate information, both detailed and summary, about the organization’s finances. Both traditional accounting reports and reports designed to make information easier to understand will be provided.

This new policy is a positive step. At the same time, it isn’t easy to understand the large and complex web of financial structures that make up the Shambhala International mandala, and I found that my questions were starting to multiply. So a few weeks ago I asked Terry Rudderham, Director, Shambhala Office of Finance and Development, Shambhala International, if she was willing to explain the financial structure of Shambhala International to me. The notes from my conversation with Terry became the starting point for this article. I later interviewed Connie Brock, the Chagdzö Kyi Khyap. Portions of that interview will follow in Part II of this article.

The Sakyong Foundation, The Kalapa Group, and Kalapa

Over the past two and a half years, three new legal and financial entities have been founded: The Sakyong Foundation, the Kalapa Group, and Kalapa. (All three are incorporated in the State of Colorado.) I also wanted to learn what I could about these new entities. I soon learned that gaining that knowledge would not be so easy.

I was also curious to know how the Sakyong Foundation, the Kalapa Group, and Kalapa were financially related to Shambhala International. And I was particularly curious about the Sakyong’s role in all of this since he is at the center of the mandala. In spatial and symbolic terms, the center of the mandala is the Kalapa Court. I wanted to know what portion of the Sakyong’s income and expenses are reported to dues-paying members on the Shambhala International website, and what parts of his income and expenses (if any) lie outside of this reporting.

I wanted to learn to what extent the Sakyong makes the major decisions regarding how money is spent, and to whom within the mandala he might be accountable for financial decisions and spending.

Core Services and Sakyong Support

The administrative center of the mandala is described on the Shambhala International website:

The term ‘Core Services and Sakyong Support’ indicates those services provided by Shambhala to its centres, groups and members. Included in Core Services is Sakyong Support, Office of the President, Council of the Acharyas, The Dorje Kasung,The Shambhala Office of Practice and Education,  The Shambhala Office of Finance & Development, International Affairs, Communications, Administration (legal, insurance), Governance (Sakyong’s Council and Mandala Council, Congresses), Kalapa Valley and IT Service.

Terry Rudderham is a member of Shambhala International’s Core Services and Sakyong Support staff, and our conversation focused on that portion of what is in fact a very large and very complicated mix of interwoven financial (and legal) structures that span much of the world. The scope of this article does not include the practice centers, the Shambhala Centers, Shambhala Training, etc.

Terry Rudderham: People have been working to make it [financial information for Shambhala International] accessible, transparent and easy to find. Extra staff were added to the Finance & Development office in the late spring. I feel it will be close to a year before the staff has gone through all the training and will be fully functional and be able to produce reports in a timely fashion.

Barbara Blouin: Who at Shambhala International is higher than you in the chain of command?

Terry: I report to Richard Reoch, and Connie Brock is the Treasurer. [Both Connie and Terry are on the Sakyong’s Council, the Board of Shambhala International].  I’m the working person and Connie is the vision person. I give her details and we work together. Although there is a natural hierarchy, Connie doesn’t have authority over me. But she is in a higher position. Connie is also the Chagdzö Kyi Khyap which translates roughly as Bursar. In this role, which is different from the Treasurer role, she is the person who oversees all of the finances connected with the Sakyong’s activities.

Q: Please tell me about the other financial entities besides Shambhala International: The Sakyong Foundation, Kalapa, and the Kalapa Group.

Terry: The Sakyong Foundation was formed because a number of people have made connections with the Sakyong and want to support some of his activities. Generally, they are not into Buddhism or Shambhala or meditation, but rather, into his other activities, like building peace in the world. In addition, some people connected with SI also give to the Sakyong Foundation because they want their donation to be directed by the Sakyong and not directed by Shambhala International. The Sakyong Foundation has its own board. It doesn’t report to Shambhala International.

Gregg Campbell recently made a second donation to the Sakyong Foundation of $200,000, and it is intended to be used for Shambhala Centers. Thanks to Gregg Campbell’s earlier $250,000 donation to the Sakyong Foundation and another large, anonymous donation, made directly to Shambhala International, the operating debt for Core Services is gone. The other large donation was an anonymous bequest for $950,000 and was also given for Core Services. This donor also left money to other parts of the mandala.

The Kalapa Group is more like a business. It is the holder of the Sakyong’s personal business interests. For example, if the Sakyong writes another book, the income would go to the Kalapa Group, and the Kalapa Group would pay the associated expenses. [ed: I later spoke with Joshua Silberstein, the President of the Kalapa Group. He gave a very different account of the activities of the Kalapa Group.]

Kalapa is not fully defined yet. What I know is as much as anybody knows. Kalapa has a board, called the Kalapa Council. The intention behind Kalapa is to hold ritual instruments that are used for abhishekas, terma texts, and other things for the lineage of Sakyongs. The other purposes for Kalapa are being worked out.

Q: Would it include some of the properties that are part of the mandala?

Terry: It  might include Kalapa Valley and the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya.

Q: Are there any other properties?

Terry: I don’t know. The Sakyong and the leadership are thinking about what needs to be protected for the Lineage of Sakyongs and looking carefully at the effect that might have on Shambhala.

Q: The “Lineage of Sakyongs”? But there isn’t one.

Terry: There are only two Sakyongs so far; there will be more in the future. The Sakyong is trying to look into the future to protect the Lineage of Sakyongs.

Q: Why do they need protection?

Terry: Well, I think that the idea is to protect things that are directly related to the Lineage of Sakyongs. For example if Shambhala International was to be sued at some point it would be good to know that certain things such as terma texts and ritual instruments are protected. Kalapa will not affect the operation of SI.

Q: I’m not sure how many houses the Sakyong owns. [ed: This interview took place before the announcement of the new Kalapa Court in Cologne, Germany.] I know he has one in Boulder, besides the Court  in Halifax, and I have heard he wants to have another house at Shambhala Mountain Center.

Terry: He does want a house at SMC, but the clear priority is to stabilize SMC first.

Q: What is the relationship between the Sakyong’s houses and the Shambhala International budget?

Terry: The budget shows all Core Services expenses and income that are related to the Sakyong — absolutely all of them.

Q: What about the Sakyong’s house in Boulder?

Terry: It isn’t owned by Shambhala International. It is in the category of his personal expenses.

Q: Does the Sakyong have expenses and income that are not shown on the web site?

Terry:  He has personal income and expenses, but I can’t speak to that-in much the same way that I cannot speak to your personal income and expenses and you cannot speak to mine.

Q: Then the Sakyong’s expenses do not affect the finances of Shambhala International?

Terry: No, not directly. I think that there is also an energtic exhange: Shambhala International supports the Sakyong and he supports Shambhala International through activities of the Sakyong Foundation. The recent matching grant for the Shambhala Centres is an example of this.

This interview answered some of my questions and raised a whole host of new ones. I needed to learn more than Terry had told me about the Sakyong Foundation, the Kalapa Group, and Kalapa.

The Sakyong Foundation

According to the Sakyong Foundation web site:

The Sakyong Foundation’s mission is to contribute to the growth and strength of the Sakyong lineage and the Shambhala vision of enlightened society. … The Foundation is organized as a public charity and was formed to provide support to organizations and projects throughout the world whose activities are aligned with our mission. The Foundation is an advocate for the many projects and meditation centers that are under Sakyong Mipham’s direction.

The Sakyong Foundation was incorporated as a charitable foundation in May, 2006. Its board consists of five members: The Sakyong, Jesse Grimes, Alex Halpern, Denny Robertson, and Jeff Waltcher, who has been the Executive Director from the beginning.  He was in various high-level management positions at Shambhala Mountain Center, a beneficiary of the Sakyong Foundation. There was a seven-month overlap between Mr. Waltcher’s employment at Shambhala Mountain Center (May, 2006 to December, 2007), during which he was working for both organizations. This seems to be a conflict of interest, particularly since SMC received over $200,000 from the Foundation during that time.

So far, other grants made by the Foundation have gone to: Shambhala International for partial repayment of a large debt: $250,000 in 2007 and $200,000 in 2008; the Sakyong’s own expenses, known as “parsonage expenses, ” in 2008 ($25,000+); funds for the Dorje Kasung ($75,000), and for Shambhala Centers and practice centers. The Foundation also gave nearly $100,000 for health care in Orissa, India. Although not so named on the Foundation web site, Orissa is the seat of the Sakyong’s father-in-law, Namkha Drimed Rinpoche. It seems logical, then, to conclude that this money is for one of the Sakyong’s father-in-law’s projects. More  information about grants that have been made is available on the Sakyong Foundation web site.

The Foundation appears to have close ties to the Kalapa Group. In 2008:

The Foundation held a fundraiser in Aspen for Surmang and the Sakyong’s other projects in Tibet. Inspired by the Sakyong’s desire to bring the wisdom of Shambhala to conversations about world peace, the Foundation, in partnership with The Kalapa Group, has received a grant to further develop the Living Peace Award (first awarded to His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama in 2006), and a related social networking web site, Viva Peace. In the fall of 2008 the Sakyong, along with Queen Noor [of Jordan] and Rabbi Irwin Kula, will host conversations about peace at four universities. The Sakyong Foundation will be one of the beneficiaries of this speaking tour managed by The Kalapa Group.

The Sakyong Foundation differs from many public foundations in two key respects. First: Most foundations accept funding proposals and make grants to organizations primarily outside of their own sphere of interest. However, in this case, almost all of the money disbursed by the Sakyong Foundation  is returned to Shambhala International, to the Sakyong himself, and to projects of his choosing. In other words, whereas most public foundations look outward, the Sakyong Foundation, on the whole, appears to be supporting internal priorities.

Second: Although the Sakyong Foundation is not a “pass-through foundation” (“a pass-through foundation is a private grantmaking organization that distributes all of the contributions it receives each year [1]) it appears to operate as one. To put it another way: Most of the grants the foundation makes come directly from donors, rather than from the endowment. This allows the foundation to make grants that are quite large in proportion to the small size of its assets. According to the Foundation website: “Since its inception the Sakyong Foundation has received over $2 million in gifts, earned over $300,000 of investment profits, [ed: for a total of $2,300,000] and made grants of over $500,000.” Based on these figures, which are not exact, in its first two years the Foundation, has given approximately 21.7% in grants. This is an unusually high percentage of grants for a foundation with such a small asset base. Gross assets for its first year, reported to the IRS, were only $647,850. Accurate financial information after the end of the first fiscal year is not yet available. While there is nothing wrong with running a foundation in this way, we might wonder about its long-term viability.

The Kalapa Group

I conducted a brief phone interview in September with Joshua Silberstein, President of The Kalapa Group and a student of Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche since 1998. Mr. Silberstein was an Attache and Continuity Kusung from 2004 -2006. He is also the secretary of the recently formed Kalapa Council.

The Kalapa Group, a for-profit organization, was founded in 2006 and is funded by individual investors, whose identity is confidential information. Its two staff members are Silberstein and a web designer. At present the Kalapa Group has two projects: organizing speaking tours for the Sakyong and Viva Peace, a social networking website:

Viva Peace is the collective expression of people living peace in their daily lives. We believe that peace is a real thing and that by celebrating it we can do something more powerful than change the world: we can let what is already there begin to transform it. We were born out of the friendship that blossomed between a Compassionate Businessman , a Tibetan Lama and a world famous DJ. We are not about profit and we are not about religious beliefs. We are simply trying to provide a space where people can share the inspiration to live peace today.

The founders of Viva Peace are the Sakyong, Jerry Murdock (the “Compassionate Businessman” referenced above), and Charissa Saverio, better known as DJ Rap. Viva Peace is primarily a collection of images and short videos that either celebrate peace or show areas in the world where peace needs to be expressed. Silberstein explained that Viva Peace is “not text oriented” because, for the young generation, who relate strongly to such web sites as Facebook and MySpace, images are more powerful than words.

I encourage readers to take a look at the Viva Peace web site so that they can see what  this approach to promoting world peace is about.

In addition to Viva Peace, the second type of activity the Kalapa Group engages in is organizing speaking events and tours for the Sakyong. These events are not sponsored by Shambhala International or directed towards the Shambhala sangha. In the summer of  2007

The Sakyong Jamgon Mipham Rinpoche was invited for the second year to present at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Aspen, Colorado. … Last year [ed: 2006] the Sakyong taught on Ruling Your World, and this year [he] participated in several discussions including a panel on “Compassionate Leadership” with Her Majesty Queen Noor and Rabbi Irwin Kula. [2 Shambhala News Service]

In September, 2008 the Sakyong participated in a speaking tour, once again, with Queen Noor and Rabbi Kula, called Compassionate Leadership: Cultivating the Leaders of Tomorrow. Moderated by  Jerry Murdock, three Compassionate Leadership events took place at New York University, Tufts University, and Goldman Sachs – during the throes of the Wall Street financial crisis.

The Sakyong Group was reluctant to provide me with information about its sources of support, except to say that there are “some investors.” I discovered, however, that the teaching gifts made at  the Sakyong’s personal web site (the “make a teaching gift” requests are featured on several pages) go directly to the Kalapa Group. This might come as a surprise to some who make teaching gifts there.

Who is the “Compassionate Businessman”?

The unnamed supporter of Viva Peace, Jerry Murdock, described on the Viva Peace website as a Compassionate Businessman, has a very visible role in the Sakyong’s activities as well as a major though somewhat hidden role in funding the Sakyong’s activities. Jerry Murdock is a wealthy venture capitalist and serves on the board of several IT companies. He is also a member of the Boards of Trustees of The Santa Fe Institute and The Aspen Institute.

In addition to moderating the three Compassionate Leadership events held in September, 2008, Murdock also moderated a panel discussion called Music, Technology and Community at the 2007 Aspen Ideas Festival, featuring the Sakyong, Charissa Saverio and two other pop musicians. (The 2007 Aspen Ideas Festival also included four talks by Karl Rove, three by Colin Powell, and one by Bill Clinton.)

The minutes of the May 22 meeting of the Sakyong’s Council report that “some of the items on the [Sakyong’s] wish list would be funded by a private benefactor of the Sakyong, Jerry Murdock. Mr. Murdock had offered to pay for the Sakyong’s travel for particular purposes …  and for the positions of executive director of Shambhala [International] and the Sakyong’s chief of staff for a determined number of years.”

Mr. Murdock’s donations are directed to the Sakyong Foundation, which channels them to the Kalapa Group, to help support the Living Peace Award and the Compassionate Leadership speaking tour.

Jerry Murdock seems to represent a new phenomenon in Shambhala, one that Terry Rudderham mentioned when I interviewed her: wealthy benefactors who are not Buddhist but who are inspired by the Sakyong and want to support some of his activities — particularly those that are focused outward, away from the Shambhala International sangha. Are there others like Jerry Murdock who are completely anonymous? If so, and I think it likely that they exist, they remain under deep cover.

This is the end of Part 1.

This diagram attempts to visualize some of the money flows discussed here.






Part 2is about “Kalapa,” which the Sakyong spoke of on Shambhala Day, 2008. He said:



In thinking about the notion of lineage — who we are — I have created a new format, a structure that I’m calling Kalapa. Kalapa will be the storehouse and protector of the Shambhala lineage, and in particular, the lineage of Sakyongs. … I do not hold it lightly, as it’s obviously both a blessing and a burden. … The notion of the lineage of Sakyongs has to continue. It’s the source of spiritual blessing and teaching. It felt important in terms of all the teachings and the artifacts of the Vidyadhara, as well as those that I am continuing to produce, that all those will be safeguarded in Kalapa.

Kalapa has been institutionalized as a legal entity. Its potential power is far-reaching. To learn more, please read Part 2.


67 Responses to “Navigating the Labyrinth, Part 1”

  1. damchö on March 13th, 2013 2:21 am

    Jake – I don’t know how the deeper problems can get reformed from within. That’s been one of the ongoing topics of conversation here from the beginning of course: whether they can, and if so how.

    This reminds me that I think a short book might well be compiled from this site – not for publication, just for convenience as a resource. Divided into a number of main topics, with each topic containing a selection of what has been written here, organized into a roughly continuous flow of ideas. (Not a quick and easy project though!)

    I’ve connected with a lot of what has been said. Like James and others I see a fundamental problem in the theocratic nature of Shambhala, the conflation of the personal student-teacher relationship with the collective. Vajrayana with, well, Shambhala. Likewise, there are the unhealthy power dynamics: James again has written about situations in which people have been harmed because a senior teacher was simply unaccountable to anyone. (Or because those (s)he was accountable to either didn’t see or didn’t care.)

    For me it is at these fundamental levels that repairs would need to be made. Others here have different perspectives – some critical of the Sakyong. I simply don’t have any knowledge of that side of things. But the way power and obedience and scapegoating work: this I have seen, this I know.

    And that’s what it was which reflecting on scowling_owl’s post catalyzed: I remembered just how *scared* I am by certain things. Many years on I still have nightmares of them. The mix is just too volatile: largely authoritarian rule; kingship (hereditary no less); loyalty oaths at several levels; the prominence/supremacy of the Kasung; ambitious goals for membership and reach; a messianic vision; the pulling free of certain constraints of lineage; and above all, again, the quite dangerous conflation of personal samaya relationship with secular-social harmony.

    It’s not that I necessarily believe anyone actively wishes harm of any kind. It’s that harmful things simply develop – always, I would say – in communities which cultivate not true individuals but rather true believers.

  2. scowling_owl on March 13th, 2013 2:28 am

    I concur with Jake on this. I have my own profound uncertainties about Shambhala but I have never experienced *any* of these things. If anything, as I said, most of my own critical concerns about the organization fall at the opposite end of the spectrum – that the centers I have been affiliated with are sometimes feel too middling or disorganized. I’m sure the author of the piece meant well but his recount had no resonance for me. It felt more like he was universalizing a fundamental mistrust of esoteric traditions.

  3. Rita Ashworth on March 13th, 2013 3:18 am

    Dear All,

    I dont think SI can reform now that the Sakyong principle has been conflated into a ‘semi-political’ one….you would have to usurp this way of thinking about things and I dont see how SI can do that now-it is totally plugged in to this way of seeing the world in this manner.
    This is perhaps why many have left to more traditional Buddhist teachers and why like myself I am exploring more western thought on the processes of meditation and Buddhism itself which I find a fascinating exploration at the present time.
    Of course too the original way the shambhala teachings were taught applied to the rest of humanity too and this has now gone and I dont think you are in this present time going to reach people on a large scale by asking them to become Buddhists to access meditation.
    Yes the world has moved on and SI begins to resemble more and more the Church systems now in place – and this simply wont do in our present age….its an old-fashioned way of looking at society….much stuck in the past….we are in revolutionary times now…we have to touch base with science, psychology, philosophy, art, politics as it is done now – these disciplines and others maybe only now the way Buddhism/meditation can survive in our present cultures….yes we are turning on the cusp of the dharma now as to it remaining a present force in society itself worldwide.

    Well best from the UK,
    Rita Ashworth

  4. Ash on March 13th, 2013 1:01 pm

    There seems to be an accepted inference that if there is a cult going on, then ‘Shambhala’ is doing it to various ‘victims’, whereas if you deconstruct ‘Shambhala’ of course what you really have is a large number of individuals interacting with each other, aka, in CTR’s lively lingo: ‘a mutual conspiracy’, which is another definition of both samsara and enlightened society (!).

    Dictionary. com has this regarding the origin of the world cult: ‘1610–20; < Latin cultus habitation, tilling, refinement, worship, equivalent to cul-, variant stem of colere to inhabit, till, worship + -tus suffix of v. action.' Interesting how habitation (dwelling), tilling (digging into the earth) and worship share the same etymological root.

    The word 'Sakyong' is protector of Sa which is usually translated as 'earth' but it also is the same, I believe, as the Sanskrit 'Bhumi' as in Bhumipalibhavana, aka Sakyong in Tibetan. Now, they are not the 10 Earths, and here Sa is translated often as 'level'. I think of it as a 'Reality', as in there are various levels, or spheres of perceived reality. And perhaps this is what we are really dealing with when dealing with Society. Different societies have different realities. For example we can compare the Viennese aristocratic salon culture of the 1780's – shortly before Europe started to destroy itself and geniuses like Mozart and Beethoven devoured Bach manuscripts in order to better understand the nature of Reality, since to them music was a language of profound depth and subtlety, not merely something to enhance mood or an aphrodisiac as it is today – to, say, the culture of slaveships at the same time cramming terrified slaves into the holds of leaking wooden vessels over to the White Man's New World. Or today's Facebook culture. These are all different Realities, or Sa's, or Cultures – or mandalas for that matter although that term has fun in many different playgrounds. (As, I am suggesting, does the word ‘sa’). For anyone living with an animal friend, when we spend time together much of what is going on is basically comparing two very different body-mind realities, or Sa’s, or cultures.

    A cult is, I think, a Society of more than one person, usually unified around some sort of belief, usually of a religious nature but not necessarily so.

    There are enlightened cults and samsaric one, rising and setting sun cults. So although usually it is used in a negative sense, nowadays, I think this is a mistake because it makes it hard to go deeper into what problems there may be in any given cult under examination. ( I loved Bubba Free John’s expression: ‘cult of the couple’. It makes instant sense. )

    Vajrayana is a cult par excellence. It is a particular society, or culture, wherein the stated goal is to undermine the usual Reality perceived and perpetuated by no ends of types of ego, nearly all of which come out of and contribute to conventional society, aka 'conventional views of reality.

    In any case, a cult creates a type of reality, or Sa, and our vajrayana one is there to help an (ideally) intelligent person break through various chains of ignorance and delusion which are hard to perceive without being confronted by the guru/master. How else can the stories of Naropa jumping to his death merely at the verbal command of Tilopa make any sense? Clearly this is a cult and to deny it is a waste of time and intelligence.

    But is it a good cult or not? That is the question. Not whether or not it is a cult. And further, what is particularly good or particularly bad/not good? And ultimately answering this is as personal as each individual’s path, because one person’s bad cult can be another person’s good cult because ultimately we each get out of a society/mandala/cult what we are putting in, both ego projection and enlightened view. There is no central Being or One-Mind that is imposing itself on another. That is the myth of Ego right there!

    Perhaps Mr. Conte is relating some very good feedbacks, but perhaps also he got to a point where he realised he didn’t want to go further and at the same time, he, like many of us, found himself being booted out on his arse, which is a direct manifestation of rock meeting bone on the ‘Culture/Earth’ of Reality!

    Which is, after all, a jolly good thing!

  5. Ash on March 13th, 2013 1:28 pm

    On reviewing:

    Well, the case of Vajrayana is relatively simple. We are, though, supposedly discussing the Shambhala community, which is not only Vajrayana and indeed is supposedly ‘secular’ (whatever that means).

    Now: should an ideal Shambhala Society be a good cult or not? If not, what unifies it. I have always felt that DDM gave a seminal talk on this at the ’81 Kalapa Assembly where he clearly posited the role of Sakyong as the key, core binding factor of the entire social structure. I find it hard not to regard this too, therefore, as a cult par excellence.

    And all such things only work when you give your body, mind and soul entirely to them. This is true in no end of human endeavours – farming, wifing, husbanding, parenting, businessing, revolutioning, warring, peacing and so on, not to mention Mozarting or Beethoving. Complete dedication, or discipline, or devotion to that path is required.

    That being the case, I don’t think there is any way for any authentic path of any sort to be anything less than somewhat extreme.

    That, to me, is the essence of vajrayana. It is not essentially different from hinayana, but rather it begins with the premise that there is no fundamental safe harbour in the storm of Reality, so I think the tantric notion of nirvana, or peace, is more akin to death in battle than punting down the River Oxon in May, when the worst that can happen is that, whilst you flirt and wave to the pretty maiden on the shore, you forget to pull the pole out properly and end up dangling without punt, slowly sinking, whilst aforesaid maiden turns to her companions in a fit of grateful giggling!

    More seriously, though, if the binding factor of Shambhala Society is the Monarch, or rather devotion/loyalty to the Monarch, then it is structurally almost, if not actually, identical to a Vajrayana mandala, which is similarly built, by definition, on the edifice of a guru-disciple razor blade shuffle. The description might be different, and maybe some of the moves and costumes, but other than that, it is pretty much the same.

    That being the case, I fail to see how it can honestly be described as ‘secular’. There, I think, is where things get wobbly. The description given in Level I does not honestly prepare a student for raising and lowering of flags by Kasungs 24 months later at a flag-raising ceremony at Warrior’s Assembly. And if that is ‘secular’, then what meaning does that word have?

    (This whole cult issue is a deep topic which goes way beyond the current Shambhala community dynamic.)

    But this is also why I think Shambhala is a little bit suspect. Can the Sakyong get away with joining the likes of lesbian activist councillors, not to mention quasi-terrorist ex-federales in Chicago, and still be presenting anything fundamentally radical, radically substantive, fundamentally revolutionary, aka on some level: extreme? (Well, since it could be argued that his companions in that event are extreme vs mainstream, let us hope that he is no less so than they!)

    I wish him the best. But one of the main things about a cult is that, as with any mandala, you have a fairly well defined fringe which protects/defines the centre, the core, the essential character or Reality, or Culture, or Cult. Which means you cannot include everyone all the time doing anything they want. That is a Times Square approach, and even there we have rules.

    So Shambhala too is a cult. Let us hope, for the sake of those still working hard to perpetuate it, that it is a good one!

  6. John Tischer on March 13th, 2013 2:47 pm

    “So Shambhala too is a cult. Let us hope, for the sake of those still working hard to perpetuate it, that it is a good one!”

    Well, if you’re going to say this, nothing you said before matters to me.

  7. damchö on March 13th, 2013 3:14 pm

    Hi Ash,

    If I understand you rightly, you are partly advocating for the terms “good cult”/”bad cult” to replace “cult”/”healthy spiritual community.” I understand your point, but am not sure I can agree. Words not only have root meanings in the past; they have current usages. (This is an issue not dissimilar to the idea of “original intent” à la Scalia.) The word “cult” today, like it or not, is used almost entirely to mean negative things. And in part this comes out of a broader understanding of collective manipulation and mania which the 20th century has given us in innumerably terrifying forms. So: no bad thing.

    Now, does this mean we lose the ability to speak of “the cult of the couple” and so on? I don’t see how – especially not if something negative is being meant by that, as I assume it is. (I agree, by the way: a fine phrase.) It only becomes relevant when – as you discuss – we are trying to delineate certain characteristics (eg of vajrayana) in a positive or even just value-neutral way.

    And yes, communities of vajrayana practitioners can certainly be seen to encompass several of Marcus Conte’s listed features, but still: trying to reclaim the word “cult” for positive use doesn’t seem necessary to me – or more to the point, possible. Apart from anything else, the word has now acquired even a legal connotation: being deemed a cult or not can mean the difference between being allowed to exist or not.

  8. damchö on March 13th, 2013 3:21 pm

    One other point you make that I’d like to contribute to is this: “one person’s bad cult can be another person’s good cult because ultimately we each get out of a society/mandala/cult what we are putting in, both ego projection and enlightened view. There is no central Being or One-Mind that is imposing itself on another. That is the myth of Ego right there!”

    Well, unless I’m misunderstanding you, I think something crucial is being left out here. And this is the fact that communities can generate harm, even an awful lot of it, when certain dynamics are allowed to take over. Leaving this out makes the above too close to nihilism for me: ie, it doesn’t much matter what kind of community we create because no one’s ultimately creating it.

    A few years back Khandro Rinpoche herself expressed the concern that senior teachers might be seriously harming others (I quoted it not long ago):

    “I can kill many, many times. Because you’re working with minds. You’re working with life. There is no actual cutting up of a person and the consciousness of the person leaving the body. But on the other hand, if you think about it from a Buddhist philosophical, teaching perspective of cause and effect, and the impact of words … you can actually, sort of, always mess with people’s lives. So easy to do. Such an immense responsibility…

    “The goodness of the person can be influenced by that, the weakness of the person can be influenced by that. Discouragement can come from that, encouragement can come from that. Positivity can come from that, negativity can come from that. Schism and aversions and sadness and suffering, and a person never being able to overcome all the negativities.

    “You can do that. You can influence that. You can influence a lot of goodness and we always hope that that is what is happening, but the impact of negativity that can occur is something that these days I’m beginning to really think [about], that really occurs to me more often.”

  9. Ash on March 13th, 2013 3:53 pm

    Well said D.

    OK: first, I think my point about the word usage of cult is that we could do much better than simply slap a rather generic negative label on something and confuse that with having made any sort of penetrating, and therefore, illuminating point. In what particular is this cult aspect bad?

    That said, I still feel strongly that even if you don’t want to characterise the guru-disciple mandala as a cult par excellence (or an enlightened form of cult), given it’s flip-side of the negative cult quality, what do you call the enlightened version? I think it’s splitting hairs to come up with a different word because you still have to get into the particulars. Which are what is interesting anyway.

    Now you are also right about how groups, and leaders within groups, can cause significant harm. But for harm to occur this has to be experienced by an individual who for whatever reason cannot transmute any experience into ‘the path’, but rather transmutes it into further samsara. One can blame the leader, or other society members for this, but ultimately we are all responsible for our own experience, which is where Taking Refuge starts and the entire journey ends. So blaming the teacher or the group overmuch is, as I said before, bowing down to the god of a centralised controller, aka God or Big Brother. This is the perceptual structure of Ego right there (a permanent, centralised Self).

    (To be slightly abhidharmic/logical about it, there really is no such thing as a ‘sangha’ or ‘community’, which is really more of a concept than an entity. Yes, there is a discernible cultural mandala, but that has no ultimate form, shape or essence, it is purely mental/emotional, i.e. sambhogakaya level type thing, not an existens per se. So you can’t really blame a ‘Community’ for doing anything even though it makes sense. Picking up a ‘community’ of grains of sand lying on the beach we find always that those individual grains just flow away through our fingers and we have picked up nothing at all, really.)

    At least with authentic Buddhadharma – and Shambhala warriorship – essentially we are dealing with conscious, and hopefully also conscientious, adults. By definition adults are basically free and responsible. You cannot co-erce anyone into taking Refuge, though you can force them to repeat formulaic incantations. You cannot force them to take Bodhisattva Vows. Nor can you force them to request to enter a tantric relationship with a master/mistress, nor force them to request to become oath-holding Shambhalians. They are responsible adults entering into a commitment voluntarily, just like someone studying to become a great musician or whatever. It’s no different fundamentally. If the teacher is damaging many people, then those people are also responsible for allowing themselves to buy into whatever bullshit behaviour is harming them. Ultimately, the whole notion of a ‘victim’ in a cult is similar to that of unresponsible child in a dysfunctional family. If people function as children in an adult world, to a certain extent they/we deserve what we get.

    I don’t think Naropa would have whined to the government, or on a forum, or have tried to take Tilopa to Court for violating his personal dignity and threatening loss of life. He jumped over the cliff on the command of the Master. He chose to. That is why it is heroic. And also very ‘cultic’.

  10. damchö on March 13th, 2013 5:29 pm

    Ash – yes, we all must take responsibility as best we can. But that statement, if left on its own, can end up rather vacuous and dysfunctional. Once again, I think it is partly a question of how we view the relationship of relative and absolute (see Khandro Rinpoche’s remarks on this too).

    You set up an atomized picture of community (“grains of sand flow[ing] away through our fingers”) – ie, nothing one can hold responsible. But the trouble is that there *is* something there! There are leaders who are fully capable of *mis*leading. There are minions justifying good old-fashioned harm with the good old-fashioned excuse of “obedience” (devotion/loyalty/what have you). There is a collective intelligence and energy – in short, mind – contributing its own causes and conditions. Holding those in charge responsible for misdeeds need hardly require “bowing down to the god of a centralised controller.” It might also, of course, be a manifestation of wisdom.

  11. damchö on March 13th, 2013 5:33 pm

    I also strongly disagree that the act of taking refuge or bodhisattva vows effectively has committed one to the same path as the tantrika. Although you haven’t said this precisely, I believe it is an unmistakeable conclusion of reading your posts. For instance, you use Naropa as your example, but of course this is substituting an exception for the rule. How many hinayanists or mahayanists (or for that matter vajrayanists) are close to Naropa in discipline and devotion? So why use *his* path of all those “84,000” to make your case? Furthermore, only a Tilopa can treat a Naropa that way, and I’m afraid – as best as I am able with my highly impure vision – I don’t see any Tilopas in Shambhala today.

    You say: “If the teacher is damaging many people, then those people are also responsible for allowing themselves to buy into whatever bullshit behaviour is harming them… If people function as children in an adult world, to a certain extent they/we deserve what we get.” Well, no. It’s not that simple, not at all. Such a view could be used to justify harm in virtually every arena.

    Now, I know that’s the last thing you would wish to do. We’re only disagreeing about causes and conditions here. So, to give merely one concrete example:

    Shambhala does not advertise itself as a vajrayana community, requiring all to be vajrayanists. It claims to represent a universal, indeed only vestigially “religious” path to personal and societal realization – while indeed, these days, *also* claiming to do so within buddhism, somehow…

    The net result is a bait and switch, in which people are seduced into their first Shambhala level with all their favorite Dalai Lama images and words (eg, “my religion is kindness”) in mind, combined with the assurance that the path they are embarking upon is a secular one, requiring no giving up of their birth religion or what have you.

    Then they are led, rather rapidly for most people, through a process that somehow culminates in theocracy, loyalty oaths, endless requests for money, and eventually – many will discover – “bullshit behaviour,” or worse. We need to look at the causes and conditions there quite carefully, and not simply deconstruct everything on the leadership/societal/institutional side while leaving “self” intact to pick up all the pieces.

  12. Rita Ashworth on March 13th, 2013 5:50 pm

    Ash….you have descended …..just wondering what mountain you have been on!?!

    Cults…could be in US…people get pushy and overcrush….but I dont think the English would have the energy to be in a cult rather I think they would just want to be in the social scene and dance around things, particularly in London which is full of all that stuff…..zzzzzzzz……
    Shambhala…..zzzzzzzzz….so boring now….so overcrushing…its amazing how many of CTRs students are with other Buddhist lamas now….caught sight of Sam Bercholz at the Vajrayana Foundation….worth a visit….saw a vid of him there……well best from the UK rita

  13. Ash on March 13th, 2013 6:51 pm

    I too disagree with V being an inevitable result of taking refuge which is why I wrote them out separately and why perhaps you concluded that inference.

    Now the reason I use Naropa etc. is because that relationship was the first one, the founding one, in the lineage under discussion. So it is not irrelevant. Furthermore, it is often used as a classic example of a guru-disciple relationship which itself – and this is the important point, not the narrative dramatic highlights involving cliff-jumping etc. – is the basis of the tantric path. Put another way: without that relationship there is no vajrayana. At least not in our lineage. And I believe any real tantric lineage. Read Asvaghosa’s beautiful homage to the guru written in about 100 AD I think (back of Mahamudra book by HHK published decades ago). That is why I refer to that relationship. And also because in the context of this cult discussion: if that foundational relationship is cultish – as I believe it is – then the entire V path is cultish. (Again, though, I don’t think that is necessarily bad, just that people shouldn’t have childish or over-simplistic notions of the subject matter….)

    So then: forget about V, what about Shambhala which is supposedly something else, something not religious and therefore presumably not cultish? This is where I think things have become very tricky. Two points: first again I VERY much agree with you about the disconnect between the so-called public, open, secular path described in earlier levels with what it soons morphs into, namely a closed, secret society. Indeed, this is the single main reason I have not been an active member for almost 15 years now. I just disagree with that model. I cannot represent it or participate. I don’t want my children involved in it. It doesn’t seem right. And even if it is right, it isn’t being done right. It stinks!

    Second, as I mentioned, it is my impression that DDM defined the essence of Shambhala society in 1981 as being built on the essentially devotional relationship between Sakyong and subjects. Now, you might not agree with this characterization, but from my pov, this means that fundamentally Shambhala Society is a tantric one, or if not, then the level of devotion and commitment – albeit let us say of a warrior-culture similar to that of being a member of Genghis Khan’s Society for example, or being a loyal Brit circa 1943 etc. – that commitment and surrender of self to the cause is so close to being cultish as to demand a very detailed, or as I put it, ‘particular’ type of analysis in order to get into what is going on, to parse from otherwise rather generic, and thus overly vague terms like ‘cult’, some more specific detail as to what is right and what is wrong therein.

    And again, we basically differ on our view of community here. I don’t buy the Big Brother model as being appropriate either for Refugees, or for Shambhalians. But we have it seemingly.

    I don’t, for example, regard the Guru role as being that of Big Brother. The student still is responsible for his marriage, paying his bills, serving out prison sentences, paying taxes, serving as a conscript. The guru has no control or role of control in all that stuff, and no self-respecting student would expect that of a guru anyway. That is a misunderstanding of the adult, and rather specialised, commitment they have made. Nor is that a good understanding of Sakyong either, who should not micro-manage the creativity of the population, nor even much of its self-organisation at the local and regional level, nor even its culture, its rituals – let alone micro-managing an individual’s life journey.

    So, if you would like me to agree that there is far too much cultism involved in the current manifestation, then I agree, however all I am really suggesting is that the issue is more subtle than is usually considered or discussed because the fundamental models of the Vajrayana community (which is relevant to this community) and Shambhala are cults, though I think of that as a neutral, even ideally positive, term and you don’t. In which case I would have to use another word, but I don’t have one. In any case, the way it is now is definitely far too cultish in the negative sense for my cup of tea, which is why I have had to leave.

    PS I also think that if Shambhala is a cult (in positive sense) then calling it ‘secular’ is meangless. I would love to argue this out with DDM but…

  14. Ash on March 13th, 2013 7:08 pm

    Rita, not in the mountains, down on the ground. Indeed, am looking into digging down to make ‘underground greenhouses’, and earth-bermed houses, and also might soon be helping someone put together an ‘estate’ here with working organic farm, guest facilities, small businesses, all off-grid etc. But that could all be talk. Meanwhile, will be digging down at home to learn how to make underground greenhouse mainly because I want to grow my own vegetables (finally) but also because I find the science behind using below-surface ground as thermal mass fascinating. So no mountain, just regular brick oven baking and very humble lifestyle – though the property in question is next to a Juniper Mountain, come to think of it, so maybe you are right, there is a mountain in the picture!

  15. damchö on March 13th, 2013 10:06 pm

    Ah … I feel I get it much better now (sound of coin thunking into brain slot). Thanks for the further clarification.

    Actually, I’ve always understood the notion of Shambhala society as fundamentally tantric, but in the looser sense of that term – as arising out of tantric view. Institutions and culture founded upon and informed by nondual, one taste understanding. Thus also an inherent sacredness/ordinary magic permeates the way organizations are run, education realized, art experienced, and so on. I just always understood – no doubt imperfectly – that VCTR really intended such a possibility outside of religious affiliation as it is commonly understood. And your description of the “essentially devotional relationship between Sakyong and subjects” forming the “essence” of said society does indeed feel like religion to me. But as you say, simply a divergence in perspective, aired before.

    But yes, I do see your point now: in the terms within which you view Shambhala society, I could understand how the term “cult” might be applied, and not – again from that standpoint – negatively.

    Always very good to discuss words and what we mean when we use them. Especially as an antidote to the usual practices of our culture, which has been running in the opposite direction for a long time now of course… But that is another tale!

    Cheers – d

  16. Rita Ashworth on March 14th, 2013 2:48 am

    Dear Damcho, Ash et al,

    Perhaps we should have a government health warning re Shambhala now –it maybe a good/bad cult(?!) but its certainly a Buddhist Elect and ‘Special Being’ system and will cost you at todays prices about $20,000 -$30,000 buckeroos depending on your income grade….that might suffice to cover the whole thing!? Worth a shot then we would all know where we are with the Org outsiders and insiders……zzzzzzzzz……
    Re the Conte episode as it were –not sure if NY can chuck him out on their own –if they did do that- yes even under President Reoch’s admin things would have to go through due process right up to his door….so one awaits more on what actually happened. If I was the President I would get on to it now, but it would involve debating with Mr Conte which might be a good thing and quite a farce piece and I do like farce-Ash do you remember Brian Rix?
    Re shambhala from the Ash angle – all I would say is matter of his own opinion as to what the Vid actually said – we have of course Mark Szaps. take of Open Dojo on the whole thing too so yous take your choice now I believe.
    Meanwhile of course the ranks of former CTR students fill the shrinerooms of Ponlops, Khandros, Dzongsars, and Karmapas organisations….yes there has been some flight from SI.
    I also too have gone not yet to a Buddhist lama because am a bit more wary of that whole scene now and of course too after all the debacles of CTR land…..ah so….. so still in exploration mode. I am guessing somewhat in the end that things are going more the Mark Szap. way simply because of what I am experiencing re people and situations now. Indeed Batchelor and the whole phenomenon of him seems to point this way, as does the mindfulness movement. In addition there is now growing up a Secular Buddhist Movement which is an online presence at the moment but which seems to be gathering interest and eventually might form itself into some kind of physical organisation that can present the dharma to westerners without the brocade tripperoos.
    Yes one does look with fascination at what is happening worldwide re dharma-I wonder where it is all going to end up now as a spent force in the west or meandering into something completely different a la Python.
    Yes Ash so u are going underground-not sure about all that…. I am going overground -Buddhists are spilling out of my ears now….its interesting doing this convention….yes no-one knows the secrets of the black magic box.

    Well best from the UK

    Rita Ashworth

  17. Mark Szpakowski on March 19th, 2013 6:35 pm

    So sorry, this door is closed – end of thread.

    Apologies to those of you who find your comments missing, I had to remove the last few days of comments.