Global Delek?

November 21, 2008

Is it time for a world-wide Chögyam Trungpa delek?

This could be a way to use an existing and yet not fully realized form – that of the delek system – to take care of each other. There are enough of us with a presence on this site – plus all those lurking but not saying anything (yet) – that it may be timely. For those places where there’s enough people (Halifax is one) local deleks could also be set up. We could explore how to use various online forms and tools to support the global and local deleks. 

This may also be a good first step that addresses some social and political concerns while deferring dealing with the thornier issues around religious and practice forms that may need to evolve in the future. I personally don’t feel the time is quite right for the latter – the ground needs further pacifying and enriching, so to speak.

Sherab Chödzin Kohn writes[1] of Trungpa Rinpoche’s 1968 discussions at Taksang of political consciousness and the delek system:

Kunga [Dawa] describes the discussions at Taksang: “… the best thing would be if there was an enlightened ruler who ruled his kingdom but there was also a form of democratic governance so that the people would have a say and would be able to communicate with local leaders. […] So the basis would be communities on the local level… and there would be meditation happening. Rinpoche came up with the idea of the knot of eternity, saying that this would be the banner of our revolutionary activity; I suppose because it represents the continuity of the meditative state without beginning or end.


Society as a whole was to be imbued with a sense of meditative openness. […] The seal of meditation, the knot of eternity, is on the activity of both the delekpa and the king – insight is anonymous (which is why the meditation knot has no faces).

Comments and next steps welcome.

– Mark Szpakowski

[1] The Delekpa and the King, Kalapa Journal, Number 2 (1999)

What would Padmasambhava do?

November 17, 2008

What would Padmasambhava do?

In the cave of Taktsang Senge Samdrup
He who has buried treasure in rocks and snow mountains in holy places of Tibet
Shows kindness to the people of the future dark age
I supplicate you Dorje Trollö
I supplicate you Urgyen Padmakara.[1]

I humbly present these thoughts.  My humbleness comes from a paucity of intellect and memory, and any real knowledge of Tibetan history.  However,  I do think that what little I do think I know is helpful enough to get feedback from others and to create at least some sort of hope. 

I get the impression that due to the great devotion and  exertion of our Kagyu forefathers, the full transmission of the experiential teachings based on esoteric instructions from the tantras they received from their teachers in India has been preserved up until this time.  Furthermore,  great compendiums of written instructions and commentaries have been collected, contemplated  and preserved  with great insight and exertion by such masters as Rangjung Dorje and Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye, among others, I’m sure.  There have also been great teachers who were ostracized, punished,  and their works destroyed.  (Such as Dolpolpa, who radically influenced the Shentong tradition, and whose work, apparently,  managed to survive to this day.) 

Somehow,  we  were fortunate enough to receive the pith (and more) of these incredible treasures, baked fresh yet again by a miraculous teacher  appearing in our life time.

Now,  it seems to me,  that one of the  biggest issues  we are facing is  losing these incredible treasures with all their subtleties, and depth.   Basically,  I’m sure that  many would agree that although Trungpa  Rinpoche is  so called “dead,”   he is also alive in the transmission we received from him,  the practices he gave us, and in his written and spoken words.  They must not die with us!!!!

We need to save his legacy. So far, this sort of work is already going on in various ways, most importantly in the Chogyam Trungpa Legacy Project. I wonder if “we concerned” could perhaps work more closely with that group, nobly led by Carolyn Gimian and others,  to find out more about what are the real dangers of copyright losses and also to find ways to protect whatever can be protected,  and to promote whatever can be promoted.  Also, ways to make these teachings more accessible to people now and in the future.  Fabrice Midal is another brilliant resource for this.   Likewise, perhaps in an advisory sense, Reggie Ray and the Ojai group.

Again, I am grateful for this site, to be able to freely discuss these things, and hopefully as a way to work through our rants, misunderstandings and  despair over this serious matter, and to  brainstorm possible avenues of hope.   

– Ginny Lipson

[1] from The Sadhana of Mahamudra, by Chögyam Trungpa

A Useful Analogy?

November 12, 2008

There’s a possibly useful historical perspective and analogy that might apply to the question of whether the Shambhala Vision (as well the Dharma Art) of Chögyam Trungpa and of many of his followers is in its breadth and in its depth fundamentally for Buddhists, or equally for people of any religious practice.

Jesus Christ, the founder of Christianity, was himself a Jew, as were all his original disciples. Yet very soon, though not without controversy, Christianity opened itself up to people who were not Jewish. As it says in one of its texts (Galatians 3:28), there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female.

This seems roughly comparable to the situation with the Shambhala of Chögyam Trungpa, who was himself a Buddhist, and whose Buddhist students made up 99% of the original citizens of his Shambala Kingdom. Yet it was always clear to me, as one of those Buddhist students, as well as to my fellow participants in this grand experiment, that the intention was quite explicitly to have Shambhala and the full range of its teachings and practices available to all. As Chögyam Trungpa says in Great Eastern Sun, The Wisdom of Shambhala, p 133:

Shambhala vision applies to people of any faith, not just people who believe in Buddhism… the Shambhala vision does not distinguish a Buddhist from a Catholic, a Protestant, a Jew, a Moslem, a Hindu. That’s why we call it the Shambhala kingdom. A kingdom should have lots of spiritual disciplines in it. That’s why we are here.

Now in the last few years there has much of what I would call revisionism and antidestablishmentarianism (yet another historical perspective), with the mainstream Shambhala Buddhist organization saying that Chögyam Trungpa’s Shambhala was always intended primarily for Buddhists, with non-Buddhists able to share some of the beginning practices, but that ultimately they can not be full, first-class citizens and subjects. Mitchell Levy, for example, in his recent Chronicles podcast, says that non-buddhists can participate in a Shambhala society but not in the Church (which, if it’s Buddhist, is understandable), the Military, or the Government. I think that the root of such a view lies in equating Chögyam Trungpa’s Shambhala exclusively with the Tibetan Buddhist Kalachakra teachings (he explicitly says it’s not just that). This view, for many, ignores the very heart and essence of Shambhala vision and of the ever increasing relevance  of its simple, precise language to our 21st century world.

The analogy with the relationship between Christianity and Judaism is not perfect: among others, the Buddhist/Shambhala relationship is not one between two religions, but between a religion and a society/state/kingdom. Nevertheless, I think it can be helpful in offering some perspective on an issue that currently divides communities inspired by Chögyam Trungpa.

– Mark Szpakowski

Going Down With the Ship

November 8, 2008


Much communication has been taking place lately across the electronic airwaves about the state of the Shambhala community. This exchange of views is a good thing.  

I believe much of the “problem” is structural. A particular mandala set-up organically grew up around Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche.  The mandala that developed was a mutual creation of his, his students, the mahakalas, dralas, and other non-theistic entities Rinpoche was/is connected with. As the Vidyadhara (crazy wisdom holder), he was inscrutable in the way he occupied the space at the centre. One could say that the centre of the mandala was empty, or one could say that the centre was like an axis which exists according to some universal principle, but does not exist in any tangible way. For the most part, the Vidyadhara was in the background, hidden by the hustle and bustle of what was going on…the activity of the mandala itself. (He’s still in the background, but, for me, it has gotten harder and harder to see the relationship between him and the current mandala.)

When Trungpa Rinpoche was the central mandala figure, sometimes he was in the foreground. When he taught, he was “the man”. The spotlight was on him. The rest of the time, because he showed us how to meditate and work with our mind, because he empowered us to take our seat and be who we are, we were the actors in the ongoing movie, or, more often than not, the unfolding drama–and he was in the background.   

Lots of things went right, and some things went wrong. When they went wrong, typically, he didn’t fix them. My understanding of this–and this is pure conjecture on my part–is that he had faith in the intelligence of the mandala, he knew karma would take its course, and, generally speaking, he had no inclination to step in to “save the day” in any case!

From a theistic point of view, this is hardly acceptable. The person in charge should right the ship when it’s listing, dammit! But in our case, when things start to go south, there is no Superman. There is no magician to pull a rabbit out of a hat. It’s up to us.

But we do know one thing. When things get rough–when there’s a lot of pain, confusion, and divisiveness–one thing we can do is practice tonglen, and go from there.

Quite a few years ago, in the question period at a seminar, I asked Trungpa Rinpoche about tonglen. (I don’t recall which seminar it was, but judging from his response, he was probably not teaching Hinayaya or Mahayana.)

 “If you’re doing tonglen for someone who has cancer,” I asked, “and you’re doing it properly, does that mean that you won’t get the cancer?”

 “No,” he said. “You get cancer.”

 “So, you go down with the ship?”

 “Yes.” (I believe he was smiling at this point!) “You go down with the ship!”

This exchange has always stuck with me because it’s so unsettling. Recently, I was reading  “Crazy Wisdom” in The Collected Works of Chogyam Trungpa, Volume Five, and came across the following passage which gave me a bit of a clue as to what Trungpa Rinpoche was talking about [my emphasis]:

There still seems to be some kind of timidity in our general approach. We are timid in the sense that, no matter how subtle or obvious the teachings may be, we are still not reconciled to the notion that “pain and pleasure alike are ornaments which it is pleasant to wear.” We might read it, we might say it, but still we find it magnificent to twist the twist and feel that misery or negativity is good: “We have to work with it. Okay, I’ve been doing that. Lately I’ve been finding all kinds of rough and rugged things going on in my mind and in my life. It’s not particularly pleasant, but all in all it’s interesting for me.” There is some tinge of hope. The idea of finding the negativity “interesting” is that somehow as we go along we will be saved. The unspoken implication is that finally the whole thing is going to be good and pleasurable. It’s very subtle. It is almost as though there’s an unspoken agreement that in the end all roads lead to Rome.

Ego is always trying to come out on top. We hope/expect that we will end up smelling like a rose. Trungpa Rinpoche’s message to us was, simply: Good luck, sir (or madam)!

Regarding our current situation, along with the mantle he has assumed as leader of the Shambhala community, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche has inherited the Vidyadhara’s mandala set-up. On the face of it, it makes perfect sense that we would keep the mandala intact–if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it–and pass it along from Sakyong to Sakyong. I’d go so far as to say that this happened without so much as a thought that it could be otherwise.

When the Sawang became Sakyong, it was as if we, as a community, figured that–suddenly–the training wheels could come off the bicycle.  I was far from the centre of the action at the time, so I’m going to speculate as to why we did this. Perhaps the Sawang-turned-Sakyong was eager to start riding on his own, but we were also very keen for him to take his ‘bicycle seat’ at the centre of the mandala. We longed, even ached for this because we had been living for so long  with the gap that Trungpa Rinpoche had left behind. This absence was painful. The notion of waiting any longer–if it had occurred to us that this was even an option–would have been quickly squelched by our desire for the new Sakyong to lead the community, fully fledged. That way, the uncomfortable gap would go away.  (Hindsight is 20/20!)

So, the Sakyong took his seat at the centre and gradually began to “grow into” that spot. It was as if, on receiving the Sakyong empowerment,  he emerged fully hatched, like a garuda.  

Now, a dozen years later, we find that there’s an elephant in the living room. Ignoring it is not helpful. There’s a difference between a vidyadhara occupying the centre of the mandala, and someone who is still on the path occupying that same spot. The latter is in a vulnerable position because checks and balances and training wheels were not built into the Vidyadhara’s mandala.  In the Shambhala International mandala, there is no authority to whom Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche must listen and pay heed. Technically, the Board of Directors can step in to create a boundary but to my knowledge, this seldom happens.  

We know from history that absolute power corrupts absolutely. I believe this can and will happen to anyone who is still on the path–anyone who has not dissolved the last vestiges of ego–who finds him/herself in the centre of the Vidyadhara’s mandala . 

The first time there was serious divisiveness in the sangha the Regent was the leader. Much pain and handwringing took place over that messy situation over a period of years, and deep schisms roiled the sangha. While there are significant differences between the Regent and Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, what is similar is that they were both put in positions with unchecked power and authority. Now, in retrospect, we can see the consequences. 

There is nothing wrong with making mistakes, but making the same mistake twice can have severe repercussions.

I submit that whenever someone who is still on the path occupies the Vidyadhara’s position in the mandala there will be problems, because only egolessness can “survive” that particular spot unscathed. As a result, if we fast-forward to today, we see that decisions have been made that are creating a great deal of discord in the sangha. Among them are the following:

  • In the path that Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche has recently articulated for his students, the practices of Vajrayogini and Chakrasamvara have become optional after completion of the Scorpion Seal retreat.  When the Vidyadhara transmitted these crown jewels of the Mahamudra tradition and teachings to his senior students,  indeed, there was (and is) nothing ‘optional’ about them! This is just one example of key teachings and practices that have either lost their priority or been altered to fit a new agenda.
  • If I wanted to join the Shambhala community today, I wouldn’t be able to because, as it says in the St. John’s Shambhala Meditation Group Membership document, I cannot make a “personal commitment to the path of Shambhala Buddhism” because this view is not in accord with my training. My understanding is that the Shambhala and Buddhist paths are closely related, but separate. This is one of a number of reasons why a significant number of senior students have either dropped out or been terminated from membership, due to non-payment of dues.
  • Discussions are underway to transfer the ownership of Kalapa Valley, The Great Stupa of Dharmakaya (!), and Trungpa Rinpoche’s copyrights to an entity that exists outside the purview of Shambhala International. Some of us are disturbed by this.
  • There is a “need” for the current Sakyong to have multiple expensive residences. At the moment, there’s Halifax, Boulder, and Cologne.  There is also talk about building a Gesar Palace at Shambhala Mountain Center, which would include a residence for the Sakyong. Does this consumption and display of wealth really reflect Shambhala values?

I think it’s time to roll up our sleeves, practice tonglen–and go down with the ship.

Rx for differing views

November 5, 2008

“…Saying he was never the likeliest candidate to seek the presidency, he said Americans of every background showed they can unite and reject cynicism to bring about change.” — from a review of Obama victory speech

Sounds like just the order for all of us on all levels inside and outside the mandala as well, neh? And sounds like the vision and purpose of RFS? Or am I being starry-eyed after Chicagobama.