The Truth of Suffering and the Path of Liberation

June 28, 2009

The Truth of Suffering and the Path of Liberation

“For many years, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche wanted the talks he was giving at the Vajradhatu Seminaries to become the basis for a series of scholarly books. His presentations often were based on teachings in Jamgon Kongtrul’s Treasury of Knowledge, and he wanted this material to be broadly available to students and teachers of dharma in North America and beyond. However, during Rinpoche’s lifetime, we were not able to fulfill his wishes.

In the last years of the millennium, Acharya Judy Lief  began working with the material from the hinayana volumes with the support of Ellen Kearney, the Managing Editor at Shambhala Media. They decided to work on several smaller, thematic volumes as a way of getting into the material as a whole. The first volume based on their work can be seen in The Truth of Suffering and the Path of Liberation, which has just been published by Shambhala Publications, in association with Vajradhatu Publications. Judy and Ellen are now hard at work on the three-volume series that will present The Root Texts of Chögyam Trungpa. There will be a large volume for each yana, the fruits of the compilation and condensation of the original transcripts. The vajrayana volume will be edited to present material appropriate for a public audience.” 

– Carolyn Gimian, Director of the Chogyam Trungpa Legacy Project

“This wonderful book presents the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism in a way that is completely fresh and original while at the same time never losing contact with traditional sources. I was extremely fortunate to have Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche as my root teacher, and I’m so glad this new book of teaching is available so that readers can continue to benefit from his profound understanding.”—Pema Chödrön

“An invaluable resource for anyone seeking the truth. With disarming honesty and humor, Trungpa Rinpoche guides us through the Buddha’s teachings, bringing us face to face with our many misconceptions and our true potential.”—Sharon Salzberg

“In this book we can hear Rinpoche’s uncontrived, genuine voice illuminating the fundamental teachings of Buddhism on the cycle of suffering and freedom from suffering—profoundly inspiring all of us.”—Tulku Thondup Rinpoche 

To buy The Truth of Suffering and the Path of Liberation, if you are lucky, you may find it at a local bookstore. Otherwise, take a look at this information from the publisher.

No Deception

June 19, 2009

Poem by Madeline Schreiber

CAUTION: This poem is not about birds and bunnies; reader discretion is advised. Also, it is not timed to any current events in Shambhala, America or anywhere. It took a long time to write and I only just finished it and gladly hit *send*.


No Deception

It begins with me, a look in the mirror
Do I know her or do I not
No I don’t, and I hope
I do not think I do
Her expression is reassuringly neutral
She’ll treat me fairly if I just don’t lie

It’s a shock to notice that I am naked
Do I look nude to everyone else
Or do I only feel this way
Nothing but crazy life a’dancin’
To beats of its own defenseless pulse

Why do we even bother to lie
Why does naked truth give us a fright
No need to fear; the truth won’t bite
Or maybe it will, but only a love bite

Shifting sands and stories of the past
Good intentions, desires and projections
Imaginary futures and hungry hopes
So painfully shy and full of fear
Making excuses about then and now
While imitating the hard earned skill
To sculpt what is in a formless realm

Rewrites of the past
Delusions of the future
No patience for the eternal now
No wonder words come out all crooked
20th century values on 21st century skids

Singing false tunes with tinny sounds
Slippery words whose meanings slide
To meet with all and any occasions
Never seeming to have lied
Always fitting yet so soon gone

Words of truth are light and sweet
Swift moving rainbows, sometimes clear
By faith we follow an empty path
Clear and empty, not heavy with lies
Where bogus voices raise no warnings
Of pot holes and boulders strewn about
Which make the empty path a common road

Casual deceivers are always around
We can sense their presence
They hold their breath, pressed flat to the walls
Wrapped in their invisibility cloaks
Half formed fragments of unhappy thoughts
Camouflaged in shadow and light
Just out of range, swift and silent
They give us all a chilly fright

But if we stay and simply breathe
We may hear meanings under the lies
And may find ways to sever the bonds that hold them
How plain we are without our lies, without the kinks and curly cues
That make us all feel that we are so special
We can’t pretend that we don’t see fools fooling fools

All our secret little tricks to help us self deceive
That when we reach the bottom line it won’t add up to zero
How much softer our little life feels, ensconced among its cushions
Stuffed with cheap deceptions that buffer our soft bottoms

How sad we feel alone in the dark
Even within our lover’s dream
When all the thoughts that we have collected
Are all just lies about ourselves


Halifax June 2009

Madeline has been a Zen student in the Rinzai tradition since 1966.  When she met formally with VCTR in 1975 and requested to be accepted as one of his students he suggested that it would be good if she stayed with her Zen practice as well as study and practice Vajrayana.  She has done this and still goes to sit Zen Sesshin whenever possible as well as ongoing practice in the mainstream of the Vidyadhara’s Kagyu Nyingma Shambhala teachings.  She has also received the Rigden Abhisheka and will attend Scorpion Seal this Summer.  She accepted the Vidyahara’s invitation to move to Nova Scotia in 1982 and now lives part time in Halifax and part time on Cape Breton Island.

Shambhala Buddhism and the new curriculum

June 16, 2009

An Interview with Acharya Adam Lobel

Reporting and commentary by Barbara Blouin.

It was in 2000 that Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche first announced that Buddhism (according to the Kagyü and Nyingma traditions taught by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche) and the Shambhala teachings of Chögyam Trungpa were no longer separate or distinct, but were “inseparable.” Trungpa Rinpoche also spoke of the Buddhist and Shambhala teachings as inseparable, but he also said that Shambhala had its own independent basis. By creating what is now called “Shambhala Buddhism,”  the Sakyong has undermined that independent basis.  Since he first spoke of “Shambhala Buddhism,” various changes have occurred in the way the Buddhist path and the Shambhala teachings have been presented and organized. It is significant that the name of the organization founded by Chögyam Trungpa – Vajradhatu – was changed to Shambhala International, and, more recently, to Shambhala.

The Sakyong’s underlying purpose of bringing together Buddhism and Shambhala is to create a “unified path.”

By asking our students to move through a unified path, they will be exposed to a range of skillful means that best represents a complete expression of our mandala as a whole. The view of a unified path is not to blend the Buddhist and Shambhala language until it is indistinguishable. The view is to allow the singular power of both expressions to nourish, challenge, and deepen our students. The Shambhala teachings and the various practices and views of the Buddhadharma each have their own distinct purposes and we must understand their differences.

[This] path does not necessarily lead to seminary or advanced Vajrayana practices. Instead, a person struggling in the darkness and fear of the setting sun could be sufficiently inspired, roused, processed, and softened by these stages to find themselves living a healthier and more dignified life. People of all faiths and backgrounds can walk this path; no Buddhist commitment is requested until entering Vajrayana seminary.

Source: The Way of Shambhala Overview in the Shambhala Training Manual

Before “Shambhala Buddhism” came into being, there were the Buddhist teachings and there were the Shambhala teachings of Chögyam Trungpa. How could Shambhala Buddhism join these traditions without changing both of them profoundly? I thought that 1 + 1 = 2. But here, 1 + 1 = 1, -or so it seems.

My attempt to understand what “Shambhala Buddhism” means eventually led to learning as much as I could about what is being called “the new curriculum.” Although this is only one part of major changes the Sakyong has made in the way both the Shambhala and Buddhist teachings are presented, I decided not to try to do too much – to only chew on what I might be able to digest. My first step was to contact Carolyn Mandelker, who is Director of the Shambhala Office of Practice and Education. We met in Carolyn’s office at the Halifax Shambhala Centre and talked for close to an hour. That meeting with Carolyn was useful, but I also felt that what I learned was not much more than a road map: This is what happens first, and next …. and next … Such-and-such programs have or haven’t been changed. Carolyn repeatedly told me: “This is a work in progress.” It became clear to me that this was a much bigger subject than we could explore in any depth in the time we had together.

My next step was to send an e-mail to Acharya Adam Lobel to ask for an interview. It was Acharya Lobel, together with Carolyn Mandelker and Acharya Christie Cashman, who worked together intensively to create this curriculum, under the guidance of the Sakyong. In April I spoke with Acharya Lobel by phone; we talked for close to two hours. An edited and abridged version of that interview is the basis for this article.

1. What is the new curriculum? 

Somewhere between one and two years ago,  Shambhala International began to  introduce “the new curriculum.”  Currently, this curriculum is being piloted in 16 Shambhala Centres – eleven in the United States; three in Canada; and two in western Europe. These sixteen pilot programs are distributed among small, medium, and large centers, including one practice center: Dorje Denma Ling in Nova Scotia. Other centres continue to offer Shambhala Training without the classes.

The new curriculum is a key component of The Way of  Shambhala. Following Shambhala Training Level I, now a briefer one-evening-and-one-day program, participants may choose to continue with a series of six evening classes called Meditation in Everyday Life, which is not a part of the new curriculum.

The new curriculum begins after Level II. During Level II, participants are encouraged, but not required, to register for the Tiger series of six weekly evening classes. Tiger and the rest of the new curriculum – Lion, Garuda, and Dragon – can also be taken independently of  Shambhala Training. In the centers where the new curriculum is offered, it alternates with the Shambhala Training levels. Dragon, the final series, happens after Level V.  Students also have the option of following the Shambhala Training levels without the classes.

2. Interview with Acharya Adam Lobel

Adam: The basic process of creating what we’ve been calling “the new curriculum” was initiated in 2005. The Sakyong arranged a conference call with Carolyn Mandelker and Acharyas John Rockwell, Christie Cashman, Jeremy Hayward, and myself. We were the people who the Sakyong gathered to say: let’s look at our curriculum overall. After that we went through a series of meetings and retreats. We spent five days together at to Dorje Denma Ling, practicing the Werma sadhana and thinking about what the Sakyong was asking us to do, as well as how to respond to the needs of centers.

The intensive, on-the-ground portion of our work has been carried out by myself, Carolyn Mandelker, and Christie Cashman. A lot of this new curriculum has been based on the requests and the needs of centers that we’ve been hearing from for the last maybe twenty years. The Sakyong has been talking about this curriculum from a lha, or heaven, perspective, but he also wanted us to connect with earth. A lot of our work has been trying to look at our huge, diverse community with a wide range of different needs. There are large centers with many teachers, and small centers with no teachers. We have centers where people can only do programs on weekends, and we have centers where people can’t do weekend programs. And we worked hard to offer programs that will be skillful in these different contexts.

Question: How, exactly, have Buddhism, in the Kagyu/Nyingma tradition of Chögyam Trungpa, and the Shambhala teachings been brought together in the new curriculum? From what I’ve seen so far, two things seem to be going on: Buddhist and Shambhala teachings are presented side by side; and in at least one instance that I know of, Buddhist and Shambhala teachings are mixed together, in such a way that new students would be unable to distinguish which is which. For example, the Four Immeasurables chant that appears on a handout for Lion, which ends with the last line of a Shambhala chant. That bothers me.

Adam: Why does it bother you?

Q: Because it’s the joining of a traditional Buddhist chant, and a Shambhala chant that was created by Chögyam Trungpa. I don’t know how often this kind of thorough mixing takes place.

Adam: As far as I can recall, I don’t think there are other examples quite like that. The way the Sakyong guided us, and most of our intentions throughout developing this curriculum, was to try to think of the student, and to ask: What would be of benefit to students at this stage in their journey, in terms of the incredibly vast range of teachings that we have in this tradition? What are some of the kinds of key words, teachings, practices, and ideas that will really touch a person at this stage in their journey, someone who is trying to understand what we’re all about? Along the way, we would often present something to the Sakyong. Then he would say something, and we would give that some form. He’d often say things like: “Stop thinking about the categories that you have in your mind, that you think students should know, and start thinking about what really would be of benefit.”

Q:  I said that it seemed like Shambhala and Buddhist teachings are being presented side by side. Would you agree that that’s an accurate statement?

Adam: It’s definitely an accurate statement. The language that the Sakyong has been using, and that we’ve been using, is a “unified curriculum.” It’s trying to draw on the richness of all of Trungpa Rinpoche’s teachings, and put them together in an accessible, inviting, experiential, and transformative way. When we talk about the the new curriculum, which is part of The Way of Shambhala I, it is one portion of a pre-seminary curriculum for people who are headed in the direction of Seminary.

There are three main components to the new curriculum. The first is the outermost stage of offerings. The outermost offerings are programs that have no prerequisites, and they are open to anyone. Shambhala Training Level I is in this outermost category, but it also can be envisioned as part of the Way of Shambhala.

The next part is what most people refer to as the new curriculum: the series of the classes on the four Dignities, called Tiger, Lion, Garuda, and Dragon. That’s what we have really worked through. There has been a tremendous amount of work and all sorts of failures and mistakes and re-envisionings, and going back to the drawing boards. We’re still revising the curriculum.

The final phase of the pre-seminary curriculum includes the Sacred Path material, as well as a deeper study of Buddhist teachings such as abhidharma and lojong. There will also be a public introduction to the vajrayana, including a Sadhana of Mahamudra weekend.

The basic approach to The Way of Shambhala is to map out an experiential journey. The first part of that journey is to develop basic mindfulness and a relationship with basic goodness and a sense of gentleness.

Q: Using the Tiger series as an example: in the first class, are students introduced to the qualities exemplified by Meek?

Adam: Yes, and these qualities also seem to have a resonance with some of the qualities of an arhat, a dharmic person—the way Trungpa Rinpoche describes the Buddha and the dharmic person, who move with grace and gentleness and a kind of composure. The emphasis in the first class is to give students a sense of the basic quality that they’ll be practicing and studying and contemplating. The analogy for Meek is the tiger: moving carefully and with mindfulness, incredibly aware, senses awake and attuned, with discipline and gentleness and humility.

Q: It seems, from looking at the schedule that Carolyn gave to me, that some qualities of each of the Dignities are presented in each of the levels, but not all of them. For example, the quality for Tiger here is contentment, but the other qualities to be cultivated are not named. Does the teacher talk about those other qualities as well?

Adam: In a sense we are emphasizing a central quality – “contentment” here. One way to translate the Tibetan word for contentment is “meek.” And we felt that, with guidance from the Sakyong, contentment was a kind of seed syllable for what we’re trying to communicate to students and give them an experience of. What comes with that, of course, is the relationship of contentment with the absence of arrogance.

We always explore what the Dignity refrains from. I think it’s one way to understand how Buddhism and Shambhala support each other. We look at the obstacle of arrogance, for example, for the Dignity of Meek. And then after exploring it, we look personally, experientially at our own arrogance. And we have an opportunity to study Trungpa Rinpoche’s teachings on  the three kinds of suffering, in order to give students another language, another angle to understand where obstacles arise. I do not believe that we have exhausted the entire principle of Meek, but, rather, given one experience of it. Nor, of course, have we exhausted the teachings on the hinayana, by any means. We’re trying to give students an experiential taste that actually sticks with them in their body and their experience.

Q: I noticed some new words in the schedule for the Tiger classes – and one that is not in either the Buddhist or Shambhala vocabulary: “stress.” That was a surprise to me, and I’m not comfortable with it.

Adam: Trungpa Rinpoche used to talk about speediness all the time. I think it’s interesting to use the word “stress” because there is so much stress and  speed, and overall chaos, that so many people are experiencing in our world. And that’s precisely why the ground of this journey is a kind of mindfulness and gentleness.

Q: The schedule I’ve been talking about displays a basic logic: The first two classes are ground; the next three are path; and the last is fruition. There is also a clear pattern in each series, which is always the same: The first class is  … hmm, what? It’s not shown on the chart. The chart only says “Introduction.” Is the first class Shambhala and Buddhist? Classes two and three present Shambhala teachings, and classes four and five are Buddhist. The sixth class is Shambhala. Would you comment on this use of logic?

Adam: I’ve stopped thinking about it in terms of which is Shambhala content and which is Buddhist content. There are elements of both trying to support each other. They offer a different language and perspectives, but they are not essentially different. For example, one student might connect with the teachings on the experience of the cocoon, and another student might feel supported by the clarity of the presentation of the five skandhas.

Q: One aspect of my discomfort with this approach is that Trungpa Rinpoche clearly and repeatedly said that Shambhala is a secular path, and its purpose is to create enlightened society. And Buddhism, even though it’s nontheistic, is classified as a religion. There’s a priesthood, et cetera. So when you bring the two together, what happens to the secular teaching? I know there’s a lot of discomfort about that in our sangha. Have you heard that?

Adam: Sure. Speaking for myself, Carolyn, and the other acharyas I’ve been working with, we’ve all had our questions about Shambhala Buddhism, and we’ve  questioned the Sakyong and each other. We’re trying to understand what it means when those two words are uttered at the same time. In terms of the secular question – what do we mean by “secular”? And how did the Dorje Dradul use that word? And what was he trying to get at?

Q: Well, for one thing, Shambhala was something that anybody could learn and practice. Trungpa Rinpoche said that very specifically. You could be a Christian or a Jew or a Muslim. Or you could be an atheist. So it was secular and it did not lead to Buddhism. However, in the “old days,”  the Shambhala population was 99% Buddhist. In later years participants were less likely to be Buddhist; probably the majority of the nonBuddhists were Christian. I’m speaking from my own experience here in Halifax.

Of course, it is true that Buddhism and the Shambhala teachings are compatible, but to the uninitiated, the Buddhist part was invisible. Some of those Christian Shambhalians were quite committed. (I am using the past tense, because I think they have “dropped out.”) They were considered sangha – by themselves as well as by the Buddhist sangha. Some of them were quite distressed when the Shambhala teachings became “Shambhala Buddhism.”

Adam: The vision hasn’t changed at all. This path is open to people of any religion, and the new curriculum is explicit about that. There’s no requirement to take refuge and become a Buddhist—unless someone wants to go to Vajrayana Seminary. So that means that people can go all the way through the new curriculum, including Sutrayana Seminary and Warrior’s Assembly, without being Buddhists. And that’s not just a bureaucratic point; it has to do with our view, which is the view of basic goodness, which is not based on religious affiliation. The whole point of enlightened society, and the whole point of our efforts to teach and to practice together, is because of trust in basic goodness, and extending that to the world. The Sakyong is encouraging us to move beyond the idea of giving students a choice before they have even been exposed to any real depth of experience or learning a practice, where we would say: “Are you a religious type? Do you want to be a Buddhist? Or are you a nonreligious type and want to be a Shambhalian?” Somebody at a Shambhala Center where I was working described it this way: she was standing on two logs in a river. One log is Shambhala and one is Buddhist. She felt that the two logs were getting further and further apart, and her legs stretched into a kind of split. And one of the things she appreciated about the new curriculum is that the two were together, and that offered her a stronger stance.

Q: Does it matter whether some, or maybe many, of the students going through this curriculum aren’t really able to discriminate which of the teachings are Buddhist, and which are Shambhala? You’ve been talking about that anyway – saying that the point isn’t to see which is which, but whether it works. For some people, it’s a big issue. Non-Buddhists no longer have the opportunity to explore the inseparability of Shambhala vision and their traditions: the deepest parts of Shambhala vision are marked with Buddhist language, imagery, and tradition.

Adam: I think it’s very personal. There are some students for whom that kind of analysis and understanding is very important, and there are others for whom it isn’t important. If a student asks me, “Is this Shambhala or is this Buddhist?” I would try to give as clear an answer as possible about the source of a given teaching.

I have spent a lot of time studying the Shambhala terma teachings, and I kept asking myself: What is different here? And what is the same? I’m happy and honoured to be able to spend my life exploring those questions. There’s so much richness condensed into this language of the terma that we are just beginning to unpack. Take anything – the Golden Key text, let’s say. What an incredible poetic masterful work. It’s amazing! To me, that’s what Shambhala Buddhism and this new path are all about: realizing that we are the ones who inherited this stream of teachings from Trungpa Rinpoche, and there’s no one else on the planet who is in that situation. And it’s our job to dive into it and to understand it and to unpack it – and then pass it on.

3. Finally …


My root guru and heart teacher has been dead for twenty-two years,  but his teachings continue to live in me and in so many others – through his books, through audio and video recordings, through the memories and personal testimonies of those who knew him, and through the devotion of an increasing number of those who never knew him during his lifetime.

We know that Chögyam Trungpa, from whose vast mind the Shambhala teachings arose, considered the purity of the Buddha’s teachings to be of the highest importance. In 1983, on the occasion of the installation of the Kangyur in the shrine room in Boulder, Rinpoche referred to other editions of the Kangyur (see a little background on the Kangyur) in Tibet or in China, that had been heavily edited by other sects. Those who altered these texts, he said, had inserted their own ideas and beliefs into the original teachings. He described the edition of the Kangyur that was being installed as pure and straight and unaltered.

What he said that day in Boulder might be a clue for us, but we will never really know what the Dorje Dradul would have thought of the mixing-together of the Shambhala and Buddhist teachings, or of the new moniker “Shambhala Buddhism.” The only thing we can do is to connect with our own hearts and ask ourselves what we think about those changes, and how we feel.

Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche always insisted that his students not accept as givens what they were taught, but closely and critically examine everything they read and heard – and only then would they be ready to make up their own minds. In this matter he was always absolutely uncompromising and fierce.

In working on this article I have done my best to present “Shambhala Buddhism” as it was presented to me by two students of Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. I must admit that this process of asking questions and listening carefully to the responses that were given has not been easy for me. Although I have usually been able to follow the Sakyong’s logic, as it was offered to me through the filter of Acharya Lobel’s admirably clear intellect, in my not-so-secret heart, what I learned just didn’t feel right. It still doesn’t.

The way I see it, as Radio Free Shambhala has evolved, what is most interesting of all, and most vital and important, are comments from readers. I am eagerly looking forward to what you who are “out there” have to say, both the old dogs and the new pups – and especially those who disagree. I am also particularly interested in hearing from newer students who have started coming to Shambhala Centers since the advent of the “Shambhala Buddhist path.”

From Lion: The Windhorse of Delight:


May all beings enjoy happiness and the root of happiness.
May they be free from suffering and the root of suffering.
May they not be separated from the great happiness, devoid of suffering.
May they dwell in great equanimity, free from passion, aggression, and ignorance.
May all beings enjoy profound, brilliant glory.