Imagine – a civilization, a culture, a country or countries, where the sacred is acknowledged in every aspect of personal, family, and community life, as well as in the details of business, finance, and government. Imagine, not “no religion too“, but “your religion too“, so that such a society would respect equally the genuine practice traditions of the many faiths of its citizens. This is what I hear the 21st century, and the millenium we’re entering, calling for. This call is also the real source – terma, actually – of the Shambhala vision of Chögyam Trungpa.
I will explore two aspects of this here, very briefly: secular/sacred, and drala.
A new balance, or indivisibility, of secular and sacred seems to be needed, in which the sacred is fully acknowledged in all the institutions of government and society, but in which they are not tied to any one religious faith. The founding fathers of the United States made a very conscious and brilliant effort in this direction, basing the state on fundamental natural principles while separating state from church, but as we can see in today’s American society this is not the final word – a more complete synthesis is necessary. The sacred has become the preserve of official religions and of fundamentalisms, while the secular has been left to be terrorized by market darwinism and peculiar beliefs such as that good trickles down from attachment and greed.
Looking beyond the shores of North America, we see that much of the world does not buy into McGlobalization, and is suggesting that other outlooks are equally or more valid: an Islamic example is that of a Caliphate , with formally integrated calls to prayer throughout the day, as a better way to be for human beings. I think there is great accuracy in this latter aspiration, and it finds echoes in the lifestyles of Hasidic Judaism, in life as sadhana for Hindus and Buddhists, etc. But how can it be realized in a manner that can be shared by adherents of more than one religious practice?
In my understanding and experience this is exactly the question and the need from which the Shambhala vision of Chögyam Trungpa was extracted, and it is this that the Shambhala project – experiment – in creating a secular expression of the sacred is seeking to address. Its motivation is not an attempt to find “who we are”, but rather, what kind of radically open space, in which the sacred presents, can we uncover, manifest and share – for us and others?
The divorce of the efficient instruments of economy, business, finance, and law from the sacred – evident in mantras such as “business is business” and in notions such as that the bottom line can be expressed as a number – have led to devastating exploitation and destruction of our environment, and of the entire fabric of life within which we arise. Drala  is the Shambhala term for the understanding, relationship, and practice which brings experience of the sacred together with the world of appearances, resources, and perceptions. Drala is finding the cosmic mirror in a blade of grass, in a sheaf of wheat , in a kitchen utensil. It is drala that calls for an explicit role in the very guts of our systems of sustainability and care, in the DNA of our financial and engineering systems – and we need to find language and forms to express that. Drala also offers a way to bring together the sometimes more abstract notions of emptiness and nature of mind with the textures of the living world, and more and more vocabulary for it is emerging within science itself.
The Source is in Front
On a personal note, this is why Shambhala Vision feels ever more relevant: it is a genuine attempt to go from but also beyond one’s personal practice into the open space of others, and it offers some useful language and practice to bring such aspiration down to earth. This is also something not unique: I am finding that the more I look out and interact genuinely with people, the more I meet such vivid openness. It is not of my making, or my belonging, but through mutual letting go the space feels held, and common language, understandings, and forms emerge. It’s possible for people to meet in no-man’s land, and to learn to be there with integrity, decisiveness and confidence – then it turns out to be pure gold, drala’s home, and warrior’s way.
More than that, it’s necessary for our world to be so, and for us to develop such ways of being, along with the forms, culture and institutions to actually embody these. Sustainability needs sustained drala practice, for example. This is a radical project, to create a new secular vocabulary of the sacred, which includes explicit personal and communal recognition of drala in our food, clothing, land, and homes – where we live. That space and its yearning is where our legacy comes from.
Over the centuries, there have been many who have sought the ultimate good and have tried to share it with their fellow human beings. To realize it requires immaculate discipline and unflinching conviction. Those who have been fearless in their search and fearless in their proclamation belong to the lineage of master warriors, whatever their religion, philosophy, or creed. What distinguishes such leaders of humanity and guardians of human wisdom is their fearless expression of gentleness and genuineness – on behalf of all sentient beings. We should venerate their example and acknowledge the path that they have laid for us. They are the fathers and mothers of Shambhala, who make it possible, in the midst of this degraded age, to contemplate enlightened society.
– The Shambhala Lineage, the final chapter in Shambhala The Sacred Path of the Warrior
Mark Szpakowski, earth cadet and habitat partner, develops software for collaboration and care, and has been a co-conspirator with Chögyam Trungpa since 1972.