A Question of Separated Events

February 19, 2010 by     Print This Post Print This Post

Discussion by Suzanne Townsend

During the recent Shambhala Day event-planning period, there was some phoning and emailing among friends to gather outside of Shambhala International because they did not feel at home there. But it was hard to find a place big enough. In one email, I made the observation that it seemed that ANY home in the Halifax area would probably be too small to hold all the local practitioners who do not feel at home at SI, and maybe next year we could plan to rent a local hall.

I then received a response that while it’s true that very many practitioners do not feel at home at SI, there is a big concern that any large gathering outside of SI would be “dividing the sangha” and therefore breaking samaya. What does everyone think?

To be clear — I think the issue here is not gathering per se, but by renting a hall it would be gathering in a “public” space.

Shambhala is as old as the hills, and belongs to human beings all around the world, in many forms. At the Buddha Eyes entrance to Shambhala in Mongolia, travellers write all their sins on paper, and burn the paper in a hole in the rocks. From


26 Responses to “A Question of Separated Events”

  1. rita ashworth on February 19th, 2010 9:40 am

    This is not a query about the hall to be or not to be -just wondering how the sangha is split numerically in Halifax. People abroad -in the rest of the world just dont know the situation.

    Plus is there any common ground between people who would go to such an event re the organisation moving forward with SI or not SI.

    Dividing the sangha -an emotive issue………surely calls for accommodation and talks – acceptance of diversity as coming to be established fact on both sides.


    Rita Ashworth

  2. Michael Sullivan on February 19th, 2010 10:55 am

    Regarding the question of “dividing the sangha” – what is the sangha – especially the vajra sangha? Is it the organization? Is it the building? Or is it the practitioners who share a common teacher / practice? I would vote for the latter.

    In that case, if the new teacher or the organization re-defines the practices, then who is splitting from whom? Who is the “decider”? If one’s samaya is with CTR, does it mean that SMR / SI gets to re-define that samaya as they please simply because of family ties and corporate bylaws?

  3. Chris on February 19th, 2010 12:00 pm

    The systematic “dividing of the sangha” , behind our backs, happened at least 15 years ago. Once that becomes clear, and painfully faced and accepted, there is nothing that should now stop you from meeting and practicing together . If it is that large a group, surely you could pool you monies to rent space in a public building to meet for nyinthuns, and offer small classes. There are enough well-practiced students who have taught for many years, among CTR students, to do this. This is not complicated. It requires more determination and willingness to take the flack for doing this, because you are in the same city, but it will have a life of its own that will support you.

  4. ash on February 19th, 2010 12:41 pm

    Good grief! I had no idea that things were getting like this. I echo the request for some sort of statistics on this.

  5. Chris on February 19th, 2010 12:44 pm

    I would just like to share what happened in St. Johnsbury Vt, from about 1999 through mid 2000. A satellite center had been started by renting an upper space in a commercial building in downtown St Johnsbury in or about 1995 or so. So the difference here was that there was already a space rented. After 1999, the pivotal year when the seminary transcripts were being read, and the changes in the meditation instruction became institutionalized, the then director of the little satellite center began “rebelling” you could say. He began teaching from CTR’s early books, there were morning nyinthuns on Sunday, classes were taught “outside” of the approved curriculum etc. Slowly , the director started inviting teachers that he wanted.

    More importantly, as this center began having a reputation for being more inclusive,more relaxed and independent from Karme Choling, we started seeing local residents, people who in 20 years or more had never set foot in Karme Choling, even though they lived in the same town, because they had been intimidated, or because it had a “strange reputation” whatever the reason, these local people started showing up for meditation instruction, and classes. Ordinary, local Vermonters who really appreciated the simplicity and “no big deal” quality of the St. Johnsbury center.

    The reason I am even bringing this up is that Vermont is very, very similar to Halifax , in many ways. In fact, it is often the same “tribe” of local people who moved downeast to relocate to the states. These people will relate more to what CTR students are presenting if they keep it simple, non-hierarchial, and welcoming. Local Vermonters, as I suspect Haligonians do , (both sides of my family are Canadian and my mother’s side is from Halifax and Prince Edward Island, so I say this from experience) hate pretense more than anything. So I am sharing this to encourage you to “just do it.” I think it would be very helpful for you and for Halifax.

  6. Suzanne Townsend on February 19th, 2010 1:22 pm

    For those of you asking for statistics on how many feel “not at home” in SI Halifax: I do not have numbers. When I made the statement that “ANY home would probably be too small” — in the RFS group for example we do not have very big houses. More importantly, numbers cannot be gathered, because still a lot of people do not stand up to be counted, and I can only think that the reason is the same — not wanting to be seen as divisive.

    I get the feeling there are many strategic reasons a person might not want to be known as disaffected with the current regime. You can lose your position within the community. You can lose your job. You can lose some other advantage that makes you think it’s best for everyone that you lay low. But this means that a whole lot of people remain that Dark Matter. People leave the area in order to teach freely — what will this new out-migration do to KOS-NS? I do not know what the cure is.

  7. rita ashworth on February 19th, 2010 2:35 pm

    Dear Suzanne

    Thanks for the come back on the stats and the reasons for laying low and hedging ones bets – a very sad state of affairs.

    Personally I know I can never be separate from these teachings whatever anyone says high or low from the Sakyong to some one serving the Sakyong – so I dont really care that much about expressing my opinions as vociferously as I do.

    I shall not be saved by following one path or the other rather it is my own subtle connection to these teachings experientially which will carry me along. In some respects I dont mind not being part of a mega-sangha if things are getting so weirded out.

    My advice to others is dont lay low -voice your opinions -somethings have to change if things are to progress and go forward. I know that is hard for the people of Nova Scotia to do as I lived there and it is a buttoned-up society politically but I would still do it.

    What a conundrum to be in…………….zzzzzzzz………….how awful the situation has become.


    Rita Ashworth

  8. Edward on February 19th, 2010 2:47 pm

    I think if you follow CTR’s teachings and admonitions as much as you can, based on your own best understanding and intuition, then you don’t need to worry about “dividing the sangha”.

    In a way, being forced to make these kinds of decisions might be a good thing for one’s practice, an essential test of one’s fearlessness.

    I don’t know what CTR said about tests, but many teachers I’ve had have been big on tests. First you learn something, then you test your understanding and your willingness to apply what you’ve learned, in the face of circumstances that tempt you to do otherwise.

    In the Christian tradition, there is the concept of the “Devil”, or devils (Screwtape Letters, anyone?), whose job is to test us. Why gather with other practitioners when we can hide out alone and cultivate shyness? Why do what’s right when I can do what’s easy and popular?

    The “Devil” provides an absolutely essential function by helping us become more aware of what we’re actually doing, rather than just coasting on auto-pilot.

  9. Edward on February 19th, 2010 4:54 pm

    there is a big concern that any large gathering outside of SI would be “dividing the sangha” and therefore breaking samaya. What does everyone think?

    What exactly are you waiting for? Are you asking for my permission?

    I think it’s in the Judeo-Christian tradition again that there is the concept of a “narrow gate”.

    In order to pass through the narrow gate, you can’t take all your credentials and comfortable ideas and universal group approval with you. You have to leave something behind in order to fit through.

    Chogyam Trungpa had good teachers who actually (shock) honored their own lineages, and yet he did much more controversial things than what you’re talking about here, without asking anyone’s approval, as far as I know. I think people criticized CTR and felt he was breaking taboos, yet he went ahead with what he felt was right.

    Your inheritance is waiting for you.

  10. Edward on February 19th, 2010 5:20 pm

    In England there was a physician named Edward Bach who felt that many illnesses were psychosomatic in origin.

    He developed something called “flower remedies”, similar to homeopathy, to help people deal with such things.

    He proscribed a remedy from the Cerato flower for people with the following traits:

    * Distrusts own judgement.
    * Constantly asks others for advice.
    * Talks a great deal.
    * Thirsts excessively for information.
    * Hoards knowledge but does not use it.
    * Is made unsure by the decisions of others.
    * Is led astray against own better judgement and to own disadvantage.
    * Needs the approval of others.
    * Opinions uncertain, changeable, vacillating.
    * Appears gullible, or simple, even stupid.
    * Identity is weak.
    * Likes convention, and wants to know what is “in”.
    * Tendency to imitate the attitudes of others.
    * Poor concentration due to lack of confidence in own judgment.*

    Does this seem familiar to anyone?

    As far as flower remedies themselves, apparently they have been shown to work, not only on people, but on animals in scientific studies. Don’t ask me how.

    * List borrowed from Mechthild Scheffer’s book “Bach Flower Therapy”

  11. ash on February 19th, 2010 7:33 pm

    My God! I’m going to have to go out tomorrow to get some!

  12. Edward on February 19th, 2010 9:32 pm

    Based on the kind of person SMR seems to be, in some ways it was a stroke of genius for CTR to name this man as his successor*. Just look at all the stuff you’ve had to go through, the decisions you’re now faced with.

    I never met CTR, but my own teacher was constantly creating situations that forced us to confront awkward, difficult, embarrassing, fearful… crap. We kept clawing and grasping and trying to make a home in his sangha, and yet everything kept getting turned inside out on us.

    After a while, the only solutions seemed to be 1) to run away or 2) to practice and surrender in the midst of all that.

    Perhaps the chaos that CTR created is still very much alive and well, only it’s hidden in people’s private thoughts and feelings, rather than in an outward, chaotic, fertile, scary, alive community situation.


    * Successor as would-be “sakyong”; he named a different Buddhist “successor” as I understand it.

  13. Edward on February 19th, 2010 11:09 pm

    there is a big concern that any large gathering outside of SI would be “dividing the sangha” and therefore breaking samaya. What does everyone think?

    You know, in some sense it seems that CTR worked extremely hard to divide his sangha.

    He created this military thing that made lots of people uncomfortable, and played the military off against other people, he played his board of directors off against his sangyum, or whomever, he created this whole new threatening Shambhala thing which he played off against his devoted Buddhist students, he played “insiders” off against “outsiders”– it seems like he was always setting up opposing groups and having them deal with the irritating, uncomfortable fact of all this duality.

    Whereas the ego never wants to have a divided sangha. The ego wants a homogenous, clone-situation where there is nothing threatening happening. We don’t want to look out our window and see that our neighbor is different than us. That makes us feel insecure.

    So we try really hard to pretend that we’re just like everyone else, try hard to fit in, try hard to create the homogenous, clone situation that everyone desperately craves.

    As long as you divide your sangha in the same way and spirit that CTR did, then what is the problem?

    (Sorry if I’m monopolizing this discussion. Other people, jump in when you’re ready.)

  14. Steve Gamble on February 20th, 2010 7:45 pm

    At times like these, one might reflect on one’s samaya, Suzanne. I took vows to take refuge in Buddha, Dharma, and the enlightened sangha; my bodhisattva vows are to attain enlightenment for the sake of all beings; my devotion to my root guru’s enlightened mind is unwavering.

    I don’t have samaya with Shambhala International. If I feel, as I do now, that Shambhala is heading in a direction that in my heart-mind feels wrong for me, I don’t have to listen to those who are frightened and speaking from their fear instead of their wisdom-mind.

  15. Jigme Chowang on February 20th, 2010 8:05 pm

    Suzanne–Perhaps the out-migration IS the cure.

  16. James Elliott on February 27th, 2010 8:47 am

    That the divisions in the community are some kind of test that we can pass, fail or develop through, is a misunderstanding of those principles; not everything has to do with one’s own personal development.

    The bulk of attempts to preserve Trungpa Rinpoche’s legacy is about making sure it is accessible to other people without being diluted and significantly altered into something else entirely. It is not an attempt to keep it the same for one’s own benefit, which can and all too often has been a perspective used to write off any critique as neurotic.

    Within the context of a student teacher relationship that kind of ‘testing’ or ‘pulling the rug out’ dynamic is well know to anyone who has ever had a relationship with a genuine teacher. But that is something that happens on a very intimate and personal level in the context of a student/teacher relationship and one’s spiritual practice and path.

    It is not and can not be the way a society or any group, even something as mundane as a corporation, can be led. If any cohesive group is led in that way, then inevitably all the cultural landmarks that give one a sense of identity and belonging, and a common language with other practitioners and members will have no foundation. A society led in that way will predictably fragment. The individuals do not, in any real sense, have a choice.

    A constantly shifting culture is not a culture and cannot a culture make. (On a psychological level, that kind of intentional and continuous chaos is associated with denial systems of addicts, a dynamic that makes it so difficult for alcoholics, for example, to come to grips with things in a healthy way.)

    On a cultural and social level humans need to have cultural stability. That is the foundation of common language and understanding that make any group activity viable.

    If cultural landmarks are dramatically changed from generation to generation, as has been done within Shambhala, then there will, by definition, be no culture to which all members can adhere or belong to.

    Alongside Trungpa Rinpoche’s seminal teachings on spiritual materialism, are his teachings on culture and the need for cultural continuity. This is certainly one of the concerns at the core of those teachings.

    So the problems within Shambhala of the division in the sangha is not simply whether people accept things or not. If the community is led in such a way that cultural landmarks are untrustworthy and shifting, then those kinds of divisions will arise. That’s due to how the community is led, not in how neurotic or well developed individuals are. (That would be a particularly insidious approach implying those who go along are ‘better’ than those who don’t. ?????)

    In the inspiration that a shifting culture is like talking in incomplete sentences.
    James Elliott

  17. Sandy Pontius on March 2nd, 2010 2:37 pm

    A couple of things:

    I just want to mention that I appreciate James Elliott’s posts;

    Second, it seems to me that there are already four sanghas operating as a result of Chogyam Trungpa’s teachings:

    -the Ojai group
    -Reggie Ray’s sangha
    -John Perks’ Celtic Buddhists
    -Shambhala International

    I think that there are room for more sanghas under the umbrella of Chogyam Trungpa’s teachings, with students given the opportunity to visit any sangha they choose-not restricted.

    I don’t think it’s helpful for persons who feel marginalized to continue to attend Shambhala Day celebrations, unless they don’t mind feeling like a guest. Seriously, aren’t social forms set up for just these kinds of situations? At the same time, I don’t think it’s bad to consider having another kind of celebration either. In fact, doesn’t it make perfect sense? Practice together, find a speaker, have lunch–and join the SI sangha for its ball. Why not?

    You know, this afternoon I read the RFS interview with Richard Reoch in which he says Chogyam Trungpa’s teachings are like the artifacts in a Presidential Library. I find that comparison way off base. Trungpa’s teachings are alive–very much alive–and should be celebrated. The idea that his students are skulking around trying not to get into anyone’s way is just ludicrous.

  18. Michael Sullivan on March 2nd, 2010 3:37 pm

    Add the Longchen Foundation headed by Rigdzin Shikpo (Michael Hookham) to that list – and he was empowered by CTR, HHDKR and Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso to lead that group.

  19. Zerme Drimed on March 2nd, 2010 5:30 pm

    The sangha is already divided. If there is to be concern about samaya breakage (questionable, to my mind), it would fall to those who created the division, not those who have been divided out.

    Go for it, maybe for Midsummer. If I lived east of the Missisippi I’d be there with bells (and dorjes) on and volunteer for cleanup.

  20. Bill Karelis on April 10th, 2010 7:19 pm

    This is being posted long after the fact, but, still, the basic issue that Suzanne raises is a live, ongoing one.

    The Shambhala vision includes the proliferation of many celebrations, from practice to study to social and to cultural and more. One of the best ways to include others in the bottomless resource of our lineage inheritance is to invite them in on the basis of this celebration. To include others is the opposite of divisiveness, presuming our speech and action is carried out in a harmonious way. Any attempt to call such genuinely expansive activity divisive has to be regarded as exclusionary, small-minded, and somewhat pathetic.

    I think the time has come to exercise fearlessness. Let us have a jolly good Dharmic time, as we know so well to do, and include our friends and neighbors, without too much concern for someone turning us in, without giving into pettiness.

  21. Evan on April 12th, 2010 2:59 am

    Hear, hear!

  22. John Perks on April 12th, 2010 7:44 am

    Great idea,I will cook

  23. Charles Marrow on April 12th, 2010 10:40 am

    If we are going to study Trungpa Rinpoche’s teachings
    John Perks is cooking, I’m In!!!
    Please just tell me when and where!

  24. Chris on April 12th, 2010 10:55 am

    Here’s just a sample of what Dharma Ocean students are doing , when CTR students “just do it” : And it’s offered free. What a novel idea.

    Another novel idea : remain non-hierarchical, don’t just recreate the same old “pattern” with the same people in leadership positions because they were in those positions before. It would be very interesting to have a “spontaneous teaching” situation amongst yourselves first, practicing together, and let the rich treasure of practice and experience of each other arise in the space. This was an idea of an old CTR student here, and I think this is a great opportunity to see how something quite different could manifest by not relying on a pattern we may have certainly outgrown. Things change. This is a “golden opportunity” for something quite unique to arise quite unexpectedly out of all this chaos.

    Anyway , here is the Dharma Ocean program. Free.

    Maitri Space Awareness Retreat May 23-28, 2010 Dharma Ocean Retreat CenterCrestone, CO Join Julie Greene and other experienced meditators in direct experience of the five buddha family energies through the posture/color practice created by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. This retreat is offered free of charge and participants will arrange their own lodging and meals during the program. Pre-registration required. Please see http://www.dharmaocean.org for more details and registration information, or email maitri@awakemind.org

  25. Chris on April 12th, 2010 2:52 pm

    The Practice Lineage or Remembering Who We Are:

    Or: “Not letting the moralists get you down”:

    “Everyone in the lineage of the practicing tradition has been extremely sarcastic and critical of the current scenes taking place around them. They were extremely critical of the subtle corruption taking place in the name of the dharma. We could say that the Practice Lineage is the guardian of the buddhadharma not only in Tibet alone, but in the rest of the world. Someone should at least have a critical view of how things should happen, how things shouldn’t happen. That particular sharp-vision, traditionally known as “prajna-vision” is very important, and that is a very lively situation, a living situation, in fact, that is why we are here.

    The Practice Lineage is the most pure and is unhampered by any kind of spiritual materialism”.

    From “The Mishap Lineage: Transforming Confusion into Wisdom” by Chogyam Trungpa

  26. Melissa on September 6th, 2010 3:34 pm

    Dog tooth. Came across this today, late in the game, & am not really connected to much of this. But reminded me of 2 stories. The Tibetan woman who asked her son to bring a relic of Buddha back from India. He forgot, so grabbed the tooth of a dog at the last minute, & told mom it was a tooth of the Buddha. She treasured it, prayed & prayed to it & attained enlightenment. Based on her faith, not on the tooth. Atisha’s servant. On the way to Tibet he took along someone horrid. Apparently he claimed, it improved his practice. Inviting problems sharpens the mind. I’m confused. If CTR set up this situation pre parinirvana, & he is root guru, what is the question or problem? Let the chaos begin!