How will the Vidyadhara’s original, authentic teachings be perpetuated beyond our lifetimes? Without living examples of the forms that he developed for the path that he taught, will books, CDs and DVDs be enough to perpetuate his teachings? Suzanne Duarte explores our options.
We will be haunting you
Along with the dralas.
Jolly good luck!
~ The Vidyadhara Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche
The Third Jewel
Traditionally, to become a Buddhist in one’s heart, one takes refuge in the Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha. The Buddha is the teacher or guru – the awakened mind at the center of the mandala. The dharma is the teachings or the speech of the guru. The sangha is the community of practitioners who follow the teachings of a particular teacher. Thus, sangha is also referred to as “the body of the guru.” “The three jewels,” referring to the Buddha, dharma and sangha altogether, implies the unity of body, speech and mind altogether.
The Buddha/teacher alone cannot carry the dharma/teachings forward for countless generations. Therefore, a strong, cohesive sangha ensures the continuity of Buddha and dharma; for the sangha is where the teachings are circulated between disciples and between generations. As the body of the guru, the sangha acts to carry out his or her wishes and is the vehicle for the teachings and practices. The sangha, it is said, is the unsurpassable guide – perhaps because we can keep each other honest.
But sometimes we forget that the sangha is equal in value to the other two jewels. Sometimes we become fixated on the Buddha or the dharma at the expense of the sangha. Sometimes we take the sangha for granted and neglect it – or even denigrate it. But one of the things for which the Vidyadhara Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche was remarkable was the passion and dedication with which he nurtured his sangha.
One of his students has said that the Vidyadhara told him, “Our business is people.” And that was my observation and experience. A large part of the Vidyadhara’s buddha activity was to cultivate people as individuals, according to their proclivities and talents. And the cultivation of his students was inseparable from teaching the dharma and developing the sangha. In Trungpa Rinpoche’s mandala, the sangha was no less important than the buddha and the dharma because the dharma as he taught it could not be planted in the West without a well-trained sangha; it was up to us, his students, to perpetuate the dharma that he taught. Therefore, the buddha, dharma and sangha were interdependent, all of a piece in our experience
However, the Vidyadhara’s style of buddha activity, I’ve been told, was unusual. To have close personal relationships – almost like ‘pastoral’ relationships in the West – with hundreds of lay (non-monastic) students is not necessarily the practice of other teachers in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. This may be because the lay sangha in Tibet was nurtured by the monasteries, which also perpetuated the lineages through generations and centuries.
But the Vidyadhara was bringing his tradition ‘out of the closet,’ so to speak – out of Tibet, and out of the monastery, where it had been sequestered for over a thousand years – to the West with its numerous challenges to transplanting the dharma. Trungpa Rinpoche was on his own with no back up, no monastic system, and no other cultural reference points to use as support. In fact, he found Tibetan cultural reference points to be an obstacle. So, as he said, he had to work with what he had, which was us, his students, his sangha.
Concern for the Second Jewel
In private conversations that I’ve had with other direct students of the Vidyadhara during the last few years, I’ve found that those who are not aligned with Shambhala International (SI) often share a common concern. This common concern is usually expressed as a question: How will the Vidyadhara’s original, authentic teachings be perpetuated beyond our lifetimes? How can the Vidyadhara’s legacy be promulgated if the sangha no longer practices in the ways that he taught us? Without living examples of the forms that he developed for the path that he taught, will books, CDs and DVDs be enough to perpetuate his teachings?
We know that the propagation of his teachings greatly concerned the Vidyadhara, for – in addition to making sure all his teachings were recorded – he trained many of us as meditation instructors and teachers specifically to teach the dharma as he taught it to us. The fact that many of us who were so trained cannot teach, for one reason or another, under the institutional umbrella of Shambhala International (SI) has caused some of us to be increasingly apprehensive about the perpetuation of the Vidyadhara’s living teaching stream.
A healthy sangha, a glowing third jewel, is the best insurance for the perpetuation of a teacher’s living teaching stream beyond his death, but the Vidyadhara’s sangha has been twice divided. A kind of heartsickness seems to affect many senior students who no longer feel able to pass on the Vidyadhara’s teachings because we have lost the means – particularly the sangha infrastructure – to propagate our teacher’s vision and instructions as we received and practiced them, and as we were trained to teach them. We know that doing our practices at home alone until we die will not perpetuate the Vidyadhara’s teachings in the world.
There are other reasons for heartsickness. Some students have become disheartened due to the loss of a safe, functional (undivided) sangha within which to grow old – or because they have felt compelled to compromise their integrity in order to remain within a compromised sangha. Unkind and dismissive remarks about “older students” from various quarters have probably had, in some cases, a demoralizing effect upon individual and collective lungta.
In fact, Mark Szpakowski  went so far as to assert on this website that it is necessary to dissociate from Shambhala International in order to recover one’s lungta: “From my point of view it feels like a lot of natural lungta has drained from the situation and from people. You really do have to leave the organization and community on some fundamental level to recover your own unconditional connection to your goodness.”
And, aside from heartsickness and loss of lungta, we are well aware that we are dying off. For example, between March 22 and May 5th, 2011, at least five senior students of the Vidyadhara died: Jose Arguelles , Bill Gordon , Eamon Killoran , Peter Lieberson , and Chime (Carol) Heller .
In recent years, motivated by the perception of paralysis among members of our generation and anxiety that our time is running out, a number of senior students have proposed ideas about what “we” – the Vidyadhara’s direct students – can do to perpetuate his unique presentation of the dharma. Some of these ideas have generated interest among our peers; but any ideas that require Rinpoche’s students to organize ourselves for collective, coordinated, sustained action to perpetuate his legacy have gained no traction, as far as I can tell. As one colleague observed, trying to organize the Vidyadhara’s early, direct students at this point is a lot like trying to herd cats.
Nevertheless, small-scale, quiet, localized efforts by the Vidyadhara’s students to teach his teachings outside of SI seem to work quite well. I would like to describe one of these endeavors, which demonstrated to me that it is not too late to arouse ourselves and do something, as the Vidyadhara pleaded with us to do:
I’m quite desperate. A lot of other teachers must have experienced this desperation. I am so desperate. You can help the world. You, you, you, you, and you – all of you – can help the world. You know what the problems are. You know the difficulties. Let us do something. Let us not chicken out. Let us actually do it properly. Please, please, please!
~ Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Great Eastern Sun.
What Are We Waiting For?
Due to hesitations and fears about going ‘freelance’ (outside of SI), a number of the younger tulkus (younger than us!) as well as elder vajra masters have been consulted about options for senior students of the Vidyadhara. It seems safe to say that all of the Rinpoches who have a significant connection with the Vidyadhara’s lineages and his students know all about what has taken place. One of them suggested that the karma of the Vidyadhara’s original, senior students is unique and requires each of us to follow the path of the independent yogin – maintaining our bond with and commitment to our root guru without looking for other authority figures or getting entangled in other sanghas.
Many of us were, after all, empowered by the Vidyadhara to teach the dharma. There is no dharmic sanction against becoming a freelance teacher of the Vidyadhara’s hinayana and mahayana teachings if one has already had that training and experience. The world is obviously more in need of the Vidyadhara’s teachings on basic sanity, contained in his hinayana and mahayana teachings, than ever.
Traleg Kyabgon Rinpoche  is one of the younger Kagyü teachers who has deeply studied the Vidyadhara’s teachings. He tells us that there is no need for him or any other Tibetan coming to the West to “reinvent the wheel” because Trungpa Rinpoche already did it. The Vidyadhara blazed the trail for teaching Westerners, and paved the way for subsequent Tibetan teachers in the West. Traleg Rinpoche’s The Way of Basic Sanity: A Brief Overview of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s Perspective on Sutric Buddhism  is a not-so-brief study of the Vidyadhara’s presentation of hinayana and mahayana in the West. It provides an excellent review of what made the Vidyadhara’s presentation unique and valuable.
But the point is, if the younger tulkus are studying him and following his example, what in the world are we – Vidyadhara-trained students – waiting for?
As Bill Karelis said in a comment on Questioning in a Spiritual Community ,
According to the vajra masters with whom I have discussed this matter, it is fine for us, the senior students of the Vidyadhara, to provide opportunities such as week-long sittings for new practitioners. In fact, it is our obligation to propagate his intentions and activities. Without ourselves presenting the teachings in such contexts, it would be difficult to put the Dharma principle into operation. Many of us already have teaching permission and experience. It would be a regression or expression of depression now to disclaim that experience and withdraw, in the face of institutional disenfranchisement. (Jan. 1, 2011, 4:16 pm)
In fact, some of us are finally waking up to the fact that the Vidyadhara’s hinayana-mahayana teachings are ours to pass on to future generations, at least as much as they are SI’s. Mark Szpakowski  put it this way: “I feel that there is something very important and strong and fresh being said in the teaching, and in a very vivid and direct and non-theistic way by its author, Chogyam Trungpa, which does not fundamentally belong to “the org.” Dan Mongomery  put it simply: “The lineage is not the organization. We are all the lineage.” (May 12th, 2011)
A Group Retreat for New Practitioners
I recently had an opportunity to renew my experience of the power and magic of the Vidyadhara’s shamatha-vipashyana teachings at a group retreat for new practitioners. It was organized and taught by a friend who I’ll call “Keith.” The retreat was an ‘eight-day sit’ patterned after the Vidyadhara’s dathün* format. Since it was for beginning meditation students, it was like a light weekthün** – only eight hours of sitting per day and no oryoki!
Having staffed a number of dathüns before, I knew Keith needed help when he asked me to be a meditation instructor for this program. I also welcomed the opportunity to renew my familiarity with dathün practices; for I hadn’t staffed a dathün for 17 years or so. What I didn’t anticipate is the joy I experienced during that week. I had forgotten how rewarding it is to relax into the discipline of the hinayana and encourage new students to do likewise.
The venue was a small Buddhist retreat center that had simple accommodations, similar to those of Marpa House in Boulder. Vegetarian meals were provided in a common dining room where staff and students ate together. I had not staffed a residential dharma program in a facility that was not on Vajradhatu (now Shambhala) property since 1985, and I found that it had the advantage of leveling the playing field – none of us in the program were hosts, we were all guests.
Keith warned me at the beginning of the week that there might be attrition. He said he would not be surprised if one or more of the new practitioners didn’t make it to the end of the program. Keith’s talks each morning were on the four noble truths, taken from Trungpa Rinpoche’s The Truth of Suffering and the Path of Liberation . Thus, these new students were plunged head first into the truth of suffering and pain – just as the Vidyadhara had taught us, his students.
I soon learned that at least two of the participants had not realized that this program had a spiritual basis. They thought they were coming to a program on meditation and awareness and didn’t realize it was about Buddhism, much less that it was totally based on Chögyam Trungpa’s buddhadharma. When I heard this, I wondered whether these students would make it to the end of the program.
But in fact all of the students made it through the week with flying colors, and the program was a complete success from Keith’s and my point of view. Each student, individually, went through an authentic process of working with his or her own mind and body. All were surprisingly honest – much more than we were 40 years ago! – about their fears, discomforts, difficulties, and resistances. They each discovered the heroism of facing themselves and developing a genuine sense of grounded discipline. And, after all that work, they each had a real experience of awareness, of gap or space or cessation, even of prajna – a shift in perspective, a hint of egolessness at work. It just happened: ping, ping, ping, throughout the group, right at the end of the program on the last full day of sitting.
By the morning of departure, their faces were wide open. They were soft and glowing with warmth and dignity – and they were all enthusiastic about coming back next year for more. On that last morning, during our last meditation interviews, I picked up a faint aroma that brought back floods of memories of the old days at Karme-Chöling and Rocky Mountain Dharma Center (Shambhala Mountain Center), when the Vidyadhara’s teachings were taught all the time. I later realized that it was the aroma of practitioners who have begun to be “shinjanged,” who have begun to process their minds through the discipline of shamatha. Being in the midst of these students that morning was very moving to me. It brought tears to my eyes and joy to my heart. It felt like magic, like the adhishthana of the Kagyü lineage.
At the time, I thought it was simply the magic of the dathün form (based on the vinaya) that the Vidyadhara had inculcated in those who were trained as teachers. I assumed that following the form completely and precisely, as Keith had done, was what had invoked the magic. However, in retrospect, I realize that the success of the program was also due to how Keith filled the form; for he designed, guided and taught the program with a deft, gentle, flexible, sensitive touch.
Recipe for Planting the Vidyadhara in People’s Hearts
Keith is a people person. To lay the foundations for teaching, he cultivates warm personal relationships with potential students wherever he goes. Keith both cultivates people and perpetuates the Vidyadhara’s teachings by teaching new students the forms and practices that the Vidyadhara created for the buddhadharma and Shambhala paths. His intention is to keep the forms alive by adhering strictly to what we received from the Vidyadhara, and passing them on to new and younger students outside of SI. For obvious reasons, he restricts his teaching to the basic practices of the hinayana and mahayana.
For the program that I staffed, Keith did all the preparatory work: gathering students, lining up a suitable venue, and designing every aspect of the program. Many of us who were trained and taught within Vajradhatu are capable of doing this in our own localities. However, there were factors that made our program different from any Vajradhatu dathüns or other programs that I had staffed in the past.
To encourage other Vidyadhara-trained people to consider the possibilities for doing something similar, and for my own and others’ future reference, I’d like to describe some of the ingredients that made our program a success. Since planting Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche in the hearts of students was our foremost intention, ‘success’ meant that students introduced to the Vidyadhara’s teachings experienced enough genuine connection with themselves that they finished the program and felt inspired to continue practicing meditation. So the following are some ingredients for a recipe for a residential program that presents the Vidyadhara’s teachings on shamatha-vipashyana outside of SI and its facilities.
• Choose a venue with a compatible lineage
The facility in which you conduct a residential program – where participants eat and sleep – will be most conducive if it is managed by and dedicated to a spiritual lineage that is compatible with the Vidyadhara’s teachings and lineages. The energies or vibes of a place do make a difference.
• Vidyadhara only
Perhaps needless to say, the teachings, meditation technique, chants, and other forms that we used were all the Vidyadhara’s. The Sadhana of Mahamudra was introduced and read on his Parinirvana day. On the last evening, we all watched a video of the Dorje Dradul Chögyam Trungpa introducing the concept of enlightened society. While the emphasis on the Vidyadhara’s influence and inspiration was light-handed, matter-of-fact, and nontheistic, I believe that what invoked the magic – the blessings of the Vidyadhara – was our devotion in adhering to the spirit, words and forms of his teachings. The magic of the Vidyadhara cannot be faked, as he often told us in various ways. So being true to him and genuine in our intentions is essential for the success of such a program.
• You need at least a week
A seven- or eight- or ten-day sit will have a different effect on new students’ experience of sitting meditation than a weekend will have. That is, to plant Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche in peoples’ hearts, a week-long residential program will be more effective than a shorter non-residential program.
• Invite people who are receptive to meditation and with whom you have a personal connection.
New practitioners with whom you have a personal connection will help to create the sense of mandala for the new people you don’t know.
• Atmosphere of safety
The tone of the program, set by Keith’s example, was gentle, warm, and personal, as well as open, spacious, nonhierarchical, and non-militant. This approach created a sense of safety for new students to express themselves without fear. A number of them expressed vulnerability, and were given the space to be vulnerable. When they really needed to skip a meditation session in order to take a run or take care of some other personal need, and if Keith saw that giving them a ‘spacious meadow’ would refresh their experience of being on the cushion, he gave them space. There seemed to be a common understanding between us all, teachers and students: We are all wounded and meditation is part of our healing process, in the sense that healing is about becoming whole, and meditation is wholesome. It worked – they each came back to their cushion after a little time in their spacious meadow.
• Face time
Students had a lot of ‘face time’ with both instructors – at meals, in daily discussion groups, at meditation instruction interviews, and during breaks. Keith built social time into the schedule to balance the rigorous practice discipline, which included half-days of silence, so the atmosphere was relaxed as well as wakeful – not too loose and not too tight. I had the feeling that Keith and I were both ‘on’ and available to the students at all times, yet it didn’t feel hectic or exhausting.
• Presence of old dogs
The presence of a number of older Vidyadhara students strengthened and enriched the program for new students. These ‘old dogs’ were people who started their path and met the Vidyadhara before he died. Thus, they were program participants who were already relatively shinjanged.***
Keith had invited these people to join the program to refresh their own practice and also to create a stronger mandala for the new students. Like Keith and myself, they knew that modeling the discipline for the benefit of the new students was the highest priority. In addition, other old students of Rinpoche, who often came to the center to practice, spontaneously showed up during our program. They ate with our group in the dining room and occasionally joined us for meditation practice, chants, or talks.
I knew some of these old dogs and not others, but discovered a warm, intimate sense of sangha with them all. The warmth between us was evident to the new students, I’m sure, giving them a foretaste of the possibilities of sangha. Thus, I felt that having members of the senior sangha on site was essential to the success of the program because their presence supported everyone: the instructors and the new students as well as their own practice. A mandala spontaneously arose and the participation of the older students reinforced the discipline within that container.
• Affordability rather than profitability
Last but not least, the cost of the program was bare bones. Student fees just covered program expenses, so it was easily affordable. Keith and I donated our time. So, although the students did give us modest teaching gifts at the end, it was clear that we were not teaching this program to make a profit. This pricing is in keeping with the Vidyadhara’s policy in teaching the dharma, and I believe it is an essential element in teaching a genuine Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche program.
For me, the revelation provided by staffing Keith’s 8-day sit was that we invoke the magic in the Vidyadhara’s teachings and forms by practicing them as he taught them, and that this simultaneously revitalizes the third jewel. The disciplines he taught us are like a suit of armor. When we squeeze ourselves back into them, they restore our confidence and courage. Sharing the disciplines of the hinayana with new practitioners evokes tender open-heartedness and basic sanity. Basic sanity makes itself known like a kiss or a blessing to confirm the rightness and wholesomeness of the situation. This magic can cure heart sickness, revive a sense of sangha, and propagate the Vidyadhara’s dharma legacy and lineage all at the same time! With care and precision this kind of situation can be created anywhere, any time by the Vidyadhara’s direct students who have the permission, experience, and inspiration to teach.
*Dathün is a month-long group retreat consisting of 8 – 10 hours a day of sitting and walking meditation, chants, oryoki  meals, talks, periods of silence, and short work periods. This was the basic program for training the mind – almost the equivalent of “boot camp” – for all of the Vidyadhara’s students. A dathün was required before most students could be accepted for the three-month seminary where further teachings were given and received.
**Weekthün is one week of dathün practice. A dathün consists of four weekthüns, which enables some students to join a dathün for only one week.
***Shinjanged: tamed, processed
Suzanne Duarte was known as Suzanne Head in the Vidyadhara’s sangha until 1994. She first met the Vidyadhara in 1972 in San Francisco, and began working at Vajradhatu (Rinpoche’s headquarters in Boulder) in 1975. She attended her first seminary in 1976, and held a number of positions within the mandala until 2009. Those positions included teaching buddhadharma and Shambhala Training at Karme-Chöling, RMDC and urban dharmadhatus; and environmental studies and ecopsychology at Naropa University.