On Differing Views and Paths

July 16, 2009

Interview with Richard Reoch, by Andrew Safer

On-line discussions on the Radio Free Shambhala web site and various listservs have been pointing out that there are students of Trungpa Rinpoche who are continuing along the path he set out for them, and who don’t feel welcome within the current-day Shambhala community. It no longer feels like “home” to them. Sometimes they are disparaged by community members who cite their “lack of loyalty” to the current Sakyong.

Andrew Safer of Radio Free Shambhala recently had the opportunity to ask Richard Reoch, President of Shambhala, to comment on this state of affairs.

Radio Free Shambhala: As you know, there has been tension and disagreement between some of Trungpa Rinpoche’s senior students and some of the students of the Sakyong, regarding changes to the practice path and differences of view. Many of these senior students do not feel that there is room for them within the Shambhala mandala.

Richard Reoch: It’s true that some of the long-term students of the Vidyadhara feel like they’re not supported. I and others have been in conversation with some of the long-term acharyas to see what is the practice support that is needed that would continue to nurture their path, and not make them feel excluded.

RFS: Sometimes the samaya of these senior students has been questioned.

Richard Reoch: That’s not what I feel Shambhala vision is about. I do not believe we should be commenting on or having the presumption to comment on another practitioner’s samaya. We all have a common, deep karmic connection. Probably most of us can’t even fathom it. We are all in this extraordinary lineage stream. We have a deep shared vision, at least about what Shambhala means, in an archetypal sense, in our subconscious.

To regard someone who is maintaining samaya within the Shambhala lineage as a dissenter is a mistaken view. It is not helpful to comment on the legitimacy of another person’s practice of samaya. Perhaps this happens because we don’t have the ground for the perpetuation of lineage in this culture. If you think several generations ahead, are we going to say that the students of the next Sakyong are dissenters because they’re following the teachings of Mipham? This is a fundamental misunderstanding of lineage.

One problem with the transplantation of egoless devotion from a culture like Tibet to a culture like we have in the West is we don’t have a tradition of lineage in modern form. We don’t have the cultural roots to support that. We are all grappling with how to understand this profound teaching.

I try to use the office I hold (as President), and the authority that goes with it to deal with this issue. When members of our community are described as “border tribes”—when they write me or meet with me—I devote a lot of time and try to learn from them. I think there has been a kind of polarization in which extreme language is used. We genuinely have to go deeper, beneath this level of argument, to find the commonality. I’m definitely doing that, person to person.

Maybe now that the current orientation of the path is getting clearer, we need to have a conversation with the senior acharyas about precisely what could be the support that can be provided for people who started on a particular element of the path of Shambhala and that needs to continue and be supported?

Five Sakyongs down the road, there will be people who say “I make a personal connection by reading the works of the Vidyadhara.” Others will day “How fortunate it was for Shambhala that Mipham the Great reincarnated as the Sakyong.” Eventually, it’s not just about tolerating differences; it’s about appreciating the incredible richness that’s available in our kingdom.

RFS: The real question is: how are the teaching stream and legacy of Trungpa Rinpoche going to continue?

Richard Reoch: I’ve been in discussions with Carolyn Gimian since the beginning of the Chögyam Trungpa Legacy Project about the importance of that initiative. The analogy we have used is that the Legacy Project is like a presidential library, so things don’t end up moldering and being lost. I’ve had some initial conversations with some of the longer-term students and acharyas about how to create an identifiable and helpful framework so no one is seen as being on one track or the other, or as renegades which is antithetical to the long-term survival of the lineage.

RFS: Many people who are devoted to Trungpa Rinpoche and who don’t consider the Sakyong to be their teacher don’t feel welcomed by the community, and they’re afraid to speak up.

Richard Reoch: One of the earliest statements issued by the Mandala Governing Council created after the first Shambhala Congress was a statement on the commitment to openness. I asked members of that council to list the issues that people are afraid to speak up about. We seemed to have inherited an incredible atmosphere of fear, and I did not understand that. I had no idea the extent to which this community was traumatized. When I asked what issues were not being addressed, people were afraid to name the issues.  I think we all realized, ‘Wow, we can’t even talk about what we can’t talk about!’ Opening up that discussion was like Glasnost and Perestroika in Shambhala.

I talked to Larry Mermelstein, and asked, “Is there anything we can do to reduce this climate of fear?” Some people were experiencing this fear in a very palpable way. If we can’t create a social framework in which we understand that people will have different points of view, then all the notions of fearlessness and openheartedness—everything we’re so proud of about the Shambhala inheritance—absolutely won’t take root. We can’t build an enlightened society on a basis of fear.

Wherever I go, I invite people to talk to me about this so I can find out more about it. Sometimes, because someone has said something extremely abusive, we feel like we’re going to lose membership. There are people hiding out, as if they’re the old Chi Kung masters at the height of the Cultural Revolution hoping they’re not noticed by the Red Guards. It’s a slow process of personal conversation, trying to address these tendencies of people persecuting each other.

When Radio Free Shambhala was established, people contacted me as if this was the end of the world. “No, just think ahead,” I said. “If we think about the new golden age of Shambhala, there will be countless Web sites and social networking opportunities where people express their experience of the dharma and of different teachers, including what others might disagree with. If there’s one thing that prevents establishing the kingdom of Shambhala, it’s called fascism, and I‘m not having anything to do with that.”

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.

A Progress Report

April 27, 2009

Update By Bill Karelis, April 26, 2009

On January 21st, 2009, I wrote a letter to the Vajradhatu sangha and the Shambhala community, stating that from this time forward it is my intention to focus on the propagation of the teachings of my root guru, the Great Vidyadhara, Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche, and his predecessors. It has been about three months since this letter was posted on sangha-announce, and much has happened.

I am grateful for the invitations being offered by the Shambhala Times and to the Radio Free Shambhala website to report on the progress of this work.

Dharma program in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, April 3, 2009

To begin with, the Shambhala Prison Community, which is separately incorporated from Shambhala International, continues strong; and it also has been evolving rapidly. We have begun to authorize meditation instructors, and to create a path into instructorship for those doing prison work. The Shambhala Prison Community is not a non-profit organization in the conventional sense of establishing territory in its field, consolidating that territory, and expanding from its established base. We have no home office function to speak of; we spend 96% of every dollar raised on work in the field, providing service to prison inmates, correctional personnel and volunteers. We have been training case workers in the Polish prison system; last December 2008, I conducted our fourth three-day workshop outside of Warsaw for ten participants. Our organization in Oregon has put on about 18 weekends for offenders in the Maximum Security Penitentiary, originally via Shambhala Training. This year that program is shifting its emphasis to the Four Foundations of Mindfulness and other basic Buddhist practice topics.  This March I visited prison workers the SPC trained two years ago in Amsterdam. Three of these individuals now belong to a group of four full-time staff employed by the Dutch government to provide Buddhist services to inmates; that group covers over 80% of the prisons in The Netherlands, which has one of the most progressive governmental systems in the world in the area of concern for the human development of its inmate populations.

Trying out the cushions before the program

Trying out the cushions before the program

While in Europe this winter and spring, I made several prison Dharma presentations, notably with the Amida Trust in Narbrough, UK, at a university conference for mindfulness practice in the field of psychology in Warsaw, and in France.

Most of my activity, as it has been for some years, is conducted outside the prison field—straight Dharma, unmingled with worldly dharmas, presented to meditation groups. This presentation falls generally into the two categories of cutting through spiritual materialism, and Buddha Nature, in the context of all three yanas; and the Shambhala parallels. I have just this April completed a two-month tour of nine countries, mostly in Western and Central Europe (I also presented a program in the United Arab Emirates). My activity is dividing out into three major components:

  • Collaborating with senior students of our lineage on Vajrayana practice and the Shambhala teaching of the Vidyadhara, and maintaining communication generally among the Vajra Sangha, who are often painfully dispersed and isolated—at least as much as I am able.
  • Teaching in Zen, Karma Kagyu and other centers and venues—programs and individual talks, in equal measure.   This activity comprises a great part of my work. It includes relating with teachers of different lineages.
  • Establishing non-aligned groups, which operate under the principle of personal mentorship, rather than that of institutional process, and which follow the teachings of the Vidyadhara. There are now five of these, one in each of five countries.
Dubai harbor by night

Dubai harbor by night

This has been, without question, the most dynamic and creative period of my practice and teaching path. It is characterized by exertion, hopelessness and a tremendous sense of the need for our teaching stream in the world at large. In fact, the world is starving for what we know. My overarching feeling is that we should stop trying to sell the Dharma, and start giving it away to those who request it, for whom the karma is ripe.

Anyone wishing to know more, to collaborate or to help is welcome to write to me or call me at bkarelis@yahoo.com, or 1 303 444 0043.  

 Bill Karelis has been practicing and studying the Buddhadharma and the Shambhala teachings for 37 years. For the last 15 years he has been presenting these teachings internationally.


Photos by Bill Karelis 2009  |  © Bill Karelis 2009

Creating Enlightened Society — Part 3

April 4, 2009

Creating Enlightened Society

by Dr. Robin Kornman

 Part 3

Now, I’m going to talk about what Rigden means. The Rigden was the king of the mythical kingdom of Shambhala. He was the man who spread the Kalachakra teachings across the world. By the end of this weekend, you’re going to know what the Kalachakra teachings are and who the Rigden is, and what the idea is in being a Rigden. But for right now, let’s just say that the Rigden king represents the wisdom of the Court principle. And when these people are devoted, because of their intelligence, to the Rigden king, they work together well and they form a society. So it says,

Thus a good human society was created on this Earth.

And that’s the end of the section. I’ve been studying this section for years, and if I had more time I’d work through every word in Tibetan. Actually, I’d like to give a word-by-word commentary on it, but we don’t have time tonight. Still, I think you have the basic idea: Society is a natural thing. It comes into being when your mind perceives the basis of things. Society is created, not by two or three people getting together, which is what Aristotle said about politics. It’s created by glimpsing the origins of human intelligence, and how you accept your glimpse of origins of human intelligence, that tells you what kind of society you are going to create.

We build an enlightened society in the Shambhalian way by giving people a practice that enables them to face their primordial nature, to face their own nature, and that is the sitting practice of meditation. The first thing we do in Shambhala Training or in Buddhism is teach you how to sit, and we tell you to follow your breath. But the idea isn’t for you to become an expert at focusing on your breath. The idea is that you are using the breath as a crutch to do something else: to look at your own mind. My mind is following the breath; my mind is looking at the breath. My mind is the “I”. The breath is the “it”. “I” look at “it”. What I want to do is look at “I”. I want to turn and look at myself, and the sitting practice we do aims to do that. That’s what it fundamentally is. You follow the breath, and after a while you begin to discover that you can’t follow the breath too much. Thoughts come up and distract you, and you begin to complain that your mind is full of uncontrolled thoughts. You have a monkey mind, full of thoughts. It swings from thought to thought, like a monkey swings from branch to branch.

You complain about your lack of discipline, but you’re seeing your thoughts. You’re beginning to turn towards your mind. That first glimpse of the business of your thoughts is the beginning of your turning towards your mind.  That first glimpse of the business of your thoughts is the beginning of your turning towards mind itself. As you begin to slow down in meditation, you begin to see the arising, dwelling, and cessation of the thoughts. You begin to see the beginning of the thought, the middle of the thought, and the end of the thought. When you see the beginning, middle, and end of a thought, now you are turned away from the phenomenal world and you’re looking back towards the cosmic mirror, and you’re watching the thoughts arise from the mirror.

The thought arises from something. When you turn towards that something, rather than the thought, you’ve made that great turning, the 180 degree turn. The Yogacharans call it “the great turning”. The longer it takes you to do it, the better. The more agonizing it is, the better. If it takes you 20 years to turn, you’ve made a great turning, and you’re going to have a great realization. That’s what the meditation practice is, and that’s where we begin. We’re going to learn to construct an enlightened society and the first step is learning how to look at the abyss, at the vast mind. Tomorrow morning I’m going to go into the technique of looking and I’m going to talk about how you develop a capacity, from that meditation practice, which enables you to construct palaces and plant beautiful fields, join with others in complex projects, and design a society.

Actually, if you wanted to prepare for the talk, in the manual there’s a paper you could read called A Prolegomena to a Theory of Contemplative Education by Robin Kornman. When I was studying Comparative Literature at Princeton, I learned that if you begin a paper with a Greek word that nobody knows, it gets published! (Laughter) It just does! Stephen knows… So I want this paper published, so I begin with “Prolegomena”, and I’m not going to tell you what it is. That would remove the magic and mystery.  This is a Prolegomena, but you’re going to have to guess what that means. In any case, if you wanted to you could prepare by reading this, because this is what I’m going to talk about tomorrow morning.

Then tomorrow afternoon, I’m going to take the different pieces of an enlightened society and talk about them separately. I’m going to hearken back to oral teachings that Trungpa Rinpoche gave me, gave us in the early days. He taught us, I don’t know, it seems like hundreds of techniques of meditation in action. Each one of them was an aspect of building an enlightened society. I’ve made a rough list of those teachings he gave that didn’t get written down anywhere. Now, some of them did get written down, but if you want to know his techniques for meditation in action, or his techniques for building an enlightened society, it’s hard to find them by reading his writings. Thanks to the work of people like Carolyn Gimian we have the collected writings of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche [The Collected Works of Chogyam Trungpa] in those gorgeous yellow books. And in addition to them, we have all the seminary transcripts from the early Vajradhatu Seminaries. We have tons and tons of writings by him, but I reckon he gave about one-third of his teachings casually and orally in his living room to different students. We knew that they were important and we spread them. We talked to all the other students we could talk to and we made sure that these teachings got propagated. So that community of Trungpa Rinpooche’s original students did a very effective job of spreading these teachings.

I was at Karme Choling, a Buddhist meditation Centre in Vermont, and I would come back from spending an evening at Rinpoche’s house and people would say, “Well, what did you talk about?” And I would say, “We talked about this, and this, and this…go through the whole list, and then everybody would talk to each other about it. Somebody else would spend the evening there and come back and say, “Well, we talked about such and such. We talked about sex. Would you like to know what he says about sex?” “We talked about cooking, we talked about clothes, we talked about politics. Whatever was discussed got passed on, and passed through the community, and became part of what the senior teachers taught in their more casual moments in the lectures they gave. Now, we stand in danger of losing those teachings because they weren’t written down in books. They weren’t recorded.

So a bunch of us have been rushing around, finding people who were privately taught something by Trungpa Rinpoche, and getting those people to talk it into a camera. We post it on The Chronicles web site; we make them available in general. For example, Jack Niland spent hours and days with Rinpoche learning an approach to painting based upon Dzogchen. It’s an approach to painting that even includes a Dzogchen way of preparing the canvas. You actually polish the canvas and cover it with a kind of clay which you polish until the canvas becomes a mirror. The canvas becomes the cosmic mirror, and then you paint what arises out of the mirror on the canvas. It’s a whole system of painting and he just taught it to Jack Niland. Jack kept notes and Rinpoche did drawings for him, and he kept the drawings and a couple of us learned about it two years ago and we began having Jack give programs in New York, and filming the programs. So now we’ve documented those private sessions. So I’m going to make a list of whatever I can remember of private teachings that need to be discussed, and talk about them. As the months go on I’m going to just give them into the camera and we’ll make podcasts and put them on the web. And I’ll find other people who have had private instructions like that and add them to the list.

In the afternoon tomorrow, I’m going to start a list of oral instructions on details of an enlightened society. Any that you can remember, add to that and we’ll collect as much as we can. There are a couple of old timers here.

On Sunday I’m going to take the material on enlightened society that you’ve heard in these three talks, and follow it out in some of the Tibetan scriptures from which these teachings come. All of the teachings that I’ve been talking about – we find them in the Shambhala texts. We received them from Trungpa Rinpoche in his lectures and we got instructed on them in private lectures with him or with the Sakyong, whoever your guru is in the Shambhala lineage. But they all come from Tibetan scriptures. On Sunday, I’m going to go through two or three of the Tibetan scriptures in detail that are origins for these teachings on enlightened society. Actually, there are lots more than I’m going to have time to do on Sunday but Sunday will be a beginning, and then we can have podcasts of the rest. So that’s the weekend. We’re going to have music and art and a book fair. I’m going to mention lots of little details and I want you to enjoy yourself and enjoy contributing to this environment as we try to remember the dreams we had in the early days of the Court, and recreate the sense of Court. It seems pretty complete.

I wanted to just say one thing and I’ll talk more about it later.  I just realized that that table in the corner might seem very mysterious to you. It’s meant to be a table full of aphorisms. We’re going to talk about the role of proverbs and aphorisms in enlightened society, so I grabbed a bunch off my shelf and put them there. These are texts which are designed to be read by 14-year-olds. I’ll talk about the training of teenagers in an enlightened society, and the use of those texts. Also, you’ll see Recalling Trungpa Rinpoche which is a book that Fabrice Midal edited. A lot of work went into this book. It’s meant to be a way of presenting Trungpa Rinpoche’s ideas to the non-buddhist world. It’s a collection of essays written for philosophers, academics, critics, and artists who aren’t committed to a path, the beginning of making him one of the people you study in school when you study the thinkers of the twentieth century. It’s being published in French and in English. I don’t know if the French translation is going to really happen or not, but the text has been translated into French. You’ll find the articles there very interesting. Some of them are average but a lot of them are very brilliant. Reggie Ray has a very good article, Traleg Rinpoche has a brilliant article. This is a way of getting a really different insight into the thought of Trungpa Rinpoche, looking at him as a twenty-first century philosopher, not done just as a buddhist teacher. 

OK. So let’s bow to each other and fold our tents and steal silently into the night.

Creating Enlightened Society, Talk 1: Part 1 | Part 2

Creating Enlightened Society, Part 2

March 24, 2009

Creating Enlightened Society

by Dr. Robin Kornman

Part 2


Shiwa Ökar holding cosmic mirror

Shiwa Ökar holding cosmic mirror

Let’s take the first page. It’s the page [1] that you have in your manual. It begins:

From the great cosmic mirror

This is going to talk about how society comes into being. Now, ordinarily, your theory of how society comes into being is that people live together and they form tribes and then the tribes form city-states that form countries. There are a lot of interesting books. Rousseau came up with a theory, which is a theory that I personally love, which is the theory of the social contract which is that people live together and they realize that they have to specialize. Some people are going to be farmers and some people are going to be warriors, and they create a society by entering into a social contract. They form a contract and that’s the nature of their society. To some extent, that’s the way Americans view their society. The contract is the Constitution. That’s the way the French view their society, and that’s the way the liberal democracies of Europe view their societies. Those are societies that are created by some sort of contractual arrangement, some understanding or agreement. Everyone in the society has assented to follow the laws of that society.

But this approach to the development of society (points to text) is more primordial than that. It shows how society is actually a primordial idea. Society is part of the nature of the existence of your inner mind. And society comes into being when you begin to think of yourself as an autonomous individual. When you begin to perceive that you exist in a world as a separate being. So, this passage in Tibetan poetry describes that a bit. It describes the moment when people woke up to the fact that they were individuals, and had to deal with that. It’s put in terms of a Tibetan myth, that in the beginning, there was no world. There was no existence. No planets, stars, trees. It was just a vast mirror, and it was called the cosmic mirror. The si-pe me-long. So the first sentence says:

From the great cosmic mirror without beginning and without end

Human society became manifest.

Now, you have to imagine to yourself that there is no space, no time. There is just a huge mirror, and if you look in the mirror you see the universe. In the mirror you see planets, stars, people on the planets. In fact, you can see in the mirror, yourself, on a planet called Earth, in a town called Milwaukee. There is nothing but that mirror. There is actually nobody looking in the mirror. The mirror is full of images, and those images are the idea of me and the idea of you. As a matter of fact, that’s the way a mirror is. If you look in a mirror, it looks like there is space inside the mirror. It looks like you can reach into the mirror, you can walk into the mirror and talk to the people in the mirror. But actually, the mirror is just this thin (indicating a bare thickness with his fingers). The mirror is almost non-existent. It’s just an image. And the Buddhist understanding of the nature of the universe is that the universe is a vast mind, a vast unlimited awareness. That awareness is the ground of all things, and when that awareness is aware of Robin Kornman talking in this seat, Robin Kornman comes into being as a display in that mind, as a perception in that mind, as a display in the mirror. So, it says:

From the great cosmic mirror without beginning and end

Human society became manifest.

In other words, in the beginning was the great cosmic mirror without beginning and without end. The word “cosmic” is the word si-pa. (In Tibetan,) Sridpa, srid means world, it means possibility, it means society, it means politics, it means existence, and it means cosmic. There’s no way of translating srid directly into a word in English. There’s no word in English that combines all these notions. Ordinarily, if there’s a word for society, that word for society isn’t going to refer to anything primordial; it’s not going to refer to anything natural. It’s going to refer to something contractual, something that is an agreement. Something that is artificial, that people put together. But the Tibetan word for “society” is also the word for possibility, the word for existence. So the Tiebtan society is innate in the nature of mind. So you could say this is the mirror of society, or the mirror of existence.

It says:

From that great cosmic mirror…human society became manifest.

At that time liberation and confusion arose.

Simultaneously. In other words, there were people who were liberated and people who were confused. What caused the liberated people? What caused the confused people?

When fear and doubt occurred

Towards the confidence which is primordially free

Countless multitudes of cowards arose.

And that’s confusion. When people arose from the mirror, exited the mirror, pretended that they existed outside the mirror, thought of themselves as autonomous, thought of the world as real and not just a great mind, then some of them experienced fear and doubt towards the confidence which is primordially free.

Now, once again, I’ve got to explain to you a Tibetan word that doesn’t have any equivalent in English. The word “confidence” is ziji which means “splendor”, “majesty”. When a king appears on his throne, the king has a kind of light that shines about his shoulders, about his head. A majesty that awes the people who see the king. That majesty is called ziji. Ziji is literally “splendor” but it is also, in the Shambhala tradition, the word for innate confidence, innate dignity, when you have confidence in yourself, perfect confidence in yourself, beyond relativity. When you have a confidence that cannot be shaken by any facts, and it’s possible to have such a confidence, it’s possible to have a confidence in yourself based upon seeing your basic nature, a confidence that I would keep and not lose no matter how much I fucked up. I can lose all my money. I could alienate all my friends. I could burn all the food I cook. I could wreck my car. I could forget my job. I could screw up my whole life, fail at all the things we’re not supposed to fail at. The things where if you succeed at them, you have confidence in yourself. I could fail at all of those things, but seeing my basic nature, still feel confidence. That’s primordial confidence. That’s the confidence that comes from seeing your basic nature. And the word for that confidence is ziji, “majesty”, because all human beings possess an innate majesty. A majesty that comes from the fact that we are magnificent displays in the cosmic mirror, that we are innately bright, brilliant displays.

We put up colorful thangkas on the walls–all these religious icons with all their colors–to talk about display because the nature of display is ziji, brilliance, majesty, wonder. All manifestation is wondrous. All of it is the display of basic primordial ground of basic wisdom. Now, when the fear and doubt about the confidence arise in those who just emerge from the mirror, then they become cowards. Doubt of your basic nature makes you a coward. In the language of Shambhala, a coward is a person who creates a decadent society, an unenlightened society—what we call a setting sun society. And so it says “Countless multitudes of cowards arose”.

On the other hand, when the confidence which is primordially free was followed and delighted in, when people emerged from the mirror and delighted in that ziji, in that confidence, and followed after it and cultivated it and tried to enact it in their daily life, those people became warriors. So now you have two people reacting to the same thing. You emerge from the mirror, you feel that you exist as a separate person, but you know that in the background is a primordial mind and you’re just part of that mind. Your subconscious mind knows that you don’t truly exist as a separate thing, and that idea is always in the back of your mind. And if that idea is threatening to you, then you become a coward because you can’t look back at the source from which you arose. You have to constantly protect your ego, you have to protect your sense of self-existence. And if you glimpse your origins, you’ll lose that sense of self-existence. You’ll feel like you’ve fallen into an abyss. Fear of that mirror that’s in everybody’s background, fear of that brilliant abyss, that makes you a coward. But if, when you sense that that abyss is there that you arose from it and that you still live in it, if that gives you delight, if that makes you feel free, if that makes you feel creative, then that makes you a warrior. And two kinds of society are created: Countless multitudes of warriors, and countless multitudes of cowards. Then it says:

Those countless multitudes of cowards

Hid themselves in caves and jungles.

They killed their brothers and sisters and ate their flesh,

They followed the example of beasts,

They provoked terror in each other;

Thus they took their own lives.

They kindled a great fire of hatred,

They constantly roiled the river of lust

I think we originally said “roiled in the river of lust”. Roiled in the river? What does roiling mean, anyway? Actually, it was my word (laughter). I’ve never looked in the dictionary to see if it’s a real word. Everyone at the table took it for granted that was a word. I couldn’t believe it when I said: “Roil in the river of lust”, and everybody said, “Great! OK, we’ll use that word.” And I thought ‘I’ll never get away with this’, but I did and here it is, my word! (Laughter). Now, don’t you roil in lust! (Laughter) Don’t you do that!

They wallowed in the mud of laziness;

The age of famine and plague arose.

And Iraq came into being. Well, it is Iraq, isn’t it though, really? Hid themselves in caves and jungles, killed their brothers and sisters, ate their flesh, they followed the example of beasts, they provoked terror in each other.

OK now, think about it. We are shocked and horrified by what happens when a society falls apart and becomes, well, what Iraq is today. When the police arrest somebody and automatically begin to torture them right away, for no reason, even when they don’t have any information to extract. We can’t understand how people can do that. We’re horrified by the nature of such people. When I look at myself I don’t find a monster like that, and I don’t understand how there can be so many monsters like that. How can there be all those people who did lynchings in the South? What could have been in their hearts? Is it true that there were two completely different kinds of human beings: one human being is a beast and one human being is a proto-angel? Can it be? No, it can’t be. The people who became cowards are just like the people who became warriors. They’re just slightly different. The slight difference is that they had a fear of an aspect of their basic nature, and when they indulged that fear, all sorts of other emotions cascaded forth leading to aggression, hatred, destruction, the willingness to torture others and rejoicing in it. Human beings who are beasts are just like us, but for that one inability: to face the abyss. The inability to rejoice in the cosmic mirror, the inability to face our unmentionable origins, our ineffable origins. That creates an evil society. That’s what evil is. On the other hand,

Of those who are dedicated to the primordial confidence—[the good guys]—

The many hosts of warriors,

Some went to highland mountains

And erected beautiful castles of crystal.

Some went to the lands of beautiful lakes and islands

And erected lovely palaces.

Some went to the pleasant plains

And sowed fields of barley, rice and wheat.

They produced art. They produced it naturally, and they produced it in abundance. The reason they produced art in abundance is because they were trying to enact, to represent, to talk about the fundamental display nature of themselves. Sensing that they are displays in the cosmic mirror, they rejoiced in that primordial nature, and they tried to represent it, and when you represent it you produce beautiful art. Like that Medicine Buddha over there is so elegant with its red and blue.

When I was a young man, I wondered why Buddhists built such huge palaces, why Tibetan temples had all that garish red and blue, why they used all that lacquer. After all, the Buddha was a poor man and he represented his purity by not having any money. Wasn’t the essence of Buddhism to be poor and pure? And I figured that when Buddhism constructed these huge palaces, it was some kind of decadence that developed. You know, you began with an honest sangha, an honest community of poor people, getting their food from alms. And then some of those people became bureaucrats, monastic bureaucrats, and as soon as you’ve created bureaucrats, you’ve created a corrupt church. And then the church built buildings and everyone settled down and became corrupt. In my purity as a teenager I figured that was what it was all about and I understood perfectly Mahayana Buddhism as a falling away from the Buddhist ideals. But now I realize it’s not. It’s an expression of the Buddhist ideal. It’s an expression of the innate display quality of reality, of the fundamental dignity and confidence of the ziji. So the more you accept the non-existence of ego, the emptiness of ego, the more splendid and glorious is your expression. And the elegance, the delicacy of the spires and the filigree, the ropes and the pearls hanging out of the mouths of golden alligators and all of that stuff that you find in a Tibetan temple, all of that stuff is a necessary statement about the nature of the world. It is an enlightened society, and so those who are dedicated to the primordial confidence created all these beautiful things. They sowed their beautiful fields of barely, rice and wheat, they erected their palaces.

Now, to understand how you get from being dedicated to primordial confidence to having an architect build a palace, we have to understand what the word “primordial confidence” means in greater depth than we do right this second. OK, well, that’s going to take a long time. That’s the nature of the philosophical exploration of the Shambhala teachings: to take the word dö-me ziji, primordial confidence, and understand deeply what that means. So we don’t do that in an evening or a weekend. It’s something we meditate on and, over the years, develop an understanding of. In the other lecture I’m going to give I’m going to try to explore it further, and I hope we will also be able to give podcasts developing some of the particular ways Trungpa Rinpoche showed the nature of primordial confidence. In any case, I just want to show that word, let it hang there. It’s something that we’re going to try to understand more deeply, because as you understand it, you’ll understand why a certain kind of society is natural. And the society is not made up of arbitrary conventions. It’s not made up of social conventions. It’s not made up of agreements. It’s made up of direct expressions of basic nature.

It says more about these warriors. It says:

They were always without quarrel,

Ever loving and very generous.

That word “loving” is actually in Sanskrit the word maitri: friendly, merciful. They were always merciful and generous. We have the word in Tibetan: daring to give. And there’s this very important line:

Without encouragement, through their self-existing inscrutability,

They were always devoted to the Imperial Rigden.

Without encouragement is an important word in Tibetan: kulwa mepa. Encouragement in Tibetan, kulwa, means when you call somebody to work. Like you say, “Hey you guys, come over here, bring hammers and saws and let’s work on this. Let’s make a table.” People look at you and say, “Shall I go?” And you say, “I’ll pay you. Here’s materials. If you don’t come over here, I’ll kill you.” You know, whatever incentive I give you. Come forth, and let’s make a table. That’s kulwa, calling somebody forth. That’s encouragement, incentive. And modern political theory has a lot to do with figuring out what the incentives are that hold society together. For example, the incentive could be money, or the incentive could be that we all believe in the communist vision. Communism and capitalism debated for a century: what would be a natural incentive for creating a healthy society? The debate still goes on. The communists basically lost their end of the debate. The capitalists didn’t win their side of the debate. The communists just disappeared and they figured they won because nobody was arguing with them anymore. But this enlightened society has no incentivization. Without encouragement they did their work. Because when you’re devoted to the primordial essence, then you naturally build crystal palaces. You naturally work well with others, you naturally form teams. The ability for several people to form a team and to happily be part of a team, to happily be the third chair or the fifth chair or the twenty-fifth chair, to happily be at the end of the line holding up the end of the line, to happily be a non-entity in the middle of the thing, to just be a nurse in the hall. The ability to do that and feel completely fulfilled by it, that is doing something without encouragement. That’s what “without encouragement” means, and so these warriors were always without encouragement.

Without encouragement, through their self-existing inscrutability

Now, inscrutability is an English translation of a Tibetan word that means: so wise that other people can’t see why you did something.  Let’s say you’re looking at a situation, and when you see the situation absolutely clearly you understand how it works. Then it’s perfectly obvious what you should do. “I should pull this lever here.” Other people are looking at the situation and don’t see how it works and they don’t know which lever to pull. Now, when you pull that lever they say “How wise indeed you are”. You are inscrutable; your inscrutable wisdom. Inscrutable wisdom is doing what’s obvious when nobody else sees that it’s obvious which is the nature of primordial wisdom.

I always give one example. I used to be called to Montreal to give talks in French. Even though my French was pretty bad, I could give meditation instruction in French, I could give interviews in French. In the early days before we developed a lot of teachers who taught in French in Quebec, I was invited to go to Quebec quite often. Now, at the end of a long day of giving talks and having them translated and listening to the French and trying to understand the French, my ability to understand French would completely run out. I’d be giving interviews and I couldn’t understand what anybody was saying. I would just sit there, you know, completely dazed. The guy comes in and he sits down and we bow to each other, and I have a certain advantage. I’m the teacher and this is the student and he feels a certain sense of awe towards me. And if I just hold it together, I’m going to make it through this interview. He starts to talk and I have no idea what he’s saying. He could be speaking Swahili. I know he’s talking about his inner life, because that’s what everybody does. I know what people talk about in meditation and I look at him and after a little while I have to say something because there’s a pause. He’s waiting for my answer. He’s asked me a question, but I can’t understand the question either. I say something really obvious like, “You look tired”. And he says, “What a brilliant remark! That’s my problem! I’m just tired. Thank you. You’re so wise.” And they’d leave and I was the all-wise American. This lasted for a year or two before they figured out that I didn’t know what they were saying. I’ve got a feeling that my guru did that in the early days. He would sit there smoking a cigarette and every once in a while he would say something completely disconnected from what you were saying, and you would say, “Oh! What a penetrating remark!” That’s inscrutability. It’s the wisdom that sees what’s obvious to you that’s not obvious to other people, but really is obvious. If people weren’t so terribly confused and self-involved, they would see it too. Inscrutability is a Shambhalian word for “highest wisdom”.

(To be continued)

 [1]This same text appears in Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior, in Part One, How to Be a Warrior, on page 23 in the standalone book editions and on page 15 in the Collected Works edition.



Creating Enlightened Society, Talk 1: Part 1 | Part 3

Creating Enlightened Society

March 19, 2009

By Dr. Robin Kornman  

Transcribed by Andrew Safer

Robin Kornman gave four public talks on Creating Enlightened Society in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in February 2007. These can be seen on Google Video.

Talk #1 will appear in three installments on Radio Free Shambhala.

Robin was one of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s first North American students. I didn’t know him well, but when he came to Halifax in 2007 we spoke and I was struck by his honesty, his humour, and his frailty. Robin died shortly after, from complications of the mesothelioma he contracted as a result of working around asbestos as a teenager. 

When I saw him in the crowded vestibule of the Halifax Shambhala Centre, Robin looked at me and said, simply, “I’m dying,” not sadly or with any particular emotion. It was a matter-of-fact statement that struck me as extraordinary in its directness and openness.

Robin was one of the founding members of the Nalanda Translation Committee which is the group of students Trungpa Rinpoche worked with on the translation of Tibetan texts into English. The translation group remains active today. Robin received a PhD in Comparative Literature from Princeton University. He was a Resident Scholar at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC from 2001 to 2002, and then taught comparative literature at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.  Robin gave this series of talks over a weekend at the Milwaukee Shambhala Centre.

I would like to thank Michael Sullivan for providing the link to Robin’s talk in a comment he posted on Radio Free Shambhala, and for arranging for permission to publish the transcription here.  

 Creating Enlightened Society

Part 1

We’ve gone to a lot of trouble to fix up the centre. We’ve hung a lot of thangkas and a lot of decorations. Each thangka relates to the subject matter of the program and all the decorations connect with the program. We have a display of books in the back of the room. There are a lot of things going on here, things on the walls that don’t usually go on the walls of the Milwaukee Shambhala Centre. What I’m trying to do is just give a little echo of a very elaborate physical environment we had at Kalapa Assembly in the old days. When the Shambhala teachings were first given, they were given at programs called “Kalapa Assembly”. Trungpa Rinpoche’s oldest students were brought to an off-season ski resort, and we fixed up the place. We made it elaborately beautiful. There was art on the walls, we lived a very formal life, we dressed up in suits for every single talk. What we were doing is we were recreating in a Western context a thing that Trungpa Rinpoche called the Court principle. A lot of this weekend, I’m going to talk about what the Court principle is.

When you see a manadala of Tibetan deities, a classical diagram that shows the deity in the middle of a square, there are different colours, and deities in four directions on the face of the square. That complex diagram represents a palace. The palace represents the whole universe, the world as an enlightened being would see it. Actually, it’s a picture of a palace, with a king living in the middle of the palace. The king has ministers, servants, queens, body guards, and all sorts of different principles represented by deities in the mandala. Of course, you memorize these mandalas, and imagine yourself being the king in the middle of the mandala. The idea is to see your world as the court of the king, and to understand that the nature of civilization is somehow involved in this court. If we saw the world the way it truly is, we would see it as the court of a king. Now, when we look at the world, it’s full of countries, disasters, mountains and rivers, cities falling down and being built, wars, animals being born and dying, and forests and streams. It looks like a complicated bunch of biological and sociological things going on. But if you could see it the way it really was, you would see it as innately pure—innately, beyond the dualities of life and death, of winning and losing, of happiness and unhappiness, of good and bad. You would see something magnificently beautiful, with a structure which reflected a profound message, and that would be the world the way an enlightened person would see it. Tibetan Tantric Buddhism has represented the world the way it truly is: as the palace of a king.

And so, at Kalapa Assembly, we tried to create a palace culture. Our teacher, Trungpa Rinpcohe, was the king of the palace, and everybody else was some dignitary in the court of the king. All of our activities became formal and symbolic. They symbolized something about the profound inner nature of reality. When you see the profound inner luminous nature of reality manifest, then you see a world of brilliant displays, of magnificent beauty and goodness. Enlightened society is based upon that principle of the goodness of that Court. Of seeing the world as innately like that Court. In this program, this weekend, I’m going to build up the idea of an enlightened society, from the ground up, in stages, and you’ll see us constructing the notion of the world as a Court. That’s why we fancied up the centre, and why all the staff are wearing suits. That’s why there’s so much formality. Because we’re trying to recreate that atmosphere and that message that was in the atmosphere of the Kalapa Assemblies when we were first taught that the world, the universe, is a court of an all-creating monarch.

[Asks for manuals to be distributed]

In The Golden Sun of the Great East, Trungpa Rinpoche introduced the ideas of the Kingdom of Shambhala and the teachings of the Kingdom of Shambhala. Those ideas were introduced in the book, Shambhala: The Sacred  Path of the Warrior, and were taught at Kalapa Assembly as well. That book is based upon a bunch of books like this: these are terma, or scriptural texts, on the teachings of the Kingdom of Shambhala that the Dorje Dradul, Trungpa Rinpoche, received one by one. He received them in Tibetan, and translated them with the Nalanda Translation Committee. I was on the translation committee when they were translated, and we published them like this, Tibetan on one side and English on the other side. The people who went to Kalapa Assembly got these books. Nowadays, if you take Shambhala Training  all the way up to Warrirors’ Assembly and beyond, you will get one by one all of these books, which were written in a really concentrated way.

But the first teaching is given on the first page of Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior. We’re going to start out with an exceptionally deep, difficult to understand teaching. I’m going to teach it tonight and you’ll have to think about it as time goes on. It’s the basis for the idea of an enlightened society. Before I go into the text, what do we mean by an enlightened society? I mean that the way we live in our society is reorganized so that our whole life is a path that leads to enlightenment. Right now, most people live a life which is, from my point of view, arbitrary. Their aim is to do the next step in life: to go to school, to get a degree, to have kids, to grow older, and to die. But people who are on the Buddhist path, their aim is to gain enlightenment. Their life has more focus. The Shambhala and Buddhist paths are both paths which have that focus. Enlightened society refers to the notion of reorganizing our society so that everything you do—from going to school, to getting married, to getting a job, to buying your clothes, to taking a vacation in Hawaii—everything you do is reorganized so that it advances you along the path. It speeds you towards enlightenment.

Eventually, because of the way that society is organized, and the way you are taught to live in the world, you could achieve meditation in action; you can manage to meditate all the time. Everybody knows the image of the Buddhist monk or the Buddhist nun who spends all of his or her time in a monastery or in retreat meditating. If this person meditates eight or ten hours a day, for 30 or 40 years, they will become an enlightened person—some level of Buddha, or a bodhisattva at one of the higher levels.  All that meditation is necessary to gradually transform your mind—from the mind of an ordinary person into the mind of an enlightened being. To transform your mind from the confused mind we have, into the unconfused, wise, penetrating compassionate mind of an enlightened being. The way you do it is to meditate 10 hours a day for your whole life. There are lots and lots of Tibetans who when they hit the age of 30 or 40 go into life-long retreat, try to gain enlightenment in one lifetime and plan on being reincarnated enlightened and helping the world. But our teacher, Trungpa Rinpoche, when he came to the West, he had another approach to introduce to us. It wasn’t that you spend your life in retreat in order to gain enlightenment. It was that you transform your world and the way that you live in the world, so that eventually you are meditating eight or ten hours, well, you’re meditating 24 hours a day because everything you do is part of your meditation. Your whole life is a meditation practice. He called that Meditation In Action, and it was the name of his first book.

For five years, he taught the Tantric Buddhist path, which is, step by step, how to do meditation in action and gain enlightenment in one lifetime. Then he introduced the Shambhala teachings and enlightened society. It’s a Buddhist tantric idea, but it was introduced to us through the Shambhala teachings. And we rely on the Shambhala texts he wrote to introduce it today.

(To be continued)

Published by permission, Cam Kornman.


Creating Enlightened Society, Talk 1: Part 2 | Part 3

The transcription of “Creating Enlightened Society” is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.

Tribute to Robin  |  Robin Kornman – A Work in Progress | The Scholar Who Got the Highest Teachings

Shambhala and the Kagyu Lineage

January 21, 2009

Commentary by Jim Wilton

The Sakyong’s activity is clearly focused these days on developing the Shambhala path through to the practices of the Scorpion Seal retreat.  Since my practice has been almost entirely focused on Kagyu Buddhist practice in recent years — I feel somewhat left behind.  For example, the Sakyong’s retreats starting this year will no longer have a “track” for Vajrayogini practice.  So my choice is to join Werma practice or not to participate.  For me, it will probably be a few years before I can circle back and fully engage with Werma practice and the Scorpion Seal path.

I don’t view the Sakyong’s approach as a move away from Kagyu Buddhist practices as much as a move toward Shambhala practices — recognizing that we are the sole holders of Shambhala terma and that time is short.  I write this because I was recently reading Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche’s autobiography Blazing Splendor and found a similar tension expressed regarding Rinpoche’s Barom Kagyu lineage and his unquestioned primary focus on propagation of Chökyur Lingpa’s New Treasures terma.  Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche expresses some regret and wistfulness in acknowledging that his lineage’s one pointed focus on the New Treasures has resulted in a lack of attention to traditional Barom Kagyu practices (other than certain protector practices).

This experience seems to me to be in some way similar to the situation in our mandala.  I know that there are practitioners who regret both the connection of Shambhala and Buddhism as concepts and the perceived neglect of the Kagyu Buddhist lineage — which in CTR’s vision was passed to VROT as lineage holder.  And perhaps Kagyu practices will become an “advanced” practice in our mandala for old students.  This in some sense is a shame because CTR’s extraordinary teachings on Vajrayogini and the excellent annotated sadhanas that we use for Kagyu yidam practices are currently unavailable to other Kagyu sanghas and increasingly will be underutilized in our sangha.  I don’t think that we are yet at the point where we are neglecting Kagyu practices (although I expect our feasts may have sparser attendance as newer practioners defer practice of Kagyu ngondro in favor of the Shambhala path).

However, it would be a greater tragedy to fail to fully transmit the Shambhala terma.  These are my mixed feelings.  I don’t know if others have thoughts about this.  I’d be interested in hearing them.

Jim Wilton is member of the Boston Shambhala Center since 1986.  He lives in Newton, Massachusetts with his wife Erika and son Nick.

On Divisiveness

January 19, 2009

Commentary by Barbara Blouin

I don’t remember when the dreams began. For a long time I dreamed that a practice center where I had practiced many times had become unrecognizable, even alien, to me. The details of these dreams are too long for this commentary, but my dream-feeling was one of penetrating sadness, loneliness, and irrevocable loss. 

For years I didn’t understand what those dreams meant. Then gradually, my waking experiences of walking into my local Shambhala Centre (Halifax) started to resemble my dreams. I felt like I no longer belonged, and in ways that were partly specific and partly indefinable, the centre felt foreign to me. I felt that, in that place, the presence of my root guru, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, which I had always experienced so strongly, was waning, that it was being lost.

Several months ago I became involved in the creation of this web site, to which I contributed two articles. When I first started going to the meetings that culminated in the web site, I said, “I’m afraid I could lose some friends because of this,” and this fear has, in fact, become a reality with one person. I have deeply upset another friend. They and others see my role, and that of RFS, as divisive. That is painful to me and even more painful to them. I regret that I have caused my friends pain and wish I felt I had a choice, but what I was doing seemed — and still seems — choiceless.

Those who are upset about Radio Free Shambhala see our “divisiveness” as damaging to the fulfillment of the Vidyadhara’s vision, as disrespectful of the Sakyong, and as harmful to the sangha. They say that we are creating a “schism,” a “faction.” What they seem to fail to recognize — and I find this odd — is that the sangha is already divided. It has, in fact, been divided for a long time. 

Does divisiveness (I am calling it by the label that others have chosen, although I would not choose it) inflame already existing divisions? Should I and others stop taking actions because some regard them as divisive? Should we keep our thoughts to ourselves and keep our pain inside? Do we even have a right to speak out publicly? 

The subject of divisiveness was explored and debated for three days by the Mandala Governing Council in Boston in December, 2004, just over four years ago. The statement that was drafted after this meeting, called The ground of openness and trust (PDF) is found in the Members’ section of the Shambhala web site.

The contents of this statement address divisiveness head on: 

The Mandala Governing Council, meeting in Boston from 4 to 7 December 2004, wishes formally to affirm that the continuing emergence of Shambhala Society must be based on the profound realisation of unconditional openness and trust in basic goodness that are the heart of our Kagyü, Nyingma, and Shambhala lineages. …we urge our community at all levels to reflect on the ways in which we can create containers for sane society within our mandala. Thus we can work compassionately with our differences and conflicts, so that there is respect for each other’s commitment to different streams of teachings and practice. No one should face derision, exclusion, rejection, or retribution for holding or expressing their views or for dissenting from the views held by others, including the policies and practices of the leadership of the mandala. … The process of community reflection and renewal in which we are now engaged must be conducted in such a way that it includes all generations, embracing elders, emerging leaders, the second and third generations, as well as those who feel they have been marginalized in our community over the years. 

As Shambhalians, our trust for the Sakyong varies widely from individual to individual. At one end of the continuum, a number of devoted students are deeply concerned that the Sakyong is systematically dismantling the Vidyadhara’s vision. At the other end of the continuum, equally devoted students feel the Sakyong is completely and brilliantly manifesting the Vidydhara’s vision. 

The sangha is divided because there are a great many students of Chögyam Trungpa who “are deeply concerned that the Sakyong is systematically dismantling the Vidyadhara’s vision.” These students cannot, however, be described as a group, or lumped together. They have no organization, no web site (RFS notwithstanding), no way to communicate with each other except one by one, or in small informal local groups. They have no place in which to gather.

Yet I would go so far as to say that they — we — are a sangha, a disenfranchised sangha that exists both within and outside the Shambhala organization. No one knows how many of us are out there. According to one estimate, as many as 70 % of Chögyam Trungpa’s original students have left Shambala International. In my opinion  that estimate is too high, but whatever the number or percentage, there are a great many such students. Some remain members of Shambhala Centres, while others have stopped paying dues. Some have completely cut their ties with the organization, while others continue to go to programs and to practice at urban and practice centres. There is no way to create a profile of a typical, for want of a better word, “disaffected” sangha member. My hope is that those who disagree with their views have not simply dismissed them, written them off.  

The divisiveness issue came to a head recently in Halifax because members of a local group devoted to Chögyam Trungpa announced a meeting to discuss the idea of forming a delek (working title: CTR Delek). We asked to hold the first meeting at Coburg House, which is a complex of four buildings. Everyone in Coburg House is a participant at the Shambhala Centre, although some only at the level of open house. Permission was given and an announcement was posted on the nova-scotia-announce mailing list that the meeting would take place on Sunday, January 18. That announcement provoked a heated controversy, and the Coburg House offer was revoked. Some people felt that calling this group a delek was improper. The delek system, they claimed, was based on neighbourhoods, and because this group was not neighbourhood-based it could not rightly call itself a delek. 

This is not the place to go into the details of the opposition to the formation of the CTR Delek. Probably few of us remember, or ever knew, that in 1982, Chögyam Trungpa, who created the delek system, told his students at Seminary:

I want you to know that we are not setting up a solid and fixed idea about how things should run, how things should go. We are giving a lot of leverage and a lot of freedom to you people to decide how you would like your sangha, your world, your enlightened society to function. We are leaving a lot of it up to you. The responsibility is yours, people, all of you, to elect dekyongs and come into the delek system altogether. So it requires a lot of your involvement.

Would Chögyam Trungpa have approved, or disapproved, of what we are doing? It’s an open question. 

After the announcement of our delek meeting at Coburg House, Nick Wright, a resident, sent a private e-mail to Madeline Schreiber, the Coburg House manager. Nick has given me permission to quote his letter and to use his name.

I noticed that Mark Szpakowski’s invitation to form a “Chögyam Trungpa delek” mentioned Coburg House as the meeting place. I have some questions.

1) Why are they not using one of their houses? … Are you inviting them here because you support their views?

2) Why are we hosting a group that is working hard to undermine the Sakyong? I don’t think it is good for Coburg House to be associated in people’s minds with that kind of energy and intention. Respectful disagreement is one thing, active subversion is something else again.

3) Why is Coburg House fostering the formation of a faction within Shambhala — which is the clear intention of this group? Their arrogation of the name “Chogyam Trungpa” for their proposed deleg makes that abundantly clear. All of the Vidyadhara’s students feel we are carrying on his legacy, from the Sakyong on downward. It is merely offensive that any sangha group is arrogant enough to presume that they are “the true holders of his legacy”; I feel it is dangerous (for them and newer students) to give them encouragement and support in such a view.

I have  chosen to reprint most of his letter because I think Nick has clearly articulated some of the objections, not only to the CTR Delek, but, more broadly and more importantly, to the existence and purpose of Radio Free Shambhala and its ilk. He is far from being the only sangha member who has problems with  this web site and its views. 

This letter provides plenty to chew on, partly because a number of assumptions are made about the organizers of the CTR Delek:

  • We are working hard to undermine the Sakyong
  • Evidence for this is abundantly clear and an arrogation of the name ‘Chögyam Trungpa’ for our proposed deleg. (According to the Oxford English Dictionary: arrogate means to “take or claim [something] for oneself without justification”).
  • We are engaged in active subversion.
  • We are fostering the formation of a faction within Shambhala–which is [our] clear intention
  • We are arrogant : It is merely offensive that any sangha group is arrogant enough to presume that they are ‘the true holders of his legacy’.
  • Our goals are dangerous.

Since the sangha is already divided, can an argument be sustained that “we” of RFS are causing divisiveness?  To me, this is the key point, and I don’t think it holds up to scrutiny. How can something be divided that has already divided itself?

I think the same can be said of the accusations that “the formation of a faction” is our goal, and that we are “actively working to undermine the Sakyong.” There is in fact no faction. The many disaffected sangha members do not belong to a group or an organization; they are simply a collection of individuals. If it were possible to gather them together in a large room and have a discussion, I’m sure they would find plenty to disagree over. There is no unified view.

We — in this case, a small collection of disaffected Halifax sangha — are not “subversive” because we have no hidden agenda. The purpose of Radio Free Shambhala is clear:

Radio Free Shambhala is not affiliated with Shambhala International, a Shambhala Buddhist church. It has arisen because many people, both within and outside that organization, are looking for further means to connect to and to fulfill their inspiration, to think bigger. This is true for those whose emphasis is on the Buddhadharma way and lineage of Chögyam Trungpa, and for those who may or may not be buddhists, who see his Shambhala Vision as a secular/sacred way of meeting this world and society. We hope that the Radio Free Shambhala web site will be one of many vehicles for communicating about this view, its practice, and its action in this world.

The intention of Radio Free Shambhala is simple: to provide an open space for practitioners of Shambhala Vision. We are hosting your voices, but may not necessarily agree with any particular view. We will, however, work with you to protect the genuineness of that open space, through all that we are learning about right speech, decorum, conquering aggression, and action in the world.

If you, who are reading this article, think that this purpose is subversive or sinister, we would like to hear from you. Granted — subversiveness can be sinister. I went again to the OED for the definition. Subversive means “seeking or intended to subvert an established system or institution.” We have no such intention. There are plenty of obvious examples of subversive activity. The first one that comes to my mind is the CIA, which has organized and carried out numerous plots to overthrow legitimate, democratically elected governments. 

I hope that by this time I have made my point. There is no need to address all of the accusations made in this e-mail. What strikes me most about the language is the fear that lurks behind it. 

Radio Free Shambhala is threatening to Nick Wright and to others, but so far, none of our critics has used the word “fear.” No one has said: “I am afraid of what you are doing,” although Nick Wright has called us “dangerous.” The fear, I think, may be twofold: the continuation of the legacy of  Chögyam Trungpa is being undermined, and Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche and his teachings are under attack. These two go together, because loyalty to the Druk Sakyong is often interpreted as automatic loyalty to the current Sakyong. Loyalty in this sense is a huge subject that I would like to see as the basis for another RFS article. 

It is important to surface the subject of fear because, I believe, it lies at the bottom of most of the criticism of the RFS web site and the efforts to create a CTR Delek in Halifax. As we all know, fear provokes a variety of responses. At the most basic, physiological level, fear triggers fight or flight or freeze, and I believe this is at the root of the anger that RFS has provoked.  Two responses to my article Navigating the Labyrinth are useful in understanding the controversy — including the fear —that my article, and RFS in general, have generated. It is noteworthy that this exchange is between two second-generation sangha members. Nyima Wimberly wrote:

I still find it hard to believe that there is this hateful contingent of sad, bitter students who are so driven to twist anything Shambhala into an evil act. Can you see yourselves becoming zealots?

Andrew Speraw responded: 

Why does it have to be either the Sakyong is ‘up to no good’ or people who question are ‘up to no good’? Why do we undervalue the process of debate? Is there really something to be afraid of or something that we need to protect against? Is it really necessary to bring things to that painful point? In an enlightened society there is a place for both questioning and devotion. We need to learn how to open our hearts to those who both agree and disagree with our views. Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche did not promote blind faith and I think you need to respect the process of questioning that some people are going through. They may or may not become students of the Sakyong and that is OK. Trying to silence those who hold different views will only result in further division.

To end this commentary, I ask that those who are upset and angry with RFS, and those who have been supportive of the view of RFS, open their hearts and listen to what Andrew Speraw is saying. Loyalty is not dogmatism; questioning what the Sakyong is doing is not subversive; wanting to meet outside the umbrella of the organization is not factionalism. 

And I ask that all of us be more open to really listening to each other with open hearts. Just listen. We all have something to say that is worth hearing.

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)

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

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