Jeff Waltcher talks about the vision for Shambhala Mountain Center, what has been accomplished there in terms of building a year around program center, and the challenges that lie ahead in terms of maintaining a strong practice community. Jeff also talks about the Sakyong Foundation, a new project that he will be leading over the next few years.
I recently discovered Dispatches as podcasts and have been listening to them almost daily, catching up on 45 or so episodes. I’m grateful to you and Julia for offering them and want to express my gratitude. I find them illuminating, touching, and often inspiring.
Today I am inclined to write to you in a spirit that includes critical mind along with the appreciation. I found myself taken aback when listening two days ago to the episode with Jeff Waltcher. On the one hand the amount of construction on the land that occurred during Mr. Waltcher’s tenure as Director of SMC is truly impressive. It is quite an accomplishment, one that I feel deserves the praise and lauding which Julia offered. I want to add my voice to that and express my respect and appreciation. Still, when asked about the current usage of those buildings I was surprised by Mr. Waltcher’s response. I find his idea that objects somehow, magically hold a person’s intention to be, quite simply, wishful thinking. It’s as though he’d invented a new “teaching” which might be summarized as “objects are empty except for the intention with which they are created.” While objects do tend to convey something of the mindspace, the “quality,” to use Robert Pirsig’s term, of their author/creator or of their usage/inhabitants, the other half of that communication depends very much on the recipient being open and present – hence our practice disciplines.
And that gets to the heart of the issue. The previous episode was with Bill Karelis who clearly and respectfully laid out concerns shared by members of a broad community. Given that the expression of sacred mandala depends on both the inhabitants and the objects, I found Mr. Karelis’ concerns entirely valid: that if we’re not careful there is a risk of creating a shell rather than a center, and I for one think that risk is real and needs to be addressed up front.
This concern was posed by Julia as a question to Mr. Waltcher. The response appeared to be artful avoidance rather than anything akin to an answer. But where was the follow-through from Julia? And when that nonsense from a community leader is given a pass, what type of kindness is that? Listening to Mr. Waltcher, the impression to me was of someone who’d not looked at these questions squarely and was no longer even aware that a basic responsibility was being shirked. I wish Julia with her excellent analytic abilities had called him on it.
Well, I will say this then: it was informative. Perhaps Chronicles is not the right forum for addressing these concerns, but rather, in this case at least, has provided a way of raising them. It certainly appears that there are challenges for SMC about its use, and it seems that we haven’t yet discovered a form for coming together, sharing concerns and, rooted in confidence and acknowledging our shared heart, risen to them. Maybe that’s one of the “next steps” Julia commonly looks for towards the ends of her interviews.