Mark Szpakowski


Mark talks about his family background, meeting and studying with Trungpa Rinpoche, his views on Buddhism, Shambhala, and Shambhala Buddhism, and Radio Free Shambhala. At one point during this conversation, Mark says that he moved to Halifax in 1969. What he meant to say was 1979.

Readers’ Comments

I very much appreciated hearing Mark’s comments and intelligence. I have a comment on one thing he seemed to think is problematic, and it’s something I’ve heard a number of times from people who prefer separate Shambhala and Buddhist paths in our sangha: that the full Shambhala path used to be open to anyone whereas now it’s not, and you have to become a Vajrayana practitioner in order to, for instance, do Werma sadhana practice. But my memory is that when Trungpa Rinpoche was alive and there were Kalapa Assemblies, which was when you received transmission and began Werma practice, it was very unusual for anyone to be accepted to these assemblies unless he or she had attended seminary and was a Vajrayana practitioner first. Sometimes people would make a special request and occasionally they were allowed to attend without having gone to seminary, but in general, I don’t see a change in access to the full Shambhala path, or that it’s more restricted now. -Natalie Dawson


Hi Natalie,

Thanks for your comment and question.

One analogy that I find useful in _framing_ the observation that 99% of the early Shambhalians were Buddhist, and that 99% of Kalapa Assembly attendees were Buddhist tantrikas, and that Chögyam Trungpa himself was Buddhist, is with Christianity in its very early days. Christ himself was Jewish, and all the early disciples were Jewish, yet very quickly, though not without some discussion and struggle, it was agreed that one did not need to be Jewish (and, for example, be circumcised) in order to be Christian. The analogy only goes so far (in my view, and as I heard it from Chögyam Trungpa, Shambhala was a society and kingdom, not a religion), but I think it may be helpful.

Some of these issues are addressed in the FAQ on the Radio Free Shambhala site (

Q: The prerequisite for Kalapa Assembly was Vajrayana Seminary, with a very few exceptions: doesn’t that show that Shambhala was intended for Buddhist tantrikas?

A: In another discussion on this, Carolyn Gimian writes: “I attended many meetings, both formal and informal, with him [CTR] concerning Shambhala Training, Kalapa Assembly and the transmission of these teachings. In my memory, he made it quite clear that he hoped that the full transmission of the Shambhala teachings would be made to many people and that their religious persuasion was not an issue. Whenever those of us meeting with him tried to put limitations on who should be included in the advanced levels of Shambhala Training, and whenever we tried to add requirements as hoops for newer people to jump through, Rinpoche would resist our desire to limit things. I remember once, in Mill Village I believe, that he said that we needed to have more faith in the magic of the teachings.”

Q: The Werma Sadhana is a Vajrayana practice – it was intended for Buddhist Vajrayana practitioners.

A: Here’s what the Druk Sakyong had to say in “Comments on the Werma Sadhana”: “From one way of thinking, the sadhana has been influenced by the traditional buddhist style, but on the other hand it is quite different. It is a self-contained practice. It is not particularly borrowed from buddhism, but it is simply self-existent in the Shambhala style.”

Related to this is a famous incident at one of the Assemblies where CTR got upset about how “religiously” people were doing this practice.

What CTR introduced was not just the Buddhist Kalachakra teachings on Shambhala – Khyentse Rinpoche himself once warned against taking such a view, and that this is how most Tibetan Buddhists would see it. Michael Chender writes “I put the direct question myself to HH Khyentse Rinpoche, on behalf of the Shambhala Training leadership of the time after the Vidyadhara’s parinirvana in 1987, ‘Do Shambhala Training students have to become Buddhists at some point to continue?’ He said, ‘No, Shambhala Training is a complete path to enlightenment–it has view, meditation, action.’

What CTR _did_ insist on was that people (including Buddhists) who have a religious tradition (and he often asked people to _not_ become buddhists) carry it on, but in a “yogic”, practice-oriented fashion.

Just as the early Christians did, and just as Chögyam Trungpa himself did, the early Shambhalians need to go beyond their own cultural and religious context to meet the sacred in the world.



Dear Chronicle Project

I am grateful for you publishing Mark Szpakowski’s extended reply to Natalie Dawson as some quotes in the reply from Carolyn Gimian and Michael Chender make a more obvious reference to Shambhala Training being open for all in the Vidyadhara’s time.

Myself I am more open to Shambhala Training as it was originally taught by Trungpa Rinpoche. It seems to me that Shambhala Buddhism will not have the import on manifesting shambhala in the world as the previous training did. There are several reasons why I think this — but one that was pointed out to me recently from a Muslim is the way other faiths look at their founders. In Buddhism we look to the teacher as having the ultimate take on existence i.e. being almost as great as Buddha himself but other religions put the concept of God and the prophets before this. So as monotheistic religions predominate in our world how will Shambhala Buddhism impact on them? No I think we are limiting the tradition of Shambhala t his way and also limiting the Vidyadharas vision for Shambhala in the world.

Of course these kind of arguments predominate on rfs and now they have come to the Project which is in a way not bad thing.

Myself I think there should be a sangha wide debate on the whole thing much as happened with the great debates in Tibet about them accepting the form on Buddhism according to the Chinese or Indian form. I think this occurred in the 6th century AD in Tibet. It would maybe be good if this could happen on neutral ground and not within a Shambhala centre.

Arguments about the lineage, the form it takes can get very testy but then again I believe they do need to be debated otherwise we accept things on peoples sayso and I don’t think the Vidyadhara would have been into that.

Best wishes for the season.

Rita Ashworth
Stockport UK



Thanks for interviewing Mark Szpakowski, Julia.

As you mentioned at the beginning of your interview, Mark, there are many of us who are making heart connections with Trunpga Rinpoche though we never met him in the flesh. Trungpa Rinpoche came to me in a dream five years ago, and though I had been studying and practicing Vajrayana for a while, I was quite surprised at his appearance and unsure of our connection. I was never drawn to the Shambhala sangha or Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, although I know a number of early CTR students, some of who have stayed active in SI, some not. I don’t have anything against SI or SMR, they just are not my karmic gate to CTR. But over the years my connection to CTR unfolded and now I am studying with Reggie Ray, in addition to my first teacher, a Tibetan lama.

The Tibetan culture is so rich and I am grateful to the Tibetan people for providing the container for the Vajrayana for so many years. But for me, CTR’s teachings are blowing everything away that is extraneous, culturally and otherwise, to the pure essence of the path of awakening. I am now realizing the value of the Shambhala path as it is an expression of wakefulness, regardless of religious affiliation or lack thereof. Thank you for helping to create the Radio Free Shambhala website. It has been deeply inspiring to witness a community of practitioners hold space for questioning, even though you had to separate, in some ways, from your mother ship in order to create that space. I am also so grateful to so many of you who were students of CTR from early on. Your voices are needed. Your stories of CTR are so alive because your connections to Rinpoche are living and palpable and I feel them. In addition to my meditation practice and studying in his lineage, your stories of CTR and the lessons you have learned from him strengthen my connection. Thank you so much!

Theresa Luttenegger

* * *

Thanks to Mark for “bringing the wisdom of the past and of the present together in Nowness,” riding his own intellectual brilliance steeped in dharma. As I travelled about our region, I was struck by the loss of confidence in some of the older students. It was almost as if they were happy to be reminded that Vajra Pride and Basic Goodness are still within them and that there really is a path, that what they were taught was authentic and valuable.

Thanks also to Mark for taking a walk down Purcell’s Cove Road and for suggesting that a meeting on a bench to just be ordinary- together.

Marguerite Winnington-Ball