On Shambhala and the Samaya Connection

Not long ago I heard someone say that people who disagreed with decisions made by the Sakyong or Shambhala International were people who didn’t practice and therefore, we shouldn’t pay attention to them.

Dear Friends,

The Chronicles would like to provide a venue for healthy discussion on a number of important issues, starting with the issues raised in Ellen’s editorial. Our intention is to keep it provocative, balanced, and readable. To accomplish that, we’ve hired a professional moderator. Meet Vajra Dog. He’s really very nice. Just don’t make any sudden moves. -Ed

Beware of moderator
Vajra Dog

Okay, I don’t have a lot of time, so listen up. Here’s how it’s gonna work. I am not what you’d call an evenhanded moderator. As a matter of fact, I’m opinionated as hell and you need to know where I stand.I’m biased towards writers who present their views with kindness and the intention to be helpful.

I’m a busy dog, so stay on topic.

Anonymous posts are fine.

Last but not least, good writing counts. Send me a piece of strong prose with clear and compelling logic and you’re in.

Okay? ‘nough said. You got something to say? Send it here.

Regards, Vajra Dog

Not long ago I heard someone say that people who disagreed with decisions made by the Sakyong or Shambhala International were people who didn’t practice and therefore, we shouldn’t pay attention to them. As I stepped into the shower the next morning, I found myself being gradually drenched with thoughts and reflections in response to that statement. Although the shower ended, the other deluge continued for the next couple of hours and I realized I needed to write the ideas down, if only for myself. They reflect some of the heartfelt feelings, reflections and struggle of an older student of the Vidyadhara.

I met Trungpa Rinpoche in 1971, just before my 19th birthday, in my home town of Montreal. I soon began participating in programs at Tail of the Tiger/Karme Choling and eventually lived there for four years in the 1970’s, sitting dathuns and retreats and becoming a meditation instructor and teacher. Rinpoche also asked me to oversee the practice of the community, creating a unique title for my position, and in particular to guide people in the Vajrayana practices. In the days when the term —ngondro instructor’ did not yet exist, he asked me to explain the meaning of various practices, and how to do them, to people before they received the lung from him. When I moved to Boulder he asked me to work closely with the Dorje Loppon, Lodro Dorje, and continue teaching.

I received the first Vajrayogini Abhisheka from him in January, 1977, became a sadhaka instructor, and was fortunate to receive the first Chakrasamvara Abhisheka from him in 1986. Since those days I have continued practicing, studying and teaching up to the present, although I have also spent time focusing on the study of other spiritual systems, including shamanism and healing in the 1990’s. In later years, the main focus of my passion and inspiration has been the Shambhala teachings and their power, and over the last several years, my activity as a Shambhala Training Director has grown.

My parents came to Canada on a ship from Europe, arriving in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1951, a year before I was born. They were Jewish survivors of the Holocaust from Poland. As an adolescent and a teenager growing up in Montreal, it was made perfectly and painfully clear to me that although I could have —Gentile’ (non-Jewish) friends or acquaintances, I could not possibly marry one. Therefore I was not allowed to date any of those people. In other words, to put it bluntly, those people were not to share the intimate space of my bed and my body. I could be polite and friendly up to a point, but I was definitely not to go “all the way” with them. It was made clear to me that one could never fully trust someone not Jewish, someone outside of the clan.

I always knew in my gut and my heart of hearts that this was a view I did not share and a view I could not live with. I knew that all people possessed the same innate potential for goodness and that I was incapable of limiting my relationships in this way.

In the end, I did marry a non-Jew — one I met in 1975 while living at Karme Choling, and my family embraced him. This had to do with the fact that Rinpoche instructed my Buddhist husband-to-be to convert to Judaism in order to respect and preserve the important karmic connection between my family and myself. It was an unusual situation to be sure, perhaps unique in Shambhala.

We had four wedding ceremonies, two of which were Jewish (one before and one following his conversion), and Rinpoche personally presided over our Buddhist wedding held in the new shrine room of Karme-Choling in 1977, a day or so before he left for his year-long retreat, to a packed assembly. My mother and father were also present.

I tell this bit of personal history to add background and depth to what I wish to express about the merging of Buddhism and Shambhala. Although I understand and appreciate the essential non-separateness of the ultimate fruitional view of Buddhism and the Shambhala teachings, I don’t think that this is the point. And while I have great respect for the Sakyong and can see merit in deeply studying this ‘non-separateness’, I believe the approach of merging and combining them into one stream, in effect creating an entirely new and different lineage, is a limiting approach. Studying the connections between two traditions is one thing; merging them is another.

In terms of studying such connections it could be considered equally ‘natural’, and in some respects, far more important on the level of enlightened society, to connect Shambhala with one’s own inherited background. The Dorje Dradul described this as the third aspect of secret drala.

. . . you begin to realize that you have never actually related with your ancestral traditions–Judaism or Christianity — at all. And thirdly, you can join the inconceivable flash of wakefulness together with your own tradition. We could say quite simply that invoking the drala principle is bringing your parents to meet the Sakyong. They usually feel good and civil, and they become part of our vision. And you do not have to be too concerned about the setting sun and how we are going to conquer it at this point.

To illustrate the difference between connecting and merging, one might take the approach that since the fruition of Mahamudra is not different from the fruition of Dzogchen, they should be combined, using the language of one to explain the other. But that is not done because there is an integrity to each stream of teaching which maintains its purity and its power by maintaining its unique distinctiveness of expression. There is an elegance and directness that is weakened when Buddhist terms and language are used to adjust, equate, translate or modulate Shambhala language.

In this argument, I am not concerned with any such corresponding effect on the Buddhist teachings. They are relatively well established at this point — with many active Buddhist lineages in the West, not likely to be easily damaged. But we are the only holders and representatives of the Shambhala lineage. To trust and comprehend their magnificent depth and vast applicability to this world is, in my opinion, to trust the Shambhala language and teachings as they were presented to us by the Dorje Dradul.

So this part of my argument is two-fold: firstly that the stream of the Shambhala teachings does not need to be explained in Buddhist language, and may be diluted, diminished or blurred by doing so; secondly, that the availability of the Shambhala teachings to the world should not be diminished by restricting them to those who choose to embrace Buddhism. In some very basic way, while touting an attitude of inclusivity and diversity, the leadership of our mandala is saying that “we can be good friends and acquaintances with those people, but we can’t actually get into bed with them.” Perhaps my introduction helps the reader understand why this is extremely distasteful to me.

In a certain way it seems to be an issue of trust. Do we really trust in basic goodness? Do we really trust that it can be made fully accessible to people without them having to join a rather exclusive inner circle? Do we trust human beings to have this capacity without requiring people to take Buddhist vows?

I remember coming across the definition of Rigden as “cosmic ancestral power” during my first visit to Poland in 2006. These words took on tremendous potency and an unprecedented depth of resonance for me while visiting the place where my ancestors had lived for hundreds of years. Ancestral power and wisdom is not limited to those of a particular culture or religion. It is simmering everywhere, perhaps in unexpected places, waiting for a chance to be recognized and to express itself.

Sadness and Samaya

To paraphrase Acharya John Rockwell: Those of us who studied with the Dorje Dradul should understand that we are the holders of his lineage (from the 2009 Translation Committee Newsletter).

I believe this is true. It does not require a title, or that the head of a lineage personally recognize us as the reincarnation of a Tibetan, in order to inhabit that truth. WE ARE HIS LINEAGE. The evolution of his stream of teachings continues to unfold in each of us in personal and individual ways. It may affect our family members, it may affect the people with whom we work. It may be that we do something that visibly affects many lives, or not.

The measure of success resulting from the massive amount and profound quality of training that we received cannot be quantified by how many students we have, or by being officially recognized or by being designated as an acharya. It is, of course, a question of whether we have personally continued to practice and to engage with the teachings, which means the shedding of our egos and the willingness to be genuine, brave and to open ourselves up, beyond credentials.

When I attended one of the more recent mega-Vajrayana gatherings at Shambhala Mountain Center, the Sakyong said that we had not manifested much progress in the dharma. This, he said, was evidenced by the fact that only one or two students of the Vidyadhara had acquired a significant following of students. This remark had a slightly dismissive or disparaging quality and it offended me at the time. Since then the Sakyong has said that he has been proving himself to us for several years and now it is our turn to prove ourselves to him and to manifest.

I personally don’t find such sweeping generalizations to be accurate, or inspiring in any way. On the contrary, I find myself wondering to whom he is speaking. More and more, when I hear such impersonal generalizations, I feel no identification with the amorphous “you” being addressed. Yet, more and more, the only messages that do come through are addressed to audiences of 200 to 400 practitioners.

At the Vajra Garchen at Shambhala Mountain Center in 2008, there were very few talks by the Sakyong, and they were presented to the entire assembly of both brand new Vajrayana practitioners who were just receiving transmission, and all of the assembled groups of practitioners of ngondro, Werma, Vajrayogini, Mahamudra and Chakrasamvara in one giant conglomeration. In that —one-size-fits-all’ situation, I felt acutely lonely — unable to either study at my own level with others, or to help the newer students. The situation did not provide me with either one of these options.

Having known the Sakyong since he was a teenager, I have watched him develop into a powerful teacher and repeatedly taken advantage of opportunities to connect with his teachings and his mandala through teaching, staffing or attending his Vajrayana seminaries, gatherings and other programs. During 2003, 2004 and 2005 I also worked for the Boulder Shambhala Center as the Director of Practice and Study, serving a community of 650 members and somewhat echoing the role I held at Karme Choling in the seventies.

During this period, visiting teachers to the center, especially those with a strong connection to our community, such as Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso, Khandro Rinpoche and Thrangu Rinpoche made a point of extending themselves to me, always thanking me for my service, and sometimes offering encouragement or advice. Although the Sakyong was frequently only a few steps away from me or my office, he communicated directly only with the Center Director. There was neither personal contact nor any contact with the core staff as a group.

On my side, I never felt a compelling reason to ask for such contact. It is generally not my approach to insert myself unnecessarily where there are obvious barriers and no invitation. It was also not the case that I needed extra strokes. Still, I felt the absence of some kind of reciprocal connection or, for that matter, a simple acknowledgment of a shared participation in being dedicated to the vision of Shambhala.

Obviously the Sakyong has a strong inspiration and vision, and I appreciate many of its positive aspects. At times I have felt the profundity of his teachings, and the brilliance of the lineage shining through him. At other times, I have felt more aware of the extremity of his separation from the students, or of a particular teaching tone or approach which simply doesn’t resonate for me. I especially appreciate the profound affect he has had on newer students. But the kind of teacher-student spark that exists for them isn’t there for me in the same way.

Naturally it would make sense that my relationship with the Sakyong might somehow differ from that of a newer student. Seemingly that difference would reflect the fact that I am and will remain the close samaya-bound student of his father, the Dorje Dradul. One would imagine that the profound link of this connection would have some positive value. I ask myself why it is, then, that I instead feel unvalued in these mega-gatherings and proclamations, as if this fact functions more as a detriment than as something positive. At best it seems to be viewed as value-neutral, not mattering, more or less irrelevant.

I wonder if something else is possible. When I imagine the Sakyong acknowledging in some way that the students of his father were the recipients of a profound dharmic inheritance, whether Buddhist or Shambhala, I feel that it would be a cause for bringing the sangha together and for deepening or at least providing the ground to deepen the bond we share. But it seems clear that this possibility has long passed. I even wrote a poem to the Sakyong which arose spontaneously during Primordial Rigden Ngondro at the Vajrayana Seminary held at Dechen Choling in 2009 entitled “Do you see us?” It arose not out of resentment, but out of profound connection.

I sense that, in addition to myself, many of the Dorje Dradul’s students feel that their devotion, their shards of wisdom (however partial or unpolished they still may be), and their longing to contribute, have nowhere to land. We are a bit like leftovers, inconveniently taking up space in the front of the refrigerator. If all the Dorje Dradul’s students were dead, it would be different. But to play dead would be to break samaya. Our samaya is to be true to ourselves and to live up to what we have received.

The far-reaching and at the same time extremely personal nature of the samaya commitment is talked about in Journey Without Goal:

The fact of life, the actual experience of life, is samaya. Whatever we decide to do, all the trips we go through, all the ways we try to become an individual are personal experience. Fighting for personal rights of all kinds, falling in love or leaving our lover, relating with our parents, making political commitments, relating with our job or our church — all these things are the expression of samaya.

. . . Any move we make to join a society, organization, or church is based on our own personal experience rather than just tradition or history. On the other hand, breaking away from anything that we feel entraps us is also based on personal experience. Therefore, the commitments and choices that we make are called sacred word, or sacred bondage — which are saying the same thing.

It comes down to what we feel in our heart of hearts. The samaya connection with a teacher is based on that sense of inner aliveness of the teacher’s instructions in our hearts and in our bones. Slowly, reluctantly, I have been coming to terms with the fact that I simply may not have this type of samaya connection with Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche.

This causes me great personal sadness and pain. I dislike divisions and factions. And this mandala has been my garden, my cradle, my archery range, and my home. I wish it could be big enough to accommodate me, not just as stale bread that is occupying valuable space, but for what I have to offer, which has intimacy and insight.

Ironically, feeling —out of place’ or irrelevant within the Shambhala mandala may be analogous to what occurred as a result of the Chinese invasion of Tibet. The Tibetans were well-established and comfortable in their secluded Buddhist country. The invasion forced the Dorje Dradul, and many others who followed, to leave and thereby to share their wisdom with the rest of the world. In the same way, Shambhala has represented a safe and secure womb for many of us. The idea of leaving that womb is daunting, possibly unthinkable for some.

For myself, I feel an earthquake of grief in my heart at the thought that I might no longer be considered qualified (aka “authorized’) to direct Shambhala Training or other programs only because my genuine samaya connection rests with the Dorje Dradul, more so than with Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, and that this could be considered —unacceptable’ in the not-too-distant-future.

The following quote by the Vidyadhara from “The Mishap Lineage” in the Lineage & Devotion Sourcebook speaks to this painful issue of belonging or not belonging:

The Kagyupas liked to live in the rocks and in the mountains. They didn’t particularly make nests out of the mountains and the caves; they conquered them. They didn’t regard the caves as their hippy pads where they could indulge themselves, or as apartment buildings where they could have a nice little cave inside the fifth or sixth floor. . . .

Interestingly, the students of the Kagyu tradition had less guidance from the substantial phenomena of the realistic world. In other words, they had less tutorship with people telling them how to and how not to do things. . . But they had tremendous commitment to their guru, their teacher, tremendous devotion at the same time, which is a very interesting point.

We tend to feel either that having completely signed up our names to the church or the existing club, we are completely secure and the company will pay for whatever damage might happen, or that we are completely abandoned. Being in neither of the situations brings some sense of actual reality.

My hope in writing this is not to contribute to a climate of complaint or negativity. My hope is that the broken-heartedness felt by myself and others can be a source of further openness, understanding and communication, whether this occurs within the organization known as Shambhala International, or not.

As we know, it is possible to extract particular quotes to justify almost any point of view, especially when they are taken out of context. It is the underlying spirit and consistent message which seem important. For me, one of the consistent underlying messages and primary intentions of the Dorje Dradul was the idea that the Shambhala tradition goes beyond religion and is to be kept distinct and separate from it. While appreciating that Shambhala in its present form may have been ‘birthed’ from within the Buddhist tradition, and has the most intimate of connections with that tradition, I still believe that it was never meant to be limited, contained or owned by one religious outlook.

As the Dorje Dradul said to Robin Kornman in 1979:

. . .There are two kinds of magic. One is vajrayana magic, and the other one is Shambhalian magic. And the truth of the matter is that you can’t try to make them fight each other so that you get the best of the magic. If you’re going along with the Shambhalian magic, you have to go along with it. And if you’re going along with vajrayana magic, you go along with that.

Ultimately, trusting in our own nature, or in our own basic goodness is what both Sakyongs have been trying to teach us. The only purpose of such a teacher is to show us that possibility, reflect it back to us and help us to arouse certainty or confidence in that nature. If we stay fixated in believing that the guru or the Sakyong is the only one who has it and that we don’t, then we develop a very closed system — one that does not nurture genuine communication and intelligence and one that becomes increasingly theistic.

That certainty or confidence cannot be a view that one simply adopts or chooses to wear, like a hat or a logo. It must arise from within each individual, nurtured by the teacher and the community. Therefore whenever a community or an organization begins to overemphasize uniformity of view as a primary value, this does not really encourage people to trust their intelligence on either a personal or societal level. I feel there is a not-so-subtle flavor of this happening within our beloved mandala.

For this reason I feel sadness. I also feel sadness because there is still so much to learn and appreciate from the Vidyadhara’s legacy. I would like to hope that those of us who have had the precious opportunity of being his close students will continue to be able to share our understanding of his legacy while we are still alive, under the banner of Shambhala, without this being viewed as running counter to the Sakyong’s vision, or as clinging to the past. For the samaya we each have is ultimately personal and intimate. It is actually who we are. And Shambhala can only be realized based on the trust in basic goodness that arises from within each of us, not as a collective, but as people — unique individuals with unique contributions to offer.

For myself, the journey of writing this piece and expressing these ideas has been a journey of exploring my fear as well as my trust in myself, which is the trust that the Vidyadhara shared with me. It has arisen from devotion and sadness, and I hope it will be helpful to others.

© 2010 Ellen Mains

Letters to the editor Vajra Dog

Lee Weingrad

I don’t think that, after reading that piece, that I could write something similar because Ellen took the words, the bees that have been in my own head here in China and actually made honey. Thank you Ellen for your eloquence and your honesty.

-Lee Weingrad
28 February 2010


This is an amazing heartfelt article by a precious friend and elder student of The Vidyadhara…it is a must read for all; old and young students but especially the old dogs, some of whom are floundering within the Sangha. It speaks to so many issues…it’s as if our collective minds siphoned into Ms Mains and she became the conduit of expression for myself at least…but in my heart of hearts, I know for many that have similar doubts, hesitations and confusions along with this controversial issue of the Boulder Shambhala Center’s removal of our Vajradhara Thangka.

Thank you Ellen…
Love, Ish [Stephen Futral]


Dear Vajra Dog,

Sadly, I’d like to keep this anonymous. I’ve grown up in this community and I’m not ready to be called an anti-Sakyong person, mostly because I am most certainly not anti-Sakyong (how could one be “anti” Sakyong”—) and partly because I have friends that I haven’t come “out” to, and I’d like to take my own time. Nevertheless, I feel it’s time to jump into this conversation, because I think about it all the time, I cry about it all the time.

I am a second generationer, who grew up in Halifax and Boulder and did seminary with the Sakyong, back when there were the 3 monthers. I did sun camps, the entire Shambhala path, lived at KCL and DDL and SMC. I’m the most brattiest of the brats, and I am no longer a member of the Shambhala community, though none of you know this. I still show up at Shambhala Day, I sing the anthem, and I’m on the lists. I am on a search for a new home, but in the meantime, I find myself homeless and shocked, because Shambhala is the one thing I thought would be a constant in my life (silly me) and I don’t really know who I am without it.

There are many who have given arguments on my side, that are better than I could give. The point I wanted to make here is that there are many, like me, who are out, gate, gone gone, svaha, and you don’t know it yet. There is a mass exodus of older students, and second genners. We don’t say anything because we love you, and we’re sooo sad, and we’re scared of what we’re going to do without you, and without all the chants we know, and the forms we love and the centers we helped build. We won’t know what to do without kiki soso and toasts toasts (too many toasts) and our special zafus and the Sadhana of Mahamudra in a crowded shrine room and stroke practice before a level one and level ones (Oh level ones!).

This whole year I have been slowly saying goodbye. It’s like a death, my own death, or the loss of a country. It’s that sad. You may find this dramatic and oh it is, it is terribly dramatic, because it is soooo serious. It is serious enough for me to say goodbye to the petri dish that I was born in, the fire that molded me, my closest friends and family, my teacher. I take it more seriously than I’ve ever taken anything.

Yours, heartbroken,


Vajra Dog

Thank you for sharing Heartbroken. I think it might be surprising for a lot a people to hear these words coming from a dharma brat. So it’s not just the the old dogs who are disenfranchised— But you didn’t say what’s bothering you. Can you say more— Can we hear from other young people— Talk to me. -Vajra D

Norbert Hasenoehrl

Dear Canine,

Ellen Mains’ article is wonderful, it makes a lot of important points. And it is very well put, too. In connection to this, it is interesting to hear from an anonymous poster (heartbroken brat, second generation) that it’s not just the old students of the Vidyadhara who are leaving. It’s also the second generation, and that should make SMR and all his officials stop in their tracks. But of course, they don’t. They are too busy, I guess.

So, in some way this is reassuring to me, because it seems to tell me that the split I perceive is not just my fantasy. The pain is there, the exodus is happening, and it is, maybe, about time to make it more public, so that even what’s now called “Shambhala International” will have to acknowledge it to some degree.

What do others think—
Norbert Hasenoehrl, Austria

Vajra Dog

Dear Mr. Hasenoehrl,

That’s “Vajra Canine” (or perhaps “unzerstörbaren Hund” if you prefer). Thank you for your post. I think “exodus” is too strong a word for what is happening. There are many intelligent and devoted students of the Vidyadhara who are very much on board with the direction of Shambhala International, and I’m sure some of them will be writing to me soon. Can someone with a different point of view weigh in here? -Vajra Dog

Hildy Maze

Dear Vajra Dog,

Ellen gave voice to my broken heartedness with eloquence and grace, gentle sharpness and precision. For a long while I questioned my samaya. After shedding many years of tears realized my ability too stand alone and apart from a home I could no longer relate to or recognize was not a break with samaya but actually my trusting in all that has been so generously transmitted by the Vidyadhara that permeates with vibrancy everywhere all the time.

Many thanks to The Chronicles for sponsoring a space for this discussion and to Ellen for sharing her heart. -Hildy Maze

Heartbroken Dharma Brat #2

Dear Vajra Dog

I too am a heartbroken dharma brat and cried after seeing the thoughts that have been circulating within my own mind and body articulated by others. In this letter, I do not wish to specifically explain why I feel our sangha is in peril (perhaps it is obvious) or to convince you of any viewpoint, but only to share the feelings which consume me so much of the time.

I was born in Boulder, grew up in Halifax, and I have spent most of the free time in my life at dharma programs, Sun Camp and Shambhala training. I went to the Shambhala School and grew up in the middle of an amazing group of joyfully proud Shambhalians.

This world of CTR is my home, and, his teaching my birthright. Growing up I have been so excited to get to know the Sakyong, so excited for him to become my Guru (as naïve as that may seem). Realizing that this may not happen, I was heartbroken, more so than ever in my life. Although I love the Sakyong, and have a great deal of respect for him, I am hurt by his actions and the attitude of those who surround him.

Like the dharma brat who wrote before me, I tell no one of these feelings, I live at dharma centres, I staff programs, and I sing the anthem. I remain in the closet first because I am not ready to be homeless, and second because I still have hope. I know that within the leadership of this community there is a great deal of wisdom, bravery and kindness, so I continue to look to the students of CTR, for guidance and trust that they will have confidence in their own wisdom. I doubt that the field of seeds planted by Trungpa will fail to grow. His actions, although personal to those around him were also vast — reaching throughout the continents and beyond the decades.

So I sit in this long lasting bardo in which I lament the breaking of my sangha. Although I am searching for a Vajra Master in that big scary world outside of Shambhala, I intend to always stand on the ground of Trungpa’s world, whatever that may mean. I grieve the loss of forms. I sit here missing my dear brothers and sisters and deeply wish that I had companionship in this loneliest of places.

Yours truly,
Heartbroken Dharma Brat #2

Vajra Dog

Thank you for writing, Heartbroken Two. As you say, this world and these teachings are your birthright, your inheritance. If the world that Trungpa Rinpoche left in our care feels like it is no longer available or no longer welcoming to you and your friends, we (the old dogs) are equally heartbroken.

Please remember that the world Chögyam Trungpa created is bigger than any organization, and it is continuing to unfold — as you say: “reaching throughout the continents and beyond the decades.” So don’t lose heart, HB2. In last week’s episode of Dispatches, Martin Janowtiz talks about society. I think that what he has to say may be helpful. You can listen to the whole discussion on chroniclesradio.com. Here’s an excerpt:

Julia: In terms of being able to serve, given this new direction that seems to be one-pointed [Shambhala Buddhism], what happens to all of us who still need to serve, but may not be able to point in that direction—

Martin Janowitz: Well I think society is the key thing. This [Shambhala] is meant to be a transformative society, enlightened society. It is not a perfect society but it is meant to be a society–not a religion and not a cult. So in a society, everybody’s got to be where they are…In a society, critical voices are not a problem. In fact, critical voices are essential. People being in different places, in different relationships, focused on different things, is actually in my view, healthy, and not only healthy, it’s necessary, or you end up not with a society, you end up with a cult, and that’s so narrow….

From that point of view HB2, nobody can tell you where the boundaries of the mandala are. If some day you find a teacher, no one can tell you that you’ve left Shambhala. If, as Marty says, Shambhala is a society (and not a religion or a cult) then you are Shambhalian for life. You can’t stop being Shambhalian any more than Winston Churchill could stop being British. It’s in your blood and your DNA. It lives in you, and is carried forward through your practice, actions, and views. Best of luck, Vajra D

Susan Wright

Dear Ellen,

Thank you for your letter which provoked me to write. I am student of the Sakyong’s and took pointing out instruction with Rinpoche at the last 3 month seminary in 2000. I never met the Vidyadhara but nevertheless feel tremendous devotion and gratitude for what he has given us, a gratitude that extends to all his students, who are his dharma-heirs. I also feel tremendous heartbreak at the discord in our community, and our seeming inability or unwillingness to have manifest, along with our devotion to the Sakyong, an honouring of the heart connection and Samaya the Vidyadharas’ students feel towards him. I have moments of wondering whether, as a ‘new’ student, my fullest aspirations for manifesting, as I understand them, the heart teachings of the Vidyadhara and the Sakyong will be truly accomodated in Shambhala or will I be asked to choose— With love and devotion for the Vidyadhara and the Sakyong.

Susan Wright

Suzanne Duarte

Dear Vajra Dog,

Thank you for posting Ellen’s very eloquent, heartfelt reflections on what has occurred within the Shambhala mandala. I appreciate her analysis of the merging of the Shambhala and Buddhist paths and of the quandary that poses for those whose samaya is with Trungpa Rinpoche but not with Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. I also appreciate her framing all of this within the story of her own personal path. Like Lee, I especially appreciate her honesty about how she had to explore her own fear as well as her trust in herself in order to write this piece. I’m also very touched that “heartbroken,” a “second genner,” took this opportunity to “come out,” even though anonymously.

I know you want us to keep our comments short and that you want “the other side,” those who disagree with Ellen, to speak up. I’m afraid I can’t help you there, though I’d like to see what they have to say. Meantime, there is, as you know, a thread on Ellen’s article on RFS where people don’t feel as intimidated by a vajra watchdog. I wonder whether you’d be willing to let your readers know about this at radiofreeshambhala.org. Would openly linking to RFS and the feral crowd over there jeopardize your fair-and-balanced journalistic neutrality?

Thanks to Ellen,
Suzanne Duarte
March 1, 2010

Vajra Dog

Not at all. Greetings to the feral crowd!

John Odenthal

Dear Vajra Dog,

Thanks for doing this. We need moderators in the endless debate which is Sangha. But why allow anonymity, when it avoids the bravery and truth we presume to be fostering. Anonymity misses the point, is a weird “democratic” protection scheme. If people hide behind the media (a fundamental flaw with blogs, as world is finding out) we risk missing some things the Vidyadhara and lineage says we must understand.

Personally I’m a hopeless, devoted student of my root guru, the Vidyadhara. But what’s ignored in the current debate is our selective memory of him. Let’s breathe this in:

I recall the alarmist cries of “exodus” over the years as a result of the Vidyadhara’s actions: E.g., when VACTR got publicly embroiled in the Snowmass incident; When he supported the Regent despite “real dangers” which some warned; When VACTR proclaimed Shambhala vision; When he announced his move to Nova Scotia (Why? Where’s that?); When there were financial boondoggles (I worked in Vajradhatu finance!), when he fired Lady Rich, etc; and predictions of a local “exodus” every time one of his appointed Ambassadors crashed and burned. And so on.

Years later, the biggest sangha split of all (it makes the current one seem ho-hum), the international scandal with the Regent, did not bring mass exodus! But we forget that each time these unexpected, ego-insulting, or truly disturbing things happened, people DID exit. Many people, over the years. It’s nothing new. And yes, we have the tendency to dismiss those departees view or their practice, as they may have dismissed the practice of those who remained “loyal”.

Q: So, is there a larger view of it all?

A: See the Vidyadharas seminars on Line of the Trungpas and Line of the Karmapas. He made it real clear each lineage holder was very different from the previous (Who would’ve thought the present Karmapa would be an outspoken vegetarian. Shocking! Will it trigger an “exodus” of beef-eating devotees?!!).

Why do we think the current Sakyong is wrong if he doesnt do what we think his father would do— Some of his decisions I have disagreed with. But that does not disagree with lineage, said the Vidyadhara.

Vajradog, if our first and second generation students confuse that truth about lineage, lets open up this crucial issue. We are neophytes with dharma and devotion. . What does it mean when your root guru dies? Do you simply transfer all that friendship and devotion to the dharma heir— It seems naive to think so.

Q: So what does a practitioner do?

A: No simple answer!

It’s a personal journey of uncertainty for us, as Ellen reminded us the Vidyadhara reminded us and as the Sakyong is reminding us repeatedly, as lineage has always done (irritatingly!).

Why do we first and second generation students think we have a lock on true meaning of lineage— There are hundreds (thousands—) of people first and second generation who checked in, then exited our sangha under the Vidyadhara, partly due to confusion on that issue. Its really the same today, our story line aside. So, let’s face the bigger picture -our endless squabbling and factions in the face of horrific global suffering! The World seems overwhelming, so we dive into our feelings of betrayal, then infight!

It’s a reminder of why Dharma can fail in this world. Shambhala dharma included. The permanent lack of any guarantee can drive us to factions ….. or to cut through.

Vajradog, this blog can solidify factions, or loosen them up. Good luck sir!

Finally, here’s help from the Vidyadhara (thanks Ellen!): VACTR: “We tend to feel either that having completely signed up our names to the church we are completely secure……, or feel instead that we are completely abandoned! Being in neither of these situations brings some sense of actual reality.”

The Tibetan dharma brothers of the Vidyadhara support the current Sakyong, recognize that naturally he’s different than VACTR, and that he is also truly lineage. Why don’t we see this bigger picture?

Cheers Dog.
John Odenthal

Charles Gillard

Ellen’s shower of meaning:

It looks like a matter of mainsifest destiny…
-Charles Gillard

Bill Scheffel

To: Vajra Dog,

“Ellen Mains is a close friends and to see Ellen’s piece in print, and to see these genuine comments under “Varja Dog”, makes me happy and inspired.” So many of those who have written are friends, many I’ve not seen for years, and the anonymous writers I perhaps also know as friends. I’d like to offer a few of my own thoughts.

Lineage is not the same as organization. Lineage is mind-to-mind transmission, always personal, and up to each individual to cultivate through devotion and practice. When these transmissions are brought to fruition lineage continues. Ellen’s piece makes clear how personal samaya is and provides a way for us to agree, to respect each other, regardless of who we feel (in our hearts) we have samaya with.

Many of the comments posted here speak of the “divisions” in our community, even an “exodus.” I think there IS an exodus”, even if small (and I do not think it can be necessarily compared to the conflicts that during the time of the Vajra Regent’s illness or previous controversies). I think the exodus is on the one hand healthy; simply expressions of the lonely path and how samaya calls to us. On the other hand, for our organization not to acknowledge and validate these divisions is unhealthy. When an organization can embrace diversity it might be called an “enlightened society”; when it cannot, then it be may a church, but not a society. I do not feel the organization of Shambhala International is embracing diversity (where, except here and on Radio Free Shambhala, can you find any mention of these issues that effect so many of us)?

The deepest experience of my own practice is that the Vidyadhara IS “haunting us along with the dralas” – as he promised. Partially through teaching at Naropa University, I know many people who never met the Vidadhara personally, but who HAVE met him; not only though hearing others present his teachings or through his books, but through dreams and feeling his PRESENCE in their lives. No organization and no group of students has “proprietary” access or “rights” to Chögyam Trungpa. That he is a living source of wisdom and “support” (as Suzuki Roshi put it; pg. 375 of “Crooked Cucumber”) should be a cause for courage and celebration. Ellen’s piece helps bring forth this truth.

Bill Scheffel
March 2, 2010

Rita Ashworth

Dear Vajra Dog

Read Ms Mains article -read some of the replies -particularly John Odenthals -agree with him that there have been a lot of crises and bustups in VD and SI and that the sangha is still there, however, I find the present debate about Shambhala and Shambhala Buddhism to be one of the most, most important to this world and how we live in it.

For example when Ray said he had a vision of a protector a lot of people poo-poohed that -it was like a westerner cant do that! Hes not that ‘good’ -he may be a good intellectual but as to the meditation process only a true lineage holder can hold the whole thing together.

I dont think that is true both experientially and intellectually. I think the Shambhala teachings as given to us by CTR allow everyone if they practice well to access all that they can be in this world both in a physical and religious sense, and no you dont have to be a Buddhist to do that! So yes I have been saying this with others for a long time on rfs and other places. Of course the Sakyong has spent a long time practicing and studied with many teachers etc etc -would not we all like to do that but does he have the only way to shambhala – I dont think so -he has one way and I personally believe if he is to keep this sangha together he has to allow other takes on the whole thing to flourish.

I just dont know how the whole thing will pan out. I am expecting as people practice more and more the shambhala teachings that there will be more ‘revelations’ in a religious sense that will have to be in some way confirmed by the Tibetans as they have the ‘knowledge’ about these things.

So yes I am expecting Ray to be confirmed in some way by the Tibetan tradition at some stage and then that would really open the doors to westerners fully embodying CTR’s teachings to the nth degree. The Sakyong can still be the King but I dont think he can stop the religious evolution of westerners with the shambhala teachings. I think there will be other ways of sanctioning religious adepts outside the SI mandala in the future but at their hearts core these people will still be students of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche.


Rita Ashworth
March 2, 2010

Gordon Shotwell

Dear Vajra Dog,

I’m also a second generation Shambhalian, but I mostly feel extremely happy and inspired by the current manifestation of Shambhala Buddhism. Much of what I say here assumes the argument, for which I apologize but I wanted to offer a couple of ways of talking about this issue which might make it a kinder and more productive discussion.

One of my favourite lojong slogans is “All Dharmas Agree at One Point”, which basically means that underneath all the large and small sectarian conflicts throughout the history of Buddhism there’s this fundamental agreement about shedding ego and revealing basic goodness. The disagreements we have within the Shambhala community, even about very fundamental things like whether the Shambhala and Buddhist paths are distinct, or who is the authentic lineage holder are actually extremely small relative to the things we agree about. I think the fact that our views are so close together is a big part of why we can’t seem to civil to one another. It’s worth contemplating that, and having a sense of humour.

Secondly, the only reason you have the dharma in the first place is because you are trying to teach someone something. If the whole world were enlightened, there would be no need for teachings because it would all obvious. Teaching students is what motivated the Vidyadhara and it’s what motivates the Sakyong. As a result of this, I think we should be wary of having doctrinal discussions that don’t relate to how students (ourselves included) are doing. This obviously includes how each of us feels about our practice, but it’s worth trying to take a big view of how the body of students is doing generally. How do the people who are taking MIEL feel about loving kindness contemplation— Maybe it’s not just about you.

Finally, remember that the only way to judge a teacher is by their students. I find a lot of the things that the Vidyadhara did to be pretty problematic, but basically I look at his students and I think that they’re great, they’ve got it, they’re doing it, and so I conclude that he was a great teacher. It’s the same with the Sakyong, when you talk about him, you’re talking about his students as well. They go hand in hand. I don’t think there’s an easy way to figure this out. It’s difficult to tell in the moment whether you’re practicing a perverted dharma or whether you’re walking out on the heart sutra. But don’t give up on me; I won’t give up on you.

-Gordon Shotwell
March 2, 2010

Old Youngdog

O brilliant and noble daughter
Of the Judaeo-Kagyu-Nyingma-Shambhala Lineage,
Your parents must be so proud.

How gently you probe and expose
The root of spiritual materialism,
Bringing to light its unmistakeable shape
Where we’d least like to see it.

How delicately you draw back the veil
From the smiling face of idiot compassion,
And reveal to the full light of day
Its shallow and befuddled heart.

How subtly you nurture our prajna,
Showing, for those who can see,
That it’s not about the son’s following
An incomparable father’s ways
Nor a bleak clinging to a lost past,
But about the indestructible wisdom
We knew before we met him,
Which he sharpened and deepened
Beyond our furthest dreams,
And which we still discern everywhere —
Even beyond our beloved home.

How tenderly you stir our agony
As we watch a precious legacy laid to waste,
As we lose our our moorings, eased away and adrift
From a place we know so well,
And to which, as far as we were able,
We gave all our passion,
All our lives, all our love.

[Signed: Old Youngdog]
March 2, 2010

Brat #2

Dear Vajra Dog

Thank you so much for your reply, and reminding me that Shambhala society is truly vast, and truly our inheritance!

While there is much to be proud of (and look foreword to) I would like to point out that in relating to these issues in general, we (as a community) seem divided by extremes. Many lay silent and plaster on their smiles while others express their views narrow-mindedly, and aggressively. This is so much bigger than that!

I genuinely hope we may stop defending ourselves long enough take a big breath of fresh air, touch in with own tender hearts, and notice what it at stake. Lets be brave enough to be true as well as kind.

Yours in the vision,

Brat #2
March 2, 2010


Life Train

What we have was paid for
In the currency of empty time
That’s how we pay our ticket
On the liberation choo choo *

The uncomplicated love we feel
Was paid for in the currency
Of heartbreaks and despair
That’s how we get a seat
On the great bliss choo choo

Our life train crosses trestle bridges
Huge timbers are like mighty bones
Supporting dramatic human journeys
Many lives flicker past the windows
Were they mine or were they yours
Whose lives are these anyway

Our own strong bones are trestle-like
Steady enough to weave a life on
With luminous threads of all the colors
And gaps for rest on background gold
Lucky about the golden part
Without it we’d be crazy

The ati fellows tell us . . .
No special posture is needed
Just relax; just let it go
Sounds so easy; what a trickeroo
To weave the moments of empty time
Into the fabric of ordinary magic
On a background of genuine fools’ gold
We do this! We are splendid!

March 2, 2010

* choo choo is american for train

Old Dog #3

What an eloquent letter, Ellen. I am pained by heartbreak in our community over what you are discussing. I wonder, however, if Shambhala Buddhism really is blurring and merging the traditions or placing them together side by side by side (Kagyu, Nyingma, Shambhala) as our unique heritage. I think about this a lot. I do not personally feel disenfranchised or limited in my practice or expression of any of the 3 lineages. I am grateful for this, but know that many do not share my experience. I hope we can explore what is really happening further for we students of the Druk Sakyong who are devoted to Shambhala as well, and that no one will be left out.
March 2, 2010

Old Dog #3

Lucille Magnus

Thank you Ellen for your elegant prose and heartfelt comments about your experience. The heartbreak you express has been my own for awhile.

You (if I recall correctly) were my MI during the 1976 Dathun at Karme Choling. How nice to see your face and hear your voice again.

I have begun the Dharma Gar with Dzongsar Rinpoche just this past Losar Day. Thank you for your wonderful letter, which expresses what many of us feel just now.

Lucille Magnus
March 3, 2010

Zer-me Dri’med

Ellen Mains speaks for me in all aspects of her piece. I appreciated her attempt to clarify the reasons why the mashup of Shambhala Training with Kagyu and Nyingma Buddhist teachings threatens us with the loss of the unique value of the Shambhala Terma. It is also important that she points out the distinction between samaya and nostalgia. I was paricularly struck by this: “I feel an earthquake of grief in my heart at the thought that I might no longer be considered ‘qualified’ (aka ‘authorized’) to direct Shambhala Training or other programs only because my genuine samaya connection rests with the Dorje Dradul.” This is such a poetic expression of how I feel, and I imagine there are others like us. I saw it coming years ago, and decided at that time that I would teach every level I was given as if it were my last. I recommend this.

Zer-me Dri’med (Jill Grundberg)
March 3, 2010

Noel McLellan

I really appreciate Ellen’s posting and for the past few days have felt haunted by it. It is unusual to read anything of this nature that is so thoughtful and personal. She brings up so many issues that I don’t know how to begin, but felt some desire to write in as well.

I have been a student of the Sakyong’s since 1992, and while I have had little hand in policy-making, I am also a part of the mandala leadership, but what I’m writing here is just my personal response.

I would like to begin by saying that I feel embarrassed by the disparaging comment towards students of the Vidyadhara that Ellen refers to in the beginning of her article. The first generation students are the holders of the Vidyadhara’s fire, and through them we can still feel that warmth. I often feel a sense of urgency that my generation of practitioners needs to mine the treasures that are buried in many of these students before it’s too late.

Ellen addresses important themes of view, her personal experience with the Sakyong, and her current sense of heartbreak, all of which are interconnected. I would like to attempt to respond to some of these issues, but would first like to say that my feelings and view do not, and have never fallen very tidily into boxes of “for” or “against,” “right” or “wrong.” In this case as well, I feel a connection with the truths Ellen expresses, and her genuine feelings. At the same time I see things very differently than she articulates them. I’m sure many people feel similarly — our beings can contain more than we are usually able to articulate, especially in writing. Nevertheless, I feel encouraged by the Vajra Dog so here goes…

Much of Ellen’s, and many others’, concerns flow out of a deep uneasiness with one of the Sakyong’s key initiatives, Shambhala Buddhism. Often when I hear about these concerns they make a good deal of sense to me. However, I also often feel that they are criticisms of something that never happened — an understanding of “Shambhala Buddhism” that the Sakyong does not share. To begin with, when people say that the Sakyong “merged” these two traditions, this is not the Sakyong’s view (as I understand it). It is his view that they were never separate. This does not mean that he hasn’t changed anything — obviously he has changed a lot, but it does mean that the changes are ones of emphasis and method, not of vision.

The idea that these traditions have never been separate does not simply mean that they are “one in the great expanse” or something like that — that would be a really lame argument. From that point of view we might as well proclaim Apple Teapotism, since apples and teapots are of one ultimate nature.

The relationship between these traditions is easiest for me to understand in a top to bottom way. At a fruitional level, Shambhala is a tantric mandala — it is a society of nowness, beyond time. Or we could say that in this tradition, the vajrayana finds its complete expression as Shambhala culture, Shambhala mandala. At this level we could say Shambhala is dzogchen. Like Shambhala, dzogchen is often described as not Buddhist. It has abandoned that raft. But if others say, “how did you get there?” that raft is still the way. Thus the raft needs to be cherished and protected.

People from any tradition can experience this fruition. However, according to the Sakyong, some of the methods left to us by the Dorje Dradul for entering into that mandala, and for stabilizing ourselves there, cannot be properly utilized without the mind training and processing provided by the Buddhist path. It is the Sakyong’s role as lineage holder to protect those methods, to be sure they are properly transmitted, and only he can say how that needs to happen. It’s not an institutional decision.

For Buddhists in this tradition, “Shambhala Buddhism” is a method to ensure they understand what lineage this is at its core — one based on the terma revelations of the Dorje Dradul, and requires that they be trained in this approach as a ground. This training greatly influences one’s sense of motivation as a Buddhist on the path.

For non-buddhists, the Shambhala teachings remain open, with no requirement to become Buddhist or study Buddhism, and with minimal exposure to Buddhist lingo. Granted that door closes after Warrior’s Assembly (if my current understanding of the curriculum is accurate). So perhaps there is some loss to the non-buddhist path, though how it was “meant to be” is debatable. On the other hand, the idea that these shifts imply that non-buddhists are fundamentally inferior and we shouldn’t get in bed with them seems a bit out of left field. If we’re talking about what excludes people, the fact that many sangha members have not been trained to refrain from using exclusive dharma lingo at parties with non-sangha friends is a much bigger concern to me personally.

I’m quite aware that many people will just plain disagree with what I’ve attempted to lay out here. While for me it seems clean and clear, for them it just won’t resonate. This leads into the next point, regarding the Sakyong as a teacher. For me, the Sakyong is the sun and the moon. His teachings are a guide. His smile is medicine. When I’m confused he guides me to clarity. When I’m arrogant he pops my bubble. I don’t think he’s perfect and I doubt him frequently, but at the base my love for him and trust in his genuineness is a force. Ellen and many others just don’t experience him in this way. I wish that they did, and sometimes my inspiration about the Sakyong makes me think they would if they just paid better attention, but I know this is not true. Maybe it’s just karma. Whatever the case, I am left with some concerns. First, since there are in fact a great many people for whom the Sakyong is a perfect teacher, I don’t feel it’s appropriate to point towards the Sakyong’s style as the cause for anyone’s not connecting, as though he just needs to care more or try harder, and then more people would be devoted.

However, and this is probably the main thing that I wanted to write about, the fact that Ellen and others feel that their lack of connection to the Sakyong leads them to feel pain, to feel outside of this culture, and to have their loyalty questioned, is a great concern to me. I feel acutely the Sakyong’s command that we manifest kindness in our community and the world, and know that ignoring the pain of our own friends is not kind. There is real work to be done here.

If there’s anything to fall back on it seems to be our teachings and the confidence that we share in the goodness of the human heart. We might have to let down our guard as Ellen has, and get over being “right” in order to meet each other again. In his work on Gesar, Douglass Penick tells the tale of Gesar reconciling with his wife after she left him for the demon king, in which Gesar sings this song:

“Remorse at what each of us has done,
Anger at what each of us has seen the other do,
Sorrow that true love has proved so fragile,
Sadness that passing love has been compelling and disastrous,
Doubt that even genuine love can be restored,
Fear that neither decency nor joy have a place
In such deceitful and dangerous terrain,
All these things, O dear companion of my heart,
Seem to separate us so, and yet,
We share them utterly.”

The Warrior Song of King Gesar, pg. 97)

Noel McLellan
March 3, 2010

Vajra Dog

Okay. Before we move on. Before arguments are presented in agreement or disagreement with what Noel is saying, I’d just like to interject this brief observation, which is that Noel is listening. He’s hearing what Ellen is saying, he’s not being dismissive in any way, and he’s expressing a genuine sense of concern for what she and others are experiencing.

Oh, and by the way… Congratulations to Noel and Marguerite. They just had a baby girl. Esme was born at Windhorse Farm (New Germany, NS) on March 2. Congratulations to the MacLellan/Drescher/Mann clan! Thank you Noel for taking the time to join this discussion in the midst of great wisdom without beginning or end.

Vajra Dog

Rita Ashworth

Just to say I fundamentally disagree with the second paragraph by Noel McLellan where he states that you have to be Buddhist to access the shambhala teachings as in

“According to the Sakyong, some of the methods left to us by the Dorje Dradul for entering into that mandala, and for stabilizing ourselves there, cannot be properly utilized without the mind training and processing provided by the Buddhist path.”

I think this statement is revisionism by SB [Shambhala Buddhism]. I know of no methods that the DD left for Buddhists only in contacting the power of the shambhala teachings.

Indeed in the Sacred Path of the Warrior CTR states over and over again that these teachings are for everyone even secular people. How indeed is the Sakyong interpreting these teachings— Perhaps he could write an article on SB and clearly outline why he saw them merging in the fullness of time -then people not within his circle could perhaps debate this with him as many students also debated the teachings with CTR most acutely.

Myself I think Shambhala manifests from exhaustion to a degree when you come to a state in your own world/life that you are acutely aware of your own mind/thoughts so that there is no further doors to open in your mish-mash philosophies.

The tramp on the street could even perhaps clue into shambhala more than any person in SI. Stabilisation of methods that Mr McLellan talks of in relation to accessing these teachings is to my turn of mind quite nutty. You cant indeed stabilise anything . Shambhala is like the wind it comes -it goes!


Rita Ashworth
March 4, 2010

Barbara Blouin

To Ellen,

I can’t possibly thank you enough. I second all the praises that others have expressed; your writing is perfection, your broken heart is an open book, and, for me personally, expresses so much of what I have gone through (and am still going through.)

Barbara Blouin (a very Old Dog)
March 4, 2010

Grant MacLean

Knowing Noel McLellan to be a loyal, big-hearted and intelligent man, I was pleased to see his comments. Impressed by the language and the eloquence, I copied them to a document to read at greater length and at my leisure.

My semi-conscious hope — as a thousand times before — was that this would be it, that finally the penny would drop, that I’d get it, a new dawn would break, and I could relax with how things are, with what they’ve become, join in and move on.

Beginning with the first paragraph, which I didn’t quite follow but feeling that the rest of the comments would clarify, I read carefully on through to the end. I still felt in a fog, that I was still missing something.

Mr. McLellan says that the relationship between the Shambhala and Buddhist traditions was “easiest for me to understand in a top to bottom way,” so I began again, at the top. This time I didn’t get past the first paragraph.

He states that Shambhala is a tantric mandala, a society of nowness and that the vajrayana finds its complete expression as Shambhala culture, Shambhala mandala … that from this viewpoint “Shambhala is dzogchen.”

I read and re-read these remarks, and when I finally stopped — and these kinds of reactions to writing are very rare for me — my stomach felt tight and queasy, as if I’d just come from a scary and unsafe roller coaster ride.

I’ve been fortunate to receive teachings on dzogchen from several great teachers. Although they may use different words and concepts to describe it, a common theme is that the state is one of awareness-space, or knowing-emptiness, primordially without form or reference point.

Wikipedia’s entry on dzogchen is fully in line with that: “Our ultimate nature is said to be pure, all-encompassing, primordial awareness or naturally occurring timeless awareness. This “intrinsic awareness” has no form of its own and yet is capable of perceiving, experiencing, reflecting, or expressing all form … [it is] “space that is aware”.

Mr. McLellan talks of Shambhala in terms of mandala, society, culture, just as we know it to be. But he goes on to say that Shambhala is dzogchen. So it seems as if we are meant to understand that a mandala, culture, etc. is without form or content.

To me, this monumental cognitive blurring, very close to a simple contradiction in terms, is meaning-free: it’s like saying a beautifully-prepared five-course meal is a lake of pure water. Well, at a very big stretch, maybe, but from that tropospheric viewpoint one might as well also say an apple is an airplane. The subject, object and predicate — the basic logic and elements of a sentence — are there, but where’s the reality— What can it possibly mean to those of us living on this earth, this planet—

Still in the first paragraph, Mr. McLellan goes on to say that Shambhala, like dzogchen, is often described as not Buddhist. “It has abandoned that raft” [but] “that raft is still the way.” Now my head was hurting.

And even if an entity called Shambhala has somehow abandoned Buddhism, how does what’s now known as “Shambhala Buddhism” pull off that trick— It was time to find that bottle.

I must thank Mr. McLellan for his valiant and eloquent efforts to explain the seemingly inexplicable. Sadly, I still don’t get it.

Grant MacLean
March 5, 2010

Jim Hartz

To The Chronicles,

It was strangely heartening to read what Ellen Mains had to say on such a painful topic in such clear, heart-felt, but direct and straightforward prose. And it seems somewhat petty — an odd sort of “one-upmanship” (of the desert) — to excoriate her for not coming out and making her feelings public, sooner. As I’m sure with many readers, her piece and the accompanying commentary here and on Radio Free Shambhala set off a sizeable chain of associations not easy to just label “thinking.” Here are a few of mine that might be useful to mention.

1. Firstly, that there is a short text by Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche — maybe an interview around the time of the Vidyadhara’s death— — where he makes clear that, in his view, the Shambhala terma and the path laid out by the Vidyadhara growing out of that profound treasure chest of insights and accompanying practices was, in and of itself, sufficient for complete realization: no Buddhism required.

2. Secondly, there’s a larger “mishap lineage” beyond just the one that we’ve come to associate with Buddhism. Maybe we could think of it in Shambhalian terms. Take for example what would have (most likely) grown out of the friendship of Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk and embodiment of Contemplative Christianity, the person the Vidyadhara said was the first genuine Westerner he had ever met, after being in the West for many years. Look at this statement from Merton’s dying-breath Bangkok Talk, December 10, 1968, following on the heels of their “auspicious coincidence” encounter in Calcutta several weeks previous, where they made plans to do a book together, the first place I ever heard of the Vidyadhara:

“For a Christian, as also, I believe, for a Buddhist, there is an essential orientation that goes beyond this or that society, this or that culture, or even this or that religion. When I said that St. Paul was attacking religious alienation I meant that really he meant very seriously what he said about —There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer Jew or Gentile…’ There is no longer Asian or European for the Christian. So while being open to Asian cultural things of value and using them, I think we also have to keep in mind the fact that Christianity and Buddhism, too, in their original purity, point beyond all divisions between this and that.” [Emphases added.]

Merton’s radicalization of St. Paul, of course, made knees knock amongst officials in the Vatican. But it’s easy to see why Merton and the Vidyadhara hit it off so effortlessly: Merton was actually a “Shambhalian” before the Vidyadhara received the bulk of the Shambhala terma! Catholic actually means “universal,” so Merton’s suggestion that Roman Catholic “exceptionalism” was actually “parochial” did not please the watchdogs of orthodoxy in that tradition. But no potential banishment to the “outer darkness” (where, apparently, many devoted and talented students of the Vidyadhara have been cast: “refugees” once again) can make a dent in that indestructible “primordial purity” that both Merton, and the Vidyadhara, had tapped into: realized. So, in a nutshell, for a Christian like Merton, again: no Buddhism required.

3. Thirdly, again like that brief transcript by Dilgo Khentyse Rinpoche, I have a text composed by Irv Wieder, a former sanghamate and friend, founder of Samadhi Cushions, in a box in storage somewhere. His family history was very similar to Ellen’s. She certainly would have known Irv from the Tail of the Tiger days. In that text — a sort of message in a bottle done near the end of his life — Irv did this incredible correlation of various Jewish mystical and Tibetan Buddhist terms. There was one that jumps to mind, and is in sync with what Merton realized within the Contemplative Christian tradition: a Hebrew word very similar to “kadak” — that before the beginning, after the end, and marinating the middle primordial purity we could associate with Werma Sadhana. Perhaps Ellen might want to investigate further—

Thanks to The Chronicles and RFS for continuing to provide spaces much needed for such discussions, and to Ellen for being willing to stick her neck out,

Jim Hartz
March 5, 2010

Richard Heilbrunn

Brothers and Sisters

Neither a “old dog” nor a “dharma brat” the Sun that rises and warms your Hearts warms mine. The mud you are rooted in, also seeps between my toes. I am old enough to be an old dog and am therefore familiar with the Spirit and Environment that was aching to be cultivated by the Vidyadhara and the Vision of Shambhala. In your world I am but a puppy, scratching at your Mandala from outside. From the outside your Mantra sounds like static. When I am lucky enough to get a peek inside, I hear the Harmony that is your Foundation. Having reached out to some of you individually, I have been welcomed and embraced by your Compassion.

I feel for the “old dogs” and understand the “dharma brats”. Is this such a dysfuntional Family—— Is there any advantage to Demonizing each other and the aspects of this Mandala—— I SEE the Basic Goodness in all of you. In society, enlightened or otherwise, everyone must accept responsibility and contribute. Whining is not skillful means as I see it. It is the static that prevents those like me from trying to enter your Society and Mandala. I understand your Connections are rooted much deeper than my own and feel your pain and hear the cry of your Hearts.

Perhaps the Question we can ask is

What would the Vidyadhara do———

Just another View.

In Peace
Richard Heilbrunn
March 5, 2010

David Carey

Questioning authority and debate are good. We may not be debating the finer points of Madyamika like hand-clapping monks, but the sword of prajna is being sharpened just the same.

Best Wishes to all, David Carey
March 5, 2010

Dharma Cat

Dear Vajra Dog,

Considering me as neither first nor second generation – inbetween – I always had the positive view, being able to relate to the past and present ways in Shambhala without difficulties. Finding me now posting here anonymously, shows me, this not to be the case. I tried my best to relate to SMR and love and will always love him from the buttom of my heart. Having felt and suffered from the described situations in SI for a longer time, now is the time for action and step out of the Shambhala cocoon into the fresh air of lonely and heartbroken reality. Many thanks to the old dogs for having provided diligently and devoted the necessary stairways for all the students that came to the dharma. This was not wasted energy and we ALL owe you a lot. Thanks and see you somtimes, somewhere…

Dharma Cat
March 6, 2010

Neal Greenberg

I enjoyed  Noel’s analysis.  On  April 1, 1981, the Vidhyadhara said that

“at this point, the dharma should come back as the Imperial Yana”.

The Imperial Yana seems to refer to the Ati Yana as can be derived from other Shambhala teachings. This had been prophesied by Guru Rinpoche, and hence were very much an extension of the Buddhist teachings. In that talk, the Vidhyadhara referred to what he called “Kalapa Dharma” and also  the “Kalapayana”.  These terms have been since used by the current Sakyong as synonymous with Shambhala Buddhism. Rinpoche  said in that fateful talk,

“Some of you might question this all over again, “are we going against these principals [referring to how Buddhism had manifested throughout history as eschewing the world of wealth, fame, and so on]—”.

This all suggests that the Shambhala teachings are in fact Buddhist; they had merely evolved, and had evolved in accord with Guru Rinpoche’s prophesy that they would do so. Though as Noel hints, wisdom can be said to be beyond religion.

Couldn’t you say, that when the King of Shambhala first received the Vajrayana teachings as a secular teaching from the Buddha, that the Shambhala teachings and the Vajrayana were exactly the same—  King Dawa Sangpo had asked for teachings that would allow him to maintain his secular world as he was the king and had a kingdom to rule.   It seems that later on, in particular when the Vajrayana spread and became embodied in the traditions of the 4 major Tibetan schools, which are now predominantly monastic, that the notion of eschewing richness became part of the package.  It seems that unlike the earlier traditions of Vajrayanists, which were yogi based and seemingly more secular, a whole monastic tradition occurred in Tibet for Vajrayana, which is pretty interesting, considering the nature of the inner tantras.  The Vidhyadhara said that the Kalapayana reverses the Buddhist logic with the “Shambhala logic” which doesn’t eschew wealth, fame, senual delight, etc.

Shambhala is Buddhist and is Dzogchen specifically.  The notion of the Sign and Thought lineage is clearly a Buddhist concept and is presented in the Dzogchen tradition and in the Shambhala tradition. Often times they are presented in the Buddhist context as the means of transmission of the Dzogchen lineage, from Kuntu Sangpo, ultimately to Vajrasattva, to Gerab Dorje, Manjusrhimita, Shri Simha, and so no ultimately down to Guru Rinpoche, and then on to becoming the Ear Whispered lineage thenceforth. They are connected with the three kayas as well.

The notion of “suchness” and “thamel gyi shepa” are presented in both Shambhala and Buddhist contexts-these are the quintessential understandings of ground tantra, as Rinpoche presented it.  TGS and Suchness, in fact are both connected with Dzogchen view.  In fact, it is the way he presented sem gyi ngotro-or introduction to the nature of mind as well as how he presented the Golden Key teachings.  There are many other correlations.  For example, the Buddhist shentong or yogacharan terminology related to the three natures, of kuntak, shenwang, and yongdrup shows up in the Shambhala terma.  There are correlations with Mahayoga practice in Shambhala teachings.

The Shambhala teachings themselves are dzogchen.  The Scorpion Seal terma refers to Dzogchen practices typical of the highest of the mengakide traditions which Trungpa Rinpoche was trained in.

The notion of the Shambhala Teachings consist of terma seems connected with Buddhism. When asked if the Shambhala revelations were terma, the Vidhyadhara explained that terma needs to come from Guru Rinpoche.  He said that the Shambhala “terma” as we now know them,  actually comes from Gesar who was an emanation of Guru Rinpoche, and so therefore has the correct imprimature to be called terma.

One post said that mandala is not an Ati concept citing Wikipedia as an authority. In support of Noel, there is indeed mandala in the Ati tradition.  Longchenpa, who might actually surpass Wikipedia as an authority on Dzogchen,  described Dzogchen or the Ati Yana as the union of (amongst other things) the mandala of the deities and the union of the “bhaga mandala”[i].  Mipham, another authority actually exceeding the great Wiki, referred to Ati Yoga as the “spontaneously accomplished great mandala”[ii].  In the Shambhala tradition, we have the ultimate court.

There are many other references to Buddhist concepts in the Shambhala teachings,  At Kalapa Assembly, the Vidhyhadhara said;

“In itself, the Shambhala vision contains the three yana journey[iii]”  Another time, he said, “Authentic presence….has to be earned karmically…..by going along with letting go and egolessness….[which comes from] samaya principle and karmic principle.”[iv]  The Vidyhadhara describes that the basis for the Kingdom is the “basic sanity and renunciation of the confused world”[v] presented by the Buddhadharma.

That was how he began the very first Kalapa Assembly.  Clearly, samaya and karma are traditional buddhist concepts.   In that same talk, he mentioned that the sitting practice of meditation is actually the basis for the kingdom.  He also said,

“Shambhala vision is a product of Buddhadharma.”

In that talk, he refers that the Buddhadharma Sky gives birth to the rising of the sun, of Shambhala vision.

Another time he recounted that he had asked his teacher Jamgon Kongtrul if a monk (himself) can become a king.  His teacher told him,  that it would be dangerous, as he “would be playing with the energies of the universe”, but that he should be

“careful, but at the same time, if you are too careful, we might lose our teachings and the power of the teachings”.

He was referring to the Buddhist teachings, ofcourse, as the Shambhala teachings in their current form didn’t exist yet. And hence, the secular notion of a monk becoming a king which is quintessential to the Shambhala teachings was clearly also Buddhist.  Jamgon Kongtrul also told him:

“You have to make everybody decent people, and then you can actually turn the iron wheel and conquer them”[vi].

This according to the Vidyhadara refers to the degradation discussed in the Buddhist chant “Pacifying the Turmoil of the Mamos” by Karma Chagme. In other words, this degradation in lungta-such as eating bad cheap food, wearing clothes of rags, etc.- needs to be addressed according to traditional Buddhist teachings, not just the Shambhala teachings which references the important notion of wearing good clothes and eating good food in the Golden Key teachings.

Referencing the Kingdom of Shambhala in 1981 that

“We hold a tremendous hope. Maybe we are the only hope for the future dark age….We might say that the dralas, the Rigden Fathers, and all the goodness of the past are with us always, that they’re going to help us.  All the Kagyu and Nyingma lineage holders and all the forefather are going to be with us……It is exactly the same as the Lord Buddha’s discovery of the four noble truths; seeing people being dead, sick and suffering, he discovered a way out of it.  In the same way, when we see the setting-sun problems precisely, they are the living truth of the Great Easter Sun vision in the setting-sun form.  So we have a living dharma of Great Eastern Sun vision with the setting-sun format”[vii].

So he apparantly considered that Shambhala would include the forefathers of the Nyingma and Kagyu Buddhist traditions. He considered the Great Eastern Sun vision to be the same view as that of the Buddha. No separation between Buddhism and Shambhala is suggested here.

The Vidhyadhara actually described a need to go beyond Vajrayana.  At the same time, he described the important need of absolute obedience to the root guru apurtenant to the Vajrayana teachings:

“My friends, we have a problem.  That problem is being stuck in devotion-identifying ourselves as Vajrayana practitioners. The devoted students of the practicing lineage.  That could be very safe and cozy for us…..there is still a corner somewhere that we believe is safe…” then he said, that there’s a problem with loyalty-“…When we read about the life and teachings of Naropa where Tilopa says if he had a student, that student would jump off this balcony, it is easy for us to think, ‘That was a different age….’…That is a problem of loyalty.  Loyalty completely cuts through our notion of being devoted to some kind of identity.[viii]”

The Vidhyadhara referred to the need for “culture” when he described his conversation with his teacher about becoming a king. Perhaps some people see his emphasis on culture in the context of much of our Shambhala teachings historically, as somehow separate from Buddhism; I think it is possible to interpret these as fulfilling a need for Buddhism to have an appropriate home of decency and culture. In other words, the Vidyhadhara might have actually seen it as a mandate that we need culture in order to present the Buddhadharma.

I agree with Ellen’s point on maintaining the integrity of how we speak of these traditions.  The Kongma Sakyong emphasizes this need again and again.  He has said that you have to use the exact terminology that the Vidhyhadhara used.  That doesn’t mean that they are not the same tradition. But I think it is illuminating when you look at what else the Vidhyadhara said to Robin Kornman in 1979 at the time of her quote:

“I think you have a problem, if I might say so….When you’re confused by Shambhalian logic, you jump to Buddhist logic to defend yourself-you propogate your arrogance.  But when you are confused by the Buddhist logic, then you jump back to Shambhalian logic to satisfy yourself.  And that is a problematic situation.”

Later he encouraged Robin to study both sets of teachings.  So I think there’s a strong argument, that Ellen in fact really did take the quote out of context as she herself admits; it was a very personalized message to Robin; not an exhortation that we should regard Shambhala and Buddhism as different.  Her point, that Shambhala is not of any religious tradition is similar to Noel’s.  How can you say that only the Buddhists have wisdom;  wisdom itself isn’t bound by religion—  But at the same time, words have a certain meaning; so I think it’s more accurate to say that Shambhala IS in fact Buddhist.  And I think what the Vidhyadhara has said supports this,.  Ellen is intelligent and articulate, and I respect her opinion, though I don’t agree with it.

The need to respect the integrity of the language used in a particular tradition is true of all Buddhist traditions.  As Khenpo Tsering (of Surmang) once explained, “Every time there’s a new terma, the language is completely different.  Perhaps one lama uses a simple term like lhaktong differently then a prior usage.  It is like sharpening a sword-the words take on a renewed sense of power[ix]”.  And if there are little seeming inconsistencies, it may be rather small minded to think that it invalidates one view or another. Dudjom Rinpoche said as much in his great work on the History of the Nyingma.  So if Tsewang Norbu said in his text that there are 26 Rigdens, is he, arguably one of the forefathers of the Rime tradition, invalidated because the Kalachakra says 25— It’s interesting that Tsewang Norbu, Mipham the Great and Rolpe Dorje were all important contributors to the Shambhala teachings as we know them. I think all of them had strong Buddhist credentials.

I have complete faith in the Vidhyhadara, and that includes what appeared to me over the years of knowing him to be have complete trust in his Shambhala lineage holder, the Sakyong. I don’t see a distinction, nor do I care to criticize those who do.

So, let us all have great auspiciousness and fulfill the aspirations of our teacher, however we see that. I apologize for not reading different posts as carefully as I should have and for any misunderstandings that I had of them.

Neal Greenberg
March 7, 2010

Natalie Dawson

I’m saddened that at least two “dharma brats” and others feel they need to not only express their feelings on this topic anonymously but also separate completely from Shambhala, despite obviously still having some strong connections. I’m one of the old dogs, completely devoted to the Vidyadhara as my root guru but also with very positive feelings about the Sakyong though he’s not my central teacher. Through my years of membership in Dharmadhatu/Vajradhatu and then Shambhala, I’ve always been dissatisfied, irritated or felt out-of-synch with some things that were going on. But because of my strong connection to practice and never-waning feeling of the benefit to others being propagated by the teachings, classes and programs we present, I’ve never come close to wanting to disengage completely or felt I had to keep my opinions from my dharma brothers and sisters. So this is, for me, the most unfortunate aspect of this whole split in views within Shambhala. I think we can be inclusive and I encourage all to try out being gentle, accepting of others and living with the disappointment that all is not perfect or perfectly the way we want it to be.

Natalie Dawson March 7, 2010

Marge Veleta

To Vajra Dog:

In the book Recalling Chögyam Trungpa (compiled and edited by Fabrice Midal, Shambhala 2005), I read that Thrangu Rinpoche considers the Shambhala Teachings to be part of the Kalachakra Tantra, the Outer Kalachakra to be specific (p. 457-458). Many of us received this Abhisheka from Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche in 1990. Others received it earlier from Kalu Rinpoche. Thrangu Rinpoche discusses this in connection with Fulfilling the Aspirations of the Vidyadhara. I would like to recommend to everyone interested in whether or not Shambhala Teachings are buddhist, can be merged with buddhism, or are secular and cannot or should not be merged to read Thrangu Rinpoche’s comments.

March 7, 2010

Vajra Dog

Thanks very much for this recommendation.

Mr Neutral

Dear Vajradog,

It’s wonderful to read all the comments activated by the bravery of Ellen Mains. I did happen to be around in the early days of the creation of the Shambhala Teachings when Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche explained that the Shambhala teachings would be somewhat like the Shinto religion of Japan, and Buddhism would be separate from that. I wonder if anybody has any idea of what he meant by this— Forgive me for not including my name as I would like to remain neutral in my outlook.

All the best!

Mr Neutral
March 9, 2010

Vajra Dog

Does anyone else have any recollections of Trungpa Rinpoche’s comments about Shambhala and the Shinto religion?

Rita Ashworth

Dear Vajra Dog,

Yes Mr Greenberg’s argument re: Shambhala Buddhism is an intriguing one.

It is a long time since I have argued about Buddhist philosophy but I will have a stab at it.

It seems that the unity of Shambhala and Buddhism now being argued is from previous teachings of CTR and the Sakyong’s feelings whether literal or interpretive about them and their connection to Dzogchen.

Recently I bought a book by Doris Wolter called Losing the Clouds, Gaining the Sky, which discusses primarily the Dzogchen teachings. There is an interesting article in there by Kalu Rinpoche which talks about the unity of Mahamudra and Dzogchen where he states —essentially dzogchen and mahamudra are one and the same, as if two names had been given to the same person’, however there are slightly different ways of accessing the truth of these teachings according to the methods you use.

There is talk of dark retreats here and the Nyingmapa students accessing the rainbow body if they practice them well, but Kalu Rinpoche also states that students who practiced with Milarepa and followed mahamudra also accessed the rainbow body.

So what is my point— The thing is it is not only Dzogchen which will lead us to liberation but other paths can do also.

Now if Shambhala within the context of Shambhala Buddhism is deepening its connection to Dzogchen surely this is a matter of individual choice because Kalu Rinpoche has stated also that mahamudra leads to liberation. (as an aside Ms. Mains did indeed mention mahamudra and dzogchen at the beginning of her own article as well)

There is also the question of karma which Kalu Rinpoche says links you to your teacher throughout your various lives so perhaps this is why Christians, secular people, are turning on to the Shambhala teachings- it may be a subtle karmic thing and really whose to know about this for sure.

Now as to the non-Buddhists having further in-depth teachings about Shambhala which they are now proscribed from not having by the Sakyong are we again into a realm of choice, methods, karma …etc …This I think is now debatable from what Kalu has stated……whose to know when people if they do have a karmic connection with the teacher that they won’t intuit something akin to the methods now developing within SB and Shambhala generally. Surely now we are into the dimension of the teachings taking root in a culture by sitting practice and just in a ‘waiting mode to see what will transpire in the future.

Also in relation to karma I heard of a story of a person being interviewed by a Lama and being asked if his parents were Buddhist —they were not…..but the Lama sort of clued into that person’s state of mind which must have been manifesting something to him. Could karma also be a ‘reason’ why HHDKR thought people could practice the shambhala terma in total because he felt westerners were ready for them — it’s interesting to think about this. I really hope HHDKR’s position on the Shambhala terma could be gone into in more detail on the Project.

Yes the argument is getting pretty precise but I don’t think we can only rely on quoting the words of lamas back and forwards to ourselves — even though I have done the same thing! I think it might be better to begin to start to discuss methods for awaking connections to just what is besides the SB/Shambhala divide this is indeed why I have quoted the article because it concentrates on methods and process re: practice and devotion which are prevalent within many religions and none-yes I do believe you can talk of devotion within the artistic sphere also aka inspiration and so forth.

So yes could we talk more about process than specific quotes from this lama or the other. If not the argument could become like poker raising one lama’s word against another — yes perhaps we need to get back to ground zero again and make the debate more attributable to direct experience.

And what do I mean by direct experience? well Trungpa did mention to Jack Niland that everything he did was Shambhala art — could this be a way into the Shambhala kingdom? I think more and more from my own experience that we don’t need the iconography of Tibet to clue into this; rather I think it is the —emotional’ connection that the person has with the image that matters. Here for example we can take perhaps the new images being designed by Niland and others as our starting point. Do these images have to be from terma — I don’t think so, but I think they can lead to the discovery of terma if we engage with them.

Nice one from Mr Neutral —yes I could go with the Shinto thingie —it seems to work in Japan and the traditions do seem to be distinct. I think people should think of building public shrines like in Japan for kind of cosmic drala energies. What could you construct— Interesting.

Well best
Rita Ashworth
March 10, 2010

Chris Kreeger

I believe Ellen’s piece is an important spiritual document. It reminds me of the following passage:

Lord, my God, who am I that You should forsake me? The Child of your Love — and now become as the most hated one — the one — You have thrown away as unwanted — unloved. I call, I cling, I want — and there is no One to answer — no One on Whom I can cling — no, No One. — Alone … Where is my Faith — even deep down right in there is nothing, but emptiness & darkness — My God — how painful is this unknown pain — I have no Faith — I dare not utter the words & thoughts that crowd in my heart — & make me suffer untold agony.

So many unanswered questions live within me afraid to uncover them — because of the blasphemy — If there be God — please forgive me — When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven — there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives & hurt my very soul. — I am told God loves me — and yet the reality of darkness & coldness & emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul. Did I make a mistake in surrendering blindly to the Call of the Sacred Heart?

–Mother Teresa of Calcutta

When writings such as these became known, many viewed Mother Teresa as a hypocrite, masquerading as someone with faith she didn’t have. She was experiencing, though, what all Christian mystics undergo at a certain stage of the spiritual life, what St. John of the Cross called, “The Dark Night of the Soul.” Many, like Mother Teresa, experience this form of spiritual despair for decades, still somehow continuing with their spiritual practices and heroic bodhisattva activity, without receiving the slightest glimmer of belonging, confirmation, or spiritual consolation. There is a thorough treatment of the role of this stage of spiritual development in Evelyn Underhill’s book, Mysticism.

It strikes me that Christian mystical spirituality regards The Dark Night of the Soul as a universal and necessary stage of spiritual life. Its purpose is to bring about radical non-theism. I don’t hear non-theism being addressed quite this way in our Buddhist tradition. For us, non-theism seems like a choice, something that we have control over, something that we opt for despite the ever-present temptation of theism in its many forms. In reality, at some point, non-theism is not a choice and it takes over our spiritual experience completely, in much the same way the Mother Teresa (and Ellen) describe, so long as we stay. If you’re a Christian, you tell yourself you can no longer relate to God or Jesus and God or Jesus no longer has anything to do with you, but you stay. In our tradition, perhaps it’s a similar experience with those we have or seek to have samaya connection — the level of intimacy seems to be the same in both traditions. I think it would help if we studied this aspect of the Christian tradition more and see if it applies to our own circumstances, see if it helps us work with what we’re experiencing better. It also strikes me profoundly that many participating in this discussion, including Ellen, despite the all of the reasons not to, stay. This is a deeper form of samaya than any that manifests out of a sense of connectedness or enthusiasm.


Chris Kreeger
March 10, 2010

Vajra Dog

Well, this is an interesting one. I’m betting Ellen never thought we’d be comparing her to Mother Teresa.

But hold on, I’m not sure if Ellen should be canonized just yet. In this quote, Mother Teresa is questioning her fundamental beliefs. I don’t hear a parallel inquiry coming from Ellen. She’s not doubting her deeply personal connection to dharma. Quite the opposite, her devotion and commitment comes through loud and clear.

But I’ll be interested to hear what others think. Is Ellen on her way to becoming the first Jewbu saint? Or is she just an old dog with questions?

Vajra Dog
March 12, 2010

Margaret Maceart

Dear Vajradog,

It seems that Ellen Mains’s letter has opened up what might be called pandora’s box for me. Because I’m very interested in the Shambhala teachings I was about to take level one of Shambhala training. I am a Christian and it was explained to me by one of the Acharyas (I do not want to give the name so as not to create any problems for them ) that being a Christian would not be a hindrance to being a Shambhala practitioner. However, it’s beginning to seem to me that being a member of Shambhala International one must be a Buddhist. So perhaps someone with more knowledge might clarify this for me. I suppose my question would fall under the category of “can a practicing Christian be a Shambhala practitioner or are the Shambhala teachings only for Buddhists”? It would be wonderful if someone could clear this up for me. And I want to thank Ellen Mains for opening up these questions.


Margaret Maceart
March 11, 2010

Vajra Dog

Wow, two emails about Christianity. This is refreshing!

Thank you for writing Margaret. I could tell you what I have heard. But let’s get the official word. Can we hear from someone who knows? What is the skinny on non-buddhists in Shambhala?

Grant MacLean

Having read Noel McLellan’s and Neal Greenberg’s responses to Ellen’s powerful exposition — Noel’s with its previously omitted paragraphs in place — I’d like to thank them both for deepening and broadening my understanding of the relationship between Shambhala and Dzogchen. Sadly, though, while this doctrinal issue is now clearer to me, much of what Ellen brings to light remains unresolved.

Mr. Greenberg concludes his disquisition with an apology for not carefully reading different posts. Quite understandable: I’m in the same boat. But his quick dismissal of the Wikipedia reference — “the great Wiki,” he says — in my post seems to stem from just this source. My point was not that the online dictionary counts as some sort of an authority for practitioners — it all too obviously does not — but that a widely-understood view of Dzogchen as passed on by realised teachers is reflected even in Wikipedia.

Grant MacLean
March 12, 2010

Lyndon Antle

Hi Vajra dog

This continuing saga fascinates, especially the importance placed on opinion over teaching.

I met Trungpa at Samye Ling in Scotland in 1968, which was the closest experience of coming home I have ever had in this life time.

There was also the first experience of being loved unconditionally and without expectation of reciprocity.

Apart from a brief visit to Boulder in 1980 I have not been connected to all bereavement issues in Vajradhatu State-side and only discovered this web page today (03.12.10). It seems I have all this while been getting it wrong. I thought all I had to do was do my practice, love my guru and be grateful not only that such a magnificent Bodhisatva Mahasatva was in the world but had blessed me with his loving kindness.

Time and geography are not separation. “Father and son are one in the realm of thought”.

Lyndon Antle
Edinburgh, Scotland
March 12, 2010

Mr Neutral

Thank you to Rita Ashworth for discussing my query. On an unrestrained impulse, I called a friend of mine who was on the first Shambhala expeditionary force to Nova Scotia with Trungpa Rinpoche and the Regent. She was just one of the members of this small party. According to her recollections, Trungpa Rinpoche talked quite a lot about local dieties during this time and about Shambhala being like the Shinto religion of Japan. He planted a Shambhala flag way up north in the tip of Cape Breton. I don’t know if it still exists but Trungpa Rinpoche also drew a map of Nova Scotia as a deity holding in her hands a bowl containing three jewels. The bowl, Trungpa Rinpoche said, was Prince Edward Island. And I asked my source (sorry I can’t give her name as she wishes to remain anonymous) about Margaret Maceart’s question concerning whether or not a Shambhala practitioner could be a Christian or for that matter a practitioner of another religion. She said, according to CTR, Shambhala could include people of various religious practices because Shambhala was not culturally Buddhist, but a unique spirituality not unlike Shintoism. Concerning terma, my friend also stated that Trungpa Rinpoche said that terma would be found that was uniquely Shambhalian, and not Buddhist. I did get permission to quote her in this letter. I hope this information will prove helpful, especially to Ms Maceart. However, it would seem that under the current system of Shambhala Buddhism one would have to be Buddhist to be a Shambhala practitioner.

Mr Neutral
March 13, 2010

Vajra Dog

Thank you Mr Neutral — BTW, are you any relation to Mr. Natural? He was one of my first teachers.

Anyway, thanks for the info. So … is this the official policy? Does one have to be a Buddhist to be a Shambhala practitioner? Anybody else?

Connie Moffit

Dear Sangha,

On reading these pieces, I happened to recall:

“Since everything is but an apparition, perfect in being what it is, having nothing to do with acceptance or rejection, good or bad, one may well burst out in laughter.” ~ Longchenpa


Nick Trautz

To those with broken hearts:

Why did you trust the Dorje Dradul when he told you to cut your hair, wear a suit, and enjoy the wealth of your senses? How could you have possibly trusted him when he dressed you up in khaki and boots and made you march, raise the flags and shoot the cannon? Didn’t you have hesitation? Doubts? Could you really see where this was all leading? Something must have seemed familiar, worthy of trust.

Can you trust his son, whose smile is also unimpeded like sunlight in a cloudless sky, someone who is always, always, always kind?

I served the Sakyong every day for almost two years and never saw him, even once, say an unkind word. To me, that’s true siddhi. I can trust in that kindness, regardless of what “lineage” it comes from. Sometimes it doesn’t all make sense, but is there something there you can trust in?

As we lay dying, I seriously doubt that it will matter whether we see before us the white light of Shiwa Okar or the passionate flames of Vajrayogini, the broad smile of the Dorje Dradul, or the gentle gestures of Sakyong Mipham. In the history of Buddhism, the practices of one monastery, country or culture are often unrecognizable as dharma to the perspective of others. But we know that if you have been genuine, in connection or loneliness, the blessings will be there.

As for this lifetime, yes, we need to do the hard, hard work of being a family. After all, Rigden, in Tibetan, means “endowed with family” or “holder of family”. Do not feel dismissed, disheartened or left out. The policies of SI will change, again and again as they always have. The power of whatever blessings you have received will not. If you speak the language of loving kindness and No Big Deal, there’s probably not too much to worry about. My experience of the gurus is that they don’t worry too much.

The Sakyong has said again and again that he will support us to practice the sadhanas if we choose – he gave a beautiful vajrakilaya abhisheka this year. I bet there are many more abhishekas to come – there’s a reason the Sakyong is still receiving and practicing the Nyingma traditions.

Frankly, sometimes SI’s roadblocks are meant to be creatively bypassed…nothing wrong there, just a challenge to our sense of humor and our determination.

I do not want to dismiss anyone’s experience — I know it feels devastating to lose that sense of home, I really do. And I don’t particularly agree with how material is being presented in our centers. But somehow that seems beside the point, because it just seems clear that whether we knew the Vidhyadhara, Sakyong Mipham, or both, we are completely drenched in blessings that will take us as far as we dare to go…and hopefully we can go together in one taste.

March 14, 2010

Vajra Dog

Dear Nick, this is well said. I like “SI’s roadblocks are meant to be creatively bypassed.” It is good to hear from someone with personal and positive experience of serving Sakyong Mipham. Thank you for writing.

VD, March 14, 2010

Rita Ashworth

Dear Vajra Dog

It is interesting that Nick Trautz has brought up the idea of family and that this is where he finds his inspiration from in regard to the Shambhala teachings.

Part of the way I have been thinking about the Shambhala teachings has also been in the connection of family, family though with a much wider application being just the human beings that I meet in the street and work with and indeed sometimes play with. Humanity is my family — isn’t there an old Buddhist saying about sangha being everyone? I dont know where its quoted.

So the idea of humanity as family not having the full Shambhala teachings is kind of tipping me into a sense of slight woe —its like no that can’t happen — t’s almost a kind of revulsion at the sense of exclusion, visceral one might say.

Neal Greenberg

I love that question, especially given what I said about Shambhala and Buddhism. It seems that a Christian, HIndu, Shinto or Taoist can all be Shambhalian. I think it boils down to this: can a Christian experience open heartedness, compassion, kindness, bravery, basic goodness and wisdom, traits uncovered by the practice of meditation? It’s hard to think that a Chistian could not practice those traits. Yesterday, I taught Shambhala training and it included several Christians who were every bit as engaged as any Buddhist. If we practice caring about others as our main motivation, I think great things will happen. We are, after all, human beings.

As Vajra Dog said, it’s nice to see positive comments about the Sakyong. Thanks Nick for a sentiment so many of us share who love the Sakyong. He is a great and virtuous leader. As his father said, “who wouldn’t follow him?”. It’s hard to imagine anyone better to lead the lineage of Shambhala. Thanks for that post.

March 14, 2010

Vajra Dog

Okay. So there’s our answer. A Christian can be a Shambhalian.

Mr. Greenberg. Thank you for clearing this up.

VD, March 14, 2010

Margaret Maceart

I’m not certain that Neal is quite understanding my question… Obviously, Christians can “experience open heartedness, compassion, kindness, bravery, basic goodness and wisdom” I never felt any of the writers to this site were so ignorant as to suggest such a thing! I’m surprised that Neal felt anyone was saying something so foolish. The issue for me, is that being a Christian IS my religion, and it is important to me and to the harmony of my family.

If I were to become a “Buddhist”, that would cause a bit of an issue for me, family wise. Also, I personally have no desire to take on that moniker, although I greatly respect and see the value in Trungpa Rinpoche’s teachings. I was attracted to Shambhala Training because it seemed to be a spiritual practice rather than a religion- and yet, of course it contains the wisdom of the teachings. It seemed to me that I could be a Shambhalian Christian, much as one might be a Shambhalian Buddhist or a Shambhalian Sufi. However, now with these new changes, I feel that to be a Shambhala practitioner IS to be a Buddhist. That these 2 things have become one and the same- that “Shambhala ” is now a Tibetan Buddhist lineage. Can anyone relieve my concerns? Thank you all!!


Margaret Maceart
March 14, 2010

Michael Chender

I was involved in the initial rounds of teaching Shambala Training and later in its administration, so I had the opportunity to hear the Dorje Dradul speak about these issues a number of times. My abiding impression was that Shambala Training was meant to speak to the heart of any genuine tradition. To show how unfettered that vision was, in 1987 I had a meeting with Gerald Red El, a spiritual leader of the Lakota Sioux and friend of the Dorje Dradul’s, who wanted to explore us doing Shambhala Training on the reservation to “help the young braves rediscover their own traditions.” ! He unfortunately died soon after so nothing came out of it.

March 14, 2010


Margaret Maceart is right and just wants a plain answer to her question: will she be labeled Buddhist if she goes on with Shambhala training— She does not want silly offensive talk on if a Christian can experience open heartedness, compassion, bravery etc. I add that newcomers do not need confusing discussions about if Shambhala originally was intended for all religions, if it is so, or if it should be or it could be, if it is another religion and the rest of the blah, blah.

She wants to know today if she has to become a Buddhist to continue. Please give her and other Christians a frank answer. Why is the long list of acaryas, the top teachers, keeping quiet for so many years and not answering these fundamental questions—

As far I know what used to be “Shambhala” has been modified into what is now called “Shambhala Buddhism” emphasizing that clearly, without doubt, today, right now, intends to be a form of Buddhism.

March 16, 2010

Margaret Maceart

Dear Vajradog,

I would like to thank Mr Chender, Mr Greenberg and Mr Neutral for their responses to my questions. I am very interested in Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s vision of Shambhala but am sometimes quite amazed that so few Shambhala people seem to know anything about its origins. If, indeed, Trungpa Rinpoche had intended for the Shambhala teachings to be seperate from Buddhist teachings, then whatever happened to his intention— As a person from another religious tradition I could go and study at almost any Buddhist monastery or center to learn meditation and other Buddhist teachings. What had interested me about Shambhala was that it might have been a separate culture to which many traditions could participate in freely – such as the Lakota Sioux that Mr Chender referred to.

Perhaps Trungpa Rinpoche changed his mind and decided to combine the Shambhala training with the Buddhist training, making it into a new family lineage, called Shambhala Buddhism. It seems to me that there is some turmoil within the Shambhala sangha. I understand by reading blogs and emails on the web that there is concern about taking down the Buddhist painting from the shrine room and replacing it with a Shambhala painting of mythical origin, which seems to me a little like cross dressing. Please forgive me for my irreverent humour, but I like to talk freely about issues without fear of retribution.

So, taking all of this into account, I think I’ll politely refrain from taking Shambhala teachings at this time. I sincerely wish everyone good fortune on your endeavors and will be interested to see how things evolve.

Most sincerely yours,
March 16, 2010

Lhathong Tsomo

Dear Vajra Dog:

For what it’s worth, here’s a snip from the discussion on your website of the “Taming the Mind” material (written, I believe, by Robert Walker):

*Possible three-fold logic for Talk One

*Ground: Nature of mind (sem, chitta) as sense of separateness, that which has an other, the activity of “minding.” Exaggeration of this experience of separation brings desperation, a sense of hopelessness, feeling entrapped within samsara.. Awareness of this as the working ground is “the motive.”

*Path: The willingness to expose this, the simplicity of abiding with this situation, and with basic dualism.

*Fruition: Relating to first thought. Trusting first thought.

I sympathise with Ellen Main’s dilemma, and respect the pain.she’s experiencing. If we go by the three-fold logic above, that experience of separation could be called the Ground.

Her guru would probably be proud of her, that she’s now embarked on the Path, her willingness to expose this and deal with basic dualism..

I hope she will share with all of us when she realizes the Fruition.

Lhathong Tsomo

March 16 2010

Diederik Prakke

Dear Vajradog,

I too found Ellen’s writing, and very many of the responses, profoundly sad and heartening — bringing so much to light of what has been stirring my soul. Probably this debate itself is a tribute to the sanity that the Vidyadhara wanted to give back to us.

My main point is that the pain we experience on the path is not only caused by what the Sakyong does, but also by who he is, and beyond that by what reality is. The biggest release from that is seeing things as tghey are, as Ellen does.

So a main point I would like to make is that our heartache is in essence not about the relationship between Shambhala and Buddhism. It is about the resonance we feel for different teachers and people at different times in our lives. My heart longs for a world in which Dorje Trollo Karma Pakshi, the Vidhyadhara, the Vajra Regent, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, Khandro Tseyang, Reginald Ray, Lady Diana, Patrick Sweeney and Lady Rich can be seen to be in true harmony, and a world where Regent or Karmapa controversies are not conveniently conceiled. But reality is that while we get to see fantanstic glimpses of inspiration, are hearts remain broken. —We are not going to get it all together’, as Ani Pema says (in a slightly different context). The more we have glimpsed undivided wholeheartedness, the harder it is to accept that Shambhala is not yet manifest and how we ourselves are scattered (probably the darkness of the soul that mother Theresa but also Thich Nhat Hanh know about).

As the Regent noted —Our devotion is what it is’, so we may make friends with being more touched by some teachers than by others, and some days more than others (once we are fully touched, we may be paranoyed about it).

The key issue is therefore not —just’ about whether the Sakyong makes the right choices — and the decisions at stake are not the multiple choice type questions (with one correct answer) that our media make us believe in. In a sense the Sakyong is —only’ our projection screen for inherent pains of samsara. Once we know about falling in love, we want that perfect world 24/7, but it does not happen, specially not until we give in to the fact that it will not happen. Certain things develop organically, and probably often our teachers too can also not see the path beyond the next valley either — and they may not have a problem choosing a trail that they may later decide to backtrack. With me personally the Shambhala ngondro resonates deeply. While not wanting to have a partyline, I notice how perplexed and sad I am when others do not feel or uphold that connection with this practice. Yet this does not translate in having strong views on whether or not Shambhala Buddhism is the right track (although I understand that for older dogs this is an issue).

Even if I suggest that most pain does not root in —wrong’ (left alone —evil’) decisions, I see the pain of myself and others, when we seem to loose each other, and specially when we loose each other because we feel we are no longer allowed to feel as we do feel. The leadership of Shambhala has a profound influence on how well different people feel at home – and this is terribly important. I feel profoundly with those who wrote that much of the warmth of the Vidyadhara comes through his older students, so I hope we stay connected, whether or not not inside one house.

Lastly I wish to add something different, which I somewhat missed in the discussions so far: That I rejoice and wish the Sakyong and our beautiful Sakyong Wangmo the very best of love and power in this year of pregnancy and retreat.

Diederik, Kathmandu
March 17, 2010

Ashley Howes

Ellen Mains wrote towards the end of her extraordinary letter (for which heartfelt thanks):

“Therefore whenever a community or an organization begins to overemphasize uniformity of view as a primary value, this does not really encourage people to trust their intelligence on either a personal or societal level. I feel there is a not-so-subtle flavor of this happening within our beloved mandala.

For this reason I feel sadness. I also feel sadness because there is still so much to learn and appreciate from the Vidyadhara’s legacy. I would like to hope that those of us who have had the precious opportunity of being his close students will continue to be able to share our understanding of his legacy while we are still alive, under the banner of Shambhala, without this being viewed as running counter to the Sakyong’s vision, or as clinging to the past. For the samaya we each have is ultimately personal and intimate. It is actually who we are. And Shambhala can only be realized based on the trust in basic goodness that arises from within each of us, not as a collective, but as people — unique individuals with unique contributions to offer. “

In the subsequent comments, there are heartfelt statements by others, including younger members, expressing a sense of disconnect; a forthright argument by the Venerable Greenberg about the inherent inseparability of BuddhaDharma and Kalapayana citing many sources including Kalapa Assembly talks oft-consulted when contemplating these and related ‘political’ issues, along with some questions, also raised in Ellen’s article, about whether or not a devout, practicing Christian can follow the Way of Shambhala as currently presented.

I believe that all these things are related in ways that Ellen laid out in so clear and tender a fashion. However, I would like to frame some of this dynamic in a different way, namely from the point of view of the journey of a student-practitioner in our mandala, and let us take as an example someone like Margaret Maceart who is contemplating studying the Way of Shambhala and who stated above: “The issue for me, is that being a Christian IS my religion, and it is important to me and to the harmony of my family.” In other words, will Margaret Maceart’s life benefit from taking Shambhala Training and the Sacred Path terma teachings, and moreover in so doing, will she as a devout member of and positive contributor to her current Christian congregation also thereby benefit—

Nobody can definitively answer this of course, but a hint is given by Ellen above: ‘Shambhala can only be realized based on the trust in basic goodness that arises from within each of us, not as a collective, but as people — unique individuals with unique contributions to offer.’

Now this statement was related to issues involving her sense of connection. Although I too have experienced a personally distressing sense of “the extremity of his (SMR’s) separation from the students, or of a particular teaching tone or approach which simply doesn’t resonate for me”, this brings up an interesting dichotomy of sorts, namely: if Shambhala is indeed a larger society within which various individuals and wisdom lineages, including Christian congregations, might find a larger home or even ‘national identity’, then surely each citizen having an intimate, personal connection with the guru principle is not an essential element— If this is so, what is or will be the common thread— Apart from a shared experience with sitting practice, which I believe will always remain the common experiential bedrock of Shambhala Society, what is it that makes a sense of this larger, Shambhalian ‘we’, one hopefully able to include someone like Margaret— Moreover, how could someone like Margaret later on communicate her own Shambhala-enriched wisdom and insight to members of her congregation and family not only atmospherically via her state of being, but also explicitly, such as by providing meditation instruction, leading discussions and so on without necessarily having to do so under any official umbrella— In other words, can the Shambhala Teachings ‘go out’ to Margaret and then via Margaret when she shares them in whatever way she is inspired with her friends, family and fellow congregation members who in turn spread then further in a natural, and often local, way, much as was done in the early days of the non-tantric Buddhist sanghas which spread mainly from person to person—

I do not feel, unfortunately, that this is currently the case, rather that what we offer is a journey that offers ever more profound inner and secret vistas. It is a journey that leads into an ever-narrowing, concentrated, ritualized, self-involved, esoteric ‘tantric mandala’ – as Noel accurately defined it. I believe that the Druk Sakyong in some of the talks cited by Neal also defined it thusly without explicitly saying so.

If this is the case, can someone like Margaret, a practicing Christian, enter into a path that will lead her into becoming an esoteric adept swearing loyalty to a tantric Dharma King and still remain true to her Christian faith and congregation— Perhaps I am wrong, but I don’t think so, neither doctrinally (which I am not qualified to determine) nor atmospherically, which latter because of the above-mentioned dynamic, namely that of leading students into an increasingly rarified and exclusive realm wherein the higher you go the more your relationship and contact with the reigning Lineage Holder matters. Furthermore, merging Shambhala and Buddhadharma in the educational streams might further accentuate this dynamic.

This trajectory is not how Shambhala is generally described, either to new or older students, and yet it seems to be the case, or at the least a widespread paradigm. This problematic aspect was addressed years ago in the clumsily expressed mission aspiration slogan: ‘turn the flower outward’. But does ‘outreach’ mean gathering more and more people under the same tent with all members of that population gazing at the one in the teacher’s chair— And if so, does this not undermine any role for individual or local initiative because the larger, international community – which by definition has no single locality – is ultimately an inner mandala, and thus placeless, home— And in this case does this not also mean that Shambhala itself is only a kingdom on the inner and secret levels, not the outer— And if this is so, then surely it is simply a new religion, in which case it might well be questionable for a practicing Christian, Muslim or Jew, for example, to participate whole heartedly beyond the initial levels— This relates to the comments about Shinto above, in that I suspect that Shambhala drala generally arise with confluence of awareness and local energy, such drala being a function of individual (but not egotistic) awareness, confidence, sanity and so forth which itself is not beholden to anything other than the living power of the present moment and current place, aka good ‘ol ‘here and now’. This, for example, is why programs can be ‘powerful’, when all gather together in one place and time. However, society cannot be run by extra-curricular, as it were, programs; for human society is a 24/7 affair.

In conclusion, I think generally that we have developed an over-emphasis on the profound inner tantric mandalas with their necessary dependence on relation to the guru at the expense of the more vast outer hinayana-mahayana approaches which remain firmly rooted in the conventional world of living individuals and local communities, not to mention all beings therein. (Indeed, quite possibly we have obliged the Sakyong to carry too much of a burden for too long and he now might feel he must centralize things more in order to make any significant headway, such centralization creating further alienation for those not so attuned to the inner mandala dynamic.) Furthermore, in so doing we have yet to properly build our own peer-level institutional infrastructure, such as hinted at by CTR in the notion of Dekyong Councils, a ‘nyen’ level lineage responsible for the many doctrinal, legal, financial, parliamentary and community-related functions for which any long-lived tradition needs to care. Once the fixation with always looking to the central Guru Principal is lessened, perhaps then a more expansive, vast dynamic can unfold, one in which the Shambhala approach naturally spreads from person to person and with far more room for individual initiative, far more differences between each local area where various individuals spontaneously magnetize local groups and so forth, rather than a centralised, totalitarian-style perpetual growth model, or as Ellen put it, a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.

Then someone like Margaret can not only benefit from the Shambhala Way, but in so doing she will also enrich them and us further, bringing into this living, unfolding Shambhalian process her own talents, inspiration and insight, first as student, then as teacher.

But as it is, this sort of expansive conventional-dharmas level approach does not seem to be generally in evidence – again in terms of tracking the typical trajectory of a student-practitioner’s journey in our mandala. It seems that the Sakyong, along with many others, has often mentioned this unfortunate dynamic, but nevertheless it remains. Any solution will have little, if anything, to do with doctrinal or curricular fine-tuning. Rather, perhaps it’s something as simple as conscientiously exploring what elements of our mandala exist outside the tantric inner core and how best to develop them as self-sustaining lineages in their own right firmly rooted in conventional, versus religious or tantric, society. At that point, a significant shift in the overall dynamic might naturally unfold, to the relief and liberation of many, at which point current Shambhalians will find themselves open not only to better share their practices and insights but also to benefit from the teachings that will no doubt be offered to us by the many Margarets of this our basically good world.

Ashley Howes,
March 17,
Cape Breton.

Norbert Hasenoehrl

Lieber Vajrahund, or indestructible Köter, or whatever,

I just spent an hour reading through the accumulated comments to Ellen’s piece. Now, here is something further, I would like to add:

I do at this point not wish to join the discussion about the nature and origins of the Shambhala teachings; I will leave that to the more learned people. But what strikes me here is that so many people are unwilling to give their names. What kind of retribution do they fear— If there is real retribution of whatever kind to be feared from any level of the Shambhala organisation, then that is real problem. But even if that is NOT the case, one would still wonder why so many people choose to remain anonymous. Doesn’t that tell us something about what’s going within SI these days— The fear of being identified as a “critic” or as an “outsider”, a “dissident” seems to pervade the atmosphere. And on the other hand maybe that is one reason why a lot of people in the Shambhala administration do not believe there are real problems. Not everybody reads the discussion on the “Chronicles” or “Radio Free Shambhala” websites. For Shambhala in order to survive as something different from Scientology there has to be real honesty, real openness, and that includes that someone who has something to say about SMR, about the organisation or about whatever should be able and willing to stand up and do so, and that includes saying who you are.

And then there is a brave person like Margaret Maceart who asks a really simple question: “Can I do Shambhala training, can I engage in the Shambhala teachings without having to be a Buddhist—” And as far as I can see she did not get a proper answer yet. I personally think you can, but unfortunately I am no longer a member of Shambhala International and I have no idea of what the official position on this issue might be these days.

And yes, I agree: Where are the “Acharyas”, where is anybody who might have some influence within SI today, joining this discussion— I would like to read a statement by, let’s say, John Rockwell, or Adam Lobel, or Larry Mermelstein or Jeremy Hayward, where are they— Someone mentioned that you actually do not hear about these discussions outside of those two websites, Chronicles and RFS. And that seems to be true. It would be a VERY courageous step for SI to actually include those debates within their own webspace. Then one could begin to ask questions like (for instance, just comes to mind): Why was it necessary to have big and grandiose reunion talks with Patrick Sweeney and his people while the question of the alienation of hundreds of the Vidyadhara’s students (hundreds in Boulder alone, I am told) is yet waiting to be addressed by SMR— But I am getting carried away.

Thanks to everybody who participates in this discussion. But I would like to know who you are.

Norbert Hasenoehrl, Austria
March 18, 2010

Michael Chender

Thank you Ashley, very elegantly put. A great advertisement for the focusing power of living in Cape Breton!

I don’t think we have yet developed the language and discrimination to clearly differentiate between the Sakyong as guru and the Sakyong as the head or binding element of a society. They are currently conflated in a lot of the discussion around this issue, which I would guess accounts for 80% of the (as yet unpacked) disagreements. Like relative and absolute truth, or ground and path, they both meet at one point and demand different views and methods. To date, the prevailing approach seems to be using the guru/disciple lens to view the development of society, which is not a very promising proposition.

March 18,2010

Arthur Conolly

Rejoice! The lineage of Sakyongs has been established.

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche and the Sakyong Wangmo, Khandro Tseyang are jubilantly and universally congratulated on the birth of the new princess!!. The great Thangka of Vajradhara is to be taken to the newly created hall of the ancestors built in the Kalapa valley. All of Trungpa Rinpoche’s former students are invited to the Kalapa Palace to a gala event to be bestowed with many titles and honors! For her bravery and devotion, Ellen Mains is given a post in the reorganized Shambhala government. Reggie Ray receives a knighthood in recognition of his outstanding valour and devotion to expounding Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s teachings. Ashley Howes is created Baron Lord of the Isles of Cape Breton, and Dr Norbert Hasenoehrl is named Surgeon General of Shambhala. The unity between the older and newer students is celebrated!! A few hard core dissidents retreat to Cape Breton where they form family Clans, wear tartan kilts, play bagpipes, write poetry and drink whiskey. And while proclaiming independence, they remain loyal to Shambhala. The outer world takes notice of the Sakyong as one who rises above conflicts and settles them joyously. Investment as the next Dalai Lama is quite possible. Shambahla becomes an International player in The Great Game! Foreign banks are interested in making investments in world wide influential non-profit corporations, and are already looking at Shambhala International. Queen Noor and other dignitaries are invited by the Sakyong and the Sakyong Wangmo to visit Shambhala. Investments by large multi-national groups proceeds the building of a splendid Shambhala palace with governmental offices where all the subjects are represented. The Sakyong has joined Heaven Earth and Man!! There is jubilation and joy throughout the land.

But then, there is always the unexpected… On a moonlight night, a prince or princess, a shadowy figure, leaves its crown on the palace steps and disappears into the forest. So drink up, me hearties! Yo Ho!

March 23,2010

The Dog says:

Thanks for the happy ending Arthur. Maybe we should see if Speilberg’s interested.

Gary Allen

Well, this a lot to respond to. The most difficult thing, maybe the crucial thing here, is the issue of blending Shambhala and Buddhism. And I’ll say I’d always understood that the Shambhala path was supposed to be complete on its own. As we know, Trungpa Rinpoche discouraged relying on Buddhist concepts for elucidating this back in the day. I think this was in order to make sure it developed its own flavor and wasn’t understood as “Buddhism Lite.” It needed to be understood on its own terms, as its own lineage of transmission. This was actually important to me personally. It took till “Level D” as I recall to get that it wasn’t merely a translation of Buddhist concepts into some more publically digestible version (although in some ways, that’s precisely what it is), but that it had its own force, own world, own particular blessing.

That said, try and see it for a minute from the point of view of the Sakyong’s task here: establishing KOS. What has to happen for that to come about— If you think about it carefully, there aren’t a lot of easy answers there. I’m sure there are all kinds of possible ideas, and I certainly can’t say whether Trungpa Rinpoche would have chosen the particular path that he’s chosen. But some kind of decisions had to be made. If he’s going to bring people into the level of even just doing the werma practice, he’s said he felt there was a problem with them not understanding emptiness. Back in the day, virtually all the werma practitioners were Buddhist. In fact, to have gone through Seminary as well as the Shambhala levels wasn’t by itself necessarily enough background to get accepted to Kalapa Assembly. Is there any getting around the fact that Kalapa Assembly was essentially composed of Buddhists who already understood things about emptiness, visualization, and so on— Along this line as well, Trungpa Rinpoche himself told the Sakyong when he was much younger that he’d have to write some of the practices and texts to fill in what he hadn’t, and clearly this included a ngondro for the werma sadhana.

So, briefly, there’s that kind of problem in propagating the advanced teachings of Shambhala. There seems to be some reliance on understanding clearly things like emptiness and the bodhisattva path, and the practices by nature require devotion and samaya. How do you get the maximum number of people into those practices while at the same time assuring that they know sufficiently what they’re doing— It’s at least an open issue, and I imagine a rather sharp issue for the Sakyong, as he’s the one ultimately responsible for their transmission.

Does training the hard core Shambhala students in the elements of its different lineage transmissions necessarily mean that people who are not all the way on the inside are automatically excluded from Shambhala or its teachings— And could this not be some phase to make the situation evolve in certain ways that will create a stronger, more accommodating ground for non-Buddhists in the long run— If the point of the Scorpion Seal teaching is to actualize Shambhala as a living experience, and these are the quintessential practices for achieving that, then isn’t the fate of KOS tied up in our exploring and applying this experience— Are we necessarily looking down the road far enough here—

A primary fear she’s voicing is that the Shambhala teachings are watered down by the Buddhist ones. There are many, many people who fear the opposite: the dharma teachings are watered down by the Shambhala ones. Well, which is it— One, the other, both—

I think, based on a little experience with the Way of Shambhala curriculum, and also something we did years ago called the “Shambhala Seminary,” and also the Rigden Ngondro and the 2008 Seminary, which were more Shambhala oriented, as well as the Rigden Abhisheka & Scorpion Seal, what’s happening is simply that certain principles are now centralized, in particular: lungta, ashe, the four dignities, GES, Rigden, & drala. I genuinely do think that if the Vidyadhara had lived another forty years or maybe even just ten, he would have done something similar to make them even more important, more centralized, more what everyone works with. I remember Trungpa Rinpoche was going to do a Vajrayana seminary purely for tantrikas, and they put it out that everyone had to go through Shambhala Training and (I think) Kalapa Assembly to attend that. He died, that never happened, but it clearly was not his view that you could just study vajrayana; he made the Shambhala teachings essential to that. So I think in either case, for either Sakyong, to be involved deeply in our community was to work with them both, understand them both, apply them both.

Her discussion of what the Sakyong said (last summer–I do now recall him saying this) about us not manifesting as teachers and gathering disciples needs to be understood in context, which was to some extent implied. Since he took over the job, he’s been relentlessly criticized by the older students practically from day one until now. Some of the criticism, he perhaps deserved, for all I know, but he was a young man taking on a very wounded situation, and he had to grow into the job on stage. He went around the globe visiting even minor centers, he listened carefully to where people were at, and eventually he started to institute his own developments. He was attacked unmercifully for merely expanding the shamatha teachings. This was, in my view, a completely incoherent clinging to the past, not to accept this simple level of tweaking, particularly given how Trungpa Rinpoche continual revised things and pulled the rug out from under us in large and small ways along those very lines. Anyway, I don’t need to go back through the whole history, but the whole thing’s gone on unabated till now. It’s quite exhausting.

In my own case, I thought it was best to let him make his way and find his seat. I’ll always remember early on in his tenure being in audience with Khandro Rinpoche at Marpa House, where she said to us pointedly about the Sakyong: “You can make him or you can break him.” She made it clear that it wasn’t just up to him but us as well. Sakyong Mipham’s not now, nor will he ever be the same kind of flashy teacher that Rinpoche and the Regent were, but he’s the real thing. This seems quite obvious to me. It’s his seat, he’s taken it, he’s the man, whether we like or not, and he attracts a lot of people–and I think this really has to be said–that Trungpa Rinpoche and the Regent probably wouldn’t have based on that very style. In any case, the situation has moved far along from their era, and he has to be on the Sakyong throne to establish KOS, and he has no choice but to do it through his own personality.

The particular issue he was addressing at the Scorpion Seal was not intended to denigrate the older students, but to make clear that if he was going to lead us into the Scorpion Seal teachings and if he was going to at least advance us toward KOS, we really needed to accept him as the teacher in the situation, the vajra master and the vajra king. He said very clearly that to go on beyond the first year of Scorpion Seal meant we had to make a real commitment to the task of doing so, and there wasn’t anyone else who could do this. If we felt like other teachers were the ones we had a greater commitment to, then he couldn’t sit there and say he was better than them because, and I quote, “it’s not true.” But if we’re going all in on the Scorpion Seal, and I think by implication on the KOS project, then we had to take him seriously as the teacher, accept samaya with him, and go forward. In his own, I personally think, pretty humble style, he was saying, “Look, I’m the teacher here. You need to relate to that, and take it seriously.” And personally I think he could have used much sharper language and been justified.

Ellen’s comment about being literally on the same floor and him not so much as sticking his head in the office to say hello might be a worthwhile criticism. It wouldn’t take all that much and would end up meaning a lot to someone–probably anyone–sitting behind that desk. At the same time, he’s presiding over a bigger and bigger situation. He said last summer he wanted Shambhala to generate “twelve million new people.” That’s not exactly thinking small, and I really think that’s where he’s intending to take it, whether we ever get literally that large or not. Him coming in to teach, as she described, all these many people people at the Garchen–I was present at this during the 2008 Seminary, where all vajrayana levels were put together–is probably just a fact of life. Trungpa Rinpoche set this situation up to grow exponentially, not be a small, intimate dharma scene forever. But allow me to say, I didn’t feel alienated by the experience. I found it powerful. It wasn’t an impediment. When the thing grows to Dalai Lama level, with thousands of people being the routine, I’m afraid it’s going to be not so intimate as it is now. That’s where it’s headed, I’ll bet, and that, as far as I can tell, was exactly what Trungpa Rinpoche wanted–bigger and bigger and bigger tents completely packed with practitioners.

The last thing I’ll say is that listening to his teachings on Shambhala I was left dazzled and with the complete conviction that no one understands Shambhala as the Vidyadhara taught it anywhere near as well as he does. If they do, then let them go on for pages interpreting some word or phrase of the Vidyadhara’s and have every single thing they say add to the depth of our understanding. Then you’ve got an argument. But, no, if anyone thinks they understand it better than him, I’m completely convinced based on experience, that’s nothing but arrogance. He understands Shambhala to an incredible degree, and he holds the Buddhist lineages based on a lot of experience, practice, and study. I have no doubt about his ability with either, none whatsoever. I think it is and undoubtedly should be open to discussion what it means to combine the two, is it a good idea, or what, but if you took the samaya oath ink on your tongue, licking that brush in Trungpa Rinpoche’s hand that committed you to propagating the Kingdom of Shambhala, you are already in the bamboo tube on that one generally.

Of course, there are a lot of levels of propagating the kingdom of Shambhala, but I’m often appalled at how dismissively people regard that commitment. Like you could just go to another teacher, stay safe in your dharma nest, and that’s that. We committed ourselves to doing this, and the world bitterly needs our help. Sakyong Mipham may not be the same personality as Trungpa Rinpoche, he may not make every decision as you feel like he should, but he’s a powerful leader, he really does have the transmission and understand the teachings–Buddhist and Shambhala–inside out. We can’t just go along as we always have; the situation must evolve according to planting certain seeds and developing its vision. This is how Trungpa Rinpoche always proceeded: with big vision and creativity. Frankly, I’m good with what the Sakyong is doing, even if it means we can’t all agree on the methodology. We’re never going to all agree, but we still need to accomplish the task of KOS. Without Sakyong Mipham, there’s no hope for this at all; with him, we have a genuine shot at advancing what was closest to Trungpa Rinpoche’s heart. That’s how I see it.

March 26, 2010

Rita Ashworth

Dear All

Wow that was a powerful post from Mr Allen. Interesting to consider all the points that he made. I have some points to make on it though.

Heres where I am coming from personally I don’t think we are even aware of our own western traditions re Christianity, Judaism, literature etc etc fully. I think there are connection points re Buddhist ‘concepts’ of emptiness within these disciplines. For example losing oneself in the love of God — is that agape — the Greek word for love, surely this comes close to the —concept’ of emptiness.

As to Khandro Rinpoche’s remark I think it can be taken either way — the feedback from the older students could be taken as quite good — maybe the Sakyong should listen to them more — maybe some way could be developed for all religious disciplines to partake fully in these teachings -that also is a possibility.

I agree the Sakyong has an impossible job in some ways either way he goes, but I would ask him very concretely about the 12 million people manifesting re KOS – I would say to create this kingdom you do really need to be inclusive, diverse, connected to the west totally for in some ways being western has taken over the zeitgeist of the planet, and really meet people from where they are coming from. And where they are coming from for me is not Buddhism, though I do appreciate all the subtle connections at the present time that the teachings have with the dharma, but yet again I must say with historical process I believe this will change. I really do think SI has jumped the gun too early, and set their hair on fire too soon in regard to the setting up of a KOS vision.

I think, no —believe’ that we will uncover different ways into the Kingdom of Shambhala as we begin to meditate in all the new groups that are springing up — to me that is inevitable not mere wishful thinking.

Looking forward to more comments on Mr Allens post.

Best Rita Ashworth

Pawo Baner

Dear watch dog

by accident I was reading all those opinions, wow what a manifest, thanks Ellen for your dedication to stir up all that. It’s late but never to late.

As student of CTR I felt long time ago the uneasiness of bringing together the Shambhala and Buddadharma in that way.

It`s interesting to see that history all repeats itself.

As student of CTR I continue to teach and feel more openess to extend myself to all traditions and beings and strangely enough happen to end up in positions I never thought before.

greetings to all 🙂
Pawo Baner

Suzanne Townsend

From John’s post, it seems that he thinks we are ignoring our selective memory that, back in the day, we used to cry “exodus” every time there was a disturbing incident or development. That is not correct and anyone who was there will agree with me that there were never cries of exodus. And, nowhere near “hundreds (thousands—)” actually joined and exited under the Vidyadhara. There were many lookie-loos who never joined in the first place. That is very different. There were not hundreds who left, that is just absurd.

There were panic attacks of all kinds every week that things were changing and we did not know where we stood, but the group energy never came close to what is currently taking place. John noted that the biggest split of all was over the Regent. I say that one does not hold a candle to this one. The Regent and some students moved to Ojai and started another centre and the lines were drawn. This is much bigger and deeper and longer and more profound and the lines are not drawn. This is taking place in every center and in the heart of the mandala in Halifax and it is not going away.

I really think John is marginalizing the current situation by saying “Oh this has happened before, what is the big deal!” He puts the concern over this very fundamental shift (in governance and/or in practice path) on the same level as concern over one tulku being vegetarian and the next one eating meat. That is not an apt parallel. Changing the fundamental structure of the Shambhala world is a far cry from being a vegetarian or not. I doubt that Trungpa’s students and lineage are overly concerned that the current Sakyong likes to run, for example. John says it’s just a matter of transferring loyalty or not, but it goes so much deeper than that. Such comparisons feel to me on the level of the woman in a Halifax meeting who dismissed such concerns as “complaining.”

John ends by chiding all dissenters for not seeing the current Sakyong as truly lineage and implying that since Trungpa’s Tibetan peers are all for the current Sakyong so we should be too. Talk about selective memory — he forgets that Trungpa’s Tibetan peers were on the verge of assassinating him for going Western on them, and where’s he getting his information— Are Trungpa’s Tibetan peers really onboard with what the Sakyong is doing— I wonder.

I love John to little bits for his continuously light, bright attitude that dramas are in the end no big deal. But in this case I feel that approach is misplaced.


Alan Anderson

I have great sadness regarding the heartbreak some are experiencing and writing about so eloquently; at the same time, I also have great confidence that the Sakyong is bringing his father’s teachings to the world in the most powerful way imaginable. Having just viewed one of the Sakyong’s 2009 Scorpion Seal talks on the Dorje Dradul’s Heart Treasure, I find his command, tenderness and intimacy with the precious blazing teachings of his father to exceed far beyond what any one of us can postulate about what was the Dorje Dradul’s intent (with our ten quotes (more or less) that support our grasp of what was supposed to happen with the Shambhala terma).

Who of us really knows if the path the Sakyong’s work is pursuing will bear more or less fruit than we can imagine— Who can say with any certainty that currently focussing tightly on Trungpa Rinpoche’s rich terma teachings will or will not be one of the most profound gifts to the world— Who knows whether or not our narrowing of focus will fall flat, or cut through suffering like a laser— There is so much struggle to manufacture “proof” of CTR’s intent…..it’s all like writing on water. After reading Smile at Fear, I feel that there was no greater dharma taught by CTR than that of ‘Fearlessness’. This is our opportunity to apply it in a big and meaningful way. Thank You all, for your unfaltering hearts.

Tashi Armstrong

From Dudjom Rinpoche’s ” A Dear Treasure for Destined Disciples” That is you and me!

Homage to the Guru

Padmakara, the Great Master of Uddiyana, said:

Do not resolve the Dharma, Rsolve your mind. To resolve your mind is to know the one which frees all. Not to resolve your mind is to know all but lack the one.

What does this mean— It seems that this essential point is what we really need to focus on. As Buddhists we train in this way. But as the pith instructions point out again and again it depends on recognizing the essense of mind. What is this recognition—

When our involvement in one thought has stopped and we haven’t gotten caught up in the next thought. That is it.

If an organization helps you train in this — great. I am all for it. If not then what the hell are you doing— What is your involvement in the organization about— Remember, training in “just that” is the essence of the yidam, is the essence of the guru. It is to resolve your mind and that is what this is about.

As sangha we are all in this together. Bouncing up against one another, sharpening our skillfulness, seeing our unskillfulness. Just like it has always been. I don’t know. It seems like we cannot hide from this. It is so important –our samaya. What is our samaya to— It is to wakefulness, enlightenment which has been pointed out to us magnifecently by Trungpa Rinpoche, his Regent and the Sakyong.

Trungpa Rinpoche said at some point: “if you want to be close to me, practice.” It is the only way. But we have to practice correctly. We have to practice the main point. This is really adequately explained by all the past masters.

Let it fall apart and the dharma will fill your hands.

There is nothing to hold onto. There is no great legacy we are protecting — nothing to fight about. That is a big lie! Do you think Trungpa Rinpoche would have hidden behind “Shambhala”— Or “Shambhala Buddhism”— It seems to separate more than anything else. Sure, it can be a path but be careful.

What is sangha— Does it work in cyber space— I have asked this before — to myself and in other venues. When I practice with a group of people I experience something. It is alive, it is human, it is sacred. This is a little dangerous this format….

I think this is the more important question really. How do we create real practice community. Mind to mind, person to person something manifests. We need to protect that wisdom and create environments which foster it and help us realize it and manifest it. We need to focus on that.

One more thing before I go
You know I love you, so many of you I know and I miss you so much. This is the most painful aspect.
It can’t be resolved in this way.
It can’t be resolved conceptually.
It can’t be resolved in cyberspace!

I would love to do feast with you. To practice together again. This is the real deal. We have everything we need. We have been given everything we need. We are so lucky. Lets focus on the main point and help others.

All my best,

Rita Ashworth

Dear Vajra Dog,

Re Mr Anderson’s comment as to the Shambhala terma now being given the SI way — well I would be the first to agree with what they/the Sakyong were doing if I could touch in with it in a intuitional and even rational way but I just can not because intuitionally and rationally I dont think it was ever the way CTR wanted these teachings to go — am I writing on water — Well one can not argue with that can one! No I jest religious experience has always been in the realm of writing on water but that has never stopped different takes and interpretations of teachings coming forwards.

Heres where I stand on the shifting sands (perhaps another cliché that people use in exemplifying the shambhala terma and religion generally) my intuition both rationally and intuitionally is that the pandoras box of the shambhala teachings have already been let loose on the world and I dont think SI/the Sakyong or anybody can impose the one and true way upon them ever again. Look when you start talking about fearlessness you can not stop talking about fearlessness and eventually people do become fearless and then you get the terma — its the commitment angle to the level of fearlessness which you find in every religion and every secular tradition of art. And fearlessness has never been the property of one viewpoint only  — fearlessnes is inherent in everyones make-up.

I just wish the people in the shadows around Mr Neutral would come out and say yes the the door has been opened and more shambhala terma will come and it wont just be coming to the Sakyong whoever he/she is now or in the future. The teachings are out there —another cliché the X files have been opened -another cliché!

Well best from this side of the pond — its really hot in the UK now-even the Scottish National party is taking the BBC to court to be in the Debate — yo Scotland —yo Nova Scotia —hello Margaret!

Patricia Rother

Alan is right!!!

The Scorpion Seal teachings and the Sakyong are incredible profound, helpful, best medicine, and and and……


The realisation through the adminstration is pretty poor. Uncontroled Archaryas and top administrators using the system and power for cheap ego games. Installing a class system, where they are upper class (though lacking noblesse in everyway). 2., 3. 4….class has to work, pay and shut up.


Alice Lake-Zachary

Thank you, Vajra Dog, for being so bold as to print Ellen’s letter.

I was a Shambhala student until the fated “We are Shambhabla Buddhists” pronouncement at Kalapa Assembly so many years ago. When I asked, “What about the people who came only for Shambhala and had no intention of becoming Buddhists.”

Truthfully, it didn’t matter to me. I was already a Buddhist and had found my teacher who was not the Sakyong. He told me to attend Kalapa Assembly. I was asking for some of my friends who never wanted to be Buddhists.

The response from someone representing the Sakyong hovered between the stage and audience before it slammed against my ear drums, “Too bad.”

Was that really what I’d heard— I checked with a few other people later and some heard that or a variation of it, “So what.” was one that people seemed to hear.

I could only imagine one of my friends who was going to be a very angry Anglican when he discovered he was shanghaied into a new religion. I didn’t say anything to him of course. He discovered it on his own and no longer attends Shambhala functions. What a shame. He had a lot to offer as a Shambhalian.

There were many other small signposts leading me out of the Shambhala mandala during that assembly. I had many things to say about the un-shambhala like way they presented themselves through rude people or the fact that I wasn’t called to an audience with the Sakyong. I suffered because I wanted what I wanted and didn’t want what I didn’t want. I wanted to remain in the mandala for fear of losing a perceived position or friendships. I did lose that ‘position’ I thought I was on my way to. The friends I had were the friends I’ve kept.

Here’s what I’ve learned from a short time observiing and participating in Buddhist groups: there will always be something wrong with a sangha because people are involved. My path is to keep letting go of the conflict and ‘let the whirlers whirl.’

I’m still a Buddhist and a fan of Shambhala training. I am forever grateful to the Vidyadhara, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche who through his writings and work is my original teacher in this life and for the Shambhala Training leaders of that generation whom I’d had the privilege to learn with.

I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have been exposed so gently to the Dharma and the Vidyahara.

Please continue to print articles like Ms. Mains’. They keep the lines of communication open and the wheels turning.

Ali Lake

May 7,2010

Elaine Logan

Perfect Age Dog – a Shambhala Girl’s Journey

I reached the age of religion at 26 years.

What will it be, I pondered, Buddhism or Catholicism— Buddhism interested me except for the one thing. It seemed to be against things I liked to do: eat meat, have sex, and drink alcohol. Then I found Vajradhatu and Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. The rest, as they say, is history.

Life-changing history it was. I’m still young, a frisky 29-plus-26 years, and yet I feel I lived many lifetimes already. There’s nothing like Buddhism to give you cost-effective karma. After my childhood, and I’ll spare you that detail, I had a jolly time dancing to the Rolling Stones and not getting my degree at Aberdeen University. My party career continued in Edinburgh – the Venice of the north, and a great place to walk all round at 2 in the morning. I left it all behind to go to Boulder where I lived gracious lives as the wife of a poor Buddhist coffee guy, the ex-wife of a poor Buddhist coffee guy, the mother of a teenager, and the technical writer. (Yup. I write the manuals that make the whole world sing.)

How did all that come about— My moment of truth came slowly. First I stopped smoking dope, then I went to a classroom in Edinburgh University where everyone sat on their own red and yellow spaceship (gomden and zabuton). I remember this. I assumed that the person up front (My good friend Terry was the umdze.) was the head wizard. I remember that moment when Terry scratched his nose. Should I scratch my nose now too, I wondered— My thoughts seemed to flash by in technicolor. (OK, maybe it was later that I stopped smoking dope.) My new career as a Buddhist began right there.

I want to make something clear now. When I arrived in Boulder, Buddhism had been in the US for about 15 years. We called Trungpa Rinpoche’s senior students old dogs. Yup, at that time the oldest old dog must have been pushing 30 years old.

Anyhow, let me be clear: I’m not an old dog. I never hung out with Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. One time I entered Trungpa Rinpoche’s bedroom at the 1984 Seminary in Bedford Springs. I carried a breakfast tray, and I handed it to Rinpoche, and I left the room. Something came home to me. The conversations and the people (the old dogs) in that room were none of my business. It felt like a hard lesson to learn, but it came clear. This Rinpoche was the whole iceberg, not just the tip – the whole cabbage, not just a choice leaf. After my shift, I went straight to my Bedford Springs Hotel bedroom. I did not pass the shrineroom. I did not collect $200. I lay down on my bed for two hours. I watched the late afternoon light leave the room. Real life with the guru was not like I imagined. I needed time to unscare the living marrow back into my bones.

I felt sad, but clear. I wanted to insinuate myself somehow; but I found I had riches enough. I met my coffee guy at that Seminary: I spent my next lifetime inhaling chocolate hazelnut mocha.

Where I did feel comfortable with the guru was in a student and teacher relationship, and precious moments of dialogue that live with me. Trungpa Rinpoche said, more than once: “When you practice, we will meet.” I took that to heart. This practice saved my life and continues to save my sanity.

At a talk in London, I wondered about this new practice called tonglen. I heard it helped people be kinder and less angry. I threw his travel alarm clock at my boyfriend the night before, so I felt I might have room to grow in this area. After the talk, I shot my hand up to ask a question.

“Sir,” I asked, “How can I conquer aggression—”
“Sit,” Rinpoche replied.
I looked puzzled with a v in my forehead.
“Sit—” I said.
“You can do it, young lady,” he said. ” You can do it.”

That’s all I needed, and that’s a lot. When I lived in Boulder, Colorado I had many chances to meet the Dorje Draddul of Mukpo, the Druk Sakyong, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, but that moment stays with me: the hand of one human being stretched out to another to beckon her along the path.

I had other, longer student-teacher dialogues with the Vajra Regent Osel Tenzdin. The Regent complained about not getting a decent lunch in Edinburgh after 2 PM, and he told me that patience is when you have been generous for a long, long, long time. The Naropa University Library preserved many of these old talks. (Of course, you won’t find any called: Questions by Elaine Logan.)

I worked at the Naropa Institute (now Naropa University) when I heard that the Dorje Draddul was dead. I knew none of his illness, none of his personal struggles to stay alive. We supplicated him to remain and that helped him stay with us longer. But he left. He gave what he could. He left and I heard one morning when I came up from my office in the basement. Suzann Duquette and Kris Ellis in the President’s office told me. I didn’t want to hear it start, but I knew it would. Everyone would claim him now. It’s easy to own someone when they aren’t around to challenge you. It all began now…. with those dreaded words: Rinpoche said…

I didn’t want to hear stories. I wanted to remember my own touch of kindness from the guru. I wanted to remember what belonged to me and what no one could take away.

So, I’m not an old dog in the Shambhala Buddhist community, and I’m not a new pup either. I’m not in the Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche’s new guard. I’m not a dharma brat. I fall in between: not an old dog, not a new dog. I’m the perfect age dog.

I received many blessings. I met Trungpa Rinpoche. I received Vajrayana transmission from him. I attended his 1984 Seminary and his last Kalapa Assembly.

I first met the Sawang, as the Sakyong was known then at Kalapa Assembly. He invited me to a cocktail party of Scottish people. I wore a pale green shirt dress with padded shoulders and an ’80s hairdo that stopped just short of a mullet. I remember the Sawang as a shy, quiet young man. The coffee guy attended that Kalapa Assembly too, but he spent almost as much time being ill as the Sakyong Trungpa Rinpoche did. The old dogs gave many of the talks that year.

I liked and respected the Vajra Regent Osel Tendzin. I wasn’t an old dog for him either. I didn’t share the anger that surrounded his death. I remember the rainbows I saw at his cremation.

I felt for the Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche when he took his seat as leader of the Shambhala Buddhist community, but now I understood why Osel Tendzin was called Vajra Regent.

The Druk Sakyong Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche was a tough act to follow. But follow him, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche did. In the corporate computer world, I heard people talk about how some people are pioneers. They come in at the beginning of an organization. They tame the outlaws and fly by the seat of their pants. They get an amazing amount done and they set up the foundations. The settlers come later. The settlers have a whole different mentality. They bring law and order and libraries and schools and so forth. It seemed to me that Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche might be a settler.

Anyhow, I kept an open mind. I attended Rinpoche’s talks. I bought Rinpoche’s books.

I also received a Shambhala name: Mipham Dawa, Unconquerable Moon. I remember my interview for that name. I sat on a cushion in front of the Sakyong. I burst into tears and I told him. “I’ve got a big heart!” Well, that told him, didn’t it. And he told me right back with: Unconquerable Reflective Body.

Still, as the years passed I wondered about my Buddhist community, my home away from home. After the parinirvana of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, I wrote sad, beautiful poems, and I cried. And then I set about finishing my practices. I immersed myself in Shambhala Training weekends, divorced the coffee guy, and set about making a home for my daughter.

I found places in 12-step meetings where I could debrief myself of the childhood I spared telling you about. I finished my Vajrayana practices. Occasionally, I even went on dates, but that was much less interesting.

I felt distant from the Sakyong, really. It seemed that where I was once not an old enough dog, I was now not a young enough dog. I could see that the Sakyong worked hard. He studied with Penor Rinpoche. He studied with Urgyen Rinpoche. He spend years in retreat. He came back and gave long, long Seminary talks.

But I was not old enough of a dog or new enough of a dog to teach or attend these seminaries. So, I kept going to my Vajrayogini and Chakrasamvara feasts. And I began to teach Shambhala Training Levels.

I continued to experience community in my way, but I had to wonder where will my community be 20 years from now.

I felt a little alienated from the center, not a big deal, just not that connected, not really sure where I can connect, where I can make a difference, where I can have a relationship.

Then, in the fall of 2008, I heard about the Scorpion Seal retreats. Werma Sadhana: That’s my favorite practice. More than that, though, I realized that this is where I can connect. I felt my heart open doors at the thought. I felt fresh air. This is where the lineage continues. I got it. I understood that I would pursue this. My heart insists on it.

In November 2009, the Sakyong visited Boulder. I got to the building too late to sit in the shrine room. I listened to Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche’s talk from the umdze seat in the Shambhala Training hall. While the Sakyong said that bit about how he had spent years proving himself and now it was up to us to prove ourselves, I watched two teenagers whirl a hula hoop on the roof of the Fifteenth st. parking lot. The part of the speech I remember though is when he asked us to repeat after him, “I can be kind.” That made me smile. It got to me. Everyone in the meditation hall grinned and repeated, “I can be kind.”

Out of the dim light of the Shambhala Training hall, I went up to the shrine room where I felt the warmth of the gold light. Up till then, I thought the Sakyong was just a guy – a good guy, but still a guy. Not knowing what to do with my check I handed it to him when I approached the throne. He passed it to someone and bonked me on the head with the vajra. And, then none of it mattered. When I walked back into the room tears filled my eyes and a smile lit up my face. I got a blessing, and I felt that’s all I need in life: a blessing.

I can say more about Rinpoches. I had it in my head once that Khandro Rinpoche couldn’t be the real deal because she was a woman. I felt she shot me down every time I stood up. Then I got myself out of the way. I got it that it didn’t matter if she understood Western psychology. It mattered that I gave up my resistance to being alive. I got it that this is what a Rinpoche does. They show you your mind in high relief. Like those magnifying mirrors that show the pores in your face, the magic of a Rinpoche shows up your mind till it opens and you realize it ain’t the Rinpoche, it’s your mind. When you get that is when you start to look like a grapefruit with a big smile and a sour tear tastes good.

This is where my right relationship stands with the Dharma teachings. My relationship stands with the lineage, and with the Sakyong. My relationship is with one human being who stretches out a hand to beckon another along the path.

This is where I become the perfect age dog.

May 8, 2010

Fionna Bright

Dear Vajra Dog, Ellen, and anyone else reading…

Thank you, Ellen, for your thoughtful and heartfelt writing. So many people have responded. Clearly, this is meaningful to us. When I hear that someone believes that disagreement with the Sakyong provides a reason for dismissal, I feel incredibly sad. It misses the point of all we do by a mile. And I think this missing is at the heart of our problems as a sangha.

So often, during his talks, the Vidydhara would admonish us not to take his word for it, but to find out for ourselves. Of course, to find out for ourselves requires not only practice and study, but the fearless and loving project of self-examination. Shamatha practice provides us with space in which to do that, providing we aren’t avoiding our thoughts, but letting them flow past in the space, and learning from our own particular, peculiar bent just what our neurosis, as he called it, is. It is a fearless project, because inevitably we’re going to see some shocking things there. If we don’t, we haven’t looked far enough. I remember a friend of mine in his late forties, a man of great confidence and accomplishment, of great generosity and heart, shaking as he told me he had seen himself and all the things he had done and said his whole life, and how horrific it was to realize what others had always known about him. To see it. We have to see it, or we can’t work on it. You can’t solve a problem you don’t identify. That’s the fearlessness part.

And loving. Finding out for ourselves our worst fears, our habitual side, our most arrogant assumptions, our most pathetic belief systems, our treatment of others, is not a project we undertake with punishment and shame in mind. Some remorse is probably useful so we don’t revert. But to punish or cringe because we discover something not so great about ourselves is missing the point. That’s indulgent. True, we can’t avoid that if we sincerely wish to be strong, good people. So we will indulge. But even that can be put in the basket of what we need to work on. The basket of awareness and commitment. The loving part comes in not as more arrogance, or self-excusing, or denial, but as the friend we need in that darkest hour. The loving part is when we face ourselves while shaking, but hold ourselves in any event, as we would a child who is learning an important lesson for the first time. The loving part comes in when we vow to dismantle the habit, and create and offer ourselves the space in which to work at it. It is humbling. The process is ever-humbling, and vitally necessary if we wish to follow these teachings at all.

I believe the word for it is maitri. Without it, no amount of mantras and offerings and what-have-you will lead us forward. Not very far, anyway.

We have been taught that maitri is the beginning of compassion, karuna, the big compassion. I believe that with true experiences of maitri — that humbling hour in which we weep with horror, yet realize we can no longer avoid, and go forward, mindful that the guru put his faith in our sorry selves — we cannot help but see everyone else’s dilemma. It becomes unavoidable. Others are at various stages of exploration along the path. We now can see their suffering as we see our own, and can’t turn the page, change the channel on it. We also see how limited they may be, and can’t criticize them for that, because really, we also are limited in our own way. Karuna begins when we just can’t dismiss and judge the other any longer. We see and feel their suffering and blindness as our own.

This doesn’t mean we accept what we should reject. It means we understand the difficulties involved. It means we make more space. We come to the table. We work on it. We work with each other. The guru never gave up on us. Remarkable, considering what he had to work with. So in the same way, we find we cannot give up on finding the workability, even as people are ranting, raving, turning up their noses, clinging to conceptual mind, clinging to self-importance, clinging to pain. And we let others know this. We aren’t giving up and we communicate that.

Many people in the practice have come to this. It becomes a lifelong work in progress. It seems never to be a done deal. Others have not come there. Some are very new, some have been around since the beginning. Not enough fearlessness, not enough maitri. Not enough loving kindness. No willingness to be aware and in the space. As a community, it’s possible we have yet to manifest community maitri. This is problematic. Some experience it, but cannot get the footing needed to bring the rest of the community along, so the fear and the arrogance and the rest of it continues to prevail.

Have you heard how much we have been accused of arrogance over the decades— How about how hierarchical we are— How closed— How destructive— No— You haven’t had your mind open to those outside the community looking in, then. You haven’t been listening. Of course there are people in our sangha who are lovely people, kind, intelligent, helpful people. But as a group, we don’t have the highest marks, if you go outside and listen. People love the magazines and books, the programs and workshops. But they don’t always find the day-to-day setting hospitable, or even decent. This is a problem we have never undertaken as a community. Individuals, yes. Group, no.

I have my theories about this. Too extensive to go into here. But at bottom, it is about the lack of maitri, the lack of fearlessness, and the lack of loving kindness.

Someone close to me has said that they will never come back. The practices were great, but the sangha is immoral. Not moral. This isn’t about judging people who have affairs, or such things. It’s about how we have treated each other. The mindless lying and self-promotion at the expense of others. The contempt. I’m heartbroken. But I get it. What can I say to this person— I can and do dialogue with them occasionally. But it isn’t my decision to make. I can’t change their experience. I can only offer loving kindness now. Judging would only add to the pain and scarring. Dismissing would alienate further. Dismissal is a way to avoid listening to what’s painful to us.

Recently I have been the object of the most ugly scapegoating. It has left me crazy with pain at times, ferociously angry at others, and scarred, emotionally, psychologicaly and physically. It brought on such shock that I had an MS exacerbation and lost the use of two fingers and much mobility in my legs. In my clearer moments as I try to heal and find a way to deal with it, I write like this. Sangha did this. Do I want to spend my life with people who do this kind of thing— No. Can I change them— Absolutely not. I can’t even influence them. They drew a barrier around me and all blame was given to one: me. No recourse was offered. When I offered dialogue and discussion and healing, they ignored it. Sangha, both old and new. It isn’t penetrable. In asking for help, I found first dismissal and contempt coming my way, and then I found that we are an organization that requires me, in my miserable, debilitated state, to file grievances without any real support, such as you might find when you hire an attorney in a lawsuit. The upper echelons of the mandala have their viewpoint, which is that they want to change this, but they seem to believe that they can change these people. They have a concept of how to do this. Trouble is, concepts often prove to be wishful thinking in disguise. And of course, those people promise they will do it better next time, which is what the upper echelons want to hear. It’s not genuine. Not really. It’s a way to be able to go on as before. Months have passed. No dialogue has been undertaken or even allowed. I’m devastated. I would leave in a heartbeat, as this is not at all the group I want to belong to. And I will never set foot in that toxic place again. But there is this problem. I’m connected in sinew and bone, in blood and cells, to the Vidyadhara. How can I leave and not leave at the same time— Should I just stay and grab whatever teachings I can get— Or should I leave and be content with what I have— I was teaching. It was a marvelous way to connect with other practitioners and with the teachings. Now I feel like a fraud, leading others into this.

How is my story useful here— First of all, it is all too commonplace. It isn’t even the worst story. But it is a story about the habitual way we behave, scapegoating. (For an excellent examination of the process, read Up From Scapegoating, by Arthur D. Coleman.) We commonly use this method to avoid dealing with whatever is painful to us. We gather together and collectively blame someone. Drive them off. I can’t really see how this is Buddhist or Shambhalian. But it goes on rather unchecked. Wrist slaps are the consequences if there are any at all, and no one is required to sit face-to-face in these situations. Secondly, we have entrenched in our view the idea that victims are to blame. If only they would see how strong they should be, we wouldn’t have to listen to this whining. We blame the victim. We are unable to distinguish between those victimized and those taking a habitual victim stance. And we are unforgiving, superior, and closed. Some disbelieve in the responses to Ellen’s essay that hundreds have left. Hundreds have left. Believe it. They were hurt and harmed in various ways, and just left. No one noticed or kept track. No one phoned them because no one cared. Very harsh view of others’ suffering. Not even inquisitive. Remember being inquisitive— If you have maitri, it isn’t hard to listen to another’s suffering and to care. If you don’t have maitri, it’s damn near impossible.

We’re really good at putting each other down. We’re really good at worshipping the people we think are hot, trendy. Beliefs. We’re terrible at just being. We’re miserable at deep listening and at deep heart and connection to the truth of suffering and we’re excellent at using the teachings to justify our distancing from pain, our dismissal of others’ experiences. And we don’t want to look at this. I’m very unpopular, like so many others, because I want us to look at this collectively. Maybe it’s time I just took my toys and went home. But then what do I do with the presence in my life— So far, no one has been able to talk with me about that. The haunting.

One day soon all the people who knew the Vidyadhara, who studied with him, who sat in his remarkable presence, will be dead. And with them will go the aura of his presence. Some people these days think that’s good. They believe in the new improved. They don’t have the insight to see that the new improved will become the old passé, and they will soon enough be in the same position as the Vidyadhara’s students are now. Then the Shambhala vision will be really over. The organization will march on. But that sense of his presence will vanish. Maybe a new church will arise, just like all the other older churches that have arisen with all the attendant problems.

Unless we decide to prevent it, which we might by taking our seats as his lineage and fearlessly and lovingly hold and propagate that experience we had. Share it. Sharing by becoming humble, loving and kind. Non-judging. The car that parks in front of me at work has a bumper sticker that says, “Non-judgment day is near.” And brave. The Sakyong wants 12 million. That’s about 1750 apiece or so. It’s laughable and out of touch. We are driving off the older students, dismissing those who question the Sakyong, and closing up. Closing up shop. Our friends move on, saying our society is immoral, or blind, or cruel, or what have you. They move on. We don’t count them. We don’t have to. So how is it, again, we will build this enlightened society to twelve million in 10 years— Only the tragically hip will join— They will be inexplicably drawn to our superior situation— And the riff raff will leave or be driven off, thank goodness—

I have no answer. Right now, I’m spent. I’m angry. I’m destroyed. I’m vengeful. I’m anything but able to lead anyone else. I have enough just trying to take care of myself right now. (Which is why this kind of treatment is so wrong — it takes our energy away from the real project of becoming Buddha, so to speak. It distracts most insidiously.) But it would be unspeakable if the Vidyadhara’s teachings and presence were allowed to wane, to wither, to be replaced with new improved. Now that doesn’t mean the Sakyong has to teach exactly as the Vidhyadhara did. We err when we believe that. He can’t. He’s himself. We need to arrive there with him in the sense of accepting the next step. But I’m seeing that he is not able to get us to collectively examine ourselves and our habitual arrogance and destructiveness and etc. He can tell us to be kind until the cows come home. But it isn’t working, and we aren’t magnetizing 1750 people each. We’re still driving each other off, and denying we’re doing it. We’re solidifying. We think the hierarchy and the ceremonies and the titles are it. We’ve forgotten that all this is just window dressing for putting one foot down in front of the other in the most ordinary of ways, relating to each other as people who need, who fear, who hurt, who laugh, who can possibly change and who can possibly come to care. We have to see that the Sakyong is not a savior. We are the lineage, and we need to step up to the plate. This means actually divesting ourselves of the endless arguments. Not the topics, but the fighting, the blaming. The dilemmas of Shambhala Buddhism, of putting away our heritage, of regarding the Vidyadhara as past, as dead, as over, will be far more solvable with real maitri and humbleness, than with butting heads over how this should all come down. Because, my friends, we will lose. They will win (whoever they are), and we will still be arguing up to the moment of death.

Where did I read that the Vidyadhara said the old yogis of Tibet would “conquer” their caves— This is a marvelous metaphor for how to proceed. We are not something special. We’re still just people who live, go to work, have families, and the rest. The practices are not to get magical! They are not for us to use to make ourselves special! They are about as ordinary as blowing your nose. They are for us to learn to feel completely each other’s needs and fears and hopes and joys. To reside there. To become aware. Each time we put a foot onto the Earth, we need Earth to be there witnessing us living in our conquered cave, breathing the teachings in and out. The concepts of how, and what, and who, drop away when we do this. Shambhala cannot manifest in tuxedos and white gloves and chubas and thrones until we each conquer our cave and take our seats in ordinary life with humbleness and fearlessness and loving kindness. We have to sit down on the earth, in the dirt, and give in. Relate with each piece without our ego resources.

I ask for your dialogue. In my effort to heal, I’m researching and writing. I’m not accepting vituperative responses. But I am doing some research and would appreciate responses that do one of the following, or both: 1) your stories or those of people you know or knew about the mean, dreadful ways we treat each other in this sangha, all confidentiality observed and respected, and these stories are to assemble a better understanding of our collective behavior and experience, and 2) your understanding of what building enlightened society might actually mean, how it might realistically be worked toward or achieved, and what you feel that means for us as practitioners. If you write to me needing understanding, I will give it the best I can. I care and I’m also limited as a person right now. Both. So I will treat you with respect, and also may not have all you need. But I’ll listen. Send to my email, and please identify yourselves. As I said, confidentiality observed. Please no more spewing. I’m really done with it and need to heal. Go spew at each other if you must, but if you want to help a project concerned with insight and healing, write me with fearlessness and love.

Thanks for listening. You can contact me at ]]>

Fionna Bright

Patricia is onto a big piece of the puzzle. The organization embraces corruption and is unaware it does so. The desire expressed among some top officials is to “change the culture.” However, the method for doing that seems to be that those who use the organization as an opportunity for self-promotion are held in place, as though we could change them, thus changing the culture. The organization is a hierarchy with a top and a bottom. But those at the top deny this. Basic problem right there. Meanwhile, those involved in that hierarchy believe they are right, have the special knowledge of how to fix things, and don’t really need to hear from anyone about how to do that. In fact if you weigh in with some ideas, you’re dismissed or worse.

What are we— Are we a corporation— We seem to be structured as one. Behavior within this structure includes a corporate ethic, where those above insist on remaining unchallenged by those below. Are we a church— We seem to be acting as one. We have our secrets, and potential lawsuits, and work very hard to drive out any threats to our dogma. We seem to have taken the centuries-old habitual patterns of the Christian church, with its Crusades and witch burnings and inquisition, and embraced them while claiming to have something else. We may be poised to step into the vacuum left by the Catholic church when it finally fails. We have anachronistic views of and behavior toward women. I hear stories of children being sexually approached at Sun Camp by middle-aged men. Are we a junior high school— The pettiness that seems to me to be rampant these forty years might indicate that. Are we a country— If we’re a country where is our government— Where are our laws and the consequences for breaking them— Where is our collective agreement that defines us as a country— Have we decided on dictatorship as the way to go— Who decided that— It would appear we have a serious identity problem. We have individuals who practice, have commitment to teachings (or not), who live their lives in accordance with dharma. But we don’t have a collective agreement or even a dialogue about who we are as a group. What would it be like with twelve million members— Without a firm base in decency, intelligence, and heart, what kind of group will we be— It seems to me we have an obligation now to cease the pettiness and start listening to each other. Whoever said those who disagree with the Sakyong don’t practice and should be ignored, is perpetuating setting sun culture. We need to get this stuff out onto the table. And we need to begin to take responsibility for what we are actually doing. That means that when an acharya behaves in a way that hurts and harms a group of people (yes, this has occurred), then there is open dialogue and examining of that, not suppression, fear, and people leaving or worse. When a center drives off members, there are consequences for those engaged in that, not silence, suppression, and the further promotion of those who cause hurt. We need to embrace our relative world so that we might learn how to join it with the essence of the teachings. Not the dogma, the essence.

How many of us will actually gain full realization— How many have so far in forty years— If gaining full realization is an unlikely prospect for most of us, then what the heck are we doing— Why would people stay in a community that was so unhealthy in so many ways, if it is not likely we will be able to complete the training and reach full enlightenment— All the neurotic behavior we visit upon each other serves as a constant distraction from the project at hand, like the advertisements around the edges of an online news site. You can’t focus for long if you are constantly having to defend yourself. Is becoming insensitive one of our values— Have we really examined that question— So why stay— Some desperate hope— I understand staying for the teachings, but what about the teachings for creating enlightened society— Isn’t that a relative, collective project— If we aren’t going to learn how to do that down here on the ground, then why talk of it at all—

If we aren’t likely to gain full realization, then what is this whole thing for— Personally, I like the messiness of democracy over the tidiness of monarchy. Fewer poisonings. So if this monarchy isn’t going to really provide the opportunities for spiritual realization, then why do it— I mean, it’s one thing to have a teacher who teaches and offers students a path to realization. That’s fine. But that’s not what we’re claiming to be doing. If we’re desiring to build an enlightened society, then what is that— And how do we think we can do that while sinking knives in each others’ backs— And then denying we do that. Just curious.

I’m deeply sad that the young people are leaving. However, I understand they need to follow their own hearts. It does feel a little like we failed them. We gave them pageantry and picnics and khaki uniforms and songs. But did we give them the depth and heart they were looking for— Did we give them a clear moral and ethical base— Did we give them the tools to truly carry the path forward— Have we even asked ourselves these questions—

Exodus is the wrong word. The correct word is diaspora. It comes from roots for day and seed. A scattering of seeds in the sunlight. Seeds need fertile ground and nurturing to grow. We haven’t really paid attention to that in our little world here, as a collective, as a group. We took for granted it would grow and that the teachings and practices alone would hold the situation in place. It will probably hold in place a path for practitioners. But I have my doubts about an enlightened society, or even the precursor to such a society. Those who question will be shunned. That’s what Ellen heard, in essence. Shall we take that as the word from on high— And if not, then what will be done about that view which obviously prevails enough to be spoken openly—

Suzanne Townsend

The line “The organization embraces corruption and is unaware it does so” is my whole story in a nutshell! In fact, the turning point that began my journey out of the Shambhala International church was when someone said to me, “You just don’t want to admit your church is corrupt!”

One of the dangers of a political-religious body in which one must be both Buddhist and Shambhala together is that Buddhist devotion is wrongly placed onto political figures. Most of the community members are unaware of the practices of other Buddhist countries and simply place trust in their Shambhala International leaders (again, an approach very much nurtured by the current administration, and by that extended, misplaced devotion). But when those leaders support other Buddhist governments on a socio-economic basis that, such as in the case of Bhutan, is in name only (the Bhutan government is among the top ten world human rights abusers — for ethnic cleansing of non-Buddhist citizens), the Shambhala organization is doing great harm by aiding and abetting the world acceptance of a hypocritical government, increasing the pain and suffering of the 100,000 refugees, and, what might be worst of all, propagating a very gross misunderstanding of what Buddhism is about. Since the organization and its members refuse to boycott Bhutan government and indeed do not see the corruption, the only avenue left for me to protest is to boycott Shambhala International. So until the organization is once again two systems and one need not be Buddhist to be Shambhalian, I will not do anything that supports it, including step across its threshold of one of its many properties. You could consider this equivalent to a devoted Catholic who will no longer attend church because its leaders are corrupt and teaching the world how to be hypocritical. It is time for an end to hypocrisy.

Now, I fully expect someone to rebut this post, saying that hypocrisy is all about oneself, the inner journey, when you point a finger at someone you are pointing four back at you, etcetera. To me this is akin to the situation now when I urge people to boycott and protest against BP and demand that the UK and US governments seize its assets and declare war on the escaped oil, and those people tell me, “The only cure [for this oil disaster] is to stop driving your car, etcetera.” I say no, that is not the situation here. The situation here is that someone has made a mess, and is avoiding responsibility for it. That mess needs to be cleaned up. When someone spills the milk, do the moms and dads continue to just sit around the kitchen table and talk about it—

Fiona, what is your e-mail address— I will tell you the story about how I discovered corruption in Bhutan, and then, by trying to activate awareness of the issue in the Shambhala community, discovered corruption in Shambhala, and then, by trying to combat that corruption, discovered that what allows that corruption to exist and flourish is the mash-up of church and state, Buddhism and Shambhala.

Marge Veleta

Has anyone looked at the cover of Shambhala, The Sacred Path of the Warrior— My copy shows the Garuda holding the Four Dignities. Above the head of the Garuda is a depiction of the flaming three jewels. This book was published in 1984 during Trungpa Rinpoche’s lifetime. It seems to me that if Trungpa Rinpoche had wanted to exclude buddhism from the Shambhala Teachings, he would have insisted on a different cover for this book.

A nun n’ a Moose

Dear Vajra Dog,

Thank you for your forum. I think it’s something that Shambhala has needed for a long time. I have been a Buddhist for 20 years now and Trungpa Rinpoche definitely captured my heart and my mind. I for many years devoted much of my life to the community. I loved it so much. I was neither an old dog or a newbie but found myself drawn quite stongly to the Sakyong. He is still my teacher. I don’t personally like everything about him but I trust him as a teacher. I never jived with the Shambhala terma though. My lips said kiki soso but my heart said ho hum. I always loved the Kagyu teaching style more. From the time I read the Songs of Milarepa I knew I wanted to practice the 6 yogas of Naropa and that is now what I do. I worked very hard to receive those teachings shoveling countless piles of shit to attend seminary. Years in retreat doing ngondro and Vajrayogini. Living in tents in snowy mountains. At times giving what I had away (including my dignity) just to be able to practice.

I served the community well like so many and in the end was thrown out for various indiscretions. It was the best thing that ever happened to me. I discovered there is a huge world out there that needs help. Shambhala is such a small thing. On any given summer night there are more people interested in minor league baseball than will ever hear the Shambhala dharma. Much of what I am reading is not disimilar from what I hear from people who left other somewhat cultish religions like the Jehovahs Witnesses or some Mormons. Too many scandals to count. An overwhelingly patriachal hiearchy. Indiscretions of teachers and students. Money problems. Retreats that cost $750 a day when the financial woes of a community might be pushed over the edge. The cult of personality. The guilt, the rain of tears and such. I still love Shambhala in many ways but I won’t go back.

What is someone who is in a position like mine to do— Someone who worked so hard to fulfill their aspirations in a particular lineage and is told that if one doesn’t sign up for the Scorpion whatever it is that you aren’t fullfledged and may be outted if you aren’t gonna sign up. Things seem to be getting more narrow. My question is this: How much does it all cost— Not just in pain and tears and tiger smiles… But in Loonies and Toonies and dollar bills— From level 1 to the last Scorpian Seal how much does all this cost— Who is it that can walk in the door and afford to do the whole thing let alone start over after practicing one set of teachings for 20, 30 or even 40 years— Who can take off every summer these days— Shambhala has always seemed finacially discriminatory and arrogant. There are so many sanghas now who only take donations, and teach about the same thing, the same thing without the monarchy. I now visit and receive teachings from the many different types of Buddhist centers on my town. They aren’t all that different. They either serve Bigalow or Celestial Seasonings afterwards. Some of the cushions are nicer than others and they seem to have the same problems as most religious institutions but, most of them don’t seem as culty. -A nun n’ a Moose

June 14, 2010

June 8, 2010

Suzanne Townsend

Dear Vajra Dog,

Marge, as far as I know, the Druk Sakyong never excluded one from the other, and he didn’t mush them together. We live in a world of duality, where two are not one even when they share principles. “Shambhala is our security; Buddhism is our sanity.” You really want a Church indivisible from State— You really want a country where you and everyone else thinks you are going to go to Vajra Hell if you don’t go along with whatever the most recent leader has the entire country do—

June 20, 2010

Fionna Bright

Dear Vajra Dog,

Marge, no one has suggested that Shambhala exclude Buddhism. What people are finding so difficult is the closing of Shambhala to those who don’t practice Buddhism. If you go back and read VCTR’s “Great Eastern Sun,” in there you will find his clear and definitive statement that Shambhala was intended to be open to all regardless of religious affiliation.

Why don’t any of the acharyas join this discussion— Where are the office holders in this dialogue— What is the official position on what Ellen Mains heard— Is that what’s being encouraged— Or is it not— And if not, how is it being discouraged— I haven’t seen any statement from anyone in the Shambhala heirarchy about any of this. Where are you all—

Thomas Schunk

Dear Vajra Dog,

lots of discussion is going on about the changes of the Vidydhara’s teachings, the pain and grieve this presents to many sangha members and their alienation because of this. Well, I am not exactly 1st genearation nor 2nd either. Joining the sangha in the early 80’s I am sort of inbetween. Certainly drenched with the with the old-style teachings and still drawn towards the Vidhadaras close students.

One aspect of the ongoing changes has not been highlighted very much so far. This is the neglection of our Kagyü-Nyingma heritage, which is alienating me more and more from our mandala. I have always focused on this stream of transmission, the Shambhala teachings never really interested me that much. And that was OK for a long time. It seemed to be quite possible to pursue the traditional Kagyü-Nyingma path witin our community and still be part of it. This is becoming increasingly difficult I feel. Chants have been discarted or exchanged for new ones, thangkas connecting us to the rest of the tibetan buddhist world were replaced, teachings got canceled. This year only one traditional vajrayana program which was not related with the Scorpion Seal path was offered in Europe. It appears as if people are to be forced into this new stream of teachings. This makes me very sad as I see less and less space for me witin this mandala which supposedly tries to give us all a home. Best wishes

Thomas Schunk, Germany

Augsut 1, 2010

Mary Good

As soon as one catches the inevitable spark of inspiration of Shambhala it get’s suffocated promptly by the narrow-minded spirit lingering around the Centers and dwellers there.
What a hassle.
Constantly living in a situation of doubt and terror when refuge and consolation is needed.
Looking for peace — harvesting inner conflict
Looking for trustworthy company, inspiration and real communication — meeting
repression, fear, observation, control, regression — PETTY MIND

Where are we? Is this enlightened society?

Socialized in democracy — feeling awkward with this totalitarian monarchy
Throw away all achievements of modern society based on greek/roman cultural influences—
How could this be communicated to young or no young people?
No one to talk to, critical intelligence on the paper but in reality suppressed.
Intelligence — better not — too dangerous.
Just follow — do not use your sense perceptions — follow a concept
Cowards all around
Is this enlightened society?
Big No
Big Smile

September 17, 2010


Ellen Mains became a student of Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche in 1971 in Montreal, Canada. Since then she has taught in various capacities within the Shambhala community in both the U.S. and Europe. In addition to meditation, she is trained in several body-mind practices including Kyudo (the Way of the Bow), and currently guides people in an embodied practice called “Inner Relationship Focusing.” She lives in Boulder, Colorado and has written a soon-to-be-released memoir called: Buried Rivers: A Spiritual Journey into the Holocaust.