Shambhala is deliberately organised as a society, incorporating what is called the ‘Four Pillars’. This structure ensures that no aspect of life is outside the dharma. The Four Pillars are:
- Government (how we participate in our communities; work; leadership)
- Practice and Education (how we meditate and come to know ourselves)
- Kasung (protection; how we deal with challenging situations; caring for our own and others’ vulnerability)
- Economy (finances; how we handle our money; how we invest our energy)
The Four Pillars reflect the way individual lives, households and societies are organised. We participate in governance through taking care or elders and children, voting and taking leadership roles in our families, workplaces or communities. We each try to get to know ourselves and our world in some way by study, self-reflection, meditation etc (practice and education). We practice kasung (protection) by caring for ourselves and others, emotionally and physically. We participate in the economy when balancing our household budgets, volunteering or earning a living.
All Shambhala members, but especially Council members, have responsibility for upholding the Four Pillars.
The Pillar of Government includes the work done at every level within the organisation, everything that allows our centres to function. It includes coordinating special events, creating flower arrangements on the shrine, creating signs and flyers and websites, and hosting regular events.
Government is represented by the Coordinator on the Governing Council.
This aspect of dharma is the day-to-day work aspect of life. We all do ‘work’, even if our work is just getting through our day, feeling ourselves, brushing our teeth, cleaning up the kitchen. Many of us do other work as well. Careers. Volunteering. Childcare. Helping friends and family. If we don’t understand all of this work to be inseparable from dharma, we risk creating a ‘religious bubble’ around meditation practice, keeping us from progressing along the path. Likewise, mixing our work life with the insight from meditation accelerates our understanding and allows us to be more effective and compassionate in our attempts to ‘Create Enlightened Society’.
As ‘citizens of Shambhala’ (whatever that means to us) and as Bodhisattvas in the world, leadership becomes more and more important. If we look around the world, enlightened Buddhist teachers aren’t just religious figures. They are also leaders, organising projects, forming groups, and helping others to become more involved and invested.
In our own lives, we aren’t just passive participants in our ‘work’. In many ways, large and small, our decisions affect those around us. We can feel empowered to participate in making our world (our homes, our family, our community, our country) a saner, kinder, gentler and more engaged ‘society’. The effect of this work is what Buddhists traditionally call ‘merit’–the relaxed, open mind that results from putting out effort to care for the well-being of others.
Practice and Education
The key pillar in Shambhala is practice and education, which provides training in meditation and the Shambhala Buddhist teachings.
The Practice and Education Coordinator is responsible for creating and maintaining the practice and study ‘container’ for the Shambhala centre or group. This includes overseeing practice and education offerings for all levels of practitioners, as well as ensuring that newcomers are welcomed and provided with appropriate opportunities to learn meditation and study the dharma.
The coordinator works closely with the shastri on issues related to practice and education. The shastri is co-leader of the Pillar of Practice and Education. The coordinator oversees the executive function related to practice and education and sits on the Governing Council.
Other positions within Practice and Education include the timekeeper and umdzes (who open and close the shrine, lead chants and provide an example of good practice in the shrine room) and program coordinators.
Dorje Kasung (the protector principle)
The Dorje Kasung is an organisation within Shambhala modeled on the ancient tradition of dharma protectors and drala warriors. Its members are trained in protecting the space in which practitioners are able to hear and practice the teachings. The protection extends to the teacher who presents the teachings, the teachings themselves, and the community that practices the teachings.
This can manifest in simple functions like acting as a gatekeeper for the centre to allow a meditation session to unfold undisturbed or holding a ceremonial role in a ritual. More elaborate functions like planning and executing the transportation of teachers and doing crowd control during large public events are also done by the Dorje Kasung.
Dorje Kasung training strengthens our capacity to work with heightened and chaotic situations (in our mind or in our environment), and to find non-aggressive means to solve conflicts.
The motto of the Dorje Kasung is ‘Victory over War’. War represents the struggle created by the three ‘poisons’ identified by the Buddha: grasping, aggression and ignorance. Victory is acknowledging these poisons and meeting them with insight and loving kindness.
The economy is represented by the position of the Finance Coordinator who manages the funds of our local group. The Finance Coordinator sits on the Governing Council. But the Economy Pillar has a larger view.
Economy has to do with how we work with our own livelihood as it connects to our household, our family, our city or town. Ultimately, it has to do with how we’re investing our energy in the world … Shambhala and meditation practice offer the constant reminder that the seed we are cultivating is an inherent trust in our own worth and our own wealth. And we extend that trust to others, building relationships that are based on acknowledging the inherent worth of everyone we touch. This is really the essence of economy.
We live in a society in which there is tremendous confusion around wealth and money. Sometimes we ourselves express that confusion, and sometimes we are able to take a different approach. The path of the Shambhala Pillar of Economy is to engage that process, open discussions around it, and start to shift the way we actually work with wealth, richness, and money in our lives and in the greater world.
As Shambhalians, we see that there is a world that needs our engagement, needs our good heart. And we are working to unlock the potential in ourselves and our community so that we can have a greater impact. (Robert Reicher, Envoy for Enrichment, Shambhala Day Message)