by Sakyong Mipham
Who are we? What kind of a group are we? Are we Buddhist? Are we Shambhalian? Are we both? Or are we neither? I think we often ask ourselves who we are, exactly.
When I was growing up, my father, the Vidyadhara Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, was always very straightforward about who we were. It was so obvious that it did not even need to be said, so in my mind our purpose has always been clear. However, in recent years many people have been asking me what Shambhala is: Is it one path? How does it compare with Buddhism? What are we trying to pass on to future generations of Shambhalians?
Some of us like to think that Shambhala encompasses all traditions, and that nothing is excluded. We are not theists, yet we have Jews and Christians in our Shambhala Training programs. Maybe we are everything after all? Both theistic and nontheistic, both religious and secular. Often we say that the Shambhala teachings capture the wisdom that exists in all humans, so different themes melt together and give birth to a vision of future society. Yet when it comes down to the details, what does it mean to encompass everything?
When we get down to specifics, the details become hazy. Some of us may feel that we are a secular group interested in education and the arts, but how does Buddhism fit? Do we mean that we practice the buddhadharma and also perform tea ceremony and arrange flowers? Is it more that culturally we accept everything, but spiritually and philosophically we adhere to the Buddhist and Shambhala views? Or is it that we are equally comfortable with Buddhism, Judaism and shamanistic traditions? When people ask us about the specifics, we might present them with a jumble of run-on sentences that are met with a blank stare.
The vision of Great Eastern Sun has matured
It seems that over time we have been through a maturation process. It began when the Vidyadhara took a group of students and introduced them to a bigger world, that of the Great Eastern Sun, so that they would not become overly infatuated with Buddhism and tantra and meditation. He tried to educate them, to help them mature. He tried to show them the beauty of the world, and in particular, the wisdom of their own and other cultures.
That vision, along with the students, has matured over time. Many ideas have come together to formulate the world we have now that is known as Shambhala. It is a unique blend of traditions and cultures, and a very diverse mix of individuals. Although the culture of Shambhala is still developing, it seems time now to clarify exactly who we are. It seems time that we take a look into the focus and the purpose of our vision.
The Buddhist and Shambhala Path
My father understood that there was no conflict between Buddhism and Shambhala. To him, they were a beautiful combination and each had its role to play.
The Buddhist and Shambhala teachings both have the view that spiritual and secular activities are inseparable. They both join the ultimate and relative realities, Heaven and Earth. However, in terms of their application to our lives, they each have their own special strength, their own particular emphasis.
Buddhism is basically about how one achieves complete enlightenment and becomes a buddha. What does that mean? It means completely overcoming the obscurity of ignorance; it means realizing that the myth of permanence brings about suffering and cyclical existence in samsara; it means seeing the display of all phenomena as the expression of great bliss, the nature of reality.
The teachings of Shambhala are about king’s view, how we rule our world and help others by tapping into the power, magic and brilliance that exist in the cosmic mirror, the natural elements, and the human domain. As Shambhala warriors, we become sane, courageous individuals living in the world, always seeing and proclaiming the Great Eastern Sun.
In essence, the emphasis of the Buddhist path is to help us attain enlightenment, and the emphasis of the Shambhala path is help us create and maintain a good society. When we put these two together, we have the Shambhalian Buddhist view of enlightened society. Thus the two paths work in tandem, not in competition.
The Shambhala terma
The teachings we know as the Shambhala teachings come out of the visions and revelations of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. He had a series of visions and wrote them down in the texts The Golden Sun of the Great East, The Letter of the Black Ashe, The Letter of the Golden Key, the Scorpion Seal texts, and The Lightning of Blessings.
His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche confirmed these texts as terma, which means ‘hidden treasures.’ Generally, terma were hidden by the eighth-century enlightened buddhist saint, Padmasambhava, and his consort Yeshe Tsogyal, to be revealed by the appropriate tertons or ‘treasure discoverers’ at the time that they would be most needed by sentient beings. Some terma are physical objects and some are in the mindstream.
When asked who the source of the Shambhala texts were, the Dorje Drad said, ‘the Rigden Fathers and Mr Gesar.’ He further explained that Gesar was a manifestation of Padmasambhava and the vanguard to the Shambhala teachings. Therefore, there is a deep-rooted connection between the terma revealed by the Vidyadhara as the Shambhala teachings and the tradition of Buddhism in Tibet. In fact, they are inseparable from the Buddhist teachings.
The Shambhala terma present a way of living in the world with dignity and creative expression. These teachings invoke werma, drala, windhorse, and the powers of tiger, lion, garuda and dragon. Instructions on how to magnetize and raise confidence are found in other teachings, especially in the works of the late Jamgon Mipham Rinpoche, who wrote extensively about Shambhala, drala and werma.
So when we understand the historical context, we see that the Vidyadhara was not pulling these teachings from thin air, but was drawing on ancestry that dates back to ancient Central and South Asia. He had visions inspired by Padmasambhava, Gesar, and the Rigdens; he was also drawing on his own upbringing in Tibet and the teachings he received based on the principles of Shambhala. Terma teachings also occur within the overall context of the kama or oral lineage of Buddhism. Whereas oral lineage teachings have been handed down directly from teacher to student since the time of Shakyamuni Buddha, terma teachings are hidden for a period of time and are only revealed at the particular time and place that they are needed. Why is it that the Shambhala teachings are so powerful and necessary now?
Worldly wisdom for our time
The Shambhala teachings relate to how we can live with confidence and genuineness, always keeping basic goodness unequivocally in our mindstream. The Great Eastern Sun shines to help us remember that human beings can, in fact, live together harmoniously in a society based on the principles of nonaggression and basic goodness. This term, ‘basic goodness’, refers to the nature of humans, which from the beginning is profoundly good. Good means profound, brilliant, just, powerful, all victorious. There is wisdom in the minds of all sentient beings and this wisdom is our nature, as opposed to ignorance and aggression.
The Shambhala tradition also draws on the principles of the warrior, who is not a recluse cowering from the burdens of the world, but fully expresses himself or herself in the world. We humans do not have to be embarrassed. We do not have to try to protect ourselves from the intensity of the suffering in our world. We can challenge that suffering and be courageous in our proclamation of basic goodness. By proclaiming joy and fearlessness, we discover a sense of our destiny, as opposed to giving in to a mind of defeatism.
The inspiration to present the Shambhala teachings so energetically comes from their timeliness. The constant courage to go forward is the Great Eastern Sun. In love, in work and in play, the Shambhala warrior engages in the world. The Shambhalian sees the magic and wisdom in life and realizes that it is worth living.
The ground of sanity
Within the first levels of the Shambhala teachings, we are developing ourselves in order to reclaim fully our inheritance as humans. One interesting point about the intersection of Buddhism and Shambhala is that in order to truly engage in Buddhist practice, we need to have a sense of who we are. The Buddhist teachings assume that we are already individuals who are sane, who understand how to be confident, and who know how to work with our mind. Because it is so arduous, one must have a healthy sense of self, a strong grounding in sanity, and stability of mind to travel on the Buddhist path.
Each group of people that has embraced Buddhism has infused the teachings with its own cultural style. The heart of the teachings was not changed, but because of strong pre-existing cultural traditions, Buddhism took on different flavors in different parts of the world. These different cultural traditions each had a unique approach to living fully as a human being in the world, which provided a genuine foundation for dharma practice.
In the modern era, however, it seems we are faced with a vacuum of sorts. Our culture’s traditions of chivalry, honor and bravery have been largely lost. Within this vacuum, the Vidyadhara presented the teachings of Shambhala. How can the teachings of the Buddha be incorporated into our society, especially in a way that does not require us all to become monastic or reclusive? We can do that by remembering to take every situation as an opportunity to practice the profound path.
The Shambhala teachings do not need to guide us through death, through the bardo, or through the succession of our lives. They do not need to present the five skandhas, the twelve nidanas, or the Madhyamika teachings in which we use prajna to see that emptiness is the nature of all phenomena. We already have these sorts of teachings within Buddhism. On a deeper level, the Shambhala teachings bring about the completion of one’s Buddhist training through the skillful means of creating an enlightened society. They purify and protect the Buddhist discipline.
Shambhala Buddhist view
There was a time when people asked the Vidyadhara whether or not one had to be Buddhist to practice the Shambhala teachings. He answered that these teachings could accommodate practitioners of any faith, that many people could be inspired by the vision of Shambhala. These teachings are accessible enough, and yet deep and profound enough, that many people from different traditions will find value in them.
We want to encourage everyone to study and practice the teachings presented in the Shambhala Training program, whether or not they are interested in Buddhism. However, there may be a tendency to think that the purpose of Shambhala Training was to create an organization in which all these religious interests would have equal standing. All of us must understand that our view consists of the Shambhalian and Buddhist understanding of how to combine worldly and spiritual wisdom.
One inspiration for the teachings of Shambhala is to help people who are living in the world to be dignified. The principles of Shambhala are the principles of enlightened culture. This culture prepares and trains us to understand the profundity and preciousness of being in the human realm. The other inspiration is to help people to discover their basic sanity and stability so that they could pursue a spiritual path, predominantly the Buddhist one, because that is the tradition which we have inherited.
What are we passing on?
It seems that we now find ourselves at a crossroads. We are faced with a noticeable shift as the dharma is being passed on from one generation to another, and we need to look ahead.
What will future generations call themselves? We have a unique culture. Our Buddhist teachings, originating from the great teachers of India and Tibet and in particular from the Kagyu and Nyingma lineages, are influenced by Japanese culture in the way we practice the way of the bow, eat oryoki and arrange our shrine. The way that we educate ourselves in the dharma and our unique etiquette and manners draw inspiration from both the West and the East. By performing the lhasang, we participate in the rituals of Bon, and we include Shintoism by having shrines to the kamis. We also practice the Chinese and Japanese arts of calligraphy, Zen archery, and the equestrian arts.
These are all practices that were strongly encouraged by the Vidyadhara. We are not like other Buddhist or Zen sanghas. Much of what we assume to be Buddhist in our community is heavily influenced by the teachings of Shambhala. Ideally speaking, we should all be trained to some degree in both sets of teachings. The Vidyadhara saw the need for Buddhism to adapt to this new world, and he also saw what this world needs. The Shambhala teachings came to him in these visions and he saw that this is the perfect time for them. Furthermore, people who are inspired by Shambhala teachings who practice a different religion are welcomed, and they will enrich the Shambhala mandala as Shambhalian Christians, Shambhalian Jews, and so forth.
Now it is time for us to clarify what we are presenting in the centers. We should be able to easily express, in one sentence, to anyone who asks, who we are and what we do. That we should try to be all things to all people does not seem feasible. So, what are we passing on?
What has been passed on to me are the teachings of the buddhadharma, the lineages of hinayana, mahayana and vajrayana, and mahamudra and dzokchen within tantra, and the lineage of Shambhala. And this is what will be passed on to the future Sakyongs. Future Sakyongs will be Shambhalian Buddhists, just as this one is and the previous Sakyong was. The role of the Sakyong is to protect and propagate both the Shambhala and Buddhist teachings.
So what is at the heart of our organization, our society? What are we?
We are the lineage of Shambhala Buddhism. That is what we are.
Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche
May 23, 2000