On Shambhala and the Samaya Connection By Ellen Mains
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.