What is Shambhala Art?
Written for the Dot
Shambhala Art can be seen as a process, a product, and an arts education program. As a process, it brings wakefulness and awareness to the creative and viewing processes through the integration of contemplation and meditation. As a product, it is art that wakes us up. Shambhala Art is also an international non-profit arts education program. It is Shambhala International’s vehicle for sharing the Dharma Art teachings of the late Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche.
Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche explains it this way: “The practice of Dharma Art is a way to use our lives to communicate without confusion the primordial and magical nature of what we see, hear, and touch.”
In its role as an educational program, Shambhala Art encourages us to see our creative and viewing processes as a practice: A form of meditation-in-action where we begin by learning to see things as they are, rather than just how we think or imagine they are. Shambhala Art teaches that expression takes place best when we are unself-conscious and our relentless self-dialoguing has quieted for even a few brief moments. It invites us to play and share the universal nature of creativity and communication. Shambhala Art does not teach a particular skill or technique such as painting, sculpture, or dance. Instead it fosters the discovery of the source of creativity and how it manifests, as well as how the result speaks to us beyond the limits of its container. Once an awakened view and a path are established they can be integrated into any artistic discipline.
Trained and authorized Shambhala Art teachers teach this program. Whether one is a newbie or experienced, it is a challenging and most rewarding program to teach as well to experience as a participant. This is because, ideally, it is taught not only on the level of listening and hearing, but also on the level of symbol. By symbol I mean that it is taught through the direct experience of things, our intuitive sense, or felt sense. It is one of the reasons we use so many contemplative exercises in the Shambhala Art educational program. Our thought sense is as vital as any felt sense, particularly in establishing the view and achieving an understanding. When it comes to “square one,” when we possess a meditative state of mind and inspiration arises, our conceptual mind needs to relax, or at least take a back seat, and allow enough space for that inspiration to take shape. Of the many things we teach in this program, this is the most important thing to communicate.
The integration of meditation is especially helpful here because we learn how to allow experience to occur before concepts and meaning. Concepts that arise naturally from direct experience tend be based in the truth of our experience and are welcomed because they lead to a genuine appreciation. Concepts that are based solely on other concepts that are based on yet other concepts can end up being devoid of reality. When such groundless concepts precede our experience they tend to filter and distort the full measure of our experience. Shambhala Art helps us to learn we can return to square one at any time during the creative and viewing processes and not just when we sit in meditation. We relearn trust in the genuineness of our experience as well as the knowledge and actions that directly flow from it.
Dharma Art teachings themselves are largely based on the nine yanas of Buddhism:
• Part One: Draws on abhidharma teachings involving the senses and meditation
• Part Two: Based on the mahayana teachings of relative and absolute truth and seeing things as they are
• Part Three: Transition from mahayana to vajrayana by way of the trikaya principle manifesting as space, form, and energy
• Part Four: Introduction to the five buddha families by way of the five elements (earth, water, fire, air, and space)
• Part Five: A taste of the tantric actions known as the four karmas as tools toward creating a result that wakes up its maker as well as its viewer (Participants manifest their understanding by creating an installation called the Feast of the Five Elements)
Trungpa Rinpoche said, “The purpose of a work of art is bodhisattva action. This means that your production, manifestation, demonstration, and performance should be geared toward waking people up from their neurosis.”
Trungpa Rinpoche’s passing left the Dharma Art teachings to be assembled by his students and ultimately to be fulfilled by his son and heir, the Sakyong, Jamgön Mipham Rinpoche. After a series of conferences starting around 1994 with those who had studied the Dharma Art teachings directly with Trungpa Rinpoche and with the guidance of Mipham Rinpoche, some experimental educational programs began to solidify and manifest under the name Dharma Art. As it continued to grow and evolve, we discovered the name Dharma Art had been in the public domain for too long and could not be trademarked and protected. So, at the request of the Sakyong, we changed the name to Shambhala Art.
Today we have programs and teachers scattered around the globe. However, we are still new to many. I invite you to visit our website www.shambhalaart.org and learn more about Shambhala Art and our other activities such as Shambhala Art Day. The spring equinox is our official Shambhala Art Day, meant to celebrate the arts and Shambhala Art practices. We invite all centers to participate. You can see the myriad ways people celebrate this special day at our website.
video of celebrations at the Shambhala Art Intensive in Los Angeles 2008
short video extracts of different practices done during the Intensive