First Shambhala Ritual Academy
article by Frank Iglehart and Andrea Doukas
The purpose of the Ritual Academy was to further deepen our formal practice and understanding of the role of ritual in invoking drala energy for our community. The Sakyong gave teachings on a text he has written on ritual in Shambhala. Furthermore, study and discussion of the Sakyong’s teachings were an important part of our weekend. The gathering began at dawn with a lhasang of thick smoke in the snow covered courtyard of Marpa House. The hearty chanting and drumming awoke not only the participants themselves but some of the sorority sisters next door. Over the following three days, the Sakyong provided much essential guidance and view on ritual, with the help of Lamas Pema Gyaltsen and Gyurme Dorje, and the Academy faculty. Lady Konchok, the Sakyong’s mother, also joined us for these talks.
For umdzes, the emphasis for this gathering was quality of voice – warming up and exercising the voice, finding an appropriate pitch – and pacing of recitations. Lama Pegyal gave the umdze group an enriching talk about how to chant the Padmasambhava feast in the Tibetan tradition. At the Sakyong’s suggestion, the group listened to recordings of umdzes and chanters from different traditions of sacred voice and song. The group also heard presentations on leading a feast and how to be an umdze.
For the chopons, Lama Pegyal demonstrated an elegant dance for offering incense to the teacher and the lineage. He gave initial instruction on making tormas, including the meaning of specific shapes and markings. The tormas made by Lama Pegyal were visually arresting in their energy and symmetry, and he made it look easy. When asked, he said he had made thousands of tormas over the years, which gave us some idea of the work ahead of us. Since it is essential in ritual for one hand to know what the other is doing, the chopon and umdze groups shared instructions with each other in a lively session with the Sakyong on Sunday.
In the forty years we have practiced Buddhist ritual, we have had the opportunity to learn from many teachers representing different prominent traditions. The details of a practice often differ from monastery to monastery, all of which are valid in their particular place and context. As a result of our ecclectic education over the years, how a practice is conducted can vary significantly from one Shambhala center to the next, and even from one umdze or chopon to the next. As a community of Shambhala practitioners, we need to begin to look at standardizing our rituals, and finding ways to carry forward these ancient and profound traditions which also express the gentle, sharp, and powerful quality of Shambhala warriorship.The inaugural Shambhala Ritual Academy was a major first training to explore the role of ritual in attracting drala and strengthening Shambhala culture. The next few trainings will be held regionally. The Sakyong wishes to invite all Shambhala Vajrayana practitioners (those who have attended Sacred World Assembly or Vajrayana Seminary) who are already an umdze or chopon or who wish to make umdze or chopon training a major part of their ongoing practice path to attend at least one of these regional academies.
Attendance will be a pre-requisite in applying to attend an international Shambhala Ritual Academy with Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche to be scheduled in the next year or two. The first regional academy will be held April 25-27, 2014, at Karme Choling. A second is planned for Europe in September. Scheduling for other regional trainings is now in progress.
Please consider joining the Ritual Academy in April at Karme Choling as we celebrate our connection to ritual in the Shambhala lineage. For more information, please click this link.