What Is A Shastri?
When you come to the Seattle Shambhala Center, you soon encounter a term never heard in the West until recently: shastri. It reflects a role and responsibilities conferred by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, spiritual leader of Shambhala, on certain senior teachers in many Shambhala communities around the world.
Speaking personally, I think of the work of the shastri as “positive passion,” both delight and beautiful burden. I take the title lightly and the role seriously. “Passion” here is positive in the sense that I constantly feel transformed by my interaction with others. I witness weekly in all those who come to the Seattle Shambhala Center and their longing to love, to feel free and to feel good about life. I wish to fan the flame of that desire and be it too.
Historically, shastris (Sanskrit: teachers of the sutras and commentaries) once served on the faculty of Nalanda University, India, at its height world-renowned with 2,000 faculty and 10,000 students (5th-12th centuries A.D.). The Sakyong considers the appointment of modern-day shastris in the Shambhala tradition “historical” and part of creating a lineage and role of teachers that is “correct” for this time (in history).
What are shastris for? What is their role? It is to explore the possibility of two-fold transformation: through meditation and through engagement with society. Thus, Shambhala communities are meant to be “incubators” for an enlightened society. Aligning a vision of outward societal transformation with the inner journey of meditation is unique in history and in the meditation lineages of the world today. This is the contribution the Sakyong desires Shambhala to make to the world.
In the Sakyong’s view, shastris should exemplify the fruition of the inward journey of meditation practice and embody goodness, basic goodness. He also says our Shambhala communities should be “beacons of goodness,” places where it is easy for everyone to connect with their own basic goodness.
The Sakyong is relying on us to share his vision of two-fold transformation to address the issues and challenges of our time: numbness and speed and a pervasive disheartenment and loss of joy, confidence and magic. So he has implored us to use “the privilege and power as shastris to open up and widen our community to the widest number of people.” His vision is societal and global.
It is also communal and householder based. One of the primary roles for the shastri in the Shambhala community is to oversee Practice and Education and the curriculum known as the Way of Shambhala. Another essential role is the training of meditation guides, instructors and teachers. Another is to emphasize the importance of households and families as the basic unit of society.
Engagement in the realm of larger society begins for the shastris within the Shambhala communities where the Sakyong has requested shastris to build “communities of trust, cradles of loving-kindness.” Then, at the intersection of community and the larger society, he expects us to “think less, manifest more” and be “change agents.”
Speaking in 2010, the Sakyong said: “You are not returning to your communities only to carry out the curriculum (of Way of Shambhala) but also a vision of humanity. It is important to allow yourselves to think big and expand out. That will give energy.” And further, “(The shastris) should teach not just core Shambhala teachings, but social issues,” with special emphasis on diversity.
I was appointed as Shastri in 2010 along with my respected colleague and friend Shastri Matthew Lyon. There are now 80-90 shastris worldwide.