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Feb 01
Opinion Pieces
The Impact of the Economy: Shambhalians in Financial Distress
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Recently I posed a question on Sangha-announce. I asked: Are any Shambhalians in financial distress? And, if there are any, what might we have in place to alleviate such distress? In what part of our organization would this element of vicissitude be addressed?

Suddenly I became the instant expert on the subject and was asked to write my opinions here. Very funny. Anyone who knows me also knows that I am not a magnet for monetary wealth. Since I have grappled with this sort of scarcity for so long, I am, in a way, just that expert.

The responses were many. Some lost all their money in the stock market; others have had a long-standing financial struggle, or have recently lost jobs. Replies came recommending useful practices like tonglen, werma and jambhala. It became clear that no system is in place to address overall happiness, wealth and well-being (at least nothing pragmatic; after all we do have our practices).

Mostly, a great deal of appreciation was expressed for raising this issue. But also, anonymity was requested. People who don’t have money are embarrassed by their situation. You may think it’s their karma, but blink and it’s yours. Some people never have financial distress, really, so it is hard for them to understand. You are essentially invisible to people with inherited wealth.

We have, or had, a deleg system in place that according to my understanding was to ensure the well-being of those in a neighborhood. It never matured to the level of taking care of each other. And, as far as I can tell, it has mostly been abandoned for lack of interest. Perhaps we could take another look.

I propose, as an enlightened society or nation, that at each Shambhala Centre, the directors, or a group so assigned (“The Caring Ones”), know all the people connected with that centre. Know them well. Get into their business and make it your business. Call them and ask how they are. Assume a list of topics where things could go awry and establish an antidote for each of the topics, in advance. Have the antidote be both pragmatic and dharmic. Let the priority be people who are taking care of others, for instance, single parents. To pay for programs, take money payments, but also donations and trades.

For work/study requests, have the exchange rate be high, not low. Have a potluck once a week with a host/hostess to introduce people to each other. (“Jill, do you know Sally? Sally is a terrific locksmith, Jill is a carpenter, and I just thought you should know each other.”) Bringing food is optional, attendance welcome. Call this Community Outreach, Community Care or even The Pickle Jar.

When we look to purchasing new buildings or spaces for our dharma centres we could include the notion of people living in and around them. A purchase of a new space, such as in New York City, could include housing and living-in options that are moderately priced. See these places not only as where programs are held but also as embassies. Enlist and commission artists to embellish them. Start our own Works Program.

Each year, when we issue a members directory, include in it a “Resources” section. List each person’s employment preferences, skills, aptitudes and interests. Don’t charge for this listing; it is not to be considered a source of the centre’s income for services.  If we know what our members do, we might hire them. This could be helpful. If a sangha member wants to hire you, try charging what they can afford, as long as you don’t lose money.

Mostly, take heart; you really don’t need much to live on after all. Ahem, if you are in love–a crust of bread and so forth.  Keep your sense of humor. And, for sure, don’t let the turkeys get you down. Ask for help even if it hurts.

Every great religion or aspirants to enlightenment have had a system in place to help the indigent, the sick and the needy. Let’s work on getting this in place for Shambhalians. We can sit in retreat and practice our bottoms off, but it’s when we get up from the cushion that our practice actually happens. But no guarantee. Focus on other, whether we are an individual or a group.

Everyone is welcome to contribute to this discussion and give expert opinions. Please do.

May all beings flourish.

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10 responses to “ The Impact of the Economy: Shambhalians in Financial Distress ”
  1. This is why I started Mindful Money Magazine- to empower people to build wealth and wealth beyond money with where they are right now. Welcome to the softer side of Financial Advice- http://bit.ly/MindfulMoneyMag Our first issue featured Shambhala Teacher, Nancy Thompson and this current issue, Pema Chodron. Right now it is only available for the iPad in iTunes Newsstand. For 3 free issues, follow these instructions-
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  2. Hi, this is a really nice article to find. I’ve found myself contemplating on whether it is possible to accomplish the Shambhala path as a poor person – not just for a year or two, but perhaps for one’s whole life as a practitioner. Access to higher teachings in this sangha are tightly guarded by money and it is not about one person’s financial aid, but about making programs affordable to many more people.

    I completely agree about keeping a sense of humor, but there is also tremendous shame in our society not having money and that being the reason various programs have STILL not been done – what? you haven’t done Warrior’s Assembly?!

    The “vast vision of Shambhala” is a phrase I read a fair amount with regards to fundraising – which, despite the proposed One-Model system, is very regular – but does it *actually* include poor people without the hidden hope that one day they’ll have money and thus support the various material projects of city and land centers and Rinpoche’s family. In theory I am sure it does, but in reality…there is no evidence that it does.

  3. This was true back in the late 80’s, up until my leaving Shambhala in the late 90’s. I was a lone champion in my sangha for community outreach from a medical background and my life as a Christian growing up.

    The disconnect btwn the desire to achieve enlightenment (and consequently how much practice is enough before one gets up off that cushion and takes their experience out into the world?) AND taking refuge, the bodhisattva vow=is simply astonishing to me. We took VOWS to alleviate anothers suffering til the end of time, to return again and again. So folks when does that begin? I find the underpinnings of this group to be founded upon our “graspy” nature: i.e: that there IS this “I” that yearns for enlightenment and seeks it, practicing so that “I” can obtain it.

    Ultimately it was when I gave up any and all desire and beliefs about enlightenment and what this meant for me, that I was able to let go and find my freedom. “Kill the buddha when you see him on the road” —no truer words spoken imo

  4. phyllis segura
    Mar 11, 2011

    I was just doing a bit of browsing and saw some comments (a few years old) I had not noticed. As an update, well there is no update. I have not experienced any activity in this area. If you have, please chime in. Never did notice that the Shambhala Times would feature livelihood – that benefited others. Have there been any responses to this?

  5. Chris Levy
    Apr 8, 2009

    Very good article. I especially like the last part about all religions offering charity works. Maybe I haven’t seen anything that’s out there – but I see a distinct lack of non-Shambhala community charity: Shambhala soup kitchens? Shelters for the abused? Emergency shelters for homeless in winter? Community fund raising? Advocating wheelchair accessibility? Offering social events for mentally disabled people? I see many many programs like this offered by Christians. But us? I don’t see more than a lot of middle class white people sitting in meditation, delighting in the day they will get their enlightenment.

  6. Ira Zukerman
    Mar 8, 2009

    Phyllis, just a brief note to say hello, and thank you for this message, which is well thought and presented. Your last paragraph helps contextualize our work, and your note provides the details for getting there. In DC, for example, where we have a new person stepping into the role of Center Director (hi Jayne), given my being something of an old dog, I should probably take advantage of having stopped here to reply and also consider turnabout fair play, and offer personal welcome & assistance. Finally, also, thanks for having helped me frame that calligraphy now many years ago, waiting to be re-hung, since I moved with my family 3 years ago.

    Cheerful regards,

    Ira Z.

  7. Victoria, Phyllis and readers,

    Shambhala Times is very interested in posting articles and news from community business owners, artists, professionals and others with livelihoods that benefits others. In these economic times we want to be a place for interchange, communication and a recirculation of both basic goodness and green energy. If you have a business or livelihood, we would like to feature you – check out “Contact Us” in the upper-right corner of any page here and send us your story – we’ll publish it! (And check out our Scene and Heard area, where we’re posting news from bloggers, authors and others – we want to hear from you! and in any language!)

    Stay in touch, please,
    Marc Matheson, for Shambhala Times

  8. I love the idea of having a members directory where people have the opportunity to list their skills/professions/interests. Some local centres have bulletin boards which serve this purpose to some extent, but it could be much more comprehensive; and even internationally there could be a lot of benefit to knowing what resources are out there in our community…

  9. Menno Baks
    Feb 26, 2009

    Thank you for taking a honest look at how to relate to poverty and need within our shanga.
    The Desung can only do so much, reinventing Delegs can connect us all more personally to learn others plight.
    The Shambhala times has great potential to unify our shanga around our planet.

  10. Una Morera
    Feb 25, 2009

    This is a great article, detailing how we can help each other, move forward with some kind of plan and establish a real network of care. I appreciate that this article was published and hope to see more articles on the subject but mostly on the results of these actions.

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