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May 31
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Nourishing the Third Jewel: A Letter from our Guest Editors

"Candle" - Miksang photo by Mary Philips

"Candle" - Miksang photo by Mary Philips

We are delighted to welcome you to this theme for the Shambhala Times, which focuses on “Nourishing the Third Jewel.” When we take refuge in the sangha, or the third jewel, we enter a path of companionship. As sangha brothers and sisters, we both support each other’s development as practitioners and care for each other’s well-being. In reading the articles in this theme, we hope you’ll be inspired by accounts of some of the community enriching initiatives that are currently underway at both the local Shambhala Centers and also at the Center of the Mandala.

Beyond simply informing you about the many community well-being projects that are happening, we hope you’ll be encouraged to contemplate the notion of community altogether. Why would sangha be one of the three jewels, and therefore absolutely necessary for the attainment of enlightenment? How can we develop Shambhala communities that encourage us to step outside of our cocoons rather than themselves becoming another iteration of cocoon? What would a society look like that fosters the development of bodhicitta and provides a container in which we can discover and rest in our true nature?

The crowning jewel of the heart and mind is the ability to extend love and compassion to others. –– Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche

To begin our reflection, we first offer as ground a teaching by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche called “Acknowledging Death.”  As the Vidyadhara points out, to live fully we must first face and accept the realities of illness and death. This acknowledgement is the basis of community care.  Acharya Adam Lobel offers an article that takes a pragmatic look at how to manifest as a sangha on outer, inner and secret levels. As he points out, “When we plan programs, organize our schedules, consider the various logistical and personal issues that arise in the center, it might help to consider these three levels.  All three need to interact in order to fulfill the potential of every Shambhala Center.” 

Community Care

To give you a sense of the work on community care happening at the center of the mandala, we wanted to introduce you to the New Community Care Council (CCC).   Several members of the CCC have contributed to this issue. In “Shambhala Community Survey: Why It matters,” Community Care Council Chairperson Mary Whetsell discusses what was learned from the recent community survey demographics, and what the implications are for creating a healthy, sustainable and awake Shambhala culture

The Desung

Desung Arm Commander Debbie Coats offers her insights into the community well-being practice of the desung, and its evolving role in our mandala. Irene Vliegenthart, who participates in the International “Care and Conduct” panel, tells us about the process that has been developed to deal with and learn from painful situations between people in the community.


By sharing his vision for increasing the accessibility of Shambhala for people encountering cultural or physical challenges, President Richard Reoch communicates our inclusive mission.  Hamish Maclaren, Chair of the Accessibility and Disability Working Group, shares the incredible work happening to help Shambhala centers become accessible to people living with disabilities.  

Aging in our Sangha

Dave Whitehorn, Chair of the Care of the Aging Working Group, shares what his group has been doing to help us prepare as a community to support older people in Growing Old in Shambhala.” And finally, Ann Cason offers a personal account of “Being Old in the 21st Century.”

So make a cup of tea, sit back, and contemplate the inspirations and challenges of being a sangha member as you read through the Nourishing the Third Jewel. Don’t forget, you are the community. Every article has space at the bottom for your thoughts, ideas, and questions.

Do you have story to share about your community or an opinion piece that you could submit to the Times? Please don’t hold back!

Yours in the full blossoming of an enlightened society, 

Mary Whetsell and Debbie Coats

Mary Whetsell at Juniper

Mary Whetsell at Juniper

Debbie Coats, as Desung Arm Commander

Debbie Coats, as Desung Arm Commander

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5 responses to “ Nourishing the Third Jewel: A Letter from our Guest Editors ”
  1. A simple question, who or what is the elephant in our liveing room?

  2. Susan Szpakowski wrote:

    > there’s an ‘elephant in the room’ and as long as we’re not talking about it…. our sangha community is deeply fragmented and we’re not talking about it, as a community.”

    Mary Whetsell wrote:

    > self-awarenes is as essential to healthy cultures as it is to healthy individuals… I would like to invite everyone to participate in the the Shambhala Congress this November in Halifax. The theme of the Congress will be “Creating and Nurturing Community”

    From where I sit, the problem with the Congress is that it excludes the elephant. One could say, “but Suzanne, Mary invited EVERYONE to attend the Congress!” But the fragmented student body is by now quite clearly unwelcome at the Congress and certainly none of those individuals will attend it. I attended the first Congress with great hopes but when I realized that there were two communities in that room and one studiously ignoring the message of the other one, it was disheartening and fragmenting all on its own. At the upcoming Congress, therefore, I can only imagine that even if every activity and break-out group is about community, everyone will be saying the same thing and asking the same questions and going around and around the same issues: How do we open the flower? How do we slit the cocoon? How do we become unfragmented? Lots of discussion, ending with maybe a few resolutions dealing with the “insider” community.

    I just do not think that cultural self-awareness can increase in a closed system.

  3. Mary Whetsell
    Jun 8, 2009

    I resonated deeply with the comments above. It seems to me that self-awarenes is as essential to healthy cultures as it is to healthy individuals. If our glorious Shambhala lineage and teachings are to survive for many generations to come, they will be carried forward within the framework of a healthy, sane culture. This cannot happen until we find the way to relate to the third jewel of sangha as a vehicle for awakening, at the same level of devotion that we hold for our teacher(s) and the teachnings.

    The writer above mentioned the need to drop blame and factionalism as we explore how to apply the precious teachings we have been given to community life. I would so love to hear from others about how this has worked, or not worked, in your community. What are you learning about relating to sangha as a way to devlop boddhicitta and dissolve ego?

    Additionally, I would like to invite everyone to participate in the the Shambhala Congress this November in Halifax. The theme of the Congress will be “Creating and Nurturing Community”, and every activity, talk, break-out group, etc. will be devoted to working with some aspect of community life. Plans for Congress are still in the formational stage, and every Shambhalian Center will be contacted within a few weeks with the request to reflect on what the important themes are in your community’s growth and health. You will be invited to send these themes, experiences, etc forward to Congress with you or with your Center’s representatives.

    – Mary Whetsell

  4. Susan Szpakowski
    Jun 1, 2009

    Your announcement about the theme of community was time-ly for me, as I was in the midst of a contemplation about this theme myself, having just attended a delek gathering yesterday, on a glorious Sunday afternoon in Halifax. At that gathering the dekyong asked me about someone in the delek who had stopped showing up for sangha events, and whether she might reach out. I thought about this and said sure, but also asked why…what was her motivation? I surprised myself, as I have a lot of appreciation and respect for my dekyong. It took awhile to unravel the bigger question behind my response. I explained to her that for some people there’s an “elephant in the room” and as long as we’re not talking about it, the situation gets uncomfortable and even strange for them. Eventually they stop coming around. If we approach them with the assumption they have a personal problem we’re offering to help them with, we could be starting the conversation on the wrong foot.

    In Halifax our sangha community is deeply fragmented and we’re not talking about it, as a community. Not long ago I asked a Desung, “Do you think our community as a whole is healthy?” He thought for a few moments then said, “The community that gathered (at the then-recent) Garsung was doing just fine.”

    I wonder if this is indicative of the go-forward attitude–Onward for those who are inspired, and for those who aren’t, that’s their responsibility. Which is true, of course. But I believe it is only a partial truth. Many of these people have lived a lifetime of commitment and service to the vision and Three Jewels of Shambhala. When such a deeply rooted community, with such a powerful force field, fragments, it weakens everyone. The core that continues can become more fundamentalist (always a danger in a transmission-based culture) and those on the edges can become caricatures of themselves. They are left to play out the disowned, unwanted roles, truths, and voices that have been rejected or suppressed by the status quo.

    As usual, there’s no one to blame particularly, just an insufficiency of prajna and skillful means. For all our insights into ultimate and relative truth, I don’t perceive that the Shambhala community has ever had a lot of understanding or skill about community itself. If we have internal apartheid–boundaries and fissures that we can’t quite deal with or acknowledge or heal–then I don’t see how we’ll ever be a guiding light for others.

    At a recent community talk in Halifax, the Sakyong emphasized the word manifest. How are we manifesting enlightened society? Given that this was community meeting, I was struck by the absence of community voices. Have we assumed that a traditional teaching context (and culture) is the same as that which fosters community? The Sakyong also talked about leadership, and how Shambhala could be an example for others in these difficult times. What are the conditions that inspire individuals and communities to step into their own leadership? How do we manifest these conditions as a sangha? The Sakyong spoke about culture as the important context that preserves the teachings during a dark age. My understanding is that Nova Scotia was identified as a place that could play such a role. Not just the Shambhala Centre on Tower Road, but the whole place. This assumes that over time there is a blending of all that is good and wholesome about Nova Scotian society with all that is good and wholesome about Shambhala society–a truly wonderful vision, as both have so much to offer the world.

    I wonder what would change if we were to focus our attention on that vision, as a sangha community (and not just in or about Nova Scotia). Could we lift our gaze and include more parts of ourselves, for the sake of the bigger intention? Would we pick up the tools needed to overcome internal and external obstacles, so that we could move forward with greater expediency and joy? Would we be eager to take on leadership roles and be of service in the community-at-large so that we had more chances to mix our wisdom, and exchange our gifts? Is this the yearning that some of us feel, planted in our mindstream long ago by the Druk Sakyong and still waiting to be fully expressed and realized?

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