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Jul 04
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Timeliness of the Shambhala Terma

OCA sky, photo courtesy of Joey Johannsen

OCA sky, photo courtesy of Joey Johannsen

In Tibet, terma has been discovered in times of chaos, confusion or uncertainty. During dark periods of history – whether political or spiritual – terma arises to respond to specific situations with fresh spiritual teachings and blessings. “In our case,” Kalapa Acharya Adam Lobel points out, “the Shambhala terma is appearing in a very new and unique situation: politically, economically, historically, culturally — it’s a whole new world. To have a teaching that responds directly to our world is very precious.”

Conditions of Our World

The Scorpion Seal of the Golden Sun terma communicates the highest teachings of the Shambhala Buddhist path. This June, Sakyong Mipham opened the path of the Scorpion Seal for the first time, with a sense of urgency. Many wisdom traditions describe this period in history as a dark age. As Sakyong Mipham describes, Padmasambhava, a great teacher responsible for hiding many terma, “predicted that this particular dark age would be distinguished by our increasing cleverness. We would create myriad ways to keep ourselves entertained, becoming experts in how to spend free time. We would use our intellect not for betterment but for hanging out in one form of distraction or another, constantly on holiday. Our discursive minds would run rampant. Padmasambhava predicted that as we became more shrewd and clever, compassion would seem increasingly futile, and we would forget how to bring meaning to our lives.”

Flower, photo courtesy of Maxine Sidran

Flower, photo courtesy of Maxine Sidran

Part of the path of the Scorpion Seal is to train ourselves in simplicity. Because we are constantly in search of pleasant and distracting experience, our feet are never quite planted on the earth, relating to the mundane – and yet extraordinary – experiences of washing the dishes and eating our food. We are impatient with the way things are. Our ambition to alter our experience and create an idealized version of how our life should be leads to whirlwinds of aggression and speed. Thinking phenomena are real and permanent leads us to accumulate things and experiences as evidence of a good life, which is ultimately unfulfilling. But when we are connected with the true nature of our minds, we relax and relate simply with our lives. This brings a clarity that is direct and powerful.

One of the manifestations of the dark age is our relationship to the natural environment. During the Scorpion Seal Assembly, the Sakyong spoke a lot about the natural environment, ecology, and the destruction of natural places. He emphasized how much the Shambhala teachings are about connecting to the elements and the dralas of our world, encouraging everyone to take the principle of earth protection to heart.

Shambhala as a Container for Wisdom

“The Vidyadhara’s intention was for Shambhala—especially the terma that he revealed—to be the basis of our view, practice, and meditation. He often talked about Shambhala as the container of the Buddhist teachings, as the mountain that supports and protects them.” – Sakyong Mipham

Acharya Emily Bower describes the vision for Shambhala that the Sakyong is emphasizing at the Scorpion Seal Assemblies: “The Sakyong uses the analogy of Tibetan society when he speaks of the way Buddhism was supported by the whole country. In our times, our spiritual life is separated from our business lives and we don’t have a support structure to meditate every day or to go on retreat regularly – it’s really hard for all of us. We twist ourselves in circles just to get to places like Karme Choling. The Sakyong has a really big vision and he’s talking about it more immediately than people ever imagined. The vision is to create a culture and society that supports tantric practices.”

Acharya Lobel elaborates that “The Sakyong’s commitment, passion, and focus on creating enlightened society as a container to hold the most precious teaching was striking and inspiring. It touched all of us.”

Cloudlake, photo courtesy of Maxine Sidran

Cloudlake, photo courtesy of Maxine Sidran

Inner and Outer Realization

Acharya Adam Lobel observes that while the Scorpion Seal Assembly is a very disciplined inner practice with a very spacious environment, at the same time there is a very Shambhalian thread emphasizing enlightened society. “We’re not focusing only on an individual person’s stabilization of basic goodness, we’re really interested in how this effects the whole world. The Sakyong gave a lot of instructions on how this relates to our world, how this relates to our individual life at home and bringing it to our experience.”

Acharya Michael Greenleaf echoes this observation, “The retreat is quite rigorous and it is about deepening one’s understanding and deepening one’s practice mind. But the view or the motivation is to make a difference and have an impact.” He goes on to describe how the Sakyong’s passion for creating enlightened society is more than a challenge from our teacher — it is based on what the world requires. “The world needs help and engagement, and this retreat reminds us of the pragmatic bodhisattvic aspect.” But engaging in that requires understanding that the nature of wisdom is that it manifests. The Sakyong is declaring that it is time for us to have some understanding, and that it is this understanding that will manifest and be of benefit.

Manifesting Enlightened Society

This principle forms the basis for the Scorpion Seal Assemblies. As the world spins itself deeper into the dark age, we need to truly understand and stabilize basic goodness. Enlightened society creates a container for realization to occur and is also the expression of the wisdom that results. As the Sakyong is emphasizing, our authentic realization will naturally express itself in the world, and our practice will continually nourish members of Shambhala society. This strengthens our expression of basic goodness and fuels activity that radiates to all.

The Sakyong communicates his urgency by saying that “We are living in a very critical time, and much trust has been placed in our hands. Not only the Druk Sakyong, but many of the other great masters, have passed away. The legacy of the past and hopefully the future is falling into many of our hands. Thus we are forced to understand and practice these teachings at a quicker rate than we might have chosen.”

“We must practice the Scorpion Seal terma, which in its entirety is a complete path to enlightenment in a single life. Here we learn the vocabulary for true enlightenment.”

To read the first article in the Scorpion Seal series, click here.

To read the Sakyong’s teachings on overcoming the dark age, click here.

For the Sakyong’s complete letter to the sangha from his first Scorpion Seal retreat in 2005, click here.

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1 response to “ Timeliness of the Shambhala Terma ”
  1. Charles Gillard
    Dec 29, 2010

    What if we become termites?

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