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On Differing Views and Paths
"Window blind" - Miksang photo by Joey Johannsen

Window blind - Miksang photo by Joey Johannsen

Shambhala Times is delighted to publish this interview, conducted by Andrew Safer and published in conjunction with Radio Free Shambhala.

Radio Free Shambhala: As you know, there has been tension and disagreement between some of Trungpa Rinpoche’s senior students and some of the students of the Sakyong, regarding changes to the practice path and differences of view. Many of these senior students do not feel that there is room for them within the Shambhala mandala.

Richard Reoch: It’s true that some of the long-term students of the Vidyadhara feel like they’re not supported. I and others have been in conversation with some of the long-term acharyas to see what is the practice support that is needed that would continue to nurture their path, and not make them feel excluded.

RFS: Sometimes the samaya of these senior students has been questioned.

Richard Reoch: That’s not what I feel Shambhala vision is about. I do not believe we should be commenting on or having the presumption to comment on another practitioner’s samaya. We all have a common, deep karmic connection. Probably most of us can’t even fathom it. We are all in this extraordinary lineage stream. We have a deep shared vision, at least about what Shambhala means, in an archetypal sense, in our subconscious.

To regard someone who is maintaining samaya within the Shambhala lineage as a dissenter is a mistaken view. It is not helpful to comment on the legitimacy of another person’s practice of samaya. Perhaps this happens because we don’t have the ground for the perpetuation of lineage in this culture. If you think several generations ahead, are we going to say that the students of the next Sakyong are dissenters because they’re following the teachings of Mipham? This is a fundamental misunderstanding of lineage.

One problem with the transplantation of egoless devotion from a culture like Tibet to a culture like we have in the West is we don’t have a tradition of lineage in modern form. We don’t have the cultural roots to support that. We are all grappling with how to understand this profound teaching.

I try to use the office I hold (as President), and the authority that goes with it to deal with this issue. When members of our community are described as “border tribes”–when they write me or meet with me–I devote a lot of time and try to learn from them. I think there has been a kind of polarization in which extreme language is used. We genuinely have to go deeper, beneath this level of argument, to find the commonality. I’m definitely doing that, person to person.

Maybe now that the current orientation of the path is getting clearer, we need to have a conversation with the senior acharyas about precisely what could be the support that can be provided for people who started on a particular element of the path of Shambhala and that needs to continue and be supported?

Five Sakyongs down the road, there will be people who say “I make a personal connection by reading the works of the Vidyadhara.” Others will say, “How fortunate it was for Shambhala that Mipham the Great reincarnated as the Sakyong.” Eventually, it’s not just about tolerating differences; it’s about appreciating the incredible richness that’s available in our kingdom.

RFS: The real question is: how are the teaching stream and legacy of Trungpa Rinpoche going to continue?

Richard Reoch:
I’ve been in discussions with Carolyn Gimian since the beginning of the Chogyam Trungpa Legacy Project about the importance of that initiative. The analogy we have used is that the Legacy Project is like a presidential library, so things don’t end up smoldering and being lost. I’ve had some initial conversations with some of the longer-term students and acharyas about how to create an identifiable and helpful framework so no one is seen as being on one track or the other, or as renegades which is antithetical to the long-term survival of the lineage.

RFS: Many people who are devoted to Trungpa Rinpoche and who don’t consider the Sakyong to be their teacher don’t feel welcomed by the community, and they’re afraid to speak up.

Richard Reoch: One of the earliest statements issued by the Mandala Governing Council created after the first Shambhala Congress was a statement on the commitment to openness. I asked members of that council to list the issues that people are afraid to speak up about. We seemed to have inherited an incredible atmosphere of fear, and I did not understand that. I had no idea the extent to which this community was traumatized. When I asked what issues were not being addressed, people were afraid to name the issues. I think we all realized, “Wow, we can’t even talk about what we can’t talk about!” Opening up that discussion was like Glasnost and Perestroika in Shambhala.

I talked to Larry Mermelstein, and asked, “Is there anything we can do to reduce this climate of fear?” Some people were experiencing this fear in a very palpable way. If we can’t create a social framework in which we understand that people will have different points of view, then all the notions of fearlessness and openheartedness–everything we’re so proud of about the Shambhala inheritance–absolutely won’t take root. We can’t build an enlightened society on a basis of fear.

Wherever I go, I invite people to talk to me about this so I can out find more about it. Sometimes, because someone has said something extremely abusive, we feel like we’re going to lose membership There are people hiding out, as if they’re the old Chi Kung masters at the height of the Cultural Revolution hoping they’re not noticed by the Red Guards. It’s a slow process of personal conversation, trying to address these tendencies of people persecuting each other.

When Radio Free Shambhala was established, people contacted me as if this was the end of the world. “No, just think ahead,” I said. “If we think about the new golden age of Shambhala, there will be countless websites and social networking opportunities where people express their experience of the dharma and of different teachers, including what others might disagree with. If there’s one thing that prevents establishing the kingdom of Shambhala, it’s called fascism, and I’m not having anything to do with that.”

President Reoch speaking at a local community radio station in La Victoria shanty town in Santiago, Chile, on a visit to Shambhala Centres in Latin America in 2005. La Victoria was a center of resistance during the years of the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile.

President Reoch speaking at a local community radio station in La Victoria shanty town in Santiago, Chile, on a visit to Shambhala Centres in Latin America in 2005. La Victoria was a center of resistance during the years of the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile.


President Reoch writes: “I was asked by Radio Free Shambhala to talk about the current guidelines for inviting teachers and, in the course of that, asked if I could talk also about the issue of fear in our mandala. I am delighted that Radio Free Shambhala is posting that interview on its website. Along these very same lines, I was deeply touched to hear the Sakyong say recently: ‘It is not a matter of us all agreeing. It is a matter of us not giving up.'”

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14 responses to “ On Differing Views and Paths ”
  1. Chris Keyser
    Jul 16, 2009
    Reply

    RFS: The real question is: how are the teaching stream and legacy of Trungpa Rinpoche going to continue?

    Richard Reoch: I’ve been in discussions with Carolyn Gimian since the beginning of the Chogyam Trungpa Legacy Project about the importance of that initiative. The analogy we have used is that the Legacy Project is like a presidential library, so things don’t end up smoldering and being lost.

    This states the problem in a nutshell. Andrew asked how we can ensure that the Vidyadhara’s teachings will continue. Richard answered through the CTR Legacy Project, like a presidential library. The Vidyadhara’s teachings are a living, breathing transmission — not books to be stacked up neatly in a library or museum.

  2. phyllis segura
    Jul 16, 2009
    Reply

    These teachings, those teachings, I don’t know, it just seems like there is a cultural inheritance that has been sidestepped. I use the word sidestepped in the hope that some rhythm will return and we pick up the beat. It does seem like we are looking at the years we experienced with the Vidyadhara as a ‘what was that?’ moment and now something else is happening. Maybe this is the ‘what is this?’ moment.

    It seems that when there is a monarchy one inherits the styles of that particular monarch of the moment. If one monarch likes classical music and the next one likes country music then so goes the culture.

    There is a part of me that will always have a foot in Shambhala no matter the manifestation. I hope I can keep complaining even if no one pays any attention. Personally, my ambitions have departed. I got what I came for. There can be more teachings, sublime and ultimate, more abhisekhas ( I can’t afford), and more classes, etc. I have enough trouble trying to manifest Shambhala world and style in my own little world; it’s a full time job.

    I have noticed though that all the little committees of the Governing Council, though well meaning, don’t seem to be doing much. Something is supposed to be happening here and some of it is and some of it isn’t, maybe. They say that things skip generations. If the Sakyong has a child….who knows? Earth complains to Heaven. Human has humor.

  3. Michael Chender
    Jul 17, 2009
    Reply

    I appreciate the view President Reoch is expressing. However, exhorting people to hold a view has limited efficacy without a supporting practice, and one practice that seems to me to be particularly helpful here is that of asking questions.

    If you are a “newer” student who has an opinion on the “older students,” an appropriate question might be “How would you know?”

    The Vidhyadhara, the Sakyong, and many teachers remind us that as we practice and seem to progress or become inspired, ego is inflating right along side in subtle and maybe not-so-subtle ways. Seeing this is a mark of insight, let alone of developing decency and a sense of humor. So we could all ask, “In what ways am I pretending to be a buddhist or Shambhalian but actually acting like a cult member?” If the answer is “not at all,” seek an honest friend to have the discussion with.

    Similarly we could ask, “How is our organizational neurosis manifesting?” If we are human beings in this world and have an organization, its not possible that we don’t experience organizational neurosis. And that neurosis is going to mirror what’s going on in the larger society. So we could look at that and reflect back. How much in our own organizations are we subject to the worship of the “new,” to theism, to shortening attention spans, to demonization of the other, etc?

    The Vidhyadhara taught us not to get caught in the trap of idealism and perfectionism, where we regard our own neurosis as a source of shame, rather than as good manure. If we can’t look at it squarely, we will never have the robust container that can hold differences and therefore a society.

    Speaking as an older student, one reason many of us are so sensitive to this is because we’ve experienced being led by a genuine teacher, manifesting as cult members, being inflated and deflated, and being ground down at the intersection of practice, wishful thinking and real life for many years.

  4. Bill Karelis
    Jul 17, 2009
    Reply

    I find this interview disingeneous, not because I don’t like Mr. Reoch as a person, and not because I don’t appreciate his apparent commitment to openness. The problem is that that commitment is a commitment of the mouth, belied by the actions of Shambhala International. Essentially, Mr. Safer’s incisive questions in this interview go unanswered.

    Mr. Reoch seemes unaware that the actions of the current administration of Shambhala International have perpetuated the fear and sense of intimidation among senior students, which Mr. Reoch admits he does not understand. There is, to begin with, the well-known reality that teaching permission is granted in proportion to perceived fidelity to current Shambhala International policy. To take another example, there have been recent “harmony” meetings, where at least two acharyas have been bullying the senior students present into a silent compliance with the current policy on devotion. To take another example, the very presence of the Dorje Kasung in the speech realm in Boulder, attending in force every administrative and community meeting within Karma Dzong over the last 15 or 20 years, suppressing dissent with pacification techniques, even making sarcastic remarks about individuals–basically acting as the thought police–has contributed to virtually the entire senior community absenting itself from Dorje Dzong. Withheld and carefully managed microphone time overwhelms every so-called Congress and group gathering that I have attended over the last five years. Mr. Reoch’s repeated references to senior acharyas helping to solve the problem of inclusivity does not jibe with one of the main functions of the acharyas, which is to propagate adherence to new curricular and practice policy, for instance, in the current “teacher trainings,” whereby teaching permission is given in exchange for conformity to the new practice and study stream–a bargain not unlike the one the acharyas themselves have themselves been asked to make. (Not every acharya has gone along with the pressure, but some have bought it hook, line and sinker, and now impose it on others.) Therefore, it is not the acharyas, as a body, but the thousands of the Vidyadhara’s direct students, to whom the task has clearly fallen to propagate the Vidyadhara’s teachings.

    On the point of samaya, I appreciate that Mr. Reoch sees it as a personal matter, but this view does not accord with the letters Chris Tamdjidi sent out as Director of Shambhala Europe to a number of senior students in the last couple of years, ordering them to return their Vajrayana materials, if they did not conform to Shambhala International dues payment policy. If this isn’t intimidation in the name of corporate policy, it would be difficult to imagine what would be.

    With regard to the title of the article, “On Differing Views and Paths,” is it really appropriate for the foremest representative of Shambhala International, the President, to be welcoming and “supporting” the view and practice of the Dharma espoused by the Great Vidyadhara, whose umbrella actually protects Shambhala International from falling into spiritual disrepair? When it comes to the hearts and minds of the Vajra Sangha, who represent the body of the guru, it is not a matter of “support” by a corporate entity, and its representatives. The real question, as Mr. Safer asks in different ways, regards how the institution continues to box out so many of the Vidyadhara’s students, minimizing their presence and contribution, by displacing his teaching and practice stream. Personally, I supplicate that the Vidyadhara’s Dharma teachings flourish in all societies, including the Shambhala community. I believe history will look dimly on the current developments in the very organization he established to establish and further his teachings.

  5. Bill Karelis
    Jul 17, 2009
    Reply

    The fourth comment, beginning with, “I find this interview disingenuous…” and ending with “…further his teachings,” was written by Bill Karelis. I did not realize in making this comment that my name would not appear. BK

  6. Bill Karelis writes:

    “With regard to the title of the article, “On Differing Views and Paths,” is it really appropriate for the foremest representative of Shambhala International, the President, to be welcoming and “supporting” the view and practice of the Dharma espoused by the Great Vidyadhara, whose umbrella actually protects Shambhala International from falling into spiritual disrepair? When it comes to the hearts and minds of the Vajra Sangha, who represent the body of the guru, it is not a matter of “support” by a corporate entity, and its representatives. The real question, as Mr. Safer asks in different ways, regards how the institution continues to box out so many of the Vidyadhara’s students, minimizing their presence and contribution, by displacing his teaching and practice stream. Personally, I supplicate that the Vidyadhara’s Dharma teachings flourish in all societies, including the Shambhala community. I believe history will look dimly on the current developments in the very organization he established to establish and further his teachings.”

    Begging your pardon, what protects Shambhala from falling into spiritual disrepair seems to be the blessings of unbroken lineage that trace back to the Buddha, within which the Vidyadhara is present.

    I can only assume that when the Vidyadhara taught that wisdom does not belong to any one culture or religion, he was talking about his as well. I get the impression that he was serious, hilarious and brilliant in that way.

    Cheers,
    Ian

  7. John Tischer
    Jul 18, 2009
    Reply

    “Begging your pardon, what protects Shambhala from falling into spiritual disrepair seems to be the blessings of unbroken lineage that trace back to the Buddha, within which the Vidyadhara is present.”

    Beg your pardon, but this kind of idea when used as a platitude and dismissal of actual events
    taking place in the real world is nothing if not choosing to ignore the issues in question.

    Best, John

  8. Julie Benson
    Jul 18, 2009
    Reply

    Offhandedly pondering the dependent arising that gives rise to a phrase like “the current policy on devotion…”

  9. hi John,

    The only issue addressed in my previous comment is that regarding the health of the Shambhala Buddhist tradition, from one practitioner’s perspective. You cannot empirically measure ‘spiritual disrepair’, it is an idea. And I am presenting another perspective, based on actual experience.

    I appreciate that there are details you would like to discuss, and I intuit that there are issues that would be beneficial for you to process with a peer group– I have personally found this approach to be helpful; However, I find it a bit curious that an expression of health about one’s own tradition would be parsed as a ‘platitude’ and ‘dismissal of actual events’.

    It’s not really a zero-sum situation, is it?

    There are teachings in the Shambhala Buddhist tradition on ‘sympathetic joy.’ By my understanding, these teachings involve recognition of when someone is doing good for themselves and rejoicing in that with them, even though you may not fully understand its many causes or results.

    Perhaps you could express something of what you find healthy about your wisdom tradition so we could experience that?

    Cheers,
    Ian

    > “Begging your pardon, what protects Shambhala from falling into spiritual disrepair seems to be the blessings of unbroken lineage that trace back to the Buddha, within which the Vidyadhara is present.”

    > Beg your pardon, but this kind of idea when used as a platitude and dismissal of actual events
    taking place in the real world is nothing if not choosing to ignore the issues in question.

    > Best, John

  10. The Care and Conduct Initiative generally and the Care and Conduct Document itself specifically provide some remedies for repugnant behavoir by office-holders of Shambhala International (Vajradhatu) insofar as this Initiative would necessarily incorporate the Tripitaka generally and the Vinaya Pitaka specifically by expression or by implication and so that this Initiative would not therefore be viewed as non-Buddhist in nature.

    Interview with Debbie Coats, Desung Arm Commander
    May 28, 2009 – 9:21 pm
    http://shambhalatimes.org/2009/05/28/interview-with-debbie-coats/

    Supporting Enlightened “Care and Conduct”
    May 29, 2009 – 10:01 am
    By Irene Vliegenthart
    http://shambhalatimes.org/2009/05/29/care-and-conduct/

  11. John Tischer
    Jul 20, 2009
    Reply

    Ian,

    I experienced VCTR’s sangha from almost the beginning. Albeit those were wild and crazy times in many ways, there was a healthiness in the directness with which the Vidyadhara’s students related to each other. And we practiced a lot of meditation.

    I now study with Her Eminence Khandro Rinpoche. I have been to India and seen how the sangha is there, as well as how her western students are. And I have seen and experienced a maturation in her western
    students through their practice and study. For me, that’s been a slight surprise and a delight.

    Best, John

  12. hi John,

    I found that to be quite crisp.

    Cheers,
    Ian

  13. THIS is part of the practice.

    As I read President Reoch’s interview and the various responses, I’m reminded that these comments are part of the practice of “being together.” We can’t really step out of the stream, even when we think of ourselves as “outsiders.”

    The shape of “the hinterland” is changing due to our technological circumstances.

  14. Ana Maria Milan
    Mar 28, 2010
    Reply

    The credit of the President Reoch’s photo is Ana María Milán
    Thank you


Sorry, comments for this entry are closed at this time.



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