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Jun 26
Pacific Northwest
Decision Making in Shambhala Governance

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This post is part of a series intended to enhance the accessibility―and potential benefit―of key Shambhala leadership resources. It features an excerpt from the document Tenets of Shambhala Governance available on Shambhala’s Governance webpage.


In Shambhala governance, natural hierarchy includes genuine participative consultation.

A distinctive feature of mandala structure as expressed through our social monarchy is the fact that decisions of major significance to the mandala at any level may be taken by the Sakyong, President and others empowered by the Sakyong and the Kalapa Court. A further aspect of mandala principle is that decisions making includes an appropriate balance of participative consultation. If there is too much authority, the energy, involvement and creative insight of the community is stifled and community needs are not sufficiently expressed or understood. If there is too much “democracy,” a confusing level of complexity develops and there is little forward motion.

Good decision process involves finding a balance. One role of leadership is to facilitate this balance, to make sure that in all important decisions those impacted are free to speak and be heard. Decision making should be informed by this consultation. In return, it is important that our leaders are properly empowered with sufficient authority to make informed decisions.

In general, consulting and establishing a basis of broad agreement around key issues increase trust, goodwill and community involvement, and often expand the range of creative options available. Consultative processes also offer good training for how to practice secular sacred governance in our mandala.

An authentic process of participative consultation combined with a clear decision-making structure based on natural hierarchy is not the same as unanimous agreement. Unanimity requires the agreement of all involved, thus giving the power of veto to any member of the community. This is seldom practical in diverse communities. Therefore, in our social monarchy we are seeking to find a working balance between genuine participation which is respected as a basis for decision making by the leadership at all levels of our mandala.

Fostering genuine participation and consultation also require time and energy, both of which are quite precious commodities. There are certainly some occasions when members may feel such consultation is not the most appropriate use of community or leadership’s time. If the atmosphere of trust and understanding is lower, inclusion and consultation can help repair the fabric of community. If trust and understanding is high, the community may prefer that leaders move forward more decisively.


It is important to distinguish between “consultation” (asking for input from a large group) and actual decision-making (often by a leader or smaller group). For example, scheduling programs for the next year could begin with input from broader participation, but the actual scheduling is best done by those in charge of programming.

In decision making, it is helpful to understand who should to be involved. There are some additional simple principles that can provide practical guidance in this. They emerge from contemplating two criteria: 1) how critical is it to get the decision right? and 2) how much commitment is asked of others once the decision is made?

• If getting the decision right is critically important, and a great deal of commitment is required by the community, broad agreement is often needed. (Examples: where should we locate the new Shambhala Centre, or how should we evolve our governance model?)

• If getting the decision right is not critically important, yet commitment is required from others, consultation with those involved creates a supportive framework for making and implementing the decision. (Example: where shall we hold the reception?)

• If getting the decision right is critically important, yet not a lot of commitment is required by the broader community, people with the particular expertise should be able to make the decision. (Example: what type of roof repair would best solve this leak?)

• If getting the decision right is not critically important, and not a lot of commitment is required by the broader community, the decision can be delegated to the appropriate person. (Example: what brand of copy paper should we buy?)

Leaders face many different types of decisions, and contemplating these criteria might help leaders reach good decision processes and outcomes. In all cases, it is important that the administration cultivate in their communities an open and fluid exchange of communication. Here again, attention to fundamental Shambhala principles and trainings provides insight. The process of communication and exchange can be the natural unfolding of the process of ‘joining heaven and earth’―where mutual inquisitiveness leads to sophisticated exploration, trust, inspiration and ultimately further connection and appreciation. In this atmosphere, the likelihood of achieving workable outcomes and understanding between participants, regardless of perspectives, is enhanced.

From: Kootenay Shambhala Blog

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