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Jul 23
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Today’s Command

Kusung Dapon Noel McLellan writes about What’s What and Who’s Who in the Dorje Kasung. Unless labeled, all photos courtesy of Christoph Schoenherr.

How Dare You
Be a tiger.
Lick the Wilkinson sword.
Join together with thunderbolt.
I am so proud to be one of the Kasung.

–Makkyi Rabjam Dorje Dradul of Mukpo

This poem by Chogyam Trungpa (here referred to as the Makkyi Rabjam Dorje Dradul) expresses the audacious and romantic energy of the Dorje Kasung tradition. Founded by Trungpa Rinpoche in conjunction with the 1974 visit of His Holiness Karmapa XVI, the Dorje Kasung continues today as the military pillar of the Shambhala mandala.

As a practice, Kasungship is a deep means of engagement with the path of warriorship, the bodhisattva vow, and the vajrayana lineage. The very embodiment of crazy wisdom, the Kasung utilize the forms of western military as a discipline of meditation-in-action and a way to embody compassion and to transmit the joyful, sharp edge of nowness. As an organization, the Dorje Kasung serves as protector of the teachers, the teachings, and the community. Much has been taught about the view of Kasungship and why it exists. For an introduction, go to http://www.shambhala.org/kasung.php. For this article however, I would like to describe the Kasung mandala as it exists today and some aspects of our activities.

Kasung Dapon McLellan and Debbie Coats Rupon at the royal wedding. Photo courtesy of Marguerite Drescher.

Kasung Dapon McLellan and Debbie Coats Rupon at the royal wedding. Photo courtesy of Marguerite Drescher.

Chain of Command
Central to the military model is the principle of chain of command. Chain of command simplifies communication and facilitates effective action. In a functional chain of command, each soldier knows whom she reports to, and discursive confusion is minimized. In the Dorje Kasung, the pinnacle of the chain of command is the Sakyong, who is the first kasung, and whose military title is Makkyi Rabjam, “Supreme Commander.” The Makkyi Rabjam receives the first ka, the command of the Rigdens.

Lady Diana Mukpo is also a paragon of the Dorje Kasung, and has been instrumental in providing guidance and overseeing many kasung gatherings and trainings. Her military title is Tönsung Wangmo, “Lady Protector of Benefit.”

Chain of command utilizes a system of ranks and posts. A kasung who holds “rank” is an officer, which signifies a level of experience, ability to carry responsibility, and embodiment of kasung dharma. The four primary ranks are dapon, which is somewhat equivalent to acharya, then rupon, kado, and khenchen. Posts, such as Regimental Commander and rusung, are specific roles carried out by individuals for a specific duration of time.

The Council of the Makkyi Rabjam

After the Makkyi Rabjam, the next kasung in the chain of command is the Makpön, who is the Commander of the Dorje Kasung, and chair of its highest command group, the Council of the Makkyi Rabjam. The current holder of this title is Jesse Grimes, who also represents the Dorje Kasung on the Kalapa Council. Makpon Grimes was appointed to this role in 2004.

The Council of the Makkyi Rabjam is also made up of the Kasung Acharya Mitchell Levy, Kusung Dapon Noel McLellan, Dapon E Don Winchell, Bonnie Hankin Rupon, and Debbie Coats Rupon.

The Dorje Kasung is made up of three Arms of service – Gesar, Kusung and Desung.

The Gesar Arm
The largest Arm is the Gesar, which works with container principle and security. Event guards for dharma teachings, including special operations like the Karmapa’s visit, fire safety, Centre guards, drivers, and personal guards for members of the Mukpo family, kasung who oversee the land center communities, and staffing all major programs, assemblies, and abhishekas are among the duties of the Gesar Arm. Bonnie Hankin Rupon is the Gesar Arm Commander and chair of the Gesar Operations Council, which consists of Robert Taylor Rupon, Bill Lynch Rupon, Ian McLaughlin Rupon, Jan Frans Sturmm Rupon, Jane Stevens, and Alexandra Milsom.

The Kusung Arm
The Kusung Arm works with service to the Mukpo family and the Kalapa Court. Kusung are the personal attendants of the Sakyong. “One gesture” is a basic principle of the Kusung, which means that at any time the Sakyong should be able to summon a kusung with one gesture – a word, a glance, or by touching his call button. Continuity Kusung travel with the Sakyong to maintain current service protocols and knowledge. The kusung work closely with the shabchi, who are the Sakyong Wangmo’s attendants, the shabdo who uphold the households, the machen, who are the cooks, and with the Gesar, who also serve at Court. The Kusung are commanded by Kusung Dapon Noel McLellan and the Kusung Command Council, which consists of Dapon White Mark Thorpe, Michael Fraund Rupon, Greg Wolk Kado, Dylan Smith Kado, Jim Torbert Kado, and Khenchen Nick Trautz.

The Desung Arm
The Desung Arm works with community wellbeing. Desung activity ranges from providing band-aids to assisting the Care and Conduct Committee with difficult issues. Needless to say, responsibility for health and wellbeing is shared by many groups in the mandala, and one might say, by every sangha member. The Desung aspire to assist, connect, encourage, or provoke any of these as needed, so that genuine care takes place. The Desung are commanded by Debbie Coats Rupon and the Desung Command Council, which includes Dapon H Simon LaHaye, Dapon M Dennis Southward, Irene Vliegenthart Rupon, David Whitehorn Rupon, Shari Vogler Rupon, and Kasung Laura Puts.

Regional Command
In all places where Shambhala is established, the Dorje Kasung are active. From the Council of the Makkyi Rabjam and the Command Councils of the three Arms, the chain of command continues at a regional level. Each of the eight regions around the globe has a Regional Commander for each of the three Arms, overseeing operations over a broad geographic area. Under them, other posts command smaller groups of kasung.

The Kasung possess a rich heritage of teachings from both Makkyi Rabjams and other officers, as well as formal meditation and meditation-in-action practices. These are presented through the formal kasung curriculum, through on the spot training, and at our land-based training intensives, Magyal Pomra Encampment, and for 10-16 year olds, Shambhala Sun Camp. These areas of enrichment are overseen by the Kasung Acharya Mitchell Levy and the Education and Training Corps, which includes Aaron Snyder Rupön, Renee Cowan Kadö, and Khenchen Andrew Sacamano.

Kasung at the 2008 Magyal Pomra Encampment

Kasung at the 2008 Magyal Pomra Encampment

In the last decade or so, the increasing numbers of programs, the overall expansion of sangha activity around the globe, and the growth of the Mukpo family have exponentially increased the activity level of each of the Arms, and thus their need for leadership, training, and education. The mandala’s need for the Kasung has greatly intensified. Furthermore, the prevalence of war, natural disasters, and depression in the world beckon us to expand the unique vision and powerful methods of this tradition onto the world stage. In order to galvanize the energy of the leadership, assess the terrain, and ready ourselves to activate the command of the Makkyi Rabjam, we are planning a Dorje Kasung Command Conference for all leaders in the Dorje Kasung, to be held October 9-11 in Halifax.

How One Becomes a Kasung
The kasung path begins when one steps forward to serve, practice, or play, puts on the uniform, and gives it a try. There are many ways in, and no pre-requisites. One formally becomes a kasung by taking the one-year preliminary oath. After that, if there’s a connection, one may take the lifetime oath. Like the bodhisattva vow, the lifetime kasung oath deepens an aspiration – in this case the aspiration to safeguard the precious Three Jewels and the Kingdom of Shambhala. Over time, through a combination of lonesome duties, shared laughter, camaraderie, sweat, and practice, one begins to feel woven together with the dralas, with kasung mind, and with the Mukpo Clan.

Noel McLellan is a second generation Shambhala practitioner. He grew up in Boulder, CO where he attended Vidya Elementary School, and later Colorado University. In 1999 he served an 18 month tour of duty as continuity kusung to Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. In the Dorje Kasung he has also served as Sergeant, Rusung, and Chief of Staff in the Kusung. In 2004 he was appointed to the Council of the Makkyi Rabjam as Commander of the Kusung Arm, and in 2008 promoted to the rank of Kusung Dapon, senior officer of the Kalapa Court. He now lives in Halifax, NS with his wife Marguerite, 3 year old son Gabriel, and 4 month old daughter Esme. He teaches at the Shambhala School.

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