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Featured Stories, Sakyong and Family
TWENTY YEARS OF RULING AND TEACHING: Part One – Succession
Lineage of Sakyongs - Father and Son © Hudson Shotwell

Lineage of Sakyongs - Father and Son © Hudson Shotwell

By Shastri Benoît Côté

On August 26, 1990, a young man of 28 years old was brought back from Nepal, where he was studying with his teacher H.H. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, to Karmê Chöling, Vermont, where at the request of the Vajra Regent Ösel Tendzin, head of the Vajradhatu/Shambhala organization, H. E. Jamgon Kongtrül Rinpoche was bestowing the abhisheka of Vajrayogini. The Vajra Regent had just passed away and the leadership of the organization was handed to the Sawang, Ösel Rangdröl Mukpo, the oldest son and spiritual heir of the late Vidyadhara Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, the founder of the organization, who himself had passed away three years earlier.

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, who at that time was referred to as the Sawang, inherited the leadership of a worldwide network of city and retreat centers that had developed through the powerful buddha activity of his father. The Vidyadhara Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche had become a major figure of Buddhism in the west. To many, he had manifested in a way similar to the great Padmasambhava, the Indian guru who was instrumental in introducing Buddhism to Tibet in the eighth century. In a liturgy composed many years later, the Sakyong would say of the Vidyadhara:

Conquering the barbarians of the setting sun,
You reveal the true nectar of dharma.
With great courage you tamed new lands,
Ransacking concept, terrorizing fear, nurturing all.

After the Vidyadhara passed away, in 1987, he was succeeded by his Vajra Regent, Ösel Tendzin, the first westerner to become holder of the Kagyü and Nyingma lineages of Tibetan Buddhism. The Regent was a powerful teacher and an energetic leader. But soon he became sick and passed away within a highly emotional situation that divided the community. That was a painful time of turmoil and chaos. Some people left the sangha. Many others continued to practice and study, showing that the roots of what had been introduced by the Vidyadhara were deep and strong. So that was also the general picture of what the Sakyong inherited.

One of his first decisions was to appoint a new board of directors. Then, he soon went on the road for several months visiting over thirty centers and groups. In each place, he would give a community talk, sitting on a chair, wearing a suit. There would be more informal occasions for people to spend time with him. He would not talk much, but just listen to what were often expressions of grief, confusion, and pain. People did not know him very well. Many had somebody else in mind.

Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche with the Vidyadhara

Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche with the Vidyadhara

During this period, as he had started in 1987, he was also spending time in India, Bhutan, and Nepal, practicing and studying with his teachers. During that time, H.H. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche fulfilled the promise he had made to the Vidyadhara to complete the Sadhana of Mahamudra and wrote the abhisheka and feast parts. He then bestowed this abhisheka to the Sakyong and had him do this practice in strict retreat for several months as a preparation for him bestowing this abhisheka later to his own students.

In 1992, the Sakyong taught his first three-month seminary with the help of Acharya Pema Chödron and other senior teachers. He was continuing this important tradition initiated by his father in 1973. There had been 13 of these deep training in practice, study and enlightened society between 1973 and 1986. In the beginning of his first talk of the vajrayana part, he said:

Today it is actually almost one year since I met His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche in Bhutan to talk about seminary, and to ask him what he thought and who should teach it. At that point in my life, I had planned to do a retreat, a long retreat, and to study with His Holiness. Usually he was very relaxed and didn’t tell me to do anything, but he said, “You should do it.” I said, “Well, I don’t know. There are other things that I would like to do. It will take a long time: it’s three months.” And he said again, “You should do it.” By the third time, he said, “Okay, if you don’t want to, don’t do it; but if you don’t, then the whole situation will fall apart. If you don’t do it, it could get very complicated.” So at that point, what could I say? [Laughter.]

* * * * *

One of the last public programs that the Vidyadhara taught happened in February 1986 at Karmê Chöling. It was entitled “Realizing Enlightened Society.” He gave three very short pithy talks, with long silent pauses. The first started with the proclamation:

We are definitely turning the wheel sunwards. And it is my greatest privilege to announce the inseparability of the Shambhala approach and the buddhadharma. How are we going to incorporate two seemingly different approaches into one entity? We have Buddhists and we have Shambhalians. How are we going to mix them together? I think it is very simple in my way of thinking, anyway.

In the early 90s, it did not seem that simple. The community was split not only with respect to what had happened around the Vajra Regent, but there was a strong separation between Buddhism and Shambhala Training. They were evolving as two separate organizations, each with its own administration and programming. In some places, they actually had moved into different physical locations.

The Sawang on Shambhala Day 1995. Photo ©MarvinMoore.

The Sawang on Shambhala Day 1995. Photo ©MarvinMoore.

In September 1993, people received a text called “Shambhala Vision,” that the Sakyong had dictated during a seven-week retreat he had done that summer at Casa Werma in Mexico, preparing himself for the upcoming Sadhana of Mahamudra abhishekas. That was the first of a significant series of proclamations and letters that would address important issues and establish his rule.

It was a vision statement about how to look at who we were and how to go forward. It included:

At this point, it is important to understand the notion of Shambhala vision clearly. Shambhala vision is not just that of Shambhala Training; nor is it that of mahayana or vajrayana buddhism. It is a fundamental view that encompasses all of the various traditions. If we are practicing Shambhala Training, while maintaining our own ground, we also need to realize that the Dorje Dradül, the Vidyadhara, was a Buddhist. He was raised and educated that way. However, he propagated the teachings of Shambhala Training because that is what is needed at this particular time to raise the dignity of individuals.

On the other hand, even though the Vidyadhara was a practicing Buddhist, he also taught the Shambhala teachings, knowing that he wanted to express himself outside of the traditional format of a buddhist teacher. Thus, if we are a practicing buddhist, we cannot ignore the simple fact that the Vidyadhara spent a tremendous amount of energy establishing and propagating the Shambhala dharma.

In both traditions, Shambhala Training and buddhadharma, we are not concerned with the word like, in the sense that “I would like to…” or “I would not like to…” We are talking about how to practice further both warriorship and compassion; and the most obvious place to begin is at home.

From that text came the view and the command of how to name and organize our centers as unified entities that would allow the expression and evolution of our diversity. From then on, what had been “Dharmadhatus” became known as “Shambhala Centers” structured as three gates, namely Buddhist, Shambhala Training and Nalanda, run by a Shambhala Council headed by one director. In many places, that was not easy to implement. But eventually it happened.

In what was then the “member’s section” of the Shambhala Sun, in November 1994, was published a letter from the Sakyong called “In the Realm of Possibilities,” written earlier that summer while he was teaching the three-month seminary for the second time. Here again it starts with a vision statement that leads to some decisions. He writes:

Many of my thoughts over the last year have crystallized this summer into some clarity regarding our mandala. My primary work over the last few years has been to revitalize and ventilate our community – to encourage practice, and in particular, to encourage the vast array of skillful means that our tradition possesses in relating to the phenomenal world.

Our community is diverse, and many of you are practicing according to what you feel is appropriate to your life. There is a great deal of enthusiasm and we have various projects springing up everywhere within our mandala. This particular approach of encouraging everyone to participate in their own way has greatly helped our community to grow further and move forward. Recently, I have focused on energizing the Nalanda gate – dharma art and the Shambhala arts in general.

I have also taken this approach with leadership and administration in general. At this point we have a phenomenal number of committees, and people joining these committees have shown a great deal of enthusiasm. Now, my main concern is how to organize in order to emphasize our various priorities. Leadership needs to be more focused at this point. More clarity is needed as to which individuals are responsible for various activities. Some of our projects are slowed down because there has been no clear decision-making process.

He goes on announcing the creation of an Executive Council within the actual Board of Directors, and the appointments of Mr. Alex Halpern as Executive Director and Mr. Peter Volz as Managing Director. Then he mentions three projects that need to be focused on. The first is the transformation of “Rocky Mountain Dharma Center” into “Rocky Mountain Shambhala Center,” seen as a “microcosm of Shambhala society.” The second is “to continue with the ‘Building the Capital’ campaign in Nova Scotia to provide a seat for our international activities.” The third is “the development of the European land center.”

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1 response to “ TWENTY YEARS OF RULING AND TEACHING: Part One – Succession ”
  1. WOW !
    Good job, very interesting post,
    Excellent article, bookmarked for future referrence.
    thanks for sharing this info!!


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