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Jan 22
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Enlightened Households: What it Could Look Like

Article and photos by Michael Levy

When two senior teachers, Steve Vosper and Kimiko Miyakawa, joined Shastri Samten Kobelt in Boulder for a hands-on workshop about Enlightened Households, a buzz began in the community. I didn’t really have the time, but the magnetism of this group and subject matter was too much to deny. When Steve Vosper asked if I could coordinate the audio and video needs for the program, I accepted immediately. The timing was perfect since I was planning to move.

The teaching staff was a virtual who’s who in the Kalapa Court. Kimiko is a major Dharma Art teacher and the Kalapa Court Ikebanist. She had witnessed and helped Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s large environmental installations in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and wanted to recreate that feeling in the Karma Dzong shrine room in Boulder. With the help of designer and long-time kusung, Steve Vosper, detailed plans were drawn out for the creation of five or six individual rooms within the shrine room. Similarly inspired by the lineage, and offering leadership and direction, Shastri Kobelt brought a joyful and precise presence to the meetings. Under the leadership of this group and the support of a well-practiced and devoted staff, it seemed we could accomplish anything.

The evening before the workshop, the teachers and their staff set up the various rooms. Some furnishings were brought in, but mostly they worked with what was available at the center. Separating the rooms with Shoji screens, puja tables, and other barriers, the shrine room soon became at once more mundane and more sacred as a two bedroom apartment found its bearings within it.

Planning for this, I also learned of the ambitious hope to recreate a document of the event in the tradition of the Discovering Elegance video of Trungpa Rinpoche doing his environmental installations. This was more than I’ve been trained to do in audio-visual media, but again there was a feeling of tremendous inspiration to the whole affair and I figured that I could make it work. This meant finding the preferred HD video and taking the time to practice with the equipment as well as the hope that I might point it in the right place at the right times.

The move-in began on Thursday evening before the Friday night talk. I could not be there to shoot stills, but talk of borrowed moving vans and heavy lifting dominated the planning. When I arrived on Friday the shrine room was almost unrecognizable. Entering, you gazed into a vast kitchen with cupboards and eating nooks, as well as a modern art take on a stove and sink. You could also see what was called the tiger of the home.

Passing the kitchen on your left, you immediately came upon the study, or contemplation room, complete with a calligraphy station set up on a tatami mat platform and a contemplation chair below the black and gold shrine. Then into the living room, which flowed with couches, cushions, and arm chairs for as intimate a teaching scenario as could be. Past this, the room split into two bedrooms and an offering room. The masculine bedroom was to the east and the feminine to the west with the offering room between and under the Sakyong’s throne. (more story below the photos…)

Click on any photo below to view as a slide show.

The weekend’s teachings were a lively blend of advanced and subtle teachings pertaining to home life and decorating. The teaching staff was able to seamlessly mix the teachings of natural hierarchy with the teachings on the three courts and the masculine and feminine principles without losing anyone in the crowd. I had my own reservations about the effectiveness of presenting advanced teachings to a mixed crowd. But as they unfolded and were illuminated with examples from experience, the questions people asked displayed how everyone was able to receive the teachings at their own place in the path.

For instance, an interior decorator was fascinated by the application of masculine and feminine activity in home decorating, while a dharma art practitioner wanted to bring the five wisdom energies into the conversation. There were no boundaries or limits to the scope of the workshop except that it was all to be contained within the day and a half of activity. This meant talks by three teachers, followed by questions and hands-on practice in several rooms.

To get us in the mood, we mixed mediation and mindful walking with mindfulness of the senses. Reassured that no harm would come to us, we all accepted a pinch of black crystalline substance and were told to taste it—fully. Some were convinced it was sugar and others were completely confused. We all had a fresh taste experience! Who knew that Hawaiian volcanic salt could spur so many different taste experiences?

We took this fresh awe to the task of room creation. Having shown everyone an example of the rooms in the morning, they were disassembled to the side of the room. Everyone had been instructed to bring several objects from home to add to the mix. So now with senses perked, the group broke into teams and applied the teachings to the objects in the space.

Along with recording the talks, I had the challenging task of capturing moments of spontaneous creativity that were happening around the room simultaneously. There was an outer, inner and secret level of activity happening at this point: the actual instruction, how each individual interpreted and applied these directions, and the group mind that was unspoken but constantly influencing this process. As a photographer, I could take stills of the room arrangement and instruction, while the video was often of the group process more than anything else.

Obstacles and questions arose. One participant asked, “How do I articulate my idea of the feminine to the group?” Someone else echoed the questioning spirit: “We all have good ideas, but will they all work together?” Another quipped, “I don’t know what you do in your offering room, but I don’t need a garden gnome in mine.” The combination of random people and a set of objects that participants brought from home had a potent effect. No one could plan their strategy ahead of time, and the mixture of influences created a kind of magic.

Witnessing this process, I appreciated the direct application of the teachings and manifestation of sacred world in new forms. Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche has recently instructed us to lean into the household as a place for the warrior to develop on the path as well as to experience sacredness in everyday life. Shambhala is a wisdom tradition with an iconic king, the Rigden, who is the example of living as a householder. These teachings are indispensable for bringing meditation into everyday life, and call for wide and dynamic applications.

Whether technical and formal or spontaneous and improvised, the way we bring intention and magic into every nook of our lives and homes is important. It lays the foundation necessary for creating enlightened society. Mistakes are far more beneficial than timidity in this endeavor, especially since there is no single “right way” to express decorum in our households. We must together expose the spectrum of how enlightened households can manifest. Like the Dharma Arts and in fact all of the phenomenal world, the magic is in the intentional forms. The results are like ripe fruit grown properly and falling from trees.

I hope to harvest the fruits of a wakeful home and continue to add the fertilizer of the three jewels. May the enlightened household teachings flourish!

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3 responses to “ Enlightened Households: What it Could Look Like ”
  1. I really like this.

  2. I am very excited to see these teachings being disseminated in the sangha. I have been working with the impact of one’s environment, both at home and at work on one’s state of mind, through my business, inSite Contemplative Design for the past two years. Often the principles of the three courts, masculine and feminine, etc. as concepts for design end up being reduced to formulas that lose their potency when separated from the specifics of the environment. Translating the general ideas into the specifics of your own space can prove less than satisfying when you start from the idea rather than the direct experience. By beginning from the groundless space of direct experience of the people, context, function, the enriching presence of the phenomenal world and its energetic properties, it is possible to create uplifted environments uniquely suited for that person, time and place. It is possible to cultivate enriching presence through this practice. This is design as a mindfulness/awareness practice; one I find infinitely rewarding both personally and in responses from clients. May we all create enlightened society starting one room at a time.

  3. Are there any pictures of the rooms?

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