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What IS Culture and Decorum?

photo by Charles Blackhall

Just what exactly IS Shambhala Culture and Decorum?

by Amanda Hester, Adjutant to the Shambhala Office of Culture and Decorum

For many in Shambhala ‘culture and decorum’ are words vaguely associated with any number of forms and events, with fussy women or elegant ladies. These words and their subjective associations can evoke any number of emotional responses, from resistance, to admiration, even insecurity. It is much like the Dorje Kasung. For some, the kasung are worrisome obstructions, maybe terrifying with their military forms, maybe magnetizing. Likewise, those who engage in ‘culture and decorum’ are sometimes perceived as being irritating, magnetizing, perhaps even intimidating. But just as a superficial glance at the Dorje Kasung may suggest militant aggression, often we think of culture and decorum as being about antiquated etiquette. Both of these perceptions are wrong. Like the Dorje Kasung, Shambhala culture and decorum is a profound practice that works with form and container, and is about genuine and wakeful service to others.

What exactly culture and decorum is can be elusive, as it is an embodiment of feminine warriorship. Not in a gendered way, but in the way that the activity of a Sakyong Wangmo is said to galvanize a situation so that what would otherwise be just a group of individuals becomes a family and a community. The Shambhala Office of Culture and Decorum is an extension of the activity of the Sakyong Wangmo. The activity of the Sakyong Wangmo binds the kingdom together to create a spirit of warriorship, just as water binds yeast and flour to make bread. Thus the role of culture and decorum is to provide a sense of genuine relationship, and in this way to transcend aggression in the kingdom of Shambhala.

Feminine warriorship is what inspires masculine warriorship. Shambhala offers an alternative to the individualistic view of human nature. It recognizes that in order to make meaningful progress in the world we need to start at the level of community, with our relationship to others. We must manifest from a ground of compassion and selflessness, our activity must arise out of a ‘culture of kindness’.

The experience of genuine service to others can be found in the practices of the Dorje Kasung. However, the military forms of this practice may not resonate personally for everyone. We can begin to see Shambhala culture and decorum as a service path, similar to that of kasungship, only with a different mandate and one that works with civilian forms; indeed, one that works with the forms of civility. The point in doing so is to recognize and appreciate that all of our Shambhala forms are about service. If a form is found to be supporting ego, this is either a gross misunderstanding or that form has become broken.

Shambhala culture and decorum is associated with court vision and practice. However, since the seat of the teacher is well looked after these days, those engaging in the practice of culture and decorum needn’t be overly concerned with it. While Shambhala culture and decorum stands upon the ground of the court, its role is to concern itself with manifesting that court vision and service to the world – because that is the point. The priority of dharma is not the teacher, but rather the student. Those who have served a cup of tea to the Sakyong know that the greater service in that moment is to them.

Serving in the court is easy in that we do it out of loyalty and devotion. It is easy to feel our genuine heart in that service because we love the dharma and its representation in our teacher. But the point is to learn through that experience how to serve others, how to see each situation, engage with every person, as we would in serving the precious seat of dharma. The practice of Shambhala culture and decorum involves working with, and creating, civilian forms and containers that facilitate this experience of genuine service to others.

In Shambhala, when we dress up it is not done for ourselves but to wake up the world and cheer up everyone we encounter. It is as though we were going on a date and to wear sweatpants or dirty clothing would be disrespectful. Our decorous forms are all about appreciating others and their experience, about appreciating our world. When we engage in formalities and disciplines that feel irritating, it is easier to lean into that irritation when it is being done for others; we surrender, and out of that surrender comes delight. It is delightful to experience genuine service to others.

It is a beautiful way to begin to see the world, through the eyes of civility that see the experience of others before the experience of self. We can affect our world through even the slightest of details: dusting or giving the floor boards a quick wipe can uplift the experience of those entering a space. Everyone who comes into our world begins to feel uplifted because we are breaking out of our self absorption to serve them as we would our teacher. Ultimately, we fill our spaces with richness not through money and expense, but through the love and care that is taken.

Shambhala culture and decorum isn’t about a price tag, it is about the generosity of creating spaces and experiences that serve to wake people up with dignity, elegance, and appreciation. Through service we realize that these are our birthright, we are kings and queens in a world of kings and queens, and we can have the bravery to get over our embarrassment and conduct ourselves in a manner that befits a sacred world. We discover that this is what is meant by being kind to ourselves and others.

Working with the disciplines and the containers that hold and illuminate a culture of kindness is the role and mandate of the Shambhala Office of Culture and Decorum. It is to work with the forms of civility to create a dignified and delightful society.

To learn a little more about the Shambhala Office of Culture and Decorum, please click here. To order your copy of An Introduction to Shambhala Culture, please visit Shambhala Media by clicking here.

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9 responses to “ What IS Culture and Decorum? ”
  1. Betty Rongae
    Nov 29, 2012

    Dear Amanda – Absolutely lovely article. So much appreciated. Winter cheers to you and family.

  2. Thank you for this beautiful post. I especially like the compare and contrast with kasungship. I’m looking forward to putting this lesson into practice at work, where hospitality is a huge part of what we do. Many thanks!

  3. jeff zimmerman
    Nov 16, 2012

    The peace I gain is through serving others above thyself.

  4. Sarah Lipton
    Nov 15, 2012

    This might be what you are looking for, the Sakyong Ladrang: http://www.sakyongladrang.org/offering.php

  5. Marita McLaughlin
    Nov 15, 2012

    Dear Amanda,

    Thank you for reminding us of how service to our teacher or to anyone for that matter, is an exchange of genuine generosity without any strings attached. It brings crisp fresh air to what could otherwise be a very dull stuffy situation.

    By the way, do you know the link to making offerings to the Sakyong’s gift for his birthday today? I caught a glimpse of the royal seat that he would like for the Court and I would like to contribute.

    Marita McLaughlin

  6. Thanks Lisa! I think that with one’s teacher, or with any great teacher, there is the extra quality in service of being on the spot and seeing one’s own mind in that moment. Service in that way can be very much a Dharmic teaching. Then there is also just the joy that comes from generosity, the generosity to give, the generosity to receive. Noticing someone else and then offering them a glass of water or a cup of tea, and having them accept that offering and generosity, it all feels wonderful. Serving a teacher just adds that extra something, and it helps us learn how to offer to others not just out of habit or convention but from a place of genuine care and consideration. I’m also often struck by the generosity of the Sakyong and Sakyong Wangmo in letting such a bumbling klutz like me serve them so much, even after I spill the tea etc.
    Hope this helps.

  7. Joseph Fiala
    Nov 14, 2012

    Very nice piece, most appreciated.

  8. Lisa Harris
    Nov 14, 2012

    Thank you for this insight! I would love to understand more clearly how serving someone else is actually serving ourselves. I heard that this summer, but I’m still missing something there…

  9. Dawa Lhatso
    Nov 14, 2012

    Thanks, Amanda. This is very helpful and inspiring!

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