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Building Bridges in Boston

President Richard Reoch and Reverend Kim, photo by Maureen Cotton

President Richard Reoch and Reverend Kim, photo by Maureen Cotton

How Communities Can Come Together under the Banner of Being Human

by Emma Cataford, Shambhala Times Reporter

Saturday night in Boston people gathered at the Arlington Street Church for an event with Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche titled Moving Forward: Boston Strong in Everyday Life. One of the themes that emerged from this charged evening of inspiration was how our personal way of relating to our fellow human beings can have the potency to translate into social transformation.

The talk by the Sakyong was supported by the framework of the welcoming community of Unitarian Universalists lead by Senior Minister Reverend Kim Crawford. In introducing her guest in her sanctuary, she shared her feeling that “as the Sakyong leaves his very special imprint on my pulpit tonight, it will never be the same for me to stand here again”. That was a powerful premise for the interaction that unfolded.

Shambhala’s President Richard Reoch next took the microphone and reciprocated the feeling of friendship and appreciation for the Arlington Street Church community. Talking about the partnership that emerged between the two organizations during the months leading up to the event, he said that the depth of the spiritual practice on both sides made it possible to feel like old friends right from the start. The Sakyong talked about humanity being at a crossroads and the way forward can be to make basic goodness a message of nondenominational connection.

After the address, the questions written by members of the audience were posed to the Sakyong by Reverend Kim herself. The subject of interfaith cooperation was brought up and it lead to a display of mutual respect and bonding between the two leaders. The Sakyong remarked that no matter what denomination they’re from, if people can see representatives of different faiths getting along, it’s a good start. Then he asked Reverend Kim directly: “Do you believe in basic goodness by the way?” She promptly replied: “Yes. We say: original goodness, not original sin.” His response triggered laughter from the spectators: “That’s good. I knew I came here for some reason.”

During a conversation with Richard Reoch after the talk, the president reflected on the importance for the Shambhala movement to work with other traditions. He said that in today’s world, people are highly critical of faith because they see so much horror being perpetrated in the name of religion. Therefore any intermingling of different faiths is extremely important to show the people of the world that religion is not the enemy. What leads to divisiveness, prejudice and hatred is actually a much deeper human attitude that goes beyond our belief systems.

photo by Maureen Cotton

photo by Maureen Cotton

The human attitude President Reoch mentioned can be explored by contemplating the question: who am I? That’s what Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche invited people to do throughout the evening. This fundamental curiosity can be used to join with any person we encounter along the path, starting with our personal relations. This introduces the notion of “just you and me” that was so dear to Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. The starting point to build enlightened society is a one-on-one relationship between individuals. If we can acknowledge our common ground of just being human, we are on our way to a profound societal shift.

It all seems a little simplistic to some, but, as President Reoch pointed out, “the most powerful force that influences us is example”. Far from falling into the trap of preaching, the leaders of Shambhala are serving as inspiration for a change of attitude in hearts and minds, rather than a doctrine to follow blindly. From the Sakyong, to the president, to directors, to teachers, to volunteers, the coming together of individuals can function as a mirror to influence one another.

The organization behind Saturday’s event is a good example of the uplifting energy that can be harnessed by a collective vision. Max Roberts-Zirker, Deputy Event Producer for the Boston Shambhala Center spoke about his experience of working with a great number of people with such diverse backgrounds: “Everybody on all the different teams has been really happy, which makes all the difference, even when things don’t work out the way we thought they might. There are moments of little tension, anxiety, whatever comes up, but it’s just come together really well.”

There was a sense of freshness and fruition among the volunteers, aided by the much anticipated spring air. All the motivation amassed in the previous months culminated in a seamless effort. Laurie Bliss, Head of Registration, talked about the experience of service as a flowing of positive energy which prompted her to incorporate her family into the occasion. Her parents, who do not come from a Buddhist background, were recruited as ushers and got to share the presence of her teacher: “They were very inspired, which was beautiful. I hope we can continue to bring forth this good energy to others within our community and the bigger community of Boston.”

There were others who started to work on the vision of enlightened society close to home. Neil Duval, a long time Shambhalian from Maine, was joined by his daughter Bridget, who is not a practitioner. He was touched by the Sakyong’s statement in the aftermath of the marathon bombings last year: “I think a lot of people were angry and vindictive at the time, while his statement was much more hopeful. That’s the thing: he continued to have faith in enlightened society in the face of that.” His daughter echoed the sentiment: “This is the kind of thing we need to be hearing and taking in, especially reflecting on what happened last year.” On her dad’s outlook on life she said: “I think what he does is amazing, I fully support it. It has brought him happiness and peace and that’s why I like to come to these things. I hope to learn a little bit more tonight.”

Boston Shambhala Registration team at the doors of Arlington Street Church: Christian Florez, Harold Chaves, Laurie Bliss, Sarah Mae Gibbons and Jess Alvarez; photo by Emma Cataford

Boston Shambhala Registration team at the doors of Arlington Street Church: Christian Florez, Harold Chaves, Laurie Bliss, Sarah Mae Gibbons and Jess Alvarez; photo by Emma Cataford

That same merging of curiosity and support was expressed by Clara Baron, member of the Boston Shambhala 30s and Under Group: “I’ve been meditating for about a year and a half now. I wanted to take part in this night in a way to both expand my understanding of the Shambhala tradition as well as support the people that have supported me throughout this journey.”

In a brilliant demonstration of friendship, the evening concluded with a surprise: the theme of the Shambhala anthem was played by the church bells. There was a quality of coming full circle: Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche gave a talk called Proclaiming Enlightened Society in the very same venue of Arlington Street Church in 1982. At that time the message was: “It’s up to you, ladies and gentlemen!” That call seems to have been answered by the Boston sangha. Their effort of extending the prospect of enlightened society beyond their community started at a very personal level and gave life to a nonsectarian ground that will continue to bear fruit into the future.

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After the talk on Saturday night, the Sakyong presented Reverend Kim with the “Enlightened Society Award”. This is something he has offered to a few key people over the past year or so, and it’s regarded as a great honor! Click here to see more information about this key award.

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1 response to “ Building Bridges in Boston ”
  1. Lovely example of cooperation between Shambhala and UU. Like to see more of it as we have a great deal of mutual interests and appeal to the same group of people.


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