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May 14
Mandala Projects
The Shambhala Monastic Order, part 2

photo by Marvin Moore

photo by Marvin Moore

Part 2 of an Interview with Ani Pema Chodron about the new Shambhala Monastic Order

by Acharya Adam Lobel
edited by Loden Nyima

Last May, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche established the Shambhala Monastic Order as a means of further developing the monastic path within Shambhala while preserving the lineage of ordination dating back to the Buddha. To help provide information about this exciting process, Acharya Adam Lobel interviewed Acharya Pema Chodron and we are delighted to offer this interview at this time. Read part one of this interview here.

Acharya Adam Lobel (AAL): Ani Pema, you were describing what the Shambhala Monastic Order will be like (read previous article), and it sounds really inspiring and like it’ll be an amazing support for future generations of practitioners. I’m wondering how the community at Gampo Abbey and especially the Venerable Thrangu Rinpoche, the abbot of Gampo Abbey, feel about the step of moving towards a Shambhala Monastic Order?

Ani Pema: In general there’s support for it and there is also some resistance, but the very good news, which I rejoice in tremendously, is that Thrangu Rinpoche himself is 100% supportive of this. He was at the Abbey two summers ago and we specifically asked him about this, how he felt about the monastic community moving more and more towards training in the Shambhala principles and warriorship. He was just 100% supportive, and said it was excellent, what Trungpa Rinpoche would have wanted, that we should follow the Sakyong’s directions, and he was completely behind it.

And here’s an interesting question that has come up already, a couple of times people have asked me about it, and it’s come up at the Abbey as well: in the monastic lineage you have to have an ordination lineage, you have to have somebody who ordains the monks and nuns. At the level of temporary I can do it, and there are two other life monastics at the Abbey (Ani Migme and Gelong Lodro Sangpo) who can do it. However, as soon as you get to the level of novice or full ordination then you need to have an ordination lineage of someone who’s been ordained for many, many years. There is no such thing in Shambhala, but currently our lineage of monastic ordination comes from the Karma Kagyu through our Abbot Thrangu Rinpoche who has ordained every life monastic at the Abbey.

I asked the Sakyong about this and he said the ordination lineage will stay exactly as it is, and we’ll see how it develops in the future. It will always have to be connected with some ordination lineage, and that is absolutely fine, good, and as it should be. At the same time I asked him how he felt about the Abbey remaining open to monastics outside of our own community. In the past we’ve had monastics from the four Tibetan lineages as well as Theravadin monastics and Zen male and female priests, as well as Catholic nuns. The Sakyong said that that’s what Trungpa Rinpoche had wanted, and that would continue, and that sense of being welcomed in would enrich our community and be good for us.

However, now they would have a much clearer sense of what they were entering into in terms of a deep training based on the Buddhist and Shambhala principles, specifically the Tiger, Lion, Garuda, Dragon principles that would be preparing people not to leave the world, but to enter the world as warriors. So, the concern that there will be no more Nyingma, Kagyu, Theravadin or Zen practitioners at the monastery is unfounded. They’ll still be very welcome, but we want it to be very inviting to people who want short-term intensive periods of renunciation where they can work hard. Then, as they develop in their training — if they stay on a second or third year — then they may be in Lion House or closer to Halifax and maybe other cities in the world too, where they would start to teach meditation or be of benefit in other ways.

You see it’s so obvious that this is a time that calls for monastics to be able to be of benefit to the larger world because the suffering is so intense and so wide spread and so much help is needed. We need monastics that are well trained in meditation and in working with their own emotions and in the Buddhist and Shambhala principles. A person can come into the monastic situation and get this kind of deep training in a year, or the Sakyong was suggesting shorter periods, but with the idea that they train so that they can go out and be of benefit to others.

It would be excellent training for them to develop their skills and go outside of any cocoon-ing they may do in their monastic vows and be excellent benefit to the community as well. That’s how I see the whole thing. Not everybody buys this but I sure do, and we’re going to go ahead with it and see where it goes. I think it’s a wonderful thing, and I think it’s in accord with the times.

AAL: It sounds like you mentioned a few times this moment in human history, and as a final question I know from hearing many of your teachings over the last few years, especially at the sangha retreats and other events, that you are as concerned as anyone about the direction our civilization is going, especially with climate change, warfare and injustice in our political and economic worlds. I’m just wondering if you see any connection between monasticism and creating enlightened society, this vision for a sustainable and just future? How do those two support each other?

Ani Pema: I’ve always thought ever since Trungpa Rinpoche introduced the notion of enlightened society long, long ago, I’ve always thought of it myself in terms of small societies like beacons, so to say. And what small means would of course be relative. So, small groups that aspire to be enlightened societies, which doesn’t mean you wouldn’t have any problems and everything would be smooth. It would have more to do with how the individuals in the society work with their hearts and minds around the ordinary and nitty-gritty details of life.

A family can aspire to be an enlightened society, very much so, and the Sakyong has a big emphasis on this, and I’ve always thought that the monastery was the ideal place to aspire to create mini-enlightened societies. At the monastery we’ve worked with this already as a model. A group comes together with their ordinary difficulties and delights of getting along and the benefits of deep study and deep practice as well as challenges in doing their work, their everyday chores and their relationships with people, etc., and governance, all the challenges and delights, and they make this their path of awakening.

I’ve always thought that to take this ordinary stuff, but have as the vision to create a really sane society at Gampo Abbey, at Lion House, wherever we might be, was the main point. That’s how I see it; I see the monastery as so ideal because people don’t come and go in a weekend — the shortest program we have is six weeks. Mostly people are there for at least a year, and there’s the opportunity to really work, not just on themselves, but to realize how working on themselves impacts the society. We have a lot of work to do in that area, but I feel quite optimistic that we can do it.

AAL: Well that sounds like an amazing step forward and a tremendous amount of possibility and inspiration and fresh thinking connected with an ancient, ancient tradition of monasticism. It’s inspiring for all people in the Shambhala community and beyond to hear that this is developing and especially with your support and leadership and everything that you bring to it in connection with the Sakyong and Venerable Thrangu Rinpoche, it’s a very powerful body. Thank you very much for taking this time, and we wish you a tremendous amount of good fortune. We’re really looking forward to hearing more about how it all unfolds.

Ani Pema: I’m very interested to see how it all unfolds myself, and the Sakyong has said with great enthusiasm that he wants to start talking about this more in general as part of someone’s path as they develop in the Shambhala community. Lots of love and thank you very much Adam, and my best wishes to everybody reading.

Ani Pema
recently led the annual Yarne retreat (January 15 to March 2) at Gampo Abbey, which included her teachings on the Four Dignities and instruction in Shambhala Meditation by Shastri-in-Residence Alice Haspray. Some Yarne participants are also involved in Vajryayogini and Chakrasamvara sadhana training for the three-year-retreat, Scorpion Seal practices, Rigden ngondro, and the Shambhala Sadhana. Following completion of Yarne, Abbey residents will have the opportunity to study the Basic Goodness Series of classes and continue deepening their training. The Lion House community mentioned in this interview is only now in the early planning stages. If you have questions about the development and emergence of the Shambhala Monastic Order and/or Lion House, contact Gelong Loden Nyima, Monastic Secretary to the Sakyong at [email protected].

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