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May 30
Friday
Dharma Teachings
Is Shambhala Just for Seekers?

Photo Miksang de Joey Johannsen

Photo Miksang de Joey Johannsen

COLUMN: Dharma Teaching

by Russell Rodgers, Nelson, BC

Recently I was at a gathering of meditation instructors, and the main topic of conversation was why so many people come through our doors at open houses, and so few “stick”. The conversation, by now very familiar, went back and forth about what we were doing wrong and how we could improve by doing this or that, not doing chants and so on.

Perhaps we are asking the wrong question. Perhaps most people just want to learn about meditation, and having been instructed, are satisfied. It’s true that here are always a small number of people who are ambitious — if you show them a spiritual ladder, they will climb it. We are very good at presenting ladders: Shambhala Training 1, 2, 3, 4,……. This evening class and then that class, each one a pre-requisite for another. Then there are a bunch of expensive assemblies – more rungs on the ladder. These are followed by practice requirements and then an unending succession of advanced assemblies. All require time and travel. If you are really good at climbing ladders, you get to sit in the teaching chair with rapt students in front of you.

There are other people who are not excited or challenged by ladders. They are engaged in their livelihoods, families, and marriages and they find those engagements completely engrossing. Ladders are not a priority, especially if they interfere with other things. Perhaps they just want to add a bit of meditation to the mix in order to make their lives more manageable. Hearing about basic goodness cheers them up. Some will take the odd class, but not because they see a ladder to climb. They are just curious and the timing happens to work out. Maybe they make some friends. And maybe the sight of so many ladders everywhere makes them feel like they don’t fit with the organization’s priorities.

Personally, I climb ladders. Back in the 1970’s, I left my wife and three kids on welfare so that I could go to dathun. I’m not proud of that now. But that was how a lot of the early students were — seekers and hippies who would drop everything to go and study with Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Because of that we are now teachers, which is probably good…. But then again, times have changed.

One of the things about traditional Buddhist societies is that most people don’t become serious practitioners. They accept that they are not ladder climbers. In our early sangha, we used to think that this was a sign of corruption when most people didn’t practice. Historically, though, it’s the norm, and was probably the norm even during the golden eras of Buddhist culture. Where it becomes a problem is when even the ladder climbers, the seekers, don’t practice. Those are the people who will eventually become teachers and begin to teach corrupted dharma.

The fact that most people in traditional Buddhist cultures aren’t serious practitioners doesn’t mean that they aren’t Buddhist. Those cultures support people who are practicing because they recognize that everyone benefits even if only a few people achieve realization. Most ordinary people aspire to kindness, even though they sometimes lapse. It’s like Westerners sending astronauts into space: for us, that is a national priority even though we know we can’t all be astronauts. In those Asian societies where Buddhism is still strong, an equivalent national priority is Buddhist wisdom.

In Tibetan communities, people come for teachings, celebrations and initiations. Some become child monks because the only available schooling is in monasteries. In late teens and twenties, they often leave when secular life calls. Then, when they get too old to work, they plan to say lots of mantras. In my travels in Buddhist cultures I was surprised to see how matter-of-fact people were about their choices. There was an attitude of, “That’s life. It’s just how it is. I’m not called to be a monk in this life.”

I had the fortunate opportunity to visit many of the monasteries in Eastern Tibet that Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche trained in. Some were on a grand scale — like Western cathedrals. Most had been re-built after the destruction of cultural revolution. Many had hundreds of monks attending monastic college. Obviously the surrounding yak herders supported the monks there. Many families must have sent sons to the monastery. But it also was obvious, from the sheer scale and modernity of the buildings, that money was flowing from elsewhere. The most likely candidates for such benevolence are wealthy people from China and Taiwan. Vancouver, which has a large Asian population, also sees some Buddhist temples lavishly funded – but not the ones, like Shambhala, that don’t cater to them.

It probably helps that many Asian Buddhists believe in accumulating merit by supporting practitioners. Probably some anticipate that by accumulating merit, they will be reborn as practitioners themselves and have a chance at enlightenment. Lacking such a deeply embedded view of merit and rebirth in the West, we struggle to pay salaries for the skeleton staff at Shambhala International. Most of our centers are financially unable to buy their own buildings. But I suspect there’s more to it than lack of belief in merit and rebirth.

There has to be a balance between ladder people and the broader community. Certainly we need seekers: they will become future teachers. If seekers have strong study and meditation practices, hopefully they will be resistant to corruption. But sometimes ladder people are a bit arrogant about broader community people — “they aren’t practicing like I am. There must be something wrong with them.”

In the early days of the community, families had a hard time. We didn’t appreciate that enlightened households were part of the path. My former wife put it metaphorically but succinctly: “Chogyam Trungpa was the other woman in our marriage. If I had a shotgun, I’d shoot him.”

Often people come to us wanting part of what we offer, perhaps meditation instruction and a sense of sane, warm community with a view of basic goodness. But we have to appreciate that most are caught in a delicate balancing act. Attending assemblies involves the shared family budget, and most likely limited holiday time that has to be spent away. When both spouses are ladder people, it’s possible. If only one is, it’s really hard.

What would it be like if we built Shambhala centers around the needs of the broader community? How would we balance the needs of seekers and community? Probably a community oriented Shambhala Center would have more programs for children. Probably we would have cultural and arts events organized around a theme of basic goodness. Maybe the ladder people, like the monks in monasteries, would organize ceremonies and blessings that acknowledge people’s basic goodness. And, as Sakyong Mipham says, centers should have food, conversation and meditation, in that order.

We could also look at the time-tested activities of traditional monasteries and churches. These have been discovered to work successfully across many cultures and times. For instance, in addition to sermons, churches have Sunday schools and choirs. People who studied with Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche appreciate the power of song to communicate dharma on multi levels. Singing together can lead to great community building.

In a church or monastery, you can go to the lama or minister and ask for personal advice. There are blessing ceremonies like funerals, weddings, christenings and baptisms. Lamas guide people through the bardo, and priests and ministers offer prayers for the dead. Sometimes lamas give names at certain stages of a child’s growth. Churches do philanthropic work — supporting the poor at home or abroad. Ministers and lamas visit sick people. In churches, the congregation prays for them. Many churches in my town make themselves available for concerts, lectures and cultural events.

I’m not saying that these activities are all appropriate for Shambhala Centers. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche was scathing about the corruption of old Tibet, where people had forgotten how to practice meditation and instead engaged in spiritual materialism — doing meaningless ceremonies that fed the egos of lamas and lay people and made them feel more solid and virtuous. Somehow we have to be clear to the ladder people that they really need to sit a lot if they want profound realization. Little practice will probably yield scant results, and lots of practice is more likely to yield big results. At the same time, we need to provide for people whose lives at this point of time just don’t permit that kind of practice. Perhaps some sort of symbiosis can be worked out.

Russell Rodgers~~
Russell Rodgers
has been wondering about this kind of topic for the 38 years that he has been practicing. He resides in the Kootenay mountains of British Columbia, in the town of Nelson, and is supporting the Dharma Teachings column on the Shambhala Times with occasional articles.

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28 responses to “ Is Shambhala Just for Seekers? ”
  1. omar ali bey
    Jun 9, 2014
    Reply

    Thank you Russell for your insightful and provocative article; lots to chew on, food for contemplation. But one question arises for me, which is simply, what is the seeker “seeking”? What is there to be “saught”. Is there anything missing or lacking that needs to be found? We like to say that basic goodnness is intrinsic or inate but do we mean it? Do we experience it? Doma-ne sangpo (basic goodness) has to be more than a slogan. Peace

  2. roger bergh
    Jun 7, 2014
    Reply

    I really appreciate what you´re writing..I totally agree, and we as westerners are used to quick fixes, have problems keeping the practise at a good level . Everyone wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die , sort of. Keeping meditation simple as the vipassana tradition , makes lots of folks stick to the practise…let more advanced studies and chantings in a language totally unknown, come when practise is strengthened. Cut the unnecessary …keep it simple , and don´t charge tons of dough for th teaching and the number of devoted people will grow. that is my certain belief.
    May all beings be loved.
    R

  3. Reese McKay
    Jun 2, 2014
    Reply

    Thanks for this, Russell. You have started a very interesting discussion here. I tend to agree in broad terms with what you have said. I also like some of the other comments, particularly those of Joe P. It think Joe made some good points, in particular — that there could be more nuanced aspects of this other than just ladder climbers and “lay people” who do a few programs and come and go, but may never get in the ladder climbing mode. There could be a lot of richness in exploring the space in between these two approaches and it is important not to solidify either approach, and it is important for each of us to continually examine our own personal connection to our spiritual path and look at and really question things. What do I really need to be working on at this point? Is there a need that is perhaps not being met for people who don’t easily fit into any particular easily definable “category?” Can these other aspects of promoting culture and society be more fully described and looked at? Could some of us perhaps begin working together to fill some of these unmet needs and create a richer environment within our Shambhala Centers and the social networks that exist within the membership and also the networks that exist or could be nurtured with other groups that are not necessarily part of our Shambhala organization per se? We often seem rather reluctant and perhaps shy about partnering with and/or collaborating with other groups who may be as committed to creating enlightened society as we are, but are exploring other avenues for doing that.

  4. Joel Mandel
    Jun 2, 2014
    Reply

    Russell, et al
    Thank you for bringing this forward. For me, the most thought-provoking idea, of many thought-provoking ideas, is considering: “What would it be like if we built Shambhala centers around the needs of the broader community?”
    Shambhala centers seem to have mostly focussed for a very long time on the needs of those driven to seek deep spiritual practice. I am heartened to see that newcomers are being allowed and even encouraged to participate in ways that make sense to them. I do my best to support programs and practices that support newcomers and those wanting to simply engage with a good human society. I am glad that so many diverse interests and approaches are being cultivated.
    Joel

  5. Thank you for starting this discussion, Russell. It reminded me of something Acharya Judith Simmer-Brown presented at a conference in 2009 on the integrity of the Buddhist tradition in America. Two of the topics she covers are the importance of the transmission of oral instructions and the establishment of appropriate patronage. I recommend the read to people who are interested in this topic: http://media.fredericklenzfoundation.org/Assets/pdfs/Judith-Simmer-Brown-Ten-Years-Later-Prospects-for-American-Buddhism.pdf

  6. Joel Wachbrit
    Jun 2, 2014
    Reply

    Thank you Russell, this is a very rich and thought provoking topic. I also appreciate the broad variety of comments from everyone. For myself, as an MI for over 20 years, I often felt dismayed that 90% or more of the people I gave instruction to never returned. As a database manager for our sangha years ago I also was dismayed to see how many people would drop off “the ladder” that I was so passionately climbing. What I have come to appreciate about what the Sakyong seems to be stressing now is that all that really matters is the moment that I am sharing (or our community is sharing) with whoever it is that enters our center. The most important thing we have to offer someone who may never come back is not a schedule of classes and retreats (unless they ask) but a naked moment of pure acknowledgement of their inherent goodness. That has the potential to be of the greatest benefit to the broader society and community. Such a simple exchange demands that we practice and also that we don’t BS ourselves.

    When I entered this community around 25 years ago there was a strong foundation of practice, knowledge and deep samaya to the teacher from the senior students. But also a great sense of pride and exclusivity. Other Buddhist sanghas were looked down on. Other teachers, other religions. Even people in our own sangha who went at their own pace. I stayed because the Dharma of CTR was impeccable and I had the strong karmic connection. And I wanted to belong. These days people come for all kinds of reasons now – community, freedom from anxiety, they heard meditation is a good thing, etc. They may not have or desire a connection to the lineage, or any lineage. They may just want to sit on Sundays. They may not want to do chants. How do we accommodate that in our community? If we cannot accommodate such a wide variety of individuals in our spiritual community how will we be able to do the same in our social-familial-cultural-political communities? It seems that the Vidyadhara’s exhortation for us to establish Enlightened Society has less to do with getting the whole world on the ladder, our ladder, and more to do with being authentic, and not backing down from our basic goodness/awakened nature, or the awakened nature of anyone who walks through our doors. And if we can do that does it matter if they don’t come back? If they take that to their church, school, family, work, other Buddhist sangha, whatever, then that plants the seed of Enlightened Society.

  7. Thanks for the article. I know there are good things about Shambhala. I also know women and minorities leave sometimes because they (or we) do not feel comfortable, respected, or at ease.

  8. Michael Jaurigue
    Jun 2, 2014
    Reply

    Dear Mr. Rodgers, thanks for your interesting thoughts. I’m not interested in any ladders. It feels like a hierarchy to me. My quest is to learn how to meditate everday with commitment and discipline. The rest of the time I am busy living in the world with everybody else. My dailey tasks and struggles revolve around maintaing compassion and mindfullness in my day to day life with myself, everyone, and everything around me. I’m not big on organized religion or spiritual communities top heavy with hierarchy. I’ve seen the damage that they can do, with their dogma and rigid structures, history is full of examples.

    Perhaps ongoing open houses is the way to go, with no pressure to be this that or the other. Teaching people to mediate everyday, no mattter where they there are, as they navigate the world and the relationships around them, can only be a good thing. I envision a world where everyday, some number of us start the day in silent meditation; No need for temples, rituals, hierarchy, rigid stuctures and so forth. We can sit in our living rooms or dens, before the kids are the up, or work calls.

    The world can be a better place if more of us learn to sit quietly with it.

    Peace, Michael Jaurigue

  9. Emma Hixson
    Jun 2, 2014
    Reply

    Thanks for this thoughtful article and discussion. As a retiree new to Shambala I struggled with the eagerness to be part of the ladder cadre and realized this was not for me although I am excited that this cadre of folks at my sangha are doing this – leadership for the future! My sangha offers many sittings, special programs, celebrations and opportunities for community service so it works great for me even though I am not on the ladder. It’s all good!

  10. Joe– I too have noticed the popularity of Goenka’s retreats, they are actually solidly booked for months, not just weeks. Same story with IMS, they offer a generous sliding scale for programs. Reggie Ray’s dathuns consistently fill with over 100 students, the majority of them under 40 years old. He has done away with many of the “ladders”, though he requires a lot of individual practice before entering the Vajrayana. It is not uncommon for his students to attend several dathuns by there own inspiration. I’ve done a fair amount of practice with Shambhala over the past decade, including living at land centers, and I find that the major turn offs for people are the cost and pressure of conforming to the culture. I think that VTCR was brilliant in his ability to create cultural forms as teaching tools, but for many people, my self included, there is a feeling that one has to conform to certain norms of body, speech and mind to be part of the community, ie how to dress, being taught a learning terms that become somewhat jargonistic rather than personal expressions of the dharma, etc. I think Shambhala has become a more inviting sangha in the years I’ve been involved, but the challenge may be making the programs affordable, transformative, and nurturing the individual rather that shaping them to fit a certain culture.
    Thanks for the honest, thought provoking article Russell.

  11. This is a great post. I must say that I have loved every Shambhala training that I have attended. However, if you live far from a center it is expensive and difficult to complete the trainings. I cannot drive 60 miles to a center program as I have chronic pain, nor can I go to an evening program that starts at 7:30 p.m. I wish that we could complete some of the “mandatory” weekends through online programming. I just completed the Basic Goodness 2 class online and had a wonderful partner 1

  12. Excellent Raven
    Jun 2, 2014
    Reply

    This is a nice article, thank you. I did some serious ladder climbing when I first met Shambhala and had no kids, doing the Shambhala levels to Golden Key in a year. I didn’t have any money, but living at a land centre was a substitute. I followed this with the seminaries after supplicating family for money to do so. I was very proud of my accomplishments, but have been reflecting on that pride in the years since, when I haven’t had time or money to do a single program in the last decade.

    I now look on the ladder and the endless programs as a kind of a ngondro, kind of like an endless building and rebuilding like the structure that Marpa made Milerepa build over and over again. They don’t go anywhere except to the futility of ladders, although perhaps that’s somewhere.

    I see a lot of people come to centres for meditation training, and leave satisfied. That’s great! The ones I notice saying are the ones that are the most lost or struggling in their lives, which is also great. There are much fewer of them.

    The main problem I see in Shambhala is the arrogance of ladder climbers–it can turn some people off. Those arrogant ladder climbers need to do more programs! climb more ladders! Until the endless progression wears their sharp edges down, as they realize that they can never finish. Perhaps eventually they give up entirely! That’s also good. Especially when they come back after giving up.

  13. Sala Sweet
    Jun 2, 2014
    Reply

    thank you for your insights Russell. A topic that will continue and never end as we need to consider what we offer, how we offer it and why.

    I coordinated a class in Minnesota for a year or two that simply offered meditation every Monday night, with a guided, brief teaching and guided meditation. It became a community. Though some only attended once or twice many returned again and again and their discussions were deep and thoughtful. Most did no ladder climbing. Many were young. They began giving back to the community. Sometimes just offering a place to be quiet, to reflect and meditate and to share your experience with others is what is needed.

    Maybe we should create a badge for just being.

  14. James.Elliott
    Jun 1, 2014
    Reply

    Truly appreciate this theme being approached at all, but… don’t accept the dichotomy of ladder climbers and those not interested in climbing ladders. Then the rest of it kind of falls flat and we avoid lots of other difficult issues.

    Don’t believe it’s inherent in each of us whether we’re ladder climbers or not. I lean towards believing that the spiritual pursuit is an inherent yearning in everyone, that either finds a way to progress or doesn’t – and simplifying the path to make it so easy it takes no effort is not a solution. And don’t accept that the dharma is or must be presented as a ladder, which leads to the all the ideas that the ladder isn’t being presented properly, what must be tweaked to make it more attractive and so on. There’s something inherently manipulative with that approach, and hence unattractive.

    At the end I can only say, that for myself, although I was seeking no ladder I met Trungpa Rinpoche, and the effort seemed worthwhile therefore and because of that. It wasn’t any of the manipulative presentation tricks, nor a feeling of community I wanted to belong to, or perhaps the feeling that I was lost and now I was found, nothing like that. It was the teacher and the imminent feeling of exposure and being involved in something of import, for myself primarily, and that it could have some benefit for others. There is a personal history with other spiritual type groups that shaped my judgement as well, but that’s a long story.

    There is, I believe some inherent problems nowadays with the notion that spirituality and meditation must dominate society in some way, i.e. you are either on the path or are not, part of enlightened society and that direction or not, with all the implication that carries. People in these times are truly and frankly and in some cases absolutely burnt out on that sort of commercial-esque manipulation. It’s not even a conscious decision, they can smell it, because, they/we are so overexposed to that sort of attempt at our loyalties from products to political parties and so on.

    The path, it’s benefits, as well as its pitfalls and risks, has to be honestly and directly presented, by someone who has truly accomplished it, without the business model obstructing things. Then perhaps interest will wax and people will contribute their energies in ways otherwise only incidental. In any case tweaking the presentation in order to garner loyal followers, is like… well isn’t it obvious how counter productive that is? Not only for the people who come to check it out, but for the whole apparatus and how members end up shaping themselves to serve the cause.

  15. It really cheers me up to see someone in Shambhala addressing exactly this. I no longer practice in Shambhala but in my time there, I started to feel as if there was a specter of spiritual materialism lurking right in front of us all, perhaps despite best intentions. It always seemed paradoxical due to its conflict with one of VCTR’s strongest teachings. Plus, I always wondered why people were concerned with “retention” rather than simply being grateful for the opportunity to plant the seed of meditation in each person who walked through the door. I am so happy to see a senior practitioner exploring some of these problems so clearly. Thank you.

  16. Jay Lippman
    May 31, 2014
    Reply

    Great article Russell, thank you. From my recent experience in forming a new Shambhala Meditation Group I’ve learned that there are always new people who are genuinely interested in meditation and dharma. Some of them are even willing come regularly to a weekly meditation evening. A subset of those will also attend local WOS classes. And an even smaller number will go outside our group for further training. I imagine a pyramid shaped block chart with the most people at the bottom and increasingly fewer people in each block as you go up. This seems quite natural to me and actually I think its the way it has always been in Shambhala. What is surprising to me is the difficulty we have getting people to come to social/cultural types of events. I find that most people we meet already have their social networks in place. They are not looking for another ‘community’ and frankly they don’t have time for a new one. Today’s new students in my area at least, are mainly older people, with families, jobs, commitments and other interests. Or they’re retirees. They will give up some time for practice and study, but not that much. And as much as we talk about the importance of Shambhala society and culture, most of the people we meet don’t seem interested or able to join in. This is quite different from when I joined Shambhala in my early 20’s back in the 70’s. I was single, new in town, and ready for the sangha to become my home. And so was everyone else.

  17. Russell Rodgers
    May 31, 2014
    Reply

    That’s a very interesting question. What does “catering” mean? One thing that I’ve observed in my trips to Vancouver is that often people the Asian communities are attracted to abhishekas and teachings given by well known lamas. The abhishekas require no ngondro, and are probably attended because it is thought that they confer blessings. Translations are in Chinese and English. The Tibetan lamas seem comfortable with this format. They seem to take the attitude that whatever sinks in, sinks in. Sometimes children attend. Probably a few people will do the practice, but most won’t. Sometimes practice texts to take home seem like an afterthought.

    On the other hand, we are super-serious about our abhishekas in Shambhala. Students have to do serious preparation before hand . Taking them just for their blessings is looked down on. Trungpa Rinpoche wanted to lay the foundations for Western dharma in a pure and rigorous way and that attitude has continued.

    Also, it has to be said, we are mostly not Asian, and Buddhism has not been in our bones for generations. Cultural expectations are different. We are not, except for the Sakyong and perhaps Pema, famous lamas. Senior students who are teachers do not generally think in terms of blessing people’s mind-streams, nor is it expected of them. To some extent, if you expect blessings and are open to them, you will probably get them. Seeds will be planted. Most of us don’t have the confidence yet to play in that ballpark and it would come across as presumptuous if we tried.

  18. Laura Burnham
    May 31, 2014
    Reply

    Thank you for this, Russell! It helps enormously to realize that just because new people don’t stick, it doesn’t necessarily mean we are doing anything wrong. Shambhala is just THERE, accessible. People get a feel for meditation (it takes bravery to even give it a try!) and then they move on. It may be years later that they make more of a commitment, but that original introduction wasn’t as scary or weird as they might have imagined. By making this original connection possible, society has been slightly enlightened, one person at a time.

  19. Mr. Rodgers: You seem to be conflating ladder climbing with being a serious practitioner. Trungpa Rinpoche was very clever about creating goals to motivate people, but he was also good at dissolving goals. (I remember the panic when he announced a Vajrayana Seminary. [We gotta do it AGAIN?!] I also remember the disenchantment from the numerous people who equated practice with living in Boulder, when Rinpoche set off for Halifax. [Halifax?!])

    I’ve known many people who are good ladder climbers by nature, but fall flat when they no longer have a number of repetitions or a series of graded programs to complete. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that there is a fundamental, widespread misunderstanding in our sangha — the residue of ladders and excessive ambition — that equates time on the cushion and programs under one’s belt with realization. And the social hierarchy,
    dare I say it, reflects that. (Who didn’t assume, in the “old days” that “Boddhisattvas” were somehow ahead of refugees but behind Tantrikas, who in turn were inferior to Sadhakas, simply by virtue of having carried out the respective requirements for their titles?)

    People can practice the spiritual path in many ways, as has been demonstrated by the great teachers of the past. Can there not be room for options other than the ladder climber and the lay person who just wants a place to hold weddings and funerals? Do you really see the sangha as primarily *just* a worldly community, where a handful of practitioners serve a contented laity? I think that you might find more interest if ladders were not the only option… if it didn’t cost several thousand dollars just to get basic teachings… if Shambhala did not require an upper middle class lifestyle. But do you really want such interest? You seem to be implying that a large, happy laity is an important fundamental of fundraising.

    I have friends who have done 10-day intensive “Vipassana” retreats at a Goenka center. Serious, demanding practice. They were not allowed to pay, but were welcome to donate *after* the retreat, if they wished. These people connected deeply with practice but are not interested in the Shambhala presentation. Anyone who cares to look into the Goenka groups will find that their numerous retreats are booked solid, weeks in advance. I don’t doubt that there are many other such groups. Could it be that people don’t stick around at Shambhala because they don’t see a workable way, rather than because they have no interest in a Way?

  20. Michael Fagan
    May 31, 2014
    Reply

    Thanks for your take on this question, which is a great dilemma facing the heirs of the Vidyadhara.

    On the one hand, without integrating the dharma and the sangha into the greater community, the chances
    of a long-lasting lineage firmly rooting here are rather narrow. On the other hand, unless the members of a dharma community engage on the path, it will be a futile or at best wobbly without any real substance and subject to the corruption than is already the case in most every spiritual organization.

    In response to a question whether an institutional Buddhadharma could be the great answer to our collective needs, Karmapa XVII stated that Buddhism could not expand into a great society: too many people
    involved would merely go along because it was the social thing to do, whether as an in movement, a
    social standard or by dint of family relations. It was possibly the same in Tibet, even if it was a Buddhist
    culture.

    We are not in traditionalist societies where there are concentric social and spiritual rings easily mapped
    out for the members of the tribe, province or state to find place for themselves. Contemporary societies, both traditional and modern, are in high transition, facing collapse or major restructuring in the coming time. There will be no easy answers to the challenges emerging, but there can be organic solutions that occur in the process.

    As Buddhists we need to invoke a continued renewal of the blessings which have been transmitted to us through the practices that have developed over the long history of awakened mind. The Practice Lineage will only survive through practice itself. Our practice can impact the world around us and influence the course
    of events.

  21. Good for you Russell. The “why are you here” question is a good one. Maybe just the notion of the possibility of an enlightened society is enough. I’ve climbed a few rungs over the years but mostly shuttled around on a rope. Personally, I find the phrase Basic Goodness, capital letters and all a bit silly as a slogan and motto. I get it but I could never offer it as a panacea and phrase. (Imaginary conversation: What do you believe? I believe in basic goodness, that everything is basically good as opposed to original sin. A lot of people feel badly about themselves and I want to let them know that they are good at the core. I even wear a t-shirt that proclaims “Basic Goodness.”) I know that sounds cynical but take another look. I don’t know why people don’t stay and this motto may only be one reason or not at all. We just have to keep examining appearances from without, a fresh view. The most creative and intelligent people are not joiners, I suppose. The question itself is sort of like asking: why don’t you like me? So as we examine our own minds we could also examine our collective mind. Go for the big bad picture. Earth to Heaven.

  22. Annie Tucker
    May 30, 2014
    Reply

    Thank you so much for your very salient commentary. So helpful for me and those I’ve shared this with during our (hopefully) shifting cultural context.

    Cheers!

    Annie Tucker
    San Diego

  23. LaVerne Neuman
    May 30, 2014
    Reply

    A dear friend sent me this. A week ago I gave key people in my sangha a letter of “resignation”. I have been withdrawing from the sangha for a couple of years, only attending one noon sit on a weekday. That I was faithful to. I am not a ladder person and it was driving me nuts trying to reconcile my not wanting to attend or staff the myriad classes and programs with my desire to be home. I am also reluctant to drive at night–like many other people my age. I have talked about my primary place of practice being at home, and in the volunteer work I do. Meditation has informed both of those places of practices. I am very grateful to the sangha, but it was time to leave. I may attend meditation sometimes–I am not angry. Your column is so very welcome. It is so spot on– thank you! LaVerne Neuman

  24. Thoughtful article and thanks for sharing. Do people really think that “ladder climbers” are “stronger practitioners”?….yikes. Could be part of the problem? I do see a tendency in my sangha to treat “newbies” as if they “don’t know yet”- ok! Guess I will find out then? Makes me think of the phrase “Silly rabbit tricks are for….” I suppose I sound arrogant myself, but when you are constantly trying to swim against a current it just gets tiring. It makes you do weekthun’s or dathun’s with other people instead – even though you might not get “credit”. Sorry. This has been an obstacle for me to continue on a Shambhala path. That has made me very sad over the years and now I am just moving forward in other directions – I’m 35. I will never let go completely because I have a very special place in my heart for Shambhala – for many reasons. However, I might never be the “ladder climber” or have a high profile – but I know that when I die, I will have tried with everything I had to live the Dharma….if that means anything? <3

  25. Helena Fagan
    May 30, 2014
    Reply

    Russell–I love this! Thank you for sharing your thoughts with such clarity on this topic that seems to arise often in the Shambhala world; certainly it is often a topic at our center. Especially helpful for me right now as I just missed the next step in my ladder due to illness. An excellent reminder that I don’t need to keep climbing–just practice!

  26. Meg Vigerstad
    May 30, 2014
    Reply

    Thank you for this excellent analysis, Russell. It makes a lot of sense to me that the phenomenon of people coming to the center and then not “sticking” is a feature not a bug. It challenges us to become less fixated on “climbing the ladder” and more creative in finding ways to invite people to participate in a genuine community. May conversations on this topic flourish!

  27. Thank you for this clearly stated article. Topics that our center grapple with also. Having food and conversation come first is a big change in Shambhala/Vajradhatu. Connecting to the culture will probably lead to the meditation for many people who are not ladder climbers. It also enriches our community with diverse points of view.

  28. Petra Mudie
    May 30, 2014
    Reply

    Russell: Many thanks for sharing your clear insight and point of view which has many important implications about how to best help others. However, I am curious about what you mean when you say “The most likely candidates for such benevolence are wealthy people from China and Taiwan. Vancouver, which has a large Asian population, also sees some Buddhist temples lavishly funded – but not the ones, like Shambhala, that don’t cater to them.”
    Can you explain further in what ways the Shambhala community is not catering to the interested Asian population? Is it the lack of ceremonies, lack of traditional forms …or something else we do not offer? And could we say that we would help more people if we did did move in that direction – or would that just be paving a path of spiritual materialism?


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