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Jun 05
Sakyong and Family
Sakyong Bestows Inaugural Friend of Shambhala Award

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche and Governor Shumlin of Vermont, photo by Laura Greer

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche and Governor Shumlin of Vermont, photo by Laura Greer

Governor Shumlin of Vermont receives the inaugural ‘Friend of Shambhala Award’ from Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche

On Tuesday June 3rd, in the Governor’s Ceremonial Office at the Vermont Statehouse, Shambhala Buddhist leader and best-selling author Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, presented the first ever “Friend of Shambhala” award to Governor Peter Shumlin and the people of Vermont, in recognition of the state’s continuing role in creating and propagating a climate of inclusivity and compassion for all Vermonters, and its historic role as the birthplace of what is now a strong Shambhala Buddhist community throughout the US.

Fifty students of Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche were on hand to witness the Friend of Shambhala Award presentation to the Governor and three members of his Cabinet. The Award reads in part:

This award honors the people and institutions of Vermont for their commitment to the inherent dignity and worth of the human being. Vermont offers a generous spirit of welcome to people from all walks of life and beliefs. It fosters human community as a rich resource of care and connection, providing a safety net for all those in need including a livable wage and meaningful work, as well as quality, affordable and accessible patient-centered healthcare.

At 10:30am the foyer of the Vermont Statehouse, known commonly as “The People’s House”, was a-buzz with fifty members of the Vermont Shambhala community. Representatives of Karme Choling were joined by community members from St. Johnsbury, Montpelier, White River Junction and Burlington to witness the first meeting of Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche and Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin.

This historic meeting marked a milestone for Shambhala. It was the first meeting between a Sakyong (current or former) and a State Governor, and it was the first time the Sakyong has bestowed the “Friend of Shambhala Award”. Furthermore, Vermont was where Shambhala was first planted in American soil.

The Vermont Statehouse in Montpelier. Photo credit: Sarah Lipton

The Vermont Statehouse in Montpelier. Photo credit: Sarah Lipton

At 11am, the Sakyong was escorted into the Governor’s office. Besides the Sakyong and the Governor, additional participants in the initial meeting included Special Assistant to the Governor for Health Care Reform Lawrence Miller, Commissioner of the Department of Housing and Community Affairs Noelle Mackay, and Acharya Mitchell Levy. As one excited spectator shared, “The entire energy of the room shifted as the Sakyong walked by.” Governor Peter Shumlin also looked particularly delighted to be meeting the Sakyong.

Police and Security personal mingled with members of the Dorje Kasung and the Sakyong’s Kusung. A large children’s group was downstairs while the gathered Shambhalians and the local media crowded the top of the stairs outside of the Governor’s office. It was a joyful, chatty mixture of local and visiting dignitaries as well as newer and longer time students.

Cara Thornley of St. Johnsbury shared, “I think this meeting is a well-deserved recognition of the compassionate environment Vermont provides for meditation and social action.” Acharya Suzann Duquette of Karme Choling stated, “I think it’s fabulous this is happening. Vermont deserves this in a big way. It has such humanitarian policies, and the people are kind and warm-hearted towards each other.” Shastri Bill Brauer concurred saying, “It’s a great day for Shambhala and Vermont! Vermont is really central to the birth of Shambhala on this entire continent. This is where the Vidyadhara, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche started out and it’s so fitting that the governor of this state and the Sakyong meet today and become friends.” Furthermore, he said, “It’s fitting that Governor Shumlin receive the Friend of Shambhala Award because Vermont has indeed been a friend of Shambhala.”

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche and Governor Shumlin enjoyed a 30 minute private conversation in the Governor’s ceremonial office. According to Acharya Levy, there was a lively and spirited dialogue between the governor and the Sakyong. This covered a wide range of topics including the governor’s program on addiction, the commitment on the part of the Governor to building the economy, the looming health care initiative, and affordable housing. The governor inquired about the history of Karme Choling, how frequently the Sakyong visits and his other travels. The Sakyong smiled and mentioned a number of different places saying, “you could say that the center of Shambhala is wherever I am at the moment.” The governor replied by saying, “Well now you are an honorary Vermonter!”

Saykong Mipham and Governor Shumlin pose with Shambhala dignitaries, photo by Evan Silverman

Saykong Mipham and Governor Shumlin pose with Shambhala dignitaries, photo by Evan Silverman

At a certain point the conversation turned towards the plight of the Tibetan people. The governor asked whether the Sakyong believed that Tibet was “lost”. The Sakyong described his trips to Tibet and the importance of preserving Tibetan culture and providing an environment in which the Shambhala Buddhist teachings could flourish in the West.

Governor Shumlin and the Sakyong seemed to genuinely enjoy each other’s company. The governor made it clear that he and the entire state of Vermont were honored by the award about to be offered by the Sakyong.

As Governor Shumlin and the Sakyong welcomed the gathered public and local media into his office after their private meeting, the energy was quiet and focused. Governor Shumlin said, “You are the most tranquil people we have ever had in this office!” The Sakyong laughed along with the assembled, saying, “I think they are surprised to hear that!” It was obvious they had connected in their short, private meeting.

During the presentation of the Award, Governor Shumlin recognized the Sakyong as an honorary Vermonter and nodded to the historical landing of his father here in Vermont, saying, “His dad found Vermont when he was trying to escape from a city, which shows his wisdom,” at which everyone laughed. The Sakyong expressed the themes that they had discussed and how they could work together. The governor then shared his delight at being host to so many Buddhist communities and expressed his desire to take the very best principles of peace, understanding and community and help Vermont thrive.

Friend of Shambhala AwardAcharya Mitchell Levy then presented the Friend of Shambhala Award to the governor on behalf of the Sakyong. Click here to watch the media coverage of this momentous occasion.

Following the presentation of the Award, Ellen Kahler who had organized the event gave a tour of the Statehouse to the Sakyong. As Ellen said to the Sakyong, “Compared to the entire United States, Vermont is proportionally like our delegs in Shambhala – the government is accessible to the people and allows a lot of interaction.” The Sakyong replied, “That connection between the government and the people allows access to make real changes.”

On his way out of the building, he was stopped by the local media and asked a few questions. When asked about the addiction problems in Vermont, the Sakyong replied, “Society is at a crossroads. Addiction and health care issues have to do with how human beings regard themselves and how they relate with society. Meditation and other forms of contemplative practice relate with how we can be human beings. This is critical. The good news is that these contemplative themes are playing more of a role now. I’m extremely happy that these issues are being considered.”

When asked if he had a message for the people of Vermont, he looked right into the camera, smiled and said, “I love you! This is a good time to be here.”

Sakyong Mipham and Ellen Kahler, photo by Laura Greer

Sakyong Mipham and Ellen Kahler, photo by Laura Greer

With “we love you!” and “come back soon!” being cried at the curb, the gathered Shambhalians waved goodbye to the Sakyong as he drove away. When asked how she felt after this successful first visit, Ellen Kahler expressed that she was “elated!” As well she should have been. “It’s wonderful for me to personally bridge both of my worlds – my work and my Shambhala practice.”

Following the departure of the Sakyong, local Montpelier sangha hosted a lunch for their visiting guests in the Statehouse cafeteria. The conversation centered on the impact this visit might have on the future of Shambhala in Vermont.

Julie Soquet of Burlington shared, “this event has planted a seed.” Carol Snow, also of Burlington expressed that Shambhalians engaging more in local politics might be an outcome of this event. “We think that politics and spirituality are separate but this confirms there is no separation. It takes courage to step out of our comfort zone to meet the governor, and he might also be stepping outside of his comfort zone to meet us!”

Patricia Hoffman of Burlington said, “The Sakyong is not kidding when he says we are going out to create enlightened society. That is what we are doing, and it’s both a call and an inspiration. He is showing us one way to open up and go out into the world by meeting the governor.” What occurred to Robert O’Keefe of Montpelier was that, “For those of us who knew Tail of the Tiger in the beginning, this is one of those watershed moments when you recognize the evolution of our community in the world and in Vermont. It’s very satisfying!”

As the Sakyong leaves, community members and media cluster to hear his last words, photo by Evan Silverman

As the Sakyong leaves, community members and media cluster to hear his last words, photo by Evan Silverman

Katie Back of Montpelier shared, “It’s amazing that the Vidyadhara landed here in Vermont. He knew. He knew this was the state of compassion and that Buddhism could flourish here.” Not only are there six Shambhala communities in the state, but there are at least nine other Buddhist communities as well. It’s the highest per-capita proportion of Buddhist communities in any state in the US.

Jane Arthur, previous director of Karme Choling and who was instrumental in bringing this meeting together, shared that, “In my mind this meeting is an acknowledgment of the partnership of this great state and Shambhala. Shambhala has flourished because it got such a good start here in Vermont. It was such great, good auspicious coincidence that Shambhala should have landed here in Vermont first.”

Gayle Hanson of Montpelier also had a hand in helping produce this event. She shared that she felt this event was really opening “a huge door to the future. Bringing together Governor Shumlin, who compassionately cares about Vermont, with the Sakyong and his dream of creating enlightened society, has the possibility of actually unfolding here where we live. This is inspiring for everyone – the Governor, his staff and our entire community! Bringing this together in “The People’s House” of Vermont is momentous!”

The last statement Governor Shumlin said in addressing the gathered assembly was, “We would welcome you in the statehouse, you would bring peace and dignity to this place, and we could use you in January!”

See more media coverage by clicking here.

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