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Oct 23
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Voice of Dissent

A devoted Shambhalian contemplates the purpose, place, and utility of dissent, the value of disagreeing with the accepted way of things

by Amanda Hester

quotes-graffiti-banksy-slogan-achievements-wallpaper-hd-wallpaper-banksy-free-download-quotes-graffiti-slogan-achievements-hdA healthy society depends upon a healthy level of dissent. Without dissent, discipline and form lose their joy and become simply authoritarian. Dissent is one of the primary antidotes to oppression. Without the presence of a critical discourse, even the most enlightened society runs the risk of stagnation, self-absorption, and ignorance. Shambhala is the principle of connection, it represents the notion of a wakeful society, but it also represents an actual society and community of practitioners; it represents an organization.

Our community was built upon slogans from Trungpa Rinpoche, like “A culture of no-mistake,” and “If you maintain a sense of humor and a distrust of the rules laid down around you, there will be success.” Inherent to Shambhala is the appreciation of the vital role played by dissent within an enlightened society. Yet we do not currently have a clear mechanism by which to cultivate this particular spicy ingredient. Often our dissent devolves into complaint or gossip, or remains hidden in the interpersonal conversations that fill our nights and dinner parties throughout the mandala.

anonymous-275868__340We talk about creating a culture of kindness, but this is insular and ultimately meaningless unless it is paired with a culture of critical awareness. We need to begin to open ourselves to the sharp edges and daring of critical discourse, so that we can grow as a community and meet the challenges that present themselves both from within and without. In the absence of this, we fall into the trap of solidifying our own dissent as either righteousness or negativity. Sometimes, our innate critical intelligence, which Shambhala helps to awaken, causes us to feel so out of place or so crazy that we feel like we may need to step away from Shambhala altogether.

Editor’s Note: We are currently on hiatus from publishing new articles; in the meantime, please enjoy this classic item reprinted from our back issues.

There is a sense, within Shambhala, of not wanting to upset Shambhala with our dissenting voice, with our critical discourse. This is counter-productive to the very principle that Shambhala represents. We silence ourselves, and sometimes, often inadvertently, we silence others. Because of this people leave. They leave because there is a sense of implacability, of being “outcast,” even though there is not always a specific person or group to identify as the ‘outcaster.” As an example, we are hemorrhaging young women in this sangha. I have personally spoken to four young women in the last year who have felt the need to step away from our community, but there are also many others. I myself have gotten to the point where I felt like I needed to leave — not to leave the practice, not the teachings, not the Sakyong, but to leave the organization, the sense of a monolithic Shambhala that I felt was oppressive. I felt that way because of the silence I had imposed upon myself out of fear.

demonstration-144957__340We are vulnerable, all of us, and because we don’t yet have a strong culture of dissent, a cultural outlet that embraces and encourages critical discourse and exploration, when a critical view is presented we can often feel attacked, personally or on behalf of Shambhala. Likewise we can feel the need to attack, to find an area or entity on which to lay the blame. We want to be able to fix it, to make problems go away. But that is not what dissent is about. Critical awareness is about asking questions. It is about pointing out incongruities. It is about being self-reflective, and honest.

Let us create a culture of kindness AND critical awareness. Critical awareness, when joined with kindness, can help us step outside our comfort zones. It can even help to civilize how we behave, because we will start to think outside the box that we put around ourselves when there is not a healthy outlet for dissent. Sometimes I feel that we don’t even know what dissent means in this community; we think it is something that needs to be attended to, rather than just being allowed and even celebrated. Dissent enriches a society. It strengthens it, makes its principles and actions rigorous.

We need to engage, both as individuals and as a community, in challenging our areas of privilege and ignorance. We need to stand up and speak our truths, and to hear the truths of others. We cannot be terrified of voicing dissent in Shambhala because we are afraid of upsetting people and/or afraid being attacked. I am not doing justice to my teacher, the teachings, or the sangha with that attitude, because that attitude does not reflect an enlightened society. Let us say it: that attitude reflects an authoritarian society. By saying it, I help to move myself, and our community, in a healthier direction.

protest-155927__340I trust that creating a culture of dissent will ultimately help us to be kinder to one other. It might even help us learn how to listen to those with whom we disagree, and to respond to them with compassion, curiosity, and respect. I hope to learn that there are truths out there that are valid and important, truths that are completely different from and even contradictory to my own. I hope to open up a space where we as a community can start to look at our pain, disillusionment, and frustration, in a constructive and enlightened way.

I love this sangha and our incredible Sakyong, and I love the Dharma. We need a space for dissent, because there are many in our community who feel deeply wounded, and who struggle. They need an outlet to voice their frustration, and more importantly to voice their critical intelligence. Indeed, we all need that. Dissent does not need to be fixed, it needs to be heard and listened to, it needs to be considered and allowed in order to foster change. We must stop silencing ourselves and each other, and we need to recognize that we have been doing so.

Amanda Hester is a second generation Buddhist who lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She has a graduate degree in political science, and is currently working on a second degree in critical criminology. 

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59 responses to “ Voice of Dissent ”
  1. Kimberley Lueck
    Apr 9, 2016

    I love this observation, and the idea of the art of wrath. I will be contemplating that for myself. Thank you.

  2. I love Shambhala, the forms the container morphs into, the age diversity within the mandala and the programs. If there is any conformity apparent in these eyes it appears as this : albeit there is exhortation towards humour and upliftedness, I observe that reverence for the sacred sometimes resembles piousness in it’s deportment. Although,these eyes recently witnessed some magnificent craziness which provoked absolutely no frowns, but much upliftedness. For specifics it happened in the lunch announcements at KCL this past week and is probably ongoing due to the loveliness and daringness of the young staff there.

    What I wish to share is that there are, in other cultures and mandalas, ways of expressing dissent. Being purely descriptive without infusing those descriptions with opinion is one. This is extremely difficult and requires a sort of “ikebana” or weeding of one’s perceptions. Another way is never to speak of the absent. It seems that there is no forum besides the written one here within which to adress dissent, therefore vagueness is paramount because everyone concerned is absent.
    We have a Heart of Recovery program; for dissent, perhaps a speakers’ corner should be set up.

    Dissension is emotional. In my experience it needs to be voiced, often uncoherently and vehemently before it can dissolve. Unspoken hurts morph into rage into self-loathing into etc., etc… What you are saying is that dissension needs a container, witnesses and protocol and regularity; a stage whereupon ranting and raving are permitted minus blaming and naming. Verbal or non. In our highly evolved cultures of loving kindness we have obliterated the need and the catharsis generated by getting MAD. We forgive and have too often skipped this essential step…..The art of…Wrath?

  3. Dagmare Houniet
    Apr 1, 2016

    Thank you Amanda! I’ve been solidifying into negativity in the workplace, your words are another reminder to speak out when things can be changed.

  4. Amanda: You are annoyed by “older men” trying to give you guidance. But are you not trying to also offer guidance about what people should think and do? The picture above says “stop asking for permission”. Yet you ask for a public discourse to give people permission to voice their thoughts. You want people to “hear your truths”. Why? That’s not their job. Shambhala is not a college where students can demand regulations to govern personal interaction. Nor is it a town meeting. It’s a monarchy. It’s authoritarian by design. If you connect with the Sakyong then that’s the milieu in which you operate.

    I think, also, that spiritual groups are unique in their problems and it’s important to recognize how much we all create oppressive group-think and pecking order, even while railing against it. People want to progress spiritually and competition to be the best at non-aggression can get fierce. We are all tempted by the lure of external confirmation. In Vajradhatu/Shambhala that has traditionally been badges, empowerments and time-on-the-cushion. The Calvinists, believing that entrance into Heaven was pre-destined for a select few, respected the aged, applying a quaintly naive logic that the old must be favored by God to have survived so long. There’s also a famous story of one of the Zen patriarchs who was appointed by his master and then sent away in the middle of the night, lest the followers of the monastery’s “alpha male” murder him in their distress. The common thread there is people desperate for an external, worldly scale of spiritual attainment by which to measure themselves, craving for certainty on the path, and often being mean in their quest to gain it.

    In the end, your practice is your own. It’s your responsibity. There’s a saying that it’s best to assume that everyone you meet might be a Bodhisattva. Then you can be open in looking at your own reactions.

  5. Bill Sutton
    Mar 30, 2016

    Yay, Amanda. If I remember correctly, you published something quite similar to this about 8 years ago. I love your non apologetic way of proclaiming what needs to be proclaimed.

    BTW, to respond to something I read in the responses, we all know there’s no official policy of silencing anyone. What fascinates me is that whenever a group of people get together, they quickly develop a bunch of tacit agreements on what is real and what’s okay / not okay to do in that reality.

    When enough people heed the voice of fear and hold an attitude of “go along to get along” or “let’s not rock the boat” it creates an atmosphere that stifles dissent.

    It’s everyone’s responsibility to listen to the inner uneasiness and positive anger this gives rise to and challenge the tangible feeling of fear herding the group into mediocrity and submission. Sure a demigod might arise to take advantage of this with an authoritarian structure, but most of the time, the fear-based herd mentality has already gained the upper hand in the group consciousness.

  6. Ira Abrams
    Mar 30, 2016

    I’m grateful to Amanda for opening up some space around this topic. I can imagine using a different word than dissent in many instances, because quite often we don’t know what it is against which we are voicing disagreement. So what comes across as dissent is often someone’s attempt at clarity in a very unclear space. The privilege of dissent belongs to the few people who are in a position to have a few other people agree that they understand what is going on in their corner of the mandala.

    It’s tempting to ascribe the problems of Shambhala politics to a specific inherited social convention, but each unhappy interaction in Shambhala is unique. As Amanda suggests, as a society we are starting out on a journey that is long and in many ways arduous. I am constantly struck by how far my own social skills fall short of what I think I ought to know as a person who has studied and practiced these sublime teachings for almost two decades. And I am guessing that I am not alone. What I take from Amanda’s call for dissent is not a sense that there is something evil against which to dissent, but that each of us is called upon courageously to speak our truth in order to bring Shambhala into existence. If I understand Amanda correctly, she’s saying that this ethos defines what it means to be a citizen of Shambhala.

    Sure, it is possible to complain about the leadership or the direction of the organization. But these complaints are more often triggered by ill-founded claims about what the Sakyong wants–attempts to shut down disagreement by invoking a secret and personal back-channel to ultimate authority. Frustrated by the effects of this, I’ve often thought we should have a rule in governance forbidding anyone from ever claiming to know what the Sakyong wants or thinks. It is wonderful to have the opportunity to contemplate and discuss the teacher’s words together; but when these words provoke dissent it is nearly always because they’ve been used to prop up some lesser potentate’s shaky claims.

  7. Barbara Smisth
    Mar 29, 2016

    We are not alone in this even as Buddhists. I would recommend people look at LOYALTY DEMANDS DISSENT Autobiography of an Engaged Buddhist by Sulak Sivaraksa.

  8. rosie cavallo
    Mar 29, 2016

    hi John,
    loved ur reply and the article —- all as food for thought..

    what did u mean by this;

    But they have to have the courage and thrill – lets be honest: it is a thrill – to take their seat and manifest.

  9. Thank you Ms. Hester for waving the sword of prajna for us. What a juicy conversation to have! I have always felt there was an interesting and sometimes heartbreaking tension between the vision of Shambhala and its proclamation of basic goodness which seems inclusive and the fact that Shambhala is also a very rigorous, expensive and time-consuming vajrayana path which is exclusive. I met an old student the other day that said she missed our sangha but just couldn’t hang with the demands of the path, so she left. Although there wasn’t “dissent” here per se, there is an opportunity to question how things are done that leads to people feeling their only option is to leave. Like the circulation of bodhicitta, a feedback loop is very much needed. May confusion dawn as wisdom.

  10. Alexandria
    Mar 28, 2016

    Thank you for starting a dialogue. It’s a bummer you had to come forward and explain yourself when this piece felt to be an introduction to a topic of dissent. I appreciate that your follow up to a few very sneaky and power suggestive responses was still eloquent and kind. I don’t know you but thanks Amanda!

  11. Maggie Colby
    Mar 28, 2016

    I read this article a few days ago and tears welled up in my eyes – frankly, to my surprise. This is so important, this theme and discussion — evident in the many thoughtful and passionate comments already posted. I, for one, look forward to listening and participating… and to finding the right words to express things that are difficult to express. Thank you so much, Amanda. Love you.

  12. Jinpa Heyer
    Mar 28, 2016

    Irene, this reminds me of the letter one of my fellow assembly-mates sent with a petition from a bunch of us at Warrior Assembly. She received a lovely reply from the Sakyong along with the assurance that much thought was going into the issue. I am certain that my friend will be following up on the issue, as will our fellow petitioners. It’s very true that sometimes the best way to address a problem is to stand up and address it. I hope that our trainings in fearlessness will help in this regard.

  13. Jinpa Heyer
    Mar 28, 2016

    Thank you for this article, and for sparking a discussion that I hope will continue for the benefit of all beings, particularly for those in the sangha who feel disaffected by the larger scope of ignorance.

    I have experienced some problems along these lines personally. It’s hard to let people know that their privilege effects me without being heavy-handed, and without it being about “me,” frankly. A general discussion of privilege within the sangha is most welcome.

  14. Thank you, Amanda.

    I like hearing your voice. To me, hearing a person’s voice is hearing them explore their truth. I lke hearing ou explore your truth. When you keep silent, you can’t join your song with the other singers, and clearly you are about to open up that chorus.
    Others speak their truths in the comments here and I like to see that too. Open and generous dialog is the only way. I don’t like to see ad hominem, and I see some of that in the comments. Let’s listen to each other if I may say so.
    I like to hear you push back on the topic of being a woman patronized by men. Trungpa used to say, Men are stupid and Women are crazy, or was that George Carlin. And the reason women are crazy is because men are stupid.
    It’s not enough to push back. We have to push through. Persist, transcend, and transform. Share your vision. And when you open up that space, invite others to share it. Delight and dance.
    Dance on dakini.
    We are listening.

  15. Gabriel O'Hare
    Mar 27, 2016

    Amanda, Thank you for your well spoken words on such important issues. It is rare for me to go very many days without relating with these quandaries. I admire your leadership in writing this article and am glad to hear you will be writing more.

  16. Roger Farwell
    Mar 27, 2016

    Dear Amanda,

    Thank you for this. I wish to lend my ears in order to listen to and hear what is clearly a timely and growing chorus of dissent, particularly around issues relating to race, gender and sexual orientation.

    I hope you are well! Much love, Roger

  17. Drew Bromfield
    Mar 27, 2016

    Amanda, thank you so much for your articulation of dissent and its absence (or perhaps elision) within our social practice path. I have to say that I was quite stirred both by the article and your follow-up comment.

    Ms. Milsom, I found your comments 100% on fleek. I make no apologies for superlatives.

    Jackie, your comments on dissent and it’s relationship with aggression are so welcome to my ears.

    Lastly, as some others have mentioned, I found the generality of the article integral to its purpose. Amanda’s article, as I read it, is about a systemic issue around dissent, not merely the absence of dissent around a particular issue. I think the comments quite effectively illustrate the problem with focusing on a particular issue like male-privilege in this context: it becomes easy to forget the uncomfortable truth that dissent of many types is habitually silenced either through ignorance or aggression.

    Amanda, I think the comments section bore out this observation disappointingly well, “Sometimes I feel that we don’t even know what dissent means in this community; we think it is something that needs to be attended to, rather than just being allowed and even celebrated.” Though clearly, also evident from the comments, our appetite for dissent is whetted. Hears to celebrating dissent! Eh Ma Ho!

  18. Wow! A lot of interest in this topic. Thanks for a thoughtful article.

    For me, it helps to think about the difference between Shambhala as an organization and Shambhala as an enlightened society. The organization is only going to be receptive to certain types of criticism. For example, complaints about lack of diversity or the role of women are clearly in line with the Sakyong’s vision of an inclusive organization. So it is very helpful to raise criticisms and to highlight ways to further this goal that is essentially shared by most individuals and by the organization.

    Other complaints — and there are a raft of them — go more to the Sakyong’s vision of how to further Chogyam Trungpa’s teachings and lineage — a lineage that we all share. If you don’t like no longer being in a sangha that is unified with other Mahayana lineages by the daily chanting of the heart sutra, you are out of luck dissenting within the Shambhala organization. If you worry about the Sakyong’s decision to no longer transmit the Vajrayogini and Chakrasamvara practices of the Kagyu lineage or the Nyingma practices of Vajrakilaya within the Shambhala organization (and Chogyam Trungpa’s extraordinary and unique teachings on these topics), these are not complaints that the organization can address. If you prefer a democratic governance structure, you are out of luck. If you would like to receive teachings from holders of other lineages at local Shambhala Centers, there is no point complaining — you will be raising issues that are “beyond the pay grade” of local leadership. And, of course, if you don’t trust the Sakyong — if you think he is motivated by fame or concerned about his reputation or the sales numbers of his latest book — you need to go elsewhere.

    To address these broader complaints, students either need to work with their doubts on a personal level or to break with the Shambhala organization and go elsewhere. This is not a problem. Shambhala as an enlightened society is not and never has been limited by the priorities of the Shambhala organization or by the vision of the Sakyong. And we don’t even need to look back or second guess the Sakyong’s decisions. We can just wish the Shambhala organization well. It is fine for what it does — and people who train there and leave in many cases do just fine (and forever and ever way back to Chogyam Trungpa’s days there have always been many more people who have trained and left than who have stayed long term).

    A lot of this is a working out in the West of what it means to be part of a lineage that says “don’t trust what I say — find out for yourself” but that also stresses devotion to a teacher as profound skillful means to realize intrinsic nature.

  19. Irene Lorch
    Mar 26, 2016

    I also really appreciate this discussion! This has been on my mind for quite some time and thank you for raising this, Amanda! Whenever you have established forms and organizations, you have what we have now in Shambhala, as well: solidification and possibilities for identification and projection. The sense of control and claustrophobia that could be experienced within our forms comes from over-identification with our organization and our local groups. Let’s always remember that we are following this path as free human beings who can choose what we want to use for our life path. We engage in these forms but ultimately they are just forms and we know that we are responsible to ourselves in our journey from cradle to grave. I am very grateful for the amazing teachers and teachings I have received within Shambhala but they are just some of the huge display of teachings inherent in life’s maifestation. Let’s always remember that there is a big wide world out there, full of space and learning opportunities. No need to limit ourselves by creating our own beliefs in limiting “party-lines”. If you believe in your own freedom, they will be recognized as mostly projections.

  20. So appreciative to you, Amanda, for writing this article.

    There is much that I’d like to say about this, however, I’d like to respond to one comment in particular.
    The idea that Shambhala is not “forcing” conformity and that warriorship might mean staying silent (as not to dissent over every problem) and that dissent points toward aggression.

    I think I would like to put this in a broader context. Let’s think about how the United States isn’t forcing anyone to conform to white culture, however, we know (or I hope we know…) that if one doesn’t try to assimilate to the dominant culture, they face a certain amount of discrimination. This could be anything such as being avoided on the street because you “look dangerous” up to being arrested and brutalized by the police force because of this. No, Shambhala isn’t forcing anyone to conform to any particular view – however, it is implicitly there.

    Those in the dominant culture don’t see the impact that oppression is having on others because they are privileged enough not to experience it. When one doesn’t experience it, it seems to not exist. This is not true, and is why those with privileged identities are being called upon to become more aware and to use their voice to stand up to the marginalization that is occurring.

    So, that is the first point I would like to bring up when a comment is made that Shambhala doesn’t force anyone into conformity.
    Fitted in this broader context – no, it’s not forcing anyone, but oppression is happening, and dismissive comments like that just further perpetuate it and continue on in ignorance.

    Second, I have a big problem with a response to an article such as this stating that sometimes warriorship means staying silent. What Amanda was highlighting was that there are people in our community that have experienced such heinous situations that they have felt that they needed to leave. As a woman, and a person of color in our Sangha, I, too, have experienced this. I have also felt the need to be silent, for fear of many things (being outcasted – which comes from experience – or being told that I’m lying, or that it wasn’t a big deal, etc.). Again, comments like that continue to silence those who feel they are voiceless, and are perpetuating oppression.

    Third, saying that dissent points toward aggression is horribly misguided. Dissent is not inherently aggressive. It can be intelligent, thoughtful, productive and insightful. This, again, silences those whose voices need to be heard.

    I know that this can be extremely hard to hear, and swallow. No one wants to feel that they are an oppressor. It’s hard to face that truth. But whether we like it or not, we are posting on this thread, a part of Shambhala, and thus we all have some sort of privilege. It is our responsibility to become critically aware of our privileged parts and make room for the voices of dissent that need so desperately to be heard from our marginalized voices.

  21. Jayne Sutton
    Mar 26, 2016

    Well said, Amanda. I look forward to your column. Thank you for your voice. Love, Jayne.

  22. Alex Milsom
    Mar 26, 2016

    I feel like there is a difference between “disagreeing” with things and voicing them in the community (which there is totally room for in Shambhala) and actually pointing to systemic issues, deeply embedded cultural norms (patriarchy, white supremacy, heteronormativity) that we bring to the community from the setting-sun world. The instance Amanda raises in the comments—that multiple men have tried to insert their takes or derail the conversation by talking about “disagreements” they’ve had—relate to the latter. Disagreeing with a curriculum change is totally different than feeling ostracized or hurt on a regular basis when you’re objectified and sexualized by men in the sangha. Constantly. For years.

    To bring up your own “disagreements” or to try to tell Amanda how to relate to her feelings is to create an unfair parallel, and it re-centers conversation around you. And by the way, if you don’t hear women talk to you about this stuff regularly, then you probably haven’t proven yourself to be a safe vessel for that conversation because trust me, it comes up a lot. And no one owes you that conversation either. A good place to start is listening. You don’t always *have* to comment or respond. Give space to voices that aren’t as well represented and you can learn a lot. I think that is the sort of space that Amanda is carving out here when she talks about critical dissent.

  23. Sherab Violeta Manoukian
    Mar 26, 2016

    Thanks so much, Amanda, for shedding light into this dark corner of our sangha, i.e. our personal and collective attitudes towards dissent. I appreciate immensely your critical awareness and heart, both very much in accordance with the central tenets of Shambhala. If we are to create an enlightened society based on the fundamental principle of basic goodness, how can we not acknowledge and embrace the basic goodness of dissenters? How can we not respond to them wholeheartedly from our core of basic goodness? These are questions I often contemplate as I know of many instances when this hasn’t happened in our sangha. So I am grateful for and fully support your insight and courage in raising this important topic.

    For me this initial article is neither vague nor too general. Instead, if I understand you correctly, it establishes the rationale, the conceptual underpinnings for what is to come – specific instances of dissent and their consequences. I honour your clarity, kindness, and eloquence and look forward to your column.

  24. Sally Walker
    Mar 26, 2016

    I also just wanted to thank you, Amanda, for stepping up to write such a thoughtful, eloquent article. Indeed, we do know exactly what you are talking about, nothing vague about it. Acceptance and relating to dissent is critical at this time in Shambhala, even though for many it is too late. Your column will meet a great need, and, I think, will provide protection for the entire mandala by opening up this topic.

  25. Dia Ballou
    Mar 26, 2016

    Great article, Amanda, and lots of great responses. I would have to call myself a chronic, habitual dissenter, and there’s no way I would have lasted even a month in Shambhala if my dissenting voice had been stifled. I can tell countless stories of times when I disagreed publicly with all kinds of assertions, behaviors, and approaches, and witnessed others similarly disagreeing. Maybe I’ve had exceptional teachers along my path, but the fact is, my habitual dissenting has been so lovingly tended to in this organization, that I nowadays feel somewhat tamed — and ready to welcome others’ dissent so I can pay back my teachers’ kindness with my own kindness toward others. To offer but one example, though it embarrasses me: I used to “dissent” from the Kasung, loudly voicing my opinion that military forms have no place in a Buddhist world. I even tried to rally other people behind me in this. But the fact is, when I talked with Kasung members about what they were doing and why, my questions were welcomed and meaningful answers were given. Amanda, I have dissented left and right in Shambhala, often out of confusion, and the space into which I dissented echoed back wisdom.

    I would say that the Buddhadharma in general offers a path of radical dissension from societal and personal habitual patterns, and that many Shambhalians train diligently stay open to whatever may be arising before them, which is often not what we want or expect, thank goodness.

  26. David Schneider
    Mar 25, 2016

    Adding my thanks to you Amanda, for putting forward your clear thoughts and your eloquent speech.
    You certainly have my strong support here.

  27. I really appreciate the important issues raised in this article, as well as the interesting comments posted. It’s so important to have these conversations with genuine respect, in order to really create a welcoming, appreciative, honoring, enlightened society with a mandala that is inclusive on every level.
    It’s so important that we truly see and hear each other and honor a diversity of perspectives. If we lose that, we lose our culture, we lose our society. (We can see that happening in American politics today…but I won’t get into that topic in this space.)
    Mostly, I want to thank you for a beautifully written article and thank the Shambhala Times for printing it!

  28. Interesting topic. I guess my take on it is a little bit different, more limited in scope. I’ve perceived a lack of interest within Shambhala in engaging in discussions that might challenge our own practice and sense of comfort. Blind faith I think. For example, there have been articles from time to time about cooking that involve meat. To me, a screaming contradiction of our Buddhist principles – do no harm to sentient beings? But whenever I’ve raised that issue, it was met with indifference. Snooze! Similarly, commercialism and materialism are promoted – Shambhala branded Visa cards, Shambhala women’s fashions, etc. Yes, this is the 21st century, but where do we draw the line? We talk the talk, but do we walk the walk? I’d love to see some objective dialogue about subjects such as these, but I suspect there will not even be any acknowledgment that they are issues worth thinking about. Out of sight, out of mind.

  29. Evan Lainhart
    Mar 25, 2016

    Thank you so much, Amanda! I admire your fearlessness.

  30. Sylvie Stevenson
    Mar 25, 2016

    Hi Amanda,

    I appreciate you underscore this issue, even tho fairly general. These days, I travel (8 hr. drive!) to an urban Shambhala center where I feel comfortable being with a group who seem to accept “difference”. (That includes diversity, creativity, unconventional thinking, perhaps even some degree of dissent. I think it’s in the mix though the community feels very harmonious, full of kindness and cooperation, not to mention real inspiration about Shambhala vision!) This was not my experience with a small center 10 min. from my home. There, a rigid, authoritarian atmosphere reigned. I found myself resisting its throttle. Sadly, those dissenting in various loud or soft ways walk away from this stagnant pond. In this case, I think it says less about our organization than it does about a small group holding power, interpreting what they think the organization stands, for in very narrow terms. Critical thinking is definitely NOT encouraged, questioning is a threat, and eventually the door was shut tightly in my face.

    To me what we need to do as individuals is listen to those with opinions and criticisms different from our own. Doing this one-on-one can be helpful in making others feel heard and accepted. Personally, I like to encourage the airing of other views though I’m not strong with debate. And I do not enjoy “guru bashing” when it comes down to heavy hitting on my teachers, but if phrased respectfully, I can hear what others disagree with. Our discussion can continue. Anyway, I want to put this into the mix, that we can each act as a listener to dissent. It may be useful or it may not, but it can reflect a broader view of what we, as Shambhalians, think we’re about, and I think demonstrates enlightened society on the spot.

  31. nice piece Amanda

  32. Yes, “let us create a culture of kindness AND critical awareness” (to quote Amanda). A few comments in this thread have pointed to the abstract or general topic of dissent…”what dissent are we talking about?” (to quote Margaret). Amanda’s feature story arouses curiosity in me. I would like to hear the voices of dissent. My belief that our collective wisdom is greater than any individual keeps being reinforced in my experience of group encounters during which dissenting or opposing points of view are expressed. Hear, hear for “the power of an open question.”

  33. Kelly Mitchell
    Mar 25, 2016

    I like the spirit of this article, but have some basic disagreements with the implications.

    Shambhala is not actively forcing conformity. No group of people requires us to be the same. If we do not voice dissent – it might be for different reasons. Perhaps we lack the warriorship necessary to say what needs to be said. Lack of courage is the issue.
    Or perhaps we have the warriorship to simply remain silent. Does the world need further clamoring for each little problem?

    Dissent points toward aggression. Is it wrong to just accept that Shambhala may not be perfect in my eyes? Does everyone need to restructure every aspect of our mandala until it fits our preconceived idea?

    Thank you for opening this topic, Amanda. It is important.

  34. Amanda Hester
    Mar 25, 2016

    In the past two days I have received an enormous and intense response from this article. I have received over 20 private messages and emails. A small few of these have been from people wanting to write articles and feeling excited to engage and express in this way. Many of them have been from women sharing their stories with me, or just thanking me, this has been quite moving and intense. I have had 7 private communications from older men in our sangha. All but two of these, have in some subtle way (or in a few overt ways) made suggestions about how I should proceed. They have suggested that my article is too vague, that I need to be more specific, and have offered me guidance from them as a position of authority (none of these men mind you are actually in a leadership position, as far as I know, so their position of authority is based upon their male privilege).

    So this is me being specific, being less vague. But I am not going to give you a list of names for these men, just like I am not going to say who the 4 women are that I have spoken to about these issues in the last year, or why they have felt they had to leave. The response to this article both here and on Facebook will tell you that for many people this is not vague or general, they know exactly what I am talking about. Critical discourse is not a care and conduct issue. The specific issues that arise might be, and that is why we have all of these various mechanism in our sangha. This is just an article in the Shambhala Times, 1300 words or less, ideally with some visuals that are not copyrighted.

    I am starting a regular column in the times called Critical Intent. It will be for articles that engage with a critical perspective, that are neither divisive nor complacent. My hope is to foster a culture where critique can be expressed and heard without it being such a big deal. There might be a million other things that also need to be done, issues that need to be addressed. But this is what I am doing. And don’t worry, in the many critical articles I shall write for this column I shall be specific about what my issues are.

    One of them is that this is a common theme in my experience in Shambhala, that older men feel like they have some right to step in and give me their patronizing guidance, to tell me how I should do anything. I love these men, and my saying this might hurt or upset some of them, or all of them, because they were trying to engage, they were trying to help. But I am writing this and I will be writing these critical articles out of love, because as Shambhala warriors we have asked for it, we all deserve to know when and where our privilege steps in and makes us complicit in systems and structures of oppression. This is just one instance, and it is no big deal, I don’t want attention around it, I just want to be able to speak my truth in peace.

  35. Calandra Smith
    Mar 25, 2016

    Thank you from one who has called bullshit a few times in the relatively short time I have been in the community — it is good to read both this article and the previous comments. Ultimately I vote with my feet, so have distanced myself somewhat from the organization at this time, stepping back to get more clarity before re-engaging again. Not a young woman, personally, and see others like myself also questioning and challenging… Keep up the good work!

  36. Christine Labich
    Mar 25, 2016

    “We need to engage, both as individuals and as a community, in challenging our areas of privilege and ignorance.” Sounds like waking up! Together! What a wonderful vision of kindness and openness you have presented. Thank you for sharing your intelligence and exertion. We need not be afraid of rocking the boat when the ocean is wisdom/compassion.

  37. Curtis Steele
    Mar 25, 2016

    Thank you Amanda! I appreciate both your article and the vigorous responses it generated.

  38. Good to raise this! One point where I’ve always felt this is inherent but not clearly seen by us is in the term “Shambhala culture”. The way I understood Trungpa Rinpoche, this can mean ANYTHING in human culture that is uplifted and uplifting. Whereas we “in” Shambhala tend to understand it as “What we at Shambhala do”. Maybe these intersect, but not always. For instance, I & my family have always stuck to our traditional Christmas celebration. It always felt right for us, a bodhisattva being born etc. “Children’s Day” always felt artificial for us, so it never caught on. I feel we have to become aware of this, really go out into all these areas of “other”, as true warriors.

  39. John McQuade
    Mar 24, 2016

    Hi Amanda,
    I appreciate your heart and courage in posting this missive. It is a little general and abstract. I feel it would be more to the point – and the heartbreak – if you cited the issues that are the issues for you. Make the dissent. And see how it runs. The point is to make the dissent and see how it runs.
    I must say that this has not been my experience. When the new Shambahala curriculum was introduced I was asked to be one of the “test teachers” and offer feedback. My feedback was very critical: in my experience and judgement the pedagogy is very problematic. I received feedback that my comments were too negative, extreme, not helpful and so forth. That’s fair enough. If you put it out you have to accept that “stuff” will come back.
    But the main point is that I was not “excommunicated” and I did not in any way feel that I was not part of this Shambhala world and wanted to engage our intention of Enlightened Society. In May I will conduct one of the Introductory Shambhala courses in the best way I can even though I consider some of the pedagogy ” clunky”.
    I think in Shambhala there is room for the dissent , the eccentrics, the misfits and so forth. But they have to have the courage and thrill – lets be honest: it is a thrill – to take their seat and manifest.
    I encourage you to think of your dissent as you participation in and as Shambhala.

  40. Alma Carpenter
    Mar 24, 2016

    The link above to the Lids and Flowers talk didn’t work. Let’s see if this one works!

  41. Kimberley Lueck
    Mar 24, 2016

    Thank you so much for eloquently and intelligently lifting your voice. I am encouraged, though cautiously so. Count me among the “hemmorhaged,” though not of the young women demographic. I am challenged by what I see as an unconsciously and deeply sexist culture in Shambhala. The unconscious aspect seems to stem from a communal belief that Shambhala is more advanced than the cultural ground out of which it grows. I say this as one who has stumbled in that thick, black fog. I will be watching this column unfold with deep interest.

  42. Thanks so much for sharing this. Really struck a chord with me.

  43. Robert Boyce
    Mar 24, 2016

    Having had my previous post deleted or rather “moderated”…, let me try again.

    There are serious mainstream issues that are not being discussed, which center around what it means to create society, propaganda, and blind faith. We are living in it right now. We create it. The pretty much illusory green, pink, blue, red, gold, black and white energy that directs most of our lives needs to be harnessed and realized for what it is, or isn’t for that matter.

    How did this society arise? Do we know our history? Trungpa knew his, but do we really understand the Imperial forces and revolutions that formed the West?

    Eric Hoffer’s book The True Believer, speaks to the many pitfalls and sources of blind faith, and fanaticism that are the background of popular movements. We are edging closer and closer to some kind of authoritarianism.

    What would enlightened society look like anyway?

    The Kongma Sakyong has declared that he is the Imperial Earth Protector, that’s what the title means. I believe that he is asking us to be our own Imperial rulers, not to have blind faith. At the Kalapa Governance Gathering in 2011 I remember him saying we need to understand how the West views society. Is that academic or street knowledge, probably both.

    What is the status quo? I guess that’s what your article is trying to point out. Is that what we’re dissenting, the status quo?

    It’s bigger than Hip-Hop though, which the graffiti in your article pays homage to, but I urge people to understand that history.

    The gangs in the Bronx stopped their warfare voluntarily (right when Trungpa was turning hippies and dropouts into devoted Buddhists) and that gave birth to Hip-Hop. KiKi SoSo Kool Herc!

    Victory Over War. The ultimate freedom.

    A forum for dissent, I’ll give them that, should not be in the comments section of an article about just raising the issue. But I also agree with Margaret, what are we dissenting?

    Good luck with setting that up, maybe we could collaborate, you’re a smart woman, human, and Rigden.

  44. Geoff Bannoff
    Mar 24, 2016

    Well said, Amanda. It’s encouraging to read this.

    I’ve been around long enough to see this process happen many times with many people. It troubles me when people–friends–leave our community. But there have been many.

    Several times in recent decades I’ve contemplated leaving the community myself for exactly the reasons you mention.

    Yet I stay on, and choose to get involved in areas that I feel are important. Because, at least in Vancouver, it feels like there is room for dissenting views. The community feels like it’s a big enough tent to accommodate differing viewpoints. I don’t, however, get that feeling when I’m in other cities or practice centers. I hope Vancouver is not unique.

    I don’t have a suggestion for what a forum for dissent might look like–although it’s sorely needed. Without one, people will continue to walk away.

    What might that look like to you?

  45. Irene Woodard
    Mar 23, 2016

    Dear Friends,

    Amanda thanks for this topic!

    I am writing to share an experience from just last week in Shambhala. A group from Sky Lake , gathered to watch the 45 minutes videos from the Ritual Academy, on umzee instructions and ancestral offering and lighting shrine instructions. At the end, I commented to the group that I was disappointed that in the instruction of how to light the shrine as the teacher , and how to assist the teacher, the casting
    was shown with white male as the teacher , an white female assistant. The group encouraged me to write a letter. I sent this to the Rupa Acharya and included below is a copy of my letter , and her response the next day.

    “Dear Acharyas,

    Hope this note finds you good and enjoying the spring beginnings…

    Tonight at Sky Lake, 5 of us gathered to watch the 45 minute online instruction from Ritual Academy. They were very helpful.

    I say this in friendship and in the culture of no mistake. Hopefully for the next round of videos, the no mistake of having the teacher role given to the white male, and chopon to the white female, not be repeated. The culture of habit runs deep, and it would be good to see the no mistake of different colors and faces in the roles of who is the teacher ,and who is the chopon.

    Thanks for your work.


    In the Vision of the GES
    Irene Woodard

    The response from Suzann Duquette the next day follows:

    Hi Irene

    Thank you for the feedback. We’ll definitely hold your comments in mind for future presentations. I appreciate your reminder. Thank you.


    We have been encouraged to have conversations. Let’s do it. It is up to us to be the change.
    With love for the GES.

  46. Margaret Ervin
    Mar 23, 2016

    Agree. But also what dissent are we talking about? That it has to be spoke of in such broad terms (this dissent that has no name) really does say something about dissent being frightening to us. What are these young women saying? What is going on?

  47. I’ve been around Shambhala for 20 years, though largely only at my local center, and I can say that there is not much sincere welcoming of dissent. Oh, there is a meditative listening, silent nodding, and all that, but a welcoming of it means being affected. Letting yourself get aroused because someone is saying something is wrong.

    I remember saying straight out that there needs to be more bullshit calling at Shambhala. There’s hardly any. There’s some crappy teachers and no one says anything, to use one example of a kind of bullshit. Also, keep in mind that up to 90% of what is communicated is not in the words said, but in body language, tones, pacing, and expression. There’s a strong element of conformity in communication style which creates suppression and a mild but real cult like atmosphere. I wrote about this to my center which was well received but like most things in a passive environment just went down a hole.

    I just got back from visiting the largest center of Tibetan exiles in the world (golden temple and sera monastery) and Tibetan Buddhism is not passive there. It has real community and is active and sometimes loud.

    Shambhala in its structure now filters out anyone who is a non conformist, or who isn’t served by a linear, hierarchical approach aimed at the lowest common denominator. “If you don’t like it, don’t continue” is the usual message. Most people don’t continue, which is sad. The learn to meditate nights are very popular but those who find out more about the Shambhala organization usually don’t go further.

    So I’m curious if there is a real desire to address it … or to use lovely sounding abstract lingo in response and make no significant room for change? That’s more what I’m used to seeing.

  48. Edmund Butler
    Mar 23, 2016

    If ‘they’ won’t let me voice my dissent it makes no diff, baby – ‘I’ am the principle witness. ‘They’ are only samsara. Whether Byron said I was cool or Acharya Bill said I should let it go, if I reckon someone tried to kill me, I eat that for breakfast, lunch and dinner. These Teachings ARE a phenomena. I took the Club to its edge and it threw me under the bus because it was too hot. People have their limits. It’s still a beautiful world, in the most unlimited way.

  49. Martin Evans
    Mar 23, 2016

    Well said Amanda. Thank you.

  50. Judy Sullivan
    Mar 23, 2016


    This is a link to Trungpa Rinpoche’s community talk on Lids and Flowers.

  51. Mariah Simonton
    Mar 23, 2016

    Yes, Amanda. I applaud your voice and you for speaking up. How do we create space for all voices? How do we recognize when we silence ourselves, which often happens before anybody silences us? How do we recognize those silencing factors, which are often not spoken? How do those with privilege come to recognize, and then to use their privilege to create more safety and thus an opportunity/voice for others? How do we find our own voice to speak freely, boldly, clearly? How do we not react to our own/others dissenting voices? How do we create a society that genuinely is inclusive, where culture is diverse and opinions broad, and our shared humanity and kindness remain the guiding factor?

  52. Judy Sullivan
    Mar 23, 2016

    Bravo!! A great article that articulates many of my thoughts. You are a brave woman who is looking to help a sangha from becoming a “Lid” as CTR put it years ago. It will take alot for Shambhala to change its attitude, but hopefully your article will have some impact in creating a kinder and more open society!!

  53. Phyllis segura
    Mar 23, 2016

    Good to hear your voice Amanda. One of the tenets or failsafes of Shambhala is the ability of Earth speaking to Heaven. That also implies that Heaven responds and communicates receiving the message. If there is dissent and it falls into an abyss or empty hole it turns bitter. The question here is who has created what you call the organization and its functions? Does it extend from the practice, the teachings, the Sakyong? I think there is plenty of dissent just that there is no one listening.

  54. Jeanne Cain
    Mar 23, 2016

    Hear! Hear! Thank you for your courage and intellect Amanda. This is thought provoking and timely.
    I am full of expectation for what might come next.

  55. Liza Matthews
    Mar 23, 2016

    Thank you Amanda for this insightful and courageous essay.

  56. Thank you Amanda! Excellent. We need to allow ourselves to ask questions and be safe in the asking. Thank you for addressing this.

  57. Seth Levinson
    Mar 23, 2016

    Thank you Amanda!

  58. Thank you Amanda
    Well said, brave and intelligent warrior

  59. Stephen Starkey
    Mar 23, 2016

    As both a Unitarian Universalist and Shambhala Buddhist, I can see some strong similarities. If you’re interested in learning about how UUs have traditionally dealt with these kinds of issues, here are some interesting starting places:




    Thanks for getting this started! It is important for us to make sure quieter voices are heard over the deafening silence so strongly encouraged by Shambhala’s power structures. Change will happen so long as we keep raising awareness and supporting those who experience marginalization.

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