Due to the sensitive nature of this Open Letter, some numbers have been removed. The essence remains.
To the Noble Sangha:
About four months ago I published a report on Shambhala Mountain Center to the international Shambhala Community, to which I received a flood of supportive written responses (from over 60 individuals). I wish to thank those who wrote and others, beyond this number, who stopped me in person to provide feedback. All told, many hundreds of you have written supportive letters to me of all kinds during the two-and-a-half years I have offered these SMC reports. This positive reflection has kept me going.
There is some good news. Chakrasamvara drupchen [advanced meditation practice for small numbers of longtime Buddhist practitioners] is officially back on the SMC map, hopefully at an affordable price; the SMC strategic planning committee has declared a policy of no new buildings until the funding is in place; there is a generosity policy of $40/day, which may make it possible for more of the people to attend programs; SMC opened a website to receive feedback this year; and a third, annual dathun is planned.
Unfortunately, however, the good news is dwarfed by other accelerating karma. That story should be evident below.
SMC officers have provided some corrections to my last update of earlier this year. I invited and continue to invite corrections of fact. Some are minor but should be published:
I stated that the Stupa and the Encampment ground had been cordoned off from the rest of the property within the last two years (as of my report). It appears that the cordoning was done prior to Allan Cross’s tenure as Director, which began over three years ago now.
I stated that SMC had been sitting on about thousands of dollars of bills, as of March 2008. Subseqently this spring, I was told that the accounts payable had declined (as it does every year at that time).
The bottom line is that SMC is up to its eyeballs in debt–the last official figure I was given is $6.8 million.
It appears that the operational loss figure I took from the SMC balance sheets in 2005–$750,000 per year–remains close to the real figure (recently stated as $800,000). There is a current campaign aimed at SMC major donors to raise a needed $900,000 by the end of 2008. In addition, there are immediate needs for staff housing contruction, repair to the sewage system, and kitchen renovations.
In sum, there are unadmitted but significant financial deficits, that are in fact driving programming and pricing decisions at SMC, and driving the nonstop fundraising campaign; I believe these deficits also explain, in part, a recent SMC vision statement, authored by Shambhala International President Richard Reoch, which justifies broad-based programming.
About the new residence for the Sakyong and the Sakyong Wangmo, and family at SMC, the Gesar Palace, I stated previously that the eventual cost had been publicly described as $6 million. I see no denials of this, or contradictions to this statement, although SMC has taken to describing the envisaged residence as “decent” housing for the royal family, and this week two people told me that the Gesar Palace has been “postponed.”
I believe SMC owes the sangha and its donor base a full, understandable accounting, including the costs of the SMC Development Division from 1999 to 2006. As I wrote in my last report, those costs appear to have been about 50 cents of every dollar donated to SMC for operations in those years, or around $2 million (out of about $4 million donated for operations). This problem alone explains a percentage of the SMC debt position. How much was spent on salaries, expense accounts, cars, rooms reserved year-round (and seasonally) in the Shambhala Lodge, high-rent fully staffed offices in Boulder, and so forth?
The main conclusions to be drawn do not lie in the financial realm, nonetheless. The deeper impact here regards the following:
1) Communication from SMC (and from Shambhala International as a whole)with the sangha at large, has evolved into an expanding publicity campaign, despite the opening of the SMC website for feedback, which seems intended in some large measure to drain criticism off into a controlled place.This publicity campaign has generated a sore need for the free flow of information, which will have to be provided, and which will be provided by the sangha at large from this time forward.
2) The sangha has, generally speaking, been priced out of our contemplative centers, and is no longer invited in primarily on a practice and study basis. If you look on the SMC website, you will see today highlighted a three-night, perhaps Dharma-related program, which it is possible for an individual to attend for between $580 (tent or dorm, with access to a bathhouse) and $1,000 (suite in a Lodge, with private bath). Or two people can share a suite for $1,535. (That comes to $511.67 per night.)
At SMC the regional sangha no longer has a home practice base. There is nowhere for the sangha to gather in Colorado to practice, outside of Feasts in the Main Shrine Hall in the Boulder Center, without paying a great deal per night for the privilege. As a direct result of this and other styles of marginalization, many are going on retreat elsewhere, and following other lineages, which are more affordable and inclusive.
In response to this reality, as previously stated, SMC has just this summer announced a generosity policy, whereby, it is said, one can stay on the land for $40 a night. ($40 is about 50% higher than the the minimum price I found at a comparable Dharma enter.) We shall see how this statement actually pans out–to which programs and times of year it applies, and how much it is actually executed in practice.
3) The programming at SMC is increasingly designed to earn income, regardless of whether or not that programming falls within either the umbrella of the Shambhala teachings or the Kagyu/Nyingma Buddhist stream. The publicity department at SMC celebrates the vacation aspect of visiting, in direct contradiction to the founder Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s 1979 instructions–when he stated he did not wish the Center to become a haven for Buddhist vacation-goers.
4) The continuity of our pure Buddhist and Shambhala teaching streams at SMC is in question. In this regard, SMC serves as the “flagship,” as it has been called, for the rest of Shambhala International. Rather than propagating the Trungpa Rinpoche’s teaching streams and oral transmissions, we have a system of tenets, known as “Shambhala Buddhism.” This presentation overtly superscribes the received tradition of the Shambhala teachings from Trungpa Rinpoche. It also reinterprets the 2,500-year-old Buddhist tradition, including the Kagyu/Nyingma schools, in light of the Shambhala teachings. It treats the Shambhala and Buddhist streams as largely interchangeable–for example, it interlaces the two terminologies, simplifying the subtlety and depth of the individual upayas.
Recent changes to our Vajrayana path appear to challenge the future of our beautiful, profound and effective Karma Kagyu practice tradition.
The preparation of the entering student for pointing out instruction up through 2,000 included between seven to nine weeks of Seminary; now that Seminary preparation has been reduced to about two-and-a-half weeks (all of Sutrayana plus a few days of Vajrayana). Shambhala International has made the path easier at all levels, apparently worried about attendance. But it is not people’s potential for renunciation which has changed–it is Shambhala International’s orientation. What happened to traditional practice and study, which Trungpa Rinpoche so meticulously preserved? He cared for us so much; now, it seems, we do not care for his aspirations.
In these realms, I am concerned for the welfare of the new students, and for the contribution of our lineage to the world.
5) The vision for SMC lacks earthy reality. For example, the buildout appears to reflect a hundred-year plan of some kind, such as an enlightened city in the wilderness (eg the Gesar Palace), but it does not connect with the realities of the present or the next twenty years. Heaven and earth are not met. This problem obviously puts into question the hundred-year plan as well.
In making these criticisms, I hope it is clear that I am not saying individual practitioners do not experience the magic of the land at SMC, or the power of the teachings–of course, we all do experience that magic and power. The remarks here have to do with the degeneration of the base, which is to say, the Dharmic underpinning of the Center. The effect of this kind of degeneration is, like all karma, not obvious; it is usually delayed; later it will be almost impossible to reverse. It is that later irreversibility which requires acuity now.
With loyalty and devotion, Bill Karelis