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August 30, 2009

The Vajradhatu Sun.

Quality Buddhist Journalism, as the Vidyadhara Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche envisioned it.

When I grew up the Vajradhatu Sun was, with the New York Times and the Daily Camera and Ranger Rick and National Geographic, an everyday source of news and reading in my life.

Trungpa Rinpoche, trained in Tibet, trained further in India and at Oxford University, looked to the Christian Science Monitor as a quality, independent example of church-based journalism. (Years later, I would attend Boston University, where many of my professors were active journalists and editors at the Monitor, including David Anable).

The Vajradhatu Sun was community-focused, yet of international, accessible quality. But it also struggled to stay independent—when it became clear that Trungpa Rinpoche’s Western Dharma heir had AIDs, and had knowingly passed it on, the Sun was forbidden to write about it (though the Times itself had published the news on the front page), and my idol Rick Fields, the editor-in-chief, quit in protest.

A few years back a retrospective compilation came out titled Best of the Vajradhatu Sun. In it, on page whatever, is a poem from a six year old boy named Waylon Lewis about a deer, a king and some snow. I remember the poem won proud little me an award at the Boulder Public Library, and we were poor, so the award (a gold-embossed green journal) was a prized possession.

Eventually, the Vajradhatu Sun, under editor-in-chief Melvin McLeod’s leadership and guidance, would be become the truly, finally independent Shambhala Sun. It is today, with Buddhadharma and Tricycle, the leading American Buddhist publication.

Above left: “Sawang Osel Rangdrol Mukpo on the cover of the first issue of Vajradhatu Sun, October-November 1978

Vajradhatu Sun

•    Bi-monthly, 36-page broadsheet format on newsprint
•    Editors included Joshua Zim (1978 to 1980), Miriam Garrett (formerly Tarcov, 1980 to 1983), Rick Fields (1983 to 1985/86), Holly Hammond, Jeffrey Herrick, and Melvin McLeod
•    Designers included Mary Sweet, Liza Matthews, and Molly Nudell; with layout and paste-up assistance from members of the Vajradhatu Art Group
•    Published in Boulder until 1985/86 when Vajradhatu/Nalanda Foundation headquarters moved to Halifax

“When the Vajradhatu Sun began publishing in October 1978, more than eight years after Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche came to North America, Buddhist hippies had by and large become respectable citizens, many owning businesses and hawking their wares and services in the pages of the Sun. Naropa Institute, the first Buddhist-inspired institution of higher learning in North America, had just completed its fourth summer. The Karmapa, head of the Karma Kagyu order of Tibetan Buddhism, had already made two visits to the West and was soon to make his third. The Vajra Regent Osel Tendzin, an American from Passaic, New Jersey, born as Thomas Rich, had been empowered as Chogyam Trungpa’s dharma heir and had been teaching for several years. Trungpa Rinpoche’s eldest son, Osel Mukpo (now Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche and the leader of the Shambhala Buddhist community) was a teenager who had just taken the Buddhist refuge vow. The fifth Vajradhatu Seminary had been completed earlier in the year, and although Shambhala Training was in its infancy, the Shambhala world was already in full swing for many of Trungpa Rinpoche’s senior students, who were then attending the first Kalapa Assembly, and advanced training in the Shambhala teachings.” (The Best of Vajradhatu Sun)

1978 to 1991 – Vajradhatu Sun

Editorial goals:

  • “Publish teachings by the major Vajradhatu teachers, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and the Vajra Regent Osel Tendzin
  • Present community news of interest, replacing various regional newsletters
  • Present teachings by other Buddhist lineage holders and discuss issues of interest to the sangha
  • Encourage a sense of expansive vision and down-to-earth practicality, as exemplified in articles that range from the big vision of politics to the bottom line of community businesses” Best of Vajradhatu Sun, introduction” (The Best of Vajradhatu Sun)

1991 – Shambhala Sun replaced Vajradhatu Sun Rather than serving as a community publication, Shambhala Sun targeted a larger audience with subscription and newsstand circulation, which was always Trungpa Rinpoche’s intent.

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