February 10, 2010

Boulder Shambhala Center: Vajradhara Thangka to be Replaced. {Trungpa, Sakyong}


Editor’s Note:

As a loyal, grateful student of both the Vidyadhara, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, I both regret and miss the many changes to VCTR’s legacy and understand that “change” is inherent to our Buddhist “tradition.” Let’s remember that Trungpa Rinpoche loved to pull the rug out from under his students, too!

The below compilation is meant to provide an uplifted forum for information and communication from any and all who care about Shambhala and American Buddhism—including our wonderful Boulder Shambhala Center Director Ulrike Halpern and my dear friend and papa Jesse Grimes, as well as senior students like Clarke Warren, Mark Smith.

We can communicate openly—and passionately!—without resorting to complaint, slander or gossip. ~ ed.

A Tradition of Impermanence?

It’s tough. Buddhism is a tradition dating back 2,500 years. And yet, it’s a tradition based on now, not ritual, dogma, accumulated history.

And yet, in Buddhism, traditions and rituals are based upon reminding us of the present moment. So when one newer Buddhist teacher wants to change a series of traditions (click here for some background) that, in this case, his father established, what is more important: tradition? Honoring impermanence and change? Community dialogue and questioning the necessity of a decision? Or loyalty and adherence without democratic debate?

It’s a truly American Buddhist question, symbolized or epitomized by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche’s directive to replace a historic Buddhist painting commissioned and hung by his father, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, for a new Shambhala painting.

I was sitting in the Shambhala Center shrine room the other day, Alex Halpern giving a talk to we Dorje Kasung on kyudo, thinking about the Radio Free Shambhala post and all the comments. It’s a tough question: impermanence vs. a tradition (of impermanence). And yet, I personally can’t help but wish that we’d preserve more of Trungpa Rinpoche’s legacy for generations (including my future children) to come. My staff put together various letters here, with the update from Mark Smith via my dear friends Ulrike Halpern, Jesse Grimes.

May this contemplation and dialogue on change and tradition be of some benefit. ~ Waylon Lewis, ed.

Update: reply from the Boulder Shambhala Center concerning the removal of the Vajradhara Thangka.

February 8th:

Dear Mark,

You recently wrote about your wish that the Vajradhara thangka in the main shrine room in Boulder not be removed. Other people have also expressed this wish and asked us to respect its sacred character and the historic importance of this thangka for our community.

We want to update you about what is happening. Ulrike [wonderful director of the Boulder Shambhala Center ~ed.] shared with the Boulder sangha [community] on Harvest of Peace [Fall Equinox celebration] that the Sakyong had commissioned Cynthia Moku to paint a thangka [traditional Buddhist painting] of the Primordial Rigden [a Shambhala teacher, basically] to go in the Boulder shrine room. It is the only other original Rigden thangka that he has asked her to paint and it has been specially designed to go over the shrine where the Vajradhara thangka now hangs.

Boulder will then join all the other centers in the mandala that have the Primordial Rigden as the primary image in its public shrine room. The the Sakyong is hoping that Cynthia can complete the thangka this year. He will then arrange for it to be ceremonially installed in the shrine room.

Last year, the Sakyong spoke about the significance of the Vajradhara thangka and his love for it. He said we would need to be very respectful towards this lineage treasure of Shambhala. He said he would be thinking about how best it could be preserved, and was very concerned that we find an appropriate way to house and honor this sacred image. Our understanding is that he will be giving us his guidance on this once he returns from retreat.

In the meantime, we will keep all communications like yours so that the Sakyong can be made aware of your deep concerns and wishes as he considers what is best.

With every best wish,

Ulrike Halpern, Boulder Shambhala Meditation Center Director

Jesse Grimes, Kalapa Envoy to the Rocky Mountain Region

Appeal for the Vajradhara Thangka of the Boulder Shambhala Center to Remain via Clarke Warren, February 2 via Radio Free Shambhala (see comments, there’s a thousand of ’em) with permission of CW:

It seems highly probable that the Vajradhara thangka in the main shrine room at the Shambhala Center in Boulder will be removed. It is to be replaced with a painting of the Primordial Rigden. I learned this after having spoken with a member of a committee at the Shambhala Center to study and make suggestions for the redesign of the main shrine room. From what I was told, one option is for the thangka to be rolled up and put in indefinite storage, although no decision has yet been made as to the fate of the thangka.

Yet since the removal of the Vajradhara thangka has not yet taken place, there is still an opportunity to appeal for the thangka to remain.

The Vajradhara thangka is a paramount embodiment of the teachings and activities of Vidyahara the Venerable Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche. He commissioned the thangka, and it was painted by his close friend, the renowned thangka master Sherab Palden Beru. The Vidyadhara placed it at the center of his mandala, composing a profound poem of blessing on the back. The thangka was also blessed by the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa, Rigpe Dorje, who placed his own handprint on the back of the thangka, a rare and powerful blessing.

For more information on the history and significance of this thangka, please see an article I wrote for the Chronicles of Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche. The follow-up letter from Mark Nowaskowski presenting the Vidyadhara’s poem of dedication on the back of the thangka, and my follow-up to his comments provide further perspective on the “inner” significance of the thangka. The link to the article is:


Please also consider discussing this topic on Sangha Talk, Sadhaka Talk, and/or other sites.

I am making an urgent appeal to all and anyone who will register their support for the Vajradhara Thangka to remain as the main shrine object at the Boulder Shambhala Center. Please support this appeal to the leadership of Shambhala Intl by sending in your own words an appeal for the thangka to remain. Or you can simply cut and paste, or modify, the following:

“The great thangka of the primordial Buddha Vajradhara in the main shrine room of the Boulder Shambhala Center is a major legacy and continuing embodiment of the life, realization and teachings of Vidyadhara the Venerable Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and the Kagyu lineage. Please permit the thangka of Vajradhara in the main shrine room of the Boulder Shambhala Center to remain as the main shrine object.” Signed, your name.

Your appeals can be sent to the following e-mail addresses: (I include my own address at the end, as I would like to document this effort):

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, via his secretary David Brown: [email protected]

The Kalapa Council, c/o David Brown: [email protected]

The Shambhala Intl. acharyas: [email protected]

Secretary for the acharyas: [email protected]

President of Shambhala Intl. Richard Reoch: [email protected]

The Sakyong Council: [email protected]

The Mandala Council: [email protected]

Ulrike Halpern, Director, Boulder Shambhala Center: [email protected]

Jim Fladmark, Director, Office of Practice & Education, Boulder Shambhala Center: [email protected]

The Governing Council, Boulder Shambhala Center: c/o Ulrike Halpern: [email protected]

The Building Committee of the Boulder Shambhala Center Main Shrine Room, c/o of Steve Vosper: [email protected]

– Clarke Warren: [email protected]

The summary of addresses for all the above is:

[email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected]

To learn more or communicate directly about my appeal, e-mail me at [email protected].

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter,

Clarke Warren

A letter from Douglas Penick to the powers that be regarding the Vajradhara Thangka, February 4th, 2010:

To whom it may concern,

Removing the Karma Dzong Vajradhara Thangka, which, as other correspondents have noted, the Dorje Dradul took special pains to have painted, blessed and installed, is another way in which the Dorje Dradul’s teachings have been and are being profoundly altered in form and substance.

It is a strange situation when students of the Dorje Dradul’s who wish to continue the practices he gave them find no place to do so in the organization and in fact the very buildings that he (and they) built for that exact purpose.

As far as I know, no one has offered a cogent explanation why such wholesale alterations are necessary, but it might be worth noting that a precedent has now been firmly established in the Shambhala lineage.

Henceforth it would appear that any current Shambhala Lineage holder can remove, change, or replace without restriction any of the teachings or whatever has been created to support those teachings of his ( and who knows, why not her) predecessors. One result will surely be a sangha that is permanently fractured as no generation can share its practice experience with the one that follows.

Douglas Penick

Sorry, we missed this, this is via Mark Smith, who just emailed this thoughtful, detailed letter to us:

Andrew, (et al)

Thanks for your kind response below (my response is delayed as I didn’t want to interrupt in midst of the recent interesting discussion on the list).

I am trying to be very direct in —and as precise as I can be—in my posts and to remove any unnecessary harshness from my posts as emotions are easily inflamed. I make no special claim to realization or to any lineage holder/teaching credential (being a student of the Vidyadhara seems to me to be sufficient credential).  My view on the matters set forth below underlies each of my posts. Maybe this can provide the first of many ‘tent pegs’ per your email.

Please read the paragraphs below slowly and with at least an attempt to restrain emotional responses (either positive or negative). I have posted this to both Sangha-Talk and Sadhaka list and sent to some other folk. I encourage each reader to circulate this for discussion to any persons within our extended Sangha who you believe might be interested.  My contact information is below (my email is above) and I will attempt to respond (if there are any communications to me) privately and/or publicly as appropriate to any persons who have comments, questions, etc. as I believe this  is a very important topic.

As you are aware, there are innumerable (well not quite that many) ways in which SI/Shambhala Buddhism has ‘morphed’ away from what I denote as the ‘Vajradhatu Buddhism’ in which we were raised by the Vidyadhara. Few, if any of the changes are bad in themselves—and many appear to represent powerful insight by SMR into aspects of the Vidyadhara’s teachings/transmissions. But cumulatively the changes are large.

If one is willing to undertake even a relatively shallow investigation, it is not possible to deny that there now exist large ‘differences’ between the Shambhala Buddhist Path (‘SB Path’) and the Vajradhatu Path unless one has some strong agenda pursuant to which one elects to suppress prajna.  Without judgment as to ‘better or worse’ for any particular practitioner, the cumulative changes have created a qualitatively different, new path which the Sakyong intends to have SI follow.

These differences include: a) merging Shambhala & Buddhist streams into Shambhala Buddhism (with related curriculum changes), b) changes in shamatha/vipashyana practice, c) changes in the order of practices with the new Shambhala Ngondro and Werma Sadhana practice (and possibly Scorpion Seal Retreat) (plus numerous ‘new liturgies and practices’) before: i) the initial Buddhist/Kagyu Ngondro, ii) VY/CK Yidam practices and iii) the subsequent practice of Sadhana of Mahamudra retreat, Kagyu/Mahamudra practices &  Nyingma  Ngondro/Yidam practices (Vajrakilaya and the Longchen Nyingtig/Konchok Chidu/Rangjung Pema Nyingtig terma cycles) which the Vidyadhara instructed us to practice in parallel with and at the same time as the we studied/practiced the Shambhala terma transmissions of the Dorje Dradul thru the progression of Shambhala Training/Graduate Levels & Kalapa Assembly/KOS/Werma.

The SI/Shambhala Buddhist path (‘SB Path’) appears to present a strong and full path for those who are karmicly connected to it and elect to pursue it.

But there can be NO DOUBT that the SB Path with the changes outlined above (and many other changes) adds up to a materially DIFFERENT path than the path into which the Vidyadhara/Dorje Dradul entered his students. Pointing to/admitting the differences in no way requires judging the 2 paths individually or against one another—and I personally have no reason/need to ‘judge’ the changes.

As I have stated in some of my postings (here and elsewhere) and private communications, I believe that SMR’s synthesis of Shambhala Buddhism & the SB Path is a quite valid expression/extension of the Vidyadhara’s teachings/transmissions but it is only ‘ONE’’ path derived from the Vidyadhara and not ‘THE ONLY’’ valid path—the Vajradhatu Buddhist path promulgated by the Vidyadhara himself during his lifetime certainly must be recognized as an AT LEAST equally valid path..

Many of the Vidyadhara’s disciples, including me, find themselves without a strong dharma/karmic connection to SMR’s SB Path synthesis. Rather, we are samaya-bound/karmically connected to the Vidyadhara’s Vajradhatu Buddhist transmission/teachings/path (‘Vajradhatu Path’) in the context of KOS. Further, I believe we are samaya-bound not only to practice this path but to propogate/preserve/promulgate/teach the Vidyadhara’s Vajradhatu Path going forward for the benefit of all beings who may have karmic connection with this very powerful/potent and very unique transmission/presentation of the Dharma.

The Vajradhatu Path in which I was raised by the Vidyadhara is basically outlined as follows (this very short outline is not meant to be comprehensive and entirely omits reference to both the multitude of ‘forms’ initiated by the Vidyadhara and the various ‘arts’ transmissions from the Vidyadhara):

a)  commences with the Vidyadhara’s powerful/unique presentation of shamatha/vipashyana practice, the Sadhana of Mahamudra & sitting practice/nyinthun/dathun combined with the Vidyadhara’s extensive teachings re: i) spiritual materialism, ii) development of maîtri/cool boredom/etc (to provide ‘Hinayana ground’), iii) emphasis on guru/disciple form of transmission lineages (Tilo/Naro/Marpa/Mila/Gampo) which CTR repeatedly stated that he favored (in contrast to tulku and/or family transmission) for the Buddhist side of his teaching stream, iv) taking refuge, v) etc. .—- each of which set of teachings/practices were expressly structured/taught by the Vidyadhara in a manner designed to provide the ground for, and collectively serve as a vanguard to, the particular Vajrayana view/path/embodiment which the Vidyadhara taught/transmitted, rather than to produce Arhats;

b) followed by lojong/tonglen practices (for entry into the Mahayana) & Bodhisattva Vow and extensive teachings related to these matters; .—- each of which set of teachings/practices were expressly structured/taught by the Vidyadhara in a manner designed  to provide the ground for, and collectively serve as a vanguard to, the particular Vajrayana view/path/embodiment which the Vidyadhara taught/transmitted., rather than to produce Bodhisattva Mahasattvas;

c) then proceeding thru the Seminary training/Vajrayana TGS transmission process and Kagyu Ngondro;

d) proceeding firmly onto the Vidyadhara’s oft discussed ‘householder yogin’ path of VY/CK yidam practice (with multiple Vajrayana paths/practices to choose from after that point);

e) all of which practice/study takes place while under the umbrella of Shambhala/KOS view and while Shambhala teachings/transmissions are studied and practiced in parallel.

The teachings we have from the Vidyadhara for this unique Vajradhatu Path– preserved and available in innumerable recordings/videos/transcripts of seminar/ITS/ATS teachings plus transcripts/recordings/videos of Seminary Teachings, Vajra Assemblies, VY Tris, etc. (thank you Archive & PUBs & Chronicles & Legacy Project, etc & all who contributed to this availability over the decades)— are amazing and comprehensive.  We are so blessed with this unique and wondrous oral teaching/transmission stream. This teaching stream, and the Vajradhatu Path it relates to, needs to be preserved/propogated/taught and made available as presented by the Vidyadhara for the benefit of beings with a karmic connection to CTR and the particular path he taught while he was alive.

While substantial portions of the Vidyadhara’s teachings have been incorporated into the SB Path/curriculum as part of SMR’s synthesis, the inclusion of the Vidyadhara’s teachings in the context of a DIFFERENT PATH does not eliminate the need to teach the Vidyadhara’s Vajradhatu Path taught by CTR to those persons who have a karmic connection. Similarly, the wonderful recent ‘adornments’ to teachings at SI venues including the recent ‘Essential Chogyam Trungpa class @ Boulder Shambhala Center (portions available on the Chronicles website) and/or the Videodhara programs in no way eliminate the need to teach the Vajradhatu Path manifested by the Vidyadhara as a full/complete path.

I am personally clear that such inclusion in the SB Path does NOT satisfy my samaya obligations or relieve me from the responsibility to pursue/preserve/propogate the Vajradhatu Path with which CTR blessed me.   Many others of my dharma/vajra sisters/brothers, I believe, have come to the same conclusion.

My ‘ideal solution’ to the quandries posed by the fact that the Vajradhatu Path is no longer being taught in SI would be for Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche to ‘do the right thing’ and:

a) publicly acknowledge that the SB Path & the Vajradhatu Path are different paths and that both are valid and need to be preserved/practiced/propogated/taught (and to join in doing so);

b) ‘sponsor’/’authorize’ (as a ‘royal act’) the ‘re-establishment’ of ‘Vajradhatu’ (under KOS) as an organization dedicated to holding/preserving/propogating/teaching/tranmitting the Vajradhatu Path;

c) make it clear that there would be no ‘disloyalty’ if any student (from a beginning meditator to an acharya) elects to follow/propogate the Vajradhatu Path within Vajradhatu rather (or in addition to) the Shambhala Buddhist Path and that such students/teachers are all invited to pursue that approach while fully welcome within KOS.

Obviously, many details would need to be worked out, but this matter could proceed rapidly if the Sakyong were to endorse it. With SMR’s blessings, this approach would relieve great anguish among large numbers of the Vidyadhara’s students (even those who have now embraced the SB Path), allow many of the Vidyadhara’s students to migrate ‘home’ and prevent more fragmentation from taking place. Please note that it is highly likely that a promulgation of the Vajradhatu Path will take place even without the blessing of SMR/SI.  However, without such blessings, it will probably proceed in a manner which causes more anguish, is less systematic and continues to plague the Vidyadhara’s entire legacy (including SI) for decades to come.

This approach represents no threat whatsoever to SI if SMR steps up.

The re-establishment of Vajradhatu in no way represents ‘schism’ within the Vidyadhara’s sangha as both paths already exist and are already being practiced.

Vajradhatu would be under the umbrella of KOS.

SI/Shambhala Buddhism can be the ‘state church’ of the Sakyong & Vajradhatu would be recognized as a separate ‘church’ under and loyal to KOS.

(Additionally, implementing this approach would also provide a model to use to include other (more than one) ‘real teaching/transmission streams’ derived from the Vidyadhara’s teaching/transmission (that have already developed outside of KOS) under the ‘umbrella’ of KOS.  The existing splits with other streams such as Reggie Ray/Dharma Ocean & Patrick Sweeney/Satdharma, etc. could be ‘healed’ over time with their acceptance as parallel/alternative ‘churches’ derived from CTR teachings/transmissions recognized under KOS.  Each would be viewed/accepted as legitimate expressions/holders of at least parts of the magnificent splendor which we received as the legacy of the Vidyadhara. And each would flourish and benefit those beings with the appropriate karmic connection.)

I view this email both a supplication and  pre-petition’ to Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche (and have therefore copied Mr. Brown and Mr. Reoch in the hope that it reaches SMR) and as a document intended to clearly start a (hopefully non-emotional) discussion of the matters set forth above.

Once again I ask that each reader reflect on these matters while restraining emotional response (positive or negative).

I do not believe I have stated anything which attacks any person or path.  If someone experiences such an attack, I apologize.

I do not believe I have made any statements which are clearly false and, if you believe I have been mistaken about parts of the content below or my emphasis on particular points, I invite clarification and critique.  Some may agree with my description above but not my ‘ideal solution’. If so, please critique my proposal and propose alternative approaches.

But please also reflect on the central point: 2 paths exist and only the SB Path is currently being taught in SI while the Vajradhatu Path is no longer being taught.

If anyone wants to contact me directly, my email is above and my phone contact info is below.

My intention in making this post is to commence dialoque/conversation among sangha/vajra brothers/sisters regarding these matters.

Each reader is invited and authorized to share this email with others who may be interested.  I also authorize posting this email on other sites.

As I wrote above,  I will attempt to respond (if there are any communications at all to me) privately and/or publicly, as appropriate, to any persons who have comments, critiques,  questions, etc. as I believe this  is a very important topic. I will attempt to respond privately to each communication within a reasonable period of time (but not necessarily immediately).  If appropriate, I will periodically reply to matters in these public forums.

In the Aspiration that the Glorious Vajradhatu Path Taught by the Vidyadhara Chogyam Trungpa, Dorje Dradul of Mukpo, Be Practiced/Preserved/Promulgated for the Benefit of Mother Sentient Beings.

Mark A. Smith


From: Andrew Safer
Sent: Tuesday, January 05, 2010 6:31 PM

To: Mark A. Smith


I appreciate your posts… your relentlessness, and your precision.

The conversation is beginning to take on the feeling of echo, like the sound of a seashell–not at all a bad thing, since there are elements of the Vidyadhara that are taking on a life of their own.

In recognition of the need for a tent peg,



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