Shambhala in Crisis: & 3 Ways to Fix It.

Via Waylon Lewis
on Nov 23, 2012
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Update: All updates have been moved here.

Shambhala Mandala in Crisis: & 3 Ways to Fix It.

A Sense of Urgency; We Can No Longer Afford to Brush Concerns Under the Rug.

The unsurpassable teacher is the precious Buddha,
The unsurpassable protector is the precious Holy Dharma,
The unsurpassable guide is the precious Sangha
To the unsurpassable Three Jewels I make this offering.
~ Buddhist Opening Chant


For those of you who may not know, and those of us who may forget why we care, Shambhala is more than a Buddhist community. It’s a worldwide, diverse container in which meditation, and the accessible (and actually fun) teachings of sanity, are made available to all. As the UN doctrine states, it’s in the minds of men where wars begin—and therefore, it’s in the minds of men where we must create peace. Meditation does that. Furthermore, the Shambhala mandala takes this kind of peace-making off the meditation cushion, in what we term “post-meditation”—you know, everyday life.

From Shambhala Centers in every city to rural meditation retreats, to the Dorje Kasung service organization (kinda like…grown-up Buddhist Boy/Girl Scouts, pretty much the best thing ever), to translation committees and books and Dharma Art and schools, the Shambhala mandala has been a strong, but vulnerable society for decades, now.

For the first time, over the past year, I’ve heard whisperings (never publicly acknowledged) that Shambhala is in trouble. I’ve heard more than just the usual complaints—I’ve heard reasonable, wise, experienced and young leaders alike talk about organizational, financial problems. I’ve been hearing this for a year, waiting for someone knowledgeable and wise to communicate with us about what’s going on and what we can do to help.

But positive change comes from the bottom, up, sometimes. Lately, I’ve talked with senior students and the new generation of leaders, and heard the same problems described from different points of view, all united by a sense of exhaustion and a resigned willingness to “let it all go.”

I’m not cool with that. Shambhala isn’t about us, or our community. It’s for the world. Trungpa Rinpoche and the Sakyong both regarded their teachings and our community as a vehicle for offering sanity and real joy to a world beset by unnecessary suffering and neurosis.

Shambhala can be fixed. While I may not have an accurate handle on the problems, or solutions, here’s my best shot. I invite you to offer your *constructive* evaluation of our challenges and solutions below in the comments section.

Yours in the Great Eastern Sun,

Waylon Lewis


First, two videos each of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and his son and heir, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche—both worth listening to in the spirit of getting past our projections of them and remembering their fundamental message.

Shambhala appears to be in nothing less than crisis—still fixable, however.

I grew up in Vajradhatu, now known as Shambhala, the biggest and strongest and loudest Buddhist community in the United States. Thirty years later, it’s falling apart.

Shambhala is hemorrhaging money month by month (I’m not at liberty to name numbers, but hemorrhaging is apt, and without hyperbole). We’re insecure (we now exclude teachers from other traditions at our many Shambhala Centers, whereas before we were a big tent, the umbrella under which all Buddhist lineages drew strength). We’re staffed and led by valiant but often overwhelmed, head-down, passionate (it’s impossible to generalize—Shambhala is led by many responsible, kind servants—but by and large appointments seemed characterized not by a desire for leadership or entrepreneuralism or outward-facing, magnetizing troublemaking…but rather by enthusiastic allegiance to new curriculum. Everyone’s doing the best they can, and better. Everyone’s trying). We’re divided in two: the Sakyong‘s innovation (which is profound and needed) has step-by-step replaced his father, Chogyam Trungpa‘s teachings, classes, paths. And elder students, with their enthusiasm, deep training, joy and…money…have left in waves, wave after wave after wave over the years. Another wave of “culture loss” and diaspora just occurred.

For the first time since I was 16 or so—when the Shambhala sangha (community) was painfully split by Trungpa‘s death and then his successor’s inglorious fall and, then, saved by the Sakyong, young and uneager to teach, riding forth as if on a white horse to lead and heal our community—my community seems poised to fall apart, to dissolve, to become a fractured shadow of its former mainstream, well-known, joyful, outward-facing self.

Let me be clear: I’m not partisan, here. I’m loyal to the Sakyong, my teacher, and have personally experienced that he’s a profound vehicle for the Dharma, the teachings of Buddhism, and the Shambhala lineage. I’m also born and brought up in the spiritually-rich society that his father, Chogyam Trungpa, created. There is no conflict. In this phenomenal world, on both practical and spiritual levels, there’s plenty of room for both styles and manifestations—of course, both strengthen one another.

@waylonlewis on Instagram: Photo taken at Shambhala Sun offices.

That said, mistakes have been made and continue to be made, and the Sakyong would be the first to say that as our community’s leader, and first servant (service is the ultimate smile), responsibility is his first. And, simultaneously, any blame and responsibility belongs equally to myself, and all of us in the Shambhala mandala. It’s up to us. All of us.

The problems, as I see them—having talked with those close to the Sakyong, as well as those more on “the outside”, as well as those in administration—are few, and workable. But our problems are urgent, and will kill the sangha, if not fixed now, by leader servants who can address them.

Three Problems, Three Solutions.

1. While the Shambhala Sangha is vast, and led ably by President Richard Reoch and many devoted servants, money is beyond tight. Changes to curriculum have encouraged old students to defect, taking their donations, energy and service with them, and a few of the large rural centers are buckling beneath hard luck and incompetent business administration. Our umbrella is small—we don’t invite enough new energy in, we squash programs and replace them with less-attended substitutes, we have actively disinvited teachers from other traditions and communities.

Problem: overwhelmed administration.

Solution: appoint leader servants who are devoted not just to the Sakyong, but to the actual fulfillment of his vision—which means we need folks happy to get dirt under their fingernails, to reach out and invite involvement from our community, who know how to smile, and mean it, and to be tender and hard-working, all at the same time. We need to do a better job supporting, paying, training, and connecting with our hard-working leaders.

2. Senior students and teachers are leaving in droves—taking with them their money and training. They could and should be mentoring, passing the baton to the next generation, and teaching publicly. Instead, they’re bitching and moaning, disrespected, unable to teach (unempowered by the Sakyong‘s new teachings), curriculum changed again and again until they’re irrelevant. Only, the aren’t irrelevant—they’re our core, our base, the heart that pumps blood throughout the corporeal mass that is a healthy Shambhala.

Problem: We need our elder students and our newer students and curriculum to be interconnected.

Change happens; it’s fine and inevitable. But it need not happen at the expense of worthwhile tradition and experience, or you get what we got: the worst of both worlds, where Shambhala Centers are under-loved and burnout is a constant danger, and elders are disrespected and pushed aside, taking their teaching and money with them. 

Solution: when Coca Cola came out with New Coke, there was a rebellion. Smartly, Coke listened, reacted, and brought out Coca Cola Classic to assuage the (wallets and) loyalty of their countless, yet fickle fans. We need a “Coke Classic” track: a renewal of Lineage and Devotion and the countless other programs and teachings and practices that have been shunted aside as new replaced old timeless. Then Trungpa-loving folks, satiated, would realize the Sakyong can and should innovate all he likes. The Sakyong’s teachings are profound and timely, I’m told (I’m one of many who, despite not being a hater, has fallen behind and beneath wave after wave of curriculum change). If I could send my future children to Seminary, Alaya, to Ikebana or Kyudo, to Shambhala schools, to Shambhala Training, to video talks by Trungpa Rinpoche to the mandala that I grew up within, that would be glorious, wonderful, amazing. If simultaneously, newer students could enjoy the Sakyong‘s new teachings, his new books (which deserve devoted, professional campaigns behind them—they’re great books) then the Sakyong would become what he should be, and what the world needs—a teacher of Buddhism, meditation and Shambhala values and practices to the world, to millions and not just our little community—his books renowned and his face on the cover of magazines, a guest of talk shows (he’s funny, wise, eloquent…and, ladies, cute), etc. A reference point for joyful sanity in a world beset by strife and suffering.

3. On a practical level, the Shambhala mandala is losing vast sums of money, monthly. Time is urgent.

Appoint folks who can handle money, magnetize morale first and donations second and money-making New and Classic curriculums, third. Cut unnecessary expenses (like airfare and extravagances for extended family, perhaps). Invite other teachers to use (and contribute) to our mandala. Well-loved President Reoch and the many devoted directors of centers, and acharyas (senior teachers) deserve help, and better pay. Reconnect with a weakened Naropa, a strong Shambhala Sun/Buddhadharma/Mindful, elephant, Shambhala Pubs—any sangha-created organization that can help.

Problem: Money.

Solution: Leadership that can communicate; heal rift between Classic and New; fundraise and run Shambhala like the profitable social-benefit business that it could be.

Coda: I write the above reluctantly—I’m out of my depth on this, of course, though I took time to talk with old and new, in and out folks—but someone needed to say something and invite a constructive dialogue (douchey comments will be deleted). The many inaccuracies and faults in the above “problems” and “solutions” are my fault, alone. The above is offered out of devotion and enthusiasm for seeing Shambhala continue to offer a fun, practical, open community for meditation and social-benefit to all, everywhere, for another hundred kalpas.

The Sakyong and his Queen. A kitchen shrine is a wonderful way to honor the fundamental intention behind nourishment.

Without Shambhala, I would be suffering immensely and of little use to anyone. It taught and trained me to be human. I owe it everything—and like most of us those looking in from the outside, my ignorance about how to help does not mean that I wouldn’t happily answer a call to help in a capacity I have any energy and skill for. I’ve offered in various contexts, many times, as many of those inactive Shambhala students out there have done. That failing is addressed above.

We need flowering leadership, not lids.


By this merit may all attain enlightenment,
May it defeat the enemy, wrong-doing,
From the stormy waves of birth, aging, sickness & dying,
From the ocean of suffering may I free all beings.
~ Buddhist Closing Dedication of Merit


Update, some relephant perspective:


About Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of elephant magazine, now & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat." Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword's Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by "Greatist", Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: "the mindful life" beyond the choir & to all those who didn't know they gave a care. | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, is now available.


112 Responses to “Shambhala in Crisis: & 3 Ways to Fix It.”

  1. irish mary says:

    This is great and could apply to many dharma organisations. In particular i vibrate- with a deep blue energy- at 'the downward looking administrators ' and the 'extravagances for extended family' . Skilfully said. I hope most sincerely that somebodies are listening and Shambala survives.

  2. Rick Gilbert says:

    Thank you so much for this Waylon. I'm not partisan either and am devoted to the Sakyong. I am an "in-betweener": came of age in a Buddhist context on the mid-late 90's. after intense years culminating in Seminary (old school Kagyu ngondro prep), my life changed dramatically-with new job, wife, kids, house and location in short order. I let go of my practice more than I should, and now feel stuck between trying to work with Kagyu ngondro and switching over to Shambhala ngondro. I've been told different things by different teachers. My heart is torn too. My life can't keep up with the new curriculum and group retreat requirements-so part of me wants to do the Kagyu-but there's so little support for that anymore. I don't want to leave the community either. Needless to say, your post is spot on for me. Thank you for your bravery and good heart, my friend.

  3. Paul Burke says:

    Shambhala has always attracted the trolls that hoard the teachings. The Sakyong gives all his money to Monasteries
    in southeast Asia. We will always be broke.

  4. Noel says:

    Thanks Way,
    I had to read this a few times follow it as all the different font sizes and numbers confuzzled me, but I get the gist. I really appreciate the care that comes through here. A few years ago you told me in a conversation that you wished you had time to do journalism, but that unfortunately you only had the capacity for blogging. I didn't know the difference, so you explained that journalism involves investigating what is actually going on- interviewing the people who are actually involved and responsible, etc., whereas blogging is just hearing bits and pieces and then posting "what's up with that?"
    I find myself reflecting on that here because you're poking into a realm that is quite emotional for many people, and while I wouldn't say you got it all wrong by any means, it is clear that you're just telling superficial stories and making uninformed generalizations.
    I don't really want to get into all the bits and pieces, but I feel compelled to take issue with one piece of your article, which is your criticism of the leadership…
    "Solution: appoint leader servants who are devoted not superficially to the Sakyong, but to the actual fulfillment of his vision—which means we need more than fake-smiling yes men. We need folks happy to get dirt under their fingernails, to reach out and invite involvement from our community, instead of blocking it. We need folks who know how to smile, and mean it, and to be tender and hard-working, all at the same time."
    This is not only goofily simplistic but, to use your word, douchey. There's no doubt that there are some Shambhala pod people out there, but there are also many current Shambhala leaders, many of them old friends of yours, who work overtime for very little reward other than the satisfaction of living their aspiration to serve the vision, who do so with all the genuine heart that you describe, and who bring all they have to it and continue to train and learn to expand their skills. You should interview some of them.
    Meanwhile, here's an interview with Richard Reoch that at least taps some of the issues you raise.

    Yours in the Clan,

  5. Noel and Way,
    I agree, things are not all the dire, look at the turnout at recent events such as the Being Brave Retreat last year- and full houses, sold out events everywhere these days! I came into this community when I was 19, 24 years ago now, and not as long as you both, but living in Boulder I have never seen such a rejuvenation. Just the Holiday practice retreat, for instance, fills up all shrine rooms at Marpa House such that we have to overflow to the Shambhala Center. I have never seen such enthusiasm and practice before all of these changes.
    I know how you feel Waylon, as a now inactive MI/AD, I cant keep up, but I am happy it's making people inspired to practice, finally! I also concur Waylon, that there could be more support for people still working on the Karma Kamsang Ngondro and further practices that Trungpa traditionally laid out. Those of us for whatever reason, cannot participate in all of the new retreats could feel like we have a place still- wasn't there a recent discussion about this at the last congress?
    I would love for everyone to feel included, rather than excluded or as you say "fallen behind and beneath wave." Certainly, students of Trungpa, the Sakyong, both, have another teacher as well as in my case, or someone who has no teacher at all but just likes to come to the center for sitting and Children's events like my husband, all have a heartfelt, welcomed place. That is… Shambhala, a good, human society. I know we'll get there really soon, and when we do, the money will follow. Much love to all- Dawn

  6. Kallie says:

    Sounds like you need to take more of a leadership/central role, Way. I think you have amazing teacher/leadership qualities and could inspire many more people to get involved.. that's a start. Too busy with Ele?

  7. Buddha says:

    I think what might be responsible is a certain egoism related to people who have attained all they were to attain from the practices. These people, for some reason, represent the place to newcomers. And then these newcomers can't understand how egoism can be associated with a spiritual center and realize that it would probably be the same for them if they just stayed away. There should be absolutely no egoism in centers of meditation – regardless of what is going on outside. That is the whole point having a meditation center; otherwise, the place itself becomes absolutely meaningless. It's like a Starbucks running out of coffee – it's just a building.

  8. elephantjournal says:

    I do not doubt that many of our sangha peers are serving out of devotion and working their fingers to the bone. I say that above.

    Working hard, however, isn't enough—we need to "work smart." As Trungpa Rinpoche said, to paraphrase, martyrdom isn't enough for we non-theists. The cause of wakefulness has to actually win out. If many of our leaders are overwhelmed, need more help, more pay, more support and training, then we need to open our flower, not tighten our lid.

    If you think that the above, offered in the spirit of not fully understanding internal efforts and external concerns (despite having talked with many over the past years)…if you think my questions and suggestions above, offered in the spirit of constructive problem-addressing, music-facing and fixing is "douchey"…well that may be a reflection on the lack of rank, constructive communication in our community. I've taken more time and learned more than most of us are able to do—but understanding what's up in the sangha shouldn't require the work of a journalistic Sherlock Holmes. Perhaps we need consistent, genuine sangha-wide communication akin to the Vajradhatu Sun of old, under Rick Fields. I'd be happy to help with that, and I've offered before, and I've offered to do other things as well.

    There is, as I acknowledge above, responsibility with each of us, including you and I, to contribute. But it's hard to contribute, these days. When the elders of our sangha are disinvited to teach because they haven't done the latest round of new teachings…when we're bleeding money…when the culture you and I grew up in has been edited and largely left behind…when others like myself have offered various ways we can plug in and have heard either "no" or silence (understandably, as you and I both say above, leaders are overwhelmed) however wonderful and profound the new teachings are, there needs to be constructive conversation to move things forward.

    I look up to your judgement and love you. Most folks aren't as lucky to be as well-informed as you are, and you and others who are better informed than me should feel welcome to communicate to the sangha about Shambhala's challenges and how we can help, either on a personal level, or in a broader community fashion. This conversation is too important to be relegated to whispers—it should be elevated into an uplifted conversation, free of "douchey" name-calling but equally open to frank, honest, open-ended I-don't-know-the-answers-but-I-have-questions-and-a-willingness-to-listen conversation.

    Yours in the Clan, and outside of it,

    Waylon Lewis

  9. elephantjournal says:

    Paul, thanks for not posting anonymously, but let's keep this conversation constructive. Trollish comments will be deleted. We can honor criticism by offering it thoroughly and thoughtfully brother!

  10. elephantjournal says:

    All of us should probably talk less, and jump in more. I'm not too busy to be a more helpful part of my community, these days, and I've offered various things, but I'm certainly no significant part of any solution, beyond hopefully helping start a constructive conversation before, financially and spiritually, we've drifted too far. I have offered various things both locally and internationally, and those offers are still good. I've offered to hold our talk show locally at the Shambhala Center, drawing 200-plus public folks into the Center, and through their intimidation, each month. I've offered to help train centers in social media, a free means of genuine, personal marketing that could help our programs succeed and fill up even more easily. That said, I know many of our leaders, both locally and nationally, are already overwhelmed and it's hard to know what to do with random offers of volunteering, sometimes.

    In any case, many of my peers and the elders are far more capable than I! We have a rich-in-experience community.

  11. elephantjournal says:

    The Sakyong is magnetizing and excellent at connecting to the larger world, and I'd love to see him do more of these great events, and see his books get the support they deserve, marketing-wise.

    I just attended his birthday celebration in Halifax, and got to see most of his recent sold-out talk in San Francisco on video. The message: kindness. Let's do it!

  12. heilbrunn says:

    adversity, whether individual or organizational, always cultivates strength. this rift between old dawgs and dharma brats is baked in to our Culture. now the difference is financial. economically we have all been challenged. it appears it is time to prune the deadwood and strengthen the roots that bare fruit. where is all the financial currency being short circuited and where is it generating energy?? these questions need to be answered, especially at this time of the year when every non-profit reaches for support.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I've been in-and-out of the Shambhala community, beginning practice in 1981, leaving after the Regent scandal, back in during a recent marriage, now out again — long enough to finish Kagyu ngondro and receive V. abhisheka. I'm not sure mine is a typical path.. I will say, though, that my impression is that those students who stayed, accepted the dissolution of a traditional Kagyu path and the repeated curriculum changes that followed, should embrace their situation, just as Trungpa's students did when Vajradhatu was just beginning. Many of Trungpa's students have moved on, found new teachers and/or practice alone. Please consider how they felt to be left without teachers or community when Shambhala Buddhism was created and they were disempowered. I've heard Trungpa loyalists (?!) were even mocked, said to be members of the "dead guru society." Unfortunate. But to take your branding analogy one step further, Shambhala may want to re-brand itself to reflect its current form, whatever that is.

  14. John Tischer says:

    The older students have not been respected…have been insulted even. The rift seems to have gone on for so long, that
    how can it be repaired? And who really wants to? I won't say how I feel about it, but the fact that so many of VCTR's students
    have left cannot help but convey a strong message that has been ignored.

  15. Gordon says:

    I would echo what Noel said and add a couple of points.

    1) Saying things like “we have an overwhelmed administration” and then saying that we need to find some new, better administrators is totally disrespectful. Part of why these folks are overwhelmed is because everyone feels they can criticize what they are doing without…you know… ever asking them what it is that they are doing.

    2) It’s ridiculous to write an article like this without interviewing the leaders who you are criticizing. If you did, I think you’d find that they think about these problems all the time, and have nuanced and informed views about them.

    3) Saying “we need more funding” is obvious and unhelpful. Again, a lot of very smart and very dedicated people have been working on this for years and years. You should find out, and speak concretely about, what they are doing rather than just saying that we need to “run it like a profitable social-business”

    4) Shambhala has a core services funding problem, not a practice-involvement problem. There are vastly more Shambhala practitioners right now than there have ever been in the organization’s history, and a lot of that has to do with the changes to the path that you are talking about. As an organization, we need a way to fund the organization which scales along with the number of practitioners and with inflation. But when you look at actual data, the community itself looks pretty healthy.

  16. Lay it on the line why don’t you Waylon!

    Bravo for speaking your mind – a very Shambhalian thing to do!

    Many of the things you’ve said resonate with me. One thing I have come to realize through my dark nights is that there is no “us” and no “them” inside, or outside, our mandala. But, my ego would always like to find a straw man to knock down – that hasn’t changed! I’m embarrassed to say, but delighted to discover it’s the same neurotic shit I’ve always been dealing with, different day. I don’t think that has anything to do with your article, just letting you know what goes on for me.

    All those curriculum and packaging changes are hard for me too, but I have to allow that when I have surrendered to them, i.e. get into them, I can see the logic in the pedagogy and admit that I appreciate the spaciousness of the new meditation hall forms too (I keep more pictures on my shrine at home). So I resent the new changes when they come out. I resent being challenged with one more thing, but I used to resent it when the Vidyadhara changed stuff too! and it’s still the same material just repackaged and streamlined into one curriculum, with some new suggested even experimental adult education techniques. It’s still up to the teacher to decide how to deliver the heart of it and what there’s time for in each class.

    I don’t think the Sakyong is blocking anything with the new curriculum particularly. I think he is re-staging, addressing the beginning stages more thoroughly so we can grow without perverting the teachings. One problem is that when people take the levels and do the courses in between, they come along very quickly! Not sure I’m ready for that.

    Anyhoo, I want to let you know about three encouraging things that are happening with Shambhala here in Victoria, BC, which have the potential to address your three flash points, a little.

    One is that the new website layout and other small but important refinements have resulted in strong turnout to our free public sitting and open house talks. We have been surprised by burgeoning capacity crowds of 55 people. So something is happening there. Maybe the world is just realizing meditation is ordinary and good (hope so).

    The second is the Lopon’s new Shambhala Online initiative to teach Mahamudra by reviewing and expounding upon Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso’s programs is magnetizing some and tantalizing other dormant senior students and bringing them together with keen newer tantrikas. This is both healing and inspiring. Also, the Lopon is delivering the material with frequent references to the Vidyadhara’s and the Sakyong’s comments on the same topics which brings it alive in a whole new way. It’s great!

    Finally, I can sense what you mean by overwhelmed administration talking and working with “them”. What has come of that is actually a grass roots kindled movement by some Centre Directors to implement what is called a United Giving Model UMG for short, which just means some centres like ours are migrating or switching to sending 10% of our annual dues and program fee revenues, averaged and paid monthly for the central administration. In Victoria this amounts to all of about $640 per month, but if it is widely embraced, it will reduce emergency fundraising and has the potential to bring more balance to the force.

    So yes Shambhala is in crisis, but alas the whole world is in crisis. In fact, I’m in crisis, old habits die hard. But I think we will handle it the way we have learned, by holding our seats and letting the world touch us as much as we can.

    Great article.


    Layth Matthews

    Director, Victoria Shambhala Meditation Centre

  17. Anonymous says:

    As a newer-ish student who is also very devoted to the vision of the Sakyong and very heavily involved in the community (where I can be), I have to say that even with my very limited time here thus far, I can see the kinds of things that you are talking about. One of the most disheartening things to me on this path lately, has been that I very much long to be connected to the older students but that there seems to be some obstacles preventing that. They have so much wisdom, heart and experience that I (and many others) could benefit greatly from hearing about. The problem that I see, is sort of along the lines of what you are saying – where curriculum has become a barrier.

    Because I haven't attended Seminary yet (I will attend it though, hopefully soon, but it will all come in due time), I feel a sense of disconnectedness from the community at large. The older students that I come into contact with have generally been AD/MI's in my previous programs, and tend to be the same people. Don't get me wrong, these people are wonderful, and their service greatly appreciated, but could there not be a time where all students – old and new, are together to learn and discuss the vision that we all hold so dear?

    On the other hand, it does seem as though Shambhala Centers are making an effort. In Boulder, the introduction of "SunDay" Assemblies seem to have gotten some success – although, by and large, the biggest groups of "old"/"more advanced" students appear on days of Werma Feast (or other feasts), and the biggest groups of newer students happen at a Level I or Monday Night Open Class.

    Sometimes it feels as though once you reach a certain level of "practice" in this community, you forget about the other ones. In my mind, I know that that isn't necessarily true (or at least, it isn't the main view held by most), but I have heard "more advanced" students say things such as, "I just don't have time to go to a Monday Night Open Class, or an open shamatha evening sitting, I have other practice requirements to meet." And so, with the amount of individual/group practice requirements set in place for people in order to "advance" on the path, it seems as though integration between old and new students gets left behind. The more "advanced" students seem to have a sense of urgency in completing requirements and it leaves newer students with a sense of "goal" on the path, such as: "When I get to that place in my practice, then I am more advanced and I can attend the more advanced classes and receive more teachings…" This isn't what I hold to be true, but I have spoken directly with some of my fellow "new-ish" students and they definitely have gotten that impression.

    So, what I am wondering is how can we encourage a more blended practicing Shambhala society? How can we foster a community where both old and new practitioners are practicing together and learning from each other in order to radiate out the same shared vision of Enlightened Society?

    Just some thoughts…
    And thanks for writing this article, Waylon.

  18. Iektje says:

    I very much feel in the same boat as you, Gilbert. I would love to be more involved in the community, and am torn between the commitment I made to Kagyu Ngondro many years ago, a sincere wish to fulfill the vision of the Sakyong, and work and family responsibilities. I feel so inspired and hopeful by the Sakyong's teachings and vision for enlightened society, but the problems that Waylon outlined frighten me. I would love to help in any way I can.

  19. Buddha says:

    Unfortunately this is egoism, albeit in a veiled form. There must not be any egoism at these centers. And if there is, the wrong people are in charge. The big problem facing society today is that people have become professional at masking their egos – using sweet language and words… and using x's and o's. The point of these meditation centers is to reduce the ego to ashes, to dust. But if the director has a rather large ego – how is any progress going to be made?

  20. elephantjournal says:

    Layth, great to hear from you. Thanks for responding with genuine interest and healthy morale, instead of defensiveness—that's a testament to your devotion and practice.

    Amen on much: but it's my understanding that re "I don't think the Sakyong is blocking anything with the new curriculum particularly" old classes are now gone, like Lineage and Devotion, etc. That's culture loss, or blocking, whatever you want to call it. Kagyu ngondro is now no longer taught, etc. Others could say more than I on this. And if you're a senior teacher but not trained in newer curriculum, you can't teach. I've heard this from multiple sources. Please correct if I'm mistaken!

  21. elephantjournal says:

    It's responses like this, in tone and defensive condescension, which are why more folks don't come forward and try and engage in uplifted discourse about what we all are united in caring about. That said, your passion is commendable and your reaction understandable.

    If you look at actual financial date, you'd likely write something similar, and hopefully better informed, to the above. In fact, you should have done so already, since at least half of those love Shambhala are confused and disheartened, or at the least out of touch and less involved that we'd like. If you or anyone would like to offer a more informed response or rebuttal, whatever you like, I'll be happy to give that equal space.

  22. elephantjournal says:

    Thanks, Anonymous. I still attend, and bring friends to, the open houses. I love them.

    I've been saddened to hear directly from senior teachers/students who no longer teach these wonderful open houses because they don't want to teach different, newer methods. I'm fine with change, you probably are, we all are—but tradition and Trungpa R's world are worthwhile, too. Both!

  23. Leonid Barenblit says:

    glad you're speaking out. i hope more people will. the way I see it, there is basically one problem and one solution — the solution of openness and inclusiveness vs. protectionism and "territorialism". it's about freedom, freedom to invite any teacher, freedom to study with multiple teachers and whoever you want to and at any time you want to; freedom to host any program; freedom to let teachers teach what they're inspired to teach and freedom for students to want to learn (and demand even) what they're inspired to learn; speaking out openly about any issue and allowing space for that. We need to allow to be who we are — neurotic, crazy, protector-wrathful-chanting, peace-loving, werma-happy, whatever it is, but please let's forget about being politically correct — and following the party line — let's just present teachings, any teachings and let people decide what they want to learn.

    if we do this one thing, then everything else will fall into place. when freedom is intentionally or unintentionally is reduced, this always leads to reduction of enthusiasm, creativity and aliveness. Once freedom is back, enthusiasm would be back, the inspiration would be back and collectively everything will work itself out.

    Let's trust our intelligence and more importantly the intelligence of others and let each choose their own path.

    The Buddha said, "Don't believe me, don't believe anybody, don't accept anything based on tradition. Don't believe anything based on the fact that your community believes this or your country believes this or the people that you are around believe this"

  24. Noel says:

    But Waylon, seriously… how is it uplifted discourse or open dialogue when you've already established the rules of which storyline must be accepted? You've framed each issue and the whole situation as a problem, rather than a discussion. You haven't framed any inquiry. Dialogue begins with a level playing field, not a fortress. It's fine to editorialize, but don't pretend you're being a moderator. It's responses like yours above that have driven the genuine dialogue underground.

  25. ziji says:

    I fully support the Sakyong and his vision, but I question how it is implemented. The Shambhala centers I'm most familiar with can barely make the rent, yet the central administration keeps imposing new requirements — framed photos are problematic when you're not bringing in enough each month to pay expenses. I'm too low on the hierarchy to know what curriculum changes you're referring to, but Shambhala seems to me to be becoming increasingly cult-like, while not building alliances with other communities doing similar work. Look at the website — it's meditation, not Buddhism.

  26. Kallie says:

    Just wondering 🙂 Speaking of, Pema Chodron walked into the Vitamin Cottage today… I was awe struck ,especially since I just got her book, The Wisdom of No Escape, and was listening to some of her teaching last night 🙂 In any case, your article opened my eyes a bit, hopefully enough that I'll at least get my butt to young Sangha night.

  27. Anonymous says:

    As a newer student and following the teachings of the Sakyong, I’m concerned of current stories being shared over the last couple of years. Regardless of the history, which I know very little about, depending on the center, someone can have a really great experience being introduced to Shambhala or a nightmarish experience. Maybe 80% or more of the teachers are great, but when up to 20% of those in charge spread egotistic attitudes and polarizing approaches (all while people in critical positions seemingly turn their heads the other way) it damages the entire sangha with poison. And while the Sakyong and teachers are spreading amazing dharma, some of the interpretations, and hence manifestations, can be absolutely toxic. New practitioners are sometimes exposed to hypocrisy and pain, go in another direction—maybe to a Zen center, another meditation center, another Rinpoche—and share their crazy Shambhala stories “such as let me tell you about my crazy experience at this land center” and so. Then we wonder why others start labeling Shambhala as cult like or maybe not true dharma teachings. This has been allowed to manifest to this day.
    And as Leonid said “there is basically one problem and one solution–the solution of openness and inclusiveness vs. protectionism and "territorialism". it's about freedom, freedom to invite any teacher, freedom to study with multiple teachers and whoever you want to and at any time you want to; freedom to host any program; freedom to let teachers teach what they're inspired to teach and freedom for students to want to learn (and demand even) what they're inspired to learn; speaking out openly about any issue and allowing space for that.”

    If those that are implementing the wonderful teachings think that what Leonid said is not happening—that maybe there is a belief that Shambhala promotes inclusiveness and is not territorial, then I think there could be some slight delusion happening. Depending on what center or sangha member one is introduced to, many, including new participants, have come with the impression that Shambhala is very exclusive and sometimes have a hard time trying to reconcile the teachings of Enlightened Society with the dysfunction that is witnessed at times. And it is great to hear that many new students are coming to centers, but I wonder if many will be inspired to stay.

    And thank goodness for directors like Layth Matthews in Victoria for posting such a thoughtful words. If everyone in leadership could be this welcoming and thoughtful, Shambhala could be the embodiment of the very teachings it is trying to give to world.

  28. Guy Leisure says:

    If 1st place is the teaching, the tradition is #2 then Trungpa is #3 and his direct students 4, then I am 5. Please do not remove me or any other student further from the source. I was magnetized to the lineage because of the refinements of the tradition not because of it's fluidity. The fluidity is my work right? If the Sakyong has lost the connection to the original tradition then it is wrong to ask him to teach in a way that is not his own. Perhaps the car wreck and the choice to go western was Trungpa's tragic flaw. Once the seal was broken on the traditional methods there was no turning back so lets re-write the whole cannon every year and call that our practice. Fun for a while but then the parodied analogies and revised revisions will just sound like channel surf. As for the finances, who knows the truth? From my limited internal and external view the judgement is called, "Penny Wise Pound Foolish". If the Sakyong prefers to send western spiritual dollars to rural Asia i think it is a great service. It will also kill his organization. That would actually be a fine epitaph to the whole project. Trungpa's teaching is done and well documented, the new liturgy is doomed to fail, so lets transfuse the assets of the organization into a completely different purpose, done. We can still follow the teachings as they were and the easily distracted can wander off.

  29. Suzanne says:

    The funny and sad thing is that Waylon's article is about 10 years behind the times. All this was repeatedly asked of and offered to and ignored by Osel and his students in Halifax long ago.

  30. older student. says:

    Luckily there is Reggie Ray.

  31. Chewyguru says:

    Haha! Too funny. It is all deception anyway. Pick your flavor.

  32. jennifer says:

    I am new to the path and new to the Shambhala path as well (6 years?) I come from a small sangha and have very little exposure to anything out side of that. I was in San Franciso at Grace Cathedral, and have never attended any programs beyond Drala. After seeing the Sakyong I felt like I wanted to help him…to develop myself more so I could. I found Shambhala through CTR's books and always will, for whatever reason, feel a connection to a man I have never met. All of that being said…I have seen and heard and agree with both sides of this storyline. To me Shambhala teachings are CTR teachings….I know nothing of Kagyu teachings. I am also saddened by the lack of acknowledgment to that. My experience with my sangha has been painful and I haven't seen the manifestation of the teachings in their leadership. I stay because I feel devoted and use the disappointment as practice…..I have a lot more to go. I have had the fortune to meet great teachers within Shambhala…old dawgs…who work very hard to deliver the Sakyongs curriculum. It is also because of them that I stay and keep working with this path. They refresh me after dealing with some of the other aspects within my community. I absolutely do not understand funding extravagant anything for anyone during times like these…..I feel very strong about that. This type of spending DOES go on and it should be called out. I believe strongly in Shambhala vision…aspire to grow within it and would very much like if one day I could be a representative for it. I also do not like being "exclusive"…not joining/welcoming other teachers from our sister lineages is to me contradictory to Shambhala vision. I am not saying we need to confuse people with mixing a bunch of teachings together, but not joining in celebration or blocking them out is just small minded. I see a lot of hypocrisy and I am also grateful for the vision that has been shown to me….I really see both sides. I am worried more about the negative because I feel a sense of the urgency in our times…and then I hear the Sakyong say the same thing. From a new person's limited perspective, I love Shambhala and am very sad about how Shambhala is manifesting in my world overall….I suppose I should include myself in that as well. Thank You for the opportunity to speak.

  33. Tharpa says:

    Amen! Waylon, where have you been? Discussion and investigation of these topics was very active on Radio Free Shambhala years ago. The issues Waylon raises are not "fixable" because no one in charge cares, and the roots of these problems go deep. The financial issues were entirely predictable years ago given the lack of transparency and the emphasis on loyalty to the "Sakyong's Vision" over financial responsibility. These problems are inherent in a monarchical system, superimposed awkwardly over our modern globalized society.

    Also, Waylon would do everyone a favor if he would be more explicit about the financial issues and magnitude of the problem.

  34. Gordon says:

    When you say "At least half" what is that based on? Half of what? Have you asked some unbiased sample of the 9,000 members? or the 150 or so centers and groups? The 13,000 people who did Shambhala Training programs last year? Or the unrecorded thousands who have come and through the doors over the last 40 years? Or is this just basically made up?

  35. elephantjournal says:

    The financial issues are not well known, because to my knowledge they are not public. If SI and the two rural centers in question are in fact healthy and doing well, I'm happy to issue a retraction.

  36. elephantjournal says:

    Recently, new classes—Basic Goodness I think they're called–were implemented. That's great, and welcome, hopefully they're genuine Dharma and will be of benefit. The problem as I see it, and I'm just one person, is that there's not "Coca Cola Classic" track—ie, the new classes, yet again, have replaced Lineage & Devotion and the other time-tested Dharma classes.

  37. elephantjournal says:

    Well, Shambhala and being in the sangha has always been heartbreaking, and that's okay, though groundless and difficult. Thanks for sticking with it, and your respectful comment, and for sticking with yourself!

  38. Lilly says:

    Reggie is a real dharma brother. He has been very helpful to me on issues of practice. There is also a refreshing absence of cynicism and politics.

  39. Lilly says:

    "Senior students and teachers are leaving in droves—taking with them their money and training." This hits the nail on the head! The fact that what we represent to the "organization first and foremost is MONEY. Repackaging teachings and making new prerequisites in order to make more money is a gimmick. Comparing the issues facing SI to the problem with the Coca cola company is hideously revealing of the attitude that underlies the problem and will probably completely undo the community altogether. Can we really not imagine enlightened society outside of the mercantalistic paradigm? With a king and a queen? Is this not theism by any other name? I say.. Let it fall apart.

  40. Mat says:

    Not trying to make you leave the community..But you should check out Reggie Ray.. There are a lot of older students finishing their ngondro with him.

  41. Tharpa says:

    Of course they are not public. Shambhala's finances, and those of Vajradhatu before it, have occasionally been reported publicly, but usually these moves towards transparency have been short lived, and the creation of alternative organizational forms like the Ladrang, etc. has clouded the picture considerably. Several financially savvy individuals have attempted to decode what's really going on behind the smokescreen, particularly Bill Karelis and Barbara Blouin. If someone in a position to know wants to challenge the rumor and innuendo we are thereby left with, and which you are unfortunately limited to, I wouldn't settle for happy talk, but would ask for an independently audited balance sheet and several years' worth of income statements for the centers.

    This points out the inconvenient fact that this is only an imaginary monarchy, lacking the power to tax or behead people. Eventually excess at the top and poor management will take its toll, and people will simply drift away – which has already been going on for years.

  42. Sangye says:

    I think it's already been mentioned but again these changes are NOT a new thing. CTR changed things all the time and likely the same students objected then too. Fundamentally I think attachment to the form is just as difficult as anything else, if not more.
    As for wanting more connection with older students & wanting to see them practicing with newer students at the center has been an issue for me as long as I've been around, which was a few years after CTR's death. 1991 I connected in Halifax and for the 10 years I was there this was a concern to me and I had been in many discussions about it.
    Personally I see more of a mixture of older and newer students here in Toronto on a rather regular basis. There are also initiatives to train more MI's and a new training approach is rolling out for teachers. We are running a pilot program now for training people to facilitate some of the courses while using videos of teachings from Acharyas.
    I find it interesting to note that I couldn't connect at the Toronto center when I first moved here in 2001. I would occasionally go to the center but just couldn't connect. Then something shifted a few years back and when I walked into the center again it felt warm and inviting. I've heard the Sakyong comment on how in our culture we had become somewhat unkind to one another, going around cutting other peoples trips and such is the sort of thing I felt like he might be talking to. That resonated strongly with me. He talked about the fact that if we can not be kind to each other we can not establish Enlightened Society. I think his insight and the adjustments he's made are strongly needed.
    The idea that people have been pushed out is something I don't quite understand. If you are saying a lot of the older students are not committed to The Sakyong's vision and don't want to adopt the new practices The Sakyong is giving out (much like his father introduced Shambhala Training and even in the 90s there were STILL students who refused to accept their teachers instructions. I'm by no means enlightened but might this be an issue of one's own spiritual path and becoming rigid? It appears that people who felt that way simply feel they do not need a teacher now, at least not the one their Guru put in charge, empowered and personally trained for it.

    I think those students could still stay involved with Shambhala and still continue their own favorite practices at home. I don't do Shambhala Ngondro and perhaps never will, I received the Lung from Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche while he was visiting the Halifax Center. I use the Nalanda Translation Committee's version because Mipham Rinpoche gave me permission to. This all seems rather open to me. Some human students thought I couldn't do that but that's because we all tend to get confused about things. My teachers don't seem to have that problem. I've heard DKR talk a lot about how the methods of practice someone uses depend solely on how their Teacher has told them to practice and to not be hung up about how someone else might practice differently. It seems to make sense to me that students of Mipham Rinpoche's should follow the current curriculum in so far as the karmic connection exists. For students (i.e., teachers who were CTR's students) who do not feel a karmic connection with the Shambhala lineage it makes sense that they might leave. However if people do feel they have a karmic connection with the Shambhala Lineage and they are leaving the community as some sort of protest towards The Sakyong's leadership, I find that a bit sad that they have no samaya with The Sakyong but maybe that's just how it should unfold. Perhaps those older students will spread the Dharma in their own way. CTR intended for his son to be King of Shambhala, only those of us who are willing to go along with those wishes should stick around and support him as our Leader and the King of Shambhala. Which means we respect the hierarchy and don't try to put ourselves on the same level as him. If we hold this view we wouldn't ever need to feel "pushed out", we just have to put our own ego in check and go with the flow, bringing it all back to the path for ourselves.

  43. Buddha says:

    I realize that my post was deleted – and that is a shame. Why cover up truth – and replace it with masked egoism? Isn't that going in the wrong direction? Egoism at places of worship, meditation centers, and the like are absolutely disastrous; so, Shambhala is just reaping what it has sown. And this is the way it should be. What we can do is point it out and fix it! Now, how could I be surprised if this post was deleted too? If there is a hole in the floor and a rug is placed over it, has the hole really disappeared? Be well people – and meditate!

  44. elephantjournal says:

    Via Michael Chender, who asked me to post this because of some login trouble:

    iscussion/debates about these issues often get framed in terms of
    trying to marshall “facts” (“What did the Vidyadhara say about ___”), dharmic principles, (“You’re too attached to the past”), superior insight (“The Sakyong is completely bringing forward all of the Vidhyadara’s activity), emotion (“Why can’t we all just get along?”). However, as we are focusing on “enlightened society,” I think it is
    useful to look at this in terms of societal dynamics. In fact, I
    think this is essentially a problem of relationship, communication and
    social experience, and that addressing it exclusively in any other way
    just masks this underlying dynamic.

    That dynamic is a well-known one to students of culture and history.
    Although aspects of our situation are unique, we are also living
    through typical patterns that ensue when a new culture becomes
    dominant and is naïve or unskillful jn communicating with older
    culture members as it begins to change cultural patterns to reflect a
    new, “superior” form of organization. As the older culture loses its symbols and sources of meaning, and members’ protests or creative suggestions are dismissed as ignorance or seen as signs of a power
    struggle, confusion and helplessness turns to anger. The anger is then
    largely internalized, resulting in well-known patterns of loss of
    energy, depression, and lassitude. The newer culture then points to
    this manifestation of the older culture as “proof” that its new
    systems are needed! This is an inexorable social dynamic that unrolls
    from the initial felt experience of disrespect and dismissal, no
    matter who the individuals involved are. The newer culture may, and I
    believe in this case does, offer many real benefits, but the losses it
    occurs in this process will hamper and haunt it.

    This is because the life force of any society exists in the wild
    vitality closest to its roots (which ideally lives on as the basis of
    trust and respect between generations.) Building an “enlightened
    society” over the de facto muting of a large section of its pioneers
    is a strange idea. The ultimate source of meaning for any society is
    in its story of origins. Right now there are competing interpretations
    of those origins, which is sapping the energy from realizing the
    underlying vision.

    So how do societies (rarely) sort out these issues? The older culture
    has to rediscover its own collective strength, on its own, and engage
    and enrich the newer culture from that perspective, and/or the newer
    culture needs to realize its loss and recalibrate its approach.

    ~ MC

  45. elephantjournal says:

    You're quoting me, above, not Shambhala International—those expressions and faults therein are mine, not the leadership's. As for Coke Classic, it may be a crude analogy, but for me it represents the notion that we could find a way for tradition and innovation to coexist, in harmony.

    As for "let it fall apart," I personally feel that's a selfish and regrettable attitude. The suffering of countless sentient beings depends on contact with truth, whether Dharma, any genuine sangha, or other wisdom traditions. Without the Shambhala sangha, speaking personally, as I mentioned above, I would have been lost, miserable, and utterly selfish. I think that goes for many of us—we've been given much and the three jewels' wealth is potentially inexhaustible, and can give much more, for many more years and kalpas.

  46. elephantjournal says:


    He's an amazing teacher. But to say there's some sense of cynicism and politics in and around his community is…not something he himself would claim.

  47. Martin Fritter says:

    This is all rumor and innuendo. It may be true, or it may not. But it's not reporting, not news, not journalism and not really opinion. I don't see how it serves any constructive purpose other than to harm Shambhala International and undermine its finances. How? By suggesting that it's somehow "in crisis" and dishonest with its members and donors. All of which is unfortunate, regardless of one's opinion of SMR and his works.

  48. jenkm1 says:

    All good thoughts – my perception after 12 years is that this is a marvelous time for Shambhala – we are all part of a tremendous evolution – providing a place- numerous places for people to sit and be – in reality costs nothing. Yes, there are elements of this large entity that need specific support. Perhaps it is time to contemplate further the difference between needing and wanting – deeply contemplate it.

  49. jennifer says:

    I don't think that breaking peoples hearts should be taken so lightly. I'm not talking about the heartache from tenderness…I am talking about being mean and slightly repressive. Perhaps I should have been more straightforward. I have felt unwelcome at times and have also seen a sense of superiority when someone feels they hold "rank". I have seen cowardice, a lack of free thinking and refusal to practice forgiveness. I remember reading a survey of Shambhala centers where others expressed similar feelings. It isn't that my heart breaks only for myself…my heart breaks for the disintegration of the whole. Afterall, whether we are new or old, we are still within the same mandala and one way or another we will feel this. I wouldn't underestimate anything about it.