Shambhala in Crisis: my interview with Executive Director Carolyn Mandelker.

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The Halifax Shambhala Center. From my recent visit. More images: @waylonlewis on Instagram

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Need more transparency before giving? We hope to dig into that further with Carolyn and others (interview with my friend Michael Gayner of Shambhala Mountain coming up), but for Shambhala members only, some financial info here.

Editor’s introduction.

Shortly after the publication of Shambhala in Crisis (click for context), which listed Three Seeming Obstacles & Three Possible Antidotes, and the following sangha discussion of where we’re at and where we’re going and where we’re coming from, and how to keep all synchronized…I was honored to hear from our Executive Director, Carolyn Mandelker.

She reached out in a spirit of friendly openness and devotion to our mandala—rather than the kind of unnecessarily defensive patriotism I’ve seen on the one hand, or preconception-fueled haterism on the other. Our “middle way” discussion is below.

While I don’t feel like I got in-depth answers on anything, particularly, it was a warm, interesting hourlong conversation (we’d budgeted for 30 minutes to start, so Carolyn was more than generous) and I welcome all such communication (check out her new blog on Shambhala Times, linked below). As with person-to-person relationships on a micro level, raising worries and concerns and needs makes open, uplifted, constructive, forward-looking dialogue possible. And it’s always healthy, though not always easy or “neat.” Chaos, a wise man once said, should be regarded as extremely good news!

Carolyn tentatively has offered a second interview to get into some more depth—if you’d like that, leave a comment below asking specifically what you’d like answered, and if we get enough interest, I’m sure she’ll be up for it. On the other hand, if it’s not needed, that’s okay too. This is all meant to be helpful, and to move things “east,” with communication. If it’s not helpful, I’m happy to go back to blogging about kittens and naked yoga.

Note: As with Shambhala in Crisis, passionately welcomes any and all comments and discussion, as long as fair, respectful. This is far more about the sangha as a whole than it is about any point of view, “right” or wrong, that I might hold. I’m interested only in the strength and health of this mandala, and the less I’m a part of this discussion, and the more we can focus on questions and remedies, the better by me. Rude + anonymous comments will be deleted. That said, constructive criticism of anyone or anything (except for myself, I only accept love letters) is welcome and helpful.

With thanks to our executive director and all of us who serve the critical, inspiring vision that is Shambhala, and the teachings of the Kagyu-Nyingma and Shambhala lineages of Chogyam Trungpa and Sakyong Mipham. ~ ed.

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

A Conversation with: Carolyn Mandelker, Executive Director of Shambhala International.

Waylon Lewis, elephant journal (inspired by VCTR’s vision), “Dharma Brat,” student of SMR: So, first of all, Carolyn, I want to thank you for reaching out following my crude attempt at summing up some of the challenges to our community, and some proposed solutions.

Carolyn Mandelker, Executive Director of Shambhala International: Well, I think one segment of the interview should be about Shambhala’s financial situation. 1) Is Shambhala hemorrhaging? 2) What plans are there to rectify the financial model?  3) Do you feel Trungpa Rinpoche’s teachings are included in the current curriculum and how?  4) Are the senior students excluded from teaching in Shambhala?

Waylon Lewis, elephant journal, “Dharma Brat,” student of SMR: I’m more than happy to start with the questions you suggested we address first—there’s an endless number of questions—many were sent in from the sangha, and I hope to get to them if we do another interview—and solutions and issues we could go over, so we’ll just do what we can and we can do another interview if you have time and interest, and we feel like we didn’t get to anything.

Carolyn Mandelker, Executive Director of Shambhala International: My pleasure, Waylon.  I know that you care deeply about Shambhala and want to help work on the  challenges of our growing community.

Waylon Lewis: You bet I do! I love Shambhala, always have, and owe it everything. Trungpa Rinpoche reminded us always to retain critical thinking, that our devotion can’t be theistic but has to retain a sense of inquisitveness and humor and that we actually have to all contribute if we want to see GES [Great Eastern Sun—the vision of society and human nature as always waking up, fundamentally good] vision accomplished.

So, first of all, Shambhala’s financial situation: Is Shambhala International struggling, or as I put it “hemorraghing?”

Carolyn Mandelker: Yes and no.

Last year we experienced about 10% growth on average throughout the mandala. That means that the centres and groups, on average, grew in terms of the number of people attending programs and becoming members.

However, that growth did not make its way to the centre of the mandala, because of the way we are structured.  So the centre of the mandala had to reduce its staff at the same time that the mandala as a whole is growing!

Waylon Lewis: So that sounds like a healthy year after all. Is the “federal” level struggling, then? If so, how can we help?

Carolyn Mandelker: Well, we will be piloting the new “unified giving model” which structures things so that there is a clear relationship between the centres and the centre of the mandala. When the centres grow, then so too will the funding to the centre of the mandala. In turn, the centre of the mandala will be strong and able to further support growth in the centres.

So each piece supports the whole.

Waylon Lewis: So centers would pay a portion of their income to the “federal” level?

Carolyn Mandelker: Yes. This model has been in place in Europe for some time, with the centres funding Shambhala Europe.

Waylon Lewis: And centers are open to this? I’m sure it’s hard for them but they value the “federal” support.

Carolyn Mandelker: There is a lot of support for this model within the community. It makes sense to people. The centre of the mandala has not had its own independent revenue source. We exist to support the centres, yet we had to fundraise from individuals to support our activity.

We already have about five centres who will begin to pilot within the next month or so. There are more who have asked to be included. So yes, I think there is a lot of support. One centre, Victoria, has already offered to increase its transfers to the centre to a 10% level, even before the full Unified Giving Model is piloted.

Waylon Lewis: This speaks to the heart of my first concern in “Shambhala in Crisis”—overwhelmed administration. I think we clearly have good, well-intentioned people with tons of talent. But we haven’t been able to pay them sufficiently. This is an aggravated problem at Naropa [University], too.

We have a surfeit of devotion and talent, but not paying folks well enough leads to burnout and turnover. Not sure if that applies to Shambhala International, but when I was (unpaid) on board of Boston Shambhala Center many years ago, as Rusung, I saw it firsthand. But then when I worked with Jeff Waltcher at Shambhala Mountain Center, we tried to pay folks well and it was a whole new ballgame, with increased accountability and professionalism.

Carolyn Mandelker: Yes, we have tremendously devoted people who are willing and inspired to work for less than market pay. Myself included! There isn’t anything I’d rather be doing, frankly.  We do work hard, but we also allow ourselves some flexibility and we’ve received a wealth of teachings and practices aimed at working with our energy.  That’s inspiring!

Waylon Lewis: On a local level in Halifax, NY, Boulder etc, there seems to be a split between “new” administration, students, curriculum, and “elder” students, elder teachers, and traditional programs. Is there a way for both to work together?

Carolyn Mandelker: Yes, there is somewhat of a split in some of the larger centres particularly. It’s unfortunate. While many senior students and newer, younger students do work together and practice together, there are some people who are clearly within one group or another–along the lines you mention. It’s interesting that this line has formed (at least in Halifax) between the teachings of Chogyam Trungpa and the new curriculum.

One of the intentions of the new curriculum, was to overcome divisions of any kind on our path–the intention was to go forward with one path, without asking people to choose Shambhala or Buddhism, Trungpa Rinpoche or Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche.  Trungpa Rinpoche’s teachings are included throughout the new curriculum.  if you look at the new Basic Goodness classes, there are many more readings from Trungpa Rinpoche’s books than from the Sakyong. The first course is based primarily on the very early teachings on the arising of the 5 skandhas. The core reading is the classic development of ego for the first three classes.

Waylon Lewis: When I was in Halifax, recently, as I mentioned I think in the first article, I went to the rather poorly attended birthday celebration of the Sakyong one day, and got to see most of his awesome recent public talk given to a packed house in San Francisco of newbies. It was a good talk, and it was great seeing him connect with the greater public, which is a part of our mission—offering the teachings and practices of sanity to all, without proselytizing.

The next night, I went to VCTR’s video of his talk at Naropa in 1975, at the Shambhala School—even more poorly attended, with zero newer students, but a number of amazing elders. I was told it was held there because there was no longer room for Trungpa’s video night at the Shambhala Center.

The split of old and new, as I said in Shambhala in Crisis, creates the worst of both worlds—a lack of continuity, a cutting of the thread of training and tradition, and learning and humor, and heart, and a separation between those with new ideas and those with rich experience.

The new curriculum, as far as I’ve heard, has exacerbated that split by replacing what little was left of the timeless, time-tested curriculum. Is there a New and Classic [see suggestion here] option—a way to have two tracks so that older students can fully appreciate the Sakyong’s innovation and newer students can access both?

Carolyn Mandelker: Waylon, I wasn’t involved in those discussions about the location of the Trungpa Rinpoche video night…I do know that we have many more activities than we can house at the Halifax Shambhala Centre, and that we have to hold some of our programs outside of the Shambhala Centre–other kinds of programs in addition to the Monday night video classes.

Waylon Lewis: The same sort of split happens here, and in NY—young and old students alike gathering separately to study more Rimé style—teachings by SMR, VCTR, other teachers. That doesn’t seem welcome at Shambhala Centers, these days?

I’m a student of the Sakyong, and a personal fan and friend, as it were. And I don’t see why we need to lose so many senior students, so much teaching and financial resources, so much wonderful rich time-tested curriculum…how can we reestablish Shambhala as a powerful center for American Buddhism, and not just a wonderful club for Shambhalians?

Carolyn Mandelker: Well, gathering to study teachings by SMR, VCTR, of course that’s welcome and frequently done! We don’t tend to organize events to study teachings by other teachers because we have a vast curriculum and body of teachings that are unique to us.

Most of the other teachers have their own groups and centres in North America nowadays, and those are the best places to study their teachings.

[some questions and answers are a bit jumbled, order-wise—we had a lot of going back and forth! ~ ed.]

Waylon Lewis: Growing up, we welcomed teachers and teaching from many traditions—Suzuki Roshi‘s portrait was on the wall at Karma Dzong, along with the Karmapa, Dilgo Khyentse, etc. Now we don’t even welcome Dzigar Kongtrul’s wife, Elizabeth, to teach at the Shambhala Center. It makes us feel insecure and small, and we’re neither.

Carolyn Mandelker: [in answer to different question] The new curriculum is a dance of both of [Trungpa Rinpoche and the Sakyong’s] teachings, and feels appropriate to this time. It’s a living tradition, and it includes both!

Waylon Lewis: It is a living tradition, of course—but it’s also a tradition of continuity, of thread.

And so many senior students have left, now, because they’re told they can no longer teach, or have to teach a certain way, that it’s become more and more difficult for me on a basic level to have confidence that when I send my public friends to the Shambhala Center for an Open House that they’ll have a good experience. I now always go with them, having found out who the teacher is first. In another five years I’ll likely have children, and I’d selfishly like to see my children be able to participate in and learn from and give back to a world that can help them train and tame their minds and hearts and be of real use to a wonderful world that’s full of suffering.

As senior teacher Michael Chender [one of many no longer empowered to teach] said in a comment or question in my blog,

“Building an “enlightened society” over the de facto muting of a large section of its pioneers is a strange idea.

[Mr. Chender’s full comment is in the comments section here]

I’ve known Adam since Boston and like him. There is however some dynamic where the Sakyong is innovating at the expense of his father’s teachings, students and legacy, when [if there could be New & Classic options both offered] they are in fact both profound, rich, amazing…and fundamentally complementary.

Carolyn Mandelker: I was speaking with Acharya Lobel yesterday. We spoke about the new curriculum and this particular question that you raise. He gave the example that the teachings that Trungpa Rinpoche gave from 1971-1974 were amazing, but that it takes work to integrate those teachings with a changing world and with the Sakyong’s up to date teachings. That’s what he has done in the new curriculum, in consultation with several acharyas [empowered senior teachers] who worked on the original curricula. To teach it, senior students would have to look at what the Sakyong is teaching right now.

I know what you mean about checking out the teachers first before taking your friends to the Shambhala Centre…I was doing that way back in the 80’s, even when the senior students were the only ones teaching!  My daughter is now 17, and she is just exploring the Shambhala Training levels and recently took the first basic goodness class. She loved it, wants to do more, and came home talking about the skandhas, how she had begun to question what she thought of as her identity…I don’t feel worried about my children not benefiting from a profoundly transformative path when they go to Shambhala…

Waylon Lewis:
Amen. Good to hear. (But disagree)

Carolyn Mandelker: Okay!

Waylon Lewis: One of hundreds of questions from the public on our various blogs and FB pages, and twitter: a fun one.

Why does Carolyn do what she does?  What makes her love working for Shambhala? I think knowing this is knowing the key to what she thinks Shambhala has to offer.

Carolyn Mandelker: Hmmmm. I love working for Shambhala because it is an extreme sport!

Waylon Lewis: So, that will be the last question for this round. Thanks for your time. If there’s a call for more questions in comments and it seems there’s much we haven’t touched upon or dug down into thoroughly enough, Carolyn might be willing to do another half hour of conversation.

Carolyn Mandelker: I love working for Shambhala because Shambhala has played an extremely transformative role in my life, and because I see that it does the same for others. I believe in its power, I love the community, and I want to see it express its power to transform the world. I’d like to spend my life doing that. I am so fortunate to feel such a sense of joy and purpose–and I am characteristically undaunted by difficulties!

Waylon Lewis: Well thank you so much for your good cheer and starting your blog and video blog. We need more communication, which is something we (ironically) didn’t have time to get into this round. With more communication comes better morale, understanding, growth, fundraising…and less gossip and complaint.

Deep bow for everything and especially for helping my mommy today [my mom works with Shambhala, and recently broke her leg].

Carolyn Mandelker: Yes, please do check out my blog–there’s a lot of communication happening there.  I bow down to you, an accomplished blogger. Although I am just beginning, I am loving it so far.

And thank you Waylon, for asking the challenging questions and for your gigantic heart and work. And a deep bow to you too.


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


Bonus: a few videos from Carolyn’s new blog:


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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.


29 Responses to “Shambhala in Crisis: my interview with Executive Director Carolyn Mandelker.”

  1. SwamiMike says:

    Great! I would like to see a second interview. I will have to give some thought to the questions I would like to see asked though. I think I'd like to know where the divisions actually are. I feel a bit of a division between the Vaj. students and non Vaj. students because we can't participate in feasts, and so on, and that can't really be helped because of the way the path is structured. Hmm. I feel like I don't know enough to contribute to the questioning in a meaningful way though.
    I think having Centres support SI is a good move. In my religion of origin individual congregations paid 'dues' to the higher bodies, know as the Presbytery, Synod and General Assembly (along with giving cash for world development and disaster relief programs). It puts a big load on the congregations though. Aside from dues to Presbytery which is set by a certain % of the congregations' dollar bases, other suggested amounts for the higher courts are given, but the congregation is free to adjust them to their particular situations. The higher courts are supposed to be there not so much as authorities and the heavies (although that happens) but to support local congregations. So, other traditions definitely do what Ms. Mandelker is talking about.
    As an aside, the Halifax Shambhala Centre actually had a weekend course taught by Elizabeth Mattis Namgyel in May.….

  2. Buddha says:

    I actually think the model – the corporate model – can't work for spiritual centers. It HAS to be different. The structure has to change – it has to be shaken up considerably. The people running Shambhala shouldn't be the ones with the shark-sense… the cut-throat… attitude if you will. It's ridiculous. Again, well done Waylon… bravo.

    • KilltheBuddha says:

      This doen't make any sense. Please do a compare and contrast of the business model of Shambhala and a coporaton of your choice, then let us know what you would do, oh silly one.

      • Buddha says:

        Why are you asking me to do it? You should do it then ask me what you think I would change. You are asking for my help – so how is that "killing" me? You are putting obstacles in your own path and then asking me if I would remove them for you. Why not consult your own inner Buddha? Get out of your own way and then I can be of help.

  3. Jonathan says:

    I'm curious about what Mrs. Mandelker thinks about what constitutes "society", as opposed to "community", and how a community that says "this is what we are and this is how we do it, and go visit another tradition if you don't jibe with this one" can make the claim to be a true society.

    I was really happy you mentioned the thing about the eclectic tradition under CTR, with Suzuki Roshi, the Karmapas, etc (and I will add Highland Scottish. Confucian tenets of society while garnering an appreciation for Wagner. ) I felt like Mrs. Mandelkar didn't really respond to that observation.

    Ultimately, I wonder whether the mandala at this point really understands traditional pluralism and its essential place modern society.

    One potentially contentious theme, which I will repeat here, is the thought that Shambhala does its best when it acts as a *host* to wisdom traditions. In acting as a container and platform for a variety of traditions, it both embodies a spirit of humbleness in the face of these traditions, and pure service. The secret trick is that if a society could really do this, then THAT is the most profound spiritual tradition of all. What is in place now however, and will be as long as "Shambhala" is used as an adjective to modify "Buddhism", is quite different. Its one that says that Shambhala is a homogenous, branded tradition in and of itself, and everyone else can go take a walk.

    Ultimately, I think if the mandala could admit that its vision is no longer that of creating an enlightened "society", and is now rather a mission of creating an enlightened spiritual community – which is also pretty good! – , that a lot of people could breathe a sign of relief and make their decisions to stay or move on with a real knowledge of the real vision of the administration.

    Phew, now that I got that out, I am curious about how that all jibes with whats on the plate. Thank you!

    • Toby-san says:

      Sakyong Mipham talks about this extensively in a 'Treatise on Society and Organization' written near ten years ago. I am not sure if posting the link to this (PDF) will work, maybe Waylon can explain how to do that, and I also cannot tell if this link is inside the member area of (my password is cookied in?) Anyway, here goes:

      I am a huge fan of the train station model of Shambhala but I have first-hand experience of the pitfalls of being a conductor in this station without a path of your own. This is my own nutshell, that we need to focus on our foundation, the Shambhala terma, so as to do this in a lasting and meaningful way.

      • Jonathan says:

        Arigato Toby-san

      • jo says:


        On second thought, having reread the Treatise, and having recalled it, I want to challenge the assumption that the views therein have been ….adopted. In principle and in form the current path is a monocrop, with not only temporal allegiance required to progress, but now also spiritual allegiance. Church andstate have been bonded, and thus what I call ‘pluralism’ is rather just an after thought to describe edge cases rather than as a real acceptance of variety, diversity and alternate spiritual traditions.

        Secondly, I am not very fond of ‘train station’ as an analogy for the kind of society that early Shambhala blueprints described. A train station is a place of busyness, pragmatism and going elsewhere. I rather prefer the analogy of a vessel that can hold many elixirs. A pure vessel makes no attempt to be its contents, nor do contents attempt to be a container.

        Furthermore I disagree that we have to know who we are before learning to truly host. The centralization of administration, of finance, of curriculum into a single silo jeopardizes Shambha’s ability to do what it was meant to do. And that is, IMO to serve purely.

        Thanks for this opportunity to speak my mind!

        • Leonid Barenblit says:

          Jo, completely agree. very eloquently expressed 🙂 'pluralism' does seem to be applied to edge cases.

          very dangerous bond in my opinion. centralization is the very opposite of freedom that we seek so "desperately" 🙂 it is also exactly how ego works. we all possess this tendency to centralize and we should watch for it, recognize it and not engage.

    • rita ashworth says:

      I second Jonathans viewpoint…..right on the dot! The journey now will be to explore enlightened society from all angles both 'political' and revolutionary….we must become more radical not less so….otherwise shambhala buddhism, buddhism etc etc etc whatever u want to call the practice of meditation in the west is going down the tubes….and even W's blogs etc etc etc wont save it…….. best from the uk rita ashworth

      • Padma Kadag says:

        Not sure that form of "enlightened society" is what Trunpa Rinpoche had in mind….after all this wording is coming from a Ter.

        • rita ashworth says:

          Hmmmmm…..deeper sense of radical/revolutionary in the sense of open space….perhaps also return to root of sakyong principle aka 'earth-protector'….. earth as being foundation for everything, bacteria, food, etc etc…also man in some cultures….however even in conventional terms radical/revolutionary now used in sense of creating rather than removing re Occupy/recent philosophies aka Michael Hardt….seems two aspects of radical/revolutionary are somewhat combining with 'spiritual' domain….so enlightened society would have to be open, diffuse, radical in extremis…. well best rita UK

  4. Dana Fabbro says:

    'He (Adam Loebel) gave the example that the teachings that Trungpa Rinpoche gave from 1971-1974 were amazing, but that it takes work to integrate those teachings with a changing world and with the Sakyong’s up to date teachings'.

    Is the suggestion that VCTR's teachings are now 'out of date', compared to SMR's teachings? I'd be curious to hear a further exploration on this.

    • Dana's buddy says:

      Its not the dharma that gets out of date, but how its taught. I wasn't there in '74 but I think the minds and speech (no need to mention body) of those early students was very different from today's. I wouldn't be so sure that were Trungpa Rinpoche to arrive today he would act and teach in the same way he did then.

      • Dana Fabbro says:

        'Its not the dharma that gets out of date'. I could not agree more. And, enlightened teachers always have and always will, find a way to offer dharma in a way that benefits. Were Trungpa Rinpoche here today, I don't know how he'd act. But I trust his thoughtful capacity to teach in a way which served human need, would find a way.

        • mila ridout says:

          thank you Dana, can not agree more.

          re Adam Loebel: feels like a lot of assumptions, no? are we in a position even to speculate what CTR would have done or not?!
          But, meantime, we do have this wealth of his precious teachings and the new generation is not even aware of and may never have access to it. that is heartbreaking..

  5. T. Quigley says:

    Hello from NYC Waylon!
    I wanted you and others to know that at the New York Shambhala Center we've been hosting visiting teachers recently including Elizabeth Mattis Namgyel (referred to as Dzigar Kongtrul’s wife, Elizabeth in your interview).
    With the intention of offering some perpective…I have recently attended teachers training and taught classes in the new curriculum (Way of Shambhla: Meditation, Contentment, Joy, Fearlessness, and Wisdom in Everyday Life) Having done so, I don't see what is currently being taught as divergent in anyway from the teachings of VCTR (from any time period)! As a matter of fact, the reading lists that accompany each class are full of Trungpa Rinpoche's teachings, as are the recommended readings for the teachers. I could send you or anyone the reading list for all of the classes. It is full of what a lot of people would consider very traditional Buddhist teachings: The Four Noble Truths, obsticles and antidotes, The Three Types of Suffering, Maitri, Boddhicitta and so on. These are interwoven with teachings on the Four Dignities as introduced by the Vidyadhara himself. What I see happening in our community currently (at least in NYC, Sky Lake Lodge, Halifax, and KCL- I can only comment on what I have seen personally…) is an energized deepening and understanding of VTCR's teaching/terma, and how to manifest it in society. In NYC, I routinely practice along side both new students, pioneers and those in between. I would say on the whole, I feel quite inspired and heartened.
    I understand that some people may feel disheartened, disenfranchised or a sense of division. I feel that if we stay close to our hearts and move forward with tremendous kindness, discernment and vision, we can heal any existing wounds and work together. It is important when there is feeling that something is wrong with a situation, or that it is crisis; for people to go further, with more vigor, thoroughness, curiosity and prajna. This includes looking deeply at one's own practice and habitual patterns.
    In 1996 at the Vajradhatu Seminary, His Holliness Penor Rinpoche (the supreme head of the Nyingmapa lineage at the time) said that you should see the mind of the Vidyadhara and Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche as inseparable. That has always been my experience, maybe I'm just crazy!
    Love, Timothy

    • mila ridout says:

      Dear Timothy,

      Could you invite Rinpoches, like Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche or Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche?

      People are questioning the whole situation, what is happening, why even division is happening. Buddha emphasized to his students: question everything, question tradition, question the teaching, teachers, question even me.

      But, saying that, people should simply push through their questioning process "with more vigor, thoroughness, curiosity and prajna. This includes looking deeply at one's own practice and habitual patterns." goes against all dharmic principles and simply does not work, just like pushing through ego without taking it apart and questioning its activity will not bear enlightenment. Enlightenment, by its definition, means knowing, uncovering everything with the light of knowledge – no matter which path is taken — Buddhist or Shambhala or any path for that matter.

      You also say, "work together", however, to work together there should be some sort of an agreement and acknowledgement of what other people want. There is no such process now — one way is just pushed on everyone. There is no conversation or openness to the conversation.


  6. Connie Moffit says:

    Excellent interview with Carolyn; thank you, Waylon. Honestly, I wish you had included this kind of research and balance in your original article. As an accredited PR professional and long-time successful fundraiser, I know that publishing a story at the "rumor" level, as you did, can be very harmful – there's a truism among P.R. professionals that "perception is reality" (one that Buddhist view would tend to support). I have seen your original message – "Shambhala in crisis" – picked up in other forums and sources, and so a perception has gained strength that is not true (though it contains elements of truth). For instance, Shambhala growing by 10% is important; a sign of strength that contradicts your point. Whereas fundraising difficulty in a tough economy is not particularly news; it's happening all across the non-profit sector, for a variety of reasons. Your article overlooks the more basic truth of that general situation and assigns a reason for the fundraising difficulty that may be true in part, but is definitely not the whole story about what’s happening in Shambhala.

    The kind of negative perception you put forward in "Shambhala in Crisis" can gain strength and undermine positive effort – for example, when philanthropy dollars are tight, experience shows that individuals and foundations tend to give to places where they are sure that their dollars will not be wasted in supporting an organization that may not "make it through." So your article, with its trumped-up crisis – containing elements of truth, but not true in the strictest sense of the word – actually may well increase the difficulty of solving Shambhala's problems and undermine the positive energy of its members to do so.

    I have spent a long time considering whether or not to post this comment. So many people are thanking you for the original article; but from my professional experience, I think the situation is more complex. You are a beloved member of the sangha and have created a publication of real value in Elephant Journal. I have no doubt of your excellent intentions, your generous spirit and your great abilities. Still, I feel that your original article did not live up to high journalistic standards – meaning standards of "right speech" – and I hope that next time there's a story of this importance you will investigate more thoroughly before you post and give a more balanced view.

    One final comment: I think our sangha (and most of us tossed about in this powerful new world of e-communication and social media) need to think and learn more about the consequences of things said on-line. Often we speak in these forums as we would in more private community meetings (situations where we’re not “proclaiming” but rather figuring things out together) without considering the actual effects of our words in pragmatic terms. Right speech is a big topic – it probably takes enlightenment to really achieve it in the widest sense. Endeavoring to speak beyond ego and mere opinion in on-line communications forums is profoundly challenging given our society's attachment to voicing our opinions whether well-founded or not (remember the mark of a dharmic person, "having fewer opinions"?). It is second nature for us to speak up impulsively; I, for one, was actually taught in school and college that participation trumps quiet consideration.

    For help meeting this on-going communications and practice challenge, we might do well to turn to the Shambhala dignities we hold so dear: meek, perky, outrageous, and – last but not least – inscrutable.

    Thank you for the opportunity to post this comment and for creating Elephant Journal. Jolly good luck to us all!


    • Padma Kadag says:

      What Connie says is very important for any non-profit to take to heart. Always put a positive foot forward. Ultimately this is the Sakyong's responsibility. What the Sakyong has for a vision for Shambhala that wil prevail. Even if that means financial struggles. The vision and "success" is not the responsibility of an Executive Director unless they are at odds with the Sakyong. The Sakyong should call the shots. I have no interest in Shambhala other than respect to Trungpa Rinpoche. But running dharma as a business is dangerous and the Lama must be in charge and engaged in the course to take. The lama cannot stay above the fray unless of course they have the ability to rectify issues from that vantage.

  7. Joe says:

    For many years, when people expressed interest in Kagyu dharma, I told them that Shambhala / Vajradhatu's presentation was unparalleled. Amazing. The texts, the translations, and the manuals put out by the Vajravairochana Translation Committee are the jewel in the Kagyu crown. The people who practiced and stuck with these amazing teachings (Vajrayogini, Chakrasamvara, the Six Dharmas, Vajrakilaya) were trusted enough by great teachers such as Tenga Rinpoche and Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche that they would give teachings they wouldn't even give their own students. Such a pity that the door to these practices has been shut. Why not open these teachings to those who are willing to do a full ngondro (a requirement of Trungpa Rinpoche's that, as years go by, seems more and more essential)?

  8. Leonid Barenblit says:

    First, to Waylon, again, thank you for continuing to explore this topic, it gives a voice to the "disenfranchised" and "disheartened" losers 🙂

    There seems to be a concern about the "disenfranchised" and the "disheartened". I think the concern should be for the newer students. The "disheartened" have gained a lot of ground in Dharmic teachings, practices and to various degrees learned how to question their assumptions (aka ego) — which all Dharmic teaching come down to — questioning assumptions and seeking the truth. The fact that they're questioning the recent shifts in Shambhala is a major indication to me of their "experience".

    Yes, it still does hurt to move on, but it was always about the teachings, about one's own path, sooner or later we have to be on our own to realize one's internal confidence — death is in every moment.

    Once these people leave to study with other teachers (or in fact this is already happening and may have happened), this "questioning" experience will be gone from Shambhala, which will obviously weaken the actual, grounded strength of the community. The enthusiastic and somewhat "religious", naive, "blind" or "inexperienced" energy could be a serious obstacle to the path (from my own experience). The obstacle that can prevent one from truly acknowledging and working with one's assumptions (ego). In the end, it could really destroy the whole community because not questioning always leads to corruption and corruption to destruction and suffering. We can see what happened to Tibet and this was no accident. Studying vajrayana teachings (which includes Shambhala teachings) is a tremendous responsibility, effects of corruption are enormous in their magnitude.

    So, this is my warning and my concern 🙂

  9. Ross Hunter says:

    Waylon, I'd like to see you pursue this more, please and thank you 🙂

    I'd like to see more about the elders leaving the mandala. This seems less documented and feels very sad to me. Can you document more? Can we find ways to bring them back and share hearts with them again?

    I do feel very answered now on the financial picture especially with Carolyn's blog (which is wonderful).

    And I personally have found that CTR's teachings have never been more alive or better presented than today with the new curriculum – actually I've been astonished at the scale (and message) of his work that I never fully appreciated until the reading lists of the new programs opened the way for me.

    Thank you again 🙂

  10. Black Beauty says:

    Despite my love and gratitude, I can't think of another educational organization that would think financial sustainability is even a reasonable goal when it re-writes its mission statement and implements a modified curriculum every other year. Ironically, the human costs of these changes (elders leaving, center admins and teachers having to get up to speed) seem, to me, largely under-recognized as real costs.

  11. Susie Vincent says:

    Thank you Waylon for creating this bridge, and yes, I do feel there are more questions for Carolyn. This is an interesting thread with its diverse personalities and positions. Applause to Rita Ashworth – in your inimitable style, you cut through to the visionary core. And actually if we don’t do this, then I think we betray something of a sacred trust.

    We are in a situation of immense privilege: one mahasiddha gave his life and massive heart that we might have the tools to manifest enlightened society, at exactly the point when the reality of this Dark Age dawned – whose impact rolls on unabated. The vision is articulated throughout VCTR’s teachings, and in the hearts and minds of those students who succumbed to the laser-like process of uncompromising dis-illusionment he imparted to them during his lifetime. He intended that they ready themselves to face this world with sacred outlook, because basic goodness – the only truly dharmic view – is the only antidote to the insanity of a world hellbent on its own destruction. And that’s why there is an imperative.

    It must be said that the process by which the Sakyong was pronounced as Head Guru was astonishingly poor. Already torn up by the Vajra Regent hurricane, suddenly the sangha needed to embrace this nervous boy, last seen hanging out drinking with Gesar, as the pristine vehicle of the Vajrayana. I worked for 20+ years in change management, and I’ve never seen a project done more ineptly or less transparently than this one. Also, from the New Zealand perspective, it is not appropriate simply to decide that the petty insistence of the indigenous population on devotion to different gods is just a matter of their ‘getting over it’. I’ve no doubt there are very good teachers sitting outside the gate, many of whom need to be invited back. An interesting Elephant in the room – a society that turfs out the elders to make way for more youthful guests? I feel Carolyn needed to be more responsive here, rather than implying that this to some element she isn’t party to.

    But despite the carnage strewn by the path, the young Sakyong did actually get it about enlightened society. The publicity around this could do with some elevating, the Rozencrantz and Guildenstern obsequiousness of some courtiers really needs a bit of taming, and a few more free downloads could be encouraged, but actually, he has got it.

    He has also brought ‘it’ out from behind even more veils than the Vidyadhara did, and is conveying it with radical inclusiveness – to students who work for insurance companies, do Facebook and go running, students who have read Deepak Chopra, plus all of those who have an unreasonable view that an enlightened society must be created, and who would be willing to dedicate quite a lot to making that happen. I believe there are millions who would connect to this view. And the framework of the enlightened society vision is all set up – through the court principles, the Kalapa principles, enlightened society works. The vision still needs fleshing out – the details of this work-in-progress need to be coloured in. If Victory over War is our radical approach to law and order, then the other elements of society must be equally radical – radical kindness, radical respect, radical discipline, radical love – no garden varieties, no PC substitutes or nostalgia for boarding school.

    Radical money is no exception – much more is needed here than simply a ‘franchisee percentage’ being streamed to the hub by the spokes. I see nothing radical in the money-mentality in Shambhala – nothing about understanding the flow of money, avoiding poverty mentality, graspingness, embarrassment or pettiness, or understanding the drala of money or the reciprocity of money or generosity. Maybe to get more enlightened with money, we need to get more enlightened around sex (see VCTR Shambhala Books, 2011). As I said, it’s a work in progress . . .

    Thanks to Timothy, Mila and Leonid for your valuable insights. It is not about dumbed down: on the contrary, prajna and brilliant insight are essential and tyres need kicking everywhere. BTW: I have the latest guideliness and I’m not aware of any barrier to inviting a visiting teacher of Nyingma or Kagyu lineages. The guidelines seem to focus mainly on the hospitality protocols that need to be observed. Given that we’re currently teaching Taoism through Eva Wong, various kinds of mindbody integration and deep listening skills that I’ve never seen taught anywhere in Buddhism, then I encourage Centres to invite everyone you can – just do it properly. And in fact, let’s encourage a few more eco-shamans – proliferate a bit more awareness of our true ground. If this Shambhala thing is the bandwagon for enlightened society to flourish, then let us welcome the best minds in the world to cooperate. So long as they all practice, we should be fine.

    • rita ashworth says:

      yes we will have to get very radical…the no religion category in the Brit census has gone up from 15% to 25%-people also seem to be fleeing religious traditions everywhere too around the world as recently reported in the Huffington Post….for myself now I cant see how the 'old' traditions of Tibet or even the 'new' SB forms can stem this disillusionment with 'Authority'….even saw a call in the paper today for people wanting a totally new political party -see the Independent on this on the web….we are in interesting times….and the only people who I have seen out there who are addressing this is the Occupy movement with their democratic forums and assemblies. Indeed as a Buddhist grouping went on a march with Occupy to protest the cuts here… for SI and all the other orgs stemming from CTRs teachings still feel they are not addressing a desire for change out there and calls for democracy and open and diverse methods for realising enlightened society…perhaps people outside of orgs will have to evolve their own 'theories/ etc etc about ES as time goes on…..well best rita

  12. Martin Fritter says:

    Finally got to this. Much was left unclarified – specifically in terms of the financial issues and Wyalon's incendiary and blatantly irresponsible and unattributed assertion that SI is "hemorrhaging money." Carolyn's response was "yes and no." Not an answer. So the whole point of the interview, the journalistic lede, was buried and ignored. There is, apparently, no crisis, just cranky old people who feel ignored.

    There appears to be tacit agreement that what SMR is teaching is different in some way that what CTR taught and that the "new curriculum" is designed to integrate these teachings. If there are differences, what are they? And why? The world today is really quite different than it was in the '70s and 80s, so the approach to presenting the teachings could be different as well: same wine, different bottle, so to speak. Or there could be an actual evolution in the teachings, something new being presented. Or it perhaps it is felt that CTR made certain compromises in order to communicate with people of my time and place. Worthy of discussion, but ignored.

    Also, I am very out of the mainstream, so some background on who Carolyn is, what her job at SI is, what her relationship with Richard Reoch is, to whom she reports and so on, would be very helpful.

  13. SkipBon says:

    FYI: Chogyam Trungpa's most well-known terma, The Sadhana of Mahamudra, is to be practiced each full and new moon at Shambhala Centers. This year the Boulder Shambhala Center's liturgical calendar quietly replaced all the full moon dates with the new Shambhala Sadhana, relegating group practice of the Sadhana of Mahamudra to new moons only. It's just a matter of time before the Sadhana of Mahamudra is removed entirely from the Shambhala liturgical candle. Erasure of the Dharmadhatu path 90% complete.

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