I don’t know–it’s good it came out, we just have to deal with it responsibly.
Here’s a little something I wrote about a funeral (are they still called sukhavatis?) that I went to at the Boulder Shambhala Center for a fellow dear Dharma Brat sister who had cancer. I wrote this in to Dharma Brats on Facebook, and my dad suggested I share it here.
She was a wonderful big sister, a bosslady, a troublemaker–so cool, so confident, so badass—and so kind—in my days as a silly insecure kid at Karme Choling.
A few of us (and many others) were at Mila’s funeral in the main shrine room at the Boulder Shambhala Center last night.
The place felt perhaps surprisingly cheerful. Mila asked that the ceremony be brilliant, fun, with dancing. It was my 44th birthday, so I only stayed for an hour-and-a-half for the Sadhana and some stories about Mila, so Sol or Graham could tell more.
But the pictures of the Sakyong and Trungpa Rinpoche were up. It felt good to contemplate them in the context of all that has happened, and is happening. The instinct to hide things we disapprove of is a sign of theism. They were never perfect. We don’t put them on pedestals, only to tear them down. I also understand that taking down a photo is important for survivors. I get both. I do think, in terms of being African-American and seeing statues of Confederate heroes, that leaving up signs of a tarred legacy—with historical plaques describing slavery, war, history—is powerful stuff. As the library at the University of Colorado Boulder says, “he who forgets history remains forever a child.” Not in a good way.
I also realized that Shambhala might be okay, though different, in the dust that settles through all this. We will want a place to gather, and practice, and that’s irrespective of any teacher. We could also reconnect with other sanghas—under Trungpa Rinpoche we used to be Rime, welcoming of all smaller sanghas and teachers, which made us big in a warm way, like Madison Square Garden. Then we moved to be more one community, Shambhala, separate, which is a decision I understood–but it was less fun. A little like our President pushing away our allies, Canada, NATO. We can reconnect. We’ll need friends, now.
The main thing was sitting there with Mila in open casket, in that room where so many weddings and funerals and ceremonies and breaths have occurred..surrounded by community, Mila’s family, remembering her heart, her kindness to me when I was a nerdy awkward fun silly kid. Where others were sometimes mean or too cool or fake with me, she was always fun and sweet and strong and so, so grounded. No bullshit.
When Trungpa Rinpoche died, many of his students, many of our parents, said, it’s up to us now to be the leaders. I think that time is here again.
And for the many of you who feel less connected, if you choose to lead in any way that you like that is a gift. We need waking up.
Thanks to everyone for writing–reading your words feels like a group puja/party/reunion already.
I wrote some pretty and mostly useless stuff here. It’s all outdated by at least a week, or two, now.
Shambhala will be healthier for this sunshine and sadness will show us the way forward. We are not about theism, but we have been.
Sadness (and, then, a possibility for genuine joy) is right below the anger, and everything else. Our tender hearts will illuminate the way forward, together, whatever that looks like.
Repeat after me: theism is a problem for those who worship, and those who are worshipped.
Wherever this goes, we need to remember and relearn two lessons.
We are not a theistic community. But theism is in our human nature: we love to brownnose and worship and belong. And then, we love to be horrified that what we have built up as perfect and set on a pedestal is not perfect. Theism is manifest in some of the anger online, now—theism is worship, and theism is hate. Non-theism is in listening, respect for one’s own dignity, and respect for facts. Buddhism is non-theistic, and yet Buddhists are all too often theistic. I have written on that many times. Trungpa Rinpoche, and the Sakyong, taught me and others to be non-theistic.
The power structure of the court and king and queen and processions and attendants was not about worship, or not supposed to be. It was supposed to be about natural hierarchy, and respect for self. I loved those forms of dignity, that taught me how to tame my wild, degraded self. These forms were manifest in how we applied a stamp to an envelope, or walked with head and shoulders, or took our shoes off before rushing into a room, or bowed with open eyes and respect not deference, or refused to put our feet on a table, or point our feet to a shrine, or declined to step over our yumi. These forms were about love, not worship.
If any of these forms had become corrupted, burn the corruption, purify it, breathe it in—but do not throw out the baby of upliftedness with the bathwater of theism.
Theism is 1) tyranny of high power and 2) tyranny of mob rule. So we may want to find a middle way vehicle for community empowerment that doesn’t just replace the problem of power on high with populism.
Secondly, we are not a theistic community. Sure, maybe Shambhala is a cult. A cult is just a mean word for an overly-worshipful small spiritual community brought together by inspiring teachings that make sense of suffering and goodness. Guilty as charged. We are a fucked up and wonderful human community of wonderful fuck ups. Just like any other community. The problem, as Cary Grant says to Deborah Kerr in Affair to remember, is people. Welcome to samsara.
Those who would abuse children or those less powerful—they need to be held to account through facts and process—not hateful Facebook comments or social media mob rule—and enter restorative justice, therapy, and make amends to any extent possible and appropriate. We do not throw people away—there is no “away.” Those who were victimized need to know that they/we are powerful (this is the blessing of #metoo, that power can no long suppress truth), and are not inherently victims, and are still full of basic goodness, and that they/we will be listened to and respected, not suppressed by old boy’s clubbiness.
Shambhala may be fucked up, but the example of the teacher (good and bad), teachings, and community are still powerful teachers for us. The teachings, particularly, are brilliant and real and precious, and must please be protected for future generations—now more than ever, we meditate, we practice tonglen, we work and play to create a more enlightened society.
Now more than ever. We never give up.
May we not let this vital and belated fact-finding become a new form of aggression we enjoy—but just make transparent what was unhealthy and hidden and then work to right and heal ?
An olllld article on Elephant, still appreciate it: Sleazy Spiritualists.
Good article about #metoo and Shambhala: Confessions of a Dharma Sex Kitten.