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Shambhala Training is a secular approach to meditation developed by Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa and his students. It is based on what Trungpa calls Shambhala Vision, which sees enlightened society as not purely mythical, but as realizable by people of all faiths through practices of mindfulness/awareness, non-aggression, and sacred outlook. He writes:
I am honoured and grateful that in the past I have been able to present the wisdom and dignity of human life within the context of the religious teachings of Buddhism. Now it gives me tremendous joy to present the principles of Shambhala warriorship and to show how we can conduct our lives as warriors with fearlessness and rejoicing, without destroying one another... I have been presenting a series of "Shambhala teachings" that use the image of the Shambhala kingdom to represent the ideal of secular enlightenment, that is, the possibility of uplifting our personal existence and that of others without the help of any religious outlook. For although the Shambhala tradition is founded on the sanity and gentleness of the Buddhist tradition, at the same time it has its own independent basis, which is directly cultivating who and what we are as human beings.
The Shambhala Training teachings cover art, society, and politics and the goal of creating an enlightened society. That goal is presented as not solely a social and political process, but one requiring individuals to develop an awareness of the basic goodness and inherent dignity of themselves, of others, and of the everyday details of the world around them. This is facilitated by cultivating gentleness and bravery.
Shambhala Training is currently administered worldwide by Shambhala International. The Satdharma community, established by Trungpa's appointed regent and Dharma heir Ösel Tendzin (Thomas Rich), offers a comparable "Shambhala Education" course of training in Ojai, California.
Though Shambhala Training is a personal, ongoing practice of meditation and engaged activities, the Shambhala Training curriculum is presented in a series of progressive weekend programs, and then a longer retreat. "The Heart of Warriorship" curriculum consist of five weekend programs with each weekend followed by a corresponding 'Everyday Life' class. The latter seven weekends are called "The Sacred Path," as follows:
The Heart of Warriorship
- Level I: The Art of Being Human
- Meditation in Everyday Life
- Level II: Birth of the Warrior
- Contentment in Everyday Life
- Level III: Warrior in the World
- Joy in Everyday Life
- Level IV: Awakened Heart
- Fearlessness in Everyday Life
- Level V: Open Sky
- Wisdom in Everyday Life
The Sacred Path
- Great Eastern Sun
- Outrageous and Inscrutable
- Golden Key
The Warrior Assembly is a residential program of slightly less than two weeks duration
These weekends are intended to be completed in order, though Windhorse and Drala are sometimes exchanged in the sequence. Students may then continue onto an intensive nine- to fourteen-day-long residential retreat called Warriors Assembly. Practices and root texts are made available as students complete the prerequisite study and practice stages. However, it is claimed by Shambhala adherents that much of their content is found in the book Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior and others.
The basic meditation technique initially presented in Shambhala Training includes sitting with legs loosely crossed, taking good posture, leaving the eyes slightly open, and focusing attention on the out-breath. A feeling of dissolving accompanies the out-breath but no specific attention is prescribed during the in-breath. The hands are placed face down on the thighs. Thoughts may be labeled neutrally as "thinking" before attention is returned to the out breath. Variations on the technique are taught during the first five "Heart of Warriorship" weekends. Meditation is described in Shambala as "a natural state of the human mind—at rest, open, alert."
Key practices and Concepts
Shambhala Training contains teachings relating to personal, household, and societal situations. One central teaching is on natural hierarchy. At first glance this appears to suggest that hierarchy is inherent to human societies and therefore oppression and subjugation are inevitable. But conventional social hierarchies or privilege based on class, gender, race, etc. would be considered unnatural hierarchies. Instead the Shambhala Training notion of natural hierarchy is akin to an arranged mandala where people are connected, interdependent, and communicate in natural ways. The Chinese triune notion of Heaven, Earth and Man is considered the prototypical pattern of natural hierarchy. Natural hierarchy recognizes that some people are better than others at things and communities benefit from a natural arrangement. However, these arrangements of people are fluid and resistance to change creates unnatural hierarchy.
Some key concepts presented include:
- basic goodness - our essential nature is good, workable, and worthwhile. This is sometimes contrasted with the idea of original sin, although it is arguable that both notions include the concept of a primordial purity that is stained or covered over.
- cocoon - conceptualization can become armor that cuts us off from the vividness of the world around us, and we are better to discard that armor.
- Wind Horse (Tib. lungta) - akin to Qi or life force, practitioners cultivate windhorse through a variety of practices and disciplines.
- drala - akin to kami or spirit conventionally, this also refers to the use of direct sense perceptions to overcome conceptual mental fixation.
- the four dignities - Meek Tiger, Perky Lion, Outrageous Garuda and Inscrutable Dragon
- heaven, earth, and man - the role of humanity (man) is to connect the ground of the situation (earth) with the vision of possibility (heaven), so to rule oneself or society is to join heaven, earth, and man.
During the Sacred Path weekends and Warriors Assembly, students study Shambhala texts composed by Chögyam Trungpa, as well as practices such as that of the stroke of ashé. The stroke of ashé was first produced on the night of October 25, 1976, while Trungpa was leading a three-month seminary in Land O' Lakes, Wisconsin. It was followed by subsequent texts, some of which were considered to be terma, which were received over the next few years.
Chogyam Trungpa wrote a number of Shambhala texts throughout his life, and also received a number of them as terma. Long-time students and members of his Nalanda Translation Committee elaborated on his reception of terma in a 2006 newsletter:
At the first Kalapa Assembly in the fall of 1978, during one of our translation sessions with the Vidyadhara, Larry Mermelstein engaged him in an interesting discussion about the nature of the Shambhala texts he was presenting to us. When asked whether they were terma (“treasure teachings” hidden long ago to be discovered at an appropriate time in the future), he replied, “Yes, sort of.” When we asked whether we should include the terma mark to indicate terma in our translations, his response was, “Not yet; maybe later.” In fact, this did not come to pass until after his death, when Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche instructed us to include this in our future publications of these texts, and he confirmed with no hesitation that they were indeed authentic terma. When we asked the Vidyadhara whether these texts originated with Padmakara, the source of the vast majority of treasure teachings, at that time we didn’t know that other teachers also hid dharma as termas. So when Rinpoche replied that these texts were more likely from Gesar, we were understandably puzzled. But after a long pause Rinpoche added, “And of course Gesar was an emanation of Padmakara, so that should take care of things for you!” When we asked about what meaning Gesar had in terms of the Shambhala teachings, Rinpoche exclaimed: “Gesar is the vanguard of Shambhala.” (...in other contexts, the Vidyadhara indicated that the Shambhala terma had originated with the Rigden kings, Shiwa Ökar, or Gesar of Ling.)
A list of Shambhala texts follows:
Written in Tibet
- The Epic of Lha
Written and lost as Trungpa fled the Communist invasion of Tibet in 1959, the first two chapters were subsequently reconstructed in the west. It was "a spiritual account of the history of Shambhala."
- The Ocean of the Play of Buddha Activity: A Daily Supplication to the Warrior Gesar, the Great Being Döndrup, King of Werma, Tamer of Enemies
Written in July or August 1958 at Yak Monastery in eastern Tibet, at the request of Namkha Drimed Rinpoche.
Written or received in the West
- Golden Sun of the Great East
Received as terma on October 27 or 28, 1976. The Auto-Commentary to the text was dictated over the following few days.
- Letter of the Black Ashe
Received as terma on January 15, 1978.
- Letter of the Golden Key that Fulfills Desire
Received as terma on October 5, 1978.
- The Rigden Abhiṣheka
Composed on February 9, 1979.
- Scorpion Seal of the Golden Sun
Received during the 1980 Seminary in Europe. A long and a short version exist.
- The Roar of the Werma: The Sādhana of the Warrior
Adapted by Chogyam Trungpa from the Scorpion Seal of the Golden Sun in May 1980 in Patzcuaro, Mexico.
Published lectures and commentaries
- Shambhala: Sacred Path of the Warrior
Published in 1984, based on lectures and written material by Chogyam Trungpa, reviewed and edited by a number of students and other individuals including Ken Wilber, and finalized by Carolyn Rose Gimian.
- Great Eastern Sun: The Wisdom of Shambhala
Published posthumously in 1999, based primarily on lectures Trungpa delivered as part of the Level 5 of the Heart of Warriorship Shambhala Training program, and edited by Carolyn Rose Gimian.
In Tibet, a distinction was made between Buddhism (Lha-cho, wylie: lha chos, literally "religion of the gods") and folk religion (Mi-cho, wylie: mi chos, literally "religion of humans"). Windhorse (wylie: rlung ta) was predominately a feature of the folk culture, a "mundane notion of the layman rather than a Buddhist religious ideal," as Tibetan scholar Samten G. Karmay explains. However, while "the original concept of rlung ta bears no relation to Buddhism," over the centuries it became more common for Buddhist elements to be incorporated. Windhorse has several meanings in the Tibetan context.
As Karmay notes, "the word [windhorse] is still and often mistakenly taken to mean only the actual flag planted on the roof of a house or on a high place near a village. In fact, it is a symbol of the idea of well-being or good fortune. This idea is clear in such expressions as rlung rta dar ba, the 'increase of the windhorse,' when things go well with someone; rlung rta rgud pa, the 'decline of windhorse,' when the opposite happens. The colloquial equivalent for this is lam ’gro, which also means luck."
In his 1998 study The Arrow and the Spindle, Karmay traces several antecedents for the windhorse tradition in Tibet. First, he notes that there has long been confusion over the spelling because the sound produced by the word can be spelt either klung rta (river horse) or rlung rta (wind horse)--the first letter is silent in both cases. In the early twentieth century the great scholar Ju Mipham felt compelled to clarify that in his view rlung rta was preferable to klung rta, indicating that some degree of ambiguity must have persisted at least up to his time. Karmay suggests that "river horse" (klung rta) was actually the original concept, as found in the Tibetan nag rtsis system of astrology imported from China. The nag rtsis system has four basic elements: srog (vital force), lu (wylie: lus, body), wangtang (wylie: dbang thang, "field of power"), and lungta (wylie: klung rta, river horse). Karmey suggests that klung rta in turn derives from the Chinese idea of the lung ma, "dragon horse," because in Chinese mythology dragons often arise out of rivers (although druk is the Tibetan for dragon, in some cases they would render the Chinese lung phonetically). Thus, in his proposed etymology the Chinese lung ma became klung rta which in turn became rlung rta. Samtay further reasons that the drift in understanding from "river horse" to "wind horse" would have been reinforced by associations in Tibet of the "ideal horse" (rta chogs) with swiftness and wind.
The Four Dignities, Drala and the Lhasang ritual
On prayer flags and paper prints, windhorses usually appear in the company of the four animals of the cardinal directions, which are "an integral part of the rlung ta composition": garuda or kyung, and dragon in the upper corners, and tiger and snow lion in the lower corners. In this context, the wind horse is typically shown without wings, but carries the Three Jewels, or the wish fulfilling jewel. Its appearance is supposed to bring peace, wealth, and harmony. The ritual invocation of the wind horse usually happens in the morning and during the growing moon. The flags themselves are commonly known as windhorse. They flutter in the wind, and carry the prayers to heaven like the horse flying in the wind.
The garuda and the dragon have their origin in Indian and Chinese mythology, respectively. However, regarding the origin of the animals as a tetrad, "neither written nor oral explanations exist anywhere" with the exception of a thirteenth-century manuscript called "The Appearance of the Little Black-Headed Man" (dBu nag mi'u dra chag), and in that case a yak is substituted for the snow lion, which had not yet emerged as the national symbol of Tibet. In the text, a nyen (wylie: gNyan, mountain spirit) kills his son-in-law, Khri-to, who is the primeval human man, in a misguided attempt to avenge his daughter. The nyen then is made to see his mistake by a mediator and compensates Khri-to's six sons with the gift of the tiger, yak, garuda, dragon, goat, and dog. The first four brothers then launch an exhibition to kill robbers who were also involved with their mother's death, and each of their four animals then becomes a personal drala (wylie: dgra bla, "protective warrior spirit") to one of the four brothers. The brothers who received the goat and dog choose not to participate, and their animals therefore do not become drala. Each of the brothers represents one of the six primitive Tibetan clans (bod mi'u gdung drug), with which their respective animals also become associated.
The four animals (with the snow lion replacing the yak) also recur frequently in the Gesar epic, and sometimes Gesar and his horse are depicted with the dignities in place of the windhorse. In this context the snow lion, garuda and dragon represent the Ling (wylie: Gling) community from which Gesar comes, while the tiger represents the family of the Tagrong (wylie: sTag rong), Gesar's paternal uncle.
The windhorse ceremonies are usually conducted in conjunction with the lhasang (wylie: lha bsang, literally "smoke offering to the gods") ritual, in which juniper branches are burned to create thick and fragrant smoke. This is believed to increase the strength in the supplicator of the four nag rtsis elements mentioned above. Often the ritual is called the risang lungta, (wylie: ri bsang rlung ta), the "fumigation offering and (the throwing into the wind or planting) of the rlung ta high in the mountains." The ritual is traditionally "primarily a secular ritual" and "requires no presence of any special officiant whether public or private." The layperson entreats a mountain deity to "increase his fortune like the galloping of a horse and expand his prosperity like the boiling over of milk (rlung ta ta rgyug/ kha rje 'o ma 'phyur 'phyur/).
Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche elaborates on the traditional understanding and etymology of drala:
In many ancient Bön texts the name 'Drala' is spelt sgra bla, which literally means 'la of sound', where la (soul or vitality) stands for a type of individual energy that is also endowed with a protective function. In more recent texts, notably those of the Buddhist tradition, we find the spelling dgra lha, 'deity of the enemy', a term which has been interpreted to mean a warrior deity whose task is to fight one's enemies. [...] Other authors, interpreting the term in the sense of 'deity that conquers the enemy's la' have instead spelt it dgra bla, 'enemy's la'.
[...] The spelling sgra bla ('la of sound') found in the ancient texts as a matter of fact is based on a very deep principle characteristic of the most authentic Bön tradition. Sound, albeit not visible, can be perceived through the sense of hearing and used as a means of communication, and is in fact linked to the cha (the individual's positive force, the base of prosperity), wang tang (ascendancy-capacity), and all the other aspects of a person's energy, aspects that are directly related with the protective deities and entities that every person has from birth. Moreover, sound is considered the foremost connection between the individual himself and his la. From all this we can easily understand the deep meaning of the word sgra bla.
The Syncretism of Rime and Jamgon Ju Mipham Gyatso
The nineteenth century lamas of the Rime movement, particularly the great scholar Ju Mipham, began to "create a systematic interweaving of native shamanism, oral epic, and Buddhist tantra, alchemical Taoism, Dzogchen, and the strange, vast Kalachakra tantra," and the folk traditions were increasingly given Buddhist connotations and used in Buddhist contexts. Mipham's edition of the Epic of Gesar, which Robin Kornman, a Tibetan Buddhist scholar and student of Chogyam Trungpa, saw as the cornerstone of Trungpa's Shambhala teachings, "was a hybrid of Buddhist and local idea. He made sure it would be read this manner by writing a parallel set of Gesar chants that mix religions in the same way." As Kornman writes, one such typical chant is "a careful combination of Buddhism according to the Nyingma sect with local religion." According to Kornman, "In the Na volume of Mipham's collected works one finds numerous very short supplications to Gesar ...Trungpa Rinpoche lifted the above supplications from Mipham's Gesar cycle and gave them to his advanced students to chant."
Kornman asserts that Trungpa "wrote his Epic of Lha [his first Shambhala tradition text] within this tradition, conscious of the synthesis his gurus had effected. He became in effect the chief spokesman in the West for this syncretic system." The Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, a younger colleague of Trungpa Rinpoche, notes that Trungpa "introduced many Tibetan cultural practices through the Shambhala teachings, such as the lhasang (purification ceremony), along with practices associated with drala and werma (deities)."
Kornman summaries Trungpa's use of antecedent traditions in the creation of his Shambhala teachings as follows:
The philosopher king and the political leadership of his idealized society were people who ruled by virtue of private mystical realizations. The one who sees the phenomenal world as mere appearance and reality as a transcendent other, rules the country and introduces the citizens to his private mystical world. To use tantric terminology, the leader expands the boundaries of the mandala, the private society of his personal students who share the initiatory mysteries, to the entire nation.
This was the theory of the relationship between religion and society that Trungpa Rinpoche elaborated in the West. Its metaphysics was based on the philosophical syncretism of the Eclectic [Rime] movement, which evolved an almost Neoplatonic emanational version of Buddhist mysticism. The mythological machinery, the cosmology of his system, was based on the most complex of all of the Buddhist tantras, the Kalachakra (Wheel of Time) Tantra. But textually it was based on the Tibetan oral epic of King Gesar of Ling, which deployed a non-Buddhist divine machinery based on native Inner Asian shamanistic and animistic religion. The “back text” of Trungpa’s socioreligious system was the Gesar epic. This meant that his model for the relationship between religion and society was what he saw in his region of Tibet, the Sino-Tibetan marches of Kham (Eastern Tibet) and Amdo/Qinghai. In particular, he pointed to the Goloks, nomadic pastoralist warriors, who made the mystery religion of Dzogchen, the great perfection, their public religion through, among other things, the propagation of the oral epic.
The Kalachakra tantra
As Kornman notes, the Shambhala tradition was not particularly textually based on the Kalachakra tantra. However, as he noted, it does rely on it for some of its "mythological machinery"--in particular, the name and concept of "Shambhala" itself, and the personage of the Rigden (Tib.; wylie: rigs ldan, Sanskrit: Kalki). The Shambhala tradition of Chogyam Trungpa also derives an ethos of syncretism and ecumenicism from the Kalachakra tradition. As John Newman, one of the world's leading Kalachakra scholars, explains:
The Kalacakra, or "Wheel of Time," was the last major product of Indian Vajrayana Buddhism. All late Vajrayana Buddhism is syncretic - it takes elements from non-Buddhist religious traditions and assimilates them to a Buddhist context. However, in the Kalacakra tantra syncretism is unusually obvious and is even self-conscious—the tantra makes little effort to disguise its borrowings from the Śaiva, Vaisnava, and Jaina traditions. The basic structure of the Kalacakra system is itself non-Buddhist: the Kalacakra uses the ancient idea of the homology of the macrocosm and the microcosm as the foundation of its soteriology.
Changes to the Path
In May 2000, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, head of Shambhala International, published a letter declaring the Shambhala teachings and Buddhism "work in tandem." He affirmed that practitioners of any faith tradition are welcome and encouraged to participate in Shambhala Training, while also noting "there may be a tendency to think that the purpose of Shambhala Training was to create an organization in which all these religious interests would have equal standing. All of us must understand that our view consists of the Shambhalian and Buddhist understanding of how to combine worldly and spiritual wisdom." This was the introduction of a new, Shambhala Buddhist, lineage.
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