Response to inquiry about Theory U

The Process Team received the following questions about Theory U from Douglas Pennick on August 2, 2019.

Reminder: the Process Team is a group of volunteer Shambhalians who have no decision-making power and are not employees or officers of Shambhala International. We operate under an independent, temporary mandate. Thus, none of our suggested processes should be considered, in any way, teachings with an official endorsement from Shambhala International. They are merely offerings of methods from one group of Shambhalians to our fellow sangha members, in the hope that they will be helpful.

“Mmes and Sirs,

Since Shambhala International is now promoting these Theory U teachings, it would be helpful to know:

1)if and how they are related to Buddhist or Shambhala teachings or any other teachings given by Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche.

2) if the answer to the above is no, then it would be helpful to know who or what group has selected these teachings to be disseminated by Shambhala International.

3)Following the above, are these teachings of Theory U now the dharma taught by Shambhala International.

4) If the answer to 3 is yes, is this consistent with the organization’s bylaws.

Transparency, it would seems, should require these questions to be answered publicly.

Dear Douglas,

Thank you so much for your questions.  I am a member of the Steering Committee of the Process Team (PT) and a member of the sub group tasked to identify a suitable process for working with the world wide sangha – thus deeply involved in the decision to select Theory U.

There is much on the Process Team’s website which is relevant to your questions and there will be more in the next few months.  We are now part way through a series of three “quick start” courses for all interested persons on the PT.  These sessions focus on relations between Theory U and our Buddhist and Shambhala teachings. Soon we shall offer two open Q&A sessions about Theory U for anyone in the sangha who is interested. Some or all of these offerings may be posted to the open section of our website in the near future – we warmly invite you to go there and check it every now and again for updates.

Your first question includes the assertion that “Shambhala International is now promoting these Theory U teachings.” This is not the case.  You wrote to the PT, and we are, indeed, the relevant body. It is not our intention to be “promoting these teachings”. Rather, we have the aspiration to use them as (one of a number of) potentially “skillful means” through which the world wide sanga can collaborate and co-create enlightened society.  If you look at the PT web site you will find a summary of the role of the PT: to “be in conversation with the entire Shambhala community, amplify the wisdom of that conversation and, based on that wisdom, make recommendations and collaborate with various parts of the whole mandala”. We view Theory U as a framework and methodology that can help us in this.

Your second question asks “what group has selected (Theory U)”.  The “Process Synthesis” subgroup of the PT took some months to explore a variety of possible methodologies that could be used with the entire sanga.  That group included three persons that have deep professional experience with participative approaches to organisation development and change. Eventually, we recommended Theory U to the steering committee of the PT and this recommendation was enthusiastically accepted.

There were many reasons for deciding on Theory U, but perhaps Number 1 was that we saw it as richly inter-related with our Buddhist & Shambhala teachings.  For example, there are many ways in which it could be described as embracing meditation in action, great emphasis is given to ‘coming to our senses’, to not knowing, to nowness, to deep listening, awareness, and opening-up to wisdom mind. This is not a coincidence.  An early influence on Otto Scharmer’s thinking that led to Theory U came from his conversations with Francisco Varela. A core practice of Theory U is Social Presencing Theater, developed by Arawana Hayashi, who has been a faculty member of the Theory U Presencing Institute for over fifteen years.  Having read some of your work (and indeed written to you to express my deep appreciation) I suspect you might find it interesting to spend a few minutes with the website where you can find short texts and videos on Theory U.  For us, it is not a ‘thing’, and not a ‘this’ which is separate from the ‘that’ of our teachings.

I hope this answers your questions, albeit rather briefly.  Please stay in touch with what the PT is trying to do with (and not ‘to’) the world wide sangha in the vision of the Great Eastern Sun.

All best wishes, Dian Marie Hosking, on behalf of the PT