Belonging in Shambhala, January-February 2021

Selected Quotes


Open heart connections are my Shambhala community, memories of retreat, close group sharing, being genuine with each other.

Shambhala changed my life; I’ve a deep sense of belonging. Shambhala is where my path lies.

When I first started in Shambhala, it was very much an umbrella, with many Rinpoches visiting. So many other teachers inspired my practice. The Sakyong gave me my abhisheka and it was very powerful but these other teachers lit my flame. That was when Shambhala was very big and inclusive, and it was permissible to think your own thoughts about different teachers and you were encouraged to do so. It was delightful and somehow it wasn’t such a food fight.

I am fully engaged in Vajrayana practice and am concerned we not exclude so many of those inspired by Shambhala vision.

What connects us in Shambhala is the vision of basic goodness and the dharma.

Relationships with individuals in sangha are the source and what strengthens my feeling of being connected. When I feel connected it furthers belonging and trustworthiness of the institution.

It feels nourishing to be together.

Divisions in the Sangha and with the Sakyong

I am anxious about a bifurcation developing – those who think we can have Shambhala without the Sakyong and the loyalists. There doesn’t seem to be many meeting points between the two groups. This worries me but I believe Shambhala won’t survive without the Sakyong and I am not interested in a community center that deals in meditation that has no heart or soul, and no ultimate guidance.

I was heartbroken by the Acharya letters and news that the Sakyong as the lineage holder is the only one who can give vows (no longer Acharyas). The fact that the only entry to these profound vows is through the Sakyong has troubled me to the point that I can’t be a leader anymore.

I have tremendous faith in the Sakyong. That he has not taken over our process to date is important. I am sure he will deal with the situation skillfully in the end.

What struck us in breakout group was that in Shambhala we always felt sometimes that we did not belong – that seems intrinsic to the Tibetan system. We were all coming from different places, but could understand each other so well.

We lost close to 60% of our members. Those who want to continue with the Sakyong are in the closet and there are those who don’t want anything to do with the Sakyong. If there is another decision, we are just going to disappear, dissolve, and vanish. The idea that we can continue in some kind of conversational way is extremely important.

I wish the Sakyong was communicating. He has never been a two-way communicator and that is disappointing to me. I am holding an open sense of inquiry and hoping that something fresh arises like this.

Harm in Shambhala

I am a sexual assault survivor and still figuring out my own response. We’ve had community conversations with the usual divides at my local center, and it was clear that there needed to be a response from the Sakyong. We have been waiting to see what would happen.

I want to reflect on the idea that because I’m not a Sakyong “loyalist” that I think everyone who is, approves of sexual harm. I don’t believe that. But I do believe we as a community have to confront our past and the harm the community has allowed, tolerated, and facilitated.

I was distressed by the refusal of the Sakyong to relate to the work that the current Shambhala International leadership is doing around power and harm.

I cannot have a teacher who will not engage in these conversations. That is part of the disconnect. We can’t reconcile if the central figure won’t participate in these conversations.

How do we as a community allow everyone, including those who have experienced harm from sexual violence in the world, know that they are valuable? Know that the their experience matters? This is the tension I cannot reconcile.

Looking Forward

I agree that Shambhala won’t work without a Sakyong. What might be a path by which a Shambhala Board could invite the Sakyong back? Is the group of loyalists receiving teachings from the Sakyong a further split or a possible path to reconciliation? What would make the difference on either side?

I would like to create more “ordinary magic” with SMR as the teacher but among sangha conversations as equals.

I refuse to think it is all binary, that we have to choose which side of the camp we are in – that leads me nowhere. It’s more about what can we envision and what makes us feel authentic. That is what interests me. I really enjoyed this conversation.

We are enlightened society. The guru/Rigden King is in us. Let’s go forward together, and help each other on this path. Let’s have a community that welcomes both the folks for whom the Sakyong is essential to their path and those who choose not to proclaim their loyalty to him.

I am not buying that if it isn’t Vajrayana, it isn’t Shambhala. There is a lot we can offer that is not Vajrayana. Community matters and a way to build community isn’t tied to this one person as the end all and be all of what we’re doing. There are other ways to do that and we should find out.

We have to work with our situation (the Sakyong and the future), but maybe be careful as an organization not to be “too focused on self-importance and too caught up in thinking about how we are good or bad.” Turn outward. Help others.

We can follow two tracks at the same time: invite the people in the world to the wealth of our teachings in general. And look at maybe personal Vajrayana/belonging questions without having to bother the rest of the world with that.

What if we could put the teachings in action, as we know them, and do our best to create the society we’ve been taught?


I had been scared to engage in community conversations knowing the cynicism exists in the community and didn’t want to step into that. But having conversations in smaller, more intimate ways is what I have been longing for – open space, not to fix or solve, but just walk the path.

It’s very valuable to come together, especially internationally, and to see that we have a connection. That is sangha to me, why I stay with Shambhala. I’m grateful that this could happen and would like to do it more often.

I feel disconnected as I am not near nor part of a local center. It is very reassuring to know that others are struggling too.

This whole conversation has a “Shambhala feel” and makes me feel belonging. Something about dignity.

I hope we will do more of this. Keep up the good work. When I think about my contemplation at the start I wanted a space to open for people to be heard and wanted to appreciate the genuine exchange. We got that.

I’m thinking about the quality of connection that we have here, the teachings that we have, and the broader goals of enlightened society, the compelling needs of our larger world for the experience of community that we have with ourselves.

I would like to have this conversation in our local group. I am reminded of the Sakyong’s book, The Lost Art of Good Conversation, and encouraging inclusivity in its many forms. I think that sessions like these locally could be productive.