Shambhala Governance: Going Deeper, May 11, 2021

Selected Quotes

Taking Stock of Shambhala

Being welcoming is a big one. And I think we’ve always been really bad at that, actually. We’re very good at welcoming white middle-class people, but everything else is complete disaster. And people have tried various things, but so far, we’ve still got a long way to go. So being genuinely welcoming to everyone seems to be a challenge we really need to work on. Lots of people have tried in various ways, and I think it’s getting better, but it’s the whole business of white privilege. So we’ve got to deal with it.

We’re so often talking about ourselves, especially in these last two years, and the things we are doing or that we’re not doing and what’s working and what’s not working. And I think about some public sector or private sector organization, spending their time doing that: I wonder how long they’d survive.

We’ve spoken about attracting people from different walks of life. Is it about attracting them? Or is it about going out and providing some kind of service, working with them wherever they are? We’ve become, or we always were, very insular.

So I wonder in this question of governance, part of what we should be thinking about is how do we go out into the world more? Not in a proselytizing way, but in a way which at least erodes what has seemed to be the rather hard boundaries between Shambala centers and the rest of the world.

One role of governance is creating a sense of shared commitment within a group, the sense of “Who are we?” And that I think has really been missing; maybe for some It was never there. It’s been confused maybe over the last couple of years.

There’s an easy idea of just giving one person the job of saying who are we and where we go. But getting a few thousand people together to, to answer that question feels a little mind-boggling. What are we about? What is it that we’re even trying to do? Do we want to be one group? Do we want to be a few affiliated centers? Do we want to have a monastic level of focus on attaining enlightenment? Or do we want to be part of a civil society, and just focus on benefiting others? I think we each have different views and hold them in different ways.

For a long time in organization studies, there was an obsession with organizational goals, this notion that organizations had goals, and it was the goals that everyone shared that in some way provided the functioning glue for the organization. And then after a while, research and theory threw that out, precisely because it was found that people didn’t share organizational goals. And if you move it to a more at the level of a family, to actually talk about “What are our goals?” can be a fatal thing to do, as we discover we don’t share the same goals.

So then the shift was from goals to structures, then to culture. And that comes back for me to the conversation we were having in our subgroup that the glue comes from something like what we might call shared values. And those are grounded in the teachings.

So you can we go back to sharing a love for this desire to relate to the world as a sacred and so on. That would be where we would find some commonality among us. But after that, there would just be enormous variation, as conversations now are showing.

What I hear people saying most as common ground is, we all believe in basic goodness. And I never heard anyone say that’s not true.

Questions and Possibilities for Shambhala Governance

One of the big issues is, does the Sakyong even really want to be involved in government? Maybe he just wants to be a teacher, or not. We don’t even know. There’s a lot of basic stuff, and we don’t really know what the options are.

Number one importance in our mandala: Communication. Listening, speaking from the heart. This is governance in action.

Governance should not be reified as a thing that only some people do. It is one way of talking about some aspects of the everyday doing of sacred world. It is a practice, a relationship, one that requires ways of relating that are manifest in mindful speech, deep listening, attempts at equal co-creation, relational responsiveness… to open up to the (non-dual) ordinary magic of wisdom and compassion.

I question how we can cultivate more distributed intelligence, sensing, and decision-making.

This conversation brought up the really important issues for a new way of governing. The ideas of Frederic Laloux (among others) might point a way.


I am feeling more connected to the global community than I have in quite a while and appreciating being able to have a challenging conversation with people that I’ve never met. That gives me some inspiration to go on and to keep having this conversation and similar conversations.

I realise that what Shambhala means to other people is different than what it means to me. I somehow knew it, but it was good to be reminded of it.

I feel that these conversations are the heart blood of Shambhala.