Shambhala Governance, March 19, 2021

Selected Quotes

Governance, Buddha Principle, and the Sakyong

One of the biggest concerns for me is, who’s in charge? Is this the Sakyong’s organization, where he’s at the center of the mandala and makes all the decisions, or not? And if not, what is his role in the organization, apart from his obvious spiritual role?

To me, the biggest concrete move there is that the Potrang needs to be abolished. It has a religious function, which is fine—it has a lot of the relics and teachings and things like that—but the fact that the Potrang actually owns property and controls so much money just feels like it’s really wrong.

And it’s confusing, because from the Vajrayana point of view, the teacher is at the center. But from the organizational point of view, I think that’s gotten us into so much trouble, and it’s so limiting.

And I’m really happy that there’s this diaspora of Shambala people doing all kinds of things, and I would love to have the governance feel as if it is confident and expansive enough to appreciate and support that too.

I wouldn’t say that the Potrang should be banned, but that it’s the Sakyong’s organization, and there have to be connection points with Shambhala. And they need to be clear, so that there’s a maturity of what each group’s mission is, and how that’s expressed—in terms of, I’m going to throw out the word constitution: “This is how Shambhala does its business.”

I think having to sit with this Bardo has been very good for us. Because it’s brought us back to what’s most important. And there isn’t one thing there: there are a couple of different values that are not easy to mesh together.

I’ve related personally to the Sakyong as my Vajrayana teacher. But I can also feel that there are many people who do not want to have that experience of Shambala. And I’m not entirely sure that we can keep those two things together. I don’t think that’s a governance issue—I think that’s central, even before governance, that’s a view issue.

Governance and Dharma

I’ve heard people saying that they’re enjoying interacting with groups who have not necessarily been part of the Shambala organization recently—who have different teachers or different sanghas, like that big umbrella idea. How diverse do we want to be?

Our habit has been to depend on classes to for revenue. The Shambhala levels, big seminaries and Scorpion Seals to keep the centers afloat. And we’ve never managed to implement that request of about 10 years ago, to be more like life and less like school.

And I think that we define ourselves in terms of this path, all in all, has been very problematic. I think we’re missing out on a lot of enlightened society building.

And when you tie in that our teaching finances so much of what we do, we may have backed into that unconsciously.

It may be our core governance issue, that Shambhala at present only exists so that people can receive teachings. And that is only one way to work with enlightened society. And we’ve just never explored all the other ones.

I love the teachings, and I love the path. I’m just saying that it excludes people who want to just be. And it also sets up hoops we have to jump through, and only certain people can hold the hoops. And if there isn’t somebody around holding your particular hoop, then you’re just stuck.

I can say that in Europe, it’s very different. I never felt pushed to do the next course. And we have these open meditation possibilities where everybody is welcome to come. And to join the Sangha on this morning or this evening, and be part of it. And I always appreciate very much that it’s really an open space to step in. And when you leave, you’re out—and then you come back if you want.

We have so many Shambhala values that are embedded in in our teachings—of upliftedness, of generosity, compassion, talking straight, there’s so many things.

So I would like to see our Dharma embodied. We have a value of enlightened society; I’d like us to really try to do that.

Governance, Sangha Principle, and the Community

I think what we are doing now, that we keep on holding space for each other, is the most important thing in the moment. And that also needs the governance to listen, letting things arise, that ideas and wisdom can arise and emerge. That’s my biggest wish.

What I’d like to governance to do at this point is to get an overview, synthesize things, and point in a couple of directions so that we are not spinning our wheels forever.

Like so many startups, Shambhala never really grew organizationally—for like 40 years. I mean, in the early days, I wouldn’t even trust them with a credit card number or a bank account number, not because I think that somebody would steal it, but they were just so bad at doing ordinary things like canceling things, because it was all shoestring.

The questions go on, starting with, “Who are we?” What are we trying to govern here? Are we trying to govern a membership organization, consisting of its dues paying members? Do they have a voice, an annual general meeting to elect the board members?

Or are we trying to govern a sangha that you know, mostly about emotional connection? And to whom? And is there room for emotional connections that are bigger than what we now think of as the Shambhala organization?

I really hope that the organization begins to see itself as a homeland for a diverse group of people, rather than a small organization that is looking after itself.

I just keep coming back to this image of a war-torn country and the Diaspora that arises from that. That really feels like that’s where we’re at. And so, all of us here and in any other conversations I’ve been part of, we all feel at home with each other because we all come from the same homeland. But a lot of us don’t live there anymore. A lot of us are scared to go back.

I had this image come to me of a big glass jar that was broken, and all this honey was just oozing out. And the feeling was, well you can’t put that honey back in the jar. And there’s so much sweetness.

That may be a way of describing the core question. Do we actually need another jar? I’m not so sure we do. Or maybe we need a whole bunch of different drawers of different sizes and shapes. But the idea of trying to put it back in a jar and say, “Okay, here’s Shambala again,” I think that’s the biggest trap of all, that would be a disaster.

So then one question is, you know, what is sangha? And what is honey?