Shambhala Governance, March 26, 2021

Selected Quotes

Governance and the Sakyong

You have nothing to talk about in the community when what you want is the next medal. And when the Sakyong said one time, “We have to be more like life and less like school,” I thought, now we’re going to do it. But we never did what the Sakyong said. We always turned around and stayed on the same line.

I thought, when everything first started grinding to a halt, that we had reached sort of a Magna Carta moment in Shambhala. Now I don’t know, because the sovereign doesn’t seem to be coming back at this moment. So I don’t really know where we are.

I kind of like not knowing where we are, because it gives me as a practitioner, and I think it also gives my community, the opportunity to assert who we are as a community, which is something we haven’t been permitted to do.

This celebration of the royal family, it seems a little not the right thing. It was, for me like, the gossip about the English royal family—just to say that the image is transmitted, of course, not the people, not the reality, but the image of of this family.

What was very dissatisfying for me is that there seemed to be no possibilities to talk about this with the Sakyong, or the people that have surrounded him. That has really frustrated me.

Again, coming from a democracy, we’re used to be able to ask questions to people. I would like to ask the question to the Sakyong: How come this culture has also spawned abuse of power and mismanagement? And do you think you personally have played a role in that? There is no communication possible on on that level, and it’s very disruptive for me.

Governance and the Community

We’re in a different time, much more difficult than it was 25 or 35 years ago. And we realize we need each other. It’s a completely different way to relate to each other and to practice.

And personally I want to start from there—you know, otherwise, we’re just talking about models and theory of governance. And what I wish for to change is that people are empowered themselves. For many years, nobody was really empowered, everything was such a hierarchy. Such stiff positions, and everybody was competing with each other.

So we have all we have collected all the paths, and now we have to work it out: what is going to be the ground, not just a wish.

Never let a good crisis go to waste. This is the opportunity we have now, to change stuff. Whatever we can we do locally, the basis is local power; and only what of necessity needs to be done on a higher level is what we do on a higher level.

That we are able to have this conversation, or proves to me that Shambhala is still alive.

It sort of like the kingdom exists, and we have to populate it. And we are populating it one conversation at a time. And to me, it’s very exciting.

Governance and the Community: Hierarchy

In the past, we’ve had a fairly top-down pyramid with very little input from the population, so to speak. It’s frustrating. There has to be some sort of communication flow that seems to be lacking. I think that my hope for us is that we would begin to work with a more of a circle than a pyramid.

There was constant meddling from the center of the mandala, and it screwed us badly financially. Socially we became very materialistic, because we were trying to maintain a rent that we couldn’t do.

And now people keep asking me, when are we going to rent a new space? And I’m like, I don’t care. I like being homeless. I like not spending money on rent. I like holding programs that cost so little that we can let people take them for free. I like having money to pay our volunteers as an honorarium and to consistently give our teachers appropriate honorariums.

It’s just so much better. We were paying like 25 grand or 30 grand a month in rent, and it just doesn’t work.

When I joined Shambala 20 years ago, one of the very first things that struck me was that it was a sort of autocratic organization. Truth came from the top and we were supposed to adhere to that truth. And the first few years, that was totally okay with me, because it enabled me to focus on the teachings and not bother too much about the rest, because that had been taken care of.

But when I stayed a little longer in Shambhala, I began to notice certain things. At the center level, there was always a small ingroup, and there was always an outgroup. And that didn’t feel right. Not even from a dharmic point of view, but just being an ordinary Dutch guy. I don’t like the ingroup-outgroup stuff.

And then I found it was the same on the national level, and on the international level. There’s an ingroup of cronies of the Sakyong. And you were part of that. And then you were also plugged into some kind of communication system. But if you were not part of that ingroup, you didn’t get to hear anything. So you were just guessing, who was doing what and why. Strong ingroup-outgroup thinking.

Governance and the Community: Structures

What crossed my mind was sort of a constitutional monarchy. I believe a society does need a leader.

The idea that society needs a leader: If you mean one leader, I’m very against it. Maybe you can say society needs leadership, okay, But in Switzerland, we are used to joint leadership, our government. There are seven people trying to find a solution together. Not always working well. But that’s the idea.

I like the idea of constitutional monarchy. I like the idea of power being dispersed throughout the community. I like the idea of us all as monarchs in our own right within our own sphere, and I really love the idea as a leader of allowing other people to be monarchs in their own sphere, but not micromanaging them.

The Dalai Lama already stepped back. He said, I’m the religious leader of Tibet, and other people, that is the government in exile. And I think this idea of separation of church and state is a good idea.

I mean, there are two different aspects. There are the organizational money planning that can be taught, can be done from people just from the Sangha, expressing its leadership. And there is the teachings and the lineage. And that’s, of course, the point of a Sakyong. The Sakyong can express his teaching and this lineage tradition in a democratic, more allied structure. That is my wish, and I think it’s possible.

The organisation of worldly business (money, planning, etc.) should be first local and then at higher levels representative and limited to real global organisational aspects. The holder of the teachings and of the lineage should be freed of such occupations.

I think the Iroquois Confederacy offers a really interesting combination of things where there was a conscious male and female leadership participation from the local level, up to the sort of stepped-up concentrations of administration that always had a representative from the more inclusive level below.

We now have an opportunity to move away from a hierarchical governance structure to a more inclusive form. Having something like small groups such as delegs moving into representation and participating in decision making is now timely. Separation of the lineage holder from the administration would be best. Allowing local centres their vision and administration, respecting that Europeans need leadership from their sangha and other ways of inclusivity.

Having been a close student of Trungpa, the whole hierarchy thing was never meant to be a lid. It was always meant to be a place of training for students.

The court was a place where people—we were small, it was not a big international sangha at that point&mdsah;it was a place to learn and and to grow as and to be taught, because every moment around him was a teaching. And he welcomed inquiry and critical thinking and difficult questions.

So that’s been a shift in style for sure, and I think it was what he knew, what he brought from Tibet, and it doesn’t fit us now. It’s over, that’s finished now, and it’s time for a new model. We can appreciate how that evolved, but we don’t need to hang on to what was.

So there’s local representation over the internet. There’s world representation. So we’re going to have local, regional, national, international, world, and Kingdom representation in some form, in some way. And also, I guess, it never will be what it was. That’s all I have to say.

Governance and the Community: Delegs

A deleg was a vision of how communities could come together and support one another, how people could come together and support one another. The original vision was that we would gather together in each other’s homes, we would eat together, we might create together. It was a little bit like, you know, I’ll loan my lawnmower to you, if you can lend me your weed whacker, that kind of thing. And so it was very folksy in the beginning.

And then it kind of just dissolved over time. I’m not sure why, but we just kind of dropped it. I think we needed a little more focus. If it’s involving governance, I think that would certainly give people a focus—because you know, you have your neighborhood here as well. So it kind of needed to become a little more of a representation.

But delegs are about how to care for each other. So especially now, as many of the community are aging, it would have would be a great way for people to be in touch with people who might be at home.

My hope is that we would begin to have the delegs back again—even if we’re scattered around the world, some sort of neighborhood. Trungpa RInpoche felt strongly about the delegs, and we’ve dropped them. I mean, he really felt that conversation amongst 10 people was very vital to creating enlightened society. So I feel like we need to come back to that, and from there build a structure where maybe 10 people are representative—enough groups of 10 might be represented, a representational type of republic, so to speak.

I don’t see how we can be a community and not have some building blocks of a community, in which there’s representation, communication, care, support, working together, and then giving feedback to central headquarters. What the hell is a community in a country, or whatever we’re calling ourselves, a society?

I know that in Boulder, they’re voting whether to reinstitute something like delegs. They’re not using the word deleg because that has connotations at this point, because they didn’t work well, they never went anywhere in a way. And I think as a community, maybe we weren’t ready for this intimate level of sharing our lives with each other.

And I feel like now, because of what’s happened in Shambhala, what’s happened perhaps especially in America and across the world, I feel now a need and a desire for community and sharing and sport and practicing together.

It seems like the most valuable thing we are able to do is to actually do Shambhala together, and then a lot arises out of that.

With delegs, it seemed to me that if we could work with on a more local level of taking care of each other and attending to the business and the questions of the day—we did try to reconstitute the delegs among our membership by geographic location, and try to address some of the problems in that way. It was an interesting exercise, but it didn’t go very far.