Philadelphia Shambhala Center

Type of Innovation: Governance (Circles Model); Practice and Education (teaching methods and format for classes, teacher mentoring); Social Justice (Engaged Dharma group), Care, Conduct and Protection (Death and Dying Manual)

Date of Contact: February 22, 2022 (Sarah Canfield, Barbara Wolkowitz) 

Center Contact(s): Jude Robison

Description of Center: The Philadelphia Center was founded in 1974 and has about 120 members. The Center rents space in downtown Philadelphia. 


Circles Governance Model: In 2020, after the Center Director retired, and a suitable replacement was not apparent, a Transitional Leadership Team was created based on nominations from the community. The Transitional Team began managing all the business of keeping the center running. In spring 2021, the Center further explored alternative Governance Structures and decided to work with the Circles Model, loosely based on the Sociocracy model, with input from the London Shambhala Center. The Center began implementing the Circles model in the fall of 2021. Here is a link to the document that describes the model in detail. 

In the Circles model, interested members are asked to join one of six self-governing Circles that cover an area of Center operations.  Each Circle sends a representative to the Central Governing Circle to discuss issues that cross the circles and to report. Current Circles include Culture and Community, Practice and Education, Care, Conduct and Protection, Engaged Dharma, Communications, and Finance and Facilities. The Center plans to add one or more at-large members to encourage diverse representation of members.

Evaluation:  Philadelphia is working on getting more people involved. Members may be accustomed to relying on a small group of leaders rather than stepping forward. Existing leaders may also find the transition difficult to a less hierarchical model and to share leadership responsibility with newer members. The model will be assessed and evaluated after a year.

Teaching methods and mentoring of new teachers:  The Center continues to offer the existing curricula for Shambhala Training, Buddhist classes, and Everyday Life courses. While programs generally utilize the standard curriculum, the teaching methods and class format have become more participatory to suit adult learners. Participants sit in a circle, teacher does not sit up front in formal dress, and dyads are utilized where possible. Selection of classes also includes Shambhala Arts, and original content and programs from other sources, for example programs on race and gender and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. 

Innovations prior to the pandemic included an intensive effort to mentor new teachers and offer feedback to all instructors. Regular Educator Gatherings were held for old and new teachers on a variety of topics. Team teaching is emphasized.  New teachers offered a “Philly Fresh Dharma” monthly series at which each teacher taught one evening class on a topic of their choice. The most successful team-taught program was “What the Buddha Taught,” not the Shambhala online version, but with content based on what senior teachers were inspired to offer as a day-long Saturday program. Post-pandemic, the Center is revitalizing this effort. The Center has also explored collaborations with a university, Nalandabodhi, Wisdom Seat, and other Shambhala Centers. For example, Nalandabodhi (founded by Ponlop Rinpoche) and the Center co-hosted Mitra Lee Worley on mudra space awareness. 

Evaluation: The Center is attracting new teachers and offering new study opportunities.

Social Justice: Prior to the Sunshine report a group called “Warriors in the World” went to a local community agency once a month to do service as a group. Before the pandemic, the Center co-sponsored a weekend program with another organization featuring Angel Kyodo Williams. This program sparked a renewed interest in racism/diversity with a book group forming. 

Evaluation: The Engaged Dharma Circle, which started in early 2022, has had a strong start and attracts a diverse membership. 

Care, Conduct and Protection: An ad hoc group of members spent a year and a half developing a Manual on Death and Dying that includes state laws, legal issues, documents needed, relevant spiritual practices, and a document that can be used for conveying a person’s wishes regarding the environment, practices and rituals at the end of life. For a copy, go to