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Hi. First thread here, and this is an old post, but just thought I would give my insight (such as it is) on this topic. I've been following a Zen path for around 20 years. While I have never officially belonged to a Zen center, it's a practice I take seriously, and have sat w/ people in maybe a dozen communities all over the US. So I have a little working knowledge of the dharma, as well as how things tend to be run in your typical Zen center.
A while back we moved to a new city and the Zen centers are mostly located in a neighboring city that we can't get to in time for their sits. So we have been going to a Shambhala center basically because that is what we have. The meditation, a basic mindful meditation as they describe it, is very similar to Zen. Following your breathing, and Sundays are from 9 to 12, w/ a sort of dharma talk or guidance for newbies at 11. You're sitting for 20 minutes during that time, walking for 10, and that happens until noon, where we go for a nice lunch that the center provides. Unlike Zen, you can leave during the walking meditation and not come back, or come back during another walking period.
There are other differences. Since the Sunday sits feature some meditation instruction, the meditation hall tends to be full, and there are a lot of new people, many from a yoga discipline (the Shambhala building also shares space w/ a yoga group). You can spot the yoga people right away w/ their wraps, blankets, clothes and such. Many of the Sunday crowd seems to have had no meditation experience at all. For those used to Zen, the scene is really loose. There's a short guided visualization meditation period from 11 to 12 along w/ some "merit" chanting that is not part of Zen discipline. The teachers give only a cursory meditation instruction, and people bring their drinks into the hall and sip from during the sits. I even saw someone checking their phone messages during a sit, something that would never happen in a Zen zendo. There's a lot more wiggling around during a sit too, especially from the yoga folks, who like to stretch and twist a bit. I am not criticizing things, but it's a sharp contrast to a very still Zen meditation sit. There's the usual empty chair in the meditation hall by the alterw/ a with ribbon draped over it, awaiting Trungpa's return I assume, and a picture of him on one side of the alter and of his son on the other side. Teachers seem to look up to the photos w/ a star struck sort of awe, and all comments about these two are kept very positive and glowing. Never a word about the "problems" (the whoring, the drinking, the manipulation, the drugs, etc). Hey, it was what it was. Just the reality of times past.
In general, the people I have met so far have been a mixed bag. Some are just as friendly and welcoming as any place I have ever been, while others are standoffish and seem a little suspicious, or even sorta angry. This is probably just my group and has nothing to do w/ Shambhala itself, but it's a little odd. During lunch there is no talk of Buddhism or meditation at all, and people tend to sit down and eat w/ people that they know, as is normal in any group. There is for sure a sort of in-thing going on, a sort of club feeling. I guess there would be, as Shambhala seems to have taken pains to be very different than other lineages.
The teachers are the biggest difference between a Shambhala group and a Zen group, along w/ all the strange warrior business that I have no interest in and also lack the knowledge of to comment on. To cut to the chase, the teachers seem to know less than even senior Zen students. The path to being a teacher seems a little dubious, and I had one of the founders and senior teachers of our local chapter tell me informally during a Shambhala park picnic that she was enlightened. I have never heard a Zen person, student or teacher, ever make that remark, and from some other remarks she made it is glaringly apparent that she is quite mistaken! She also said some other things during a Sunday sit that I felt did not belong in a dharma talk (politics and current events), and made a few other ego driven comments that convinced me that I need to just hang w/ the "laity" and avoid the teachers as much as possible.
Hi row37, @Karasti mentioned that old threads are generally not revived, so I started anew for you here.
(For some reason, @karasti , your comment did not transfer....apologies. Not sure why it didn't...)
I don't think avoiding teachers all together is the answer. Don't forget that each person has something completely different to teach you. One master may show you what the truth looks like, and one might show you what the cult looks like. The one who shows the cult side of things may not realize that is what they are showing. They may not even realize that is what they have internalized. That's the thing about cults... Someone else on NB mentioned (forgive me I can't find it to link it) that nobody wakes up and says, "I'm going to join a cult today!" No, they wake up and go searching for answers, just like you or I do each day. Only we can decide what feels true for ourselves, but teachers come in many forms and should not be discounted. It's exercise for your noggin.
I don't consider Shambhala a cult, at least not the one I go to. But it is club like, which is not too good. I am very comfortable avoiding the person I mentioned. Such is my path :] She has nothing to teach me. Actually, there is nothing to teach anyway (my old Zen discipline is alive and well).
I am not someone that needs to be w/ a strong teacher for guidance, which is why I keep a small profile in this group, as all Tibetan based lineages place an almost guru like devotion to a teacher, which is not for me. This is why I am well suited for Zen. People usually know where they are supposed to be quite quickly when trying out Buddhist groups, and 20 years ago Zen felt like home to me. It's a totally un intellectual discipline that attracts intellectuals. Guilty as charged here, and it is always my mind that is my undoing.
I don't need any more teachings, and after all this time I already have too many. Now the path is to get rid of them one by one and wake up, which is not done by following someone else's ideas, but by sitting in meditation w/ my own thoughts and living w/ intent. Years ago I met Ken Mcleod, who wrote "Wake Up To Your Life". Ken is from the Tibetan tradition, and I asked him "Why do I need a teacher? Isn't the whole world our teacher?" He replied "Sometimes people need a teacher for the same reason that they need someone to tell them what the back of their head looks like". That was a wonderful answer, and I understood immediately what he meant. It's often helpful to have someone outside of us to look at us objectively. We can't do that.
There are several people in my center that are not labeled "Shambhala teacher" that seem perfectly capable of that, and I am available for them as well. I get along w/ them, and they are sincere in their path. For me, the meditation and sangha are the cornerstones of my practice at this particular moment in time. A teacher is fine, but they have to be authentic like the one we had in New Mexico. There is not an authentic teacher where I am in this Shambhala group. Nor will there ever be one for me here in all probability, as I am not Tibetan. Zen is my path. That's fine. It is what it is, and I am very grateful for the people I have met there, and I am also grateful for the opportunity to sit w/ them.
Often the people we are most averse to have the most to teach us.
Although usually not in the immediately obvious way, and some people are just superficial and obnoxious
Yet even that teaches us something, even if it's only about Fools...
The purpose of a grocery store is to make money. The purpose of a large rich corporate chain of grocery stores is to make a LOT of money. When I go into a grocery store, it need not concern me that their purpose is not my health. I can make selections based on MY purpose, healthy nutrition.
I went to a very large Shambhala center and came away with the impression that their purpose was not unlike a chain of large, very upscale grocery stores.
I could still find what I wanted. And it was quite an impressive facility and grounds.
I wonder if there is just one Dairy Lama, or whether all Tescos stores now employ one?
@SpinyNorman yesterday was national Ice Cream day here in the USA. !! And I forgot to eat ice cream!!!
Consider yourself excommunicated from the gelid monastery....
A bit of an update to my first impressions of Shambhala, which are all based solely on my particular center. However, a lot of people come and go from other Shambhala centers throughout the world, and I have had an opportunity to meet and talk w/ them.
To be honest, the cult like feeling has increased for me the longer I have been exposed to this place. Not cult like in the terms of Scientology, thank L Ron!, but it's sure beyond club like, which was my initial impression. Mostly the place is about taking courses, which often cost a considerable amount of money, and listening to the "teachers" during a lot of different opportunities that they put together. I have a huge problem w/ the teachers, as have many people when you look on the web. Just last Sunday I was at a Sunday meditation, and one of the senior teachers was reading through her notes and checking her phone, along w/ sipping coffee, during the meditation! I have never seen anything like that at any Buddhist center regardless of lineage.
There is a certain amount of egoism in the teachers that is hard to fathom, especially since this is Buddhism. In fact, the first time I met one of the founders at an event, she told me that she was enlightened. That is totally bizarre. Someone that is enlightened would never do that, how enlightened is that? The focus of Shambhala is mostly on Shambhala, Trungpa and the current leader. It's a personality cult of guru worship, and while they talk about incorporating other traditions into their programs, in fact nearly everything is Shambhala related. I feel very hesitant to say anything about my Zen background discipline because, honestly, a lot of it contradicts what they are saying and doing. There is just way too much focus on Trungpa, the wacky military type arm of Shambhala, the leader, who lives pretty much like a king (in fact, there is an actual sort of royalty thing going on), etc, and there is very little attention paid to what the Buddha actually taught.
I am currently limiting my participation to the meditations and the Sunday lunch, and clear out of there when there is any discussion going on about Shambhala, which is essentially all the time. At some point I will figure out a way to get over to the neighboring city where there are two Zen centers. I take public transportation, and it is just not working for that at the moment, although the new ferry they are starting up may work out.
I have also discovered a local Unitarian church that has a pastor that has a Zen background, and he has a once a week mid-day sit and brown bag lunch, and that has been wonderful! The people I have met there are not at all like the people at Shambhala. Many of them are older, and during the discussions we often talk about what is going on in the community, and how we are working, or hope to be working, to improve things. At Shambhala, it's mostly younger folks, and people do not seem at all grounded in real action. It often devolves into simply talking about meditation theories, their lives, what they do when not at Shambhala, etc. Nothing wrong w/ that, but it isn't what I'm interested in when I go to a Buddhist spiritual center.
By the way, I see that my posting name has changed from row37. I have no idea why. Maybe I had an old account here and logged in w/ that one this time? In any case, I am row37. Ah well, all things are impermanent, even my posting name. That is actually just as it should be from a Buddhist perspective, and of course, today, I am not the same person that logged in months ago as row37 either.
I should also point out that after 20 years of Zen practice I have a relatively good idea of what is authentic and what is not. The comment that the people that we are most adverse to have the most to teach us is simplistic and plain wrong. All they can do is teach us something about ourselves and our opinions, and that is not at all what I am talking about. I am talking about people within Shambhala that have been given a teacher designation solely because they took a specific number of courses, NOT because someone, such as a Zen master, made the determination that they were in fact competent to teach. That is a completely different thing. As my friend Jack at the Unitarian place said, the thing he noticed about Zen teachers is that they never give you an answer unless you ask a question. Which, when you think about it, is pretty smart.
There has to be some objective standard to decide whether or not someone is qualified for teaching, and anyway, all a teacher does is point the way. Their main job is to just show up and be available. It's up to the individual to sit in meditation and wake up. That intent has to come from within that person, not from outside, such as w/ a teacher or an institution. As the Buddha said, I teach two things and two things only... the fact of suffering, and a way to put an end to that suffering. He most certainly did not teach what I see at Shambhala, and even Tibetan Buddhism is a huge variation of the Buddha's teaching, and is in fact a combination of Buddhism and the indigenous Bon religion of Tibet.
I also feel that there are people here that are sort of attacking me for speaking the truth as I see it, which is a real indication of cult like behavior. Just go to any online forum and say something negative about Scientology and watch all the trolls come out to denounce those comments. If someone does not have respect for someone else's view points (meaning viewpoints that are based on actual lived experience, NOT beliefs), if they have rigid ideas about what someone else is supposed to do or say and don't understand that every situation is unique and one of a kind, then they know nothing at all about Buddhism. They have simply turned it into another dogmatic religion, and the last thing this world needs is another fundamentalist religion.
Sorry.. when you say 'people here are sort of attacking you for speaking the truth as you see it', do you mean here on newbuddhist or 'here' as in 'the Shambala centre'...? I hope you mean the latter, because I can't see any 'sort of attack' either direct or implied....
Interesting observations, thanks for coming back to share @smarino. I am not a Shambhala practitioner and do not have a center near me, but I visited in Boulder when I was there many years ago. I didn't really get that impression about it being cult-like and lacking focus on Buddha's teachings, but it's been a long time. It is sad if that is the direction the whole organization has taken. I wonder if my opinions on it would be the same if I visited now. When I went, I was not a Buddhist, I actually was visiting family and went as part of a requirement for a world religions class in college. It was a decade later before I became a Buddhist. So perhaps my perception would be different now.
FWIW, here's my $0.02:
I got my start as a practitioner in Shambhala. At the time, I had plenty of money, so took all the courses and so on. Since I was a beginner coming from a Western point of view, the teachings felt very appropriate.
About five years in, I started studying with a Tibetan Buddhist teacher, and the Buddhist teachings absolutely knocked my socks off. Now, after a rather complicated story involving unemployment and a hiatus from practicing, I'm involved with Shambhala again (for a paycheck).
After having studied straight-up Buddhism for several years, I can't say I'm thrilled with Shambhala. I understand it's based on legitimate teachings (the Kalachakra), and then those teachings were brought to the west by Trungpa Rinpoche as a path for laypeople. Perhaps they were profound when Rinpoche was alive, but the way they are taught now feels like "Buddhism Lite".
Nor am I wild about the Sakyong. He feels fake to me. When his father died and the community was in chaos, I heard that he turned down offers of help from the major Buddhist teachers who were his father's friends, thus alienating them and driving away their followers (a rumor hinted at in this article).
I also heard that the Sakyong bought the title "Rinpoche", even though his father quite specifically said that he was not to be a teacher. I realize that's a bit far-fetched, and might even just be a rumor. At the very least, IMO, the Sakyong's role in the Shambhala world should be that of head of state, not teacher.
Sooooooo ... in a nutshell, I think Shambhala is great for beginners who have never meditated before, but if you really want to wake up, go full-on Buddhist.
P.S. @smarino I have always resonated with Zen, what little I know about it. I just happened to get sucked into Tibetan Buddhism because my partner's into it. But honestly, I just don't grok the iconography, the ngöndro practices, the chants, etc. Just let me sit, please.
I DO like CTR's teachings. They bend my brain. :-)