INDEPTH: THE DALAI LAMA|
Shambhala Buddhism: A blend of Eastern traditions and Western mentality
CBC News Online | June 14, 2006
Stop. Sit. Breathe. Listen.
This seemingly simple, but powerful, practice is what Shambhala Buddhism — a mix of the ancient Tibetan Buddhist traditions and Western culture — is all about.
At about three decades old, it's a relatively new movement. But it has grown in popularity, with 150 Shambhala centres worldwide, including its international headquarters in Halifax, N.S.
Shambhala Buddhism, with its view that enlightenment isn't tied to any religion or doctrine, has attracted followers of all ages, from every culture, faith and background.
Nova Scotia was packed with an estimated 1,300 of its followers from around the world on June 8-10, 2006, for the "Blossoming of the Sun" wedding festival. The Shambhala spiritual leader Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche wed Tibetan Princess Tseyang Palmo - also a descendant of a rich Buddhist lineage - in a lavish ceremony on the last day of the festival. It was dubbed a Buddhist "Royal Wedding," placing a spotlight on the little-known Buddhist group.
Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche and Princess Tseyang Palmo. (Peter Seidler/Canadian Press)
Doctrine, enlightenment not related
The movement draws on many contemplative traditions, including Tibetan Buddhist philosophy, but avoids emphasis on faith or doctrine. Its core practice is "mindfulness-awareness meditation," which focuses on posture, breathing, and calming the mind.
"Being aware and observant of what's happening in our mind gives us an opportunity to see a more profound level of truth all the time," leader Sakyong Mipham says on his website. "In the practice of meditation, we learn to zoom back and get a bigger perspective, rather than always thinking so small."
While people think of meditation as an unusual, holy sort of action, he says, it is actually a person's natural state, from which we are distracted by things like noise and stress.
"That is what we call the journey or the path — continuously trying to recognize that we can actually relax and be who we are," he says.
"Practicing meditation begins by simplifying everything. We sit on the cushion, follow our breath and watch our thoughts. We simplify our whole situation."
Meditation is taught at all Shambhala centres, in addition to contemplative arts such as calligraphy, tea ceremonies, and dance.
How did Shambhala Buddhism start?
Shambhala Buddhism was started in the late 1970s by Chagyam Trungpa, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche's father. Trungpa was born in Tibet in 1939, making him the eleventh descendent in the line of Trungpa tulkus. These were teachers of the Kagyu lineage, one of the four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism.
In 1959, at the age of twenty — when Trungpa was the head of the Surmang monasteries in eastern Tibet — he was forced to flee the country. He escaped to India, where the Dalai Lama appointed him spiritual advisor for the Young Lama's Home School in Dalhousie, India, a post he held from 1959 to 1963.
He later moved to Europe, to study religion and philosophy at Oxford University.
In 1967, Trungpa moved to Scotland, where he founded the Samye Ling meditation centre, the first Tibetan Buddhist practice centre in the Western world. But, he later gave up monastic life and decided to be a teacher.
He then brought Tibetan Buddhism even further west, to North America. In 1970, he married a woman named Diana Pybus and moved to the United States, where he established the first North American meditation centre, "Tail of the Tiger," now known as Karme Choling, in Barnet, Vermont.
Trungpa's blend of ancient teachings and practical instructions was well received in North America, and he spent the 1970s travelling across the continent. He also founded Vajradhatu — the umbrella organization for the centers springing up globally under his direction — in Boulder, Colo.
Also, in that time, he published six books, established three meditation centres and a contemplative, Tibetan Buddhist school of higher learning, Naropa University, also in Boulder.
By the late 1970s, Trungpa had decided to present meditation to those who weren't necessarily interested in studying Tibetan Buddhism. He developed Shambhala Training — a secular method of meditation suited for anyone from any faith, culture, or way of life. It's based on the notion that wisdom and goodness doesn't belong to any one religion or doctrine. To fully complete the series of workshops, training, and practice takes years.
In the 1980s, Trungpa established a Buddhist monastery in Cape Breton, N.S. There, he added more teachings beyond the traditional Buddhist activities: Japanese archery, calligraphy, flower arranging, tea ceremonies and health care among others. He also founded the Shambhala Sun magazine, based in Halifax, which gained international recognition and a wide readership. In 1986, he moved to Nova Scotia, to join hundreds of his students who already settled there. Trungpa died shortly after.
One of Trungpa's teachers, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, took over the community's helm. In 1990, he urged Trungpa's son, Sawang Osel Rangdrol Mukpo, to follow in his father's footsteps as leader.
Now known as Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, he carried on his father's legacy by grouping all the activities of his father's students under Shambhala International. He then declared each of the centers across the world a "Shambhala Centre."
The network of Shambhala centres have since opened their doors to thousands of followers.
Among them is Veit Weber, a metalworking craftsman and an instructor at a centre in New Brunswick. In a 2005 CBC Radio report, he explained that a fundamental part of the Shambhala tradition is to realize that everyone is born with "a good spirit."
He said Shambhala Buddism has helped him, by allowing him to look at the world differently and see other people's perspective.
Part of its allure, he says, is you don't have to abandon your other beliefs to appreciate Shambhala — even prayers are considered to be a form of meditation.
"You can be Christian, or Muslim, or Buddhist — anything. Meditation itself is a very helpful tool for yourself in your day-to-day life," he says. "Matter of fact, it could even strengthen whatever faith you're in."