Judith Simmer-Brown to Distraught Shambhala Members: “Practice More.” (Notes and Transcript)
On Saturday, August 4th, senior Shambhala International teacher Judith Simmer-Brown gave a talk in Boulder as part of a series called “Conversations That Matter”. The title was “Caring for Community,” and it was structured around a set of slogans called “The Four Reliances”, which are meant to help Buddhist practitioners separate out mundane and spiritual concerns.
In this context, the slogans were offered to help Shambhala practitioners in particular renew their commitment to the group’s ideas and practices, in the midst of continuing revelations of abuse within the group itself. They advise the practitioner to see immediate and obvious circumstances — and their interpretation of those circumstances — as ephemeral (or at best instrumental to a higher purpose) and to develop a depersonalized, non-judgmental, and non-verbal devotion to the group’s content.
The “Four Reliances”, featured in several Buddhist texts dating back to the first century CE, are:
- Do not rely on the personality or individuality of the teacher. Rely on the Dharma teachings themselves.
- Do not rely on the literal words. Rely on the meaning of the teachings.
- Do not rely on merely provisional teachings. Rely on the definitive or ultimate teachings.
- Do not rely on conceptual mind. Rely on the nondual wisdom of experience.
The presentation series is hosted by the group’s flagship Center, founded in 1970 by Chögyam Trungpa. Simmer-Brown’s talk was livestreamed for members of the public who registered via the Zoom platform. I registered under my own name, and recorded the event. No copyright notice or privacy request was posted.
Appropriating a popular concept from trauma-recovery discourse, Simmer-Brown explained that her talk would offer “foundational things that we need to know in order to be resilient practitioners.” In the Q&A that followed, she suggested that such resilience could be nurtured by the activities of the very group that had caused the trauma. “Our confusion and pain,” she told one questioner,” might drive us more deeply into practice.”
The appeal from group leaders to double down on group practice in the face of group abuse is a common theme in the crisis responses of yoga and dharma organizations. When the news of Pattabhi Jois’s decades of sexual assaults on his women students began to go mainstream, a common insider response was to repeat Jois’s most famous aphorism: “Practice, and all is coming.”
As the Shambhala foundations shake, many devotees are likewise relying on beloved sayings of Trungpa, such as: “The essence of warriorship, or the essence of human bravery, is refusing to give up on anyone or anything.” (Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior, 2009, p. 17). A similar theme grounds the recent remarks of Susan Piver, as well as Pema Chödron’s 1993 and 2011 responses to Trungpa’s own abuses.
In my notes on Chödron, I use Alexandra Stein’s lens of disorganized attachment within cults to examine the double bind this advice presents: the group has been revealed as harbouring or enabling abuse (as the leaked notes from the July 2nd Kalapa Council phone call show); and then the group and its practices are positioned as the best way for members to soothe themselves in relation to that abuse.
In short: the member is asked to move more fully towards and into the group that has caused harm. They are asked to seek refuge in a space that has proven itself unsafe.
I’m posting a transcript of the event below. I do this at the risk of shaming the speaker should they take the critique personally, instead of as a public figure with powerful cultural influence. I believe the transcript presents a unique opportunity to witness in real time how the leadership of a high-demand group, regardless of intentions, will so often have nothing to fall back on during an ethical crisis except the very ideological content and behavioural advice that may have covered over, worsened, or even caused the crisis in the first place. The conflict of interest is blatant.
Analyzing this happening in real time can, I hope, aid cultural fluency in the mechanisms of undue influence at work in many yoga and dharma communities. I hope it will help members of similar groups see more clearly how they can be asked to give their labour — financial, intellectual, and emotional — while simultaneously dealing with having been violated by the group.
The transcript shows how the logic of the in-group cannot admit outside information. Indeed, it cannot even admit inside information: the actual allegations are never named. (Information and message control is essential to any high-demand group.) By marginalizing and minimizing the allegations and offering no outside resources — such as in the areas of restorative justice or trauma care — the talk creates the impression, supported reflections on “The Four Reliances”, that not only is the group ideology all that is available to help, but that leaders like Simmer-Brown have adequate answers to the problems in the organization they have led for decades.
I’ve left out the names of the community members who ask questions or comment, save for one. Kathleen Moore spoke fifth, and gave me permission to disclose her name. Moore was the partner of the late Bill Scheffel, who died of suicide on July 8th. He immolated himself in his car a week after giving a despairing address to a community gathering to discuss the scandal.
Moore issued a direct and personal appeal for accountability amidst a culture of silencing.
Moore described having been isolated by the community after Scheffel’s death, pushed to the margin as an outsider, as someone willing to discuss toxic dynamics within the group. This follows, as she says, a pattern that impacted Scheffel himself. She began by reading a quote from Scheffel’s address:
I’m in a world of pain. When Trungpa Rinpoche died, there were many forces at work. Now there’s a phenomena of you’re either in or out. We are no longer a society. We’ve become a church. Society has division, diversity and dissonance. The rank-ism [here] creates distance and has broken me.
“Since he died,” Moore continued, “his friends who are mostly senior students of Trungpa Rinpoche, almost all of them teachers, are saying things like, I killed him, that I’m responsible for his death. No one will say this to me. I hear it from others who’ve heard it and believe those people. But what I’m experiencing is incredible amounts of silence.”
Instead of directly answering Moore’s public appeal to suggest policy that would address ways in those who criticize the group are marginalized, Simmer-Brown offered to meet with Moore in person.
“It sounds like this may be a more personal conversation between you and me and I would be delighted to talk with you one on one about that,” said Simmer-Brown, effectively silencing a discussion about silencing, and further blurring the lines between public responsibility, private resolutions, and perhaps even therapy.
It’s important to understand that in this and similar sub-cultures, private meetings with teachers are highly valued and largely understood as intimate transmission moments. The assumption is that far from being confrontational or eliciting accountability, the meeting will offer the leader an opportunity to communicate some deeper, secret truth that will give the member relief.
After offering a private meeting, Simmer-Brown then went on to self-reference, talking about her own periods of outsidership in relation to the community.
The appeal to private reckoning is not only used to evade public accountability. It can also be used to deflect the institutional responsibility that organization leaders hold.
Simmer-Brown is not just a rank-and-file Shambhala member. She is one of forty “Acharyas”, authorized by Ösel Mukpo (now accused of forcible confinement and attempted rape) to transmit initiated or restricted group content in retreat settings. In her public life, Simmer-Brown is the author of the feminist-inflected study of the “Dakini” principle in Tibetan Buddhism. She has served as the Chair of Shambhala’s Teacher’s Academy, Chair of Religious Studies at Naropa, and has sat on the Board of Shambhala International. Beyond her group, Simmer-Brown also serves on the steering committee of the Contemplative Studies Group of the American Academy of Religion.
But throughout Saturday’s event, Simmer-Brown repeatedly defaulted to the private register. The effect, in part, was to deinstitutionalize her relationship with Mukpo, and restricted her criticisms to the intimate level of disappointment. She did not use the terms that would be necessary on an organizational level to analyze events and reform structures, such as “power imbalance”, “assault”, or “victim”. Simmer-Brown has a long history with Mukpo, she explained, having bonded with him in sorrow over the deadly sexual abuses of Tom Rich, Trungpa’s appointed successor, and having played a key role in soliciting the sympathies of Tibetan luminaries, on Mukpo’s behalf, at the time.
Simmer-Brown is now “mad at him about certain things and disappointed about certain things. And am shaken about various things. But my love for him abides.”
Simmer-Brown makes implicit use of her credentials and her public register, however, in her role as a scriptural explicator. The text upon which she was commenting, she said:
is an early teaching that came from the foundational Canon, the Pali Canon of Buddhism, teachings given by the Buddha shortly before he passed. And in reading these teachings, I realize there was a crisis in the sangha then, when the Buddha passed, particularly because he did not appoint a Dharma heir and there was no clear direction forward. The teachings that I will be presenting to you came from this early period of Buddhism, but they became very important as well during the Mahayana period. Obviously people went back to these teachings over and over and most recently Mipham the great in the 19th century, wrote a text where he talked about these Four Reliances and talked about their importance as a way of really knowing how to stabilize our practice in difficult times. The original teaching was published in a Sutra called the Catuḥpratisaraṇa Sutta, which means the Four Reliable Refuges, and then the more recent teaching that came from Mipham the Great, came from a text called the Sword of Wisdom where he taught a number of classical topics. It’s said that Mipham the Great composed this text, the Sword of Wisdom, in a single day in 1885, and it consists of 104 verses bringing in foundational things that we need to know in order to be resilient practitioners.
There are several problems here. There is no “Catuḥpratisaraṇa Sutta” (the term is a garble of Sanskrit and Pali) in the Pali Canon. The Four Reliances is a Mahayana idea, which means that it dates to as many as five centuries after the Buddha’s death, and is at considerable variance from the Pali content. Comparing the succession issues in the Buddha’s time to repeated and ongoing abuse crises at Shambhala International is a false equivalency that covertly compares Trungpa to the Buddha himself.
Lost on many outsiders will be the implication of using Mipham the Great as a primary reference. Ösel Mukpo is said to be the reincarnation of this philosopher. In other words: Simmer-Brown is using teaching content that ostensibly comes from the past-perfected mind-stream of an alleged abuser, in order to address the crisis caused by that same abuse. The implication is that the Mukpo’s “wisdom” is somewhere, somehow intact, untouched by the present circumstance, which it can now help to heal.
The citation and its usage spin in a mutually reinforcing feedback loop that allows Mukpo’s current “personality or individuality” to be bypassed in favour of relying “on the Dharma teachings themselves”, which are elided with the perfected Mukpo, who resides in the great beyond.
It does not matter whether these interpretive issues are oversights, educational gaps, or outright manipulations. The net effect is deceptive: the whole premise of the event is that the presenter is authoritative when it comes to scripture, transparency, and community care.
So: there is a general promotion of group practice as the answer to group abuse. There’s quote from Thrangu Rinpoche that minimizes institutional abuse as the Guru’s “foibles” or “defects”. There’s a comparison between the online explosion of outrage and a “storm” — a code word in Tibetan Buddhism for ephemeral phenomena. (Far from ephemeral, it is the very reason Simmer-Brown is giving the talk.) And there is the continued use of honorifics to refer to Trungpa — even as the larger community debates whether his image should be banished from shrine rooms around the world.
A more sophisticated mechanism of psychosocial control on display here is the persistent dismissal of “concepts”, “premature conclusions”, and “taking sides”. These basic ethical functions are said to be “more painful than” non-dual experience, in which one cannot take a position.
One of the questioners agreed with this premise.
“I think conceptuality can be so tricky,” they said, “and so sneaky and nefarious and easy to mistake for experience and so I’m wondering if you could speak more to like how we can identify operating from a place of our nondual wisdom experience instead of conceptuality.”
“Well,” replied Simmer-Brown, “and as we know Buddhist tradition particularly in Tibet is just full of beautiful concepts and concepts are, are useful and they have their place, but there’s no substitute for practice.”
In my notes about Chödron, I suggested that it is up to Shambhala International to show how such invocations of mystical union do not encourage members to use their group-given practices to dissociate from their agency in the light of conflict and abuse. I believe the same test applies here.
Perhaps the most disturbing language that Simmer-Brown uses involves a reinforcement of the hard line between the insider and outsider status that Moore illuminated. It comes through a discussion of the hierarchical difference between “hindrance doubt” and “questioning doubt”, and the roles each play in the life of a Buddhist. The former is worldly and paralyzing, while the latter is to be nurtured and embraced as a path to integrity.
“The profundity of the Shambhala teachings for me,” said Simmer-Brown,
has been the ability to relate to the great doubt of our culture, the doubt in basic goodness. The Sakyong has said, the Dorje Dradul has said, that the little doubts are invitations for deeper investigation. The great doubt in basic goodness is what really has become a blight on our society and has led us toward the setting sun. So as practitioners, our primary path is working in a healthy way with the doubts. Doubts, plural, have a beautiful place on our path, including doubts about our teachers, doubts about lots of things, but if we begin to doubt the fundamental goodness, then we have given into the setting sun world.
Who is this advice really for? Is it right to suggest that those who turn away from the group altogether are no longer working with their doubts “in a healthy way?” Why is “doubt in the fundamental goodness” of the world and existence presented as the likely outcome of disillusionment with institutional abuse? What is the “setting sun world”? It is the world outside of or beyond the “Great Eastern Sun” of Shambhala.
Through entrainment or conviction, Simmer-Brown seems to be suggesting something that cannot be said outright:
If by some indefinable measure, members’ doubts about their teachers cease to be “healthy”, not only do they run the risk of giving up on their own “fundamental goodness”, they’re actually no better than those who inhabit the “setting sun world”, where the Shambhala teachings are invisible.
For some members, this could amount to a furtherance of disorganized attachment pattering: a threat of banishment, disguised with something that sounds like love.
I’ve found Stein’s framework so useful in my life and work. I’ll end by introducing another framework. Perhaps it’s now up to Shambhala International to show how events like Simmer-Brown’s talk are not continuing acts of “institutional betrayal”, as outlined by Jennifer Freyd.
Freyd says institutional betrayal occurs when environments are created where experiences of abuse are more likely, and more difficult to report. Project Sunshine provides many textbook examples of longterm institutional betrayal within Shambhala International. Saturday’s event continues the theme: don’t name the actions, minimize them if you do, and always make their effects abstract against a more-important spiritual backdrop.
In their landmark study, Freyd and Parnitzke Smith found that: “sexually assaulted women who also experienced institutional betrayal experienced higher levels of several posttraumatic symptoms. This pattern of results may offer an explanation for the increased difficulties observed following abuse experienced in institutional settings such as the military… institutionalized childcare… and cases of domestic violence involving failed attempts to seek help from the justice system.
“It appears that the added betrayal surrounding sexual assault exacerbates what is already a traumatic experience for most women.”
Vidyadhara: “Awareness-holder”. Honorific for Chögyam Trungpa
Dorje Dradul: “Ultimate warrior”. Honorific for Chögyam Trungpa
Sawang: “Earth lord”, likely dynastic heir. Honorific for Ösel Mukpo, Trungpa’s son, prior to his becoming the “Sakyong” (“earth protector”), in 1995.
Prajna: Internal wisdom.
Garchen: A tantric practice retreat at which various levels of initiated practice are bestowed upon group members. Simmer-Brown is referring here to this recent event.
Terma: Received, found, or channeled religious content, often revealed to initiates as liturgy for Tantric practice. The recent Garchen, for instance featured a transmission of the “Scorpion Seal” terma, said to be channeled by Trungpa in the early 1980s, but revealed by Ösel Mukpo decades later.
Great Eastern Sun: Epithet for the mythical land of Shambhala.
Setting sun world: Everywhere other than the mythical land of Shambhala.
Rigdens: Kings of the mythical land of Shambhala.
Well good morning everyone. Good to see you. Here it is. My pleasure to introduce someone who needs little introduction, perhaps many of you. We have the, uh, the privilege of hearing from Acharya Judith Simmer-Brown today. The Acharya Judith, as you know, is a senior teacher in the Shambhala lineage and has just completed her 40th year on the Naropa faculty as a distinguished professor of contemplative and religious studies. And so with that, thank you for being here Judith.
Judith S-B: 00:01:53
I just have to take a moment to look around and see, well many old friends and friends and, and thanks for coming out on a Saturday afternoon, a beautiful day. I’m so delighted to see all of you. This has been a rough time, I don’t know about for you, but certainly for me and for our community and my mind goes back to a major crisis in our community 30 years ago, when, after the passing of the Vidyadhara, and finding out about the illness of the Regent, and all of the scandals associated with that time and the extremely breakdown of our community in the couple of years after that, as people began to shout and vilify each other and insist that everybody take sides and to this day there are people in our community who are not speaking to each other because of the incredible difficulty and pain and heartbreak of that particular time in our community.
And I have a fear of that kind of thing happening again. It was a major crisis and it’s remarkable that our community has continued in the years since then. And at least so far, while there’s storms on social media and there are things that are said around the margins, I have experienced our community as connected often in a more authentic and deeper, more honest way than we have in a very long time. And I take great comfort in that. Knowing that we don’t know what’s going to happen next.
Ironically, 30 years ago when all this was happening with our community, I was in Nepal, with my family having just directed the study abroad program for Naropa. And at the time, in December of 2008 [sic. the year was 1988], The students had just left to go home and the then Sawang who was studying at Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche’s monastery and had been there for the all the time that I was there. I was in Nepal that time for eight months and the Sawang was studying at Tsechen Monastery at that time and he sent for me and took me up to the roof of the guest house where he was living and told me slowly with very deep sadness, the whole story of what had happened with the Regent and about the students who had been — one particular student who had been infected with AIDS — and all of the incredible tumult in the community. And I had known the Sawang for some time. But in that particular moment we both were weeping as we looked out in the whole area around the monastery, realizing the kind of impact that it would have on our community.
And at the end of this time, while he told me of the events and I felt so heartbroken as I do now, he asked me if I would be his secretary for the months that came because he was receiving many phone calls and messages from our international community trying to pull him into one camp or another. And during the months that I worked with him with my young son in a backpack on my back, um, I was sent around to different monasteries asking for pujas and practices on behalf of our community and was tasked with telling various Lamas about what had happened and to sit with them while they wept for our community. And for the legacy of the Vidyadhara. During that time, I came to deeply love the Sawang — now the Sakyong. Love him for his authenticity, his depth, his steadiness in the midst of a real crisis and his wisdom.
And I love him still. Even though I’m mad at him about certain things and disappointed about certain things. And am shaken about various things. But my love for him abides. So in my remarks to you, I’m speaking from the complications of the many things I feel and my own experience over my years of practice of “Where do I find stability? Where do I find some sense of ground in an incredibly groundless situation? A situation with sometimes lots of upheaval and sometimes things are more steady for me personally and especially because as an Acharya there are many turning to me for support and help. I feel they’re tumult as well. it’s contagious. So in my life of practice and each of us have a different story, a different way of working with adversity in our lives. And adversity like this world, working with individually and as a community and as a larger community of Buddhists in the West. Having heard from many practitioners from other Tibetan Buddhist communities and other American Buddhist communities of feeling the reverberation of all of this. I wanted to just say that for me, there’s been tremendous benefit in joining practice and study and a long life of studying Buddhist texts and commentaries and looking for my guru on every page.
So the question that I bring to you today is “How do we become resilient practitioners in the midst of a crisis like this and whatever crises are yet to come that we may not yet know about?” So are you with me so far? Okay.
I found several teachings that have been incredibly helpful to me in finding some kind of stability and the first one is the one that was advertised with this talk, the teaching of what’s known as the Four Reliances. This is an early teaching that came from the foundational Canon, the Pali Canon of Buddhism, teachings given by the Buddha shortly before he passed. And in reading these teachings, I realize there was a crisis in the sangha then, when the Buddha passed, particularly because he did not appoint a Dharma heir and there was no clear direction forward. The teachings that I will be presenting to you came from this early period of Buddhism, but they became very important as well during the Mahayana period. Obviously people went back to these teachings over and over and most recently Mipham the great in the 19th century, wrote a text where he talked about these Four Reliances and talked about their importance as a way of really knowing how to stabilize our practice in difficult times.
The original teaching was published in a Sutra called the Catupratisadana sutta , which means the Four Reliable Refuges, and then the more recent teaching that came from Mipham the Great, came from a text called the Sword of Wisdom where he taught a number of classical topics. It’s said that Mipham the Great composed this text, the Sword of Wisdom, in a single day in 1885, and it consists of 104 verses bringing in foundational things that we need to know in order to be resilient practitioners.
So I’d like to share these four with you and my understanding of them because they have definitely helped me. The Four Reliances are worded, do not rely on this, rely on this, but as I understand each of the four, it’s not that we discovered the first because without the first we cannot access the second, so there’s a sense that the first is something that we turn to and we deeply connect with, but what we rely on is the second, so let me read these four through and then I’ll treat them one at a time.
They are, the first one is do not rely on the personality or individuality of the teacher. Rely on the Dharma teachings themselves. The second is do not rely on the literal words. Rely on the meaning of the teachings. The third is to not rely on merely provisional teachings. Rely on the definitive or ultimate teachings. And the fourth is, do not rely on conceptual mind. Rely on the nondual wisdom of experience.
So let me talk about each of these one at a time and they each go very much together. The first one, do not rely on the personality or individuality of the teacher. Rely on the Dharma teachings to themselves. This is a teaching which is saying that the teacher of course, is crucial. We’ve learned to turn to the teacher. Without a personal transmission of the teachings, teachings are merely words on a page and we can’t get these teachings from words on pages. The teacher kindness through generosity, through skill is able to bring the teachings directly to us in a way that helps us really deeply absorb and really understand the teachings, but too often we get caught up in a kind of personality cult of the teacher and we focus too much on the individual characteristics of the teacher rather than on the teacher as teacher, as the kind lineage holder who brings the teachings to us in a very personal way, and so of course we love our teachers and that’s fantastic.
We may sometimes not love them. We may in fact develop incredible antipathy toward them, but the real measure is what are the teachings that they bring us and how do we connect and understand those teachings themselves? This is what is reliable. This is the key to our connection with a teacher that can help stabilize the ups and downs that we may go through in the teacher student relationship. Again, not to discard the teacher, but rely on the teacher as one who gives us teachings and connects us with the lineage.
The second reliance is do not rely on the literal words. Rely on the meaning. We of course need the literal words of the teachings that we receive. If we don’t know those literal words, there is no meaning available to us, and so as we studied the teachings, as we hear the teaching is, as we put the teachings, really apply them in our experience, we need to really connect with the literal meaning of the words because the literalness of the words, but the meaning is something that is about how this dawns in us in our own experience. And so this quality of meaning dawning is the key to our contemplative meditation. The key to not just be kind of Buddhist fundamentalists about things, but to really allow the meaning to dawn afresh over and over again in our experience. The meaning changes. We go back to some of her favorite Dharma books, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism — every time I read that book, it’s a new book. Same words on the page, but it dawns in a different way. So of course without the book, without the literal words, the meaning could not possibly dawn. So this is what we rely on, the way in which these literal words, dawn, in our experience in a fresh, immediate way. Mipham the Great spoke of the literal words as fingers pointing to the moon. We thought only zen teachers talked about fingers pointing at moons, but Mipham the Great talked about fingers pointing to the moon, the literal words pointing to the meaning as it dawns in our experience.
The third one, do not rely on merely the provisional teachings. Rely on the definitive or ultimate teachings. And this is a huge, this could lead to a huge conversation, but one way to understand the provisional teachings: Do not rely on teachings that are limited by specific cultural context, applied to very specific cultural environment. Instead rely on those teachings that transcend culture. Of course, we live within a particular socio-cultural location, and we hear things within that particular socio-cultural location, but if the teachings are limited to that, we immediately become a very provincial exclusive sangha that doesn’t really reflect on the universal application of those teachings. It’s important to recognize those aspects of the teachings that transcend time and culture and to rely on those.
So thinking about such things, it’s a going back to the time of the Vidyadhara, and his love of Oxonian English, and how he loved to have us drill in a Oxonian in English pronunciation. I don’t think that it was meant that we are all to be speaking in Oxonian accents to each other all the time or carrying on particular British table manners, some of the odd ways that he wanted us to do ballroom dancing. I don’t see those as transcending culture. The principles behind them do transcend culture in some kind of way. So this is a very provocative one and raises the question for me about such things as patriarchy. Is Patriarchy a culturally specific form? The perhaps does not fit in a western Dharma situation of this time. What kind of ways can we apply the sense of respect and dignity without employing cultural forms that are perhaps not appropriate or relevant for our time and place? It raises lots and lots of questions like that and these conversations are happening all over our Shambala world. What kind of governance structure do we need? What kind of way can we cultivate dignity and kindness in our society without falling into too narrow a cultural form? What are the definitive transcultural values that we can carry into the way Shambhala should look?
I think the main thing that we understand that I should speak only for myself, the main thing that I understand as the transcultural values of Shambhala have to do with honour and virtue, kindness and community and always lineage. How do we understand “lineage” in this particular point in time?
Then the Fourth Reliance do not rely on conceptual mind. Rely on nondual wisdom experience. This is an incredibly important one and one that I work with every single day because in these particular times with everything flying around, concepts are flying like crazy. Mine are, I don’t know about yours, my mind looking for a place to land wants to come up with some kind of conclusion or position. But conceptual mind is not reliable, and of course concepts still keep coming up all the time, but can we rely, especially on our nondual wisdom experience as the precious treasure of our lineage, more precious than any conceptual teachings that we may have received. Can we allow ourselves to hold paradoxes, complexity in our experience without trying to boil it down to very simple conclusions at any given moment. What is it like for us to rely on the nondual wisdom of experience? That’s really the challenge. It’s a challenge I’m facing every day. I’m sure a lot of us are.
Those are the Four Reliances and I have two other things I’d like to share with you if I may go on and then we will have a discussion.
Shambhala teachings have put a great deal of emphasis on the notion of freedom from doubt. That’s a very difficult teaching these days, given how many of us are caught up in many doubts. So I think this is an important teaching to reflect on what is meant. Freedom from doubt, if you may remember the Vidyadhara or the Dorje Dradul talked especially about freedom from fear, but in our current explication of the Shambhala teaching. So we see that freedom from doubt is more important and I find it very helpful to go back into my Buddhist studies about this and do you use them as a way to reflect on the Shambhala teaching about freedom from doubt? Because I do find that freedom from doubt is really important, but what kind of doubt?
The early teachings of the Buddha talked about two kinds of doubt. One kind of doubt is the kind of doubt that gets you stuck on the horns of a dilemma. It’s sometimes called the hindering doubt or skeptical doubt. And in Theravadin Buddhism, it’s one of the five hindrances to be caught in doubt, doubt that paralyze a shoe that makes you feel you cannot continue, that you cannot practice, you cannot go along with your path, and there’s lots of that kind of doubt around now. The Buddha warned about this kind of doubt because it does freeze us in paralyze us, but he talked about a different kind of doubt, a doubt that could be called questioning doubt or it’s doubt that’s connected with the kind that inspires deeper investigation and the development of prajna.
How do we bring doubt onto our paths such that we can go more deeply and go for deeper, more profound understanding rather than the more superficial understanding that we’ve had in the past. This is what’s talked about in the famous Pali Sutta called the Kallama Sutta which talks about the importance of questioning doubt, the kind of doubt that opens up what’s what we’re looking at. Rather than closing it down and freezing it. I dare say that none of us could be practitioners for even a second or third day without working with our doubt in a healthy, inquisitive way. I certainly would not, and working with doubt has been a major part of my path all the way along and it’s probably what has constantly drawn me to join practice and study together. It’s this magic combination of practice and study together that allows my hindrance doubt to turn into questioning doubt, and to open up a deeper and deeper appreciation for aspects of the path. The profundity of the Shambhala teachings for me has been the ability to relate to the great doubt of our culture, the doubt in basic goodness.
The Sakyong has said, the Dorje Dradul has said, that the little doubts are invitations for deeper investigation. The great doubt in basic goodness is what really has become a blight on our society and has led us toward the setting sun. So as practitioners, our primary path is working in a healthy way with the doubts. Doubts, plural, have a beautiful place on our path, including doubts about our teachers, doubts about lots of things, but if we begin to doubt the fundamental goodness, then we have given into the setting sun world.
And this is our greatest challenge, to entertain and work in a healthy, ongoing, inquisitive way with the doubts that come up without falling into the despair that human goodness is not possible, is not manifest in our world. This is really our lifeline for practice. And for me personally, this has been a challenging time. But the fundamental conviction in the power of basic goodness is what gives me the core of what I feel I can rely on in what I have received in the Shambhala teachings. And I feel completely committed that the purpose of my life is to preserve and practice these teachings about basic goodness.
There’s one last thing I’d like to share with you. Have many more things I could say, but um, I don’t want to talk too long. I want to allow time for all of you. I want to say that in my years of practicing with the Sakyong and seeing him on his journey, I’ve seen difficult times for him. I’ve seen challenges for him, but in general, the Sakyong depicted in the news stories. It’s not the Sakyong I know, And so maybe I’ve missed something along the way. And it absolutely breaks my heart that there have been women who have been harmed by his conduct and I realize that we as a community did not do enough to take care and to find out what happened with this women. So I hold this paradox in my heart as my path of warriorship. My love and respect for the Sakyong, his teacher and what I’ve gotten from him, and my heartbreak about the harm that has occurred that we as a community, the Sakyong as teacher did not take care of and address. So I just want to say this. Holding this paradox is my path of warriorship that sends me into lots of ups and downs.
I wanted to read the last thing, a quote from Thrangu Rinpoche, which I have seen on the Internet. It was sent me originally by a dear friend from Halifax, is a quote that comes from a talk that Thrangu Rinpoche gave in 1997 at Rigpe Dorje center in San Antonio, Texas, and it was published in 2001 in a publication, let’s see, I want to make sure I get the name of the publication correct. It’s his commentary on creation and completion that — my pages are messed up. Here we go it’s in the Shenpen Ösel is the name of the Journal, a Kagyu journal which publishes teaching some remember. So keep in mind this is a teaching that came in 1997. Thrangu Rinpoche has always been for me a Dharma uncle. I’m one of the lamas who he’s one of the lamas that I was sent to talk to 30 years ago about what was happening with the Regent and I will never forget how he sat and wept with me in his monastery in Boda and his kindness. So he’s Dharma uncle still. He says:
Devotion is necessary because fundamentally we need to practice Dharma, and if you have 100 percent confidence in Dharma, then your practice will be 100 percent. If you have less confidence in Dharma, then your practice will be less intense. The less intense your practice, the less complete the result. Therefore it is essential to have confidence in and devotion for Dharma itself. There has to be trust in the Guru. If you trust the Guru, then you will trust the Dharma and if you trust the Dharma, then you will practice it. However, faith in one’s Guru does not mean blind faith. It does not mean believing my Guru is perfect even though your Guru is not perfect. It is not pretending that your Guru’s defects are qualities. It is not rationalizing every foible of the Guru into super human virtue. After all, most Guru will have defects. You need to recognize them for what they are. You don’t have to pretend that your Guru’s defects are qualities because the object of your devotion is not the foibles, quirks and defects of your Guru, but the Dharma that your Guru teaches you, you are not practicing the gurus foibles. As long as the Dharma you receive is authentic and pure than that Guru is a fit, object for your devotion, the results that you get you get from the Dharma that you practice. You need to recognize the defects of your Guru as defects. You don’t need to pretend they are otherwise. The Guru’s defects cannot hurt you because because it is not they that you create and cultivate, you follow the teaching of the Guru and trust, meaning, trust principally in the validity of the teachings themselves.
Thank you for listening and in our discussion, I would first like to entertain questions or comments about what I’ve said and then we’ll open it up more fully to additional things you might be reflecting on today.
First Question: 00:35:44
Thank you so much. Acharya very touching. Talk. My question is about, uh, I think when you were talking about the qualities that transcend culture, I think the last one you might’ve mentioned was lineage. I’m wondering if you could expand on that and talk about more why lineage transcends culture.
Judith S-B: 00:36:11
In my understanding of Buddha Dharma as a non theistic religion, the transmission of the teacher is essential and Buddhism is just a bunch of books if we do not rely on the living transmission from generation to generation from the teacher. So that transmission moment is not about the personality of the teacher but about the teachings and about the teachers’ commitment to pass these teachings on. And what I see in the Sakyong is his incredible dedication to passing on the teachings of his father from the terma lineage and to making sure that these teachings are practiced and realized. So that that transcends, it’s tricky about what form it may take, but that transcends culture when it comes to Buddhism. Buddhism is not going to become the kind of tradition or religion where there are no teachers and there’s no lineage. You don’t have any Buddhadharma without lineage. Does that answer your question? Very much so, thank you.
Second Question: 00:37:41
Thank you Judith. I’ll try and articulate my question? Um, it’s difficult because the quote you just read from, Thrangu Rinpoche, gets to the core puzzle I’ve been experiencing ever since the news first came out, um, which is Thrangu Rinpoche said as long as you rely on the purity of the Dharma as transmitted by the teacher, and that’s it. And that makes sense to me. And so personally I’m, having been around for awhile. I, I do have a great deal of confidence in the purity of the diamond itself and that is completely unshaken, at the same time when such relative conduct, such human conduct, um, occurs that, that has been said about what happened in the Sakyong, and various women and so forth. Um, it undermines that sense of trust in the purity of what has been transmitted on a more relative level. And so
Judith S-B: 00:38:55
I don’t, I can’t draw a line between those things
Second Question: 00:38:55
I can’t either.
Judith S-B: 00:39:01
This is why there are ups and downs for me, of trying to identify what’s reliable and what’s not is it feels to me the main thing I’m working with. And um, so, um, I can’t really answer your question. I’m just saying that this particular teaching has been helpful for me to begin to really contemplate. This brings up the questioning doubt for like going more deeply. So as I’m doing my practices and reading the texts of the sock young at all of that, I have this question. Okay. What’s culturally, it’s very specific. That might be provisional and what might be ultimate about this, what might be the literal words, what might be the meaning? So I’m giving you the categories. How we apply the categories is really, that’s for me the path and all of this.
Second Question: 00:40:01
Thank you. I wasn’t looking for fit definitive answer from you particularly. It was more like I just wanted to articulate the puzzle I’m working with. I’m sure people can identify with and you know, I, I think as a community it’s a very useful and interesting contemplation and for one is going in this community for over 40 years, you know, it’s really good. I feel it’s very healthy that I’m thrown back on myself yet again to think about what are we doing, what is pure here, what is bullshit, you know…
Judith S-B: 00:40:42
What’s bull shit in me? What’s bullshit? And you know, I came a week ago from the Garchen, which was a two week retreat with a 240 people from all over the world who are going through their own version of this journey. And what was remarkable to me about the Garchen was the incredible. It was rough, especially the first four days. Very rough. But the depth of practice, the quality of authenticity, the genuineness of people with each other, the honest, the no-bullshit quality. And the incredible kindness was incredibly moving to me. And um, I feel like this is what we mean by path, you know, um, that when we get too solid and come to, to sort of quick a position about things, our practice dies on the vine right there. So I think there’s this quality of nakedness is what we’ve learned about practice and individually I think we’re going through that. And I think as a community as well, so there are signs of incredible health along with the incredible heartbreak and wondering what is going to happen.
Third Question: 00:42:47
I’m in [inaudible] for the Level Two this weekend, so considering doubt and doubtlessless is very apt. Perfect timing and in preparing for that. I was reading Sacred World by Jeremy and Karen Hayward and just reminded about the importance of space in my mind and practice and that there’s no difference between the space out here in the space in here and um, and that’s what I have been missing when I get on Facebook. That’s what I am missing. And in other conversations where there’s that desire to come to a conclusion and solidify things. Um, so I was just very refreshed and I’m appreciative of coming across a reminder of that teaching. Um, and I think somehow related, I’m not sure I’m going to be able to make the link, but when you were talking about prajnaI think one of the things that’s been tricky and painful for me or I’ve been struggling with is that when individuals who are encountering a feeling of “This doesn’t feel good the way I’m being treated in any situation doesn’t feel good” and they go and they talk to other people, especially senior teachers or leaders about that. And that person’s prajna is actually there. They’re encouraged in some way just I think perhaps out of our own ignorance to sidestep there their own prajna, to not see clearly what’s going on. And I guess it, it sounds like when people talk about being silenced in terms of talking about their experiences that feels like, and I don’t mean dramatizing our experiences too much or you know, making accusations and allegations in terms of talking about our experience. But someone just saying, “I’m really confused about what happened here. And then they’re somehow their prajna isn’t recognized. You kind of get what I’m like, their ability to see that there’s something wrong here was not acknowledged. And, and, and I, I think that a lot of what people have been upset about is that, that seems to have been a systemic in our culture.
Judith S-B: 00:45:16
I think that for whatever reason, we became some kind of monoculture of a particular party line at times about things maybe because we individually we’re afraid of our own doubt. I don’t know. I do feel that what’s going on is our community’s Karma that we need to work with and that we’re part of a larger society where it’s the larger society’s Karma as well and it needs to be worked with and hopefully we can can do this. it’s work that really needs to happen and as heartbroken as I am, I don’t regret that the conversations and the whole situation has opened up. I do feel that as a Dharma practitioner, there’s a tremendous truth of impermanence and, um, the impermanence of our Shambhala systems may be very good news.
Fourth Question: 00:46:55
So if we’re looking at our karma and the lineage, how do we open up a space to practice understanding, the lineage, the behaviors of the Regent, behaviors of the Trungpa Rinpoche, and the context of the Sakyong. How do we make space for all of that if we’re really looking at this and trying to heal and trying to move forward. We have a history of practices and behaviors that for some reason I’ve just been sort of, it’s there but it’s not there. So how do we open up space for that?
Judith S-B: 00:47:28
That’s what this is. I think this series of “Conversations that Matter” have been opening up a lot of this and we were on a journey that’s going to take a while to unpack this, to try to understand it, to identify what all this is about and it’s, it’s challenging for us individually as challenging for us as a community. But we’re at the very beginning of this process. This journey that we’re on is less than six weeks old. And of course there were the, there were things coming out before, but this whole kind of a meltdown that we’re experiencing as a community is still in its early days and the wonderful thing is rather than turning us against each other, we are talking. And it’s hard to know it’s too soon in the process to know where these conversations will go and there are very deep feelings about it all, pro and con and all of that. So I hope that we can keep the openness of the space to hold diverse points of view while we go through this. Because there is a fundamental health in all of this, if we can really hold together in the journey and really listen to each other and not come to premature conclusions about it all. I appreciate your raising the question.
Kathleen Moore: 00:47:28
My question pertains not the Sakyong situation but to the community and so I’m not sure if my timing is right in terms of how you’re wanting the questions to go. And so I just wanted to check in with you.
Judith S-B: 00:49:59
I hadn’t seen any more hands. Were there anymore questions or comments about what I specifically said? There’s one in the front row. Could we take this question and then we’ll come back to you?
Kathleen Moore: 00:50:10
That’s why I’m asking.
Judith S-B: 00:50:12
Okay. Thank you very much for checking in.
Sixth Question: 00:50:24
Thank you so much for your teachings. I have a question about Four Reliances. I have a question about The Four Alliances. It seems like one of the reasons that we have these teachings is because it’s so easy to get stuck on the first one and I’m thinking about the fourth one in particular and I’m wondering if you could speak more. I think conceptuality can be so tricky and so sneaky and nefarious and easy to mistake for experience and so I’m wondering if you could speak more to like how we can identify operating from a place of our nondual wisdom experience instead of conceptuality.
Judith S-B: 00:51:13
Well, and as we know Buddhist tradition particularly in Tibet is just full of beautiful concepts and concepts are, are useful and they have their place, but there’s no substitute for practice. And one of the beauties about the Garchen that we were just at a number of us together, for two weeks is we were practicing all day and it allowed the space to connect with each other across tremendously different points of view. There were some people there who were just furious and there are other people there who just, “Everything is fine” and you know, all the different, everything in between. So as we started there were the contrasting points of view and rubbing up against each other and it was painful. And then the more we settled, and I think the beauty of right now is that our own confusion and pain might actually drive us more deeply into practice. Then there were people who reported before they came to the Garchen they hadn’t been able to practice. And the level of pain that goes up when you can’t practice, won’t practice, you know, whatever. And then the concepts. So the only thing going on causes such extreme levels of pain. So I think whatever pain we feel in the groundlessness is nothing like, at least in my experience, the pain of concepts, whatever extremes they may be. So if we’re feeling a lot of pain. I think it’s a good incentive to practice more. Incredibly helpful. ,
Seventh Question: 00:53:30
Thank you so much, Judith. It’s good to see everybody again and I’m sad I missed the Garchen. I’ve been feeling um, the gathering of a, of that group of practitioners and I’m sending my heart from a distance. Thanks for being there because, uh, I’m um, what I wanted to comment on is about trust and doubt and that how different my personal relationship is to trust an doubt versus my cultural or social relationship and a lot of this, just because I feel safe and sound in my culture and in my practice doesn’t mean that I know that to be true for the people I care about near me. And, and I don’t know that, that we’ve gotten there yet. We don’t know, but the forms might look like to allow for that level of safety and I just wanted to acknowledge that you know, that we don’t know. We don’t know what’s going to change and uh, and what that’s gonna look like and in the meantime we can’t guarantee everyone’s experience. It’s actually going to take literal trial and error and speaking to each other. And I mean, I think that’s next. This has been such a powerful practice of hearing each other and showing up together. I guess I just wanted to name that there are people who, who don’t feel safe showing up yet until our forms are tried again. So it just came up to me around trust. My trust in the teachings is different than marketing my community as a safe and trusted place. It’s not true yet.
Judith S-B: 00:55:05
Absolutely. Part of the Shambala teachings talk about the epidemic of social mistrust in our society and the larger society is full of that kind of social mistrust and the feeling of basic badness that is so prevalent. And I think one of the things that’s so painful for many of us is we have really taken refuge in Shambhala in the midst of a really messed up world that we’re in politically in our country and in the world. And so it hits us really hard to have this happening in Shambhala. So the level of how social mistrust shows up here at the Garchen, And we, um, we had four different assemblies and I was lead in one of the assemblies and we lead Acharyas really aware that a lot of the protocols have assigned seating and hierarchy, just simply have no place. So we dispensed with as much as we possibly could while keeping the form of the Garchens. And um, we’re going to be experimenting a lot in our centers with how do we feel about each other, what kind of forms feel appropriate for us now? And how do we, how do we include everybody rather than a few people who are very vocal. And then there are a lot of people who have very strong feelings who don’t feel they can say much. And how do we take the time to really listen and feel our way forward about how we’re going to be as a community together. So, um, yeah, I think I appreciate your naming that because that is very much going on right now.
Seventh Question: 00:56:56
Thank you. I just saved the only way I can not take sides is just to name that I’m still falling.
Judith S-B: 00:57:02
You know, and yeah, I think I take a side and then I’m slipping to the other side and I’m, you know, I’m a Libra. What can I say?
Eighth Question: 00:57:45
I’m not a teacher. What I’ve learned, I’ve learned from all of you talking with you. And I feel like I’ve learned a few things, but I don’t know how to express it, but I know a lot of us get married and uh, we have sex with our wives and our wives seem to enjoy it very much and we get all excited and our ego starts going up. And so then we, uh, we go up here to Shambhala up in the mountains and there are all these young girls up there that are taking courses and at the end of this program we have a big dance and this dance occurs. And these girls were asking me would I dance with them? I’m already chosen. No. Oh, I thought, Whoa, what the hell? And so I danced with several other girls, same damn thing. And then when I went back to my room with, there were several guys, there are, one of them says, well, I’ve got to go because I’ve got a date. And what were they doing? Well there were enjoying sex. And the thing is the girls there were taught to well, you enjoy it, let them know you enjoy it. And so their ego goes up and up and pretty soon they think that any woman is going to be a and they have an enjoyable experience with them and they don’t always have an enjoyable experience. And so they think, Oh Gee or what’s wrong with me now? And the problem is their ego keeps going up and the ego is something we want to suppress.
Judith S-B: 01:00:06
If we can find it.
Eighth Question: 01:00:09
If we can find it, yes. But the problem is in the world is it every man thinks women should enjoy my having sex with them and we see it every day and women are beginning to complain about it, and they have every right to complain and we need to know that the stupid word we have for orgasm, yes, orgasm, it shouldn’t be something different. But the problem is that we can express what orgasm is for is for procreation. It took me a long time. It took me 72 years to figure that out. And I learned a from all of you. But you don’t seem to understand that you don’t have to have… There’s only one time you need to have an orgasm, that’s when you want to have a child, and it should be the woman’s choice. Not the man’s choice. And all the time. That’s all. Boy, we had sex before marriage or. Oh, you’re already pregnant. It’s a sad world where we don’t let women choose when they want to have sex.
Judith S-B: 01:02:00
Thank you so much. Hello. Lovely to see you.
Kathleen Moore: 01:02:06
I trusted what you were going to say today in some way, which is why I’m here because I have an essential trust from when our kids had play dates together and we would have conversations. This is more of a contemporary expression of something in the community that’s affecting me and so it’s very uncomfortable because I really don’t want this. Even though it’s my personal experience, I’m really not speaking it because it’s about me or because I need something. If one can hold some sort of an anthropological view while holding a personal view. So this is about Bill. I know it was just really hard to come in here and see his picture, although I knew it would be here and, and so I wanted to say first something that he said two community meetings ago because it’s relevant and what I need to say, which is
Judith S-B: 01:03:35
Does everyone know that she’s speaking of Bill Scheffel? Not everybody would know that. Who recently passed and his photograph is up here.
Kathleen Moore: 01:03:51
“I’m in a world of pain. When Trungpa Rinpoche died, there were many forces at work. Now there’s a phenomena of you’re either in or out. We are no longer a society. We’ve become a church. Society has division, diversity and dissonance. The rank-ism creates distance and has broken me.”
So I’m an outsider. I used to belong to this community and I left this community because I felt, um, that just wasn’t a good fit. I mean, it was just theologically different from what I wanted and that, that’s just fine. Um, but I also felt traumatized emotionally in this community. And when I met Bill, we entered into that difference of my lineage and his lineage and um, and it was challenging not so much between him and me, but his community and me and um, I felt often rejected sometimes people would actually literally turned their back on me if I was doing, well, whatever, I don’t want to get into, too much story. But um, and it put Bill into a tremendous place of tension. And since he died, his friends who are mostly senior students of Trungpa Rinpoche, almost all of them teachers, are saying things like, I killed him, that I’m responsible for his death. No one will say this to me. I hear it from others who’ve heard it and believe those people. But what I’m experiencing is incredible amounts of silence. Like when I email people and they don’t email me back or I call people like Chuck Lief and he doesn’t call me back when I’m trying to understand why I was ignored by him and treated the way I was at the Sukhavati. I don’t even know if it was personal or if it was just the field. And I just kinda want to clarify it. Now, I’m not saying I’m right. I’m just saying this is my experience, although I have been hearing things and, and that predates his death in some way. So my question is: I’m an outsider and if you want to talk about honour and kindness for each other and also with someone, who’s somewhat of an outsider. I mean I’m here because I feel still connected to this community and I feel great love for many people in this community and for the Dharma. So I feel like I have a personal responsibility as a defender of the Dharma in some way to talk about the negativity and so, Judith, and I just want something from you about some kind of way forward about how to work with difference and how. I mean how I’m perfectly happy to have conversation. I have great conversations with people in many traditions. One of my best friends is a Christian monk for chrissake, so. And we’ve had lots of conversations so I just don’t know if you have any comment about this or, or how to put it in some kind of relationship on how to manifest teachings that you’re talking about.
Judith S-B: 01:08:52
There’s a lot in what you’ve said and I was at the Garchen at the time of Bill Scheffel’s Sukhavati so I was not here that evening. He was a very precious human being and I know that many people were here to honor his life at that time. It sounds like this may be a more personal conversation between you and me and I would be delighted to talk with you one on one about that.
Fifth Question: 01:08:52
[inaudible, Moore refers to a phone message left for Judith]
Judith S-B: 01:09:31
Oh, I have not been into my Naropa office. Okay, good. Um, I will listen for your message on my answering machine when I’m next in the office, but uh, I would be delighted to talk with you one on one because it sounds like there’s a lot of pieces of that in terms of inside and outside. One of the challenges of our community is people feeling inside, outside, you know, in out kind of thing. And it’s been a theme for a lot of us. I’ve had in my many years in this community. I’ve had my times of feeling out in my times of feeling in and it’s really an issue for us to create a more open environment without such a tight sense of in and out and this is part of our ongoing conversation of what we need to work with and how do people define in and out if it’s closeness to the teacher. There are a lot of issues around that. If it’s, you know, how do we define being in a community? Um, we’ve struggled with that conversation for a long, long time. So at this point what I’d like to do is open it up so I’m not giving answers, but that people have a chance to share as we have in our previous conversations. I don’t want to be the reference point of somebody giving answers since we now have reached the point where we have discussed the talk that I gave, but if there are other things that people would like to say at this point, I would like to open it up to that kind of conversation.
Ninth Question: 01:11:03
Yes. Hi everyone. In May of 2001. I graduated from Graduate School, um, and became a psychotherapist a professionally and, uh, four months later, 9/11 happened. And, um, his client after client came into my office. Um, I was struck by my, um, well as a psychotherapist, you have your own feelings happening and have to contain those in some way to allow for your client to have their feelings. And this amazing, um, situation happens in the relationship. So what struck me the most during that time is that each client that came in had their own experience and reactions to this national tragedy. And a lot of it depended on where they grew up, um, what experiences they had had with, um, trauma, um, a lot of their own, um, their emotional reactions were varied from a terror to fear to confusion to a grief, despair. Um, and um, the biggest piece that I took away from that was that, um, we had to grieve together. And what I realized is that people that were from New York City had a way of really coming together in that community to grieve in a really, really deep way. Especially if they were in New York at the time and people that didn’t have as much of a connection or couldn’t talk about it were trying to grieve silently, uh, and, and in isolation. And so the biggest piece that I’m realizing is that however anyone feels about the situation, that underneath that there’s loss, there’s, there’s just loss. I’m not sure how we all can come together no matter how we’re thinking and feeling or how angry we are, how sad we are. How do we come to that place together. The other thing that I’ve learned over my tenure as a psychotherapist is that when a crisis happens in anybody’s life, it’s a wake up call, wake up to what sometimes a lot of times I don’t know when someone comes in and something devastating, devastating has happened in their lives. Um, but I do know that it’s time to wake up and to do something different. And, um, I feel that the situation that is on us right now holds that same dynamic.
Judith S-B: 01:11:03
Thank you. We have just a few more minutes and then we’ll adjourn to a more social setting. But I’m delighted.
Tenth Question: 01:15:31
Thank you, Judith. I’m something I’m, I’m hearing a lot about your hearing in this conversation is a lot around feeling a included versus excluded about, um, uh, as _____ talked about people’s prajna. I’m being honored versus ignored. Um, and I’m thinking about this, um, this idea of parallel process, which is a concept I learned awhile ago that what happens in a and all hierarchical situation, say in an elementary school principal interacts with the teacher is going to show up with how the teacher interacts with the children and also the other way around how the children interact with each other is going to affect how the teachers interact in the faculty lounge. Um, and I’ve, I’ve seen that personally. We have, um, it seems like some very centrally important teaching seemingly to me in Shambhala around natural hierarchy and, um, and around Court principle, the Mandala principle. And it seems like we’re, this, we’re, this seems like I’m a bit of a crisis point that has to do with our understanding this, that people who are in a, uh, a lower area of the hierarchy maybe don’t trust themselves to speak up to the hierarchy or if they do those in a, in a higher place, don’t trust. Um, and so it seems like we have a dysfunction there. And, and as I read the Sunshine Report that, that seemed to very prominent in there that people maybe saw things but didn’t say anything. Um, but if, if they were in a different situation, they may have said something if there wasn’t that hierarchy. Um, I know myself, I, I feel like I’m, I’m in situations where I sometimes feel like I’m on the inside and people value my insight very much. And then other times I’m on the outside and sort of the ding dong. And maybe that’s maybe both are true, but there is, it seems like we need to explore further — is natural hierarchy is core principle. Is that a core aspect of Shambhala? Whereas that, uh, the, the other one that you had spoken about the relative or not a core aspect. And if it is a core aspect, we seem to have dysfunction around it so that the people aren’t feeling excluded and pushed away. Um, so many people I know feel on the outside, I’ve seen the Sakyong look like he feels like he’s on the outside. He seems like one of the loneliest people in Shambhala as far as I can tell.
Judith S-B: 01:15:31
Tenth Question: 01:19:14
Especially now, you know, and um, how, how can we, and maybe maybe this court principle, you know, I’ve been invited to serve on the court but the court seems very far away. Very hot, intense place. Seems too hot for me. Especially now. Um, yeah, how can we look at these different things? So thank you.
Judith S-B: 01:19:43
This is all part of our conversation.
Eleventh Question: 01:20:00
Hello. Thank you Judith. I want to say that when I first got the email saying that you were going to talk about the Four Reliances, I said brilliant, absolutely perfect. And, uh, I, I believe that for me personally, and maybe for how I imagined for a lot of others, that this is exactly what we’re dealing with, the topic of the Four Reliances and the other things that you’ve mentioned, what I wanted to say, and I said this on Project Sunshine, it did not get a big response. But, um, we need to move forward and, uh, two ideas that I’ve had, one is a truth and reconciliation project and I’m speaking as one that’s been on the outside for like almost 50 years. And, and, uh, you know, uh, uh, I don’t know why there has to be an outside and inside, but, but there’s definitely a culture that needs to go and I think the hierachy thing needs to go and the monarchy thing needs to go. But I think a truth and reconciliation reconciliation project, which is absolutely uncompromising and I don’t know exactly how is implemented in that way, but that’s absolutely needs to happen. And the other thing that I wanted to suggest is that we have been talking about covering up the pictures and uh, I haven’t heard anybody talk about putting up the pictures. We have a 2,500 year old lineage and it’s been removed. It’s gone. I would say maybe before we take down or cover up anything but those back up and then see how we feel and maybe the Vajradhara, there might be a place for him too Okay. Thank you.
Judith S-B: 01:20:00
Twelfth Question: 01:22:25
Yes. Bring Back Vajrdhara.
Judith S-B: 01:22:41
So these are the last two and then we’ll close. Thank you. Lovely to see you
Thirteenth Question: 01:22:51
What you said was about doubt was really, really a relevant to me, not only in this situation, in the last long retreat I did. That was the main obstacle for me and it clarified to an extent what that was about. So I thank you just on a personal level and I feel really, really sad about Bill. It’s when I first found out it was like a, like an eclipse, an eclipse, and were there last week seems to be brightened up a bit. And that if anyone feels it’s their fault, I would urge you to please realize it’s not anyone’s fault in my opinion. And the other thing is, I remember Chogyam Trungpa talking about sangha and how we all have to be together, but each one of us has to remain in their own integrity, otherwise he said it’s like a, where does that game where you have to — dominoes and if you lose your integrity the sangha hasn’t lost its integrity. Then you know, one person loses their integrity and then pretty soon everyone else has fallen over. So just just seeing where you were talking about doubt and practice in the quality of finding what they call in Sanskrit “sthita” our stability inside seems to be really, really important. And that’s just my thoughts. Okay.
Fourteenth Question: 01:25:40
Judith, with your permission. I, and it’s not something I usually do at all. So, um, but it, it came to me today and it’s six lines. It’s a song and it, [inaudible] very good friends with taught at years and he describes his, said this song is the national anthem of Tibet. And I’m sure you know when I, I’m going to sing it, I’m not a great singer, so please accept my humble offering. But um, if I may, please. Yes, of course. Bodhisattva three times / Guru Rinpoche Maha sukha / Embodiment of all siddhis / Drudal Drakpo who clears all obstacles / grant your blessing, this I supplicate / Pacify outer, inner, and secret obstacles / Please our spontaneous wishes attain.
Judith S-B: 01:28:15
Thank you all for coming. It’s. This is a beautiful way to end our gathering. Thank you so much, ______, until we dedicate the merit together:
By this merit may all attain omniscience. May it defeat the enemy, wrongdoing, from the stormy waves of birth, old age sickness and death. From the ocean of Samsara may I free all beings by the confidence of the Golden Sun of the Great East. May the Lotus Garden of the Rigden’s wisdom bloom. Made the dark ignorance of sentient beings be dispelled. May all beings enjoy profound, brilliant glory.
Thank you for your consideration of this issue. I’ll first disclose my bias, as Judith is mother to a good friend and a friend in her own right. It seems to me you are taking a number of things in the worst way possible, and narrowly so to boot, while omitting content that may ameliorate your concerns. Further, un-nuanced criticism coming from a male outsider of a powerful woman in another community might be inappropriate. In fact, if I were to be narrowly critical, “inappropriate” would be the very least of the epithets I might use. Based on what else you have written, I think you would be able to make some edits to be more considerate of the fact that you are a man criticizing a woman talking about a man assaulting women, and without knowing the depth of her personal experiences on this issue. Now that aside, perhaps constructive criticism needs be cutting from time to time, and you bring up some good points. However, you make no mention of the vast array of other presentations and responses, the deep and difficult self-questioning that teachers have shared publicly, or that practice here refers to any manner of meditations, most of which are not exclusive to Shambhala (shamatha, vispassana, tonglen, etc). Does the severe misconduct of the Sakyong invalidate those practices, which are taught by other teachers such as Khandro Rinpoche or Lama Tsultrim? In fact they aren’t even exclusively Buddhist. While “practicing” could deepen relationship in this community, it could also bring one somewhere else entirely. Are you condemning Shambhala in its entirety and the teachings that have been passed down to these students? Do you believe the community and its institutions should be disbanded altogether? Is it beyond repair or redemption in your view? I myself don’t know the answers to all these, and I completely support anyone that needs something different than Shambhala–partly because I may need something different. The allusion to cults and abuses might be relevant but without actually comparing and contrasting incidents and responses you are evoking the pattern of those issues in Shambhala, but we are looking at a vast expanse of patriarchy in our wider society–we need to reconstruct the whole thing, and perhaps Shambhala will be able to do this, and perhaps it will fail to do so. If you didn’t like Shambhala to begin with this might seem like validation, and it might be validation, but I think you could offer more that is helpful and supportive to people that might be suffering along with your criticism. This feels a little like a dead-end, which will do more to deprive people of options than anything Judith said. Perhaps you could add links to resources you’d like people to have–such as the third party resources that Shambhala itself is gathering and sharing.
Thanks so much for commenting Jacob. If you can show me a few examples where you think I’m punching down, I’d be grateful. I think it’s really important to not use feminist discourse to derail an analysis of power. I’m not saying you’re doing this, but it happens all the time in these spaces. I likewise think it’s important to treat public documents and figures as public; to assume intentionality or presume deference to experience — especially in a field dominated by charisma — can also be an evasion.
I find your rhetorical questions about SI anxious; you’re transparent about this. “Are you condemning Shambhala in its entirety and the teachings that have been passed down to these students? Do you believe the community and its institutions should be disbanded altogether? Is it beyond repair or redemption in your view?” Answering any way on any of these would be grandiose. But I understand how existential questions emerge, when so many points of deception, failed witnessing, and basic questions of credulity (terma or alcoholism?) are on the line.
I did not link to Shambhala’s third-party resources, because some of the victims of SI abuses that I spoken to do not trust them. Freyd has more to say on this in the discourse on institutional betrayal. For many abuse victims, the only real third party is the law.
Okay, so I’m mostly an outsider to this conversation in that I’m not and never was affiliated with this organisation or any other spiritual group. I’ve read “When things fall apart” at low points in my life and luckily my instinct kept me from pursuing these “teachings” deeper.
Watching this unfold there’s one thing I truly don’t get. Imagine just one single episode of this desaster with different roles:
Imagine your daughter coming to you, utterly distraught, telling you about her colleague’s birthday party for his little daughter. Imagine your daughter weeping and telling you that said colleague groped her after everyone had left.
It’s different, isn’t it? Whether the people involved are your daughter and a random man you probably you don’t know. Or if the people involved are some more or less nameless women and The King of Enlightened Society you’ve taken vows to.
The notion is different, the crime isn’t.
I feel getting tired reading this talk. More “teachings”, more wisdom, more material to digest. It feels like they’re talking and talking to keep their minds busy and distracted from the freaking fact that the emperor is naked. Stark naked.
I know that some things are complicated, but calling a crime a crime isn’t. And neither is calling for justice and society’s accepted legal system to step in.
The legal systems of the setting sun world may be entirely imperfect, but imagine a thief breaking into one of your temples, destroying your most holy belongings, disturbing the peace of your community. Would you sit with your pain and meditate for his well-being and/or would you call the police to investigate the crime? It’s good to have some worldly authority to step in from time to time, isn’t it?
For God’s sake, who are you protecting? Is it the most vulnerable people of your community and/or
your peace of mind,
the man you’ve loved to worship,
your sense of self,
the community you love to with all your heart, which is the same community has given these men and women trauma.
Matthew, thank you for cutting straight through bullshit again and again.
I’ve been investigating this 4 reliances for years – i find translations differ.
The be honest it is hugely confusing and i’ve seen versions that are translated … Don’t rely on the teacher but the teachings.
That has been elaborated into personality or individuality (like lifestyle) of the teacher to make this a reinforcement of other texts where one can’t judge the teacher no matter how they behave.
The truth is rely on the teachings … of a qualified teacher, or they aren’t even valid and stop there.
Don’t rely on the literal words … except when they use them literaly to spiritually bypass rather than let us figure out the possible metaphors and how to apply them for ourselves. Also appeal to group speak – let us redefine the meaning of words for you.
Don’t rely on provisional but definitive or ultimate – that is also terrible. Much of the dharma is provisional meaning because it is a set of steps one takes and leaves behind in the search for meaning. Definitive changes over time and ultimate is the secrets that teachers usually are selling you, binding you into service if it is an exploitative teacher.
The conceptual mind is in fact prajna and that has to be sharpened before one might have some kind of non-dual experiences, but how does one apply non-dual to the relative world. This is putting the cart before the horse – vague cult tactics and there are different translations. One might just as easily say – don’t be talked into doing anything that doesn’t feel right for the last line because feeling may be a message from such wisdom mind.
So to hear that it may be a fabricated or synthesised piece of dharma attributed to a Sutra we don’t really ever get to see, most of us. Well this is a story that keeps coming up – also the way the source of various old school teachings is often hidden, inaccessible and really the source isn’t even from Buddhist heritage. It might be Bon religion that was just rewritten as Buddhist as the usual cultural assimilation to bring a kind of single dominant national religion. Doesn’t mean the teachings aren’t quite inspiring and insightful but the fact that it is based on a lie at the source level … not a good thing.
I’m not a high scholar, but I can give some clarifications according to my little understanding of Tibetan language and Buddhist studies.
About the four reliances, the sutra of reference is the The Sūtra of the Teaching of Akṣayamati (in the Derge Kangyur, Discourses, General sutra section, 175). You can find it in Tibetan at : adarsha.dharma-treasure.org – Kangyur, Derge, Sūtra, letter : ཕ – འཕགས་པ་བློ་གྲོས་མི་ཟད་པས་བསྟན་པ་ཞེས་བྱ་བ་ཐེག་པ་ཆེན་པོའི་མདོ།
Etienne Lamotte called it the catuḥpratisaraṇa sutta (but this is not it’s real name).
Mipham Rinpoche (1846-1912) in the « Sword of Wisdom » mentioned also four reliances, but their meaning is very far from the meaning of the reliances in the sutra mentioned above.
In this sutra the four reliances start by :
« Rely on the meaning(ultimate reality), but not on the word »
The terms « meaning » and « word » in this sutra have a different meaning from those in Mipham’s reliances.
“Word” refer to a “mundane understanding (relative)” of generosity etc,
/ tshig ‘bru zhes bya ba ni gang ‘jig rten pa’i chos dang bya ba la ‘jug pa bstan pa’o/
and “meaning” refers to a “world transcending realization (absolute)”.etc.
/ don ces bya ba ni gang ‘jig rten las ‘das pa’i chos rtogs pa’o/
We must also understand that it doesn’t mean that we should reject the mundane understanding and practice but transcend it by steps. In fact, we can say that the four reliances are GRADUAL meditation instructions on Absolute Reality or on the Nature of Mind.
Excerpt from the Sūtra of the Teaching of Akṣayamati
/tshig ‘bru zhes bya ba ni gang zhi gnas dang lhag mthong gi tshogs bstan pa’o/
What does “word” means ? To rely on shine (Calm-abiding) and lhagthong (insight)
/don ces bya ba ni gang rig pa dang rnam par grol ba’i ye shes so/
What does “meaning” means ? To rely on Rigpa and wisdom of complete liberation.
This sutra is still only available in Tibetan (as far as I know), it will be translated (in progress), within the framework of 84000-Translating the words of the Buddha (read.84000.co). I sincerely rejoice in this project and in the translators’ work, which I find good and honest (as far as I know). For example, in a new translation of “The Sūtra on Reliance Upon a Virtuous Spiritual Friend” Derge 300, there is an important correction.
The four reliances folio 60-1-148a
don la rton gyi tshig ‘bru la mi rton pa dang /
ye shes la rton gyi rnam par shes pa la mi rton pa dang /
nges pa’i don gyi mdo sde la rton gyi drang ba’i don gyi mdo sde la mi rton pa dang /
chos nyid la rton gyi gang zag la mi rton pa’o/
Pardon for whatever wrong explanation I gave, because of my poor understanding, and for my bad English. At least it’s an opening…
Thanks Gwen, so it seems my other research fits with what you said – it doesn’t really translate directly to the text that you find in these cults – which seems to put barriers into our perception of teachers … but what they say we should think, and not really what they say or do. Its just really getting back to the way we contemplate reality, typical relative vs absolute and all the philosophical approaches that a Buddhist scholar would have at their fingertips. If the teacher knows that and teaches it great – but its really about the process of understanding and not another scapegoat opportunity to shut people down when they catch a mistake and question the teacher about it.
Men promise secret teachings able to transform sexual desire and pleasure into religious enlightenment. Seriously? Reports of drunken sex parties and molestation ensue. What a surprise!
While I agree with some of your comments about what Judith Simmer-Brown said, I think the general theme of your article is to smear Shambhala. Many Shambhala members are very upset and angry about the behavior of the Sakyong. There’s simmering discontent coming to the surface and many want to see changes. But, many, if not a vast majority are thankful for the teachings. Many of us study teaching from multiple Buddhist teachers, Ponlop Rinpoche, Traleg Rinpoche, Khandro Rinpoche, and others. Katy Butler wrote a fine article in 1990 about the goings on with the regent and at San Francisco Zen Center. We have problems. Pema is not a student of the Sakyong, but Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche as I understand it. Personally, the teachings on Lojong and the Bodhiacharyvatara date from centuries ago and transformed my life. Assuming the allegations against SMR are true, which I believe to be the case, he’s messed up big time. Shambhala is going to pay a high price. There will be folks such as yourself trashing everything. It’s sad, but I think we’ll survive. Hopefully, we’ll learn from this and not make the same mistakes again. We are not alone. Many churches have problems. Many buddhist organizations have problems. Businesses and governments have problems.
I heard Judith give a similar talk. I wasn’t very happy for many of the reasons you mention, but I believe we need to get the full picture, the dirt out in the open so we can address it. No one I know supports the behavior described. But many I know have seen issues. I believed and still believe things are getting better with respect to sexual and other kinds of harm, but we have to do better. And we need to make amends to those harmed.
Right now, we don’t know who knew what and when. To say that all the inner circle are pod people is a gross mis-representation to my understanding. We do need some sort of truth and reconciliation process in my opinion so we can clear the confusion and set effective standards for behavior.
Anyway, Shambhala has a broader range of people than your article even remotely suggests. Some might even agree with you.
Thanks for commenting. Generalizations like: “I think the general theme of your article is to smear Shambhala” rings true if you read that I’ve written “all the inner circle are pod people”. But I didn’t. The article continues a study of crisis responses from leaders. It’s quite true that any international organization will be diverse, and that many people will have benefited from the content in different ways. That doesn’t mean that inaccurately presenting teaching content to address an ethics crisis amongst teachers is a good thing to do.
thanks mathew for another well thought out article. my note for now about their nothing happens idea is that nothing can also not happen when you behave ethically, but sham- buddhism only seems to say nothing happens when their leaders commit crimes. moreover they only criticize concepts when they don’t serve their rationalization for crimes.
thanks for the intelligent article. this is also the first time i read or heard that Bill’s suicide was in some way related to the current crisis.
That quote being used in this situation makes my blood boil;
‘The Guru’s defects cannot hurt you’!
Try saying that whilst looking into the eyes of a person expressing their pain from experiencing a Guru’s sexual assault.
Carry on cutting through the bullshit; it’s important to stand by the abused in a culture that has enabled the abuser.
One thing to note is that the Tantric idea as far as I understand it is, to go through the three yanas as a kind of personal insult to the ego. In this framework, we have the insult of needing to be disciplined, the insult of needing to have compassion for criminals as much as philanthropists, and the insult that finally all of the sucking up we did to be spiritual may have been a hox. We were enlightened all along as our nature. The Tantric path seems to take the journey of insult to the futhest level becuase it is saying you are not allowed to grip onto any reference point at all. That is the ultimate insult to our ego. I think one of the interesting points you are brining up is that that very strucutre can be used to perpetuate a system of personal disempowerment for the organizational good (or the traditions good). The thing is though, based on my understanding of Tantra this is the very thing it is mean to do. It’s how it is designed. So to me its not really a matter of reforming Tantra or not, its more about creating awareness and caution stickers on the product, so peoples relative selves are prepared for what is being offered. Thoughts?
One other thing that comes to mind. It seems that Tantra in this respect is about fundamentally collapsing the duality between abuser and abused, that this is to be found in the tradition itself, and in this way, the phenomenon you are reporting on is spot on from an anthropological or sociological and psychological perspective. Thus again, warning signs. So important I think. There are plenty of other Buddhist practices that have a stronger emphasis on being peaceful, taming the mind, etc. Tantra these principles and pushed them to the extreme incorporating them into the context of all the best things and all of the worst things in life. That’s the way I’m seeing it more now.
Hope what I have said is helpful for those that want to maintain there agency more so in either deciding about the tantric path and working with it. We are raised in a different culture, and tantra even if it is present in this culture, some could make the case, its rare. Thus I think maintaining your agency, meaning your relative sense of ego or directionality is extremely important I have found. Not to be dismissed. Furthermore, I would argue, just generally speaking that the Buddha had an ego and that anyone who is trying to get rid of there ego on the spiritual path is doomed to fail. This gives a different spin on the spiritual path from the psychological point of view. While the ego can be neurotic it can also represent the fundamental health of the mind. Tantra says not to reject anything correct? Well if so, it has a different view of the ego. Also, Tantra in the highest form is based on taking the result as the path, meaning everything is already in a state of enlightenment as the path and then working backwards. Thus it makes sense that confused people when told you are already enlightened would still have heaps of worldly problems, and perhaps saying this could even magnify them if they really believed it. Also consider the path does not negate the so-called lower vehicles, so it shouldn’t disregard morality, and basically ANY more of the relative world. It should know how to engage it skillfully to benefit beings. Again warning signs! And understanding the view of tantra. Very important….