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7. Enlightened Society

In 1976, eight years had passed since the pivotal moment in Bhutan when he saw a way to bring dharma to the West. In that short period, he had taught hundreds of seminars, initiated many hundreds of students into advanced Vajrayana practices, founded an array of institutions and meditation centers, and infiltrated the dharma into unfamiliar territory like avant-garde theater and Beat poetry. Now, another pregnant pause emerged.

The Sadhana of Mahamudra was a kind of revealed text known as terma. Traditionally, terma can emerge as a whole in the mind of a great practitioner. They’re not regarded as the teacher’s personal work, and special marks are put on the text to indicate that. In being revealed, they transcend the personality and ownership of the teacher who receives them. They have an inherently egoless quality, you might say. They are also timely.

In the fall of 1976, Trungpa Rinpoche began to discover more terma. These spoke to a form of teaching that was not strictly Buddhist. They became the basis for Shambhala training, which Rinpoche intended as a secular means of mind training. He called it a path of warriorship. Warrior in this case referred not to someone who fought to gain territory, but rather someone who was brave, who was willing to work with their fear. On the path of the warrior, you work with your fear not by pushing it down, but by “leaning into it.” At that point, he taught, you discover fearlessness, which is not the absence of fear, but the ability to ride its energy.

The breakthrough he had during this period occurred on several levels. For one thing, Rinpoche stepped back from his intense schedule to take a year’s retreat. When he emerged, he began to exhort his students to “cheer up!” He felt their practice of Buddhism had become stuck in many respects in earnest plodding and a habit of looking inward, both personally and as a community. Though many strongly resisted at first, the warrior teachings of Shambhala offered larger possibilities of opening up, in the form of a great societal vision:

Shambhala vision applies to people of any faith, not just people who believe in Buddhism. Anyone can benefit without its undermining their faith or their relationship with their minister, their priest, their bishop, their pope, whatever religious leaders they may follow. The Shambhala vision does not distinguish a Buddhist from a Catholic, a Protestant, a Jew, a Muslim, a Hindu. That’s why we called it the Shambhala Kingdom. A kingdom should have lots of different spiritual disciplines in it.

What he called kingdom here, he also referred to as enlightened society, where each person could realize they possessed basic goodness. Through group sitting practice married with contemplation of the warrior principles of fearlessness and gentleness, Shambhala training was designed to instill an appreciation of basic goodness in all its dimensions. If such seeds are planted one by one, our society could become an enlightened one.

As with the Sadhana of Mahamudra and dharma art, the power of the Shambhala teachings lay not in an imposing ideology but in a direct perception of the world, described in this context as “discovering magic,” experiencing a quality known in Tibetan as drala:

Drala could almost be called an entity. It is not quite on the level of a god or gods, but it is an individual strength that does exist. Therefore, we not only speak of drala principle, but we speak of meeting the “dralas.” The dralas are anything that connects you with the elemental quality of reality, anything that r eminds you of the depth of perception.


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