Diana Mukpo’s letter re: Shambhala
February 19, 2019
Dear Members of the Shambhala Community,
I write to you today with a very heavy heart. This is an incredibly painful time for all of us. However, in many ways, I feel that the situation we find ourselves in as a community was inevitable. The deep dysfunction and unkindness at the heart of our organization has been like a festering boil that finally burst. The revelations that have come to light over the last year have been horrifying. It has been so shocking to hear how women have been harmed. The abuse of power and violation of trust that allowed this to occur is unimaginable. As an organization and as individuals, we need to do whatever we can to support not only the women who have been abused but, as we now know, the men who are victims as well.
I have been heartbroken for years as I have watched the expansive vision of the Vidyadhara becoming more and more reduced. He used to say that Shambhala was a vast umbrella that would encompass many different activities and levels of practice. Over the last two decades, our community has become fractured, and the teachings that promise the way toward manifesting an enlightened and compassionate society have become hollow words.
During my seventeen-year marriage to the Vidyadhara I saw him manifest and teach in many different ways. The priority for him was always to find the best way to connect with people. I am sure that if he were alive today, he would be using totally different forms to interact with his students than those he employed during the era in which he was teaching. During his lifetime, he created the Kalapa Court to be a vehicle for students to have access to him. The current interpretation of court is a perversion of the initial intention. The Vidyadhara’s court was designed to build a bridge for his students to interact with him. The current model has built a wall.
I feel that the model of the court and of monarchy has become an obstacle, within which, as we have recently heard, there were abuses and cruelty. I have avoided the court situation for many years, having felt increasingly uncomfortable in that environment. It has been very sad for me, but I felt that I had to distance myself. At the same time, not being aware of the harm that was being perpetrated, I felt that it would only have caused divisiveness to speak out publicly about what I perceived to be a misunderstanding of the teachings. I have watched so many of the beautiful parts of our culture disappear and be replaced by what I have perceived to be a culturally bound religiosity. Like many others, I also have felt marginalized and have been subject to unhealthy power dynamics. If I had thought that speaking out publicly would have helped, I would have done so. In many respects, I now regret that I did not do so earlier. Privately, over the years, I have tried to give the Sakyong advice, but his reaction has been to avoid communication with me. I wrote to him twice last summer imploring him to take responsibility for his actions. We spoke on the phone, and I made a similar plea. Ultimately it is up to him to do what he can to repair the harm he has created.
There has been much discussion about the Sakyong’s childhood. He had a very difficult time growing up. When he arrived in this country as a traumatized ten-year-old child, I, his stepmother, was nineteen. I did not have the parenting skills to help him sufficiently. I am sorry about this and wish it had been different. His father was always loving toward the Sakyong but did not give him as much attention as he needed. This too is sad, but we all have different degrees of trauma. It is the nature of life and doesn’t really excuse his abuse of power and all that went along with it.
There also has been plenty of discussion about the Vidyadhara over the past year. I feel that it is my duty to be completely honest about his life. He was the most brilliant, kind, and insightful person that I have ever met. He was also ultimately unfathomable. When one examines his life, it is easy to make judgements, since his behavior was so unconventional. He was a human being and was not perfect, but he was unrelentingly kind and helped many, many people. During this difficult time, many people have spoken up about how he saved their lives. This is how they have put it, and I can connect with that completely.
In general and understandably, people – especially those who did not know him and only are hearing second-hand stories – may pass negative judgements on him. I know that there is one person who has prominently spoken up about feeling traumatized by the Vidyadhara and those around him. As his wife, the last few years of his life were very difficult for me. There is no question in my mind that alcohol had a devastating effect on both his body and mind in his latter years. My sense of this is quite different from some of the students who were close to him at that time. I have heard from a number of close students that they had positive experiences during that era, and I honor that. I think this is a time for us to honor one another’s experience, rather than judging or dismissing it. Simply speaking for myself, however, this period was very difficult. Nevertheless, it does not negate the brilliance of his teachings both in his words and in
the sacred environments he created as learning situations.
The Vidyadhara taught that the Shambhala teachings should be practiced along with the Buddhadharma, and that the two must support one another. He wrote, for example: “We can plant the moon of bodhichitta in everyone’s heart and the sun of the Great Eastern Sun in their heads.” (Collected KA, page 194.) The Sakyong’s de-emphasis and outright omission of the Kagyu and Nyingma teachings in the last 15 years has been a great detriment for our community. As much as the Vidyadhara conducted Kalapa Assemblies where he opened the Shambhala terma, at the same time he also taught Vajradhatu seminaries where he transmitted the Buddhist teachings of the three yana’s in a traditional manner. Not long before his death, when he was very ill, he made it a priority to give the Chakrasamvara Abisheka to several hundred students. This was an important Buddhist ceremony empowering people to practice advanced vajrayana teachings. He felt that it was imperative that he give this transmission to senior practitioners. I truly believe that he saw the Shambhala and the Buddhist teachings as
At the first Kalapa Assembly, in 1978, there was a lot of discussion about what problems might arise from propagating the Shambhala vision. In that era, people often openly questioned the Vidyadhara and each other about any number of things. The following question was posed to him:
“As someone who has been worried about fascism and the possibility of the degeneration of Shambhala into that, could you say something that might be a safeguard against that?”
His response was: “Gentleness, meekness. Most of the warriors are meek persons. That’s it. And also they are practitioners of Buddhadharma.” (Collected KA, page 148)
There are many other examples of how the Vidyadhara viewed the two aspects of his teaching as equally important and supportive of one another. I do not think it was his intention to combine these teachings into one “Shambhala Buddhism”, as the Sakyong did after the Vidyadhara’s death. This move has created deep and painful rifts, not only with Trungpa Rinpoche’s heart students but also with respected members and teachers within the Tibetan community. So I think we need to look to the buddhadharma, as well as to the Shambhala teachings, to help us find the path forward. This does not invalidate the path taught by the Sakyong, nor the diligence of his students in applying themselves to it or the genuine experience of devotion many have had. Rather, it is a call for us to incorporate a bigger version of our relationship to the dharma.
I am writing to all of you and sharing my innermost thoughts with you today because I do believe so strongly that this community is worth fighting for. The incomparable practice of meditation and all the valuable teachings we have received have helped numerous people. Clearly, everything has to be re-evaluated and a healthy organizational structure needs to grow out of this. Over the past year, I have worried that the unfolding of events would be the destruction of Shambhala, but now I am wondering if, in fact, these disclosures might be what actually saves our precious community. I truly pray that we can get back on track and become what we profess to be, becoming a safe and nurturing home for those who seek these teachings. I don’t have the answers, nor do I know how all this is going to happen. There is certainly going to be more difficulty as things unfold.
Please know that I am willing to help in any way I can. I will make myself available if anyone would like to reach out to me.
In closing, I would like to discuss the role that I have played as the copyright holder for all the Vidyadhara’s written and other intellectual properties. Since his death, almost thirty-three years ago, there have been close to thirty books published, and many more could appear in the years to come. It always has been and will continue to be my intention to make his work accessible and available to all those who wish to practice and learn from his teachings. I consider this legacy as a sacred trust and will continue to work to protect and safeguard his teachings so that they will be available to people for years to come. I will do whatever is necessary to honor this commitment to all of you.
Holding you all in my heart,
Diana J. Mukpo
On Sat, Mar 2, 2019 at 4:13 PM John wrote:
aka Yeshe Tungpa
aka Ven. Seonaidh Perks
It was with great interest, I recently read your open letter of January 9th.
Shortly thereafter I read another from Lady Diana Mukpo. If you have not read it I have attached it at the bottom. Although I suspect you are aware of the substance. My first draft of this correspondence was lost when my email app crashed so forgive my getting to the point with a consequential loss of prose, in order to convey what is important.
I am not at all privy to the controversy you speak of but I was pleased to hear you are getting your house in order. I am all for “openness” if it’s display is on a firm ground, but after reading Dru’s book I am glad to hear you confirm that this “ground” is the Dharma.
I did, for a moment, entertain the thought that your words could also be directed toward what I have shared with you concerning the Tuatha de Seanbealach. But my faith is strong that a meeting of minds will be recognized.
When I sit and contemplate the vision of Shambhala and an open enlightened society and how it informs the structure of the Tuatha de Seanbealach, I see a great Bodhi Tree with branches reaching out like a umbrella and deep roots in the Dharma and lineage. Around the trunk are stones that represent the cultural forms (clans) that this enlightened society (Tribe) display such as Celtic Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, Secular Buddhism etc.
You mention “If Celtic Buddhism is to continue” and “If it is not to continue, which is certainly okay”. After reading Lady Diana’s letter I became convinced of something I suspected and I believe was the reason you and the lineage of Celtic Buddhism appeared to me. The reason you where pushed out of Rinpoche’s nest so covered with spiritual materialism. The reason Mipham Rinpoche’s “kingdom” has collapsed despite your teacher’s vision. Namely, rinpoche never meant for the Shambhala pure vision to be realized through the lineage of the Shambhala organization and it hasn’t since. I truly believe, if Rinpoche’s vision is to survive and be realized it will only be through, if not in, the lineage of Celtic Buddhism. You were Rinpoche’s close heart student. I pray you will use all skillfulness and any means necessary to ensure the legacy of your teacher. There is unfinished work.
I will strive to use all my power toward compassionate action and keep faith in a meeting of our minds. In that spirit, with your permission, I would like to formally recognize you as the first “Chief of the Clan of Celtic Buddhism” with all continuity of formality and tradition.
I am not sure how soon I will be able to visit yet time waits for no man. So I hope we can find a way to have more substantive correspondence.
Yours in right action,
John Cooke III
The Vision of Celtic Buddhism
Recently, there has been some controversy concerning the role of Buddhism and Celtic cultural heritage. Some students have wanted to emphasize their Celtic culture and make their own paths, fitting Buddhism on the backburner. It’s important to know what our lineage gurus have said on this subject.
Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche said “Cultural attachments are the most difficult things to transcend or give up.”
Orgyen Kusum Lingpa said, “Buddhism is like gold, and Celtic is like bronze.”
Therefore, it is important to understand that in the Celtic Buddhist lineage, our ground is always Buddhism—the way of the Buddha and the Buddhas and gurus of the lineage.
It has been said that there can be no realization without devotion. And that devotion is the meeting of minds of guru and the student. That is how Dharma is transmitted. And in order to develop or foster that lineage, one has to have devotion, which goes beyond critical, logical, debatable, intellectual thinking.
Tilopa did not debate Dharma with Naropa. Naropa did not debate Dharma with Marpa. And Marpa did not debate Dharma with Milarepa.
Celtic Buddhism is not a debating society. It is a living lineage of the transmission of enlightenment between gurus and students.
If Celtic Buddhism is to continue, one should understand this. If it is not to continue, which is certainly okay, we are not interested in it becoming an organization such as Boy Scouts, Big Brothers, or Big Sisters. While these organizations do present good paths within society, Celtic Buddhism is not visible in that society, other than in its display of compassionate action. Tantra has always been kept secret. And should continue to be kept secret.
I am not going to bother to inject here the current sexual fascination with guru/student relationships. Tantra has always been related to sexual passion. And because of that, it can lead to much misunderstanding and corruption, when putting it in the realm of conceptual bindings of the good, the bad, and the ugly.
One should realize that Tantra is alive and electric. It will either turn you to toast, burn you up, or transform you, in whichever way you choose or do not choose to work with it and with your guru.
You may be doing wonderful things, dancing round the Maypole, playing with the dralas, having fantastic meditational experiences, visiting celestial realms, you may even wish to solidify these states by wanting to make paths out of them and give them names, like Drala Priests, Ladies of the Dance, or Masturbators of the Universe—while all these states may be fascinating, essentially they are the display of the maras.
Celtic Buddhism is the Tantra of the Slap in the Face with the Slipper between Tilopa and Naropa. It is that instant of realization, nothing else!
The ability to return to the discipline of compassion for all beings is the continuum of the breath of the lineage. That is why Kukkuripa, while visiting the God realm, looked down and saw at the cave entrance his dog waiting for him to return. When he saw this his heart broke open and he shed tears, and he left the celestial realms to return to his yearning bitch dog and the cave.
According to our friends, the Chinese and Tibetans, this New Year is the Year of the Earth Boar. Which, dependent upon your abilities could be a wild ride or you could lead the piggy home to a fantastic barbecue.
In any case Jolly Good Luck! and Much Love, Yeshe Tungpa
P.S. I hope everyone is able to continue doing the Ekajati practice as I had been told recently that it is helping.
P.P.S. If your aim in Celtic Buddhist is not to be a Tantric yogi, but instead to follow the Bodhisattva path, that is completely acceptable, but it should be clear in your own mind.
Aug 30, 2018, 10:07 AM (1 day ago)
Our Spiritual Mentor Residency Program
THE VENERABLE LAMA NAOMH TOMAS OCBM
He lives by the motto “May I serve to be perfect. May I be perfect to serve.”
You might find him around the neighborhood weeding the garden or guiding meditation in the yoga studio. As we might expect of a Buddhist monk, Lama Tomas wears colorful robes and multiple strings of prayer beads. But he is also heavily tattooed, and he enjoys the occasional cigar. He claims over 2700 Facebook friends and sports a unicorn hood ornament on his little car. And he lives among residents in the big house at 96 Church Street. To the delight of our entire community, Lama Tomas aspires only to be of spiritual service to the men and families of Riverbank House, our first Lama-in-residence.
A life-long seeker and student of Buddhism, the Ven. Lama Naomh Tomas received ordination on June 26, 2014. His spiritual lineage stems from the Order of Celtic Buddhist Monastics. His commitment to a simple life of service has taken him to an eclectic mix of communities. He has ministered to the elderly and dying homeless in Panama. He has led outreach and Refuge Recovery meetings at the Anadaire Celtic Buddhist Center in Saxtons River, VT. And most recently, he has come home to Riverbank House as our community’s resident spiritual friend and mentor.
A BUDDHIST TRADITION OF SERVICE
When he was fifteen years old, Tomas felt drawn to Buddhism. He met with his first teacher, a Chinese Buddhist monk, over regular lunches in Boston’s Chinatown. A busboy acted as interpreter. After years of seeking, learning, practicing, and voracious reading, Lama Tomas sought to fulfill a promise made to him by his spiritual teacher: “You will find out who you are.”
In the tradition of simple service, for years Tomas traveled from Vermont to regularly guide the Riverbank House community in Buddhist practice on Wednesday afternoons.
“But,” he says, “We don’t live life on our own terms. Everything changes. Nothing is permanent.” Riverbank House was calling to him with its undeniable and indescribable aura of hope and promise.
“Then,” he says, “the saddest moment of my life, the death of my son (by suspected overdose), created an opportunity, a mission, a call to heart-work.” Noah’s death presented “a very pure opportunity to make a difference with men who are young, who are working so hard to stay alive.”
“Drug use can feel like the way to – until it gets in the way of – spirituality,” the Lama says. He has made it his mission to be the compassionate presence that invites men to experience a real and lasting peace without drugs or alcohol.
And he doesn’t hesitate to sprinkle blessings upon us all as he celebrates having finally found who he truly is.
"Our dear friend Bill Scheffel took his life on July 8, in Boulder, Colorado. This is such sad and disturbing news. Bill was a devoted student of the Vidyadhara, a wonderful poet and documentary filmmaker. He will be sorely missed.
Bill Scheffel was a graduate of Naropa University, where he received an MFA in creative writing in 1994. He taught Chance, Synchronicity and Mind-writing for ten years in Boulder and throughout the U.S, and classes in creative non-fiction and poetry at Naropa University for many years. His own writing teachers include Allen Ginsberg, Anne Waldman and Diane di Prima, among others. Bill became a student of CTR in 1976, and began to teach Shambhala Training in 1980. He also taught the Shambhala Meditation Practicum at Naropa University from 1991 to 2004."
Yeshe was invited to participate as a guest speaker during the June Shambhala Household Program at Karma Choling Meditation Center in Barnet, Vermont. The program was led by Lady Diana Mukpo based on the Shambhala Household teaching presented by Trungpa Rinpoche.
Yeshe was Trungpa Rinpoche's attendant and was involved in the process of setting up and establishing the Kalapa Court. Part of Trungpa's teachings involved imparting the creating of uplifting households to help establish Shambhala culture and enlightened society as a whole.
Yeshe Tungpa and Lady Diana Mukpo
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