Recently Naropa University announced that Sakyong Miphan Rinpoche, leader of the global Shambhala community, has stepped down from his venerated role in response to allegations of sexual assault.
As many of you know, I am a graduate of Naropa University and the teachings I share from the Shambhala Tradition, including Mindfulness Meditation, Maitri, and Tonglen, have been passed down from a lineage of teachers through Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, who brought the tradition to the West in the 1960s.
My direct teachers, including those at Naropa University and Pema Chödrön, have transmitted these practices with kindness, humor, humility, and grace.
...But Sakyong Miphan is not the first Tibetan Buddhist leader to cross the lines of ethical conduct. In fact his father, Chögyam Trungpa, was notorious for controversial behavior, alcoholism and sexual misconduct, in a time when women's voices went generally unheard—before the #MeToo movement opened the floodgates of accountability.
Since his death in 1987, people have been questioning the life and teachings of Trungpa with an understandable scrutiny. It is a considerable challenge to reconcile his transformational teachings on awakened living with the more savory aspects of his own lifestyle.
In a 2013 interview with Tricycle Magazine, Pema Chödrön speaks of her teacher:
"Trungpa Rinpoche was a provocative person. In Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism he says the job of the spiritual friend is to insult the student, and that’s the kind of guy he was. If things got too smooth, he’d create chaos. All I can say is that I needed that. I didn’t like being churned up and provoked, but it was what I needed. It showed me how I was stuck in habitual patterns..."
The Shambhala Tradition is based upon being absolutely truthful. Mindfulness is cutting through the bullshit of ego's habitual self-serving patterns. Maitri is courageously staring right into the heart of the shadow, and cultivating compassion within that conflict. It is making peace with the inevitable discomfort of being human.
I am uncomfortable.
The day before hearing the news of Sakyong Mipham, Drew reminded me of the recently released film documentary on the incredible story of Osho's renegade commune in 1980's Oregon. Six hours of footage in "Wild Wild Country" tells the story of how easily corrupted the human ego can be. Three days later another friend sent me this article on the "Dangers of Tantra". It is a commercialized warning of the dark magic that has been associated with Tantra's left hand path.
I close my eyes and remember stories of perversion within the Catholic Church—the insidious abuse of power. I recall the first time I learned of the Christian crusades and the millions of people brutally murdered in the name of Christ. I was a teenager. I was devastated.
It is deeply disturbing, heart-breaking, maddening--profoundly uncomfortable—to face the shadows of humanity: to realize that no matter how pure the intentions, anything on Earth can be manipulated and used for the glory and power of the ego.
The teachings of Jesus, Buddha, and the non-dual Tantrik texts tell a different story. They offer a message of unity, compassion, freedom from suffering, and LOVE.
That is where my heart is.
Pure light is without shadow. As soon as light makes contact with any matter, a shadow is cast. Darkness is not the absence of light. It is the obstruction of light.
For some, that obstruction is as simple as holding eyes closed.
But patience cannot be cultivated without trial.
Courage does not exist in the absence of fear.
Compassion is awakened within my own sadness.
As we cried together over the world's madness, Gretchen reminded me of this:
"It hurts so that we never forget why we are here"—to Love.
It is time to open our eyes...to get courageously honest...to face the shadows that accompany the human experience as uncomfortable and as painful as it may be. Together, we must cultivate compassion for ourselves, and compassion for each other, even within the conflict.
As Chödrön writes in The Places that Scare You: “Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It's a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.”
― Pema Chödrön, The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times
R.R. Shakti, PhD
August 15, 1928—July 9, 2018
On July 9 the soul of my beloved guide, Marion Woodman, set.
She was an incredible inspiration to so many. Her life an example of love in real-world service to humanity.
In moments like this, I honor words for their healing power and their ability to unify. Without words we might not share the exact insight that wrote: “To me, real love, the move from power to love, involves immense suffering. Any creative work comes from that level, where we share our sufferings, just the sheer suffering of being human. And that's where the real love is.” (Woodman, Conscious Femininity).
Marion taught that true compassion requires courage. We must embrace the entire package of this human experience. She taught that true freedom comes from loving your Self—that to heal the soul, we must attend to the wounds of our culture and of the earth. We must nurture the inner child, honor the feminine principle, and remember the sacredness within nature. I am beyond grateful that she shared her heart's wisdom with us through her beautiful words.
Below are some of my favorite words from Marion.
To learn more about her, visit https://mwoodmanfoundation.org/
R.R. Shakti, Ph.D.
“This is your body, your greatest gift, pregnant with wisdom you do not hear, grief you thought was forgotten, and joy you have never known.”
“Only by discovering and loving the goddess lost within our rejected body can we hear our own authentic voice.” ― Coming Home to Myself: Reflections for Nurturing a Woman's Body and Soul
"Dismissing poetry is dismissing the glory of the imagination." ― Bone: Dying into Life
“Healing depends on listening with the inner ear – stopping the incessant blather, and listening. Fear keeps us chattering – fear that wells up from the past, fear of blurting out what we really fear, fear of future repercussions. It is our very fear of the future that distorts the now that could lead to a different future if we dared to be whole in the present."
“Having a body that is like a musical instrument, open enough to be able to resonate, literally resonate with what is coming both from the inside and from the outside, so that one is able to surrender to powers greater than oneself.”
“I can tell you that it takes great strength to surrender. You have to know that you are not going to collapse. Instead, you are going to open to a power that you don’t even know, and it is going to come to meet you. In the process of healing, this is one of the huge things that I have discovered. People recognized the energy coming to meet them. When they opened to another energy, a love, a divine love, came through to meet them. That is what is known as grace. We all sing about amazing grace. It is a gift. I think that it comes through the work that we do. For some people, it can come out of the blue, but I know that in my own situation, the grace came through incredible vigilance.”
“Without an understanding of myth or religion, without an understanding of the relationship between destruction and creation, death and rebirth, the individual suffers the mysteries of life as meaningless mayhem alone.”
“A flower won’t open if I yell at it and say “Bloom!”
“This is the point where love becomes possible. We see the other with the eye of the heart, an eye not clouded by fear manifesting as need, jealousy, possessiveness, or manipulation. With the unclouded eye of the heart, we can see the other as other. We can rejoice in the other, challenge the other, and embrace the other without losing our own center or taking anything away from the other. We are always other to each other — soul meeting soul, the body awakened with joy. To love unconditionally requires no contracts, bargains, or agreements. Love exists in the moment-to-moment flux of life.”
“The feminine takes time for spontaneity and slow time, honors inner reality, and gives values to feelings without brutally repressing them as “sissy” or meaningless.”
“Once we get used to listening to our dreams, our whole body responds like a musical instrument.”
“When I say the feminine, I don’t mean gender. I mean the feminine principle that is living—or suppressed—in both men and women.”
"Storytelling is at the heart of life... In finding our own story, we assemble all the parts of ourselves. Whatever kind of mess we have made of it, we can somehow see the totality of who we are and recognize how our blunderings are related. We can own what we did and value who we are, not because of the outcome but because of the soul story that propelled us."