Less Like School, More Like Life

Below is the third in a series of articles by senior Shambhala teachers invited to share their personal impressions of the Way of Shambhala curriculum to complement the resources available on the Kootenay Shambhala Centre’s Way of Shambhala page. For all articles in this series, click here.

Henry Chapin

Henry Chapin

HENRY CHAPIN is a senior student of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche and Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche who has taught extensively in Canada, the United States, South America, Australia and New Zealand, including all levels of Shambhala Training and a variety of advanced programs. He is a guest faculty member with the Mukpo Institute at Karmê Chöling and was recently appointed a shastri by the Sakyong. He lives in Ottawa where he is active in prison outreach and hospital chaplaincy work.

By Henry Chapin

When Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche was developing the Way of Shambhala, he told the group of acharyas designing the curriculum that he wanted the classes to be “less like school and more like life.” By that he meant that the material should relate directly to everyday life experience. He wanted teachers to address what people are most concerned about in their local communities (e.g., the environment, livelihood, parenting) and weave these issues into the Way of Shambhala classes. He also wanted participants to be fully involved in the classes, rather than passive listeners.

The Sakyong has said that the classes should be “more than just a talk.” The Way of Shambhala should be an opportunity to “experience manifesting enlightened society,” in which the communication between and among teachers and participants is open and genuine.

Since Shambhala Buddhism teaches that all beings possess inherent wisdom and basic goodness, the Sakyong has asked teachers to help students discover and express this for themselves, rather than acting as “talking heads” with all the answers. This has meant creating opportunities for participants to dialogue with each other, rather than having teachers leading discussion groups, as well as encouraging contemplative practice and providing time to socialize together.

The Sakyong also felt that this new program was an excellent way to grow our community mandala and influence both local and global development, leading to the creation of enlightened society at every level from the domestic to the international.

The material presented in the Way of Shambhala is based on the Shambhala terma (“treasure”) teachings that Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche received. The Sakyong has said that this terma is the key to bringing ultimate wisdom down to earth, for our moment in history, when it is most needed.

Teaching the Way of Shambhala has been a very liberating experience. I have learned much from the students, and they seem to very much appreciate the opportunity to participate fully in the classes. We are creating an environment of mutual support and discovery.

As a recent graduate of the Way of Shambhala I told me: “These teachings have shown me how to touch the issues that are closest to my heart, and have given me the understanding and compassion to deal with a world filled with fear.”

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3 Responses to “Less Like School, More Like Life”

  1. Gary J Says:

    Hi Henry.

    Thank-you for this article.

    I was attracted to Shambhala from reading Chogyam trungpa’s brilliant, courageous and deeply insightful writing. He seemed to not be bound by tradition or ideas, yet deeply adept at penetrating them. Able to go beyond form but with humility and heart, seeing the underlying the parts that matter and animating them in fresh creative ways.

    May I ask your perspective on this: after attending the first few WOS I programs in Toronto I began to feel a “sameness” in the formats and a somewhat dry atmosphere, even though the basis of the content is heart-warming and brilliant. The use of meditation at the beginning and dyads near the end plus a bit of group wisdom is certainly better than just a lecture.

    However talking-based dyads atevery class becomes repetitive. One could also incorporate mantra chanting, singing chanting, movement (e.g. Shamatha yoga or Qi Gong at every session), more art therapy and ritual (such as closing by patiently holding space while putting out the candles and making a nice conscious bow together -or chanting).

    Instead, the sense if ritual and the experiential aspects of practice seem underemphasized, in fact performed rather lightly – a room entry bow is more like a nod -when the gong bowl is struck it is treated as “no big deal” and often muted to stop it before that glorious metal has finished singing it’s sparkel to us. There’s no chanting or brief sitting or simple phrase we speak together to close.

    Engaging with our bodies seems almost forgotten and the main experiential aspect other than meditatio – is dyads – it’s stil rather “in the box”and talking based. CTR was teaching respectful outrageousness, beinng aware of and sync-ing with our bodies as well as our minds, and going beyond form and material view to the non-conceptual feeling aspect of things and of the magic of manifested primordial being, or no-self as it were. These ideas are being presented as “ideas” but are we creating a format that takes you there?

    Recently I was in Rishikesh, India where people practice in groups openly, often and embrace the notion of a connected, Divine reality. Non-dualism, mindfulness, respect and raising windhorse are transmitted and experienced in the simple acts of singing bhajans or japa chanting and ritualized addressing of altars. In Zen, my other key exposure, it is felt by emphasizing detailed ritual behavior and immersement in silence. In Tibetan lineages they seem to use Thankas, altar ritual and chanted prayer quite a bit. These kinds of thins raise dharma awareness quite readilym regardless of talk, and keep it out of the head.

    Is this because, due to the scandals of the past, the org has become rather careful? Or because the membership is aging and with that comes

  2. Gary J Says:

    a tendency to leave things as is?
    The Shambhala community seems to have great warmth, tenderness and respect and has individuals who are willing to see their own issues and go beyond them. The brilliance of the important themes being covered and the integrity of follow-through is uparalleled. It is really nice to meet such people but to get a bit more zip in there and attract young people who will choose to stay around do you think it would be good to be more dynamic?

    As a very experienced participant in the community I’d like to know your thoughts.



  3. Henry Chapin Says:

    Hi Gary,

    First I would like to apology for my lateness in responding to your very interesting comments about our classes and programs. I misplaced the email in one of my folders, and have only just discovered it!

    While our way of presenting the dharma has changed over the years from a “talking head” approach to a more interactive approach, we still have quite a way to go in bringing the teachings to life in a more non-conceptual way.

    Although the use of dyads and other forms of dialogue are a big improvement, many teachers seem to rely on them in a habitual way, rather than experimenting with other forms as we do, for instance, in our Shambhala Art programs.

    There are many ways for engaging with the body such as shamatha yoga, lujong (warrior exercises) and chi kung, but unfortunately all our teachers are not familiar with these disciplines and how they relate to the teachings. The Sakyong has been placing great emphasis on integrating body work with our meditation practice, and there are many ways to do this.

    I think the reason we have not introduced much ritual into our public classes is because we believe that it will overwhelm newer students or scare them off! My sense is that most people respect and appreciate the richness that manifests in our shrine rooms and in our chants. The Sakyong has recently introduced a new set of public chants that are much more accessible, and teachers have been asked to incorporate them into our programs. This works well if we are prepared to discuss and explain these chants as well as the symbolism of the shrine.

    While attracting younger people to our centres is considered important, we have not really thought much about how to present the dharma to them. Again, my sense is that we need to relate the teachings more to issues and concerns that are relevant to them. This is the message contained in Lodro Rinzler’s new book, The Buddha Walks Into A Bar.

    You’re right in saying that our membership is aging and there is definitely a tendency for older teachers to “leave things as is.” I have been involved in training younger teachers in Toronto who bring a new energy to the dharma.

    Again, thank you so much for your comments. Have we met in Toronto, perhaps at a level of Shambhala Training?