A New Kind of Governance
By Shastri Rebecca Hazell
In mid-February, one of several governance conferences around the world was held in San Francisco. Victoria Centre Director Layth Matthews, Practice and Education Director Mark Hazell, and Shastri Rebecca Hazell (me) attended this huge gathering. People came from as far away as Texas and Tehran (yes, in Iran!) to participate. Here’s what it was like to be there:
After an opening lhasang at the new SF Dzong, we all walked to the nearby Baha’i Center, where the conference was held. Many of us cheerfully chanted the ki ki so so ashe chant aloud, astounding bystanders who smiled equally cheerfully. One commented that this was the best-dressed parade he had ever seen.
This atmosphere continued throughout the program, although there were also many tears and much emotion, as the leaders guided us through a series of contemplative, interactive, and dramatic exercises designed to open our hearts, heal old wounds, and bring our collective wisdom to the fore. The general atmosphere was gentle, humorous, and fearless.
Our chairperson, President Reoch, began by outlining the Sakyong’s amazing and challenging vision of attracting 12 million members around the world by the year 2020: our 2020 Vision. To that end, he introduced three main themes: deepening our culture of kindness, clarifying our structure, and strengthening our resources.
Over the following days, various speakers representing different areas of our mandala addressed these aspects, not only with words but by the means described above. Rather than describe every speaker and every exercise, I’d like to mention one in particular, as it stirred up so much for so many people, addressing as it did issues of race, religion, education, gender, and poverty. Shastri Charlene Leung, Chair of the Diversity Council, guided us into the dark places of our hearts: the places where we feel alone, where we are the only one. This exploration allowed us to recall and deepen our understanding of where the culture of kindness comes from—a broken heart—and to explore how we can overcome assumptions and hesitation to be far more inclusive in every centre. This was, for me, one of the most powerful of all the presentations, and the themes it addressed came up repeatedly throughout the conference.
Other leaders—Chagdzo Ki Kyap Connie Brock representing finances; Dr. Mary Whetsell, Chair of the Community Care Council; Makpon Jesse Grimes representing the military; Acharya Fleet Maull, Carolyn Mandelker and Andrea Doukas representing practice and education; and Amy Conway, regional representative for culture and decorum—also led us in exploring how the Three Pillars of governance, education and military work in our mandala. The governance pillar includes the structure of the worldwide mandala from the centre—the Sakyong’s court and capital in Halifax—through various councils that address particular areas of activity, to the way our centres operate. It includes finances. This structure is based squarely on our view of existence as unconditionally good.
The practice and education pillar is the Way of Shambhala, which is already bringing in a flow of interested newcomers as well as engaging senior students in a unified and comprehensive view of our three-fold lineage: Kagyu, Nyingma and Shambhala. This pillar, at least for now, includes the arts and related disciplines.
The military aspect of our community was the least talked about, but it communicated itself in the crisp and friendly presence of kasung, who were everpresent, guarded the space of our minds, and who kept trying to keep us from jaywalking when we left the center for breaks.
The financial picture was also addressed in frank terms, from the drastic cutbacks of a few years ago to the new, in-the-black situation of today, to the big 2020 vision of cultivating more members than ever before, which requires serious personal energy as well as the ‘green’ kind (and blue and purple and red and other colours of money around the world).
There was even an evening of hilarious dramatic presentations based on the four dignities as they might be found in poetry, dance, toasts, and object arrangements. Everyone there participated in small groups, and it got quite outrageous.
By the end of the program, we had come to understand that Shambhala governance doesn’t mean the same thing as conventional governance: that it is based on working together at all levels because we share a commitment to the unconditional goodness of this world. We saw how an enlightened society is not a perfect society but one that combines loyalty to each other with generosity and curiosity as well as humour and tears. The mood as we left at the end was one of confirmed commitment, tenderized being, and a feeling of great love for each other as a sangha and for the entire world beyond our sangha that so much needs love, energy and vision.