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Shopping For a Spiritual Practice – Episode 1 – Shambhala Training


I’ve just rolled my cart down aisle five at the spiritual supermarket under the sign that reads “Mind Training and Contemplative Based Spiritual Practices”.  After sitting regularly for over two years I’m ready to get down with the masters of mind training.  The choices are a bit overwhelming as the shelves of spiritual possibilites are stocked high with cans of Tibetan Lama Beans, Rinzai Ridges, Thich Nhat Hanh Dogs and Jack Kornfield‘s Extra Crunchy Granola Bars. 


It’s time to comparison shop.
First stop on the tradition train is Shambhala Training Level 1, a one evening, two dayintroduction to the training method founded by Chogyum Trungpa Rinpoche inAmerica in the 1970’s.  A quasi-western repackaging of Tibetan Kagyu and Nyingma Buddhist lineages, Shambhala training puts strong emphasis on meditation practice and the concept of “basic goodness” 

or as they put it on their website:


“It is the Shambhala view that every human being has a fundamentalnature of goodness, warmth and intelligence. This nature can becultivated through meditation, following ancient principles, and it canbe further developed in daily life, so that it radiates out to family,friends, community and society.”

The training weekend started softly, with John Ankele introducing the theme for the weekend as “Ordinary Magic”.  The intention being that we were going to meditate so much that “stepping out of the shower” and “brushing our teeth” were going to seem like magical events,  that “quieting the mind” was going to tap us into our “basic goodness”.


After this insidiously soft introduction we mostly just sat..

then walked

and then sat some more

and then walked some more…

for the greater part of the 14 hour program.

There was a little bit of discussion and instruction, but for the most part the weekend was a really great opportunity to get deeper into practice.  I really had a chance to ride the mental waves of habit and emotion and work that mindfulness muscle hard.

 My first experience with the “Ordinary Magic” occurred on the afternoon of the second day as I sat in the foyer waiting to be interviewed by one of the directors.  To my right, in the tokonoma alcove I saw a beautiful spherical shaped flower head with lots of tiny pink-and-white six-petalled tips.  Just behind the flower was a large framed color photograph of Chogyum Trungpa Rinpoche.  The flower was just sitting there, and the photograph was just hanging on the wall, but both seemed present in a way that I remembered grass and dandellions being as a child.  There was an intrinsic dignity to their presence that warranted investigation and fascination, rather than classification and utilization.  I was operating in a matrix of space that was vast, wondrous, terrifying, and direct.Since the retreat, I’ve noticed increased focus, sharpness in visual perception (weird right?) and a general increase in the vitality of my practice.  I spent the first two hours after the retreat just wandering around The Container Store enjoying the presence of organizational furniture,  fair evidence that this was an interesting, effective, and well structured retreat that I would recommend to any person looking to deepen his or her relationship with his or her own mind.  I’m considering taking Level II sometime later this year,  but for now the train is moving on…next stop…a weeklong retreat at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachussettes.

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posted July 3, 2009 at 9:42 am

Patrick, thanks for reporting back on your Shambhala Level 1 experience. I’m signed up for the same thing in October. I look forward to the Insight installation– it’s cool that you’re not getting stuck in one “genre” for the time being.
You wrote: “…both seemed present in a way that I remembered grass and dandelions being as a child. There was an intrinsic dignity to their presence that warranted investigation and fascination, rather than classification and utilization. I was operating in a matrix of space that was vast, wondrous, terrifying, and direct.”
I felt the same way hours after seeing the 3d version of Up (ha), walking around Boston looking at ordinary people and landscapes, marveling at their _real_ 3D-ness, their textures and vibrance. Also, lately I’ve been noticing that the constant rain in Boston is acting like a meditation of its own, forcing me to notice nuances of brightness (I get excited now when it’s “partly cloudy”) and color.

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posted July 3, 2009 at 4:34 pm

Hi there!
So glad that people are talking about Shambhala training. One correction, though. There are some variety of views about this, but I don’t think Shambhala is EXACTLY a Westernized presentation of Nyingma and Kagyu.
Nyingma and Kagyu are the Buddhist lineages taught at Shambhala centers. Shambhala is really its own thing. It contains Tibetan Buddhist elements, Zen practices, pre-Buddhist Tibetan elements, even concepts from Taoism, I think (Heaven, Earth, and Man/Human). At the same time, it’s not just a mishmash, it’s really its own thing.
Of course, it’s possible to get into whether or not Shambhala is this or that or a mixture of this or that. I just wouldn’t say that it’s a repackaging, somehow that sounds as if it’s a way to get people to study something else, not its own wonderful path.
And I think I know what you mean about the NYC Shambhala tokonoma alcove. I’ve had some nice moments looking at the flower arrangments there.

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Patrick Groneman

posted July 3, 2009 at 10:19 pm

@ Sarah – it’s interesting to find those magical moments in unexpected places — rain, flowers, ordinary people…Boston. The 3-D movies seem like a powerful tool for affecting modes of perception and I’m not surprised that spending time in one of them led you to this heightened state of visual awareness. Go techno-mology.
@Jake – As you stated, classifying all of the influences that go into the Shambhala training program is hardly a simple task, and as a beginner in the area I appreciate your discernment here. I think the phrase “rapackaging” would have been more appropriate had I included some more of Trungpa Rinpoche’s influences.

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posted July 6, 2009 at 3:54 pm

Nice Pat, I look forward to your further reporting. It’s great that there are so many places trying out different approaches.

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michael krijnen

posted August 11, 2009 at 4:51 pm

Shambhala practice is a great place to start. Quieting the mind and being in contact with quiet people.
One of the good experiences I have had, is looking at old video of Chogyam Rinpoche and how he was with his audience, a wonderful space and place in time.
The “new” Shambala practices are still the old Shambala practices, it seems to me, that is saying something about how current and relevant this experience is in the world of, now, to-day, ordinary magic indeed.

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Odis Rocha

posted June 14, 2010 at 8:25 am’s done it again. Superb read!

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