At Shambhala, Two Sadhanas Lighten the Dark Age

by Andrea D’Asaro

“This is the darkest hour of the dark ages,” wrote Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche in 1968 in the introduction to the Sadhana of Mahamudra. The dark ages he is referring to is a period of roughly 500 years that humanity is seen by Buddhist scholars to be in the midst of now.

Each month at the Shambhala center, we are invited to practice two different sadhanas. Both Sadhanas offer ways “to understand and experience basic goodness,” says Shastri Ben Hines, “when in this dark age, people are doubtful, cynical and skeptical.” The word sadhana literally means accomplishment. What are we accomplishing? Relaxing into basic goodness.

How we do this involves meditating, following the chant leader, and evoking the qualities we are cultivating. The two practices are offered on nights that correspond to the new and full moon, so you will have to check the website calendar for dates. The Full Moon Shambhala Sadhana is open for members and their families (another great reason to be a member) and also includes a community pot-luck.

The spiritual leaders of Shambhala are referred to as Sakyongs. Sakyong translates as Earth Protector. Protecting the earth is a major theme in the Shambhala Sadhana, just as in the Sadhana of Mahamudra we take refuge in the sacredness of the elements. This is one example of how they address our difficulties with similar themes but different voices.

Sadhana of Mahamudra: Opening to goodness

Students who practice the Sadhana of Mahamudra find it “magnetizing, appealing to an understanding that’s beyond concept. The language is flavored with an unconditional quality of reality—so we need a completely relaxed and open mind when we encounter it in practice.”

Trungpa Rinpoche describes the Dark Age in his Sadhana: “Disease, famine and warfare are raging like the fierce north wind. …The jewel like teaching of insight is fading day by day. So to enable individuals to renew spiritual strength, I have written this sadhana.” These words came to Trungpa Rinpoche in a sacred cave at Taktsang in Bhutan where Padmasambhava, the patron saint of Tibet, once meditated. And the very act of receiving the text was a turning point in Rinpoche’s approach in founding what is now our Shambhala Centers.

Trungpa Rinpoche wrote this Sadhana at a time when he was longing for a way to help overcome what he coined spiritual materialism. “This was a time of complete spiritual crisis and frustration,” explains Shastri Hines. “He was trying to understand how to present dharma in the West.”

Shambhala Sadhana: Rousing uplifted confidence

The newer Shambhala Sadhana was written by Sakyong Mipham in 2011 as “another way to experience basic goodness,” says Hines. “The central image of the sun of goodness in one’s heart is medicine for the masses in our times—refreshing and uplifting. Trusting in the goodness of oneself, others and society becomes a reference point for living a full and complete life.”

In describing the Dark Age in his book, The Shambhala Principle, Sakyong Mipham writes: “We humans have come to a crossroads in our history. We can either destroy the world or create a good future.”

His Shambhala Sadhana encourages an uplifted attitude: “Others’ negativity and life’s unpredictability neither threaten nor destabilize us. With basic goodness in our heart we feel more complete as human beings, with strong character, love and intelligence. We feel the Shambhala warrior’s courageousness, confidently living in the challenge.”

Everyone’s invited

A letter from Shambhala’s senior teachers, or Acharyas, about the Sadhana practices invites everyone to take part, “We look forward to all of you joining in many gatherings to enjoy the vision of enlightened society and the activity of both Sakyongs!”

“Shambhala International as we know it today is a confluence of three Tibetan spiritual lineages, the Kagyu and Nyingma Buddhist lineages and that of Shambhala”, notes Mark Helsel, a senior member, who leads the Sadhana of Mahamudra near the new moon each month. “We have these two sadhanas that embody all three approaches. The Sadhana of Mahamudra combines the teachings of the two traditional Buddhist lineages and connects us to that view while the Shambhala Sadhana perfectly embodies the Shambhala teachings of working in the broader society.”

Members practice the Shambhala Sadhana on the full moon to connect with our goal of creating an enlightened society and the Sadhana of Mahamudra on the new moon to invoke the wisdom body of Trungpa Rinpoche and the traditional Buddhist lineages of Tibet. (Another great reason to become a member!)

Trungpa Rinpoche described the tradition of practicing sadhanas around the moon’s phases in a 1975 talk. “The Sadhana is read on those days because of our potential openness: we can open ourselves, we can take advantage of the gap that is taking place.”

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