Our inner path through crisis

Matthew Lyon has been a Shastri, or senior teacher, in Shambhala for nine years and has held various responsibilities in the organization for 42 years, including serving as center director in Seattle and Burlington.Vermont.  Recently, he talked with Larry Steele about how to practice in a time of crisis, and how to hold Shambhala teachings about enlightened society.

Thank you Shastri Lyon, for offering to talk about some questions that arise for me as a Shambhala student.

First, could you suggest some practices that might be helpful as we live through another period of crisis in Shambhala?

A good practice at this time is to acknowledge and trust your own feelings and perceptions with honesty. Although all of us are processing the same situation, each of us perceives it differently. Many are experiencing emotions of anger, disappointment, and uncertainty, along with complex conflicting feelings about their path. We can act with respect and tolerance for the experience of others as we work with our own emotions.

Speaking for myself, over many years I have experienced the profound, positive energy of the dharma and the Shambhala practices and teachings. Their strength and goodness support me no matter what is happening externally. I am contemplating the whole situation deeply in the midst of uncertainty.

Shambhala’s primary teaching is about establishing our own inner path of clarity and confidence. Levels 1-5 and the various follow-up classes of the Shambhala curriculum offer skills and practices that help us discover our own inner path of fulfillment. The gem of the teachings is the path of warriorship, with its skills in raising and radiating the clear energy of lungta, or windhorse. It is about bringing the purity of our inner vision to the experience of our outer path, even in the midst of obstacles. The current crisis is a perfect time to send compassion to our friends who have suffered harm, and also to those who may have caused it, and to call upon inner strength to guide us.

Shambhala’s crisis is real and challenging. Yet the strength and goodness of the inner path remains. Cultivating this is the point of all of our practices, and wisdom is available to us through practice to find a way forward.


Conflict and uncertainty have sown emotional division between many of our Shambhala friends. What will help us re-engage with each other?

The basic point is honesty. We need incredible honesty about what happened, with everything put on the table. We need emotional courage and the willingness to engage, even as we evolve to a completely different place as individuals and as a community .Also, I urge great tolerance for a wide range of feelings and views about this situation.

These may include anger and a lot of disappointment toward Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, and I have also seen anger directed at those who are seen to be too critical of the Sakyong .

The apparent harm which has occurred within Shambhala’s patriarchal model and culture has been enabled for too long. Yet at the same time many members, like myself, feel strong loyalty to the lineage and great appreciation for the teachings and the community. There are many conflicting feelings to process with honesty and openness, and we need to exercise patience with each other.

In all my years of working with the Sakyong I have never witnessed anything even remotely off-color in his behavior. And I have received profound teachings from him. Yet some of the harmful things being reported apparently have happened.The issues of sexual misconduct and abuse of power need clear resolution so that everyone can can feel safe and supported in Shambhala.

At the same time, it is disappointing to hear vilification of teachers and leaders who may have been perpetrators or enablers, but who nevertheless remain human beings who have sincerely endeavored to help others. We are called to see all beings with compassion, even as we hold them accountable.


What can we do to correct the outdated aspects of patriarchy and medieval culture that are woven into Shambhala?

I am especially disappointed that certain failures of leadership have affected the perception of Shambhala’s vision of enlightened society and its potential for a positive public impact.

The ancient traditions of Tibet sometimes conflict with our aspirations for a modern Shambhala culture and a contemporary enlightened society. For example, we must remember that it is a mistake to idealize our teachers personally, even as we view them as conduits for the teachings.  They are human beings, and devotion is not meant to be blind. Many teachers of the lineage have been unconventional and radical in certain ways. Yet we can’t ignore the behavioral standards of our culture. We have to find a middle ground if our community is going to be an inspiring beacon for the larger society. This is how we must evolve.

How to do this? Each of us must discover how to live our lives as warriors in this context. Trungpa Rinpoche certainly emphasized that we can be unconventional and yet good citizens at the same time.


What is happening right now to manifest the change we need?

There is no sense of a “company line” within Shambhala about the changes that must happen in our culture and administration. This must come about organically from an ongoing process and a lot of communication. Both the outgoing Kalapa Council and the Governing Council of Seattle Shambhala have recently worked hard to create an open, caring environment where everyone is enabled to help find the way forward. Our women teachers and leaders have stepped forward with strong voices.

I hope everyone is hearing about the various discussion circles, and ways to find help and support, including An Olive Branch, A Listening Post, and the new Shambhala Care and Conduct process.  For anyone who wants to review communications about these issues, the Seattle Shambhala website now includes a Resource Page with links to a comprehensive archive of reports, letters, and announcements.  

Some of our friends may leave Shambhala, and that will be sad. For myself, Shambhala is family. I prefer the option of staying within the community to help find a path which faces the problems but also respects and maintains the power of the teachings, We remain a community that has the potential to bring benefit to many people.  Our practices and training are excellent, despite our human fallibility in realizing them.

Modern society does not offer much cultural ground, or open space, for contemplative, non-dualistic, awareness. That’s not where we are today. Shambhala aspires to create that kind of space.


Seattle Shambhala Center has developed a page of Resources for Helping our Sangha Understand Current Events in Shambhala. This page will be updated as new communications are received and resources available. 

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