Meditation is the natural state of the human mind—at rest, open, alert. The basic meditation technique, shamatha vipashana, predates all religious traditions, though it is used in one way or another by each of them. Undertaken as a steady practice, meditation allows the mind to relax and settle. It encourages our inherent qualities of stability, clarity and mental strength to emerge.
Kit is a practitioner and meditation instructor in the Shambhala Lineage of Buddhism and teaches shamatha vipashana (mindfulness awareness meditation) as taught directly by the historic Buddha to Dawa Sangpo, the King of Shambhala, 2,600 years ago.
Part I – The Historic Buddha
The Buddha (a Sanskrit word that means “one who is awake”) was a man born into an aristocratic family as Prince of the Shakya clan in Northern India. His given name was Siddhartha Gautama. His father, the King, having seen much war and suffering over his life, vowed to protect Siddhartha from experiencing the same and so he forbade Siddhartha from leaving their vast palatial grounds.
During Siddhartha’s birth, the family’s seer predicted the boy would become either a great King or a great spiritual leader. After the death of Siddhartha’s mother during his infancy, his father vowed he would make a great King out of Siddhartha and proceeded to train him in this way.
Siddhartha adhered to custom by marrying and siring a child but his inner restlessness stirred strongly. Having never stepped out of the palace walls, he snuck away one night out of curiosity. His trusted servant Channa accompanied him. On his three ventures into the surrounding area, he witnessed sickness, old age, and death for the first time. Channa explained these three await us all.
In shock and disbelief, Siddhartha left the palace, vowing to find the path to overcome suffering. He strove for years, criss-crossing India to follow one teacher then another, all to no avail.
Totally dejected, Siddhartha stopped in Bodh Gaya. Fully determined, he made a solemn promise to himself that he would sit and meditate until he had an answer to the cessation of suffering. He found a spot under a ficus tree and meditated without moving for 49 days until he finally had his answer.
Siddhartha had no plans to teach but, upon the supplication of fellow seekers, he shared what he learned with them while in Sarnath. His teaching, which he called “the middle way,” is based on his insight into suffering (the state of being called samsara) and the end of suffering (the state of being called nirvana). The path to the cessation of suffering, he taught, is the regular practice of shamatha vipasshana (mindfulness awareness meditation).
According to the Pāli canon, the Buddha never mentions independent samatha and vipasshana meditation practices; instead, samatha and vipasshana are two “qualities of mind” to be developed together through meditation.
Numbers of followers grew and they called him “Buddha,” the awakened one. The Buddha created a monastic community of those dedicated to living the dharma (his teachings of the middle way) and taught for another 45 years until his body’s death in Kushinagar.
The Buddha’s teaching has been handed down from teacher to student now for 2,600 years with great success.
Part II – Dawa Sangpo and the Legend of Shambhala
At the time of the Buddha, there existed a city north of the River Sita, called Shambhala, that was in a destructive state; aggression, murder, and war abounded and the web of society was crumbling. The king of the city at that time, Dawa Sangpo, was desperate to bring order to Shambhala. He traveled south into India to meet the great Buddha as news of his miraculous teachings had reached the king earlier.
Once at the feet of the Buddha, the king supplicated him for a practice that would turn around the degradation and suffering in Shambhala. The king asked that it be a practice that would allow him to live without renouncing his worldly enjoyments and responsibilities; he did not want to restricted by the vows and lifestyle required for the Buddha’s monks.
In response to the king’s request, the Buddha bestowed what are now known as the Kalachakra teachings. Dawa Sangpo returned to Shambhala and taught the Kalachakra for three years before passing the lineage to his son. Six succeeding kings held the Kalachakra teachings and taught them for one hundred years each. These kings are referred to as the Seven Dharmarajas of Shambhala.
As a result of the entire kingdom practicing the Kalachakra teachings, it is said that Shambhala became enlightened and transformed into a pure realm that can be seen in the hearts and minds of all those whose perception has been purified in meditation. The Dalai Lama once joked that since it is said that Shambhala lies due north of India, perhaps it refers to North America, reached by traveling north over the top of the globe!
Part III – Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche and Shambhala in the Modern Era
The founder of the Shambhala Buddhist lineage was Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche (1939-1987). Trungpa Rinpoche was the 11th descendent in the line of Trungpa tulkus, important teachers of the Kagyü lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. Renowned for its strong emphasis on meditation practice, the Kagyü lineage is one of the main schools of Tibetan Buddhism. In addition to being a key teacher within the Kagyü lineage, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche was also trained in the Nyingma tradition, the oldest of the schools, and was an adherent of the rimay or “non-sectarian” movement within Tibetan Buddhism. The rimay movement aspired to bring together and make available all the valuable teachings of the different schools, free of sectarian rivalry. Throughout his life, Trungpa Rinpoche sought to bring the teachings he had received to the largest possible audience.
After completing a rigorous monastic education, Trungpa Rinpoche was installed as the head of the Surmang monasteries in eastern Tibet. When the Chinese Communist party took control in 1959, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche was forced to flee the country. At the age of 20, he escaped his spiritual home, leading a small party of monks on horseback and on foot on the difficult journey over the Himalayas to India.
In 1963, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche moved to England to study comparative religion, philosophy, and fine arts at Oxford University on a Spaulding Fellowship. During this time, he also studied Japanese flower arranging and received an instructors degree from the Sogetsu school of ikebana. In 1967, he moved to Scotland, where he founded the Samye Ling meditation centre, the first Tibetan Buddhist practice centre in the West. Shortly thereafter, a variety of experiences–including a car accident that left him partially paralyzed on the left side of his body–led Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche to the decision to give up his monastic vows and work as a lay teacher. In 1969, he published Meditation in Action, the first of fourteen books on the spiritual path published during his lifetime. The following year represented another turning point in Trungpa’s life, when he married Diana Pybus and moved to the United States, where he established his first North American meditation centre, Tail of the Tiger (now known as Karmê-Chöling) in Barnet, Vermont.
The ancient teachings and practical instructions that Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche brought with him found an eager audience in the America of the 1970s, a decade during which he traveled nearly constantly throughout North America, published six books, and established three meditation centers and a contemplative university (Naropa University). He became renowned for his unique ability to present the essence of the highest Buddhist teachings in a form readily understandable to Western students.
Late in the 1970s, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche expressed his long-held desire to present the path of meditation in secular terms. He began to offer the Shambhala Training based on the Kalachakra teachings given to Dawa Sangpo by the Buddha.
Trungpa increasingly turned his attention to the propagation of teachings that extended beyond the Buddhist canon. These activities included not only Shambhala Training, which was attracting thousands of students, but also Japanese archery, calligraphy, flower arranging, tea ceremony, health care, dance, theatre, and psychotherapy, among others. In planting the seeds for these many activities, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche sought to bring, in his words, “art to everyday life.” He founded the Nalanda Foundation in 1974 as an umbrella organization for these activities.
A New Era
In April 1987, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s life came to an end. His passing was marked in an elaborate day-long ceremony, attracting more than 3,000 people, held on the Vermont land where he had first established a foothold in the West. During the period following his death, the Shambhala community and its leadership turned for guidance to one of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s most revered and only living teachers, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, then supreme head of the Nyingma lineage.
In 1990, at the urging of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s eldest son returned from a period of practice and study in Nepal to lead the community and direct the work Trungpa Rinpoche had begun. As the Shambhala lineage is passed from parent to child, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche had trained his eldest son, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, from childhood to take on this role.
Today, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, as leader of the Shambhala Buddhist lineage, carries as his main focus the perpetuation of the Shambhala Training and contemplative arts brought to light by his father.