The international Shambhala community, like most communities and organizations, faces the truth that we have replicated many of the racist, patriarchal, hetero-normative, and misogynist habitual patterns and structures of our wider society. Many, though not all of us, share an aspiration to recognize, transform, and self-liberate these violent patterns. This will take work, heart, intelligence, strong relationships, and a healthy sense of humor. Thanks to the Diversity Working Group, the Shambhala Office of Social Engagement, the People of Color Council and the White Awareness Council, as well as others, Shambhala has begun this work in earnest, and there is much to be done and much to be healed. Yet there is also a unique aspiration and possibility within
Shambhala, one that is distinct from other communities and organizations that are also facing the reality of bias and oppression. This document attempts to articulate what we see as this singular possibility.
The Unique Challenge and Opportunity
In addition to our heartfelt and pained longing to acknowledge and transform our own oppression and ignorance, and open the space of true inclusivity, we in Shambhala are also interested in prototyping and experiencing new collective social forms. By “new” we mean ways of being together, making decisions, working with power, healing, and so forth, that are not only responses to specific histories of oppression, but arise fresh. We realize that such a fresh start is in many ways impossible. We are interested in living this impossibility. In order to explain what we see as the unique challenge and opportunity of Shambhala in relation to social justice and diversity work, it is imperative to clarify what the vision of Shambhala is. It is not simply to transform or help the world in general, but it is to actualize and experiment with a distinct social paradigm. This paradigm is called “Shambhala.” It is the process and experience of an awakened, basically good society. The mission of Shambhala is to manifest and live in such a society on this earth, taking real steps in practicing it into existence.
The attached “Proclamation” document explains more about this vision.
With this context in mind, we have named three categories in the process of working with social justice and oppression:
Category One: The history of oppression, colonialism, racism, patriarchy,nmisogyny, hetero-normative privilege, genocide against non-European peoples, and the current extension of these historical forms in the present, especially as they are monetized as part of global capitalism. In other words, the first category includes the many ways in which not all people and communities are able to experience their basic goodness due to structures, operations of power, and socio-cultural conditioning that are inherently biased. This bias has tended to favor white, straight, men of European heritage, especially those who come from a privileged background. Simultaneously, this bias has tended to oppress, ignore, attack, and/or dehumanize those who do not find themselves born into such socially-constructed positions. We recognize that each country and culture will have different histories of oppression and we acknowledge that much of this language and style—even in this document—comes from a particularly North American-centric experience. “Diversity” work looks and feels different, and includes different communities and histories, in Latin America, Europe, Africa, and Asia and amongst first-nation peoples. The current Shambhala community should recognize the ways in which our own social hierarchies and forms may replicate various oppressive conditions. Whatever enlightened society is to be
now and in the future must find ways to end category one.
Category Two: For as long as there has been oppression there have also been movements to bring it to an end. These include anti-colonial resistance, liberation traditions, abolitionism, women’s suffrage and all forms of feminism, the civil rights movement, the Black Power movement, indigenous rights, LGBTQI movements, labor and workers rights movements, free Tibet, and the vast range of progressive activists, educators, trainers, care providers, and communities of support. At this moment, Shambhala needs to learn more from these movements
and forms of resistance and education. If our aspiration is for a just and inclusive organization, community, sangha, and society, then it is important to see the ways that—often without knowing it—we exclude and oppress many human beings (and non-human beings). This work includes education, forms of affirmative action, training and un-training, as well as active anti-racist, anti-patriarchal policies, and anti-homophobic communications, and positions. This work also may include caucusing so that oppressed communities have an opportunity to be with others with shared experience, (e.g. a People of Color Level 1 or a Queer sitting group). This also means that groups that have traditionally held power can learn to work with their own bias in private (e.g. a
group on whiteness and white privilege in America or men’s groups). Training in cultural humility and facing our internal bias are fundamental to our work in creating enlightened society and a culture of kindness in the present. It is one specific way in which enlightened and unenlightened society are co-emergent: we can simultaneously experience bias and opening. All of this work can be based upon basic goodness and is not about spreading shame, guilt, and blame. This work is not about flipping power from an oppressed to a dominant group but
about overcoming the structure of bias in the first place. Yet this work does often inspire defensiveness, resistance, and fear. It is messy work, and it takes vulnerability and bravery to engage. As Shambhala warriors, we can see this as a tremendous opportunity.
Furthermore, we must acknowledge that we in Shambhala simply cannot accomplish our vision of creating enlightened society if we are only a small group of mostly white, mostly upper-middle class, North American-centric, English language-centric, people who only represent a tiny portion of human experience. We need the richness of experience, perspective, and history that comes from human diversity if we have any chance of creating enlightened society; it simply cannot be done in isolation. And we have much work to do to be worthy of such richness, for we continue to push this richness away. Therefore, rather than think of “diversity” as the aspiration to invite more people in and have a more diverse population in our programs and communities, we should think of this work as what we need to pass through in order to become what we need to become. We
Shambhalians are dependent upon the richness of the range of human experiences, cultures, bodies, sexualities, and ancestries in order to be Shambhala, not simply in order to share what we have with others. This goes way beyond “attracting” different people.
Category Two is also spiritually necessary. We cannot awaken and experience freedom on a personal level if we are still subject to racism, bias, homophobia, and eurocentricism. This would mean that our mind is still highly limited and conditioned. Therefore the personal work to recognize, gently touch, and unlearn our social conditioning is fundamental to the process of liberation and awakening. All of us—including white people, men, straight people, rich people—we all suffer to varying degrees, under the violence, trauma, and oppression of our history. It is time to heal these wounds. This is clearly true for the level of collective enlightenment as well. We cannot claim to be manifesting an enlightened society if our collective social practices are conditioned, violent, oppressive and simply the repetition of the karma of colonialism. Rather, collective enlightenment and the sense of society as like a giant living being means that our shared social forms, structures, and policies must be free from bias, compassionate, just, and wise.
Category Three: Nonetheless, enlightened society and Shambhala in its most complete actualization are not a reaction for or against any particular social structures or habitual patterns. Shambhala arises–direct and unmediated—from the Ashe and has its own unique lineage story. This story of course includes the reality of oppression in modern, western, and global civilization. This story includes the history of colonialism, patriarchy, racism, etc. Yet this story is also before and beyond the particular history of western civilization. Shambhala
cannot be reduced to the developments of colonialism and its aftermath. Part of our work is to understand, connect with, and protect the novelty and uniqueness of the possibility of something different. Unlike many social movements, civil rights movements, spiritual communities, or political initiatives, Shambhala does not understand itself as entirely subject to the dialectics of Christendom, colonialism, the scientific revolution, capitalism, communism, liberal progress, American dominance, etc. Of course we are all influenced by these massive historical epochs and histories and are never in a “pure” or neutral space. The karma of these histories are alive in each of our bodies, our language, our social norms, everyday habits and structures. Yet it would be incomplete to entirely locate Shambhala within this history, for it has different roots. These roots are historically different, in the sense that our lineage traces itself back through medieval and ancient Tibet, India, China, and Japan. These roots are spiritually and experientially different in the sense that our tradition and practices of meditation, Ashe, windhorse, authentic presence Three Courts, and drala cosmology have their own orientation. This orientation allows for and cultivates a different human experience than that of simply being located within modern western or global capitalism. In fact, it is an act of western colonialism to presume that such a different experience or lineage is impossible. This difference is precious and fragile, especially in the early stages of the unfolding of Shambhala society. We are collectively prototyping and actualizing a new social paradigm, one that nourishes the basic goodness of all. In terms of social justice and diversity work, this Third Category is dangerous. It
would be all-too- easy to think that because we trust that all are basically good, or that we are ultimately arising from the cosmic mirror, or that we are oriented towards new Shambhala social practices this would mean that we could skip over the need to engage the work of Category Two. That is, we could engage in “spiritual bypassing” on the level of our own bias, racism, gender prejudice, and patriarchy. Collectively, this could be called “enlightened society bypassing:” we use the teachings and vision of creating enlightened society to ignore or bypass the social reality of the present. We claim the high-ground of ultimate view—that we see all beings as basically good, or that we are somehow beyond prejudice because we meditate—to pass-over our own bias and racism. When almost any of us look with honesty, we will find that we all have been socially conditioned to
think of some people, colors, shapes, orientations, gender manifestations, sexualities, and so forth as better or more natural or acceptable than others. This level of conditioning leads to violent conditions for people’s bodies and emotions and makes Shambhala inhospitable to many communities. We cannot simply deny this social reality in our aspirations for enlightened society. Therefore, the work of Category Two is completely necessary in the present. Yet this does not mean that the fulfillment of Category Two would equal Shambhala society. Shambhala is not simply a liberal or “progressive” society in which cultural humility, inclusivity, and awareness are fully established and institutionalized, although that would be a most excellent and needed step. In this
sense, Shambhala is not identical to civil rights movements or various resistances to oppression. Category Two is necessary but insufficient. We honestly don’t know exactly what enlightened society feels like, but it is
irreducible to progressive, liberal, or civil rights expectations. For example, the very notions of a modern, individual subject with human rights are lodged within a specific ethical, political, and legal history that may or may not be helpful for Shambhala society. We must think big and be radical and visionary enough to challenge many of the assumptions that we have been conditioned to presume: even those that on the surface seem just and necessary. It may be that ideas such as individual rights and identities are in fact part of a paradigm that keeps us trapped.
There are fresh, spontaneously arising possibilities of human social experience that want to arise, right now. These possibilities are not reactions to the history ofcolonialism and racism, but erupt from the ground of basic goodness. They have been here all along. Our spiritual and social practice is to allow this wisdom and
primordial goodness to shine, play, and take form in society. In terms of social justice, this is a slightly different orientation than the logic of progressivism, civil rights, etc. which tend to think of themselves as part of the general history of the west and as responses to the injustices of colonialism and patriarchy. Shambhala
longs for a profound and just society as well, but it is ultimately not a response or reaction to western historical conditions. At the same time it cannot ignore those conditions.
Many people in social justice and anti-racist, anti-oppression movements are also looking for something fresh. Many are tired of infighting and aggression within activist groups. Many resist having to choose between either a) ignorant and racist contexts or b) activist communities of solidarity with an increasingly established and sometimes fixed language and habits. Many are seeking communities of care, inclusion, diversity, and wisdom that are not entirely oriented around a response to the horrors of the present and past, but are rich celebrations of humanity. Shambhala aspires to be such a space.
In summary then: we in Shambhala are still stuck in Category One, but Category Two is emerging with force and this is good. We cannot bypass Category Two in the hopes to get to Category Three. If we do engage in enlightened society bypassing, we will likely repeat the oppression of Category One even as we think we are part of Category Three. However, we also do not want to limit ourselves to Category Two. We cannot simply adopt the learning, practices, and language of Category Two as the end goal. Rather, it is our responsibility to hold open the space for Category Three, the novelty and potential of an emerging enlightened society, even as we engage in the necessary work of liberation and justice in Category Two. We trust that numerous exciting, liberating, and healing initiatives, conferences, policies, practices, trainings, and communities may arise within
Shambhala based upon this articulation of Categories One, Two, and Three.