January 16, 2005

Shambhala Training this Weekend

Posted at January 16, 2005 08:30 PM in Buddhism .

R and I did the Shambhala Level 1: The Art of Being Human training this weekend. More information on the overall program can be found at http://sti.shambhala.org/.

Overall, the Shambhala Tradition is a sort of secularized Buddhism couched in terminology not generally based strictly on Buddhism. Chogyam Trunpa, who originated it in the 1970s, was a Kagyu Tibetan Buddhist lama who was looking for a way to teach many of the techniques of Buddhism and its orientation in a way that was approachable to non-Tibetans.

Some people feel that it's a kind of "White Light" Buddhism for middle aged, middle class white people but it definitely has some interesting ideas, even if it uses some hokey language around "warriorship" and buys into the "sacred warrior" meme overall. I can definitely see where people get this impression but I'm generally of the school of thought that I will learn from anyone if they have something valuable to teach and this is a great hands-on meditation class.

The basic techniques it uses are the standard shamatha ("Calm Abiding") and vipassana ("Insight") techniques that are common to all Buddhist traditions. It does a progressive series of weekend trainings to teach the basics with an expectation that people continue to work on the techniques in between levels. After the first five of these, things shift a bit and go in other directions (or so I am told).

Friday night was a lecture on some of the ideas behind Shambhala and the principles of the first class. I noticed (because I counted) that there were 35 people there. 18 of them were women, 1 person was not a Caucasian, and only one person was clearly younger than R or me (though four or five seemed to be about our age, which is early 30's). On Saturday, there were 25 people there (though I heard later that 21 were students and the other four were helpers from the school). Same general dynamics except there were two people who weren't white. Most of the crowd was 40ish. (Don't ask why I do these demographic things, I just do...)

The Friday lecture was for two hours and then we were out. Saturday started at 8:30 AM with a light breakfast. At 9:00, we had a short lecture and then began sitting meditation. Meditation continued throughout the morning. The normal pattern was roughly 20 minutes of sitting meditation followed by 10 minutes of walking meditation, repeat. Shortly after noon, we had a break until 1:30 and R and I went to get coffee after eating sandwiches (from Essential Foods) with everyone. After lunch, we learned a short warm-up yoga devised by the current head of the Shambhala lineage and then proceeded to do more meditation as before. This went until 3:30 or so, when we had a break for tea. Then we continued again until 5:30, when we had a short closing discussion and Q&A session. We were advised to be well rested that night as we would probably feel exhausted (which is true).

Today, we arrived at 8:30 AM again. We did a short session of the yoga and then ate a light breakfast for 20 minutes. At 9:20, we started the whole thing again and went until lunch, which was Thai food (yum!). After lunch, there were a couple of more sessions of meditation and then we closed things around 3:00. There was a short reception with snacks afterwards but R and I didn't feel like staying for it, so we left.

All in all, I feel it was a very worthwhile thing to have done. If I had to do it again next weekend, I might run the other day. I don't think I've ever done so much meditation in such a short period of time, ever.  I expect that I'll do the Level 2 training in a month but we will see.

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