May 29, 2010

It Is Not Enough to Teach

When I first came to Shambhala Mountain Center in August of 2004, I noticed two things: its shear goodness and its chaos. The goodness is evident in the beauty of the land, the open, loving hearts of the people, and the brilliancy of the teachings. The chaos is evident in the neglect, slapdash repairs, dissatisfaction, and neurosis found among the people who live and work here. For all that they are wonderful individuals, they also operate under a system of management, or rather mismanagement, that would not be tolerated in any other organization or institution. In my working career I have been exposed to dozens such places, both the very, very good and the very, very bad, but none of them displayed this level of chaos.

I have hesitated to make criticism. After all, I am not here every day. When I am here, I am not involved in the management of the center, nor do I work frequently with any other departments. I am my own one-woman anti-entropy crew and, given the evident chaos all around me, I like it that way. But, I cannot escape it since, after all, my sole job on the land these past four years has been rectifying past mistakes and neglects.

I will not innumerate them here. I will only say that I have come to the conclusion that Shambhala Mountain Center has been so mismanaged for so long that the responsibility for this state cannot be laid at the feet of any one of the past directors (at least three in the last six years). Rather, it must lie with the board, for they hire these directors and watch as the center slips slowly further and further into chaos.

And as I watch all this happening and do my small best to slow the progress and hope and hope and hope that the genuinely good intentions and genuinely good hearts of the staff, volunteers, donors, and visitors will somehow see us through (as they have so far), I find myself asking a single question: “Where is the Sakyong and the Acharyas?” Why in the name of all the holy deities of Tibet, India, Nepal, China, Japan, Korea, and for the Buddha himself would they allow this to happen? Are they unaware? And if so, why?

It is not enough merely to teach. One must also lead. Yet those men and women who have the realization and the mental space to skillfully deal with chaos (so we are led to believe and so I have observed in my admittedly limited observation of them) choose to absent themselves from it. They come. They sit at the front of the shrine room or shrine tent, they speak, meditate, teach, exhort, encourage, and live as examples. Then they go away. And the chaos remains.

Perhaps they believe anyone who receives their teachings will naturally be able to put them into practice and create the enlightened society Shambhala is said to be. If so, they are mistaken. What has the Seven Points of Mind Training to say about how best to engineer a new waste water treatment system? What can dzogchen tell us about how to most efficiently organizing the housekeeping staff? (Perhaps everything, but you couldn’t see it from where I sit.) How can Sacred Key unclog a toilet? These may seem like nitty-gritty details, but that’s what leadership is – being concerned with the nitty-gritty details.

By this I do not mean micromanaging. I do not mean feeling the urge to do it all oneself. I mean caring that it is done and done well, with a comprehensive understanding of how each task fits into the larger system and a long-term view rather than one that cannot see past next month’s bottom line. The bottom line is important, it is true. This is America after all. But a great deal of damage can be done if that is all one can see.

There is a great blindness here. Those who teach do not lead because in the long run, isn’t it more important we all become enlightened? Those who lead do barely that because the blindness and the chaos have gone on for so long they have become institutionalized. In a strange way, I think those in power must somehow feel rather powerless. What other reason is there for them to fail to act except that they don’t feel they can do anything? What other reason is there for them to willfully turn away from the problems the center faces except that they do not wish to see that which they feel they can do nothing about?

This does not strike me as the tradition that Chogyam Trungpa set about to establish. Here was a man who had his hands firmly in the dough. He designed the uniforms of the Kasung, the layout of the shrines, chose the land for this center, and had a say in all that went on here. Admittedly, some of what went on here would curl your toes to hear of it, but no one could say the man was not wholeheartedly involved. So how has it come to this?

I do not know. I have not been here long enough. I am too far down on the food chain to do much more than I have done. But in doing so, I resolve to learn from this, and to continue to do what I can. I will redouble my efforts. And I will continue to hope and hope and hope that the genuinely good hearts of the people will see us through.

There is a sign taped to the mirror in the women’s bathhouse. “May sanity prevail in this room.” May sanity prevail in Shambhala Mountain Center. May sanity prevail in Shambhala International. May sanity prevail in the world.

And may those who teach also lead.


Anonymous said...

What do you teach at the Shambhala Mountian Center?

Teacher Jim said...

Wow, sounds like my dharma center EXACTLY.

Monica said...

I don't teach anything. Nor do I lead. Which is why I hesitated six years to criticize. I go there as volunteer staff.