Thoughts on Creating Court in Everyday Life by Glenn Austin

David Mukpo and Wendy Friedman: “The heart of court is service.” (photo by Glenn Austin)

Last weekend (27-28 October), the Toronto Shambhala Centre offered a program entitled Shambhala Culture: Creating Court in Everyday Life. Twenty-five or so participants joyfully participated in an exploration and celebration of Shambhala principles. It was a true delight hosting Sangyum Wendy Friedman, Director of Culture and Decorum from Shambhala International, as well as David Mukpo, executive member of the Dorje Kasung leadership council, and also the beloved brother of Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche.

On Saturday, as the rain fell outside, we were asked to think about what culture is. Ms. Friedman suggested that culture is a shared set of rituals, gestures, and an overall approach to living life as a society. Mr. Mukpo added that culture was also a manifestation of our inner principles—in this case, discipline and kindness. They talked about how Shambhala forms and practices offer something unique in the world—openness, space, kindness to oneself and others, dignity, and love. Our practice is a simple yet profound way to connect directly with our inherent wisdom which we share and express through enlightened culture.

We also talked about the Kalapa Court as the centre of our mandala. The Kalapa Court is not only the personal residence of the Sakyong and Sakyong Wangmo, but also a place of teaching, inspiration, and leadership that inspires us to manifest as “kings and queens” within our own homes and local Shambhala centres. So what does that look like?

Participants on the last day (photo by Glenn Austin)

Within court practice there are three principles, which Ms. Freedman presented as heaven, humanity, and earth. Heaven is open space or vision—the big view. Humanity refers to friendliness and connection— paying attention and care— but also synchronizing mind and body. Then earth is all about practicality and function. She gave the earthy example of a faucet that sprays a person’s shirt—at the earthy practical level, things need to be kept in good repair.

Mr. Mukpo explained how, in the present moment, there is truly no time off and no hiding out. We aren’t “Shambhala people” at the centre and then go home and forget about it. Because you can’t just wait for the perfect moment: we are on duty essentially every day, for every moment. We ride the moment like a razor’s edge, riding the inspiration and riding the resistance, creating enlightened society by connecting vision with practicality. Or as the Druk Sakyong, Chogyum Trungpa Rinpoche used to say, we are constantly “joining survival and celebration.”

The weekend’s atmosphere was one of interest, inspiration, and camaraderie. Participants had many lively conversations between sessions. The discussions were juicy, in part because of questions and formal discussion within each of the group sessions. Another highlight was the talk on the Dorje Kasung path and practice from Mr. Mukpo. (In fact, the weekend was possibly the first jointly held Dorje Kasung and “civilian” program ever offered). In his presentation he explained that Kasungship is threefold and involves discipline, wakefulness, and genuine kindness. He further discussed his own experience of meditation and how vulnerable it can be—especially how we “fall apart on the cushion” at some time or another. Thus, the form of Kasung practice creates a container of sanity that protects our broken hearts.

Throughout the weekend I noticed how everyone pitched in. There was a certain playfulness and joy in the air. This made for a fun atmosphere and a feeling of really being “put on the spot.” There was also a Dorje Kasung mess on Saturday and a final celebration on Sunday evening.

The central theme permeating the weekend was kindness to oneself and others. Both teachers reminded us how we can learn from our mistakes and come back to our view and our core principles of discipline and kindness. In doing so, we are able to embody Shambhala culture through our actions as expressions of court principle.

Seeing the Toronto centre with fresh eyes: What’s this room for? Can I go in there? What does that writing mean? (photo by Glenn Austin)

This notion of court principle involves upliftedness in both our environments and ourselves. With this in mind, Ms. Friedman led us in a provocative activity in the centre itself. She asked us to follow her from room to room to contemplate and feel the space. We were asked to withhold our comments and suggestions while she posed simple questions like: “Is this space permeable?” “What is that used for?” and “What do all these things mean?” As our exploration wound down, we were able to see the objects and spaces in the centre with fresh eyes—including those of first-time visitors. So many issues within the space were now glaringly obvious. A new perspective arose spontaneously from the group, in matters of both functionality and aesthetic.

As the weekend concluded, I left both inspired and intrigued with further things to contemplate: how to introduce Shambhala culture to those who walk into our centres for the first time? how to further establish our core principles of discipline and kindness—through culture in our community but also in my own life? Driving home I also wondered how we might magnetize more interest in our local Shambhala centre. In a city of 5 million people and a world in such need of kindness and sanity, how might we best share this profound wisdom with those who can benefit?

Something Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche says was presented during the weekend. It might hold the answer to my questions: “enlightened society begins and ends with two people.”