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The Dawn of Shambhala Training

Photo: "Fan man" by Robert Del Tredici
Photo by Robert Del Tredici

The Shambhala Path: the first public talk

In celebration of Shambhala Day/Tibetan New Year/Losar 2023, the Chogyam Trungpa Digital Library is releasing the original audio recording — with transcript! — of the historic talk Chogyam Trungpa gave in March 1978, that introduced the Shambhala teachings to the public for the very first time. The event took place at the University of Colorado’s huge University Memorial Ballroom, and was attended by over 1,000 people — who converged on the hall from Naropa Institute, Boulder’s Buddhist community, and from the Boulder and Denver areas at large. Chogyam Trungpa’s editor Carolyn Gimian was there, and said of the atmosphere, “It felt electric and so alive. It also had an ordinary quality, as so many things did with him. But it definitely roused the energy of everyone in the room.”

After a clear and enthusiastic introduction to the new program by his close student David Rome, Chogyam Trungpa brilliantly conveys the heart of the Shambhala teachings and Shambhala Training — the secular program of meditation and warriorship that eventually was, and continues to be, offered in cities across North and South America, and in Europe. As Trungpa Rinpoche describes, the foundation of these teachings are the principles of basic goodness; The Great Eastern Sun — connected with the perpetual arising of fresh experience; and the development of confidence, gentleness, and fearlessness in one’s everyday life.

The Shambhala path has at its center the same practice of sitting meditation as Buddhism, but the Shambhala teachings are presented in wholly secular terms, without any religious overtones, which makes them accessible to anyone regardless of religious affiliation — or non-affiliation. The special quality of the Shambhala teachings is their integration of spirituality into one’s daily life — relationships, work, children — which becomes the ground and path toward realization. As Chogyam Trungpa himself said, the view of Shambhala is that “it elevates everyday experience to the level of the sacred.”

It almost seems astonishing that this talk was given forty-five years ago, but that stretch of time has actually injected no gap between the freshness and aliveness of these teachings then and today. And in the context of the millenia-old traditions on which these teachings are based — the ancient warrior traditions of Tibet, China, Japan, and India, and the Kingdom of Shambhala itself — four decades is a mere flash. According to Trungpa Rinpoche, the origins of the Shambhala teachings lay in part on what has variously been described as an actual or mythical kingdom of Shambhala — or combination of both — that began sometime around 900 to 876 B.C.E. in Northeast India. The Buddha is said to have transmitted the Kalachakra tantra to the first King of Shambhala, Dawa Sangpo, who then gave them to his subjects, who began practicing them in their daily lives — so effectively that they became enlightened, thus creating an “enlightened society.” While the teachings of contemporary Shambhala Training are not overtly connected with the Kalachakra tradition, which is still practiced today, they do contain some elements of it, and draw from the myth or reality of the Shambhala Kingdom.

Photo by Andrea Roth
Photo by Andrea Roth

If Chogyam Trungpa surprised his long-time students of Buddhism by introducing the complete path of Shambhala Training in the 1970s — and charging them as the primary teachers of it, in addition to himself — his own connection to these teachings stretched back far longer. Trungpa Rinpoche had become fascinated with the Shambhala tradition while still a young man in Tibet. He was in fact writing a lengthy spiritual history of Shambhala during his escape from Tibet in 1959 — which was tragically lost on the journey. Trungpa Rinpoche’s reconnection with and reframing of these teachings in the 1970s arose from an understanding that the contemporary Western world would benefit tremendously from meditation and other warriorship practices geared toward generating fearlessness, dignity, self-acceptance, and awareness beyond ego. According to Chogyam Trungpa’s long-time editor Carolyn Gimian, from the time of the introduction of these teachings in 1976 (he gave some talks on Shambhala at the 1976 Vajradhatu Seminary) to his death in 1987, “the propagation of the Shambhala teachings and the sacred path of the warrior was his passion.”

In this talk, we can now go back to the origin of what would be a primary focus of Chogyam Trungpa’s life and activity from thence forward, and reach far into the culture. Thousands of people have now taken Shambhala Training programs, and far more have encountered these teachings in Chogyam Trungpa’s best-selling book Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior, published in 1983, and which has sold millions of copies and been translated into more than fifteen languages. This talk, “Basic Goodness”, from 1978, formed the basis of the book’s first chapter, and informed other chapters as well. The original talk is now available to hear (and read!), and we encourage all who do to imagine that they are there with the audience of 1,000 at this landmark event, which introduced these profound teachings that are as relevant and applicable today as they have ever been.

Listen to the talk with captions and transcript: