Culture & Decorum in Chicago

“Shambhala is a culture. Our vision takes form not only through meditation and study, but also through society and the dignity of culture.”
The Sakyong Wangmo, Khandro Tseyang

pin for culture and decorum officeThroughout Shambhala, a member of the leadership team at every center worldwide holds the position of Delegate to the Office of Culture & Decorum. Generally, this person is appointed by the director of the international office via nomination from the local council. For Chicago, I am the current nominee. But if you asked me 1 year ago to consider this leadership role, I would have laughed out loud.

In my 9-year practice journey, my interactions with the Culture & Decorum delegate weren’t pleasant to me. I found encounters to be very stiff and harsh, as if the person’s only job was to shush people in the meditation hall and know by heart the order of toasts at a community party. And if the person genuinely was interested in a more collaborative and relaxed approach to Culture & Decorum, the person left the post with more stress than when they begun.

After great contemplation on the teachings of the lineage, my personal experience, and the words of The Sakyong and The Sakyong Wangmo, I see this post as a challenge and opportunity that I wish to direct and share with the entire Chicago community. The result of my contemplations comes from a  personal exploration of what culture and decorum is in Shambhala.

Practice On & Off the Cushion

As mindfulness, awareness, and basic goodness are the foundation for our practice on the cushion and in the world, decorum is the practice of communicating mindfulness and awareness to self and others. Through rituals of decorum, we learn to embody our practice and develop habits to support it. So as this does include limiting discursive speech in the meditation hall, this also includes practices of generosity, gratitude, exertion, and more.

This isn’t just at the Center, but also at home. Throughout the Way of Shambhala curriculum and beyond, opportunities to practice decorum at home, at work, and in society are available and open to all. Again, the practice of decorum is in service to our personal mindfulness practice and our journey to discovering basic goodness.

The Language of Basic Goodness

Culture in Shambhala is slightly different. My experience of culture in Shambhala comes through senior teachers and community events. There are dances, toasts, speeches, rituals, songs and arts that in part are derived from both the native Tibetan culture of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche and traditions he adopted during his sojourn in Great Britain. As a Black working-class American, I found it difficult to connect to these cultural displays. I remember times in which I resisted and resented them.

During my most recent retreat, I had a moving experience of Shambhala culture in action, in progress, and in collaborative development. A participant offered during a celebration her own a capella gospel arrangement of a Shambhala root text. It was executed with musical precision and brought the whole room to joyful tears. That moment softened my rigid view of culture in Shambhala and revealed the infinite possibilities of enlightened culture.

All secular and religious societies uphold and share what is most important to them through culture. In Shambhala, with basic goodness of self, society and reality as the view, path and fruition of all actions, culture serves as an expression of basic goodness. Culture is how we personally and publicly acknowledge basic goodness in all things. Weddings, funerals, rites of passage, songs, stories, and the arts express recognition of basic goodness.

As we practice in service to enlightened society and expand our society through space and time, we will inevitably include other expressions of basic goodness in the world that will be equally celebrated and propagated; drum circles, open mics, quinceañeras, mitzvahs, retirements, recovery, balls, dinners, gospel choirs and so much more are ripe for inclusion in Shambhala culture. They would not at all be appropriated, but rather recognized that in a society as diverse as enlightened society, all expressions of basic goodness are equally practiced and valued.

Opportunities in Chicago

With these understandings, I hunger for the possibilities awaiting the Chicago center. But I can’t do it alone. Through my felt sense of the teachings and community, I can only share what I know. I offer my time and heart to sharing, and to hear how you personally practice mindfulness everywhere and express basic goodness in the world.

I’d like to cultivate a small, diverse team of leaders who fearlessly model Shambhala culture and decorum and who wish to expand the bounds of those expressions. If you have any curiosity about this, please contact me. I’m not seeking “perfect practitioners”. I’m not seeking “inflexible hall monitors”. I’m seeking community members who are (nearly) willing to take their practice beyond the cushion and who want to be challenged. This challenge doesn’t need to be rigorous, but it has so great an opportunity to be joyful!

If you’d like some clarity on what’s in place so far, please seek the following resources:


  • An Introduction to Shambhala Culture, distributed by Shambhala Media
  • The Lost Art of Good Conversation by Sakyong Mipham


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