Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche is the eldest son of the late Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and, since 1990, the leader of the Shambhala community his father founded. Osel Rangdrol Mukpo, as he was named at birth, spent his early years living in a Tibetan refugee village in northwest India with his mother, Konchok Paldron, a Tibetan nun. At the age of seven, he went to live and train with his father, first at Samye Ling Meditation Centre in Scotland and later in Boulder, Colorado. In 1979, Trungpa Rinpoche conferred upon his son the title Sawang, or Earth Lord, empowering him as his heir, responsible for propagating the Shambhala teachings in the West. As part of his training, the Sakyong studied with the Sixteenth Gyalwang Karmapa, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, and Kalu Rinpoche, and currently studies with Penor Rinpoche, who recognized him as the incarnation of Mipham Jamyang Namgyal Gyatso, the nineteenth-century meditation master. In 1995, at Shambhala headquarters in Nova Scotia, he was formally installed as the Sakyong (Earth Protector), or leader of the Shambhala community.

This interview was conducted at the Shambhala Center in New York City by Helen Tworkov.


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When your father died in 1987 there were two wings of his community: the Vajradhatu—or Buddhist path, and the Shambhala Training path. What is the difference between Shambhala Training and Buddhism, and why did you bring them together?

The Sakyong: I see the word “Shambhala” as the name for the basic organization. Within that organization, there are the teachings on Shambhala Training, which include studying particular texts that my father wrote. Then there are people who study Buddhism. And there are people in our community who are not Buddhists or into the Shambhala Training but are involved in dharma arts—people who practice meditation arts such as flower arranging, calligraphy, tea ceremony, or archery. What’s basic to these disciplines is the practice of mindfulness and the practice of meditation. So Shambhala is the society in which all these approaches can flourish. My father used the term “enlightened society.” This is not a “perfect” society to which we are trying to adhere, but a society in which everybody attempts to be genuine and kind and to work on themselves and with others. The word “Shambhala” refers to a very old tradition relating to sacredness, to environment, family, to basic decency, and meditation. When I was growing up with my father, there was never a big separation between Buddhism and the teachings of Shambhala Training.

Tricycle: Shambhala is commonly called a “secular” path. Is it secular?

The Sakyong: The view of Shambhala is not limited to a conventional idea of “spiritual” or of “religious.” And you certainly do not have to be a Buddhist. My father hoped that Christians and Jews and different people could be involved. Shambhala became the word for some kind of basic ground—an appreciation of not just “spiritual” traditions, but all of life. That’s why he emphasized the arts so much. But when I brought the Shambhala Training teachings and Buddhism together, people thought it was some kind of big innovation. But it wasn’t any big deal, you know. Shambhala is the basic ground. It’s like saying, “There are different countries but we all live on planet earth.”

Tricycle: What is the nature of this basic ground?

The Sakyong: Basic goodness. When we use this term “basic goodness” it indicates some fundamental possibility. Life is possible. Situations are possible. And anybody can start to gain some kind of insight and appreciation of their lives. That’s what we call “sacred.” It doesn’t mean something dramatic, but something very simple. There’s a sacredness to everyone’s life. In order to relate to it, you have to build confidence. Because of this need to build confidence, we speak of “warriorship.” There’s a tremendous amount of fear in people’s lives. I think it’s based on not wanting to reveal oneself. You’re always protecting yourself. So the journey of meditation and the journey of Shambhala is “One has to be fearless. One has to be brave. One must break out of the world which is comfort-oriented.”

Tricycle: Why have your recent talks put so much emphasis on the Mahayana view of compassion?

The Sakyong: All practices are supposed to help people. In the Mahayana, there’s the notion of compassion, of actually caring for each other in a family way; we may have disagreements but there is fundamental care. In the Mahayana, compassion is essential to the path. I have seen a lot of people doing exotic Vajrayana practices. They go away somewhere and do all these seemingly bizarre practices, which are considered very high-level practices, but then they have great difficulty just being nice to one person. That doesn’t work. I felt that if our community were to grow, and if people were to feel welcome, then we needed to develop this family sense of caring. If the community were a place where nobody cared, I wouldn’t want to be in that community. I wasn’t saying that people should change anything, but at the basic level, there needs to be some kind of openness. If a stranger comes, you bring them into the family and you take care of them. And you take care of each other. And sometimes, people don’t do that. If any community is going to survive, this caring has to be the basis. You know, my father was saying the same thing twenty years ago. Maybe it’s a matter of timing. When Buddhism was new to people here, they were so excited by ideas that they had never encountered before that they didn’t realize the simple importance of taking care of each other.

Tricycle: The Kagyu lineage is renown for its mountain yogis and cave-dwelling saints. Can Shambhala accommodate this hermit tradition?

The Sakyong: You know, in the case of Tibet, if you went away on retreat, or became a hermit, you were considered a very courageous person, a person who followed the great yogis, such as Milarepa. They were unusual individuals and in some ways, to do that, you had to be very special. But the rest of us need some kind of relationship with others in society. Some people think, “I just want to escape and go away.” Recently I talked to people who had done the three-year retreat and some of them began to realize that they had had a very romantic idea about going away. One thing I have been trying to work with is people really participating in the community in order to change it. Sometimes people say to me, “You should do this,” and “You should do that,” but everybody is part of a community, and everybody needs to participate. We are all responsible.

Tricycle: Do you think that in such an individualistic culture as ours that it takes at least as much courage—if not more—to join a community as it does to retreat to a mountaintop?

The Sakyong: I think so. People have to learn how to be members of a community, any community. In terms of a lot of Western society, and now all over the world, there’s very little community or village situation and so people have never related to a community. So what’s happening is that they’re having to learn just how to share or how to take care of each other, or if somebody’s sick, how to be there. Then they actually have some inter-dependence. That might create a lot of fear because people say, “I don’t want to be dependent on anyone.” It does mean a certain amount of letting go, actually trusting other people. And then again, not getting too ethnocentric about whatever culture you are from. There’s no set way to do it, but there’s an openness within Buddhism that allows for community.

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche is the eldest son of the late Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and, since 1990, the leader of the Shambhala community his father founded. Osel Rangdrol Mukpo, as he was named at birth, spent his early years living in a Tibetan refugee village in northwest India with his mother, Konchok Paldron, a Tibetan nun. At the age of seven, he went to live and train with his father, first at Samye Ling Meditation Centre in Scotland and later in Boulder, Colorado. In 1979, Trungpa Rinpoche conferred upon his son the title Sawang, or Earth Lord, empowering him as his heir, responsible for propagating the Shambhala teachings in the West. As part of his training, the Sakyong studied with the Sixteenth Gyalwang Karmapa, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, and Kalu Rinpoche, and currently studies with Penor Rinpoche, who recognized him as the incarnation of Mipham Jamyang Namgyal Gyatso, the nineteenth-century meditation master. In 1995, at Shambhala headquarters in Nova Scotia, he was formally installed as the Sakyong (Earth Protector), or leader of the Shambhala community.

This interview was conducted at the Shambhala Center in New York City by Helen Tworkov.


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Tricycle: It’s now ten years since Trungpa Rinpoche died. By many people’s estimate, your father was the most superior dharma teacher to work in the West, and he was certainly the most public. Now that you have taken your own seat in the community, how have you understood your own role as leader? And what are some of—what must be—the mixed blessings of following in such big footsteps?

The Sakyong: I grew up in a tradition where I knew from a very young age what I was going to do, and what was expected of me. That helps. My father prepared me, to some extent, in terms of this whole process, I think that’s one thing. It’s not like somebody comes up to your door and says, “Oh, by the way….”

Tricycle: How did he prepare you?

The Sakyong: I was born and lived in India until I was eight. It would have been quite easy to remain in India and receive a traditional monastic training. But my father was in Scotland at that time, and he specifically wanted me to join him.

Tricycle: He wanted you exposed to the West at a formative age?

The Sakyong: I think so. He would say, “You know, we’re together and there are things you have to do over here.” Even from way back then, he had a feeling about my role and gave me instructions. He was obviously my father and also my teacher. And then, at a certain point, we became very good friends. That was the main thing. Because, you know, a lot of times, father and son, it doesn’t work out. Our special connection is that we were very good friends. Many times later in his life, we would have long talks, and in some ways he would say, “I can’t talk to anyone else, but I can talk to you.” And I am very inspired by what he did, who he was. To me, he was always very kind but, at the same time, firm in what he wanted me to do. When I did retreat, he’d make sure I was there for each of the sessions, and he would come and check on me. Sometimes, we would be talking very late at night and he would tell me, “You have to go to bed. You have a practice session at six.” He always knew exactly what I was doing in my studies.

Tricycle: Could you say a little about how your father taught you when you were young, in an informal sense?

The Sakyong: It was an ongoing situation. For instance, at times he would want me with him when he was with other people and then he would ask me what I thought their problem was. And what would I say to them. He was training me all the time like that. When people met him, they were sometimes nervous, and I knew they didn’t understand what he said, because they were thinking about something else. They would leave, and he would say, “Do you think they understood?” And I would say I didn’t think so, and he’d say, “I don’t think so either—maybe you should go talk to them.” So I’d leave and go talk to them.

Tricycle: Many Western disciples have been critical of the Tibetan masters for not supporting the Americans’ capacity to teach. They find it disheartening that after twenty or thirty years of dedicated practice, that Americans are still made fun of by Tibetans, are not taken seriously. As you are so uniquely bicultural, how do you understand this situation?

The Sakyong: One of the main attributes of my father was that he did support people’s development. In fact, he said, “I am teaching you to be teachers,” as opposed to just being students. He definitely persevered in trying to create confidence in people so that they can really understand these teachings and carry them on. In this period a certain generation of practitioners is getting older and has the responsibility of passing on its collective knowledge to the next generation. Then the tradition goes forward as opposed to just an event that happened and was over. In terms of dharma coming to the West, I would consider it a sign of success if people took more responsibilities in their native countries in Europe and North America rather than always depending upon the Tibetans or Japanese or whatever. And at the same time, it is important to have respect for the tradition. That’s always the mix, really trying to get the best of both. There’s a certain quality of openness in Westerners, of appreciating the teachings, taking them and making them inherent. On the other hand, if you are a good student, you can learn from anybody. And if you’re not, you can have the best teacher, and it doesn’t make any difference.

Tricycle: How do you see your role as a leader?

The Sakyong: I try to provide some support for other people. My role has slowly evolved. Initially people just wanted me to do what had happened before. People were telling me what to do as opposed to me telling them what to do. And at a certain point I realized that this is a new place, a new time. There are certain things that I can do, and that I have to offer, and it is important to me to share this.

Image: Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche with his mother, Lady Konchok Peldron, and his father, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, at Rocky Mountain Shambhala Center, Colorado, 1986

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche is the eldest son of the late Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and, since 1990, the leader of the Shambhala community his father founded. Osel Rangdrol Mukpo, as he was named at birth, spent his early years living in a Tibetan refugee village in northwest India with his mother, Konchok Paldron, a Tibetan nun. At the age of seven, he went to live and train with his father, first at Samye Ling Meditation Centre in Scotland and later in Boulder, Colorado. In 1979, Trungpa Rinpoche conferred upon his son the title Sawang, or Earth Lord, empowering him as his heir, responsible for propagating the Shambhala teachings in the West. As part of his training, the Sakyong studied with the Sixteenth Gyalwang Karmapa, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, and Kalu Rinpoche, and currently studies with Penor Rinpoche, who recognized him as the incarnation of Mipham Jamyang Namgyal Gyatso, the nineteenth-century meditation master. In 1995, at Shambhala headquarters in Nova Scotia, he was formally installed as the Sakyong (Earth Protector), or leader of the Shambhala community.

This interview was conducted at the Shambhala Center in New York City by Helen Tworkov.


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Tricycle: Before this, you were being asked to be your father?

The Sakyong: To a degree. From my perspective, it’s a lot like what my father went through. When he was growing up, he was under the shadow of his predecessor, the tenth Trungpa. All the old lamas were saying, “He should do this,” and “He should do that.” And he actually had to leave the monastery and go to another monastery in order to get out from this shadow.

Tricycle: Is this partly why you are going into retreat for a year this winter?

The Sakyong: By going on retreat, I am saying, “Okay, this is your community, too. It’s not just me doing things. There is a role I need to fulfill that is helpful, but nothing is going to progress unless something else takes form, unless people take more responsibility. You can talk to 500 people individually who seem very intelligent, really clever. But put them in a group or on a committee and they can’t make up their minds about what color to paint the wall. It’s amazing. People kept saying they wanted more of a role in the sangha. So I said, “Okay, here are things you can do.” Eventually, they ask me, “Oh, what do you think?” and I say, “That’s not the point.” The point is to take responsibility. I always talk about this as the notion of nurturing. I feel like my father gave so many teachings and so many instructions. I really encourage people. They should be practicing those teachings and not expecting me or any other teacher to come along and say it all over again. They should go ahead and proceed on their own. 

Tricycle: What is your current relationship with your father?

The Sakyong: The more I practice and the more I study, the more I get to know him. I’m really trying to communicate to students that my father went through a lot of training and study. It’s not like he just came over and made everything up. Sometimes he’d be talking and people didn’t realize he was quoting from, or referring to, a text that was a thousand years old. I certainly have to continue my own education and training and as I’m doing that, I get to know him better. Also, I understand more clearly the skillfulness of how he took something very old and presented it freshly to the West.

Tricycle: What is the most difficult thing about your job these days?

The Sakyong: Right now it is most important for me to have time for study and practice and sometimes that time gets eaten away. So now I am saying that I must have this time to deepen my own understanding. I do not want to be selfish, but it would be a waste if I didn’t do it. My main contribution lies with the bridging of East and West, and the more I study and practice, the more I can do this well. If I don’t continue to study, then it’s useless, I’m useless. There’s a lot of work to do, and I would like to be of help.

Image: Becoming the “Earth Protector”: The Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche at his enthronment celbration, Nova Scotia, 1995

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche is the eldest son of the late Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and, since 1990, the leader of the Shambhala community his father founded. Osel Rangdrol Mukpo, as he was named at birth, spent his early years living in a Tibetan refugee village in northwest India with his mother, Konchok Paldron, a Tibetan nun. At the age of seven, he went to live and train with his father, first at Samye Ling Meditation Centre in Scotland and later in Boulder, Colorado. In 1979, Trungpa Rinpoche conferred upon his son the title Sawang, or Earth Lord, empowering him as his heir, responsible for propagating the Shambhala teachings in the West. As part of his training, the Sakyong studied with the Sixteenth Gyalwang Karmapa, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, and Kalu Rinpoche, and currently studies with Penor Rinpoche, who recognized him as the incarnation of Mipham Jamyang Namgyal Gyatso, the nineteenth-century meditation master. In 1995, at Shambhala headquarters in Nova Scotia, he was formally installed as the Sakyong (Earth Protector), or leader of the Shambhala community.

This interview was conducted at the Shambhala Center in New York City by Helen Tworkov.


A poem written for his father, July 29,1989

Walking in Junipers

The other night I dreamt of you.
You were in the realm of the dakinis
Surrounded by your multitude of maidens.
Some came to you
And some wanted you to come to them
Others just played in your delight
Still others could not see, but only talked.
I was happy, delighted by the night
But became shy and frustrated when I talked to you.
You had a smile like the moon – cool and clear.
I felt as though I had come home.
You asked me how I was
But I could only reply in rhymes
That were full of the dark
And the dirt that had come to haunt me.
I could only talk of the degenerate age.
I could only talk of the beautiful palace you had built
That now was full of rust and animals that crawled.
But then I caught myself
And told you of the victory banner you had left
Which was still high,
Protected by the drala of kasung.
Then you said that I should not worry
For all is the way it should be.
You told me of the great battles we were to fight
And the victories we would enjoy.
You told me of the splendor of the future age
And how Gesar of Ling would become a father again.
Then you became small, and I was holding you in my arms.
The dakinis had gone—
It was just you and me.

– Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche

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