Membership in Shambhala – A Treasure Hidden in Plain Sight, by Lynn Vineyard

As the current Membership Coordinator for the Phoenix Shambhala Center, I have been considering this question: What is the connection between membership and sangha?

The three jewels of Buddhism are: the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. The Sanskrit word, sangha, translates to “assembly” or “community.” Originally a sangha was a monastic community of ordained Buddhist monks or nuns.

Shambhala is a householder lineage of Tibetan Buddhism (householders are ordinary folks like you and me). ChögyamTrungpa Rinpoche, the founder of Shambhala, described the sangha as a “fellowship of students” (1991). In my mind this means that the Shambhala sangha includes everyone who says, “Yes, this is my practice and these teachings are for me.”

Saying “yes” to the sangha might be a temporary, sporadic, or ongoing experience. One person may enter the sangha for a class or workshop. Another person might complete the entire Shambhala program path. Another might participate in public sitting meditation or the Sarpashana group every now and then or regularly. I wonder if some of the gateways to the sangha are invisible, even to a person as she enters.

Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche described the jewel of sangha in this way: “Your friends in the sangha provide a continual reference point which creates a continual learning process. They act as mirror reflections to remind you or warn you in living situations. That is the kind of companionship that is meant by sangha. We are all in the same boat; we share a sense of trust and a sense of larger-scale, organic friendship” (1991).

Membership in a local Shambhala Center also starts with saying “yes.” A member of Shambhala is a person who has decided to pay dues to their Center. The Shambhala generosity policy ensures that membership is offered to everyone. Some members contribute their time as volunteers rather than making a monetary contribution.  Membership is also viewed as a practice. Membership as a practice manifests as a financial (or service) commitment, a commitment to a personal practice, and a commitment to participation in the community.

Shambhala membership could be seen as an aspect of sangha – a facet of the jewel. Membership is a conscious choice, a decision that arises from awareness. When we recognize Shambhala as our community, we awaken to our oneness with the sangha and the choice of membership becomes apparent. Gratitude arising from a deep appreciation of the teachings and the practice of meditation also creates an opening, a “yes” to the sangha and to membership. It takes a while to become aware of the value of Shambhala membership, but, like the sangha, membership is a treasure, often hidden in plain sight.

Trungpa Rinpoche, Chögyam. (1991) The Decision to Become a Buddhist. Retrieved from