Joining Heaven and Earth

By Reggie Ray

In order to understand the shape of the Dharma Ocean community, its configuration of teachers and mentors, and its work in the world, it is necessary to understand Chogyam Trungpa’s Shambhala teachings about Heaven and Earth, the process of joining them, and the Sakyong and Sakyong Wangmo principles. It is sometimes thought that these teachings apply in a practical way only to individuals at the top of the hierarchy, but this is not the case. In fact, Trungpa Rinpoche emphasized that each of us plays the role of Sakyong and Sakyong Wangmo in our individual lives, and that we all need to understand Heaven and Earth and how to join them in order to live our lives in the Shambhalian way. Because there seems to be much confusion today as to what Trungpa Rinpoche actually meant by these aspects of his Shambhala teachings, some explanation is in order.

Heaven is the realm of vision and view. Earth is the realm of phenomena and practicality. Heaven’s task is to overarch and protect Earth. Under the vastness of Heaven’s love, the task of Earth is to give birth, to nourish, heal, and grow all things, to nurture them and make them live.

Vision, as Trungpa Rinpoche presented it, is seeing what is with complete openness, clarity, and impartiality; it is thus utterly non-conceptual and non-judgmental. To see things as they truly are is the same as loving them, and so just as Heaven sees Earth’s plethora with perfect clarity, its love for Earth is infinite. In Vajrayana terms, this is known as seeing the sacredness of all things—the phenomena of Earth and all she gives birth to—in all their beauty, power, and life.

Interestingly, each of us seems called more toward either the function of Heaven or the function of Earth. There is a tendency for men to be more disposed toward the Heaven role and women more toward Earth, but not always. In any case, as we grow spiritually, each of us learns how to embody and speak for both Heaven and Earth.

The word Sakyong means “protector (kyong) of the Earth (sa).” This means protecting the isness, the true or essential being, the life force, the inner purpose or mission for being that marks each of Earth’s children, from sub-atomic particles, to people, mountains, and stars—“all the realms of being,” as we say. It is assuredly not the role of the “Earth protector” to dictate to Earth or to humans what they should be; the sakyong’s role is to see what is in all its purity and sacredness and protect that within the realm of Earth. This means protecting and making clear the inner integrity, life force, and sacredness of what is, so that it is not covered over, misrepresented, polluted, or destroyed on its journey. For example, the sacredness of each person—their individuality, creativity, and unique journey—is an end in itself; in the Shambhala world, people are not a means to achieve some other higher purpose, sacrificed for some more noble end. Heaven’s role, in short, is to protect the life that Earth bears, the integrity and inviolability of all that is.

When it does not unite with Earth, Heaven remains aloof, disconnected, and ineffectual. Earth, for her part, loses her sense of sacredness when she does not unite with Heaven, becoming purely mundane and susceptible to being taken over by conventional values.

When Heaven and Earth are joined, the vision of the sacredness of each person, of all phenomena, is made clear within the mundane, practical, earthly sphere: Heaven gives teachings, practices, and social forms to protect that sacredness among the people of the Earth. When Heaven and Earth are joined, then Earth is able to carry out her mission of manifesting the vision: she heals, nurtures, and loves, guided by the true compass of Heaven. Heaven and Earth must surrender to one another. Heaven must surrender to what Earth bears without judgment or partiality. Earth must surrender to the sacredness of what Heaven knows and reveals, the sacredness of what is, beyond concept and conventional values.

We are a Shambhalian community in holding Chogyam Trungpa’s lineage of the four yanas and seeking to practice, realize, and transmit to others his teachings of sacredness, the dignity of each human soul, and the mission of bringing the Shambhalian view and practices to the rest of the world. In any Shambhalian community, those at the center of the mandala—in the case of Dharma Ocean, Caroline and I—are charged with representing the Sakyong and Sakyong Wangmo principles, and joining Heaven and Earth.

At present, I am mainly responsible for representing Heaven, Caroline is mainly responsible for representing Earth. Although everyone in our community is involved in the process of giving birth to the Shambhala vision and its application, Caroline and I together bear ultimate responsibility for developing, presenting, and activating the teachings within Dharma Ocean and the world. Beyond this, we have the charge of training everyone in the vision and maintaining its integrity in ourselves, our leadership, our community, and all the ways the teachings are manifested in our world.

Within that collaboration, my particular area is the view and practice. As I come to deeper understandings through my own meditation, and through ongoing explorations and discussions with Caroline, my job is to develop appropriate language for the teachings and practices which help people gain direct experience of it in their lives and benefit from the transformations that follow. Teaching, writing, and recording programs that express the view and practice are all parts of my job as well.

Caroline’s particular role is expressing, manifesting, and activating the view or vision in the realm of activity, both within the Dharma Ocean community and the world beyond. For example, as chair of the Dharma Ocean board, she oversees our board of directors, our operations, and all of the people who contribute to our organization, so that everything we do reflects the values of our lineage—the precision, responsibility, compassion, and integrity of the sacred world. She has also taken the lead in developing the teachings on relationality and intimate partnership, and looks after the areas of family life and children’s Dharma education at programs.

As a healer herself, in her teaching Caroline is helping all of us to understand how healing and spirituality are not separate domains. It is the process of healing itself that makes the spiritual journey possible, providing the continual foundation for the path. As head Desung (protector of well-being or bliss), she helps the kasung perform their function of protecting the health and well-being of participants and staff at programs. In this area, she has also worked with the kitchen mandala so that it is sane, wholesome, uplifted, and supportive of the journey of everyone at programs, both participants and staff alike.

Caroline also attends to the sign-lineage expressions of the teachings, having been instrumental in funding, designing, and decorating our retreat center and other physical spaces. Her own practice as a photographer, as well as her exploration of Trungpa Rinpoche’s teachings on Dharma art, inspire the increasing presence of visual art in our community spaces. In short, through her many ways of developing, activating, and manifesting the teachings, Caroline is responsible for overseeing the life of our community and beyond, birthing, nurturing, teaching, healing, and mentoring as needed, encouraging all of us to bring the teachings into our everyday existence and make them real in all the details of our lives.

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