• Buddhists honor state’s humanity
    By Kevin O’Connor
    Staff Writer | June 04,2014
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    Kevin O’Connor / Staff Photo

    Sakyong Mipham, leader of the worldwide Shambhala Buddhist lineage, speaks Tuesday with reporters outside the Vermont State House in Montpelier.
    MONTPELIER — When Chögyam Trungpa fled the 1959 Chinese Communist takeover of his homeland of Tibet, he hiked nine months over the Himalayas before flying to India, then England and finally Vermont, where in 1970 he set up the first Tibetan Buddhist meditation center in the United States.

    A generation later, his eldest son, Sakyong Mipham, has inherited a few things from his father. He’s one of the world’s highest and most respected incarnate lamas. He’s a spiritual master who is leader of the Shambhala lineage. And he’s humble and grateful for the physical and spiritual foundation provided by the Green Mountains.

    That’s just one reason why the Sakyong — a Tibetan word meaning “earth protector” — visited Gov. Peter Shumlin on Tuesday to award the state the first “Friend of Shambhala Award.”

    “This award honors the people and institutions of Vermont for their commitment to the inherent dignity and worth of the human being,” the citation began.

    Back when Chögyam Trungpa first settled in the state, he attracted a few dozen followers to an old dairy farm in the Northeast Kingdom town of Barnet, population 1,708. By the time he died in 1987 at age 48 — staring into the eyes of his son, then 24 — his flock had ballooned to what today totals 250 sanghas (or spiritual communities) in North and South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia and New Zealand.

    The Sakyong, now 51, is carrying on the tradition while casting it in a contemporary light. He plugs into the Internet to spread his message, be it through social media or YouTube. He also writes books such as his latest, “The Shambhala Principle: Discovering Humanity’s Hidden Treasure,” which explores ways to improve the economy, education, health and “Shifting Global Values” one person at a time.

    “I’m encouraging our community to be more socially engaged and responsible,” he told reporters.

    That’s why the Sakyong hosted an Imagining Peace Conference with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel last year to combat street violence, as well as why he brought a delegation of 50 Vermont followers to Montpelier on Tuesday to present the award to the state.

    “Vermont offers a generous spirit of welcome to people from all walks of life and beliefs,” the citation said. “It fosters human community as a rich resource of care and connection, providing a safety net for all those in need including a livable wage and meaningful work, as well as quality, affordable and accessible patient-centered healthcare.

    “In an age when the protection of our environment is imperative, Vermont values and reveres the natural world and its precious inter-relationship with humanity,” it continued. “May these principles, cherished by the citizens, government and society of Vermont flourish for the benefit of all its people, and be an inspiration for other states and communities in the United States of America and beyond.”

    In accepting the award, Shumlin praised Chögyam Trungpa — the man credited for seeding Tibetan Buddhism in this country long before the Dalai Lama became a household name — for settling at the old farm that has morphed into Karmê Chöling, a 717-acre Shambhala (the word means “source of happiness”) meditation center.

    “It shows his wisdom,” Shumlin said.

    And the governor encouraged the Sakyong to return to the State House.

    “We can use you in January,” said Shumlin, leaving references to the return of the Legislature unspoken yet understood.

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