Shambala Art – Inspired by Chogyam Trungpa

Contemplative Arts and Disciplines

Nalanda: Culture and Art in Everyday Life

As a community, Shambhala embraces a variety of contemplative arts and practices. These disciplines are inspired by Nalanda, an eleventh-century Indian university that welcomed teachings from many different traditions. Contemplative arts and practices bring beauty, vividness and wisdom to our lives and environment.

The following are some of the disciplines practiced by Shambhala members. Some are organized into local or even international groups. Others are loose networks of practitioners who share an inspiration to apply the principles of wakefulness to their personal pursuit of the arts.

A contemplative approach can be brought into any of the arts, including design, music, dance, and poetry. Many Shambhala Centers offer arts programs or host special interest groups who meet regularly to explore contemplative approaches to education, business and health care.

Shambhala Art

Shambhala Art is art that springs from the meditative state of mind. As a process, it brings wakefulness and awareness to the creative and viewing processes through the integration of contemplation and meditation. It is based on a collection of teachings by Chögyam Trungpa that appreciate the uniqueness of everyday sensory experience, the art of everyday life. Shambhala Art does not teach a particular skill or technique such as painting, sculpture, or dance. It is about the source of inspiration, its manifestation, and how it speaks to us. Seeing the simplicity of things as they are provides the ground for genuine creative expression.

Mudra Space Awareness

This awareness practice consists of a series of postures and movements adapted from traditional Tibetan monastic dance by the late meditation master, artist and scholar, Chogyam Trungpa. He explains the training for this dance as being “extremely monotonous and boring with no consideration for even minimal human comfort”. This rigor, however, enables one to become and to remain present during even the most intensive situations. Therefore he designed the Mudra exercises so that Western students, living under the pressures of performance and every day life, can meet these challenges with mind, speech and body. With practice Mudra training will dramatically heighten sensitivity to the interplay of form and space and provide authentic tools for improved awareness and communication.

Maitri Space Awareness

Maitri Space Awareness and Five Wisdom Energies practice was first developed by Chögyam Trungpa and is based on the principles of the five buddha families of Tibetan tantra. Each buddha family emphasizes a particular aspect of enlightened energy or wisdom. These energies also have their confused emotional and environmental aspects, which the practitioner learns how to recognize and transform. The emphasis of the practice is on discovering within these raw and wakeful energies unconditional friendliness (or maitri) towards oneself. This discovery becomes a basis for living one’s life more fully, skillfully understanding and relating with others, and establishing a dynamic and healthy relationship with one’s work, home and natural environments.

Kyudo (Zen Archery)

Kyudo means the way of the bow and can be described as a form of standing meditation. Under the direction of Shibata Kanjuro, Sensei and senior instructors, students learn an ancient form of archery using traditional Japanese bows. Kyudo is a form of meditation practice, not sport, and hitting the target is not considered important. The purpose of kyudo is to purify one’s heart and mind to awaken the natural dignity of being human, beyond the obstacles of ambition, aggression or confusion.

Miksang Photography

Miksang is a Tibetan word that means “good eye.” A contemplative art, it is based directly on the Dharma Art teachings of the late meditation master, artist and scholar, Chögyam Trungpa, specifically by his teachings on the nature of perception. The “good” refers to our world, just as it is, is inherently rich and vivid. The “eye” reference is that in working with the practice of contemplative photography, we can tune into these qualities of our world. This journey is actually quite simple-to see with our eyes wide-open and our awareness right there. Once we have a moment of fresh perception, vivid and clear, there is a natural desire to communicate that experience. Through visual exercises and photographic assignments, Miksang is designed to allow the eye and the mind to be naturally synchronized, so that the experience of seeing could be undistracted and present.


The art of dressage riding is training for body and mind as well as learning to work with the mind and body of another sentient being. The rider has to be completely present to be able to tune into the horse’s energy. When the rider’s mind and body are working in harmony, this synchronicity immediately manifests in the horse’s gait. The energy is able to flow freely– rider and horse are riding the energy as one. Chögyam Trungpa learned about horses and horsemanship in Tibet and continued to ride throughout his lifetime. His wife, Diana Mukpo, trained in dressage at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna and currently teaches dressage.

Bugaku and Gagaku (Japanese Dance and Music)

Bugaku, the ancient dance and music of the Japanese Imperial Court, is more than fourteen hundred years old. This stately dance is performed in richly brocaded and highly stylized costumes, expressing contemplative mind in a cultural context. Gagaku is the oldest existing orchestral music in the world, introduced into Japan from China in the 8th century AD. Bugaku, the dance form, is characterized by its elegance, solidity and space. Together, the music and the dance radiate timelessness and peace. The several active bugaku groups within Nalanda study with master musician and dancer Togi Sensei, a Living National Treasure of Japan. Togi’s family has been part of the Japanese Imperial Music Department for 1000 years. He is presently a priest-musician at the Meiji Shrine in Tokyo.

Chanoyu (Japanese Tea Ceremony)

Chanoyu literally means “hot water for tea.” The art of Chanoyu, preparing and serving a bowl of tea, is a synthesis of many Japanese arts such as flower arranging, calligraphy, poetry, ceramics, lacquerware, cooking, architecture, gardening, and more. As meditation in action, the practice of tea developed in Japan alongside the practice of Zen Buddhism. The tea master Sen Rikyu (1522-1591) studied tea from an early age and received Zen training at Daitoku-ji temple in Kyoto. It was Rikyu who joined the ordinary aspects of daily life with spiritual practice in what has been passed down to the present as the Way of Tea. Leaving familiar reference points of the world behind, hosts and guests create a gentle moment, without past or future. Preparing and serving a bowl of tea is a discipline of mindfulness and awareness, a celebration of the senses and a journey to open heart.

Kalapa Ikebana

Ikebana, the traditional Japanese Way of Arranging Flowers has its origins in Shinto, where arrangements were made as shrine offerings. Currently there are many schools of Ikebana. Kalapa Ikebana, initiated by Chögyam Trungpa, mixes the traditional teachings of Ikebana and contemplative meditation practice. Training in joining heaven, earth and man is very explicit in Ikebana: one is dealing with space and form and the three main elements which can be put together in eight different ways or variations. After rigorous training in these forms, one is then introduced to freestyle. By creating an environment which allows us to pay attention to our sense perceptions in a non-aggressive way, we are connecting with sacred world.


In an essay entitled “Heaven, Earth, and Man,” based on one of Chogyam Trungpa’s dharma art workshops, he emphasizes what he called “art in everyday life.” The cool, peaceful expression of unconditional beauty offers us the possibility of being able to relax enough to perceive the phenomenal world and our own senses properly. The dynamic of heaven, earth, and man (an ancient hierarchy of the cosmos) is basic to any artistic endeavor—painting, building a city, or designing an airplane—as well as to perceiving the art that surrounds us. During the twenty-year period of his teachings in the West, calligraphy was a primary means of this type of expression for Chogyam Trungpa.

Copyright © 1994-2007 Shambhala International (Vajradhatu)


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