Aged 77, Lama Shenpen is considering how best to spend her remaining years
Lama Shenpen is now 77, and is putting a lot of thought into how best to prepare for death and spend the final years of her life. As she recites every morning at the Hermitage, 'Death comes without warning ...'. She remains full of inspiration and enthusiasm to teach and help others as much as she can, but she would like the Sangha to be well prepared for her passing.
She has decided that she would like to retire from the responsibility of providing active leadership; she would like to no longer be the person responsible for providing the final answer to our most difficult questions as an organisation and community. We call this the role of 'Dharma Director', and she will be retiring from this role soon. She is encouraging us to invite Lama Dashon to take on this role when he comes out of retreat.
As much as she can, Lama Shenpen will continue to teach, to give interviews and to share with the Sangha her reflections on whatever important issues we face. No one is being asked to stop relating to Lama Shenpen as their teacher and start relating to Lama Dashon instead - in Buddhism it's a personal matter for each individual to decide whom they turn to for the various roles mentioned in Lama Shenpen’s Guru Principle book. Not all teachers are willing or able to play all the roles mentioned. The role Lama Shenpen feels she needs to relinquish is that of Dharma Director of the Awakened Heart Sangha. For other roles there are other Lamas and also many good teachers and mentors in the Sangha, in addition to Lama Dashon.
The role of Dharma Director is to ensure the Sangha is manifesting a coherent spiritual vision. How exactly Lama Dashon would intend to play this role remains to seen. It doesn't necessarily involve being the teacher who gives the largest number of teachings in formal teachings situations, although Lama Shenpen has been doing that too. Rather the role is about holding the vision for those active in Sangha work so they are able to collaborate effectively in achieving their shared objectives.
In recent months I have been part of a number of discussions with members of the Shrimalagana and others closely involved in supporting the Sangha, exploring this need to transition to a new Dharma Director. I have been struck by the quiet confidence I have found to be widely shared in this process, in Lama Dashon, and in our future as a Sangha.
Lama Shenpen is currently having to think deeply about her future. She would like to spend the rest of her life in retreat and study, producing recorded commentaries on various texts and teachings she has given over the years. She also wants to work through the recordings of the many conversations she had with Rigdzin Shikpo over the decades. There is much to be harvested from them for the benefit of all his students. She would like to set in motion various projects to make Rigdzin Shikpo’s teachings more available for the wider Buddhist and perhaps even non-Buddhist public.
It remains to be seen how much actual public teaching she will continue to give. She is keen to continue teaching on the remaining themes of 'Living the Awakened Heart', following on the series of her teachings in recent years. She has yet to decide where and when she wishes to spend time in solitary retreat. She is considering all these matters carefully and discussing them with Lama Tara and others as she sees fit, and we will share more information with you as things clarify.
May those teachers of the lineage who have passed away
Look on us with compassion and not disappear from this world.
May those who are still with us live long
And their activity for the benefit of beings flourish.