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How to Become a Student: Interview with Acharya Eric Spiegel (Part 1)

by Patrick Groneman

Interested in going deeper with your spiritual practice?  This week I interview Acharya Eric Spiegel, one of IDP's three "lineage mentors", who explains what the process of becoming a student in the Shambhala Buddhist tradition is like.

Last week's interview with Roshi Enkyo O'Hara of the Village Zendo explored an American form of Zen practice that pulls from both the Soto and Rinzai schools.  It was right on, and you can check it out here.

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Interview with Acharya Eric Spiegel (Part 1)

Q: What is the process of becoming a student in the Shambhala lineage like?

Acharya Spiegel:  For the most part, all a person needs do is start practicing and coming to talks, classes or weekend [workshops].  Then you see if these teachings resonate with you, and by virtue of that, you are a student, engaged on a path.  There is a core curriculum which is called “Way of Shambhala” and teaches the basics both of meditation and of the view of the Shambhala Buddhist teachings.  By view I mean, what is the world view.  We might have a view that says “to be happy, I must have a beautiful spouse, two and a half children, and a solid career with clear evidence of advancement”.  The view of Shambhala is somewhat different. It says “all people (even I, myself) possess an inherent humanity, and they (even I, myself) can experience and express the full dignity of their humanity”.  In the Shambhala teachings, this quality of humanness is called Basic Goodness and has qualities of genuineness, tenderness, humor, confidence and intelligence.

And then there is a path which is the “how do I get from here to there” aspect.

So, becoming a student, or entering “the Way of Shambhala” has two aspects.  One part is a series of classes that present a progressive set of teachings on how to understand the world in and experience it in a less confused, more genuine way. The second part is a sequence of weekend programs known as “Shambhala Training” which give students a deep training in meditation practice to accompany that view. – you know our minds are pretty fixed, even if we’re basically nice people, our mind is set in its way with many layers of habitual tendencies. So the meditation teaching helps us to start to see how we act and react, and how to make decisions that are – perhaps – wiser and more sane; more benevolent.

Q: Are there any vows or commitments one must make?

Acharya Spiegel: The path in Shambhala is offered on different levels. Jumping in too deep and too fast is not really encouraged – better that you have the foundations and know what you are doing before you make major decisions. So, there are definitely vows that are available to take and a student works with a Meditation Instructor to determine when the timing is right.

I think the only time that taking a vow of commitment is required is the point when someone wants to enter the Vajrayana, which is the traditionally more esoteric practice and study of the Tibetan system (Vajrayana also known as “Tantra”). At this stage, a commitment to one teacher is necessary, and there is a requirement of certain vows. More on this later...

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Eric Spiegel is an Acharya (Master Teacher) in the Shambhala Buddhist Tradition who studied with Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and studies currently with Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. He teaches frequently at the Shambhala Meditation Center of NYC, and is available for interview by contacting the center's front office and requesting an interview.  His teaching schedule is available here.

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Stay tuned for more from Acharya Spiegel next week, and a forthcoming interview with Sharon Salzberg

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