This is the text of a talk presented to the 2003 graduates of the University of Massachusetts BDIC program at their graduation ceremony on May 22, 2003 by John M. Gerber, Professor of Sustainable Food and Farming. The story was adapted with permission from author Joanna Macy (see; http://www.joannamacy.net/). She writes about the Shambhala warrior and I decided to change it to the Shambhala “worker.” I don’t think the Buddha would mind.
“I have brought you a gift, a story about people who just don’t “fit into” the institutions of power, the citadels of learning. This is a story for you….”
The Shambhala Worker Prophecy
There is a prophecy that emerged from Tibetan Buddhism about twelve hundred years ago. The signs it predicted are recognizable today, in our time. There are several interpretations of this prophecy. Some portray the coming of the kingdom of Shambhala as an internal event, a metaphor for one's inner spiritual journey. Others present it as a transformation of the human social system that will occur at the just right time.
The Shambhala Prophecy says... there will come a time when all life on Earth is in danger. In this era, great barbarian forces will have arisen which have unfathomable destructive power. New and unforeseen technologies will appear during this time, with the potential to lay waste to the world. In this era, when the future of sentient life seems to hang by the frailest of threads, the kingdom of Shambhala will appear.
The kingdom of Shambhala is not a geopolitical place, but a place that exists in the hearts and minds of the Shambhala worker. These workers wear no special uniform, nor do they have titles or ranks. They have no particular workplace, as their work is everywhere. In fact, they look just like the barbarians on the outside, but they hold the kingdom of Shambhala on the inside.
Now the time comes when great courage - intellectual, moral and spiritual - is required of the Shambhala workers. The time comes when they must go into the very heart of the barbarian power, into the tall buildings, offices, factories and citadels of learning where the weapons of destruction are made - to dismantle them.
The Shambhala workers have the courage to do this because they know that these destructive weapons are “mind-made". That is, they are created by the human mind, and they can be unmade by the human mind. The barbarian lie that these weapons are the inevitable result of progress must be exposed by the Shambhala workers. Shambhala workers know the dangers that threaten life on Earth are not visited upon us by any extraterrestrial powers, satanic deities, or preordained fate. They arise from our own decisions, our own lifestyles, and our own relationships. They arise from within us all.
The Shambhala workers go into the corridors of power armed with the only tools that the barbarians don't understand, and for which there is no defense. The tools of the Shambhala workers are compassion for all, and knowledge of the connectedness of all things. Both are necessary. They have to have compassion to do this work, because this is the source of their power - the passion to act. It is said that when you open your own heart to the pain of the world you can move, you can act.
But that tool by itself is not enough. Compassion alone can burn you out, so you need the other tool - you need insight into the radical interdependence of all things. With that wisdom you know that the work is not a battle between good guys and bad guys, because the line between good and bad runs through the landscape of every human heart. With insight into our profound interrelatedness, you know that actions undertaken with pure intent have repercussions throughout the web of life, beyond what you can measure or discern. By itself, that knowledge may be too conceptual to sustain you and keep you moving, so you need the energy that comes of compassion as well.
Within each Shambhala worker these two tools, compassion and insight, can sustain you as agents of wholesome change. They are gifts for you to claim and share now in healing our world.
You BDIC graduates have tapped into the kingdom of Shambhala by coming to this institution of power and carving your own path outside or the normal channels. My wish for you is that you may continue to hold the kingdom of Shambhala in your hearts as you face all of the institutions of power you may meet in the future.
I want to thank those students I worked with directly for the privilege of knowing you while you were here at UMass. And for those of you who feel the weight of the world as you leave here, I’d offer you a few words from Arthur Ashe, African-American tennis player and social activist who died of AIDS a few years ago. When asked how he got through the day with everything that seems so wrong, Ashe said that we must…..
· Start where you’re at….
· Use what you’ve got….
· Do what you can.
Thank you and congratulations!
John M. Gerber
Professor of Sustainable Food and Farming
University of Massachusetts Amherst
308 French Hall
Amherst, MA 01003