by Anna Kutsko

Birmingham Shambhala Meditation Center is located at 714 37th St. South, Birmingham, AL 35222. The Birmingham Shambhala Meditation Center does everything in its power to make itself available and accessible to all people. The center invites people of any spiritual tradition to explore meditation and Shambhala’s offerings in order to find compassion, gentleness and sanity. The center is a wonderful place for anyone seeking to learn and experience mindfulness, meditation, and enlightenment. While Shambhala it is rooted in the religious and contemplative teachings of Buddhism, anyone, religious or not, is welcome to explore and participate in their offerings. Shambhala’s meditative teachings are based on human wisdom, rather than revelation, making it accessible to all religions. This is a big part of what makes the Birmingham Shambhala Meditation Center different from many of the other religious organizations in Avondale and the greater Birmingham area.

Figure 1: Map of Shambhala’s Location Within Avondale (Google)

The Birmingham Shambhala Meditation Center was started in 1998, and works within the greater Birmingham Metro area but is aspiring to grow. They recently aided in establishing a Huntsville location as a satellite of the Birmingham Shambhala Center. Shambhala Meditation Center is located in a two-story, yellow brick building on the right side of the road if you are taking sixth avenue south heading east. There is a white sign near the road that lists all the tenants of the building and one of them says Birmingham Shambhala Center. The entrance, however, is located at the rear of the building.

Figure 2: Front View of Shambhala’s Building
Figure 3: Rear View of Building and Entrance to Shambhala

What is Shambhala?

The Birmingham Shambhala Meditation Center is connected to and apart of Shambhala, a global social movement dedicated to bringing kindness, insight, meditation, and sacredness into society (Molenda). Shambhala is an international community of urban meditation and rural retreat centers founded by the Vidyadhara Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, continued by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, and it is now led by senior teachers and an Interim Board (Wenaus). Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche is the living lineage holder of the Shambhala teachings. This lineage is a spiritual family lineage that descends through his family, the Mukpo clan (Molenda).

Shambhala is also a community of individuals who have committed to practicing meditation, studying various teachings, and building a compassionate and caring society. The global community of Shambhala was inspired by the principle that every human being is fundamentally good in their nature. The founder of Shambhala, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, stated: “Although the Shambhala tradition is founded on the sanity and gentleness of the Buddhist tradition, at the same time, it has its own independent basis, which is directly cultivating who and what we are as human beings. With the great problems facing human society, it seems increasingly important to find simple and non-sectarian ways to work with ourselves and to share our understanding with others“ (Trungpa). The center therefore focuses on combining the Buddhist path of attaining enlightenment with Shambhala’s emphasis on creating a good society. This is referred to as the Shambhalian Buddhist view of an enlightened society..The overall Shambhala vision is an attempt to encourage and support a wholesome existence for oneself and for others. One of the goals of the services offered by BSMC is not simply to meditate and leave, but to bring the mindfulness gained from meditation back out into the world. In this way, mindfulness becomes meditation in action.

What does the Birmingham Shambhala Meditation Center offer to the community?

The Birmingham Shambhala Meditation Center offers free public meditation sittings on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday nights at no charge. Newcomers are invited to arrive ten minutes prior to these meditations for an introduction and short orientation. They also offer a wide variety of classes and studies in meditation and Buddhist and Shambhala teachings. They provide “Learn to Meditate” classes where you receive the technique, guidance and experience necessary to start a mindfulness- awareness meditation practice.

In order to serve a wider range of people, the center recently announced that it has started a new meditation opportunity called “Adaptive Meditation.” This makes it possible for people with physical or emotional challenges to participate in meditative practices. This takes place on Mondays from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. This service allows people to adjust meditation to fit their needs. For instance, participants may sit, walk, lie down, and come and go as needed. During this time, meditative coloring is offered in the library and shamata yoga may be practiced in the tea room or office. This new initiative is in keeping with Shambhala’s emphasis on adapting Buddhism to modern life.

They offer programs for beginners in meditation as well as experienced practitioners. Some of the classes are designed for children such as the “Little Buddhas,” “Young Warriors,” and “(Pre) Teen Mindfulness” classes. These classes introduce children to meditation, resting their minds, becoming apparent of their feelings and senses, as well as how these practices can be useful in their everyday lives. There is a “Mindful Parenting Group” that meets on the third Sunday of each month from one to three in the afternoon to learn about Buddhist dharma, Shambhala teachings, and the tools of meditation in parenting. Also, the center periodically provides community events and weekend retreats. Along with these classes, retreats, and meditation practices, BSMC occasionally offers programs in the contemplative arts, such as Shambhala Art, Miksang photography, and ikebana flower arranging.

On its website and elsewhere, BSMC emphasizes that these programs, courses, and retreats are open to people from any religious background or no religious background (Wenaus). All of Shambhala’s offerings are grounded in basic human wisdom, making them relevant to anyone who is seeking to live a more joyous, sane, genuine, and courageous life. One member of BSMC stated, “Our center serves as a place where we all connect around areas of interest: the arts, social action, environmental issues, Shambhala teachings, living life more sanely and sharing sanity and kindness with others” (Birmingham Meetup).

How does BSMC create a meditative space and atmosphere?

Birmingham Shambhala Meditation Center encourages the people who enter their space to be more present and mindful by turning off their phones before entering the meditation room. During meditation, there is no talking so that people can focus more deeply on their thoughts and meditative experience. Everything in the meditation room is set up in such a way that it leads each individual into a state of mindfulness and contemplation of the self. There are mats on the ground and chairs for people who prefer sitting in a chair instead of the ground. There are a number of images around the room. These images are called dignities, and they are representations or aspects of the self. For instance, the snow lion dignity represents clear awareness and a lack of doubt. During meditation, these images can be used to draw the mind back towards self-awareness and deep contemplation.

Figure 4: The Meditation Room

The Birmingham Shambhala Meditation Center is an organization that invites people from any spiritual or religious background to participate in their services and be a part of their community. Meditation, a central aspect of Shambhala, can be spiritual for those who desire it to be, but it can also be used as a non-spiritual tool or training of the mind for anyone seeking mindfulness and peace. This is part of the reason why BSMC is more inclusive and spiritually diverse than certain other religious organizations. People may adapt the Shambhala teachings and practices to fit their own needs or beliefs as they strive to create a better society and understanding of themselves.

Birmingham Shambhala Meditation Center
Address: 714 37th St S, Birmingham, AL 35222
Web: https://birmingham.shambhala.org/
Opened: 1998
Affiliation: Shambhala

Sources

Birmingham Shambhala Meditation Center. Birmingham Shambhala Meditation Center, birmingham.shambhala.org/.

“Birmingham Shambhala Meditation Center (Birmingham, AL).” Meetup, www.meetup.com/Birmingham-Shambhala-Meditation-Center/.

Molenda, Pawel. “Vision, Lineage, Meditation, Community.” Shambhala, shambhala.org/.

 “Shambhala Times Community News Magazine.” Shambhala Times Community News Magazine, shambhalatimes.org/.

Trungpa, Chögyam. Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior. Shambhala Pubns, 1984.

Anna Kutsko ’21 is a religion major in Samford University’s Department of Biblical and Religious Studies.

Published November 8, 2019.

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