Changing bureaucratic institutions from the inside

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Last week, I wrote about fighting city hall to make my home town more “chicken friendly.”  After reading the blog, one of my students asked me “how do you work to change a bureaucratic institution without getting angry?”  This blog focuses on my experience working with bureaucracy; from local government to large universities.   I know that getting angry (even when its justified) rarely helps.

I’ve spent much of my academic career trying to change university programs (as both a faculty member and an administrator) to be more supportive of sustainability principles.  I’ve also worked within local government (serving on several town boards and commissions) to support local sustainable agriculture.  While institutions of power, may be influenced by outside pressure (including protests which certainly have value and are needed at times), my own experience is largely trying to change bureaurcacy “from the inside.”

When asked by students how to change bureaucratic institutions, I tell them the story of The Shambhala Worker Prophecy.

This story, adapted with permission from Joanna Macy, is said to have emerged from Tibetan Buddhism about twelve hundred years ago.  It predicts a time when great destructive powers have emerged – perhaps a time not unlike our own.

The Shambhala Worker Prophecy claims that “…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.

Do you believe “all life on Earth is in danger” today?

What “barbarian forces” might have created this situation?

“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.”

Do you know any “barbarians”?

Do you know of any “institutions of great destructive power”?

“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, corporate offices, factories, and the 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 systems are ‘mind-made’.  That is, they are created by the human mind, and they can be unmade by the human mind.  The lie that these systems 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.”

Do you know any Shambhala Workers?

Might you be one?

“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 along with others.

“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 interrelatedness, you know that actions undertaken with pure intent have effects 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 and our destructive institutions of power.”

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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.  Now would be a good time!

So, when students invariably ask me if the time is now, I tell them that I think we have a choice.  I believe we can create the kingdom of Shambhala whenever we are ready to begin.

Do you know of anyone who might be a Shambhala Worker?  Are you?

Please post your own Shambhala Worker story in the comments box below.

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I’d appreciate it if you would share this post with your friends.  And for more ideas, videos and challenges along these lines, please join my Facebook Group; Just Food Now.   And go here for more of my World.edu posts.