This profile was last updated in 2013
Nashville Shambhala is an independent Shambhala center that offers mindfulness meditation practice, universally known as shamatha, each Sunday morning to the Nashville community. Shambhala is a combination of classical Tibetan Buddhism and a secular program developed by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a renowned Tibetan Buddhist author and teacher. Paul Felton, one of the three primary leaders at Nashville Shambhala, explained that Shambhala was initially founded with the intention to be geared towards people in the world. “Rather than avoiding life as a distraction, Shambhala is built around using those distractions as part of the path. The whole purpose of Shambhala is to create an ideal society–not in a utopian sense–in which its conventions are conducive to benefits rather than blockage.” No experience is required to attend meditation sessions at Nashville Shambala and the group is open to beginners and seasoned meditators alike. Shambhala encourages its attendees to engage in informal study of Shambhala meditation and mindfulness techniques. The Nashville Shambhala website offers various video lectures and book suggestions by Chogyam Trungpa and Pema Chodron. The center is located on 12th Avenue South and shares space with two other Buddhist groups, Nashville Zen Center and One Dharma Nashville. According to Felton, shared space is both practical and economical. “It’s less expensive than a stand-alone situation,” he said. “Because we are a small and young group, it’s a wise choice to share space.”
When it was founded in 2004, Nashville Shambhala met at Felton’s private residence for meditation sessions. At first, Felton was discouraged by the group’s small numbers and lack of growth. Once Shambala Nashville moved to the 12South Dharma Center and began using social media, the number of attendees began to increase. “We haven’t done much outreach because it’s expensive,” he said. “But a lot of people have come to us simply from discovering that we exist on meetup.com.” Felton served on the planning board for the Nashville Buddhist Festival, which was an annual event held between 2005-2008 at the First Unity Church on Franklin Road. The festival was a celebration of religious diversity where various Buddhist sanghas in Nashville could distribute information to Nashville residents about their respective practices.
Activities & Schedule
Nashville Shambhala meets every Sunday morning from 10 am to noon for a seated and walking meditation, followed by an informal dharma talk. “It’s on our wish list to have another weekly event at this location,” Felton said. “Unlike other Shambhala centers, we are not fully staffed with certified teachers.” According to Felton, the teaching cerification process is very rigorous and extensive in Shambhala. He hopes to increase the meditation session offerings and add events and classes to the center’s schedule in years to come.
Three uncertified Shambhala teachers lead the Nashville Shambhala group: Paul Felton, Jill Bates, and Dennis Kitchen. Each leader has taken numerous Shambhala classes and has practiced for several years as an assistant teacher. According to Felton, the group does not feel it has suffered from its lack of residential or certified instructors. “We allow everyone in the group to volunteer for certain roles,” he said, and there is a great deal of flexibility regarding who leads dharma talks, conducts meditation sessions, and offers meditation instruction to newcomers. Raised in the Catholic tradition, Felton said that he wanted to be a priest at age twelve but gravitated towards Eastern philosophy and meditation in college. Felton became a teacher in the Vedanta Hindu tradition before he discovered Shambhala Buddhism. He took several Shambhala courses in Atlanta and Birmingham before deciding to open a Shambhala center in Nashville with his wife.
Nashville Shambhala is mostly composed of Euro-American middle-aged people and young adults. The group has remained small over the past nine years, with about fifteen to twenty members attending each meditation session. Felton laments the small size and lack of diversity of the group, yet he attributes to social media and online publicity the growing young adult interest. “There’s a synergistic effect of being associated ith the 12South Dharma Center,” Felton said. The 12th South area is a dynamic community in Nashville that is close to multiple universities, such as Vanderbilt, Belmont, and Lipscomb University, as well as other centers of learning, including the University School of Nashville. According to Felton, people who are drawn to Buddhism tend to be more educated and artistic. Both of those groups converge in the 12th South neighborhood. Lack of racial diversity has been a constant subject of investigation in Shambhala Buddhism over the past few decades. “How can we get more diverse participation? It’s a difficult question. We have found that we seem to draw mainly from Caucasians, and that may be as a result of self-segregation.” Felton explained self-segregation in the Shambhala community as those of minority races may feel alien or unwelcome when they attend meditation sessions and are the only racially diverse attendee present. It can often be intimidating for people who are ethnically diverse to participate in religious services with a predominantly white religious community. He hopes that increasing the size of the group in sheer numbers will bolster racial and ethnic diversity as well.