What is an Acharya

pinI will never forget the first time I met an acharya. For the previous couple of months, I had been spending as much time as I could at the Los Angeles Shambhala Center. My new sangha friends told me that Acharya Allyn Lyon was coming for her winter visit. They were very excited to see her and to hear her teach. As a new practitioner, I had no idea what I was in for, or what “acharya” even meant. What I did know is that the energy at the center was palpable.

Acharya is a Sanskrit Word meaning “teacher.” In the Shambhala Buddhist tradition, an acharya is a person that the Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche has empowered to represent him. Acharyas travel to Shambhala centers throughout the world to offer teachings, programs, and vow ceremonies, such as Shambhala levels or Refuge vows. The Sakyong chooses these individuals for their wisdom, and extraordinary commitment to the Shambhala Dharma.

I remember sitting in a full shrine room, waiting for Acharya Lyon. I remember we all stood up as a short woman, full of confidence, strided in, stopped in front of the shrine, lit the candles, offered incense, sat, and just grinned. I don’t remember what she talked about, but it was direct and down to earth language, deceptively simple, and spoke to my heart.

Since then, I have had the fortune to meet, hear, and serve many acharyas, both in Los Angeles and at land centers. Although each teacher has a different style, and various areas of expertise, I am always full of gratitude that they have dedicated their lives to teaching dharma. Often, the teacher-student relationship is a strong, life-changing bond. Buddhist teachings are passed along from teacher to student.

I think of being in the kitchen, making the teacher’s tea, and wanting it to be perfect. Not because the acharya has demanded it, but because that cup of tea is a an offering to the lineage. We don’t get to see the Sakyong very often. Acharyas are a profound way to connect with him and to Shambhala. As we move along the path, and take vows, such as refuge and bodhisattva, acharyas are the people who give us new names. They see something that we do not see in ourselves.

Acharya Suzann Duquette will visit Shambhala Center of Los Angeles and will be giving a not to be missed talk in Mar Vista, Shambhala Culture: Suzann-Duquette-250x333The Ceremony of Being Awake. Acharya Duquette has been a student of Shambhala Buddhism for thirty-five years. She respects the power of body awareness in manifesting Shambhala Buddhism, and emphasizes body discipline training in her teaching.

Acharya Duquette currently is Resident Acharya at Karmê Chöling, where she teaches and consults in the area of practice and education. She is core faculty of the Mukpo Institute of Karme Choling and holds several volunteer positions, including Karmê Chöling Council member and Expansion Co-chair. She is also Trustee for Tagtrug Mukpo.

On Shambhala Day 2011, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche designated Acharya Duquette as Rupa Acharya. In this position, she is responsible for strengthening and furthering the Shambhala lineage in the areas of sacred ceremonial and liturgical forms. The Rupa Acharya furthers consistent view and deep training in the outer and inner forms of Shambhala ceremonies and liturgies, including chants, and oversees umdze and choppön training.

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Alicia Vogl Saenz has been a practioner of Shambhala Buddhism since 2007, and is the center Desung. For the past 17 years, she has worked as a museum educator at the Los Angeles Museum of Art (LACMA). She lives in Eagle Rock (practically across the street from the center) with her two cats, Otto and Fritz.