Interview Lama Dr. Shannon Young: Dzogchen teacher focuses on bringing Dharma practice into daily life and bridging heritage with modern life
Lama Dr. Shannon Young — Dzogchen Lineage teacher, Doctor of Pharmacy, and loving wife and mother — advocates bringing “Dharma” into daily life. “My teacher has always said that the Pharmacy is my retreat cave,” she explains, referring to her “day job” as a Pharmacist. Lama Young is one of the rising new teachers who blend precious lineage tradition with modern Western culture.
Our previous story focused on the Female Enlightened and female teachers. In our previous story, Female Enlightened Manifestations and Female Teachers and Lamas (story here>>) — which featured five questions for Lama Dr. Shannon Young — she said,
“I think it does matter to have the diversity … in today’s world. This is why I am very proud that four of the eight lamas that I was authorized with are women.”
At the time, we asked Lama Young if she would consider answering a few more questions. Kindly, she agreed. [Full biography at the end of this story.]
Full Interview with Lama Dr. Shannon Young
BW: Your teacher Dzogchen Khenpo Choga Rinpoche encouraged you to become a teacher, in part because he believes it’s beneficial to students to receive teachings from people of their own culture. What has been your experience with this?
SRY: I think his approach is beyond brilliant because it is integrating both the timeless wisdom of a lineage with a unique cultural awareness. We must adapt to a culture while maintaining the realized, wisdom tradition. Ultimately we should be reaching for realized western teachers in the west.
BW: What are some of the differences in receiving teachings from a traditional Rinpoche from Tibet versus a teacher born, raised and authorized in the West?
SRY: I think it has to do with having similar frameworks and references. Of course a realized master is going to have the breadth and depth that even an authorized western teacher won’t. At the same time, having a teacher with a similar background can help bridge the gaps in assimilating the dharma.
BW: You are both a Doctor of Pharmacy and a Dharma Teacher? Do you find you bring your practice into your work?
SRY: My teacher has always said that the Pharmacy is my retreat cave. He said that for the Dharma to really survive it must work within the daily realities of its practitioners.
So in my work I must bring love, compassion, and wisdom into every moment of thinking and acting. It actually brings a level of meaning to every task. Of course being in a field where you contact humans and their suffering its very powerful.
BW: Where do you teach?
SRY: I usually teach in local Dharma centers. Recently I led a weeklong retreat in Hawaii.
BW: How did you meet your teacher originally?
SRY: I met him in Boise, Idaho in 2003 during one of his teaching tours.
BW: From your teaching topics, you seem to teach a form of “bringing the Dharma into daily life.” For example, “healthy lifestyle.” Can you elaborate on that a little?
SRY: The true health is really centered on having a stable and compassionate mind. We try to promote health based on moderation.
BW: Some of your teaching topics, such as non-waste economic system and free university education have a feeling of “cause”-oriented teaching: that is, right living, right livelihood and other Buddhist teachings brought into modern context. Do you advocate Dharma activity outside of the practice hall in support of causes such as non-waste economy? (Which lately has been described as “Ecodharma”).
SRY: I think loving, compassionate, and wise people should also bring that into other spheres, such as public policy. But we shouldn’t force our views on others through that policy.
We should help inform and elevate the debate. It’s important to be aware that we don’t become too rigid and controlling in trying to force ideologies together. The dharma should be inclusive and not serve short term political agendas.
BW: Can you elaborate on “non-waste” economic system as a teaching topic?
SRY: It’s really about intention and having an inclusive long-term perspective. So much of our system is based on driving up consumption and many of our products are needlessly disposable. But it doesn’t stop there. So it’s looking at the thinking that drives this culture and transcending with one that isn’t about short-term gains at the expense of future generations.
BW: Do you bring technology into your teachings? For example, do you blog, use social media (in a Dharma context), use computers in the meditation hall?
SRY: We are openly embracing platforms that can make the teachings more accessible. We use computers during teachings for taking notes and we also livestream many of our teachings and even use Skype for group teachings.
BW: What do you mean by “healthy lifestyle” as a teaching topic and what do you cover?
SRY: Beyond the obvious areas of plant-based diets, we also talk to the idea of “joyful moderation” which means that we don’t get to strict with certain restrictions—knowing when to have that piece of cake and not feel guilty about it. But the heart of being healthy is valuing this precious human life and taking care of ourselves in order to benefit all beings.
BW: We spoke about the Female Enlightened and women teachers in our last interview (story here>>). Do you find you teach differently to a group of female students, versus a mixed group?
SRY: You could say that the audience does influence the type of teaching, but we try to really focus on the mind and how we can transform our thinking. Of course a large group of one type of audience can influence the discussion, but we are ultimately trying to recognize our true nature.
BW: What is the one thing you hope people will take away from your teaching sessions?
SRY: That we are the heroes of our own lives. We can liberate ourselves from suffering and become Buddha in one life.
From our Previous Interview
BW: From your perspective as a teacher, are there enough female Buddhist teachers? Does it matter? Why?
I feel that there could always be more female Buddhist role models and teachers. I am grateful for the strong women who have been the trailblazers in the western adoption of Buddhism, but I would like to see more women in leadership positions in traditionally Buddhist countries as well. I think it does matter to have the diversity of leadership in today’s world. This is why I am very proud that four of the eight lamas that I was authorized with are women. Two of us are from the US and the other two are from Asia.
BW: What inspired you to become a teacher?
My teacher is Dzogchen Khenpo Choga Rinpoche. He sincerely believes that the best way you can benefit beings is by teaching them the Dharma and he believes that people of different cultures should be taught by members of their own culture. From my first teachings with him, he was always encouraging every student to aspire to become a teacher.
BW: Do you feel there are enough opportunities for women to become Buddhist teachers? If not, what can be done about it?
I definitely think there could be more, but I also think it depends on the lineage or program. Candidly I think that in my lineage there are plenty of opportunities. But I think in the public sphere, the notion of female Buddhist teachers and Lamas needs to be more widely embraced. Especially in terms of authority.
BW: What do the female Enlightened Deities represent?
Boundless love, compassion, and wisdom will always manifest in various forms in order to benefit beings.
BW: Why are Female manifestations important?
Female manifestations are important as they help transform a practitioners’ mind from narrow, ego-centric notions of self and identity to something more inclusive and powerful. We can then begin to realize our innate love, compassion, and wisdom.
BW: Tara is iconic of the Female Enlightened. What does She represent?
If Bodhicitta is the basis of both the Mahayana and Vajrayana path then the basis of cultivating Bodhicitta is remembering the kindness of a mother. Invoking the blessings, love, and compassion of Tara, being the great Mother, is essential as support for increasing one’s own intention of enlightened wisdom, which is Bodhicitta.
Lama Biography — Venerable Archarya Lama Shiwa Dr. Shannon Young
Venerable Archarya Lama Shiwa, Dr. Shannon Young, Pema Shiwa Tso, is an authorized Lama and Dharma Teacher in the Dzogchen Lineage of Buddhism. Shannon received her Doctor of Pharmacy degree in 2001 and has been a practicing Pharmacist for over 16 years. She first studied with her root teacher His Eminence Dzogchen Khenpo Choga Rinpoche in 2003 and for over 13 years has studied and practiced with Rinpoche while helping establish the Dzogchen Retreat Center, USA. and the Dzogchen Shri Singha Foundation.
Lama Shannon graduated from seven Dzogchen Lineage Internships along with many seasonal retreats. In 2014, Lama Shannon also received an advanced degree of Tantra Practitioner at the first Dzogchen Lineage Internship commencement ceremony at the Dzogchen Retreat Center USA. In the same year, Dzogchen Khenpo Choga Rinpoche authorized Lama Shannon, along with eight other Lamas, as a Venerable Archarya Lama. The Lamas were selected through a dynamic process of divination, prayer, Rinpoche’s 10-year evaluation, and a majority vote of the 2014 Dzogchen Lineage Internship Sangha.
Lama Shannon has taught many students in public teaching events, weekend workshops, and tutoring during Dzogchen Lineage Internships. Following her teacher’s aspirations, Lama Shannon has dedicated her life to practicing and teaching the Dharma, serving as a Director on the the Board of the Dzogchen Shri Singha Foundation, and recently, founding One Path Outreach, a humanitarian aid organization which just completed their second medical mission in remote villages of Tibet.
Lama Shannon a devoted wife and mother who also helped establish the Dzogchen Children’s Association which supports Dzogchen Sangha parents to integrate a modern daily life that is centered on teaching Dharma and engaging in Dharma activities. Lama Shannon aspires to continue to fulfill her teacher’s aspirations to teach and heal others while establishing a stable Dharma system throughout the world that benefits all beings.
Inset: Tibetan Buddhist Master Dzogchen Khenpo Choga Rinpoche (excerpt from dzogchenlineage.org)
Great Perfection of Wisdom lineage holder Dzogchen Khenpo Choga Rinpoche was born in Tibet, where he began training in Buddhism at the age of five at the Dzogchen Monastery. He has been recognized as the reincarnation of enlightened Tibetan master Gedun Chopel, who is the emanation of Manjushri, the Bodhisattva of the Buddha’s Wisdom. He received the transmissions and teachings of the Sutras, Tantras and Shastras from forty-two Buddhist masters and the complete empowerments and instruction of the Dzogchen Tantras from his root masters Khenchen Padma Tsewang, Drupchen Chatral Chochyab, and Guru Dechen Namdrol.
He studied and taught for ten years at the Dzogchen Shri Singha Five Sciences University the five major sciences of Fine Arts, Medicine, Linguistics, Philosophy, and Buddhism, as well as the five minor sciences of Poetics, Synonymy, Prosody, Drama, and Astrology. For seven years he meditated in the Siltrom Mountain caves in the Holy Dzogchen area of Tibet, under difficult conditions, with little food and only a few tattered clothes. During that time, he recited millions of mantras and was directly granted the blessings of Buddha Shakyamuni, Padmasambhava, Shri Singha, Bodhisattva Manjushri, Avalokiteshvara and Tara. Continuously he studies and practices with diligence, as well as being patient, disciplined, and generous to others. He is always radiating wonderful blessings and healing powers of wisdom to all beings and all elements.
Rinpoche is the thirty-third holder of the Dzogchen lineage, lama of Dzogchen Monastery, a Professor of the Dzogchen Shri Singha University, Spiritual Leader of Dzogchen Shri Singha International, Founder of the Dzogchen Shri Singha Dharma Centers, and Director of Dzogchen Shri Singha International Charitable Organizations. He has written more than thirty books on the five major sciences. He currently teaches Dharma and gives practice training to thousands of students, in more than forty countries around the world.
Previous related stories: Interview with teacher AlejAndro Anastasia, also a student of Dzogchen Khenpo Choga Rinpoche
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Lee Kane is the editor of Buddha Weekly, since 2007. His main focuses as a writer are mindfulness techniques, meditation, Dharma and Sutra commentaries, Buddhist practices, international perspectives and traditions, Vajrayana, Mahayana, Zen. He also covers various events.
Lee also contributes as a writer to various other online magazines and blogs.