Break Not the Circle

Break Not the Circle

November 8th, 2015

A woman named Joanna Macy has been a social change activist for the past fifty years. Joanna’s work has been shaped by an ancient story about the coming of the Kingdom of Shambhala.

This story is a prophecy that arose in Tibetan Buddhism over twelve centuries ago. This particular version of the prophecy was given to Joanna by a Buddhist monk Choegyal Rinpoche.

“There comes a time when all life on earth is in danger.

At this time, great powers have arisen – barbarian powers.

And though these barbarian powers waste their wealth in preparations to annihilate the other barbarian powers, they have much in common with one another:  weapons of unfathomable destruction and  technologies that lay waste to our world.

It is in this time, when the future of all beings seem to hang on the frailest of threads, that the Kingdom of Shambhala emerges.

You can’t go there, for it is not a place.

It exists in the hearts and minds of the Shambhala warriors.

You can’t tell whether someone is a Shambhala warrior just by looking,

for they wear no uniform, no insignia, carry no banners.

They have no barricades to fortify,  no forts in which they can regroup.

They don’t have a base, they live and act on the terrain of the barbarians.

Now the time is coming when great courage is required of the Shambhala warriors – moral and physical courage.

They must go into the very heart of the barbarian powers to dismantle their power.

The warriors must go to the pits and citadels where weapons are made.

They must go into the corridors of power where the decisions are made.

Now the Shambhala warriors know all these weapons can be dismantled because they are manomaya. They are “mind-made.”

They know that things made by human mind can be unmade by human mind.

The Shambhala warriors know that the dangers that threaten life on earth are not visited upon us by any extraterrestrial powers, or any satanic deities, or any preordained evil fate.

Rather, these dangers arise out of our relationships and habits, out of our priorities.

So in this time the Shambhala warriors go into training.

They train in the use of two  weapons or tools.

One is compassion.

The other is insight into the radical interdependence of all phenomena.

You need both.

You need compassion because it provides the fuel to move you to where you need to be and to do what you need to do.

Compassion means not being afraid of the suffering of the world.

Of being able to hold the pain and still act. 

But this tool is very hot, it can burn you out.

So you need the other tool, the insight into the radical interconnectivity of all that is.

With that wisdom you know that this is not a battle between the good guys and the bad guys.

You know that the line between good and evil runs through the landscape of every human heart.

And you know that we are so interwoven in the web of life that even actions with good intent have repercussions that ripple through the web, beyond our capacity to see.

This insight may appear too cool, too conceptual, to sustain you and keep you moving, so you need the heat of the compassion.

Together, within each Shambhala warrior and among the Shambhala warriors themselves, compassion and interdependence can sustain us as agents of change.

They are gifts for us to claim now in the healing of our world.”

This is a powerful story.

We are living in barbarian times.

And it is overwhelming.

This story tells us we can’t face the barbarian powers laying waste to the world with their type of weapons.

In this story weapons aren’t just armaments and technology,

but destructive patterns of thinking. 

When we try to use these weapons ourselves,

we become part of the barbarian powers laying waste to the earth.

The right path is a difficult path – learning new ways of thinking.

With time, with dedication, each of us can carry the necessary tools: compassion and awareness of the radical interdependence of all phenomena.

And we can’t do it alone.

Although the prophecy suggests the Shambhala warriors need no home base,

I believe they do, we do.

We need the bedrock of a community to sustain us.

This is the joy and power of human connections.

We are sustained knowing we are not alone.

And that sustenance gives us the power to transform ourselves and the world.

We come together as a chalice community,

not for fun, although we may delight in fellowship,

not for debate, although we may learn in dialogue,

but to help one another to deepen in spirit,

to develop the tools of compassion and awareness of interdependence.

While we are not of the Buddhist tradition, our principles reflect the same pattern of thinking:

Our second principle - Justice, equity and compassion in human relations

Our seventh – respect for the interdependence web of all existence.

And so I believe we are a place for Shambala warriors.

We are a place where people can practice compassion.

Where we learn to open to the suffering of the world and not crumble.

We are a place learning what it means to be part of the interdependent web.

This chalice community matters.

It matters so much in this time of barbarian powers.

Our religious community has always been at the forefront of transformative change.

Our ancestors challenged old patterns of Christian thought.

Our ancestors challenged societal norms of slavery and gender inequality.

We have always believed that there is a better way to live.

Being part of the change we seek in the world -

This is no small ambition!

Joanna’s work calls people to join in the Great Turning.

The Great Turning is the move from an industrial growth society to a life sustaining civilization.

She envisions a world based in gratitude, with awareness of our connections to all beings, one in which people live in harmony with one another and the earth.

David Korton calls it a move from the era of empire to the era of community.

Some might even call it a move into the age of Aquarius.

It sounds ridiculous.

It is idealistic and so will never come to pass.

But that has never stopped us.

We are part of this great impossible shift.

As Unitarian Universalists we have sought to better way to be.

We light this chalice to remind ourselves over and over

That we are part of something greater.

In the depths of hearts, with every fibre of our spirits,

may we learn the tools to change the world.

May we come into compassion.

May we come into awareness of the radical interdependence of all phenomena.

May it be so.


I think the experience of being a Unitarian Universalism is best imagined  as the golden spiral.

The golden spiral, which is also known as the golden ratio or the divine proportion.

I won’t go into the mathematical formula, but it is an elegant geometric spiral that grows ever larger – like the whorls of snail shell.

This is our pattern - an ever increasing spiral,

with the self at the centre, surrounded by community,

then the earth, then the universe. 

I don’t mean to suggest that the self is the focus of Unitarian Universalism, which is concerned with all aspects of the whole. 

Each self is only the beginning,

the place where each person starts from and moves out towards the whole.  The self is small, and the universe/mystery/divine is infinite.  

We belong to the mystery which infuses all life.

And we come together to learn how to live into a new pattern.

To transform ourselves and so transform the world.

The Shambala warriors can’t act alone.

We need one another to create the tools we need.

All of us need a community where we feel safe.

Where we can let go of defensiveness and open up to life.

To learn compassion for ourselves and others.

We all need a place where our voice is a gift,

Where our presence is a contribution.

Circles of fellowship create space for our stories to be heard,

for new stories to emerge.

So far, what I cherish most about our monthly theme groups is hearing each person’s beautiful stories.

What gifts each of you are!

We are so lucky to have each and every one of you!

Granny D, an elderly women in Philadelphia, once spoke about living during the Great Depression:

Maybe we were hungry sometimes, but did we starve? 

No, because we had our friends and family and the earth to sustain us…

We were fountains of creativity.  We were fountains of [care] to our neighbours….We were a mighty river of mutual support.”

(from Active Hope, p.129)

A mighty river of mutual support.

We try to be this mighty river, a gentle river,

which ripples out to change the world.

And we often fail miserably.

We try to speak freely and end up just being awkward.

We hurt one another with careless language.

We get caught up in rocks, in rapids, and swirl around messily.

We put our own needs ahead of the group.

Some of us are flowing in a different direction.

But that’s okay.

This community helps us to learn compassion.

Every river ebbs and flows,

Every river needs tending.

And being small drops in the mighty river helps teach us the awareness we need of the radical interdependence of all phenomena.

While we have heard about the interdependent web enough times, 

so that it kind of becomes, yes, that is just a fact of life, that’s the way it is.

We don’t truly understand it in our bones.

We still live in a linear cause and effect society.

Where every drug is studied on its own and your body is the guinea pig for drug interactions.

Where police shoot citizens but it has nothing to do with racism or gun culture.

We throw away garbage like there is an away to send the coffee cups to.

We don’t really know how to live interdependently,

To care for water and air as essential to life,

To be inclusive of all kinds of people,

To be aware of how each action we take ripples out into the world.

Embodying the experience of connection can take a lifetime to learn.

To see that radical interconnectivity of all that is.

So we come together to figure it out.

All these individual drops becoming a force of nature in a flowing river.

If we care for the river and keep it clear, full of diverse life, and running clear.

If we keep trying to deepen our spirits and nurture community,

we will – together – develop the compassion and insight into the interdependence of all beings – that the world needs so desperately.

It won’t happen quickly.

There will be overwhelming floods and scary dry spells.

Disappointments and setbacks will be part of the journey.

But mighty rivers can carve new channels in the landscape.

If this vision of Unitarian Universalism:

a vision of a transformation and interdependence,

of working to create a life sustaining society, matters to you,

then please bring your gifts to this community.

We need each and every one of you.

We welcome your time, your talents and your financial gifts.

As you have heard, today is the launch of our canvass and capital campaigns.

Leaders are looking boldly towards the future.

In the year to come I  hope this chalice community helps each of your lights to shine brightly.

I hope you find this a place of sustenance and strength.

I hope that together we help make the Great Turning happen.

All the work we do – all the work we wish to do - arises out of your generousity.

Please know your financial pledges are valued.

We recognize your pledges for the great gifts that they are: 

the symbols of the literal work of your hearts and your hands,

the very labour of your lives given to make of this community

a mighty river.

We are so grateful.

We are so blessed by all the gifts given to this place.

So say we all.


iconfacebook icontwitter3 iconwordpress iconyoutube
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Phone Number for Unitarian Congregation in Mississauga mapicon


minister's blog Unitarian Congregation in Mississauga - Welcome page | We're on facebook