Shambala meditation teacher says study and meditation lead to clarity

by Azra Haqqie , Times Union, July 15, 2006

David Rook: Teacher at Shambhala Meditation Center and former Buddhist representative at the Hubbard Interfaith Sanctuary at the College of Saint Rose.

Background: 49, born in Oakland, Calif. Moved to the Capital Region when he was 3 (his father was an appointee of Gov. Nelson Rockefeller). Majored in biology at University at Albany, worked for state Department of Social Services in Buffalo, received an MBA from University at Buffalo, returned to Albany in early 1990s, graduated from Albany Law School and now is an attorney with Thuillez, Ford, Gold, Johnson and Butler in Albany. He and his wife, Ellen, live in Slingerlands and have three daughters: Sonya, Maya and Tara.

What was your religious upbringing?

I was christened Unitarian. From the time I was 7 or 8, my family did not relate to any church. When I was 13, my mother embraced the Catholic religion and I did, too. She had brain cancer and suffered and faded away. However, when I asked the priests for answers, they were very nice but were ill-equipped to answer the questions. I became a scientist.

How did you encounter Buddhism?

I had a friend at UAlbany with whom I ventured to a Buddhist retreat center in Vermont. Intuitively, meditation seemed like a reasonable thing to do. I met the religious leader there, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche.

When I was in Seattle in 1979, someone gave me meditation instruction and Trungpa's writings. Gradually, I engaged in more rigorous Buddhist training in America and Canada. They were long periods of study combined with meditation practice. I am an American Buddhist.

What does Shambhala mean and how was the center formed in Albany?

The vision of Shambhala is to enable men and women to express the dignity of human existence and to lead meaningful lives within a flourishing culture. It involves meditation, Buddhist studies and contemplative arts. It is an international organization of Tibetan lineage. In this area, the chapter was formed in 1981, and we met in people's homes. The Shambhala Meditation Center of Albany has been at the Holy Names Campus Arts Center since January 2003. We offer regular sitting meditation every Thursday night. Richard Reoch, president of Shambhala International, is scheduled to visit us Nov. 1.

What distinguishes Buddhism from other religions?

In Buddhism, nothing is accepted as faith, including the notion of "me" or "I." The No. 1 concern is to be fully present with the suffering and chaos in the world rather than viewing it as a problem. Buddhism addresses suffering and death straight on. It basically says we are confused and it tries to reduce confusion a little bit.

At its fundamental level, Buddhism is meant to look at the nature of your mind. From that perspective, meditation is a tool and it is neutral. The practice of meditation brings you back to the current moment.