Dragon Thunder: My Life with Chogyam Trungpaby Diana J. Mukpo, Carolyn Rose Gimian
"It was not always easy to be the guru’s wife," writes Diana Mukpo. "But I must say, it was rarely boring." At the age of sixteen, Diana Mukpo left school and broke with her upper-class English family to marry Chögyam Trungpa, a young Tibetan lama who would go on to become a major figure in the transmission of Buddhism to the West. In a memoir that is at turns magical, troubling, humorous, and totally out of the ordinary, Diana takes us into her intimate life with one of the most influential and dynamic Buddhist teachers of our time.
Diana led an extraordinary and unusual life as the "first lady" of a burgeoning Buddhist community in the American 1970s and '80s. She gave birth to four sons, three of whom were recognized as reincarnations of high Tibetan lamas. It is not a simple matter to be a modern Western woman married to a Tibetan Buddhist master, let alone to a public figure who is sought out and adored by thousands of eager students. Surprising events and colorful people fill the narrative as Diana seeks to understand the dynamic, puzzling, and larger-than-life man she married—and to find a place for herself in his unusual world.
Rich in ambiguity, Dragon Thunder is the story of an uncommon marriage and also a stirring evocation of the poignancy of life and of relationships—from a woman who has lived boldly and with originality.
“The value of this book is to open household doors and tell a page-turning family story by which the controversial guru Chögyam Trungpa can be better understood.”—Publishers Weekly
“Endows the reader with a sense of familiarity that refreshes and challenges our conception of diversity within tradition.”—Tricycle
“Gives readers a fresh yet intimate view of Trungpa and invites us to see the female strength that so often lies behind the man.”—Inquiring Mind
"A 'warts and all' account of a most extraordinary marriage and the collision of Tibetan and Western cultures. An intimate and unflinching portrait, it contains many surprises and demonstrates Trungpa's undoubted genius for creating very provoking teaching situations."—Middle Way
"Diana Mukpo has written a deeply intimate, insightful, raw and moving account of her life with her late husband. I don't think it would be possible to capture the essence of Chögyam Trungpa more accurately and beautifully than she has done here."—Dzigar Kongtrül, author of It's Up to You: The Practice of Self-Reflection on the Buddhist Path
"A delightful and unusual book. Diana Mukpo offers readers new understandings of the life and teachings of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a remarkable person and irreplaceable teacher."—Pema Chödrön, author of When Things Fall Apart
“An intimate and frank telling of the life of one of the great spiritual teachers of the twentieth century. Diana Mukpo’s extraordinary story as wife, lover, and friend to Chögyam Trungpa reveals her to be a courageous, independent woman with a depth of understanding of her husband’s life and teaching. More than just a history, it is a timeless illumination of the genuine Buddhist path.”—Melvin McLeod, editor of The Best Buddhist Writing series
"This candid and unsparing book offers up wisdom, courage, and compassion, but also engages the reader in a journey far beyond the normal frames of reference for what spiritual experience actually is. An extraordinary love story as well as a remarkable portrait of a great spiritual teacher."—Rudy Wurlitzer, novelist and author of numerous screenplays including The Little Buddha
"Taking us into the heart of Chögyam Trungpa's crazy wisdom, exposing us to his genius and the 'craziness' which I at least was never sure was not his madness, Dragon Thunder is a wild and unfathomable story, as heartbreaking and irresistible as Don Quixote. As a dharma book, its mix of sadness and wisdom is so complete that reading it becomes a practice in itself."—Lawrence Shainberg, author of Ambivalent Zen: One Man's Adventures on the Dharma Path
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Read an Excerpt
From Chapter 1
This is the story of my life, and it is also an intimate portrait of my husband, Chögyam
Trungpa Rinpoche. The two things are quite intertwined for me. My husband was a Tibetan Buddhist lama, the eleventh incarnation in the
Trungpa lineage and the abbot of Surmang, a major group of monasteries in Eastern Tibet. Rinpoche (pronounced RIM-poach-eh), the name by which
I usually called him, is a title for great lamas and incarnate teachers, which means “precious one.” Rinpoche left Tibet in 1959
because of the communist Chinese invasion of his country, and after spending a few years in India, he came to England. I met him there when he was twenty-eight and I was fifteen. We were married when I was sixteen, which was quite shocking to both my family and to Rinpoche’s
Tibetan colleagues. We loved each other deeply, and we had a very special connection. However, our marriage was highly unconventional by most standards, and it was not without heartbreak or difficulty. In the end I have no regrets.
Rinpoche was one of the first Tibetan
Buddhist teachers in the West and one of the very first to teach
Westerners in the English language.The time that he spent in the
West—between 1963, when he arrived in England, and 1987, when he died in North America—was an important period for the transplantation of
Buddhism to the West, and I hope that my viewpoint as his wife may offer a unique perspective on that period. A lot of what my life was about during those years was about him and what happened to him. So a main objective for telling my story is so that the memory of him and of all those things that happened can be preserved.
I also want to talk about our life together and our relationship because it was so human and so intimate. Ultimately I think that this is the essence of the Buddhist teachings: they are about how to live our lives as human beings, intimately, moment by moment. So I will try to share with you what it was really like to love such a person. It was quite extraordinary.
The first time I saw Rinpoche was in December of 1968, during my Christmas break from Benenden School, an elite
English boarding school for girls. I was fifteen at the time, and I was spending the holidays at home with my mother and my sister in London.
The previous summer, my sister Tessa and I had traveled with Mother to
Malta. At that point in my life, I couldn’t communicate at all with my mother, and I felt claustrophobic around her. While we were in Malta, I
withdrew more and more into myself, and I read many books about
Theravada, Zen, and Tibetan Buddhism. When we got back to London, I
started to go to lectures and other events at the Buddhist Society in
Eccleston Square. Buddhism was not particularly popular at that time,
and none of my friends were interested in it. However, my father had had an interest in Buddhism and after his death, when I was thirteen, I
began to question and explore my own spirituality, first reading about comparative religion and then focusing on Buddhist writings. In the autumn of 1968, I read Born in Tibet, Rinpoche’s book about his upbringing in Tibet and his escape from the Chinese. I thought it was an exciting and somewhat exotic story. However, the book was nowhere near as thrilling as meeting the author proved to be!
Christmas holidays, I went to St. George’s Hall to attend a rally for the liberation of Tibet, sponsored by the Buddhist Society. The program went on for several hours, with one speaker after another. I found it quite boring. One of the last speakers on the schedule was the author of Born in Tibet, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, who appeared onstage in the maroon and saffron robes of a Tibetan monk. I looked up at him from the audience, and much to my amazement, I felt an immediate and intense connection. Before he could say anything, however, he collapsed and was carried offstage. We were told that Rinpoche had taken ill, but I imagine that alcohol may have been involved.
Although he was only onstage for a few minutes, I knew that I had a very deep and old connection with him, and it stirred up a great deal of emotion for me.The only way I can describe this experience is that it was like coming home. Nothing in my life had hit me in such a powerful way. I
said to myself, “This is what I’ve been missing all my life. Here he is again.” This wasn’t just some exciting, powerful experience. I knew him, and as soon as I saw him, I realized how much I’d been missing him. From that moment on, I wanted desperately to meet him.
Since the age of thirteen, shortly after my father’s death, I had had several very vivid dreams about previous lives in Tibet. I didn’t tell anyone about them because I didn’t know what to say about them, and I thought that people might misunderstand. I didn’t really understand these dreams myself, although somehow I knew that the location was Tibet and these were about previous lives. When I saw Rinpoche, I knew that he was connected to the world that I had encountered in my dreams.
In one of the most vivid dreams, I lived in a nunnery on a large white lake in Tibet. At first I lived in a dormitory with other nuns, but then I was given my own living quarters in a large room dominated by a huge white statue of a Buddha. I stayed in the nunnery for several years, practicing meditation and studying. Then, I left to go on retreat in a cave in the mountains.
In retreat I wore a heavy woolen nun’s robe, which is called a chuba, and it was lined with fur.
The furnishings in the cave were spartan, with a small bed in one corner, an area for cooking, and a simple shrine in front of which I
practiced, seated cross-legged on a small raised platform. At one time,
I could remember the deity that I visualized in retreat, although that memory has faded now. Later, when I described this to my husband, he knew exactly what practice I was doing.
I was terrified of wild animals in the vicinity. I started building a fire near the front of the cave every night to keep the animals away. Eventually, people from a nearby village raised the money to build a white facade to the cave, and then I felt safe staying there alone.
Meet the Author
Diana J. Mukpo was born in England in 1953. She attended the prestigious Benenden School until she left at the age of sixteen to marry the Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Mrs. Mukpo moved to the United States in 1970, where she remained with Trungpa Rinpoche until his death in 1987. During their marriage, she pursued intensive study of dressage. She is now the owner and director of Windhorse Dressage, and she travels and teaches dressage clinics throughout the United States and Canada.
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