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Illusion's Game: The Life and Teaching of Naropa

Illusion's Game: The Life and Teaching of Naropa

by Chogyam Trungpa

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In what he calls a "200 percent potent" teaching, Chögyam Trungpa reveals how the spiritual path is a raw and rugged "unlearning" process that draws us away from the comfort of conventional expectations and conceptual attitudes toward a naked encounter with reality. The tantric paradigm for this process is the story of the Indian master Naropa (1016–1100),


In what he calls a "200 percent potent" teaching, Chögyam Trungpa reveals how the spiritual path is a raw and rugged "unlearning" process that draws us away from the comfort of conventional expectations and conceptual attitudes toward a naked encounter with reality. The tantric paradigm for this process is the story of the Indian master Naropa (1016–1100), who is among the enlightened teachers of the Kagyu lineage of the Tibetan Buddhism. Naropa was the leading scholar at Nalanda, the Buddhist monastic university, when he embarked upon the lonely and arduous path to enlightenment. After a series of daunting trials, he was prepared to receive the direct transmission of the awakened state of mind from his guru, Tilopa. Teachings that he received, including those known as the six doctrines of Naropa, have been passed down in the lineages of Tibetan Buddhism for a millennium.

Trungpa's commentary shows the relevance of Naropa's extraordinary journey for today's practitioners who seek to follow the spiritual path. Naropa's story makes it possible to delineate in very concrete terms the various levels of spiritual development that lead to the student's readiness to meet the teacher's mind. Trungpa thus opens to Western students of Buddhism the path of devotion and surrender to the guru as the embodiment and representative of reality.

Product Details

Publication date:
Shambhala Publications
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Penguin Random House Publisher Services
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1 MB

Read an Excerpt

1: Naropa and Us

We are going

to discuss the life and teachings of Naropa fully and completely, but not fully and completely in the way you would like. We are going to discuss the outlines of Naropa's life and his relationship with his guru Tilopa, and the twelve acts of repentance he had to go through. We will also discuss his mahamudra experience.
"great symbol"; it

is connected with seeing the phenomena of the world as they are. We will close our discussion with the six teachings of Naropa.

find it necessary to express my negativities about presenting such potent—two hundred percent potent—teachings to the people of the continent of North
America, or to the West altogether. Nobody here seems to be ready for this material at all. People are relating with the starting point of practice, and as far as we know, nobody in America has a complete understanding of even the hinayana level of Buddhism. People have hardly any understanding at all. They have a completely schizophrenic attitude: they conceive of a divine,
enlightened personality that is opposed to their confused version of themselves. As a result, people regard themselves as abandoned people,
completely bad people. Or else they might have some hope, but that again is based on some kind of spiritual pride that does not leave any leeway for confusion at all. So we're hopeless. I'm afraid we're hopeless.

Isn't that a terrible, grim picture? Extremely grim. We are hopeless, absolutely confused. We are so confused we do not even know why we are here listening to this. We wonder why. We are extremely confused, bewildered. What can we do about that? Let alone talking about Naropa?

Naropa achieved something. He found his way in the end. Once he became a disciple of
Tilopa, he was okay. But before he became a disciple of Tilopa, he was confused, as much as we are.

Spiritual practice is stepping out of the duality of me-ness and my-ness as opposed to otherness, of who is me and who is not me. But in addition to this we have the further confusion of gurus laying their trips on us. Or, as they are called in
America, guh-Roos. That particular species of human beings we call guh-Roos are mysterious. They save you. They tell you they save you entirely, but on the other hand they tell you they still have to work on themselves. We are confused. They are broke. It's a hopeless situation.

If we want to write essays about that for our Ph.D., we won't be able to, because we are so confused. Even if we want to become professional gurus, we won't be able to make head or tail of it.

Of course a lot of people decide to "make a journey to the East," to live with the natives: study with them, eat with them, and shit with them,
whether they use toilet tissue or not. They are serious, obviously, and faithful in playing Burmese games, Japanese games, and so on. They get right into it—sit with the Orientals, eat with them, shit with them. We are getting back a lot of anthropological messages about these "primitive"
societies. It seems that though they are primitive, their spiritual understanding is much higher than ours. In any case, these are the trips we have going on.

would like to call your attention to the following passage from the

Once when 'Jig-med grags-pa (Abhayakirti) [Naropa], with his back to the sun, was studying the books on grammar, epistemology, spiritual precepts, and logic, a terrifying shadow fell on them. Looking around he saw behind him an old woman with thirty-seven ugly features: her eyes were red and deep-hollowed; her hair was fox-colored and dishevelled; her forehead was large and protruding; her face had many wrinkles and was shrivelled up; her ears were long and lumpy; her nose was twisted and inflamed; she had a yellow beard streaked with white; her mouth was distorted and gaping; her teeth were turned in and decayed; her tongue made chewing movements and moistened her lips; she made sucking noises and licked her lips; she whistled when she yawned; she was weeping and tears ran down her cheeks; she was shivering and panting for breath; her complexion was darkish blue; her skin, rough and thick; her body bent and askew; her neck curved; she was hump-backed; and, being lame, she supported herself on a stick.
She said to Naropa: "What are you looking into?"

study the books on grammar, epistemology, spiritual precepts, and logic,"
he replied.

"Do you understand them?"

"Do you understand the words or the sense?"

"The words."

The old woman was delighted, rocked with laughter, and began to dance, waving her stick in the air. Thinking that she might feel still happier, Naropa added:
"I also understand the sense." But then the woman began to weep and tremble and she threw her stick down.

"How is it that you were happy when I said that I understood the words, but became miserable when I added that I also understood the sense?"

felt happy because you, a great scholar, did not lie and frankly admitted that you only understood the words. But I felt sad when you told a lie by stating that you understood the sense, which you do not."

then, understands the sense?"

"My brother."

"Introduce me to him wherever he may be."

"Go yourself, pay your respects to him, and beg him that you may come to grasp the sense."

With these words, the old woman disappeared like a rainbow in the sky.
Life and Teaching of
Herbert V. Guenther (Boston &

Shambhala Publications, 1986),


Naropa was studying epistemology, logic, philosophy, and grammar. That's where we are at. Of course everybody is also extremely involved with art now. Everybody is trying to work out their artistic self-expression. They might hear the teachings of Naropa in connection with art; they might see it in terms of
"the art of the Tibetan teachings." Then there is also logic, the question of how the teachings relate with each other, how not and how so. We are involved with logic as well. It could be said that everybody here is in the first stage of Naropa's experience, involved in philosophy and art, as well as epistemology. We are on the same level that Naropa was experiencing before he attained enlightenment. We want an answer; we want definitions. We want a fixed situation rather than something fluid. We feel that concepts are very badly needed.

In this seminar you are not going to be able to relate with concepts. You're not going to get something out of studying logic, epistemology, grammar, and philosophy—which were a failure for Naropa as well. That is why he had to go through twelve stages of punishment, because of his concepts. We are going to go through the same journey that Naropa went through; we are going to take a tour of Naropa's agony. In some ways, it is going to be like Disneyland. You go through some tunnel, and you come out; you're delivered to somewhere else. You see exciting things and you come out on the other end. But in this case, it is related with psychological problems. It is going to be more deathening, more hellish or heavenish. We start at Naropa's starting point of searching for goodness and trying to achieve divinity.

Meet the Author

Chögyam Trungpa (1940–1987)—meditation master, teacher, and artist—founded Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado, the first Buddhist-inspired university in North America; the Shambhala Training program; and an international association of meditation centers known as Shambhala International. He is the author of numerous books, including Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, and The Myth of Freedom.

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