Read an Excerpt
Introduction to Volume 1
Works of Chögyam Trungpa
brings together in eight volumes the writings of one of the first and most influential
Tibetan teachers to present Buddhism in the West. From his arrival in England in 1963
until his death in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, Chögyam Trungpa
(1939–1987) was the author of thirteen books. Of these, ten appear in full in this collection. His translations of major Buddhist texts (
Tibetan Book of the Dead, The Rain of Wisdom,
Life of Marpa
have been omitted, but his introductions and other unique contributions to those publications are included.
Since his death, another thirteen books have been compiled from his lectures and poetry and published by Shambhala Publications. All of them appear in this compendium, although some illustrative material has of necessity been omitted.
Vajradhatu Publications, the small press started by Chögyam Trungpa's
Buddhist organization, has published four books for a general audience, which will also be found in
(That press has also produced several dozen edited transcripts and a number of limited editions, which are not reprinted in this series.) Additionally, more than seventy articles from many sources are included, along with poetry published by two small Canadian presses, Trident Publications and Windhorse, as well as several published interviews and forewords, prefaces, and introductions to books by other authors.
This extensive body of work illustrates that Trungpa Rinpoche
was a remarkably prolific teacher whose writings continue to attract great interest. With plans being made for many more publications based on the recordings and transcripts of his many hundreds of seminars, as well as on his poetry and writings, it seems that his prodigious activity in bringing the buddhadharma, the teachings of the Buddha, to the West will continue to flourish for many years to come.
In arranging the material for the eight volumes of
a decision was made to arrange the volumes thematically rather than chronologically. In part, this was because of the diverse nature of
Chögyam Trungpa's literary endeavors. In addition to his books on the practice of meditation and the Buddhist path, five volumes and several broadsides of his poetry have been published, as well as three books on art and the artistic process. Two books on the Shambhala path of enlightened warriorship have also been produced. He also wrote a number of articles on
Western psychology, along with short pieces on themes such as feminine energy and spiritual gardening. If all of these writings were organized in
purely by year of publication, some rather strange juxtapositions would result.
Moreover, the fecund connections among works on a similar theme would be much less apparent.
Another reason for the thematic organization is that Trungpa Rinpoche's posthumous volumes contain material from both very early seminars in North America and much later lectures. So chronology of publication would be a misleading organizing principle.
That said, Volume One, which contains his early writings in Great Britain, is the exception to the rule. The style of those works differs radically from the voice that emerged when he began to teach, and to be published, in North
America. It thus seemed both useful and appropriate to group together the writings from England.
Trungpa's first book,
Born in Tibet,
was published by George Allen & Unwin in 1966, approximately three years after he came from India to Oxford on a Spalding scholarship. There are no known writings of his from India, evidently because no writings were produced, saved,
or passed on to Western students. He was twenty years old when he arrived in
India in January of 1960, having traveled on foot and horseback over the
Himalayas from eastern Tibet to escape the communist Chinese, a journey that lasted ten months. That odyssey is in part the subject matter of
Born in Tibet
India he began his study of the English language, learning a great deal from
Freda Bedi, an Englishwoman who later became a Buddhist nun under the name
Sister Kenchog Palmo. Mrs. Bedi was very active in helping the Tibetan refugees and had started the Young Lamas Home School in Delhi, assisted by Trungpa
Rinpoche, who was appointed spiritual adviser to the school. While in India, he was also tutored in English by John Driver, who later was of great assistance in his studies of Western literature, religion, and philosophy at Oxford.
Trungpa Rinpoche had been first exposed to Western poetry in India, initially through a chance encounter with a Japanese haiku translated in a magazine he was reading to improve his English, and later by hearing the work of T. S.
Eliot and other English poets at a reading sponsored by an American women's club in New Delhi.
Rinpoche had also made the acquaintance of the American poets Allen Ginsberg and Peter
Orlovsky in India when they visited the Young Lamas Home School.
Although he was an avid student of the language, Chögyam Trungpa's English was still rudimentary when he sailed for England. More than that, his understanding of Western thought and culture was limited. He went to England because he wanted to teach Buddhism in the West, but in order to do so, he first needed to educate himself in Western ways.
The earliest published writing included in Volume One of
is a brief article entitled "Om Mani Padme Hum Hrih," which appeared in the August 1963 issue of
the journal of the Buddhist Society in England.
That was followed by "Taking Refuge" in the November 1963 issue. In that issue of the magazine, there is also a photograph of Trungpa Rinpoche with the
Western Buddhist scholar Marco Pallis (who wrote the foreword to
Born in Tibet
and the Parsi author and scholar of religion Phiroz Mehta, as well as two other
Tibetan lamas, Akong Rinpoche and Rechung Rinpoche. The caption says that the photo was taken at the Buddhist Society Summer School in 1963. This must have been only months after Chögyam Trungpa's arrival in England. Both of these early articles are well written, but the language and the style in which they present the Buddhist teachings are dramatically different from the way Trungpa
Rinpoche expressed himself even a few years later. It's very likely that
Trungpa Rinpoche had extensive help with the editing and wording of these pieces, since his fluency in English was quite limited at this point. Although the articles show flashes of his brilliant intellect, in general the depth and luminous quality of his teachings are quite veiled in these earliest pieces from
It's clear that he didn't yet have the grasp of the language to convey the subtle and unique understanding that distinguished his teachings. In contrasting these articles with the pieces published by
five years later, in 1968, one sees just how much Trungpa Rinpoche had immersed himself in Western thought in the intervening time. In the later articles he makes references to concepts from Western philosophy and literature, and his grasp of the language has clearly grown exponentially.
it was not just knowledge of the English language or of Western thought that
Chögyam Trungpa needed in order to teach in the West. He was not interested purely in presenting an overview of Buddhism to Westerners, nor did he simply want to give basic instruction in meditation or provide some outward affinity with tantric practices such as visualization and mantra repetition. He was heir to a spiritual heritage of extraordinary depth and power, and it was the innermost teachings of his lineage that he wanted to transmit to his students in the West. To do this, he had to get inside the minds and hearts of
Westerners; he had to know us from the inside out if he was to speak to us from that dimension. In the process, he faced many obstacles.
Even among the most realized Tibetan teachers, there were few—particularly at that time—who trusted Western students completely or thought them capable of understanding and putting into practice the deepest, most essential truths of the buddhadharma. Trungpa Rinpoche did have this faith, this trust in the
Western mind. One sees this trust emerge from the very early days, in his first book published in England,
Born in Tibet,
an autobiography recounting his early life and training in Tibet and the dramatic story of his arduous escape. One can read this book on a simple level, skimming the surface of outer events; but a deeper reading reveals the author's desire,
even this early on, to share intimate details of his inner experience. For example, he describes his relationship with his main teacher, Jamgön
Kongtrul of Sechen, and the significance of their meetings, in a way that goes far beyond a superficial telling. It is as if he invites the reader into the room with him when he is with his teacher and also, throughout the book, allows the reader to know his thoughts and emotions, including pain and doubt. He thus seems to have displayed a remarkable openness, considering how guarded most of his Tibetan colleagues were with their Western students. At the same time, he was not oblivious to a strong tendency among some Westerners, especially during this era in England, to view Eastern "gurus" with a mixture of awe and paternalism, treating them almost like spiritually advanced children who were unable to cope with the complexities of modern life. Yet he was able to steer confidently between the dualistic extremes of naive trustfulness and excessive reserve.