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Introduction to Volume Four by Carolyn Rose Gimian
Collected Works of Chögyam Trungpa
is the first of three volumes that present the tantric, or vajrayana, teachings of
Chögram Trungpa Rinpoche. Volume Four is path-oriented, Volume Five is organized around the themes of lineage and devotion, and Volume Six deals with what one might call tantric states of mind or tantric experience. Not every item included in each volume conforms exactly to this structure, but I have attempted to group material with some affinity together.
From some points of view, Trungpa Rinpoche's approach was altogether tantric, or grounded in vajrayana, especially in the teachings that he gave after coming to
North America. However, for the purposes of
the published material that was particularly focused on vajrayana teachings has been gathered together in Volumes Four to Six. Interestingly, the majority of these books have been published posthumously.
Even when presenting the most overtly tantric material, Trungpa Rinpoche guarded the integrity of the vajrayana teachings, being very careful not to introduce material prematurely to his students and not to cater to public fascination with tantra. There was certainly plenty of such fascination when he came to
America in the early 1970s, which made him even more conservative in his approach. In many of his early talks, he focused on what tantra was
dispelling preconceptions of wild behavior, indulgence in "tantric sex," and bizarre surges of energy. His teachings on the dangers of spiritual materialism were, in part, designed to cut through naive misinterpretations of tantra,
which he saw as potentially very harmful to young American spiritual seekers.
He was also quite well aware that the misunderstanding of Buddhist tantra had a history in the West that was not particularly easy to overcome. There had long been misconceptions about Tibetan Buddhism, which went back to opinions primarily formed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as well as in earlier times. Travelers to Tibet, including Christian missionaries, and scholars reading Tibetan Buddhist texts with minimal understanding of the language—and less of its meaning—often misinterpreted the symbolism. Tibetan
Buddhism was sometimes referred to as "Lamaism," a generally disrespectful epithet that implied that Buddhism in Tibet was a distortion,
some strange sort of primitive sect controlled by its priests, or lamas.
Interestingly enough, the communist Chinese still use this term pejoratively to describe Tibetan Buddhism. It is as misguided now as it was historically.
There were notable exceptions to the closed-mindedness of Western scholars. W. Y.
Evans-Wentz, Herbert Guenther, Marco Pallis, and David Snellgrove, among others, all had a very positive view of Tibetan Buddhism and had made considerable contributions to opening up the understanding of vajrayana,
through their translations of major Tibetan tantric texts into English and their explication of the history of Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism. Nevertheless,
in the popular arena, there remained many misconceptions. In addition to the negativity about vajrayana, there was an equally problematic romanticism and a view of tantra as wild abandonment to sense pleasures. Chögyam Trungpa was well aware of both extremes, and in his characteristic way, he charted a course that addressed both concerns while pandering to neither.
Through Spiritual Materialism
Myth of Freedom,
his most popular books published in the 1970s (which appear in Volume Three of
he included material on the vajrayana, but only after properly laying the ground and only after many dire warnings about the dangers of trying to practice tantra without a grounding in the hinayana and mahayana teachings. He talked extensively about the teacher-student relationship, particularly in
There were other aspects of the tantric view, such as the five buddha families that describe five styles of human perception and experience, which he talked about quite freely. In addition to introducing the five buddha families in
he presented them in seminars on dharma art as well as in developing an approach to Buddhist psychology, which he called Maitri Space Awareness. He seemed to feel that it was a helpful way for students to understand the varieties of human experience and to develop their creativity. There is no doubt that a vajrayana sensibility affected much of what he taught.
he made a particularly bold move, in terms of presenting tantra, with the publication of the translation of and commentary on
Tibetan Book of the Dead.
This was a joint effort with Francesca Fremantle, an English scholar and a student of Rinpoche's. She produced the groundbreaking translation with his input, and she also put together the commentary—which was eye-opening for most readers—based on Rinpoche's teachings, mainly those given during a seminar on the
Book of the Dead
1971. The style and language of the translation were a significant departure from earlier renditions. The English was evocative, elegant, and direct, and the book was very well received. The commentary from
Tibetan Book of the Dead
appears in Volume Six of
Remarks by Francesca Fremantle on her work with Trungpa Rinpoche are also included there.
The first book that appears in Volume Four is
Journey without Goal: The Tantric Wisdom of the Buddha.
It was published in 1981 by Prajna Press, a scholarly press with limited distribution established by Shambhala Publications in the late 1970s. When
Prajna ceased publication, the book became a title under the Shambhala imprint.
Journey without Goal
is based on a seminar given in 1974, during the first summer session at the Naropa
Institute. The talks on which the book is based were recorded on video, along with all the other events at Naropa that year, so it's possible to see,
outwardly at least, exactly to whom Rinpoche was talking. It was a large and varied audience of perhaps five or six hundred people; a young audience, the majority in their twenties, most of whom looked like hippies, although some audience members distinguished themselves with more conservative hairdos and attire.
In his introduction to
Journey without Goal,
Rinpoche focused not on appearance but on the motivation and background of the students:
"The audience was a very interesting mixture. There were many people whom we might call 'spiritual shoppers,' people sampling tantra as one more interesting spiritual 'trip.' There were also a number of people who were innocent and open. They happened onto this class by various coincidences and had very little idea of what tantra, or spirituality at all, might be. As well,
there were a number of committed students who had been practicing meditation for some time." He then points out the advice and the warnings he gave to everyone: "For all of these people, it
was necessary to stress again and again the importance of meditation as the foundation of all Buddhist practice and the danger of ignoring this prescription."
The book itself is filled with warnings: "Working with the energy of vajrayana is like dealing with a live electric wire." "Tantric discipline does not cooperate with any deception at all." "Every book written on tantra begins with that warning: "Be careful; think twice; pay respect;
don't just take this carelessly." It might seem amazing that anyone stayed through the whole course! In fact, the membership grew rather than decreasing over the weeks.
Rinpoche lectured several times a week during the second summer session. (During the first summer session, he presented a course on meditation and a fourteen-talk overview of the Tibetan Buddhist path.) In the material that makes up
Journey without Goal,
he shows an extraordinary ability to speak on a number of levels at the same time,
so that he is illuminating things for one group of listeners or readers while obscuring the material for another component of the audience. If you connect with what Chögyam Trungpa is talking about,
Journey without Goal
is an amazing book. Even if you stumble upon this book with no previous background, you can pick up on the energy and the enthusiasm of the material,
although many of the details remain somewhat fuzzy. Although you might not understand everything, the book might still make you feel that you'd really
to know more about what the author is talking about. Rinpoche had a way of drawing people in without giving the goods away, even when he was giving away secrets.
He wasn't interested in creating some secretive tantric society that excluded people in what he would have termed a "self-snug" style. (That was a phrase he coined, which combined smugness with being snug as a bug in a rug.)
He was also not interested in selling tantric secrets, the heart secrets of his lineage, on the street corner or in the lecture halls of Naropa. So he gave one talk that spoke very differently to different people in the audience.
Some of those attending his lectures were students who had graduated from the first
Vajradhatu Seminary in the fall of 1973,
where they had received "transmission" to enter the vajrayana path and to begin their ngöndro, the foundation practices that eventually lead to full initiation into vajrayana sadhana practice.
Outside of the Naropa environment, these students held weekly meetings, called tantra groups, where they talked about the teachings they had received, the practice of prostrations they were embarking on, and how vajrayana was affecting their lives. From time to time, Rinpoche met with them, answering questions or giving them new food for thought. Ask any one of those people, and they would probably tell you that Rinpoche's talks were mind-blowing and that he spoke directly to them in the tantra seminar at Naropa that summer, addressing core issues in their vajrayana practice.
At the same time, these talks were not easy, for anyone. For some, especially his committed and more mature students, they were a challenge and an invitation.
For others, they were intriguing but confusing; for a few, they were a closed door, a turn-off. Rinpoche would have had it no other way. He was happy to invite those with commitment, happy to intrigue those with an open mind, and delighted to shut the door on spiritual shoppers.
Journey without Goal
begins with a number of chapters that describe different principles or components of the tantric path. The first chapter is on the nature of tantra and the tantric practitioner. It is about both continuity and egolessness. There are several excellent chapters on the nature of transmission in the vajrayana and on the relationship between student and teacher, who at this level is a vajra master.
The extraordinary demands placed on both in the vajrayana are detailed here, as well as some idea of the extraordinary rewards that are possible.
is perhaps an odd word to use, since what is discussed here is complete surrender and letting go. Beyond that, through a combination of devotion, discipline, and supreme effort, it is possible that one will gain entry into the vajra world,
in which the continued demands become the exercise of delight. Chapters toward the end of
Journey without Goal
discuss the different yanas, or stages, on the path. The final chapter, entitled
"Maha Ati," is beautiful and surprising, as well as profoundly simple. I don't think you can read this book without being moved. If it's not for you, you simply won't make it to the end!