Recalling Chogyam Trungpa

Recalling Chogyam Trungpa

by Fabrice Midal


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Recalling Chogyam Trungpa by Fabrice Midal

In wide-ranging essays and interviews, contributors from the fields of Buddhist practice and scholarship, philosophy, the arts, and literature examine the work of a modern genius—the Tibetan Buddhist meditation master Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche (1939–1987). A pioneer in introducing Buddhism to the West, Trungpa Rinpoche had a distinct knack for breaking down the cultural, historical, and ideological barriers that make any such transmission so difficult today. His skill at communicating in a living language to Western students, while remaining faithful to the traditional origins of Buddhism, was paired with an understanding of the modern world of unusual relevance. As a result, his activities in a wide range of areas—including psychology, education, theater, poetry, visual arts, translation, publishing, interreligious dialogue, the creation of a path of spiritual warriorship, and the founding of the first Buddhist university in North America—offer penetrating insights into the meaning of Buddhism for our world and our culture. This anthology is a testimony to the continuing influence of his unique qualities and work as a revitalizing force in spheres both spiritual and secular.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781590302071
Publisher: Shambhala
Publication date: 12/13/2005
Pages: 352
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Fabrice Midal is a professor of philosophy at the University of Paris. He holds a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Paris, Sorbonne, and teaches the dharma in France and elsewhere in Europe. A practicing Buddhist in the tradition of Chögyam Trungpa, he is well known in Buddhist circles in France and has published books on religious topics with major French publishers, among them several titles on Tibetan Buddhism.

Read an Excerpt

Recalling Chogyam Trungpa


Copyright © 2005 Fabrice Midal
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1-59030-207-9

Chapter One

Genuine Water

The Legacy of Chogyam Trungpa

The Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche

In 1980, I traveled with His Holiness the sixteenth Karmapa to the United States. During this visit, I had the great fortune to meet Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and experience his sharp presence and kind and gentle heart. I was fortunate to also hear him translate some of His Holiness Karmapa's short teachings.

It was a great opportunity for me to witness Trungpa Rinpoche's impeccable devotion to the lineage and to His Holiness Karmapa, which in itself is a valuable teaching for vajrayana students. I saw him attempt to prostrate to His Holiness Karmapa every time they met, although His Holiness used to tell Rinpoche not to put himself through such a struggle, as he was physically unwell. However, he would not listen to this and each time did his three prostrations, while looking at Karmapa's face with such great delight and devotion. This taught me the meaning of devotion, which became the basis of my vajrayana journey. So I am happy and feel honored to have this opportunity to write a short tribute to Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, with whom I share the lineage and gurus.

Buddhism in the West

The light of buddhadharma started to dawn in the Western Hemisphere approximately one hundred and fifty years ago, when in 1852the Lotus Sutra was translated into German, and in 1853 a Mahayana temple was established in San Francisco. Subsequently, many masters traveled from the East to Europe and North America, bringing with them particular streams of dharma and establishing places for study and practice, such as the Buddhist Society of Great Britain, founded in 1907. These events presaged the beginning of the establishment of Buddhism in the West. However, the real sun of dharma began to shine on Western soil with the arrival of one master in 1963-the Very Venerable Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche.

Now, because of the timely ripening of his aspiration and dedication, as well as the openness, confidence, and genuine interest of many Western students, buddhadharma in the West is beginning to see the possibility of enjoying the fruition of the complete inheritance of the Buddhist wisdom tradition.

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche was a master genuinely confident of his mission and realization. He demonstrated a sharpness of intellect that cut through all delusion and doubt, a calmness of mind unmoved by neurotic chaos, and a total fearlessness of all threat of egocentricity. Meeting such a master makes your dualistic head spin and go beyond time and space-you may not know where, or with whom, you actually are-perhaps you are in the company of an ancient Indian Buddhist saint, or a modern, avant-garde Japanese-type saint, or just a completely crazy Tibetan man!

Genuine Water

The essence of Buddhism is like pure water; it is wisdom that is transparent and fluid. Like pure water, it is without any inherent shape or color of its own. Yet at the same time it is capable of adopting any shape and reflecting all the colors of the container into which it is poured. It is a science of mind and a philosophy of life that addresses the emotions as well as the intellect and offers a basis for understanding the meaning of life and the nature of the world.

Historically, as Buddhism traveled from its homeland of India to other lands-to Tibet, China, Sri Lanka, Japan, and so on-this pure water, the genuine wisdom of Buddha, took on the shape of its different containers and reflected the languages and social forms of each country.

This is the water Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche began pouring from his Tibetan container into the vessel of Western culture, to quench the thirst of beings overwhelmed by poverty mentality and spiritual materialism. Thus, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche played a very important role in bringing the complete buddhadharma to the West.

When the great wisdom of the East met with this completely openminded vessel of the West, both found a new home, a new heart, and a fresh meaning to life. Trungpa Rinpoche leaped right into this meeting place to explore and deepen his connection to the West and Western students, as well as to ponder the right vessel for the wisdom that benefits all beings. As he wrote in Born in Tibet, "there remained some hesitation as to how to throw myself completely into proclaiming the dharma to the Western world, uprooting spiritual materialism, and developing further compassion and affection." With great courage and love, he engaged fully in Western culture, language, and tradition, and dedicated the rest of his life to transplanting "on the spot" the lineage teachings of Buddhism.

Dharma without Borders

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche was a pioneer in bringing the Buddhist teachings to the West and one of the most dynamic masters of Tibetan Buddhism in the twentieth century. He was a great scholar, meditation master, artist, and poet. He became renowned for his unique ability to present the essence of the highest Buddhist teachings using forms that made them accessible to his Western students.

There are many stories telling of his skillful means in transmitting the essence of dharma to his students. In order to meet the minds and hearts of his Western students, he sometimes stepped beyond the bounds of conventional propriety and into the realm of the outrageous. Whenever someone does not abide by the mundane rules of the social hierarchy, that person becomes the subject of controversy and rumor. Like many masters in the past, he became a controversial, almost mythical, teacher, with many versions of his activity still perpetuated today.

Looking back, we can see and appreciate the depth of his contemplations as he faced the task of establishing a genuine Western sangha-students who shared his commitment and could follow his insightful and sometimes daring approach to introducing the buddhadharma to the Western world. He made it possible for many Western students to understand dharma by teaching in English, relating to Western psychology, and using examples of everyday Western culture.

His approach to planting dharma in the Western soil was a traditional as well as a radical and creative one. It was traditional in the sense that he always returned to the roots of Buddhism, to the original Indian Buddhism of Shakyamuni Buddha and the lineage of the Tibetan masters. It was radical in the sense that he experimented broadly with form, dropping altogether many of the Eastern cultural forms or mixing Tibetan forms with Japanese, British, and American elements. It also was creative in the sense of not allowing itself to be determined by the immediate past of the Eastern traditions and cultures.

At the same time, he introduced many Tibetan cultural practices through the Shambhala teachings, such as the lhasang (purification ceremony), along with practices associated with drala and werma (deities). He saw the task for Western Buddhists to be the creation of a new Buddhist culture-one with its own forms that, while being genuinely Buddhist, would speak the language of Western culture. This underscores the importance of the container-the cultural expressions of language, custom, and symbol through which people make use of and benefit from the water that is contained within it.

Trungpa Rinpoche introduced many important Buddhist concepts into the English language and psyche in a fresh and unique way. He was one of the first Buddhist masters to introduce the notion of "spiritual materialism," the tendency of ego to enhance itself through appropriating the spiritual path and creating a more subtle "spiritual ego" as the basis for one's clinging and rationalization for remaining in a state of self-deception. In his groundbreaking book, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, he spoke directly of the potential dangers and distortions that could occur when walking the spiritual path, as well as the means of transforming these experiences by cutting through our confusion, spiritual pride, and concepts, and uncovering the awakened state. The timely appearance of Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism benefited not only the new Tibetan Buddhists in the West, but also the practitioners of many other Buddhist traditions.

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche later introduced the Shambhala teachings, which were his mind terma, and the culture of the Great Eastern Sun. This cycle of teachings, presented from a more secular perspective, proclaims the message of human dignity and basic goodness. It offers a vision of enlightened society based on unwavering gentleness and an appreciation of oneself and the natural sacredness of the world. From this perspective, the bravest warrior is the one who is most open to others and most sensitive to the tenderness and sadness of his or her own heart. The wisdom of the Great Eastern Sun, which illuminates every aspect of our human experience, says, "Cheer up, sweetheart," as Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche often expressed it.

Some of his students have described to me how they began to assimilate the message of this "new" transmission, based on the principles of warriorship found in many ancient cultures. More than anything, they understood the qualities of dignity, gentleness, and fearlessness by simply observing Trungpa Rinpoche. "His very being," one said to me, "was a full-blown manifestation of celebration and confidence." This kind of confidence and bravery transforms situations; it is an antidote to aggression and depression. It makes our world and our minds workable.

Who Was Chogyam Trungpa?

Chokyi Gyamtso-"Chogyam" in its shortened form-Trungpa Rinpoche (1939-1987) was recognized by the sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa as the eleventh descendent in the line of Trungpa incarnations, an important teacher of the Kagyu lineage, one of the four main schools of Buddhism of Tibet. In addition to being a key master within the Kagyu lineage, Chogyam Trungpa also received training and transmissions of the Nyingma school, the oldest of the four schools, and was an adherent of the Ri-me (nonsectarian) ecumenical movement within Tibetan Buddhism. From this we can see that the penetrating wisdom inherited by Trungpa Rinpoche came from the Kagyu and Nyingma lineages of Tibetan Buddhism. He studied with many great masters of these two lineages, and his principal teachers were Shechen Kongtrul and Khenpo Gangshar Rinpoche.

The origin of the special lineage of Trungpa Rinpoche traces back to the most renowned Indian mahasiddha, Tilopa. A great Kagyu yogi in fourteenth-century Tibet named Trung Ma-se, or Ma-se Tokden, held the ear-whispered lineage of the Nine Cycles of the Formless Dakinis, a cycle of teachings that came directly from Tilopa. Trung Ma-se received these secret teachings from the fifth Kannapa, Deshin Shekpa, and he passed this lineage down to Kunga Gyaltsen, later to be known as the first Trungpa Tulku.

As prophesied by the fifth Karmapa, Ma-se established the first monastery, which came to be known as the Surmang Namgyal Tse, and later his student Trungpa established the Surmang Dutsi Tel Monastery. The ear-whispered lineage of the dakinis is to be passed to only one student at a time, and this lineage continues until this day. It is now known as the ear-whispered lineage of the Surmang.

Successive incarnations of the Trungpa Tulkus continued to be remarkable masters of the Kagyu lineage, and through continuing this wisdom tradition, they benefited many people in this world. The tenth Trungpa, Chokyi Nyinche, became one of the principal disciples of Jamgon Kongtrul the Great, who was the cofounder of the nonsectarian movement in Tibet. Through this and other sources, Trungpa Rinpoche became the holder of various other traditions, especially the Dzogchen lineage of the Nyingma school.

As taught in the Buddhist scriptures, there are nine qualities of a perfect master of buddhadharma. The eleventh Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche possessed all nine of these. He first went through the rigorous trainings of studying the dharma, contemplating its meanings, and finally engaging in meditation to attain the complete realization of what the Buddha taught as the true nature of the world. He also accomplished the three inner qualities of tantric discipline, was well versed in Buddhist scholarship, and possessed the tender heart of compassion. For the benefit of others, he was fully equipped with the ocean of wisdom to teach and show the genuine path, to cut through wrong views and doubts with great skill, and to compose many treatises.

Contemporary Activities

The eleventh Trungpa Tulku, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, was forced into exile by the communist Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1959, and he made the perilous journey over the Himalayas to India on horseback and on foot. In the early 1960s, Trungpa Rinpoche served as the spiritual adviser for the Young Lamas Home School in Dalhousie, India, as appointed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

It was with the encouragement of His Holiness Karmapa that Trungpa Rinpoche began his travels in the West. In 1963, he moved to England to study comparative religion, philosophy, and fine arts under a Spaulding Fellowship at Oxford University. During this time, he founded meditation groups in England and established in Scotland one of the first Tibetan Buddhist meditation centers in the West. He became the first Tibetan teacher to lecture in English.

Shortly after his move to England, a deeper contemplation on how to truly plant the dharma in the modern-day world and benefit the greatest number of students led Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche to the decision to give up his monastic robes and serve as a lay teacher. In 1970, he married Diana Pybus. This moment of decision is clearly expressed by Trungpa Rinpoche himself in Born in Tibet: "With a sense of further involving myself with the sangha, I determined to give up my monastic vows. More than ever I felt given over to serving the cause of Buddhism."

He moved to the United States, through Canada, and founded his first North American meditation center, Tail of the Tiger (now known as Karma Choling) in Barnet, Vermont. The ancient Buddhist wisdom and practical instructions that Trungpa Rinpoche brought with him found an enthusiastic audience in the America of the 1970s. During this period, he traveled and taught throughout North America. These early seminars, which introduced students to his extraordinarily clear, precise and to-the-point naked wisdom teachings, were later compiled into books, such as Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism and The Myth of Freedom and the Way of Meditation. Throughout his life, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche sought to bring the teachings he had received from the most renowned masters of the East to the largest possible audience in the world. His teachings became one the largest bodies of published works by a single author on Buddhism in English.

In a period of less than two decades, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche made great strides toward accomplishing his goal of establishing a genuine Buddhist tradition in the West. In 1973, he founded Vajradhatu, the umbrella organization for many meditation centers throughout the world; soon after, in 1974, he founded Naropa Institute (now Naropa University), which became the first fully accredited Buddhist-inspired university in North America. He taught thirteen three-month Vajradhatu Seminaries, at which he presented a vast body of three-yana teachings within an intensive meditation practice atmosphere. He also invited great Tibetan Buddhist masters, such as His Holiness the sixteenth Gyalwang Karmapa, to come to the West and offer teachings.

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche passed away in 1987 in Nova Scotia, Canada, and his sacred body was cremated at Karme-Choling. However, his legacy of teachings and his lineage continue. Osel Tendzin (formerly Thomas Rich, 1943-1990), became heir to his Buddhist lineage, having been appointed Vajra Regent in 1976. He was the first Westerner to be acknowledged as a holder of the Kagyu lineage. Sawang Osel Rangdrol Mukpo (now known as Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche), his eldest son, became heir to the Shambhala teachings. In addition to the training received from his father, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche received training from many other Kagyu and Nyingma masters. He is currently head of Shambhala International and leads his students and centers with wisdom and compassion.

The present incarnation of the Trungpa lineage, Chokyi Sengay (Lion of Dharma), lives at Surmang Dutsi Tel Monastery in eastern Tibet. He is currently receiving the traditional training in Buddhist studies and meditation practices. He has yet to visit the West.


Excerpted from Recalling Chogyam Trungpa Copyright © 2005 by Fabrice Midal. Excerpted by permission.
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