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Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche (Wylie: Chos rgyam Drung pa; February 28, 1939 – April 4, 1987) was a Buddhist meditation master and holder of both the Kagyu and Nyingma lineages, the eleventh Trungpa tülku, a tertön, supreme abbot of the Surmang monasteries, scholar, teacher, poet, artist,
Recognized both by Tibetan Buddhists and by other spiritual practitioners and scholars as a preeminent teacher of Tibetan Buddhism, he was a major, albeit controversial, figure in the dissemination of Tibetan Buddhism to the West, founding Vajradhatu and Naropa University and establishing the Shambhala Training method.
Among his contributions are the translation of a large number of Tibetan texts, the introduction of the Vajrayana teachings to the West, and a presentation of the Buddhadharma largely devoid of ethnic trappings.
Regarded as a mahasiddha by many senior lamas, he is seen as having embodied the crazy wisdom tradition (Tib. yeshe chölwa) of Tibetan Buddhism. Some of his teaching methods and actions were the topic of controversy during his lifetime and afterwards.
Born in the Kham region of Tibet in February 1939, Chögyam Trungpa was eleventh in the line of Trungpa tülkus, important figures in the Kagyu lineage, one of the four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism.
The name Chögyam is a contraction of Chökyi Gyamtso (Tibetan: ཆོས་ཀྱི་རྒྱ་མཚོ་, Wylie: Chos-kyi Rgya-mtsho), which means "ocean of dharma". Trungpa (Tibetan: དྲུང་པ་, Wylie: Drung-pa) means "attendant".
Chögyam Trungpa was also trained in the Nyingma tradition, the oldest of the four schools, and was an adherent of the ri-mé ("nonsectarian") ecumenical movement within Tibetan Buddhism, which aspired to bring together and make available all the valuable teachings of the different schools, free of sectarian rivalry.
Already installed as the head of the Surmang monasteries in eastern Tibet, Chögyam Trungpa followed the Dalai Lama who fled Tibet during the ultimately unsuccessful 1959 Tibetan uprising against the Chinese communists. He was 20 years old, and he led his own party of monks across the Himalayas on foot and on horseback into India.
Early teachings in the West
In exile in India, Trungpa began his study of English. In 1963, with the assistance of sympathetic westerners, he received a Spalding sponsorship to study Comparative Religion at Oxford University in England.
In 1967 he and Akong Rinpoche were invited by the Johnstone House Trust in Scotland to take over a meditation center on the departure of the western Theravadan monk named Anandabodhi, which then became Samye Ling, the first Tibetan Buddhist monastery in the West.
At this monastery in Scotland, future actor and musician David Bowie was one of Chogyam Trungpa's meditation pupils. In 1970, after a break with his fellow lama Akong Tulku Rinpoche, Trungpa moved to the United States at the invitation of several students.
Shortly after his move to Scotland, a variety of experiences, including a car accident that left him partially paralyzed on the left side of his body, led Trungpa to the decision to give up his monastic vows and work as a lay teacher.
This decision was principally motivated by the intention to undercut the temptation of students becoming distracted by exotic cultures and dress, and by their preconceptions of how a guru should behave.
He drank, smoked, slept with students, and often kept students waiting for hours before giving teachings.
Much of his behavior has been asserted as deliberately provocative and sparked controversies that continue to this day.
Students were often angered, unnerved and intimidated by him, but many remained fiercely loyal, committed, and devoted.
Upon moving to the United States in 1970, Trungpa traveled around North America, gaining renown for his unique ability to present the essence of the highest Buddhist teachings in a form readily understandable to western students.
During this period, he conducted thirteen Vajradhatu Seminaries, three-month residential programs at which he presented a vast body of Buddhist teachings in an atmosphere of intensive meditation practice.
The presentation of these teachings gave rise to some criticism.
According to a former student, Stephen Butterfield, "Trungpa told us that if we ever tried to leave the Vajrayana, we would suffer unbearable, subtle, continuous anguish, and disasters would pursue us like furies" Other Vajrayana teachers, as well, also warn their students about the dangers of the esoteric path.
"a mere cult leaves you disgusted and disillusioned, wondering how you could have been a fool. I did not feel that charlatans had hoodwinked me into giving up my powers to enhance theirs. On the contrary, mine were unveiled.
Meditation and education centers
In 1973, Trungpa established Vajradhatu, encompassing all his North American institutions, headquartered in Boulder, Colorado. Trungpa also founded more than 100 meditation centers throughout the world.
He also founded retreat centers for intensive meditation practice including Shambhala Mountain Center in Red Feather Lakes, CO, Karmê Chöling in Barnet, VT and Gampo Abbey in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.
He had a number of notable students, among whom were Pema Chödrön, Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky, Anne Waldman, Diane di Prima, Peter Lieberson, José Argüelles, David Nichtern, Ken Wilber, David Deida, Francisco Varela, and Joni Mitchell who portrayed Trungpa in the song "Refuge of the Roads" on her 1976 album Hejira. Ginsberg, Waldman, and di Prima were also teachers at Naropa University.
Some important but less well-known students, whom he taught in England and in the USA, were Alf Vial, Rigdzin Shikpo (né Michael Hookham), Jigme Rinzen (né P. Howard Useche), Ezequiel Hernandez who later became known as Keun-Tshen Goba after setting up his first meditation center in Venezuela, Miguel Otaola (aka Dorje Khandro), Francisco Salas Roche, and Francesca Fremantle. Rigdzin Shikpo went on to continue Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche's teachings from a primarily Nyingma rather than a Kagyü point of view in the Longchen Foundation.
In 1976, Trungpa began giving a series of secular teachings, some of which were gathered and presented as the Shambhala Training, inspired by his vision (see terma) of the legendary Kingdom of Shambhala.
It is presented as a path that "brings dignity, confidence, and wisdom to every facet of life." The enlightened society it proposes would be led by himself as sakyong (Tib. earth protector) and his wife as queen-consort or sakyong wangmo.
In Shambhala terms, it is possible, moment by moment, for individuals to establish enlightened society. His book, Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior, provides a concise collection of the Shambhala views.
In addition to making a variety of traditional contemplative practices available to the community, he also incorporated the many already-existing special interests of his students, evolving specialized teachings on how to apply a meditative approach to these various disciplines.
These disciplines included kyūdō (Japanese archery), calligraphy, ikebana (flower arranging), sado (Japanese tea ceremony), dance, theater, film, poetry, as well as health care and psychotherapy. His aim was, in his own words, to bring "art to everyday life."
On September 28, 1986, Trungpa, in failing health due to the auto accident in his youth and to years of heavy alcohol use, suffered cardiac arrest, subsequent to which his condition deteriorated further, requiring intensive care at the hospital,
His wife Diana Mukpo wrote in 2006 that: "Although he had many of the classic health problems that develop from heavy drinking, it was in fact more likely the diabetes and high blood pressure that led to abnormal blood sugar levels and then the cardiac arrest".
However, when asked in a November 2008 interview, "What was he ill with? What did he die of?," his doctor Mitchell Levy replied, "He had chronic liver disease related to his alcohol intake over many years."
One of his nursing attendants reports that in his last months, he suffered from the classic symptoms of terminal alcoholism and cirrhosis, yet continued drinking heavily.
Continuation of the Shambhala lineage
Upon the death of Chögyam Trungpa, the leadership of Vajradhatu was first carried on by his American disciple, appointed regent and Dharma heir, Ösel Tendzin (Thomas Rich), and then by Trungpa's eldest son and Shambhala heir, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche.
In 1974, Trungpa invited the Karmapa, head of the Karma Kagyu lineage, to come to the west and offer teachings. Based on this visit, the Karmapa proclaimed Trungpa to be one of the principal Kagyu lineage holders in the west:
- The ancient and renowned lineage of the Trungpas, since the great siddha Trungmase Chökyi Gyamtso Lodrö, possessor of only holy activity, has in every generation given rise to great beings.
Awakened by the vision of these predecessors in the lineage, this my present lineage holder, Chökyi Gyamtso Trungpa Rinpoche, supreme incarnate being, has magnificently carried out the vajra holders discipline in the land of America, bringing about the liberation of students and ripening them in the dharma.
- Accordingly, I empower Chögyam Trungpa Vajra Holder and Possessor of the Victory Banner of the Practice Lineage of the Karma Kagyu. Let this be recognized by all people of both elevated and ordinary station.
Of Trungpa, he later wrote, "Exceptional as one of the first Tibetan lamas to become fully assimilated into Western culture, he made a powerful contribution to revealing the Tibetan approach to inner peace in the West."
The Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche said, "As taught in the Buddhist scriptures, there are nine qualities of a perfect master of buddhadharma. The eleventh Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche possessed all nine of these."
Suzuki Roshi, founder of the San Francisco Zen Center and Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, and another important exponent of Buddhism to western students, described Trungpa Rinpoche in the context of a talk about emptiness:
- The way you can struggle with this is to be supported by something, something you don't know. As we are human beings, there must be that kind of feeling. You must feel it in this city or building or community. So whatever community it may be, it is necessary for it to have this kind of spiritual support.
You may criticize him because he drinks alcohol like I drink water, but that is a minor problem. He trusts you completely. He knows that if he is always supporting you in a true sense you will not criticize him, whatever he does.
- He was a great Tibetan yogi, a friend, and a master. The more I deal with Western Dharma students, the more I appreciate how he presented the dharma and the activities that he taught.
Whenever I meet with difficulties, I begin to understand – sometimes before solving the problem, sometimes afterward – why Trungpa Rinpoche did some unconventional things.
Diana Mukpo, his wife, stated:
- First, Rinpoche always wanted feedback. He very, very much encouraged his students’ critical intelligence.
He definitely was not one of those teachers who asked for obedience and wanted their students not to think for themselves. He thrived, he lived, on the intelligence of his students. That is how he built his entire teaching situation.
- From my perspective, I could always be pretty direct with him. Maybe I was not hesitant to do that because I really trusted the unconditional nature of our relationship. I felt there was really nothing to lose by being absolutely direct with him, and he appreciated that.
As the third Jamgön Kongtrül explained in a teaching given to students of Chögyam Trungpa, "You shouldn't imitate or judge the behavior of your teacher, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, unless you can imitate his mind."
However, she said had she known that Trungpa began having sexual relations with women at age thirteen, she would not have declined, considering that in the higher stages of Tibetan Buddhist tantra, sexual relations (especially with tertöns) are a means of enhancing spiritual insights. Trungpa formally renounced his monastic vows in 1969.
While his companion was not seriously injured, Trungpa was left partially paralyzed. Later, he described this event as a pivotal moment which inspired the course of his teachings. Some accounts ascribe the accident to drinking. Others suggest he may have had a stroke. According to Trungpa himself, he blacked out.
He often combined drinking with teaching.
Trungpa walked in tipsy and sat on the edge of the altar platform with his feet dangling. But he delivered a crystal-clear talk, which some felt had a quality – like Suzuki's talks – of not only being about the dharma but being itself the dharma."
However, in some instances, he was too drunk to walk, and had to be carried. Also, according to the Steinbecks, on a couple of occasions his speech was unintelligible. One woman reported serving him "big glasses of gin first thing in the morning."
Two former students of Trungpa, John Steinbeck IV and his wife, wrote a sharply critical memoir of their lives with him in which they claim that, in addition to alcohol, Trungpa used $40,000 a year worth of cocaine, and used Seconal to come down from the cocaine.
An incident that became a cause célèbre among some poets and artists was the Halloween party at the Snowmass Colorado Seminary in the fall of 1975, held during a 3-month period of intensive meditation and study of the Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana vehicles of Tibetan Buddhism.
Although he had not gone through the several years' worth of study and preparatory mind training required, Merwin was insistent he attend, and Trungpa eventually granted his request – along with his girlfriend as well.
At seminary the couple stayed to themselves.
On Trungpa's orders, his Vajra Guard forced entry into the poet's locked and barricaded room; brought him and his girlfriend, Dana Naone, against their will, to the party; and eventually stripped them of all their clothes, with onlookers ignoring Naone's pleas for help and for someone to call the police.
The next day Trungpa asked Merwin and Naone to remain at the Seminary as either students or guests.
They agreed to stay for several more weeks to hear the Vajrayana teachings, with Trungpa's promise that "there would be no more incidents," and Merwin and Naone's assertion that "it would be with no guarantees of obedience, trust, or personal devotion to him."
- My feelings about Trungpa have been mixed from the start. Admiration, throughout, for his remarkable gifts;
and reservations, which developed into profound misgivings, concerning some of his uses of them. I imagine, at least, that I've learned some things from him (though maybe not all of them were the things I was 'supposed' to learn) and some through him, and I'm grateful to him for those.
I wouldn't encourage anyone to become a student of his. I wish him well.
Author Jeffery Paine commented on this incident that "[s]eeing Merwin out of step with the rest, Trungpa could have asked him to leave, but decided it was kinder to shock him out of his aloofness."
However, he also notes the outrage felt in particular by poets such as Robert Bly and Kenneth Rexroth, who began calling Trungpa a fascist.
1963–67: Attends Oxford University on a Spaulding scholarship, studying comparative religion, philosophy, and fine arts. Receives instructor's degree of the Sogetsu School of ikebana (Japanese flower arrangement)
Conducts first annual Vajradhatu Seminary, a three-month advanced practice and study program.
Founds The Naropa Institute, a contemplative studies and liberal arts college, now fully accredited as Naropa University. Forms the organization that will become the Dorje Kasung, a service group entrusted with the protection of the buddhist teachings and the welfare of the community.
Establishes the celebration of Shambhala Day.
Conducts the first annual Kalapa Assembly, an intensive training program for advanced Shambhala teachings and practices. Conducts the first Dharma Art seminar. Forms Amara, an association of health professionals.
Forms Ryuko Kyūdōjō to promote the practice of Kyūdō under the direction of [Shibata Kanjuro]] Sensei, bow maker to the Emperor of Japan. Directs a film, Discovering Elegance, using footage of his environmental installation and flower arranging exhibitions.
1983: Establishes Gampo Abbey, a Karma Kagyü monastery located in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, for Western students wishing to enter into traditional monastic discipline. Creates a series of elocution exercises to promote precision and mindfulness of speech.
1987: Dies of an alcohol-related illness, April 4, in Halifax; cremated May 26 at Karmê Chöling. (His followers have constructed a chorten or stupa, the The Great Stupa of Dharmakaya, located near Red Feather Lakes, Colorado, for his remains.) 1989: The child recognized as his reincarnation, Chokyi Sengay, is born in Derge, Tibet; recognized two years later by Tai Situ Rinpoche.
- Born in Tibet (1966), autobiography, story of escaping from Tibet.
- Meditation in Action (1969)
- Mudra (1972)
- Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism (1973)
- The Dawn of Tantra, by Herbert V. Guenther and Chögyam Trungpa (1975)
- Glimpses of Abhidharma (1975)
- The Tibetan Book of the Dead: The Great Liberation through Hearing in the Bardo, translated with commentary by Francesca Fremantle and Chögyam Trungpa (1975)
- The Myth of Freedom and the Way of Meditation (1976)
- The Rain of Wisdom (1980)
- Journey without Goal: The Tantric Wisdom of the Buddha (1981)
- The Life of Marpa the Translator (1982)
- First Thought Best Thought: 108 Poems (1983)
- Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior (1984)
- Crazy Wisdom (1991)
- The Heart of the Buddha (1991)
- Orderly Chaos: The Mandala Principle (1991)
- Secret Beyond Thought: The Five Chakras and the Four Karmas (1991)
- The Lion's Roar: An Introduction to Tantra (1992)
- Transcending Madness: The Experience of the Six Bardos (1992)
- Training the Mind and Cultivating Loving Kindness (1993)
- Glimpses of Shunyata (1993)
- The Art of Calligraphy: Joining Heaven and Earth (1994)
- Illusion's Game: The Life and Teaching of Naropa (1994)
- The Path Is the Goal: A Basic Handbook of Buddhist Meditation (1995)
- Dharma Art (1996)
- Timely Rain: Selected Poetry of Chögyam Trungpa (1998)
- Great Eastern Sun: The Wisdom of Shambhala (1999)
- Glimpses of Space: The Feminine Principle and Evam (1999)
- The Essential Chögyam Trungpa (2000)
- Glimpses of Mahayana (2001)
- Glimpses of Realization (2003)
- The Collected Works of Chögyam Trungpa, Volumes One through Eight (2003)
- True Command: The Teachings of the Dorje Kasung, Volume I, The Town Talks (2004)
- The Sanity We Are Born With: A Buddhist Approach to Psychology (2005)
- The Teacup & the Skullcup: Chogyam Trungpa on Zen and Tantra (2007)