Yonnetti Flashes of Insight 2012
Flashes of Insight:
The Journey of Chögyam Trungpa
Faculty Supervisor Dr. James Harrison
Capstone, Hist 499
Throughout this paper, the term ‘Buddhist,’ unless otherwise mentioned, will be used specifically to denote those groups which follow or derive the majority of their practices and teachings from the Tibetan Buddhist traditions.
Terminology will be given in its commonly written form in italics and again in parenthesis after a term’s first appearance in Wylie transliteration – the most commonly accepted Tibetan transliteration scheme. At the conclusion of this paper, there is a glossary with greater detail on the meaning of various terms, as well as their Tibetan spelling.
Table of Contents
I. Introduction........................................................................................................................................................... 3
II. Chögyam Trungpa: Childhood, Education, and Journey West.......... 7
Childhood and Monastic Education.................................................................................................................. 7
Journey West and Studies at Oxford................................................................................................................... 9
Crashing, Disrobing, and Falling Out............................................................................................................ 11
Trungpa the Tertön and the Sadhana of Mahamudra......................................................................... 14
Here Comes Chögyam: Marriage and Move to America...................................................................... 16
III. From First Contact to Fame: Trungpa’s Assessment of America and Popularization........................................................................................................................................................ 17
Spiritual Materialism and Trungpa’s Teachings...................................................................................... 24
Art in Everyday Life...................................................................................................................................................... 24
Victory over War............................................................................................................................................................ 25
Enlightened Society........................................................................................................................................................ 26
Just Sit... Then Sit More.............................................................................................................................................. 27
Basic Goodness................................................................................................................................................................. 27
Charnel Ground............................................................................................................................................................... 28
Spiritual Materialism.................................................................................................................................................... 29
The True Purpose of a Guru....................................................................................................................................... 30
IV. Institutionalization: Vajradhatu International and the Counter Culture ‘Grows Up’......................................................................................................................................................................... 32
V. Beyond the Guru: Vajradhatu International and Trungpa’s Death 36
VI. Conclusion: Trungpa Today and Shambhala International........ 41
The period following World War II was one of intense cultural and spiritual reevaluation in America. While on the surface,the 1950s were a period of great material prosperity and near idyllic conditions for some, for many the shining façade hid a hollow core of religious values that had lost their relevance in addressing and responding to life experiences in the contemporary world. The morals and values of Protestant and scientific beliefs, which had longplayed significant roles governing American society, religion, and social discourse since the founding of the nation were seen by many in the post-war era as broken and no longer able to cope with existence in a militarized, globalized, and industrialized world. At a time when the world seemed driven by materialism, visual imagery, and other external means of expression, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche offered a remedy.
In 1971, Trungpa came to the United States as a virtually unknown figure, from a Tibetan Buddhist tradition equally unheard of. By 1987, when he died in Halifax, Nova Scotia, he had founded more than one hundred meditation centers, given thousands of lectures, established the first accredited Buddhist university in America, and written more than fifteen books. What is more, through his particular skill in redefining traditional Buddhist concepts and teachings for a modern American audience, Trungpa transplanted the seeds of the Buddha’s teachings in America in a unique way that made them all the more fertile. As one of Trungpa’s senior students, James Gimian, describes, Trungpa“was able to transmit the essence of the traditional teachings in language, forms, and institutions that made them intimately accessible to a contemporary audience.” Fellow Trungpa student, Larry Mermelstein concurs, noting, “Trungpa Rinpoche spoke our language.” Chögyam Trungpa combined years of intense Buddhist training as a child, his time at Oxford and mastery of English, and his understanding of American culture, to do in ten years what had taken nearly five hundred in India and Tibet.
Almost single-handedly, Trungpa is responsible for bringing Tibetan Buddhism from obscurity and romantic ideals of Shangri-la, to its place firmly embedded in the lives of thousands of Americans. Trungpa’s emphasis onthe necessity of reflective contemplation, to cut through spiritual materialism, and universal Basic Goodness were his greatest impacts on American religious culture. This paper will examine Chögyam Trungpa’s contributions to the establishment of Tibetan Buddhism in American religious culture. Specifically, it will consider Trungpa’s presentation of Tibetan Buddhism to an American audience, its popularization, and its subsequent institutionalization through an examination of Trungpa’s teachings and personal recollections from his students, peers, and friends.
Social upheaval inthe late 1950s, 60s, and 70s revealed numerous issues that brewed beneath the superficial, cheery façade of the 1950s. The Beat Generation, the Counter Culture Movement, the Civil Rights Movement, Hippies, and the Anti-War Movement were all responses to underlying dissatisfactions and were social expressions in the massiveprocess of reevaluating American culture. Among the primary concerns for many of these cultural movers were religion and spirituality. Marked by widespread dissatisfaction, hopelessness, and restlessness, the post-war era saw a decrease in traditional religious practices as an intense yearning for a new spirituality roseamong a large number of Americans,especially middle-class young adults. During this spiritual renaissance, the drive for a new inner-life was answered, for many, by the reinterpretation of Tibetan Buddhist teachings. These were expressed in explorations and interactions by prominent counter cultural and religious figures, and by recently arrived Tibetan masters.
Following the invasion of Tibet by the People’s Republic of China in 1950, a large number of Tibetans fled their homeland for refuge in exile. The exodus climaxed in 1959 with the escape of many Tibetan secular and religious leaders to India, including His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Along with the Tibetan diaspora, came the first significant encounter between Tibet and America. With this, many Americans were introduced to Tibetan Buddhism for the first time. Tibet remained shrouded in mystery and unknown to most Americans even until the 1970s, recounted mostly in fanciful comics, novels by Alexandra David-Neel, and books by Lama Govinda. By 1980, however, Tibetan Buddhism had been ushered into mainstream American religious culture.The changes driven by the teachings of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche marked the major establishment of Buddhist teachings in American soil and, for the first time, their widespread accessibility forthe American people.
Despite the widespread availability of Trungpa’s books across the nation, religious scholars have written little about him. Works that deal with his role in the introduction of Tibetan Buddhism to American spirituality, such as Jeffrey Paine’s Re-Enchantment, survey Tibetan Buddhism’s transplantation to the West as a whole but do not devote significant space or attention to Trungpa in particular. On the other hand, works such as Westward Dharma,edited by Martin Baumann and Charles S. Prebish, and Richard Seager’s Buddhism in America focus more on Trungpa’s legacy through the history and thestructure of his institution, rather than focusing on his teachings and their effect on spiritual seekers in the larger context of American religious re-evaluation.
As a teacher, Trungpa did not emerge bychance.Rather, he came at a time when many Americans were spiritually lost, either within their own religious tradition or estranged and in search of a new religion. Trungpa’s unique re-working of Buddhist teachings and focus on the contemplative aspects of spirituality, combating spiritual materialism, and realizing people’s Basic Goodness provided many Americans a much sought after elixir to Western materialism, political and social turmoil, and hollow spirituality. Today, in a world where similar existential questions are asked in the face of a commercialized, consumer, visual, and increasingly virtual culture, these teachings retain their relevancy.
On February 28th, 1939, a rainbow arched over a small village in Kham, eastern Tibet: an auspicious symbol to announce the birth of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Further, all the relatives of Trungpa’s mother reported having the same dream the previous night: that a lama had entered a nomad’s tent. Eighteen months later, a delegation from Surmang monastery (Wylie: zur mang dgon pa) arrived in the village in disguise to test if they had finally found the one for which they were looking, the eleventh reincarnation of their spiritual leader Trungpa Rinpoche. Passing all the tests, Trungpa was enthroned in Surmang Monastery to begin his training as a tulku, or reincarnate lama.
Trungpa’s eighteen-year training in the history, philosophy, and practice of Buddhism was incredibly demanding. At eight-years-old, he received his ordination as a novice monk and embarked on his first month-long retreat. At twelve, he completed the initial practices required for further study, including one hundred thousand prostrations, mantra recitations, and mandala offerings, and professions of refuge. As a tulku in the Kagyüpa (Wylie: bka' brgyud pa) lineage, known also as the “practice school,” his training particularly focused on intensive practice, as well as the traditional monastic disciplines of Buddhist philosophy, debate, ritual, poetry, calligraphy, and lama dance. His primary teachers, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (1910-1991), Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche (1902-1952), and Khenpo Gangshar Wangpo (1925-?), were legendary and represented both the Kagyüpa and Nyingmapa (Wylie: nying ma pa) schools. These three and others, rigorously schooled Trungpa in more than one thousand years of Buddhist knowledge. Finally, at the age of eighteen, Trungpa completed his formal education, receiving his Khenpo (Doctor of Divinity Studies) degree.
In Trungpa’s early education, the influences are important to note for their later impact on his teachings in America. These allowed Trungpa to later make Buddhism relatable and relevant in the American context. First, the ri may tradition, which was taught to Trungpa by one of his primary tutors, Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche. Ri may(Wylie: ris med), is a non-sectarian movement in Buddhism that aims to bring together and make available the teachings of all the various Buddhist schools in an atmosphere free of sectarian rivalry. Thus, Trungpa not only learned the Nyingmapa and Kagyüpa Buddhist traditions of his teachers, but also embraced an attitude of openness, incorporating the teachings and practices of many other lineages.
Second, Trungpa was influenced by Crazy Wisdom teachings from his teacher Khenpo Gangshar Wangpo. Khenpo Gangshar who was known for his unconventional and outrageous behavior, such as engaging in sexual relations and drinking, activities normally forbidden to a monk. Some Buddhist teachers embrace the idea of Crazy Wisdom, employing outlandish behavior as a skillful means to jolt individuals into overcoming their mental hang-ups and realizing a non-dualistic view of reality. Another famous example of such a teacher is Drukpa Kunley (1455-1529), also known as the Divine Madman.He is remembered for having helped a large number of people realize Enlightenment by destroying their inhibitions regarding sexual activity. Today, he is commonly considered the patron saint of the Kingdom of Bhutan. Judging by Trungpa’s later actions in the United Kingdom and the United States, exposure and education in this tradition of drub nyon, which Trungpa later translated as “Crazy Wisdom,” had a significant effect on his views regarding the roles, responsibilities, and behavior of a teacher or guru.
Thirdly, at the age of six, Trungpa Rinpoche was recognized as a tertön (Wylie: gter ston), or “treasure finder,” and began to discover terma (Wylie: gter ma).Tertöns are believed to uncover secret teachings texts, terma, when the time is ripe in order to address particular issues in Buddhist practice or the world. According to Lama Yönten Gyamtso, an early teacher and aid of Trungpa who accompanied him to India, Trungpa would often sit with his good friend Ugyen Tendzin (another reincarnate lama), and his senior philosophy teacher. Trungpa decoded terma orally while Ugyen Tendzin wrote them down.While these texts were thought to be lost after Trungpa fled to India, as of 2003 Trungpa’s nephew had recovered more than four hundred pages. It is believed that Trungpa may have composed upwards of one thousand. Trungpa’s discovery of terma continued after he left Tibet, most notably with the discovery of the Sadhana of Mahamudra.
In 1959, when Trungpa was just twenty-years-old,the Chinese military initiated a violent crackdown in Tibet, especially against religious institutions, which caused a large number of Tibetans to flee into exile. Trungpa was among these individuals, and arrived in India after a terrifying and difficult several month escape. After his arrival, Trungpa came under the care of Freda Bedi, a British woman who after meeting her future husband at Oxford, married, and returned with himto his native India. There, she worked for the Central Social Welfare Board for the Indian government. Bedi helped Trungpa find his first English tutor, a fellow Oxford graduate named John Driver, and remarked later that Trungpa had exhibited not only skill in learning the English language from his tutor, but also “a remarkable ability to encounter and absorb the culture of the West.” Bedi also worked with Trungpa at the Young Lama’s School in New Delhi, where she was the principle and he the spiritual advisor from 1959 until 1963. It is highly probable that Bedi and Driver, with their Oxford connections, encouraged Trungpa to apply for a Spaulding Fellowship in 1964 to attend Oxford University.
In England, Trungpa was first immersed inWestern culture. He attended Oxford, where he studied comparative religion, and Western philosophy. Additionally, Trungpa nurtured his artistic interests, taking oil painting, calligraphy, and earned an instructors degree from the Sogetsu School of Ikebana, an institution for Japanese flower arranging. Trungpa was surprised by the deep and rich cultural history of the West and consumed it voraciously. He spent many days in museums staring at Medieval and Japanese art, and evenings in lectures on assorted philosophical topics. Trungpa also contacted the London Buddhist Society, founded in 1924, and spoke on numerous occasions at their meetings. Still, he was slightly disappointed with this group, noting that it was an “elderly organization more concerned with its form than its function as Buddhists.”
In 1967, Trungpa and several other Tibetans were invited to live in Scotland on land recently purchased by a small Buddhist community. This was a significant opportunity for Trungpa to teach interested students in an organized and supportive environment, and thus, he eagerly accepted the offer. This community was named Samye Ling and became the earliest Tibetan Buddhist practice center in Europe.
For a time, Trungpa commuted from his residence at Samye Ling to Oxford, where he continued his education and exploration of European culture. However,Trungpa also explored less praised aspects of British culture. As Jeffrey Paine notes, Trungpa entered a “no-holds bared encounter with the West.” Paine continues, “If degrees were given in the ‘good life,’ Western version, Trungpa would have earned his Ph.D overnight.”
At this point, it is necessary to discuss Trungpa’s reasons and motivation for journeying to the West. Educated as a reincarnate lama, Trungpa was raised to teach selflessly, to strive until all sentient beings achieve perfect Enlightenment, or an awakened, blissful, and peaceful state. Therefore, it was no question that Trungpa would continue to teach once he left Tibet and India. While traditionally Trungpa would have educated mostly monastics and received laypersons in devotional settings, in the West, he was thrust into both a different context and new problems. With a predominantly lay audience, largely unexposed and ignorant of Buddhist teachings, the traditional norms regarding student-teacher relationship were defunct. In the role of the guru in a non-Buddhist context, Trungpa had to seriously re-evaluate his teaching style.
For several years, Trungpa and other Tibetans who had journeyed with him to the United Kingdomtaught in the traditional manner, mostly through explanations of Buddhist doctrines and answering questions from individual students in private sessions. Nevertheless, it was not long before Trungpa became frustrated with his new students. According to Boyce, Trungpa often felt in his maroon monastic robes and high throne that he was “like a piece of Asian statuary uprooted from its sacred context and set on display at the British museum.” Instead of listening and earnestly striving to incorporate Trungpa’s advice into their own spiritual practices, students came starry-eyed and full of awe. In their romanticization of him, Trungpa’s students put him on the pedestal of a god-like savior, rather than a human being. Not only did this distort the guru-student relationship, it also createdbarriers in Trungpa’s ability to communicate with his students.
In 1968, Trungpa blacked out while driving, presumably drunk, in Northumberland and crashed through the front window of a joke shop. He was slow to recover from hisserious injuries, and remained partially paralyzed on the left side of his body for the rest of his life. Nevertheless, Trungpa was convinced that this crash had been a sign to significantly readjust his teachings in order to more completely connect with his students. “In spite of the pain,” he later recalled, “My mind was very clear; there was a strong sense of communication – finally the real message had gotten through – and I felt a sense of relief and even humor.” To the shock of many of his students and Tibetan colleagues, Trungpa decided to renounce his monastic vows and robes. Many were appalled and interpreted Trungpa’s decision as akin to abandoning Buddhism altogether. Trungpa, on the other hand, reasoned that instead of increasing his ability to communicate with students, his robes had only acted as impediments that fueled student’s romantic notions of spirituality.
Trungpa felt he was left with no other choice than to get off his high seat and come down to the level of his students. This was the beginning of an important component in Trungpa’s teachings, namely, to break down romantic notions of what a spiritual teacher is.He did not want to be a savior for his students. Rather, he aimed to help them stop searching externally for salvation and to realize that the only ones who could save them was themselves.
Trungpa issued a lengthy statement to his students and fellow Tibetans in which he explained his decision to disrobe. He did not renounce his vows outof selfish or self-indulgent purposes, he claimed, but rather for the benefit of his students and his relationship to the Buddhist community. Reflecting on the accident and his decision, he wrote:
When plunging completely and genuinely into the teachings, one is not allowed to bring along one’s deceptions. I realized that I could no longer attempt to preserve any privacy for myself, and special identity or legitimacy. I should not be able to hide behind the robes of a monk, creating an impression of inscrutability which, for me, turned out to be only an obstacle. With a sense of further involving myself with the Sangha (Buddhist community), I determined to give up my monastic vows. More than ever, I felt myself given over to serving the cause of Buddhism.
On the other hand, some have suggested that Trungpa may have only been justifying breaking his monastic precepts, which he had done well before he publically renounced them. He began to drink heavily and engage in sexual relationships even before his arrival in England. For example, Trungpa’s first son Ösel Randöl Mukpo, was born in India in 1962 to a Tibetan nun, later referred to as Lady Könchok Palden. While Trungpa’s Tibetan colleagues attempted to keep his activities secret, Trungpa did not desire such a cover up. Rather, he sought to be transparent in his attempt at an honest relationship with all of his students. Regardless of his reasons, Trungpa’s decision to disrobe was an important turning point in his life. Shortly after, Trungpa left the United Kingdom for the United States.
Before his automobile accident, Trungpa made a journey in 1968 to India and Bhutan that would both change his life and the way he approached teaching Buddhism. Queen Ashi Kesang Choden Wangchuck invited him to come for retreat and to teach in the Kingdom of Bhutan.Trungpa had tutored her son, the 4th King Jigme Singye Wangchuk, while a student at Ascot, and both Trungpa and his teachers had good relations with the royal family.
Before arriving in Bhutan, Trungpa went to Sikkim, India, where he spent some time with H.H. the 16th Karmapa at his monastery in Rumtek. While there, Trungpa and an English student, Richard Arthure who accompanied him on this journey, received the empowerment for the Karma Pakshi practice. In Bhutan, Trungpa met another of his early teachers, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, who empowered Trungpa and Arthure in the practice of Dorje Drölo. Both of these empowerments proved incredibly important in the primary purpose of Trungpa’s trip to Bhutan: a retreat at the great monastery of Taktsang (Wylie: stag tshang). They were also necessary, it seems, in Trungpa’s unexpected discovery of the terma while on retreat there.
For the first several days of Trungpa’s retreat, he felt no spiritual experience. Trungpa later recalled, “Being at Taktsang was rather ordinary at first. Nothing happened; it just looked like another mountain range.” However, after a week or so Trungpa noticed that something began to arise within him. At first it was only a feeling. He stated, “That place had a very powerful nature; you had a feeling of complete empty-heartedness once you began to click into that atmosphere.” Then, the terma began to come to him first as only one line, and then very quickly it evolved into much more. Regarding the writing of this terma, which became the Sadhana of Mahamudra, Trungpa notes, “There is a feeling at Taktsang of austerity and pride, and some sense of wildness, which goes beyond the practicing lineage alone. When I started to feel that, the sadhana just came through without any problems.” He continues, “During the writing of the sadhana I didn’t particularly have to think of the next line or what to say about the whole thing; everything just came through very simply and naturally.”
It took Trungpa only about five hours to compose the twenty-four page text and almost immediately, with Arthure’s help, he began its English translation to use with his students in the UK. The only part Trungpa claimed credit for penning was the poem of thanks and dedication for the benefit of all beings at the conclusion of the text. The rest was, he claimed, revealed to Trungpa through his mind.
This particular sadhana is of importance for two primary reasons. Firstly, it combined the Crazy Wisdomtradition of the Nyingmapa lineage, as embodied in Dorje Drölo with the devotion and practice of the Kagyüpa lineage, embodied in Karma Pakshi. Thus, the two empowerments that Trungpa received before his retreat were combined and interwoven into one single text and practice. Secondly, the Sadhana of Mahamudra became one of the basic and most quintessential expressions of Trungpa’s teachings. Trungpa began to teach it immediately upon his return to England and had his students recite the text on every new and full moon day, a tradition still followed in Shambhala Centers around the world. In this sadhana Trungpa saw a means of rectifying thedecay of spirituality, whichhe felt was widely present among both Tibetans and his European and American students. It is indeed from this text that a large number of his teachings would come.
After Trungpa returned from his retreat in Bhutan, he became the first Tibetan to receive citizenship of the United Kingdom. For a time after he returned to Samye Ling, Trungpa did nothing. He later recalled, “I went through several months of ambivalence, of feeling pushed forward and pulled back simultaneously.” Carolyn Gimian compares this period in Trungpa’s life to the time it is said between the historical Buddha’s Enlightenment and his first teaching, a very pregnant pause.
After Trungpa’s automobile accident, his fellow Tibetans described his decision to disrobe as betraying both his religion and his country in its greatest hour of need and demonstrating Trungpa’s ‘pollution’ and immorality. For nearly a year Trungpa was censured by his colleagues and allowed very little contact with students. Trungpa explained that “the monk’s robe confused many here as a glorious image of spirituality. However, my teaching concerns actual experience. I don’t feel I need to hide behind something.” Nevertheless, the other Tibetans did not see it as such. Not allowed to teach, Trungpa entered a dark period. His wife later recalled, “(Trungpa) felt that his only reason for existence was to present the Buddhist teachings and at this point he couldn’t.”
On January 3, 1970, Trungpa took what must have seemed to many as an unexpected move by marrying the sixteen year-old Diana Pybus in Edinburgh, Scotland. The wedding caused not only a sensation in the British press, but was a significant shock to the Pybus family, Trungpa’s students, and his Tibetan colleagues. While such a pairing may be shocking or even horrifying today, it was not unusual for the time, nor was it coerced or led to regret by Pybus or Trungpa. Pybus remained married to Trungpa and an important force in his life until his death in 1987 and is still a prominent person in the Shambhala community today. Most recently, Pybus recallsin her autobiography Dragon Thunder: My Life with Chögyam Trungpa (2006), “I chose this marriage and this life.” She continues, “In the end, I have no regrets… His life was a tremendous gift: to me personally, to all his students, and beyond that, to all of us in the Western world.”
In January 1970, Trungpa and Pybus (now Diana Mukpo) left for America, by way of Toronto, Canada. The rift between Trungpa and his Tibetan colleagues, most notably Akong Rinpoche, had grown great and Trungpa received word that he would be welcomed to lead a center recently purchased in Barnet, Vermont, by some of Trungpa’s former American students at Samye Ling. Upon arrival, Trungpa christened the center Tail of the Tiger. It was the beginning of the most interesting and fruitful period of Trungpa’s life, a period during which he personally touched thousands of lives and completely rearranged the way Buddhism was interpreted and practiced in the United States of America.
Jeffery Paine calls the 1970s the “God Decade,” an era “rife with religion dabbling and spiritual experimentation,” and when “dharma-hopping from community to community was almost a sport, and it seemed like Buddhist groups came and went faster than franchise restaurants.”, It was a time when spiritual teachers with many different views were numerous and in vogue and the counter culture was hungry for spiritual liberation, a time when “The mythical East was more in fashion than fashion was.” Buddhist scholar Charles Prebish notes that hundreds of Buddhist centers sprang up like wildflowers across America, offering plentiful opportunities for curious or interested Americans “to become temporary ‘dharma-hoppers,’ sampling the cornucopia of Buddhist treats available.” In this spirit, Trungpa later wrote that his first impressions after his arrival in 1970 were of an “undisciplined atmosphere combining the flavors of New York City and the hippies.”
To Americans, Trungpa was not at all what was expected. Unlike his contemporary gurus attracting followers among American youth, Trungpa did not insist on a special vegetarian diet, modest dress, sexual restraint, or lofty morals as prerequisites to realization. In fact, he ate red meat (he had a special affinity for steak), drank, wore business suits, and showed no interest in abstinence. In fact, he often shocked his students and lecture audiences by arriving quite late and escorted on stage by women, drink in hand. These along with being paralyzed on his left side, made Trungpa quite a far cry from the appearance and deportment most people expected from a Tibetan reincarnate teacher. It was shocking, outrageous, and indeed quite often problematic. On the other hand, it shook people out of romanticized ideas of Eastern mystics and aroused their curiosity in this strange Tibetan man. As Samuel Bercholz, founder of Shambhala Publications and a friend to Trungpa notes, he and many other students firmly believed that Trungpa “transcended the ordinary bounds of social convention, sometimes employing outrageously innovative means to encourage others to realize fearlessness, compassion, and ultimately complete Enlightenment.”
Very soon after his arrival, Trungpa succeeded in attracting a large number of followers. He was well preceded by the success of his books Born in Tibet (1966) and Meditation in Action (1969) and his reputation as both shocking and brilliant spread like wildfire. In July 1970, he was invited to teach at the University of Colorado and settled in Boulder. Nevertheless, Trungpa continued to tour and lecture extensively, and formed loosely associated groups in New York City, Boston, Berkeley, and Los Angeles. Trungpa’s large amount of traveling and daily contact with students across the country exposed him to a lot of spiritual seekers and it was from these contacts that he designed most of his teachings.
Trungpa’s strong desire to spread Buddhism in America came from his conviction in the bodhisattva ideal. In Buddhism, the Bodhisattva is a figure who consciously decides to put off their own Enlightenment and escape from cyclical existence in order to continue to abide and work altruistically. Formally, this is done by taking a vow to work ceaselessly for the benefit of all Sentient beings not to achieve Enlightenment until all others have gone before you. Trungpa described the Bodhisattva vow as “settling down and making ourselves at home in this world. We are not concerned that somebody is going to attack us or destroy us. We are constantly exposing ourselves for the benefit of sentient beings.” He continues, “We are even giving up our ambition to attain Enlightenment in favor of relieving suffering and difficulties of people.” Thus, Trungpa was inspired to aid people in their spiritual fulfillment in any way he was able. His largest resource to help others was, of course, his experience in the study and practice of Buddhism.
While many of his students were convinced that America was undergoing a sort of spiritual renaissance, Trungpa thought that America was instead turning into a spiritual supermarket of sorts. Paine notes, “Almost everyone attending Trungpa’s talks had already toured the spiritual bazaar, donned and discarded one self-help and quasi-religion fad for another.” He continues that Trungpa “opposed this quest for salvation; he criticized Americans for using spiritual techniques to become even more egoistically preoccupied with themselves.” It was with this in mind that Trungpa delivered a series of lectures in the fall of 1970 that would serve as the grounds for one of his most important books, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism (1973). Trungpa claimed that most of the religious seekers he came into contact with were actually subverting their spiritual quests to boost their egos, instead of effectively employing these practices to cut through the selfish, individualistic, and priggish egoistic tendencies, the real goal of spiritual practice.
Bhikshuni Tubten Chodron in a 2002 article in Tricycle describes five characteristics of spiritual shoppers, individuals engaged in spiritual materialism. First, spiritual materialists shop around for the best product. Just as in consumer life, they go from place to place, in search of “the best spiritual product to buy.” Spiritual seekers, disregarding preliminary practices, the wisdom and experience of teachers, and seeing themselves as immediately fit for any practice, can go about shopping, as it were, for the practice they think fits themselves best. While not inherently bad, such an attitude ignores structures and pathways that have been in place traditionally to ensure the effectiveness of a given spiritual practice. Instead,practices are viewed out of context and as objects to be used and discarded. This attitude, Trungpa asserts, often has a negative effecton the individual. “You are a spokesman for the doctrine for your own sake; therefore, you have manufactured the truth of the doctrine. So it’s not so much that the doctrine has converted you, but that you have converted the doctrine into your own ego.” Thus, by subconsciously subverting a teaching to strengthen one’s ego, the exact opposite of what is intended is achieved.
Second, while shopping around, spiritual seekers tend to demand instant gratification from the spiritual objects of their search. In order to get ‘more bang for their buck,’ seekers often “expect results with little effort.” Instead of seeing a long-term relationship with a guru or practice, people often expect rapid results after initial engagement. Such expectations of instantaneous gratification are far cries from traditional meditators taking decades to perfect a single practice. They also correspond to the third tendency, namely, to search elsewhere when one practice or guru does not satisfy wishes. While it is true that one size does not fit all in spirituality, it is also true that genuine practices do not bring instant results. For many, if a particular practice or teacher does seem to be ‘working,’ thoughts emerge that the problem must lie with the teacher or practice and not the practitioner. Investing only in practices that brings swift returns as opposed to a longer vision of spiritual growth is a key characteristic of spiritual materialism.
Fourth, spiritual shoppers may expect to purchase their realization. Trungpa cautioned against this approach, noting, “Monetary donations to a spiritual cause, contributions of physical labor, involvement with a particular guru, none of these necessarily mean we have actually committed ourselves to openness.” Donations of time or labor do not equate to more attention from a teacher or higher realization. Similarly, spiritual seekers often collect spiritual items or practices. Bhiksuni Chodron notes that individuals become “connoisseurs of retreat centers,” boast of attending lectures or initiations by famous teachers, and pat themselves on the back for being so sincere while patronizing those with less experience or attendance. Trungpa compared such individuals to antique collectors, interested by far in amassing a large quantity of goods rather than taking the time to deeply value and appreciate each one.
“There are so many different titles to receive,” Trungpa noted, but “Do these names, credentials bring us any real benefit? … Half an hour’s ceremony does not bring us to the next stage of Enlightenment.” Trungpa clearly observed the same materialistic, individualistic, and impatient tendencies within American society as Bhikshuni Chodron. Although this article was written twenty years after Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, it could hardly be argued that the world has become less materialistic or individualistic in the thirty years since.
Additionally, Trungpa warned his students of teachers who were themselves spiritual materialists. As America was so open to exotic gurus, he writes, “It is possible for America to inspire charlatans.” He continues that, “because America is looking so hard for spirituality, religion becomes an easy way to make money and achieve fame.” Whether Trungpa himself was a spiritual materialist is not beyond debate. However, the impacts of his teachings on spiritual materialism are more relevant to his effect on American society than any internal delusions.
Despite his rather bleak analysis of the American spiritual setting, Trungpa had infinite trust in his students and in their intelligence. According to James Gimian, “As a teacher, guide, and friend, (Trungpa’s) every gesture expressed confidence in his students’ innate intelligence. ‘You can do it’ was the familiar refrain.” Trungpa’s trust came from an underlying conviction in the Basic Goodness of each of his students and in their intelligence. According to his wife, Trungpa always wanted feedback from his students and was very open to their critical intelligence and questioning. She stated in an interview for Tricycle that Trungpa was “definitely not one of those teachers who asked for obedience and wanted their students not to think for themselves. He thrived on the intelligence of his students.”
Trungpa was also inspired by the Sadhana of Mahamudra and his devotion to combating spiritual materialism to teach tirelessly. He saw his own role as a sort of spiritual instigator, to question the authenticity of his students practice and their intentions. Using the example of the guru-student relationship between Marpa and Milarepa, Trungpa sought to break through his students’ egos and subconscious agendas to help them realize a point of surrender and genuine openness. In this way, Paine notes, “He was less a saint than a provocateur.” Trungpa pushed his students to confront both theirconscious and subconscious egos. So long as his students were actively seeking realization, they were still in the realm of spiritual materialism. As contradictory as it may seem, it was only when his students reached a point beyond seeking, that he felt they were truly open to spiritual realization. Still, Trungpa did not impose his own ideas upon his students. Rather, as student Nick Wright recalls, Trungpa acted as “a mirror for my mind.”
One example of Trungpa’s teachings applied is retold by Charles Prebish, one of the earliest scholars of Buddhism in America and invited faculty at Naropa Institute in 1975. Prebish recalls taking the opportunity as both a scholar and practitioner to see if he could learn something about Trungpa, his teachings, and his students. He managed to get an interview with Trungpa, which, as usual, began two hours late. Despite his desire to throw up his hands in exasperation and leave, Prebish met with Trungpa. The transformative experience that follows in given here:
Apart from his warm and friendly demeanor, and his very kind hospitality, he seemed to know everything about me, but not just the sort of information he could have easily read on my professional vita. He knew about my more personal life, or what one might call ‘Buddhist history’… For the next thirty minutes we dissected what was at that point nearly a decade of sitting practice. Never before, and never since, have I had a clearer, more succinct, and more accurate description of what I needed to do to move forward from a position of stalemate with myself that nobody previously seemed to notice, except me... It was the best Buddhist diagnosis I had ever received, and the prescription, while quite astounding in all respects, was miraculous.
While Prebish understandably does not mention the particulars of the meeting, it is clear from his testimony both the impact upon his spiritual practice and the strong impression Trungpa made on him during this thirty-minute interview.
In addition to the Sadhana of Mahamudra, Trungpa drew from a large body of other teachings. For the purpose of this paper, the summary of Trungpa’s teachings is taken from the September 2011 issue of Shambhala Sun by long time Shambhala practitioner, teacher, and writer Barry Boyce. Boyce’s eight points are condensed and expanded upon to briefly survey the corpus of Trungpa’s teachings. These key ideas are the primary vehicle through which Trungpa connected with his students in the United Kingdom and later gained a large following in North America.
Art in Everyday Life
Trungpa saw the arts as an extension of meditation practice, integral to spiritual practice and to an Enlightened Being. Having received training in traditional poetry as part of his early training, Trungpa continued practicing art throughout his life. He experimented and supported student interest in a variety of mediums, including acting, dancing, calligraphy, theater, singing, and photography. Boyce notes that Trungpa saw the arts “not as diversions to give one relief from the serious side of life, nor as something for an elite who could afford the time and money.” Rather, Trungpa taught the importance of art in everyday life and “that life could be lived artfully. Our speech, our movements, our gestures, our craftsmanship, can be carried out with grace, not self-consciously as a performance but intrinsically as a part of our being – and as an outgrowth of meditation.”
Trungpa saw art as a way of expressing one’s Basic Goodness, one’s inner Enlightened nature. As Shambhala student Kimberely Lueck describes from her own experience, Trungpa “emphasized the power of awareness to awaken persons to the sacred world and its inherent richness, which is the world we are already part of when we actually take notice.” For his students who were predisposed toward the arts, the idea of art as a means to become more fully exposed to reality became integrated in their daily lives. Using a very different metaphor, Dharma/Contemplative Art, according to Lueck, is a way of “joining heaven and earth.” Today, it is most noticeable in the variety of dharma arts programs that Trungpa founded, which composed the third spoke of his wheel of teachings.
By the mid-1970s, Trungpa had organized some of his senior students in America into an organization called Dorje Kasung, loosely meaning “those who defend the teachings and make them accessible.” This uniformed and organized cohort served a variety of functions as bodyguards, personal security forces, event coordinators, and ushers, yet were also quasi-monastic in their structure and intentions. Trungpa taught specific seminars to the Dorje Kasung on topics such as gentleness, putting others first, and how to remain fearless and calm in chaotic situations. Most of these trainings focused on how the mind responded to threats, regardless of whether on a battlefield, in an argument, or at the grocery store. Thus, the idea of their training was learning how to deal with anger and destructive emotions in all life situations.
The purpose of Dorje Kasung was expressed in their motto: “Victory over War.” An early member of the organization, Boyce recalls, “You were exhorted to become a warrior without anger,” and learn how to deal with destructive emotions, such as anger, greed, and jealousy, by cutting off conflict at its very source. “This form of meditation-in-interaction,” he continues, “encouraged people in the midst of challenging situations to manifest with gentleness and humor rather than anger and fear” and carried implications for the myriad challenges all face in the world at large. In short, it was a very different type of para-military, one that seeks to uproot conflict at its source within each individual, rather than quell it by force.
In 1976, Trungpa began to discover terma that would become the basis for what became Shambhala trainings. Today, this group of teachings has come down as a spiritual path for many persons otherwise allergic to organized religion. At the center is the principle of Warriorship similar, in a way, to the principles of the Dorje Kasung. Warriorship is not violent, but rather describes someone who is brave and willing to work with their negative emotions, not suppressing them, and to look without projection at the totality of reality. A Warrior is one who discovers fearlessness, “which is not the absence of fear, but the ability to ride its energy,” or as Trungpa said, “Fearlessness is a question of learning how to be. Be there all along; that is the message.”, The path of Warriorship does not have to do exclusively with Buddhism or any particular religious tradition. Rather, it is a path for all people to create an Enlightened society of peace, respect, and compassion through recognizing the Basic Goodness in one’s self and in others. In such a society, individuals do not try to view reality selectively through their desires or agendas, but recognize reality as such, free from individuals’ projections.
Above all else, Trungpa stressed the importance of sitting meditation practice, which he felt was underemphasized in both in Tibet and the West. According to Trungpa, sitting practice is crucial to build a firm foundation for any additional practices because it is only through sitting quietly and with concentration for extended periods that one becomes intimately acquainted with one’s mind. This was the way in which the historical Buddha Siddhartha Gautama realized Enlightenment, and it is of great importance to anyone embarking on the Buddhist path. Trungpa “trusted that any human being, regardless of cultural background, can engage in sitting practice fully and attain what the Buddha attained.”
Some have connected Trungpa ‘s focus on sitting to his contact with Zen Buddhists in America. It is true that Trungpa had a lot of contact with Zen practitioners both as students and, in the case of his good friend the Soto Zen priest Shunryu Suzuki Roshi for example, as respected colleagues. However, Tibetan Buddhism itself, with its long history of renunciates and expert meditators, has also given significant weight to the importance of sitting meditation.
As a result of concentrated sitting practice, Trungpa taught individuals tobecome connected with the Basic Goodness, inherent in themselves. By continuing their practice, they come to further recognize that such Basic Goodness lies within each and every being. Broadening their initial path of connecting deeply with themselves, practitioners realize the Enlightened nature of others through the practices of compassion, generosity, and loving-kindness. In this manner, one comes to the point of any genuine spiritual practice, which Trungpa believed was overcoming one’s selfish and ego-centered passions and desires.
The primary practice for realizing universal Basic Goodness is the meditation of tonglen (Wylie: gton len), also known as sending and receiving. In this particular practice, individuals visualize taking in the sufferings of others with each in breath and sending forth compassion, genuine love, and warmth with each out breath. Trungpa taught, “This great switch, where the first thought is of others, is the essence of genuine compassion and a key to real liberation.”
First put forth in the Sadhana of Mahamudra, the point of Trungpa’s teachings on the charnel ground is to build on previous practices, and to conclusively overcome dualistic views of reality; to see things as they really are, free from conceptualizations, judgments, etc. Trungpa attempts this by describing life as a burial ground and a birthplace, where both equally occur. Reality is full of dichotomies: feeling happy and sad, united and alone, realizing Basic Goodness and feel wretched. Normally, people try to pick one side of these dichotomies and attempt to shut out its counterpart, wishing, for example, only to be happy and not upset. Contrary to this tendency, Trungpa taught his students to accept the totality of their circumstances and both sides of the dichotomy. Indeed, this total acceptance of reality, Trungpa taught was the real teaching of tantra, so often misconstrued by Western students to be a strange, exotic, or mystical practice. “If we can find bravery to face the totality of our circumstances – the negativity as well as the richness,” he wrote, “a world of invigorating energy will reveal itself.”
Meera Flint recalls one instance while sitting with Trungpa when he asked her why she was so afraid to let go. Flint responded that she was afraid she would never be able to come back. After a brief pause, Trungpa whispered back to her, “That’s because you don’t realize that there is nowhere to go.” It is in this totality that people fully realize their Enlightened nature already within them. Trungpa taught that it is really wonderful to be in this place where happiness and despair, birth and death occur. Enlightenment lies in the middle of the charnel ground, in the whole-hearted embrace of the totality of all dichotomies.
The main point of any spiritual practice, Trungpa believed “is to step out of the bureaucracy of ego.” This hope of realization transcending the self is what Trungpa sensed from most of the spiritual seekers he encountered. However, it is precisely the ego that most strongly, and often secretly, opposes such genuine spiritual practice. This subversion of genuine spiritual practice into ego-strengthening techniques is what he called spiritual materialism. Spiritual Materialism appears at the core of the Sadhana of Mahamudra, and is most completely set forth in Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism (1973). While he first noticed this threat to genuine practice within the Tibetan community, Trungpa felt it was especially crucial to teach about it once he came westward. The West, he believed, suffered from an acute case of spiritual materialism.
Trungpa described spiritual materialism as “a distorted, ego-centered version of spirituality” where individuals “deceive themselves into thinking we are developing spiritually when instead we are strengthening our egocentricity through spiritual techniques.” The problem, he felt was not unique to Buddhism but present anywhere when spiritual seekers shop around the spiritual supermarket, as it were, for practices, techniques, teachers, and beliefs they believe suit their needs, picking and choosing along the way. Trungpa witnessed in England, and more so in America, that many of his students collected spiritual practices like squirrels hoarding nuts or like antique collectors. The problem, he believed, was not that people adopt new spiritual practices, but rather their approach and attitude toward them. Either subconsciously or consciously, Trungpa saw how spiritual seekers used a variety of spiritual practices to feed their own egos. Even in cases when individuals adopted practices that were supposed to reduce brazen individualism, they could often not escape. The immense power of the ego, Trungpa noted, “is able to convert everything to its own use, even spirituality.”
Trungpa described victims of spiritual materialism as akin to greedy antique collectors with little or no real appreciation for antiques. Instead of taking the time to admire and value each and every piece, they might hoard away a mass of stuff and create a clustered warehouse full of junk. Similarly, many spiritual seekers regard knowledge or spiritual practices as such, amassing techniques with little real appreciation. Therefore, the aim of most of Trungpa’s teachings was to cut through the ego and spiritual materialism. The means to do so are sitting meditation and practicing compassion, building up to a pure and total view of reality. Once the ego has truly been cut and people are open to receive genuine spirituality, then they realize that transcendence or Enlightenment has been there all along.
The last in Boyce’s analyses are Trungpa’s teachings on the student-teacher relationship and the proper role of a guru in spiritual practice. Trungpa believed thatthe ultimate purpose of a guru or teacher is not to bring a student to spiritual realization, but rather to show them the potential for realization within themselves. An excellent illustration of this teaching, quoted here in full, is from a 2011 recollection by a student of Trungpa. He writes:
I got up in front of the full shrine room under Rinpoche’s watchful gaze, and found myself giving a really long and flowery and somewhat overdone introduction about who he was. Every once in a while, I glanced up at him and he looked thoroughly bored with what I was saying, like he was about to fall asleep.
Finally, I got up to the end of my introduction and I turned towards him and said, “Sir, on behalf of all the student warriors assembled here, I respectfully request you to turn the wheel of the Shambhala dharma (teachings).”
As if opening his eyes from a long nap, he looked at me and said, “Turn it yourself.”
Trungpa was not interested in creating a personality cult around himself, as was the case with many spiritual teachers at the time. Rather, Trungpa’s main goal was to help his students practice genuine spirituality, free from egoistic tendencies, and to realize their own Basic Goodness and that of others. Even as a guru, Trungpa did not want to be viewed as a savior. The underlying principle of all of his teachings was that there is no free lunch in Buddhism; everyone, as Trungpa liked to say, is responsible for pulling up their own socks. Trungpa was not an authority, but a guide for his students on their own journeys.
His activities did not always involve gentle means, like other teachers who presented the Buddhist teachings as a way for students to grow comfortable with themselves. Rather, Trungpa preferred to ‘wake his students up,’ which could mean dispensing with niceties and politeness. Trungpa’s student Denault Bloudin recalls that Trungpa “had an ability – it was beyond uncanny, it was precise – to see, first that vulnerable soft spot in people which made them naturally open and most fully human, and second, to speak to that as the source of awareness itself which was, after all, the point.” While at times painful, Trungpa’s methods did exactly what he aimed them to do: they helped students to slash through their egos and realize a peace that far surpassed egoistic smugness.
One of Trungpa’s students and strongest advocates, Ani Pema Chödron, recalls Trungpa’s tendency to keep students off balance. “If things got too smooth, he’d create chaos,” she recalls, “While I didn’t like being churned up and provoked, but it was exactly what I needed.” Trungpa did not spare his students any honesty or try to make them feel better by appeasing them. Rather, he viewed the guru as someone who exposes students to their underlying issues, dredging their minds in the name of producing permanent peace as opposed to temporary relief. Still, he was far from somber in this pursuit. Indeed, one of Trungpa’s sayings was, “You will be already all right, if you only allow yourself to be. So, Cheer up, right now!”
In 1973, Trungpa organized the centers, called Dharmadhatus, and organizations he and his followers had founded under the non-for-profit Vajradhatu International, later Shambhala International. This umbrella organization included all activities and groups, as well as the Vajradhatu Educational Office. This Office was in charge of developing standardized syllabi for various courses and instructions, gathering and distributing teaching materials, and even composing exam questions to be given before students were granted permission to enter a ‘higher’ level of teachings. After an initial period of popularization, several changes and events occurred that helped institutionalize Trungpa’s teachings into a stable and self-sustaining nationwide organization. Through this, Trungpa was overseeing the counterculture growth from the thrills and wilds of adolescence into a more structured and disciplined adult life.
In October 1973, Trungpa led a select group of senior students on a three-month study and practice retreat. This Vajradhatu Seminary, as it was called, took place in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and was the first of a total of six that Trungpa eventually led. Trungpa chose his senior students based upon their dedication, knowledge, and advanced spiritual practice and understanding. He individually assessed every student during the seminary and imparted on each more advanced and secret meditation practices as per their need and level of realization. Such close attention between a guru and student and restricting certain teachings to those with a certain degree of realization and knowledge alone, in fact, is quite normal in the traditional Buddhist education system. While it may seem like some sort of reward that Trungpa was bestowing on his most loyal followers, really it was given because he felt his students had reached a certain stage in their practice and were ready for more advanced and intensive instruction. They had transcended the initial spiritual ‘wow’ and cut through their spiritual materialism enough to be fit vessels for more advanced instruction.
The summer of 1974 was also important as it saw the doors open at Naropa Institute, later Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. Trungpa envisioned it as a “place where East meets West and sparks fly.”According to Fields, the premise of the Naropa Institute was that “clear, hard thinking is central to a sane spiritual journey” and that what was needed in America to make this possible was “a cross-roads where the intellect – critical mind of the West and the way of experience and meditation of the East could meet head on.” The first summer session offered a variety of courses in subjects that included Buddhism, meditation, Tai Chi, Japanese tea ceremony, thangka painting, Tibetan, Sanskrit, Madhyamika philosophy, anthropology, physics, cybernetics, and more. Further, they were taught by a variety of faculty, religious, cultural, and scholarly figures. Trungpa taught alongside Ram Dass, Dr. Herbert V. Guenther, Allen Ginsberg, Agehananda Bharati, and others. While Trungpa and the other organizers originally expected between one and two hundred students, and later bumped their estimate up to five hundred, more than two thousand interested students showed up.
Interest in the programs offered at Naropa Institute did not die down after the first, second, or even third summers. In fact, Naropa Institute continued and was accredited in 1985 as the first Buddhist university in North America and one of the few institutions of higher education specializing in contemplative education. According to its website, “Naropa recognizes the inherent goodness and wisdom of each human being. It educates the whole person, cultivating academic excellence and contemplative insight in order to infuse knowledge and wisdom.”
President John Cobb describes Naropa’s core objectives as wisdom, compassion, and effective action, looking at its students holistically and advancing the idea of contemplative education. “We’re trying to revive the idea that education can be a lot more than just the transmission of facts and data,” he says, “Education can actually result in the transformation of a personal self.” For its students, Cobb says Naropa envisions graduates as change agents, “not only through problem-solving, but through radiating a quality of stillness, openness, and caring into the sphere around them.” The ultimate goal of education at Naropa today, as it was when Trungpa founded it in 1974, is to help its more than one thousand students to courageously, openly, and compassionately explore the world around them.
September 1974 also markedthe first visit of H.H. the 16th Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje (1924-1981) to the United States of America. The Karmapa was extremely important to Trungpa as he not only recognized Trungpa as an infant reincarnate lama, but also was an important teacher and role model for him. In anticipation, Trungpa was both excited and apprehensive. He wondered how would the Karmapa react towards Trungpa’s rather rag-tag students? Equally, if not more important, how would the students relate to the Karmapa? Whether out of concern for how his students would present themselves, confidence in the changing nature and ‘growing up’ of his students, or something different all together, Trungpa took the Karmapa’s visit as an occasion for initiating massive change within his organization and among his students. No longer would he lead group of seekers and counter-cultural dropouts. His students had practiced sufficiently to be introduced to a higher level of teachings that stemmed from devotion and trust in the guru-student relationship and were, so to speak, ready to grow up.
As Fields describes, the changes were visible and dramatic. Trungpa, who had initially divested himself of all of the traditional trappings and robes, taken up smoking, sex, drinking, and speaking slang with his students, seemed to turn an about face. With the Karmapa’s arrival, however, his demeanor changed as he was now “carefully inspecting swatches of the finest brocade.” He began to instruct his students how to starch white curtains with rice water, to assemble dinner servers from the best crystal china, and silver, to send students out in search of gold leaf chopstick rests, and to design an elaborately carved Tibetan-style throne. Even the menu he prepared was extravagant, including the finest Chinese cuisine, as well as salted and buttered Tibetan tea, tsampa, and momos. Trungpa began to stress not only the importance of the individual guru, but also therespect and adoration of lineage, something key to developing the highest levels of Buddhist practice. Trungpa set an example for his students with his relationship toward his teacher, the Karmapa, a model many would later imitate in their own relationship with Trungpa and other Tibetan Buddhist teachers.
According to senior student, Peter Volz, the Karmapa’s visit marked a major transition in how students viewed Trungpa because, for the first time, they witnessed how Trungpa treated his teachers. Volz writes, Trungpa taught that authentic devotion is nontheistic and that “what we really long for is our own inherent wisdom.” Thus, for Trungpa “there was no contradiction between the exercise of our (his students’) intelligence, and he urged us to avoid a naïve, simplistic adoration, of the teacher. Connecting to the lineage and the guru is a means to preserve authentic teachings and prevent corruption or delusion and paying respect is a way of humbling and cutting through one’s ego.
In addition to seriously altering the appearance of Trungpa’s organization, the visit of the Karmapa also made whole whatever rift had arisen between Trungpa and his Western followers on the one side, and the traditional Tibetan Buddhists on the other. The Karmapa issued a statement before he returned to India, in which he granted legitimacy and support to Trungpa and his endeavors. Trungpa Rinpoche, he wrote, “has carried out the vajra holder’s discipline in the land of America, establishing his students in liberation and ripening them in the dharma. This wonderful truth is clearly manifest.” He continues, recognizing Trungpa as a “Vajra Holder and Possessor of the Ultimate Lineage Victory Banner of the Practice Lineage Teachings of the Karma Kagyü.” In other words, the Karmapa assured both Trungpa’s qualifications and his actions as a teacher of Buddhism. With the blessing of the highest authority, there could no longer be any doubt of the legitimacy of Trungpa and Vajradhatu International.
In receiving the approval of the 16th Karmapa, Trungpa put his organization on the map of American Buddhists. It was not a cultish group surrounding a questionable teacher, but part of a tradition dating back hundreds of years on the Tibetan plateau. With the establishment of the Naropa Institute and the first Vajradhatu Seminary, Trungpa further developed his followers along public and private paths. The public path was open to all and required no long-term commitment or practice. In the private path, however, Trungpa instructed students individually or in small groups after deeming them ready following a period of initial practice and study. Although the language of instruction was English and the students were mostly lay practitioners, Trungpa began to fully integrate Tibetan traditions of student-teacher relationships and advanced spiritual practices into his American organization. Firmly rooted in their commitment to Trungpa and the Buddhist lineage, it was time, Trungpa felt for his students to rise above their dependency on him and take responsibility for their Enlightenment into their own hands.
By the late 1970s, Vajradhatu International had transformed from a series of loosely affiliated small reading, art, and lecture groups that followed Trungpa into a complex and multi-faceted international organization with a varied and broad base membership. In brief, Vajradhatu International had three branches: Vajradhatu, the Nalanda Foundation, and Shambhala Training. No branch was any more spiritual than the other, rather, each had a unique purpose to addressed different subjects. Vajradhatu closely resembled traditional Buddhist teachings, rituals, and practices. Shambhala Training, on the other hand, was meant for non-Buddhist practitioners of another religious affiliation. The Nalanda Foundation, focused on the integration of art and culture into daily life.
The Vajradhatu branch stemmed from Trungpa’s original followers who were mostly interested in Buddhist practice. While largely based on Tibetan tradition, it was significantly different, for example, in the language of texts and rituals and the predominantly non-monastic nature of students. Among the notable exceptions, however, was Ani Pema Chödron, born Deirdre Blomfield. After expressing her desire to become a nun to Trungpa and receiving his complete support, she became a monastic in 1974. She continued to study with Trungpa until his death in 1987. She became the director of Gampo Abbey in 1986, two years after Trungpa founded it, and continues in this post today. In addition to continuing her studies, she is one of the most respected Buddhist teachers and authors in North America today and a strong advocate for the Vajradhatu branch of Trungpa’s teachings.
The Nalanda Foundation, first established in 1974, focuses on integrating culture and art into daily life. In brief, the Nalanda Foundation consists of four categories: Arts, Education, Health, and Business. First, Trungpa firmly believed that art and culture were not at all frivolous, but held a meaningful place in daily life. He developed a group of “Dharma” or “Contemplative Arts,” that when performed mindfully and with the proper motivation, were as much a practice as sitting meditation. These included music, dance, dressage, ikebana (flower arranging), calligraphy, poetics, Japanese tea ceremony, photography, space awareness, and others. According to Shambhala International’s website, these teachings were all inspired by the historical Nalanda University and are meant “to bring beauty, vividness and wisdom to our lives and environment.”
The category of health includes various courses and programs in psychotherapy, home and palliative care, addiction management, and natural medicines. The business component includes leadership trainings and the Shambhala Guild Society. Finally, the education component includes the well-known Naropa University, the Nalanda Translation Committee, as well as programs on early education and contemplative education.
Finally, in 1976, Trungpa began the third branch of his teachings by establishing the Shambhala Training. After receiving them in the form of a terma, Trungpa expressed these teachings for an Enlightened society in lectures, as well as most completely in Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior and Great Eastern Sun: The Wisdom of Shambhala. The idea was to provide a secular path of spiritual training that used the experiences of modern society as a setting to cultivate in an individual contemplative practice, without of any formal affiliation with a religious tradition. The Sacred Path of the Warrior or the Shambhala Path is a gradual and systemic training that allows the individuality of student and accommodates the American cultural heritage, lifestyle, and landscape.
The idea behind the Shambhala Training was to organize a training program for people of all religious affiliations that promoted contemplative practice as a way to put individuals in touch with their own Basic Goodness, as well as that of others. It emphasized meditation in everyday actions, completely synchronizing the body, speech, and mind. The trainings aimed to teach people how to approach obstacles and challenges in their daily lives with the “courageous attitude of a warrior, without anger of fear.” Through such a training program Trungpa envisioned individuals cultivating genuine trust, openness, and compassion in their daily lives. Such individuals, Trungpa believed, form the building blocks of an Enlightened Society as a community that appreciates the sacred dimension in day-to-day life.
These three branches addressed a variety of needs among Trungpa’s students and spread Vajradhatu International beyond its collection of small groups. Trungpa limited his own involvement in these groups by establishing a central administration with an executive council and supporting staff with various offices and responsibilities. While involved in the management of these groups, Trungpa largely maintained his position as a spiritual teacher and advisor rather than a full-time administrator. Not overly reliant on Trungpa for its existence, Vajradhatu International was able to continue even after Trungpa’s death in 1987.
By the late 1970s and early 1980s, Trungpa had honed his teaching activities. In 1977 and again in 1984, he embarked on one-year retreats, leaving management of Vajradhatu International to the executive council, Vajra Regent, and others. His final goal of creating a self-sustaining organization was realized in 1986, when he moved from Colorado to the then newly relocated headquarters of Vajradhatu International in Halifax, Nova Scotia. There, on April 4th, 1987, he died of cardiac arrest at the age of forty-seven. No doubt his death was a result of his many years of drinking. Still, for Trungpa, long-life had never been a requirement or aim. He had sown the seeds of an Enlightened Society within thousands of students and inspired them to cut through spiritual materialism. That itself was enough.
Trungpa’s elaborate funeral took place at Karme Choling, Vermont. A lone bagpiper marched playing “Farewell to Nova Scotia” and monks playing dungchen (Wylie: dung chen) and gyaling (Wylie: rgya gling) marched as a crowd of nearly three thousand awaited to witness Trungpa’s cremation. Trungpa’s body was carried in a canopied palanquin by eight of his closest students and burned on a twenty-five foot high cremation stupa. Shamar Rinpoche, Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, Gyaltsap Rinpoche, and Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche led the traditional funeral ceremony. Trungpa’s senior students also participated in the rituals to an equal degree, performing all of the mudras (hand gestures), meditations, and visualizations. The only difference was the Westerners chanted the liturgy in English.
Most memorable for many in attendance at the ceremony was the rainbow that shone across the blue, cloudless sky during the cremation ceremony. As one attendee recalled, the Tibetans in attendance seemed unsurprised. After all, a small rainbow is expected to appear as a sign during the cremation of any high lama or Rinpoche. Still, Allen Ginsberg, Glassman Sensei, Daido Roshi, and other friends and students of Trungpa’s looked up in awe at the uncanny event. If any physical sign was needed to definitely prove to his students that Trungpa was a very unique and special teacher, the rainbow did just that.
Yet, even in death Trungpa inspired his students. Before his cremation in Vermont, Trungpa’s body was on display in his center in Halifax for a period during which rituals were performed in accordance with Tibetan tradition. Susan Edwards, a senior student who took part in the rituals from April 4th until the 9th, recalls her initial shock in seeing Trungpa dead, yet sitting in a meditation posture. She and other students repeatedly went to view his body and take part in the rituals, noting that the more each of them saw Trungpa, “it became apparent that each of us was experiencing a personal and unique response to our guru’s Samadhi (Enlightenment)… Someone said that the energy was so thick in the room you could cut it into chunks and sell it.” She continues that, “the word ‘dead’ was not an appropriate guide for the experience of his presence… His body was now in another process, a vibrant, seemingly motionless transition. His mind was as brilliant, profound, and compassionate as ever.”
Even after his death, Trungpa continued to inspire his students with his very presence. Edwards describes this presence in her account noting, “Here was our teacher. His love for us never seemed greater. Impermanence never seemed more poignant. Accomplishment never seemed more brilliant. He had given us everything. Now it was up to us.”Trungpa’s adopted son and student, Ashoka Mukpo, echoed this sentiment, noting that Trungpa was “a walking enigma, and even in death he pushes me and teaches me to leave nothing unquestioned, nothing unexamined, and ultimately nothing untrusted.”
In his Spiritual Will, Trungpa stressed his comfortability and lack of fear in dying. “Birth and death are expressions of life,” he wrote, “I have fulfilled my work and conducted my duties as much as the situation allowed, and now I have passed away quite happily.” Still, looking out for his students he continued that his death “might cause you grief, sadness; nonetheless you should carry on with what I have created and continue my vision. On the whole, discipline and practice are essential, whether I am there or not.” Trungpa urged his students to carry on faithfully, to expand the Vajradhatu organization, and above all to act in harmony with each other and with the larger world. Not one to let matters remain too serious for too long, Trungpa concluded his will with the following poem in jest:
Born a monk,
Died a king-
Such thunderstorm does not stop.
We will be haunting you, along with the dralas.
Jolly good luck!
In May 1995, Trungpa’s eldest son and student Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche was officially installed as the leader of all three branches of Trungpa’s teachings. Mipham Rinpoche’s induction followed a period of strain among Trungpa’s followers during the rocky tenure of Trungpa’s immediate successor Ösel Tendzin, previously Thomas Rich. Tendzin (1943-1990) had engulfed the community in scandal after the Board of Directors made public that he had contracted AIDS and had passed it along to at least one student. After his death in 1990, Shambhala endured a brief period without leadership, during which many people left the organization.
Shortly after Mipham Rinpoche was installed, hemerged the three branches of Vajradhatu, Shambhala Training, and Nalanda under the unified body of Shambhala International. Most Shambhala Centers offer all three branches, with programs and events each where teachers are available. There are currently more than one hundred and seventy centers in Africa, North America, Europe, Asia, and South America. The centers are mostly in larger cities, which include Cape Town, New York, Los Angeles, Moscow, London, Tel Aviv, Kyoto, Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, Auckland, and even Tehran. The headquarters of the organization remain in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where Trungpa relocated in the 1980s. However, the Shambhala Centers are by no means the only way Trungpa’s influence remains visible today.
On August 18th, 2001, more than two thousand people gathered at Red Feather Lakes, in northern Colorado for the dedication of the one-hundred eight foot tall “Great Stupa of Dharmakaya Which Liberates Upon Seeing.” It was the beginning of a ten-day consecration ceremony officiated by Shambhala practitioners and Tibetan monks together. The stupa was built in traditional architecture dating back more than two thousand years and contained large statues of spiritual leaders, intricately drawn mandalas, and most importantly, the ashes of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. The project began at the insistence of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche after Trungpa’s death and from whom the stupa also received its name. After fourteen years, $2,300,000, and the aid of more than four hundred volunteers, this enormous testament to Trungpa’s life and teachings was completed and open for pilgrims.
In the seventeen years between his arrival in 1970 and death in 1987, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche published six books, oversaw numerous meditation and study centers, ran six three-month Vajradhatu seminaries, founded Naropa Institute, and single-handedly developed each aspect ofthe three-branch Shambhala organization. He also gave interviews to individuals and thousands of talks to groups around the United States. His collected works number eight volumes of an impressive 4,500 pages. In 2008, Shambhala Publications announced its Dharma Ocean Project that will publish an additional one hundred volumes of transcribed lectures. The Nalanda Translation Committee, under Trungpa’s nephew Karma Senge, is working to translate more than four hundred pages written before he fled Tibet and recently recovered and the Shambhala Archives Audio Recover Project is re-mastering over 1,500 recordings of Trungpa’s talks. The Shambhala Sun, Chronicle Project, and Chögyam Trungpa Legacy Project all continue Trungpa’s legacy in additional ways, and yet all of these express only a portion of Chögyam Trungpa’s incredible influence.
More than institutions, newsletters, recordings, and books, Chögyam Trungpa’s life touched thousands of people on three continents. Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, one of the leading teachers of Buddhism today, attests to the importance of Trungpa in firmly establishing Buddhism in America. On the twentieth anniversary of his death in 2007, Khyentse Rinpoche said:
Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche was a pioneer and igniter of Buddhadharma in the West... What Rinpoche has achieved would usually take at least three generations—first introducing, then maturing, and finally stirring things up. Rinpoche managed to do all of this in less than twenty years! ...
I can confidently say as an independent observer that although Rinpoche's students have gone through lots of bumpy roads at times and lots of blissful roads at other times, they have kept his vision, his atmosphere, and his presence.
Trungpa’s impact on his students was tremendous. His teachings on spiritual materialism, overcoming egoistic tendencies, and the importance of simply sitting provided a firm foundation to begin Buddhist practice. Further, his teachings on Basic Goodness, Warriorship, and the creation of an Enlightened Society promulgated widely, even outside Buddhist circles and are still very much present in Shambhala Centers today. Trungpa’s methods for communicating with his students and helping them to overcome their egos were absolutely outlandish, unique, and above all, extremely effective. Writing in tribute to Trungpa Rinpoche in 2007, journalist, writer, translator, and student of Trungpa’s since the early 1970s, Sherab Chözin Kohn expressed:
Meeting the Vidyadhara (Trungpa)gave a shape and direction to our lives. As already described, he recognized on the spot who we were and reflected it back to us. Sometimes the effect of this was harsh. At the same time, Rinpoche's kindness was unflagging; he joined in simple empathy for our suffering, knowing its depths in an instant. He instructed and admonished us. He developed scenarios to expose our ego trips. He sought our ultimate benefit in every way… He was our family, teacher, and heritage rolled into one... It was a quality of the depth of his compassion that our challenge became his, our risk his; he shared with us our pain, failure, loss, or happiness, our moment of breakthrough. For years and years, our daily existence had him as its constant reference point; our path through life hung and hangs on his strength and his example.
Catherine Fordham, another student of Trungpa, concurs with Kohn. She notes that although there are many stories that can be told about Trungpa, “the good ones all have something in common: humility, fearlessness, and a direct hit to your conventional mind.”
Nevertheless, Trungpa’s legacy remains fraught with controversy. For example, as the case of Ösel Tendzin exemplifies, it is not clear if Trungpa was as knowing and compassionate as his students believed. It is also unclear to what degree Trungpa practiced what he preached or ifhis lavish lifestyle and personality cult reveal the work of an Enlightened being. Or, rather, do they reveal a selfish individual relishing the praise, attention, and respect given to him by others? Did Trungpa’s womanizing, drinking, and almost complete lack of restraint in his conduct demonstrate his skillful means as a Buddhist teacher in helping to bring individuals on the path towards Buddhahood, or do these suggest a teacher taking advantage of his trusting students? While these remain valid questions to be posed, it is clear that regardless of his morals or status as an Enlightened Being, Trungpa had a profound impact on introducing the teachings of Buddhism to the American spiritual landscape and in implanting it as an integral part of thousands of American practitioners.
Trungpa’s frank and no-nonsense teachings and methodology cut through the spiritual materialism largely present in the American counter-culture. He broke down idealized notions of spiritual gurus and presented himself openly to his students, training them to do the same. While his approach and vocabulary were tailored to a specific historical setting, his institutions and message carry relevancy today. Indeed, especially in our contemporary world driven by individualism, consumerism, and visual-material culture, his teachings are more necessary than ever before.
Terms are listed in order of their appearance.
རིན་པོ་ཆེ་ (Wylie: rin po che) – Rinpoche – lit. “Precious One;” this honorific title is given to all reincarnate lamas, and commonly to other highly realized teachers as well.
སྤྲུལ་སྐུ་(Wylie: sprul sku) – Tulku – An incarnate teacher; this person consciously chooses to reincarnate to continue teaching and working for the benefit of all sentient beings.
བླ་མ་ (Wylie: bla ma) – Lama/Guru (Sanskrit) – A title given to a Tibetan Buddhist teacher; this title is sometimes given only to monastics who have completed a three year, three month, three day retreat, while it may also be used as an honorary title for all monks.
བཀའ་བརྒྱུད་པ་ (Wylie: bka' brgyud pa) – Kagyüpa – One of the five major schools in Tibetan Buddhism. They are commonly known as the school of oral transmission, referring to the especially strong emphasis on guru-student transmission in teaching the Dharma. It was officially founded by Milarepa’s student, Gampopa.
ཀར་མ་བཀའ་བརྒྱུད་(Wylie: kar ma bka' brgyud) – Karma Kagyü – A subset of the Kagyüpa school; this school is headed currently by H.H. the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa. It was founded by the first Karmapa, Tüsum Khyenpa (1110-1193). This was also the primary lineage of Trungpa Rinpoche.
ས་སྐྱ་པ་ (Wylie: sa skya pa) – Sakyapa – One of the five major schools in Tibetan Buddhism. One of the three ‘new orders,’ it particularly follows the teachings of the Indian Mahasiddha Virupa and was founded in Tibet by Gönchok Gyelpo (1034-1102). Traditionally, its establishment is credited to the “Five Supreme Venerable Masters” Sachen Kunga Nyingpo (1092-1158), Sonam Tsemo (1142-1182), Drakpa Gyaltsen (1147-1216), Sakya Pandita (1182-1251), and Chogyal Pakpa (1235-1280).
དགེ་ཨུགས་པ་ (Wylie: dge lugs pa) – Gelugpa – One of the five major schools in Tibetan Buddhism. It is considered the more scholarly and scholastic school, having been formed partially in reaction to the ornate ritual practices of the older three schools (Nyingmapa, Sakyapa, and Kagyüpa). It was founded in Tibet by Tsongkhapa (1357-1419).
ཉིང་མ་པ་ (Wylie: nying ma pa) – Nyingmapa – One of the five schools in Tibetan Buddhism. It is the oldest tradition, tracing its origins back to the teachings of Guru Rinpoche.
རིས་མེད་ (Wylie: ris med) – Ri may - a non-sectarian movement in Buddhism that aimed to bring together and make available the teachings of all the various Buddhist schools in an atmosphere free of sectarian rivalry.
དྲུབ་ཉོན་ (Wylie: drub nyon) – Crazy Wisdom – A term referring to a particular manifestation among certain spiritual masters where they behave in an outrageous, unorthodox, or unexpected fashion. The point of these activities is to connect or otherwise reach aspirants on a fundamental level.
གཏེར་སྟོན་ (Wylie: gter ston) – Tertön – “Treasure finder;” someone recognized as being able to discover, interpret, and translate hidden “treasure texts,” or terma.
གཏེར་མ་ (Wylie: gter ma) – Terma – “Treasure texts” believed to have been hidden in the minds of individuals, as well as the sky and earth by Padmasambhava/Guru Rinpoche. It is believed they are uncovered by masters in deep meditative states when the time for their need arises.
གུ་རུ་པད་མ་འབྱུང་གནས་ (པད་མ་ཀ་ར) (Wylie: gu ru pad ma ‘byung gnas) – Guru Rinpoche or Padmasambhava (Sanskrit) – A figure held by Tibetan Buddhists to be the second Buddha of this age and the patron saint of Tibet. He was invited from India to Tibet during the 8th century, and is credited as the first teacher to spread the Dharma in Tibet, conquering and converting numerous obstacles and opposing deities. He is also believed to have hidden numerous teachings (terma) to be uncovered later when the time is ripe for their promulgation.
སྒྲུབ་ཐབས་(Wylie: sgrub thabs) – Sadhana (Sanskrit) – A term that means a spiritual effort and exertion toward a future goal. It is a common term used to describe particular forms of spiritual practice or worship with the goal of overcoming ego and selfish desires.
ཕྱག་ཆེན་ (Wylie: phyag chen) – Mahamudra (Sanskrit) – Ais a Sanskrit term meaning “great seal,” which describes a body of teachings whereby individuals come to realize and experience reality in a pure and non-dualistic way. Mudra, meaning ‘gesture’ or ‘seal,’ refers to the vividness of phenomena, while maha translates as ‘great.’
སྟག་ཚང་ (Wylie: stag tshang) – Taktsang – “Tiger’s Nest” It is considered by Tibetans Buddhists as a very holy and auspicious place, with very powerful energies.
རྒྱལ་བ་ཀར་མ་པ་(Wylie: rgyal ba kar ma pa) – Gyalwa Karmapa – The title of the head of the Kagyüpa lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. Trungpa was recognized as a reincarnate teacher by the 16th Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje. The current 17th Karmapa is contested between Ogyen Trinley Dorje and Trinley Thaye Dorje.
རྡོ་རྗེ་གྲོ་ལོད་ (Wylie: rdo-rje gro-lod) – Dorje Drölo – The wrathful form of Guru Rinpoche/Padmasambhava and it is in this form that Guru Rinpoche manifested at Taktsang
བྱནད་ཆུབ་སེམས་དཔ་(Wylie: byang chub sems dpa) – Bodhisattva(Sanskrit) – A figure who consciously decides to put off their own Enlightenment and escape from cyclical existence in order to continue to abide and work altruistically.
མར་པ་ལོ་ཙ་བ་ (Wylie: mar pa lo tsa ba) – Marpa Lotsawa – A renowned translator and practitioner who brought a great body of Buddhist texts back to Tibet from his teacher, Naropa. He was also the primary teacher of Milarepa and a much revered figure in the Kagyüpa school.
རྗེ་བཙུན་མི་ལ་རས་པ་(Wylie: rje btsun mi la ras pa) – Milarepa - Considered to be one of the greatest Yogis of Tibet, Milarepa is well known for going from a life of violence to renunciation, eventually reaching Enlightenment during one lifetime. He is especially regarded in the Kagyüpa tradition.
གཏོན་ལེ་ (Wylie: gton len) – Tonglen – Also known as sending and receiving meditation. In this particular practice, individuals visualize taking in the sufferings of others with each in breath and sending forth compassion, genuine love, and warmth with each out breath.
བདེ་གཧེགས་ཉིང་པོ་ (Wylie: bde gshegs snying po) – Tathagatagarbha (Sanskrit) or Buddha-Nature – This idea holds that within each sentient being lies an Enlightened nature and that all have the potential to become Buddhas, or awakened ones. The result of spiritual practice, then, is realizing an awakening externally but to realize it within one’s own being.
དུང་ཆེན་(Wylie: dung chen) – Dungchen – A blown instrument used in Tibetan Buddhist rituals. It is played by passing air through pressed lips down a long slightly flaring tube and is well known for its low blaring pitches played during rituals.
རྒྱ་གླིང་(Wylie: rgya gling) – Gyaling – A blown instrument used during Tibetan Buddhist rituals. It is played by passing air through a reed to produce sound in a cylindrical tube. It is often used during peaceful offerings and is the only instrument that is played using discrete pitches as opposed to slurred melodies.
མཆོད་རྟེན་(Wylie: mchod rten) - Stupa (Sanskrit) – A sacred, mound-like structure containing Buddhist relics. The first stupas were built for some of the relics of the historical Buddha Shakyamuni. Today, thousands of stupas exist in a variety of Buddhist, housing the remains of important teachers, practitioners, and saints.
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 Lit. ‘Precious One,’ (Wylie: rin po che) is an honorary title given to high Buddhist teachers or lamas (Wylie: bla ma), and reincarnate lamas, called tulkus (Wylie: sprul sku).
 James Gimian, “Tribute to Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche,” The Chronicles of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, http://www.chronicleproject.com/tributes/60.html (accessed 20 April 2012).
 Larry Mermelstein, “Chögyam the Translator,” The Chronicles of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, 4 April 2004, http://www.chronicleproject.com/ntc_1.html (accessed 21 March 2012).
 Jeffery Paine, Re-Enchantment: Tibetan Buddhism Comes to the West (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2004).
 Charles S. Prebish and Martin Baumann ed., Westward Dharma: Buddhism in Asia and Beyond (Berkley: University of California Press, 2002).
 Richard Hughes Seager, Buddhism in America (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999).
 Jeffery Paine, Re-Enchantment, 81.
 In Tibetan Buddhism, great teachers are believed to be capable of choosing a human reincarnation, based upon their immense compassion and vows to aid all sentient beings. Before they die, teachers may indicate with a letter, poem, or other clue the location and family in which theywill reincarnate. Later, their students will search based upon the deciphering of these clues, careful examinations of dreams, visions, and the like. With Trungpa Rinpoche, H.H. the 16th Karmapa, had a vision that the 11th Trungpa Rinpoche would be reborn in a village with a name like Ge-De (it was in fact Ge-je) and even spelled out the names of Trungpa’s parents. Once the particular child has been found, searchers will perform various recognition tests while under cover. For example, they may ask the child to pick out a bowl from a set of identical bowls, watching to see if the child chooses falsely or even hesitates before picking the one that belonged to the previous reincarnation. If successful at a number of such tests, the searchers willalso identify certain auspicious symbols surrounding the child’s birth. These may be signs such as rainbows, ravens circling the house, or family members having similar dreams. At this point, the searchers will reveal themselves to the parents and take the child to a Rinpoche for final confirmation.
 Traditionally, there are considered to be four schools in Tibetan Buddhism. The oldest is the Nyingmapa school, which traces its roots back to the Indian Buddhist master credited with bringing Buddhism to Tibet, Padmasambhava (also known to Tibetans as Guru Rinpoche) in the 8th century. In the 11th century, the Kagyüpa, which traced its origins to the Indian saint Tilopa, and Sakyapa (Wylie: sa skya pa) schools emerged. Finally, in the 14th century the Gelugpa (Wylie: dge lugs pa) school, of which the Dalai Lama is a member, was founded.
 Chögyam Trungpa Legacy Project, “About Chögyam Trungpa,” http://chogyamtrungpa.com/wp/?page_id=48 (accessed 29 February 2012).
 Shambhala International, “Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche,” http://shambhala.org/teachers/chogyam-trungpa.php (accessed 29 February 2012).
 Sandra Bell, “Scandals in Emerging Western Buddhism,” in Westward Dharma: Buddhism beyond Asia, edited by Martin Baumann and Charles S. Prebish (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), 231.
For more on Drukpa Kunley see:
Keith Downman, The Divine Madman: The Sublime Life and Songs of Drukpa Kunley (Middletown, CA: Dawn Horse Press, 1980).
 A tertön or “treasure finder” is someone who is recognized as being able to discover hidden “treasure texts,” or terma. It is believed that such texts were hidden in the 8th and 9th centuries by the great Buddhist saint Padmasambhava/Guru Rinpoche (Wylie: gu ru rin po che) in the earth, sky, and minds of particular practitioners to be revealed later when the time and context is ripe for the teachings they contain. At such a time, a text will be revealed to a tertön while he or she is in a deep state of meditation. The tertön interprets and translates the terma from the secret language of the Dakinis, celestial beings, into human script and language. These texts can range from short and pithy to intricate and lengthy works. Most often, such teachings become the bases for particular practices or meditations. While a tertön may only discover one treasure text, it is quite common to discover more.
 Larry Mermelstein, “Chögyam the Translator,” The Chronicles of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, 4 April 2004, http://www.chronicleproject.com/ntc_1.html (accessed 21 March 2012).
 Further details on Trungpa’s escape from Tibet can be found in his first book, Born in Tibet (Boston: Shambhala Publications, 2000).
 Rick Fields, How the Swans Came to the Lake: A Narrative History of Buddhism in America, 3rd ed. (Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1992), 278.
 Ibid., 278.
 Ibid., 281.
 Chögyam Trungpa, “The Sadhana of Mahamudra,” The Chronicles of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, 2008, http://www.chronicleproject.com/stories_110.html (accessed 21 March 2012).
 Jeffery Paine, Re-Enchantment, 84.
 Barry Boyce, “Ocean of Dharma,” Shambhala Sun, January 2012, 30, http://chronicleproject.com/images/misc/SUN_Jan12_VCTR_sprd.pdf (accessed 21 March 2012).
 Rick Fields, How the Swans Came to the Lake, 303.
 Chögyam Trungpa, quoted in Rick Fields, How the Swans Came to the Lake, 303.
 It should be noted here that it is, in fact, not highly unusual for monks and even reincarnate teachers to give up their monastic vows. While monks usually move on to find a lay profession, it is common for reincarnate lamas to continue as teachers and spiritual authorities. Additionally, it is quite normal (especially in the Nyingmapa lineage Trungpa was trained in) for reincarnate lamas to marry and have a family once they have given up their vows.
 It should be noted that while Trungpa’s Tibetan colleagues in Scotland did not approve of his conduct, this was not universally true. Trungpa’s teacher His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, for example, was highly supportive of all of Trungpa’s endeavors. According to Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, HH Dilgo Khyentse understood and approved of Trungpa’s teaching Buddhism in the UK and later in the United States, and of Trungpa as a tertön. Even as other Tibetans in Nepal, India, and Bhutan talked about Trungpa’s strange conduct, HH Dilgo Khyentse refused to take part in such conversations. For more information, see:
Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse, “Reflections on Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche (or: Why I Love Halifax),” The Chronicles of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, http://www.chronicleproject.com/stories_33.html (accessed 6 March 2012).
 Chögyam Trungpa, quoted in Diana Mukpo, “My Marriage to Chögyam Trungpa,” Shambhala Sun, Sept 2002, http://www.shambhalasun.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1645&Itemid=0 (accessed 23 February 2012).
 Chögyam Trungpa, “The Sadhana of Mahamudra,” The Chronicles of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, 2008, http://www.chronicleproject.com/stories_110.html (accessed 21 March 2012).
 Ösel Randöl Mukpo was later recognized as the reincarnation of Mipham Rinpoche and named Trungpa’s spiritual successor.
 Sadhana is a Sanskrit term that means a spiritual effort and exertion toward a future goal. It is a common term used to describe particular forms of spiritual practice or worship with the goal of overcoming ego and selfish desires. Mahamudra is a Sanskrit term meaning “great seal” and describes a body of teachings whereby individuals come to realize and experience reality in a pure and non-dualistic way. Mudra, meaning ‘gesture’ or ‘seal,’ refers to the vividness of phenomena, while maha translates as ‘great.’ Thus, the Sadhana of Mahamudra can be understood as a spiritual practice meant to integrate the highest forms of Buddhist practice.
 Carolyn Rose Gimian, “The Sadhana of Mahamudra,” The Chronicles of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, 2008, http://www.chronicleproject.com/stories_110.html (accessed 21 March 2012).
 Karmapa (Wylie: rgyal ba karma pa) is the title of the head of the Kagyüpa lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, Trungpa’s lineage and one of the schools he was trained in. H.H. the 16th Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje (1924-1981) was the lama who recognized Trungpa as a reincarnate teacher and was one of Trungpa’s earliest, most respected, and most important teachers.
 Karma Pakshi (1203-1282) was the 2nd Karmapa and is considered the first recognized reincarnate teacher in Tibetan Buddhism. He was well known as a tutor of both Mongka Khan and his brother Kublai Khan and was an accomplished meditator.
 Dorje Drölo (Wylie: rdo-rje gro-lod) is the wrathful form of Guru Rinpoche/Padmasambhava and it is in this form that Guru Rinpoche manifested at Taktsang. Typically Dorje Drölo is pictured in iconography as a black, flaming, wrathful body riding a tiger. Legend holds that Guru Rinpoche manifested in this form at Taktsang, conquering the demon tigress on which he rides. From Taktsang, Guru Rinpoche journeyed to Tibet, where he dispelled a large number of demons and other evil forces, making way for the practice of Buddhism. Not coincidentally, Taktsang translates as “Tiger’s Nest.” It is considered by Tibetans Buddhists as a very holy and auspicious place, with very powerful energies.
 Chögyam Trungpa, “The Sadhana of Mahamudra.”
 Guru Rinpoche/Padmasambhava is also considered the founder of the Nyingmapa school of Tibetan Buddhism.
 Chögyam Trungpa, “The Sadhana of Mahamudra.”
 Rick Fields, How the Swans Came to the Lake, 302.
 Chögyam Trungpa, quoted in Rick Fields, How the Swans Came to the Lake, 303.
 Carolyn Rose Gimian, “The Sadhana of Mahamudra.”
 Jeffery Paine, Re-Enchantment, 85.
 Chögyam Trungpa, quoted in Diana Mukpo, “My Marriage to Chögyam Trungpa.”
 Diana Mukpo, “My Marriage to Chögyam Trungpa,” Shambhala Sun, Sept 2002, http://www.shambhalasun.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1645&Itemid=0 (accessed 23 February 2012).
 The center would later be renamed by H.H. the 16th Karmapa as Karmé Chöling.
 Jeffery Paine, Re-Enchantment, 105.
 Charles Prebish, “Surveying the Buddhist Landscape,” Shambhala Sun, March 2002, http://www.shambhalasun.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1697&Itemid=0 (accessed 22 February 2012).
 Jeffery Paine, Re-Enchantment, 86.
 Charles Prebish, Luminous Passage: The Practice and Study of Buddhism in America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), 95.
 Chögyam Trungpa in Rick Fields, How the Swans Came to the Lake, 309.
 Especially after the scandal following Trungpa’s successor Ösel Tendzin, Trungpa has come under a great deal of scrutiny for his teaching methods, drinking, womanizing, and other unorthodox and extreme behaviors. In spite of these accusations, I would concur with Jeffery Paine who refrains from historical judgment. Paine states, “Excess, in fact, may not be the right word but a negative label applied retroactively to behavior that at the time people thought of as rather positive – as breaking dead prohibitions and extending life into an exciting new fullness” (Re-Enchantment, 106). An extensive analysis of Trungpa’s conduct and its reception among his students would make a very thought-provoking and interesting topic of further research.
 Samuel Bercholz, “Tribute to Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche,” The Chronicles of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, http://www.chronicleproject.com/tributes/38.html (accessed 20 April 2012).
 Rick Fields, How the Swans Came to the Lake, 309.
 Chögyam Trungpa, “The Bodhisattva,” Shambhala Sun, November 2006, http://www.shambhalasun.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=3001&Itemid=0 (accessed 21 March 2012).
 Jeffery Paine, Re-Enchantment, 91.
 His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama has stated that Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism is “among the first and very successful books about Tibetan Buddhism. Earlier works had either been rather dry academic studies of traditional texts or ill-informed travelers’ accounts filled with exotic tales of magic and mystery.” For more information see:
“Tribute to Chögyam Rinpoche,”The Chronicles of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, http://www.chronicleproject.com/tributes/39.html (accessed 20 April 2012).
 Tupten Chodron, “Shopping the Dharma,” Tricycle 12, no. 2 (Winter 2002), http://www.tricycle.com/dharma-talk/shopping-dharma (accessed 21 March 2012).
 Chögyam Trungpa, “Cynicism and Warmth,” The Chronicles of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, 2009, http://chronicleproject.com/CTRlibrary/Cynicism_and_Warmth.html (accessed 21 March 2012).
 Tupten Chodron, “Shopping the Dharma.”
 Chögyam Trungpa, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism (Boston: Shambhala Publications, 2008), 63.
 Tupten Chodron, “Shopping the Dharma.”
 Chögyam Trungpa, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, 18.
 Ibid., 61.
 Ibid., 21.
 James Gimian, “Tribute to Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche.”
 Diana Mukpo and Steve Silberman, “Married to the Guru,” Shambhala Sun, Nov 2006, http://www.shambhalasun.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2998&Itemid=0 (accessed 23 February 2012).
 Marpa Lotsawa (Wylie: mar pa lo tsa ba) (1012-1097) is a renowned translator and practitioner who brought a great body of Buddhist texts back to Tibet from his teacher, Naropa (956-1041) in India. Milarepa (rje btsun mi la ras pa), (c. 1052—c. 1135) is one of the most famous yogins of Tibet and an important teacher in Trungpa’s Karma Kagyü lineage. Milarepais said to have grown up with his mother and sister as slaves to his aunt and uncle after the premature death of his father. He trained in black magic and used it to take revenge on his cruel relatives, killing, and causing hailstorms to destroy crops. However, he came to regret his cruel actions and found Marpa while we he sought a teacher to help him realize Enlightenment. Marpa put Milarepa through terrible and seemingly pointless tasks before he was willing to teach him. Marpa ordered Milarepa to build a tower and gave him specific dimensions, only to order him to dismantle it half-finished and place the stones back where he had found them. After repeating this several times, Milarepa reached a point where he completely gave up his desire to realize Enlightenment and fully surrendered to Marpa. It was at this point that Marpa agreed to teach Milarepa and made him his principle student. For additional information see:
Durto Rolpai Naljorpa, The Life of Milarepa, translated by Lobsang P. Lhalungpa (New York: Arkana Books, 1992).
 Jeffery Paine, Re-Enchantment, 95.
 Nick Wright, “Chögyam Trungpa Tribute Page,” The Chronicles of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, http://chronicleproject.com/tribute/tribute.html (accessed 20 April 2012).
 Charles Prebish, Luminous Passage, 160.
 Barry Boyce, “Ocean of Dharma,” Shambhala Sun, January 2012: 35, http://chronicleproject.com/images/misc/SUN_Jan12_VCTR_sprd.pdf (accessed 21 March 2012).
 Kimberley Luek, “Joining Heaven and Earth: Chögyam Trungpa and the Dharma Arts of Shambhala Meditation,” Arts, 11-12.
 Ibid., 15.
 The other two teaching lineages Trungpa founded were the Vajradhatu community, closely identified with traditional Buddhist practices, and the Shambhala Path, which were mainly geared toward the practice meditation and building an Enlightened society regardless of ones spiritual or religious beliefs.
 Barry Boyce, “Ocean of Dharma,” 37.
 Ibid., 37.
 Ibid., 81.
 Chögyam Trungpa, “The Tender Heart of the Warrior,” Shambhala Sun, March 2011, http://shambhalasun.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=3668&Itemid=0 (accessed 20 April 2012).
 Chögyam Trungpa, “The Sadhana of Mahamudra.”
 Chögyam Trungpa, “Meditation: TheFour Foundations of Mindfulness,” Shambhala Sun, March 2000, http://www.shambhalasun.com/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=1813&Itemid=0&limit=1&limitstart=4 (accessed 6 March 2012).
 Barry Boyce, “Ocean of Dharma,” 33.
 Trungpa developed an immense respect for Suzuki Roshi through contact with Roshi and his students. Trungpa noted, “Roshi was my accidental father, presented as a surprise from America.” He also calls Suzuki Roshi an incredibly compassionate, wise, and “earthy” person. For more information see:
Samuel Bercholz and Henry Schaeffer, “Rinpoche and Roshi,” The Chronicles of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, 15 December 2011, http://www.chronicleproject.com/chroniclesradio_stories/index_stories.html (accessed 21 March 2012).
Chögyam Trungpa, “Suzuki Roshi: A Recollection of Buddha, Dharma, Sangha,” The Chronicles of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, http://www.chronicleproject.com/stories_138.html (accessed 21 March 2012).
 Trungpa’s idea of basic goodness is almost directly translated from the Mahayana Buddhist concept of tathagatagarbha (Wylie: bde gshegs snying po) or Buddha-Nature. This idea holds that within each sentient being lies an Enlightened nature and that all have the potential to become Buddhas, or awakened ones. The result of spiritual practice, then, is not to realize an awakening externally, but to realize it within one’s own being. It is awakening what is already within all people and is only clouded over.
 Barry Boyce, “Ocean of Dharma,”34.
 Ibid., 31.
 Meera Flint, “Brief Encounters: No Place to Go,” The Chronicles of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, http://www.chronicleproject.com/brief19.html (accessed 21 March 2012).
 Chögyam Trungpa, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, 16.
 Chögyam Trungpa, “The Sadhana of Mahamudra.”
 Chögyam Trungpa, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, 1.
 Ibid., 6.
 Ibid., 18.
 Frank Berliner, “Brief Encounters,” The Chronicles of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, 2011, http://www.chronicleproject.com/brief.html (accessed 21 March 2012).
 Chögyam Trungpa, “Taking Refuge: The Decision to Become a Buddhist,” Shambhala Sun, May 2001, http://www.shambhalasun.com/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=2417 (accessed 21 March 2012).
 Denault Blouin, “Tribute to Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche,” The Chronicles of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, http://www.chronicleproject.com/tributes/59.html (accessed 20 April 2012).
 Pema Chödrön and Helen Tworkov, “No Right, No Wrong: An Interview with Pema Chödrön,” Tricycle 3, no. 1 (Fall 1993), http://www.tricycle.com/feature/no-right-no-wrong (accessed 21 March 2012).
 Jeffery Paine, Re-Enchantment, 92.
 Rick Fields, How the Swans Came to the Lake, 311.
 Naropa Institute was named for the Indian Buddhist philosopher and tantric master Naropa (956-1041). He was originally a great scholar and even Abbot of Nalanda University, said to have more than ten thousand monks in residence. It is believed that one day a dakini, or celestial being, came and asked him if he knew the real meaning of the Buddha’s teachings. When he said he did, the dakini cried and called him a great scholar but a liar, for he knew the words but not the meaning behind them. So moved by the dakini, Naropa left his post and went in search of a famous tantric teacher, Tilopa (988-1069) and after training with Tilopa realized Enlightenment. Naropa was also the teacher of Marpa, and is an important figure in Trungpa’s Kagyü lineage.
 Stephen Foehr, “Naropa University: Where East Meets West and Sparks Fly,” Shambhala Sun, Jan 2000, http://www.shambhalasun.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1847&Itemid=0 (accessed 22 February 2012).
 Rick Fields, How the Swans Came to the Lake, 316.
 Interestingly, the majority of students during the first summer were not in fact followers of Trungpa, but attended Naropa because of the Hindu spiritual teacher Ram Das (1931- ).
 Naropa University, “About Naropa University,” Naropa University, http://www.naropa.edu/about/index.cfm (accessed 16 April 2012).
 John Cobb in Stephen Foehr, “Naropa University: Where East Meets West and Sparks Fly.”
 Rick Fields, How the Swans Came to the Lake, 327.
 Peter Volz, “Lineage and Devotion in the Shambhala World,” The Chronicles of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, 12 July 2010, http://chronicleproject.com/stories_200.html (accessed 21 March 2012).
 Rick Fields, How the Swans Came to the Lake, 330.
 “Contemplative Arts and Disciplines,” Shambhala International, http://www.shambhala.org/arts.php (accessed 16 April 2012).
 Charles Prebish, Luminous Passage, 163.
 Chögyam Trungpa, Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior (Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1984).
 Chögyam Trungpa, Great Eastern Sun: The Wisdom of Shambhala (Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1999).
 Charles Prebish, Luminous Passage, 162.
 Chögyam Trungpa Legacy Project, “About Chögyam Trungpa,” http://chogyamtrungpa.com/wp/?page_id=48 (accessed 29 February 2012).
 Charles Prebish, Luminous Passage, 165.
 Trungpa moved the community to Halifax after a lengthy search for an ideal location to begin an experiment of sorts in realizing an Enlightened Society. His requirements were that the location were to have a slower pace of life, that it not be steeped in business and consumerism as much of the United States was, and that Shambhala practitioners have a positive impact on the local population. Today, Halifax has the largest non-Asian Buddhist community in the world as Shambhala flourishes there. For more on the Shambhala community in Halifax see:
Liesl Miller, “The Shambhala Buddhist Immigrants: A Nova Scotia Success Story?,” Our Diverse Cities: Atlantic Region, no. 5 (Spring 2008), canada.metropolis.net/pdfs/ODC_spring2008_e.pdf (accessed 21 March 2012).
 For a literary description of Trungpa’s funeral, see:
Allen Ginsberg, “On Cremation of Chögyam Trungpa,” in Cosmopolitan Greetings: Poems 1986-1992 (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1994).
 JPWII, “Chögyam Trungpa Tribute Page,” The Chronicles of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, http://www.chronicleproject.com/tribute/tribute.html (accessed 20 April 2012).
 Susan Edwards, “The Samadhi of the Guru,” The Chronicles of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, http://chronicleproject.com/tributes/2.html (accessed 29 March 2012).
 Ashoka Mukpo, “Tribute to Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche,” The Chronicles of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, http://www.chronicleproject.com/tributes/49.html (accessed 20 April 2012).
 Chögyam Trungpa, “Spiritual Will of Dorje Dradul of Mukpo, the Eleventh Trungpa Tulku,” The Chronicles of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, http://chronicleproject.com/stories_37.html (accessed 9 April 2012).
 For more information on Shambhala International see http://www.shambhala.org/about_shambhala.php
 “Shambhala Worldwide,” Shambhala International, http://www.shambhala.org/centers/(accessed 16 April 2012).
 Gustav Niebuhr, “Towering Buddhist Shrine is Consecrated in the Rockies,” The New York Times, 20 August 2001, http://www.nytimes.com/2001/08/20/us/towering-buddhist-shrine-is-consecrated-in-rockies.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm (accessed 21 March 2012).
 Chögyam Trungpa Legacy Project, “About Chögyam Trungpa.”
 For more personal testimonies see the “Chögyam Trungpa Tribute Page,” (http://chronicleproject.com/tribute/tribute.html) which contains more than fifty pages of posted student poems, messages, and tribute statements.
 Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, “Tribute to Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche,” The Chronicles of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, http://chronicleproject.com/tributes/5.html (accessed 16 April 1012).
 Sherab Chödzin Kohn, “Tribute to Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche,” The Chronicles of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpiche, http://chronicleproject.com/tributes/33.html (accessed 16 April 2012).
 Catherine Fordham, “Chögyam Trungpa Tribute Page,” The Chronicles of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, http://chronicleproject.com/tribute/tribute.html (accessed 20 April 2012).