November 27, 2011
Thomas Merton and Chögyam Trungpa: a dialogue and collaboration continued.
September 20, 2009
Report by Andrew Safer
The publication of On Different Views and Paths, an interview with Richard Reoch, President of Shambhala International, which appeared on both the Radio Free Shambhala and Shambhala Times Web sites in July, inspired a follow-up interview with Carolyn Gimian, Director of the Chögyam Trungpa Legacy Project (CTLP).
The following exchange from On Differing Views and Paths prompted this writer to ask Ms. Gimian to provide an update on the mandate and activities of the Legacy Project:
Radio Free Shambhala: The real question is: how are the teaching stream and legacy of Trungpa Rinpoche going to continue?
Richard Reoch: I’ve been in discussions with Carolyn Gimian since the beginning of the Chögyam Trungpa Legacy Project about the importance of that initiative. The analogy we have used is that the Legacy Project is like a presidential library, so things don’t end up moldering and being lost. I’ve had some initial conversations with some of the longer-term students and acharyas about how to create an identifiable and helpful framework so no one is seen as being on one track or the other, or as renegades which is antithetical to the long-term survival of the lineage.
The following Q’s and A’s are excerpted from interviews conducted with Ms. Gimian in late July and early August.
Vision and Mandate
Q: In 2007, the vision of the Legacy Project was to provide “a very large tent of dharma space as vast and open as Trungpa Rinpoche’s mind”. Is that still the case?
A: Almost without exception, all of Trungpa Rinpoche’s students and students of Shambhala internationally feel a tremendous connection to the Vidyadhara and his teachings, which leads to a sense of us being choicelessly a family and community. We are all united by our love for the Vidyadhara. Sometimes our connection also leads to people feeling either that they are being recognized for their connection or maybe they’re not, and conflict also arises out of that. I think the idea of a huge tent is that it transcends divisions as much as possible and provides a larger space for appreciating and propagating his teachings, which is in the spirit of how he taught.
Q: Mr. Reoch spoke about a presidential library. What is meant by that?
A: In the United States, starting with Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the presidential libraries provide a place where the vision of the president is kept intact. This is necessary because each administration goes in a new direction. For example, the Kennedy Library is extremely different from the Bush Library. Presidential libraries include museums, exhibits, audio-visual archives, programming, and extensive oral histories. You need a place where the vision of the president is kept intact. For example, there’s a huge oral history project at the Kennedy Library, which is a collection of taped memories of President Kennedy, based on interviews with his colleagues, family and friends.
If we had a physical location for an institute dedicated to the Vidyadhara’s vision, we would have a place where people could come and practice and study and experience the Vidyadhara’s teachings. We could have a shrine room because he was a great contemplative teacher. There should be a library of his own books, as well as books and texts he had a connection with, reading rooms, and a place where people could watch videos and listen to his talks. We would have a museum that would showcase some of the sacred objects he owned as well as show us something about his life from seeing his desk, his suits and ties, and many other things. In the case of the Kennedy Library, Kennedy had a connection with Hemingway so they have a Hemingway room at the Kennedy Library. We could have, say, the archives of Shibata Sensei, and his life would be celebrated in some way, as well as collections for other senior teachers who were contemporaries or students of the Vidyadhara, and archives and records of members of his family. It would give you a sense of the fullness of the world in which he was teaching.
Q: What are some of the projects that the Legacy Project is planning?
Comprehensive Virtual Archive
A: We would like to help develop a comprehensive virtual archive in partnership with the Shambhala Archives and the Chronicles of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. The Archives has completed the digitization of almost all of the Vidyadhara’s teachings that exist in audio format, which is 3,000 talks. Libraries of about half that material have been supplied to a large number of Buddhist centers—mostly Shambhala Centers. Naropa University also has this library of close to 1,500 of the Vidyadhara’s seminars and talks, and Jamgon Kongtrul III’s monastery in Pullahari, Nepal has also participated. Thanks to donations from many centers, as well as several private donors and the Shambhala Trust, 25 centers on four continents have libraries in the form of CDs. All of the major land centers have this library
Now that we have the digital files, we can think about organizing the material and making it available online and in other ways. The centers that have CDs know the title of the seminars, where they took place, and when, but a lot of people can’t use this effectively without more information. They need to be able to search on keywords and to have a synopsis and indication of how to use the material. For example, there are a few seminars on the Battle of Ego…What are they about? We need a synopsis. We’re starting to do some work on this, thanks to a small donation to evaluate the project. To do it properly (to make the CDs keyword search-enabled) would require a budget of at least $25,000. That’s probably low. This doesn’t include the money for the programming, software, server, etc if we want people to be able to access material on-line.
I don’t think most people want the MP3s for 3,000 talks on their hard drives, but they’d like to have access to the material when they want it. Working with the Archives and the Chronicles, we’d like to form a library that would provide membership online, for a membership fee of something like $8 to $10 per month, or people would pay what they can. Members would access all this material on-line and pay a separate fee if they want the recording as an MP3. That way, you could take your MP3 to the gym!
Another important project that’s in the discussion phase is to develop a program to train young people as future editors. There are probably 40 to 50 more volumes of original material by the Vidyadhara that need to be edited and published. There’s a great deal of material on the great forefathers of the Kagyu lineage, for example. To start, we might invite a group of 25 or 30 young students to come together to study the Vidyadhara’s teachings for four to six weeks, possibly during the summer. Some of the instructors would be senior editors who had worked with him. They would present the material from their point of view so the young person could learn to approach it as an editor. Presenters might include Judy Lief, Sherab Chodzin, David Rome, Sarah Coleman, me and others—especially the editors of Rinpoche’s work during the last ten or fifteen years of his life. At the end of the period of time, we would elect a small group to become editorial apprentices (depending on the available funding). The Nalanda Translation Committee has a program where they fund several apprentices. We might model what we do on their approach. We would like to pay the young people a stipend, and they would work for a couple of years with the editors on books. We’re thinking of having up to six young people in the group. We might also have a dharma art apprentice or apprentices for other aspects of the Vidyadhara’s teachings. The point would be to enable the next generations to really begin to take responsibility for his teachings.
A lot of this is in the discussion phase. In fact, a lot of it is just in my head! We don’t have a formal endowment fund, which is really what’s needed to ensure the dharma legacy of Chögyam Trungpa remains available to the future. As it stands now, people can include the Legacy Project in their will, set up an endowment within their own estate planning, or set up their own trust.
There really should be an endowment fund to ensure future editorial work on the Vidyadhara’s books and other projects. There’s a gap between the funding that can come from sales of books and what’s necessary to raise so that people can continue to do this work for future generations. Trying to do it on a cost-recovery basis is nuts; well, it’s unlikely to succeed. Buddhists traditionally have a practice of funding the teachings as merit. Some communities—particularly in Asia—are able to produce books at no cost to the reader and give them away. I wish we could do that with the virtual library and some other projects. If there was a big donation, a really big donation, that would make this possible. Occasionally, we have had patrons who underwrite the cost of a specific publication…A donor paid for many copies of the Sadhana of Mahamudra to be placed in Shambhala Centers, for example.
Chögyam Trungpa Annual Lecture
We have also been discussing the idea of hosting a Chögyam Trungpa Annual Lecture. We were very fortunate to receive the teaching gift from Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpooche’s visit to Halifax last year. Unexpectedly, he donated his whole teaching gift to the Legacy Project. The Chögyam Trungpa Annual Lecture would mark this generous gift. Someone who has a connection to Trungpa Rinpoche, such as another Buddhist teacher or a student of the Vidyadhara’s, would be invited to give the lecture about something related to his teachings, or something that came out of his work. We are asking Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche to give the first lecture. This could start in 2010. By the way, I don’t think the Sakyong knows anything about this yet, so he may be a little surprised by this idea.
Root Text Project
We support the work of the Shambhala Archives in many ways, as well as the editorial efforts of the Vidyadhara’s senior editors. We have a fund to help support editorial work. Right now, we’re emphasizing donations to the Root Text Project—the amazing efforts Judy Lief is making to edit the Vidyadhara’s teachings at seminary, and condense and organize these in an appropriate way so these books can be published by Shambhala Publications, and made available to the public.
I am going to work with Judy for about six months next year, and I’m very excited to be able to contribute to this project in some direct way. I recently spent about a week working with her. I was absolutely stunned by the depth and the breadth of the material, which begins to shine through when the editing is polished and the various talks are merged. There are close to 400 talks that she is working with in the three volumes. It’s truly amazing work. I think the publication of this three-volume work will establish Chögyam Trungpa as one of the most important scholars of the Buddhist tradition in the 20th century. I think it will shock people who have viewed him as a great popularizer but haven’t understood that he was actually transmitting the heart of his tradition and many of its details as well. I’m so thrilled that Judy is doing this work She has such a thorough understanding of the material and she is such a highly trained editor. Many others are supporting her, especially Ellen Kearney. Shambhala Publications and Shambhala Media are supporting this work, as are many individual donors. But Judy really deserves our thanks for undertaking and persevering in this project.
What Activities are Outside the Mandate of the Legacy Project?
Q: When Mr. Reoch was asked how the teaching and practice streams of Chögyam Trungpa will be kept alive, he mentioned the Legacy Project. What aspects of the continuation of his teaching stream will NOT be covered by the Legacy Project?
A: I think the Legacy Project can support a lot of different efforts, but I don’t think it will be the vehicle for preserving the teaching stream and practice streams that you’re describing. I think the Vidyadhara was such a vast person who influenced so many people that I also don’t think any one institution is going to be able to lay claim to him completely. He empowered his son, the Sakyong, to continue to teach, obviously, and that sense of lineage is very important.
I firmly believe that many students of the Vidyadhara—disciples and other people he influenced—have received important transmissions from him and that all of us have a responsibility to carry that forward. Almost every senior student—and there are hundreds—have a very deeply felt sense of wanting to preserve the Vidyadhara’s legacy. In the Lojong teachings, there is a slogan that advises us to hold the principal witness. You have to trust your own integrity and sanity. In the last many years with the Archives and the Legacy Project, I’ve realized there are these jewels everywhere, which are the human beings who have extraordinary ideas about what it means to pass on Rinpoche’s teachings. Again, I don’t think any organization can contain all of that.
He gave so many teachings that were applicable to the time when he gave them. I really do believe that many were like terma—little time bombs going off as time goes on. None of them are trivial. Of all the talks he gave and all the times I heard him speaking about the dharma, I can’t think of one instance that was trivial. His contribution was so vast, it’s really important to try to be sure that the breadth of his work and the depth of it is available, both for us and the future. Rinpoche’s students were so fortunate, we’ve gotten so much…The big issue now is not so much do we have enough; it’s more, how can we share it with the world?
The Vidyadhara developed many important forms,dathun, for example. I don’t think it existed until he developed it. We have to be sure that these forms survive. How do people communicate what they actually know? For myself, I’ve been at times really lazy. I felt this stuff is all out there, we just have to keep the machine rolling. I don’t think that’s true anymore. Even if it were a terribly well oiled machine, I would still have the responsibility to work with the teachings he gave me and communicate whatever I understand. There’s always a danger a lot could be lost if people don’t step up. It’s a big wake-up call.
I was recently reading a seminar given in 1974 by the Vidyadhara on Jamgon Kongtrul, about what is the genuine contemplative approach: bringing the teachings together with experience. If we don’t do that continually, we can have something that looks good but actually has no depth to it: there’s no there there. Jamgon Kongtrul said if you approach sharing the teachings with others like being a milkman, you’re really missing the point. If you just take the bottles of milk and sell them, you haven’t actually milked the cow yourself. You haven’t drunk the milk.
Q: These are very ambitious projects! What sort of budget is the Legacy Project working with?
A: The unaudited budget for 2008 was $43,000, which was huge for us. More than one-third came from Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche’s gift. The ongoing donations we can count on are between $12,000 and $15,000 a year. This year total revenue will be closer to $25,000. Obviously, to fulfill our big plans, we will need more than this on an annual basis.
Q: Does Shambhala International donate to the Legacy Project?
A: There are no direct donations, but there’s a lot of in-kind support—services we have access to.
Q: It seems that a big part of preserving the Vidyadhara’s teachings is to have teachers who teach what he taught. Can the Legacy Project assist with this work of training teachers?
A: The Legacy Project doesn’t necessarily have a direct role here. Yes, it’s a very important area. I feel that as a group all the senior students of the Vidyadhara need to be respected more than they are. As a mark of respect for the Vidyadhara, it’s important to respect all of the aspects of his teaching. That would include the Buddha, dharma, and sangha principles. Regarding the sangha—his senior students—I think we were incredibly well trained. Trungpa Rinpoche’s students had a very good education. He taught us to think as contemplative people, to apply the teachings to our experience, to understand what things meant, not just to memorize a lot of categories. He worked hard to make people think about how the dharma worked for them individually. That needs to be respected. Where that is not happening, it’s very sad.
Q: Another important element of keeping the Vidyadhara’s teachings alive has to do with having access to the texts (such as the sadhanas).
A: Access to the texts and similar materials does not fall under the purview of the Legacy Project. You’ll have to ask the Nalanda Translation Committee about that.
Q: It would seem that preserving the unique way that the Vidyadhara gave actual teaching transmissions, such as pointing out instructions, is another key element of keeping the his teachings alive…
A: The Vidyadhara gave teachings that were very important to different lineages, to different Buddhist teachers and their students. For example, his teachings on Zen and Tantra have been well received in the Zen world through the recent book The Teacup and the Skullcup. One reason it’s important for the Legacy Project to be involved in seeing that this root material is preserved is so that many people can benefit from his teachings. However, we’re not in the business of giving pointing out instructions, abhishekas or distributing restricted materials. Traditionally that has to come from an association with a root teacher.
Most Concerned to Protect
Q: What is the aspect of the Vidyadhara’s work that you are most concerned to protect?
A: I’m greatly concerned that we don’t have everything he taught transcribed. At the same time, if we lose his voice, if we lose the audio recordings, we won’t have a total record. And then, in the long run, I’m concerned that he gave a lot of teachings on Mudra Space Awareness, Mudra Theatre, and Maitri and many other unique applications of the teachings to Western culture. A lot of the early material is not very available to people..
I’ve been listening to the Jamgon Kongtrul seminar I mentioned earlier, how Jamgon Kongtrul went around Tibet and received the transmissions and practices for something like 108 different contemplative schools. A lot of them were on the verge of going out of existence because nobody had practiced these teachings in so long. He kept the material from going out of existence by getting the transmissions himself, and practicing, and sharing with others. I believe that much of the Rinchen Terdzo is a reflection of his efforts.The Vidyadhara’s work is so vast that we are in danger of losing some of it. Some parts are hardly practiced anymore. Sometimes people think that, for the moment, a particular teaching is no longer relevant, but that’s really not the case. People have realized that the teachings he gave to Mudra Sapce Awareness, for example, are related to Dzogchen Ati teachings. And they may have much to offer to actors and others in the theatre. If we don’t keep them alive, we’ll lose that whole stream of teachings he gave.
Q: I understand the Legacy Project was planning to be independent from Shambhala International…
A: Yes, we had discussions with people within Shambhala International moving toward independence. The original reason for that, in part, was to have the Legacy Project reaching really out on a large scale. There are many people in the world—artists and others—and people from many different organizations who appreciate Trungpa Rinpoche’s teachings. That includes people at Naropa Institute and many other Buddhist teachers, not just Tibetan Buddhists but Zen teachers and communities, Theravadin teachers, and many others. But it became clear that the Sakyong and his family and Shambhala International wanted to have the Legacy Project remain within Shambhala.
Q: What does it mean to “come under the protection and blessings of Kalapa”?
A: I don’t know entirely. Practically speaking, I’m working fairly closely with Richard Reoch, in the sense that he and I are working on a two-year plan. I’ve been talking with him about the Legacy Project for three or four years and he has shown an interest for a long time. As far as I can tell, Kalapa is still in the forming stages, so it’s hard to say. I hope it means that the Kalapa Council will lend their support to the efforts of the Legacy Project.
Protection and Change
Q: On Radio Free Shambhala, “Tsondru Garma” posted this comment: “Can the Legacy Project really be in danger of being changed while protected? That’s a scary prospect indeed. I sincerely hope that the Project is not in any danger of revisionism. Too painful or difficult to even imagine.”
A: I think the best protection of the Vidyadhara’s legacy is to take the biggest view. That really can’t be corrupted because it’s beyond any individual interpretation. We need to remember that the Vidyadhara was Padmasambhava for our age. If you keep that in mind, that tells you that whenever people are trying to make a decision about what to do, it should be made from that highest viewpoint. Small mindedness is going to come from many corners. Whatever my role may be, I have to deal with my own small mindedness first, which is usually the bigger obstacle, rather than what anybody else is going to foist onto me.
Whatever may happen to the Legacy Project, the actual legacy of Chögyam Trungpa is incorruptible. I believe that with all my being, or non-being.
Thanks, Andrew, for this opportunity to say something about the Chögyam Trungpa Legacy Project. Also, may I mention that we are in the process of redoing our Web site. Right now, it’s not much. But I hope the new site will be up in about a month. You can find the web site of the Legacy Project at www.chogyamtrungpa.com.
Carolyn Rose Gimian is a senior editor of the work of Chögyam Trungpa, as well as the director of the Chögyam Trungpa Legacy Project and the Director Emeritus of the Shambhala Archives. She edited The Collected Works of Chögyam Trungpa and Shambhala The Sacred Path of the Warrior and other titles, including the forthcoming Smile at Fear: Awakening the True Heart of Bravery. She lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
*Photo of Carolyn Gimian by Marvin Moore
September 8, 2009
Imagine – a civilization, a culture, a country or countries, where the sacred is acknowledged in every aspect of personal, family, and community life, as well as in the details of business, finance, and government. Imagine, not “no religion too“, but “your religion too“, so that such a society would respect equally the genuine practice traditions of the many faiths of its citizens. This is what I hear the 21st century, and the millenium we’re entering, calling for. This call is also the real source – terma, actually – of the Shambhala vision of Chögyam Trungpa.
I will explore two aspects of this here, very briefly: secular/sacred, and drala.
A new balance, or indivisibility, of secular and sacred seems to be needed, in which the sacred is fully acknowledged in all the institutions of government and society, but in which they are not tied to any one religious faith. The founding fathers of the United States made a very conscious and brilliant effort in this direction, basing the state on fundamental natural principles while separating state from church, but as we can see in today’s American society this is not the final word – a more complete synthesis is necessary. The sacred has become the preserve of official religions and of fundamentalisms, while the secular has been left to be terrorized by market darwinism and peculiar beliefs such as that good trickles down from attachment and greed.
Looking beyond the shores of North America, we see that much of the world does not buy into McGlobalization, and is suggesting that other outlooks are equally or more valid: an Islamic example is that of a Caliphate, with formally integrated calls to prayer throughout the day, as a better way to be for human beings. I think there is great accuracy in this latter aspiration, and it finds echoes in the lifestyles of Hasidic Judaism, in life as sadhana for Hindus and Buddhists, etc. But how can it be realized in a manner that can be shared by adherents of more than one religious practice?
In my understanding and experience this is exactly the question and the need from which the Shambhala vision of Chögyam Trungpa was extracted, and it is this that the Shambhala project – experiment – in creating a secular expression of the sacred is seeking to address. Its motivation is not an attempt to find “who we are”, but rather, what kind of radically open space, in which the sacred presents, can we uncover, manifest and share – for us and others?
The divorce of the efficient instruments of economy, business, finance, and law from the sacred – evident in mantras such as “business is business” and in notions such as that the bottom line can be expressed as a number – have led to devastating exploitation and destruction of our environment, and of the entire fabric of life within which we arise. Drala is the Shambhala term for the understanding, relationship, and practice which brings experience of the sacred together with the world of appearances, resources, and perceptions. Drala is finding the cosmic mirror in a blade of grass, in a sheaf of wheat, in a kitchen utensil. It is drala that calls for an explicit role in the very guts of our systems of sustainability and care, in the DNA of our financial and engineering systems – and we need to find language and forms to express that. Drala also offers a way to bring together the sometimes more abstract notions of emptiness and nature of mind with the textures of the living world, and more and more vocabulary for it is emerging within science itself.
The Source is in Front
On a personal note, this is why Shambhala Vision feels ever more relevant: it is a genuine attempt to go from but also beyond one’s personal practice into the open space of others, and it offers some useful language and practice to bring such aspiration down to earth. This is also something not unique: I am finding that the more I look out and interact genuinely with people, the more I meet such vivid openness. It is not of my making, or my belonging, but through mutual letting go the space feels held, and common language, understandings, and forms emerge. It’s possible for people to meet in no-man’s land, and to learn to be there with integrity, decisiveness and confidence – then it turns out to be pure gold, drala’s home, and warrior’s way.
More than that, it’s necessary for our world to be so, and for us to develop such ways of being, along with the forms, culture and institutions to actually embody these. Sustainability needs sustained drala practice, for example. This is a radical project, to create a new secular vocabulary of the sacred, which includes explicit personal and communal recognition of drala in our food, clothing, land, and homes – where we live. That space and its yearning is where our legacy comes from.
Over the centuries, there have been many who have sought the ultimate good and have tried to share it with their fellow human beings. To realize it requires immaculate discipline and unflinching conviction. Those who have been fearless in their search and fearless in their proclamation belong to the lineage of master warriors, whatever their religion, philosophy, or creed. What distinguishes such leaders of humanity and guardians of human wisdom is their fearless expression of gentleness and genuineness – on behalf of all sentient beings. We should venerate their example and acknowledge the path that they have laid for us. They are the fathers and mothers of Shambhala, who make it possible, in the midst of this degraded age, to contemplate enlightened society.
– The Shambhala Lineage, the final chapter in Shambhala The Sacred Path of the Warrior
Mark Szpakowski, earth cadet and habitat partner, develops software for collaboration and care, and has been a co-conspirator with Chögyam Trungpa since 1972.
December 11, 2008
The Chronicles web site is featuring an audio interview with Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, conducted by Barry Boyce as part of its Let Loose series. This interview, held in November 2008 during the Transcending Madness program in Halifax, is worth listening to for its comments on lineage, cultural flavoring of how the teachings are presented, and other issues relevant to readers of this site. Please comment and discuss either here or on the Chronicles site.
Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche has a particularly strong connection to students of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, which began with his presentation of Vajrakilaya teachings to the Vajradhatu sangha on behalf of his (and CTR’s) teacher, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, and continued with his being tasked by Khyentse Rinpoche to relate with and care for the community of CTR’s students.
September 23, 2008
I realized recently that it has been twenty years since the 1988 Seminary. This was a surprise to me. Wow. And almost twenty years since the parinirvana of the Vajra Regent. And coming soon will be the twenty year anniversary for His Holiness Jamgon Kongtrul.
There have been so many changes in my life during the last twenty years. I was a terribly devoted student of the Regent, in love and in horror of the Los Angeles sangha at the time. For some reason I distrusted any urge to seek out the Vidyadhara. I think his writings struck me too personally. I remember feeling that he was quite literally talking to me when reading “Cutting Through” and “The Myth of Freedom” for the first time. Also, I suppose the sangha members who displayed the most realization were rather circumspect about the Vidyadhara’s state and his willingness to communicate, so it seemed like I was better off to focus on more accessible situations.
Connecting with the Los Angeles Dharmadhatu and the overall Vajradhatu mandala was really great for me. I was of two minds, though. On the one side, I sensed a wonderful fearlessness and vitality within many practitioners. These were people who had been liberated from a sense of continual apology for themselves, while still their kleshas were not hidden, nor was their devotion to the Vidyadhara hidden. Simultaneously, though, I felt that many people were missing some very basic truth. They still sought a kind of idealization of their path or being, which seemed to be a horribly grotesque form of spiritual materialism. It is hard to find the words to describe this, but it was a kind of unnecessary concretization or attribution of their wisdom, an automatic rationalization or credentialling process which was the seed for all sorts of lies and deceptions.
Now I sometimes reminisce over such a spontaneous sense of revulsion. But, of course, what we are attracted to and repelled by mostly relfects our own psychology, and some of that has changed over twenty years. I guess the revulsion hasn’t passed, but I am now much less in denial regarding my enmeshment in samsara, that web of interdependent and endlessly rehearsed dysfunction.
Twenty years ago I believed that the Regent acknowledged both my wisdom and my confusion, without any fear or sense of project. It was very inspiring, and seemingly very real. But I had an overwhelming sense of failure, which manifested as guilt and regret that I didn’t “live up” to the sense of awake I felt was the core of buddhadharma and the Regent’s way of being. Sadly, this feeling was my constant companion for many years, and it came to largely embody the Regent’s presence in my life. Finally, a few years ago I visited the Satdharma sangha in Ojai and had a short interview with Patrick Sweeney. He remarked quite simply, “there is no reason for regret.” Since then, I think of the Regent less; it seems that my obsession was just another symptom of not being enlightened.
What strikes me after these years is a recurring sense of “Man, how could I have been such an idiot!” and “Why was I so stuck on that?” Did the Buddha look back and marvel at his ignorance? Did he see all the unintended consequences of his actions? Could he laugh and cry over these things?
One question that is often asked in the various sangha forums is, “How are the senior students going to carry this on?” etc. etc. You have heard the refrain. Well, the short answer is: they won’t. Sure, there will be many good deeds accomplished by the vast and wonderful sangha. There might be a few exceptionally eloquent and erudite teachers and scholars. This is surely nothing to speak against, but it is more like brewing and selling yogurt, rather than being a vidyadhara.
It seems that many of these discussions of the future of the Vidyadhara’s legacy fail to acknowledge the outrageous narcissism of our buddhist practice. We actually believe that we have direct access to the truth. So we spend years and years in meditation to uncover this so-called truth; meditating on our intentionally created forms, meditating on our karmas, meditating on our post-meditation, meditating on so-called space. All of this for the benefit of others. This is what is taught, no? But also the Buddha, the mahasiddhas and so forth taught about letting go. Nonattachment. Really letting go. And then letting go again.
I think the message will continue as it always has, when the desperate person forms a relationship with the realized person. Whether you happen to be the desperate or the realized person, the possibility of communication is what exists. This is how the lineage will continue. Was it any different for Naropa and Tilopa? Was it any different for you and your teacher? As much as I might secretly want God to exist in the form of the Buddha ministering to my homunculus, I must acknowledge that the situation really is nontheistic. It is much more spontaneous. How can we possibly compete with the Vidyadhara? We can’t.
Twenty years post-seminary, I have to ask: what has it all done for me? What has it done for you? I am much more pragmatic and less principled. I have failed, deeply, in so many ways. I have accumulated debts and responsibilities, liabilities and contingencies. Looking at my mind, all I can say is that it is quite vivid. Is this apparent mind any better or worse, any duller or sharper? Not really, with the possible exception of brain damage caused by alcohol use. Or is that just the natural process of aging? I have not escaped from impermanence or death.
What use is it then? Well, I understand things better. There is the notion of insight, “Oh! I see.” And there is always more to see; profundity and vastness are the two qualities of the dharma taught by the Buddha. There is more ignorance to uncover; there is more subtlety to discover; and there are endless possibilities of encouragement and growth.
So these are my thoughts, some twenty years post-seminary.
A short poem
Don’t look near. Don’t look far.
Your gaze cannot manifest the Buddha.
Don’t be a fake.
Whether it is real
It is a complete unknown,
and it has not particular consequences
in any case.
Ed, you sought a guru.
You found the Regent.
You studied and practiced.
But you must admit the sensation
of subjectivity has not disappeared,
the thought of a self is more vivid.
Or is it, really?
A little introspection goes a long way,
especially in this day and age.
There actually was no thought
of a self. It was
just a thought.
Not a self.
That has neither come nor gone,
Made bigger or smaller.
But there is lots of reactivity and
Fear of penetration. Fear of
Killing and giving birth,
or contributing the sperm, in
Getting hung up —
it is my lifestyle.
I love the Regent
and I miss him so.
First thought best thought
Is this only for friends?
It is just a phrase.
Don’t get hung up on it.
Let it be.
September 21, 2008
Since Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche died in 1987, the Internet has revolutionized the way we communicate. The Sakyong is taking full advantage of this medium at www.mipham.com.
A review of this web site brought to light, for this writer, some of the key differences between the teachings of the Sakyong and those of Trungpa Rinpoche.
Firstly, the Sakyong is described as:
- “one of Tibet’s highest and most respected incarnate lamas”
- “King of Shambhala”
- “the eldest son of the Vidyadhara Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche”
- “the incarnation of Mipham the Great, who is revered in Tibet as an emanation of Manjushri, the buddha of wisdom”
- “descends from the Tibetan warrior-king Gesar of Ling”
- “holds the Kagyu and Nyingma lineages of Tibetan Buddhism”
- “head of the Shambhala Buddhist lineage and is spiritual director of Shambhala, a borderless kingdom of meditation practitioners committed to realizing enlightenment and social harmony through daily life”
- “the lineage holder of Naropa University”
- “has studied with the great masters His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche–teacher of the HH Dalai Lama and the king of Bhutan–and HH Penor Rinpoche”
- “is married to Princess Tseyang Palmo, daughter of His Eminence Namkha Drimed Rabjam Rinpoche, head of the Ripa lineage”
- “has written two books, the national bestseller Turning the Mind Into an Ally, and the prize-winning Ruling Your World”
- “is a poet and an artist”
- “runs marathoms to raise money for Tibet through the Konchok Foundation”
- “in September 2006 he offered the first Living Peace Award to HH the Dalai Lama at the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya in Colorado”.
The Sakyong’s bio brings to mind Trungpa Rinpoche’s phrase “Buddhadharma Without Credentials”…only here, it’s With Credentials. One gets the impression that some effort is going into crafting his on-line persona.
One of the credentials is that he is the incarnation of Mipham the Great. I don’t recall hearing anything about this before the Sakyong Enthronement in 1995. It is noteworthy that neither of the great tertons/mahasiddhas, Trungpa Rinpoche and His Holiness Khyentse Rinpoche, recognized the Sakyong (who was the Sawang then) as the incarnation of Mipham the Great during their lifetimes. It seems odd that such an important fact would have eluded these great visionaries.
The audio, video, and text files in the Archive section of the site reflect a recurring theme about Happiness. In the video “What About Me”, the Sakyong says, “You know what? When you’re happy, I’m happy. That’s the formula.”
Putting other before self is what Buddhism is about, but it’s the “I’m happy” part that adds a new twist to the teachings we received from Trungpa Rinpoche.
In the audio clip “If You Want to Be Happy” the Sakyong talks about using a type of contemplation to switch one’s thought patterns from focusing on oneself to focusing on compassion and love. The title implies that adopting this approach will make you happy.
While this approach is well-intentioned, there is a danger that students might conclude that there are “good thoughts” and “bad thoughts.” It also gives the impression that discursiveness can be harnessed to achieve a desired result. Even if this type of contemplation is, to some degree, successful in developing compassion, the danger is that, by fiddling with discursiveness in this way, the practitioner–unbeknownst to himself/herself–is sacrificing the development of prajna in the process.
In another audio file, “Chicago Public Talk” (August 2007), the Sakyong talks about karma and interdependence. “Every action we’re engaged in is the result of many things coming together, and they say [this is also true of] our emotions, and whatever happens to us. We say: ‘I’m sitting here feeling sad. How do I feel happy?’ [There is a] way to be able to shift the energy of our karmic situation. We need to orient our karmic situation so that we’re developing the seed, so that has a possibility.”
Trungpa Rinpoche’s teachings on the life of Naropa provide a useful context for considering this view. In the talk titled “Meeting Reality” (New York, January 1972), he said, “Naropa’s experience of discovering Tilopa is connected with finally giving up hope. We have to give up the hope of getting what we want to get; the search for an ultimate answer has to be given up.” He further explained that we have a love-hate relationship with ourselves. “That’s precisely why the samsaric mind and samsaric point of view of trying to gain happiness is regarded as holding the wrong end of the stick.”
In the talk about Naropa’s life titled “Continuity” (Karme Choling, December, 1975), he said, “The role of the guru, at this point, is to tell you you’re hopeless…or that you will never solve your problem.”
However, explained Trungpa Rinpoche, hopelessness here is different from despair. He equated despair with laziness and lack of intellect, and hopelessness with intelligence, inspiration, and challenge.
The divergence of these views on happiness and hopelessness hinges on egolessness. In Trungpa Rinpoche’s dharma teachings, there is no shortcut around egolessness, and nothing trumps it–not happiness, not power, not fame, not a 12-gun salute, nothing. “The great symbol (Mahamudra) which does not involve any metaphors,” he said, “relates to things directly and completely and allows no compromises.” According to what he taught, rather than bettering oneself, the path is about giving up ground. Becoming less, not more.
The Vidyadhara’s students are proud inheritors of the lineage of the Takpo Kagyu. In our morning chant, we recite: “Great Vajradhara, Telo, Naro, Marpa, Mila, Lord of Dharma Gampopa…” In this one line, we invoke the lineage of the ones who realized Mahamudra, attained enlightenment, and benefitted sentient beings immeasurably.
When we study the lives of these great teachers, we see that their paths were arduous, to say the least!. The effort they expended is difficult to fathom.
Naropa’s experiences are particularly instructive. After a distinguished career as a learned one, he struck out on his own in search of a qualified teacher—Tilopa. Along the way, he met up with all kinds of disturbing situations. One man was washing the insides of another man’s stomach. Two old people were killing and eating the insects they found in the furrows they were plowing. Naropa then saw one-eyed people, a blind man who could see, a man with no ear who could hear, another without a tongue who could speak, another who was lame, running, and a corpse fanning itself. These were just some of his encounters along the way. When these people called out to him for help he refused because his sights were set on finding the guru. Eventually he learned that they were inseparable from the guru, but his attachment to habitual patterns and conceptual mind prevented him from seeing this.
After Tilopa agrees to take him under his wing, Naropa’s life doesn’t get any easier. At one-year intervals, Tilopa says to him: “If I had had a disciple he would… build a bridge over a pool of leeches. (Naropa does and is eaten by leeches and other vermin); bring fire, reeds and fat, if he wants instruction. (Naropa does and Tilopa dips the ends into the fat which had been heated on the fire, and held them against Naropa’s body; the pain became unbearable); throw the queen down and drag her about. (Naropa does and the king and his followers beat him to within an inch of his life). These are just a few of the trials Naropa went through.
Although very different, Milarepa’s trials were every bit as arduous as Naropa’s. Marpa told Milarepa to build a stone and mud house. Then when it was built, he had him tear it down and put the stones back where he found them. Then Marpa told him to build another house, and another, etc. After that, Milarepa had to build a nine-storey tower for his guru’s son before he could receive teachings.
Such was the nature of the guru-student relationship back then. It has been said that the traditional ngondro practice was developed as a way to approximate the dynamics of this intense and personal relationship in modern times when this close way of working together is no longer possible (for example, Tilopa worked with Naropa for 12 years).
But now that the Sakyong has introduced the Rigden Ngondro, these practices can be accomplished in less time and with less effort. Where will the Milarepas and Naropas of the future come from if this abbreviated form of training becomes the norm?
There is another element of the mipham.com web site that suggests an entirely different teacher-student relationship in the age of the Internet: the fundraising appeal. It reads:
For generations in Tibet and other Buddhist countries, it has been the tradition for students to offer what they feel is appropriate for receiving the teachings from an authentic teacher. This creates a situation where we become personally motivated to give back in acknowledgment of the gift we have received and in recognition for the years of training and understanding the teacher has cultivated. Please think about what gift you would like to give in return. Please know that all gifts will be put back into the further development of this site as well as support the Sakyong’s activities world wide. Thank you for your generosity.
Giving a teaching gift is a traditional way for the student to express his/her appreciation to the teacher for conferring a particular teaching. Within the Shambhala community, typically, the teaching gift also helps the teacher to defray expenses associated with travelling from his/her home.
In the case of this fundraising appeal, there is no reference to a particular teaching that is being given. It appears that the donation is meant to support the Sakyong’s activities, so the use of the phrase “teaching gift” is confusing. After visiting other sections of the web site, one can interpolate that perhaps the teaching referred to is that which is contained within the audio, video, and text files in the Archive section, but this is not at all clear.
As the first lineage holder of Shambhala Buddhism, the Sakyong has broken out of a mold and is charting a new course, one which involves extensive use of the Internet, via web sites and e-mails (Shambhala News Service, etc.) sent to members of his organization. It seems that the Internet is now mediating between the Sakyong and his students/public, which suggests that it is no longer necessary to meet the teacher in person or be in his/her presence to hear the teachings. The teacher-student relationship has become easy and convenient, but what is being lost in the process?
The more the Sakyong articulates his view and teachings, the more apparent it becomes to this writer that both his medium and his message are markedly different from what Trungpa Rinpoche taught.
As the Talking Heads song goes, “This is not my beautiful house! This is not my beautiful wife!”