Since another contributor to Gornahoor has penned an excellent series of articles on Shunryu Suzuki, I thought it appropriate to write something on Suzuki Roshi’s Dharma brother, Chogyam Trungpa.
Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche (Rinpoche is an honorary Tibetan title which means “precious one”) almost single-handedly brought Tibetan Buddhism to the West. Although several other lamas emigrated to the West before him, no one else had anywhere near as much of an impact. In his short time here, he firmly established the Kagyu lineage, founded the tradition of Shambhala Buddhism, founded Dharma centers all across the continent, as well as a major university in Boulder, Colorado, and left behind a legacy that still resonates to this day. A good deal of the vocabulary of Buddhism in English is the result of his work and teaching.
There is much information about Chogyam Trungpa available at other sites, so I won’t bother rehashing the details of his life here, including the controversies which some find off-putting. What I would like to mention are some aspects of his teaching that are especially relevant to Gornahoor and our readers.
Trungpa Rinpoche arrived in the United States in the early 1970s, when the country was still tearing itself apart over the Vietnam war and the counterculture. There was an entire generation of desperate, confused, spiritually hungry people, some of whom had begun to look east for answers and salvation. This is the situation he had to deal with upon his arrival, and the way he dealt with it is very telling.
More than anything else, he stressed the need for meditation practice. In Tibet, the Kagyu school to which he belonged is known as the “practice lineage.” He also guided his students away from the many mind-altering drugs that were especially prevalent at the time, such as marijuana (which he thought was particularly detrimental to spiritual practice) and the stronger hallucinogens.
In a time of fiercely anti-traditional attitudes, Rinpoche taught his students respect for tradition – not only his own Tibetan traditions, but the traditions of the West. He saw that many Westerners were adopting Tibetan or Indian culture along with Buddhist or Hindu spirituality, and he encouraged his students to see the beauty and majesty of their own cultures and traditions, rather than pretending to be something they are not. He modeled his community of students on the traditional structure of a King’s court, and made his students get haircuts and wear suits and formal dresses, so as to look the part of a proper courtier. Rinpoche himself was very fond of suits, as the above photo shows.
In an era of laziness and cynicism, which he termed ‘setting sun vision,’ he encouraged responsibility, dignity, and the vision of the Great Eastern Sun. As in Plato and other Traditional teachings, Rinpoche used the light of the sun as a metaphor for the primordial state of enlightenment, which he also called ‘basic goodness’ because it is the very basis and foundation of being.
Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche met Shunryu Suzuki some time in the early seventies, and they remained great friends throughout their lives.