Crazy Wisdom


by Robert Walker

As was pointed out by several senior students in the film (Chögyam Trungpa’s wife Diana Mukpo and senior teachers Pema Chödrön and Christie Cashman), it would be presumptuous to make statements about what “made him tick,” to pretend to fully assess the meaning of his behavior, or to define Chögyam Trungpa in any way. Students’ inability to pigeonhole him also made it difficult for them to use him as another feather in their caps, a further credential in their spiritual resumés. “If my teacher is not a conventional holy man, what does this say about me?”

In that context, Chögyam Trungpa’s decision to give up his monastic robes could be understood, in part, as having to do with the intention to communicate the teachings more clearly. He was not about to become, as described in the introduction to the Sadhana of Mahamudra, one of those “yogis of tantra” who “spend their whole time going through villages and performing little ceremonies for material gain.” In fact, unlike many Eastern teachers, he gave few blessing initiations, usually reserving such situations for students who had trained and were prepared to enter a further level of meditative discipline and commitment to the spiritual path.

In the introduction to Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, Chögyam Trungpa states that “an interesting metaphor used in Tibetan Buddhism to describe the functioning of ego is that of the ‘three lords of materialism’: the ‘lord of form’, the ‘lord of speech,’ and ‘the lord of mind,’” which are further described as physical materialism, psychological materialism, and spiritual materialism. “In the discussion of the three lords,” he continues, “the words ‘materialism’ and ‘neurotic’ refer to the action of ego.” The lord of form, physical materialism, is described as “the neurotic pursuit of comfort, security, and pleasure;” the lord of speech, psychological materialism, in its full-blown form, is the use of “idealogies [and] systems of ideas which rationalize, justify, and sanctify our lives;” the lord of mind, spiritual materialism, is “the effort of consciousness to maintain awareness of itself.” (Shambhala Publications, Dragon edition, pp. 5-6)

His point, here, is not that one should give oneself a hard time physically, or not pursue intellectual and spiritual training, but that there is a problem with the self-confirming and protective ways we use physical comforts, ideologies, and the pursuit of pleasurable states of mind (such as meditation practice itself). The spiritual path should not be confused with marketing, whether to oneself or others. When body, speech, and mind are dedicated to the service of ego, and particularly when ideologies and spiritual practice are used as credentials, these serve only to alienate us from the reality of our own hearts, other people, and the world. There is no enlightenment in that, either societal or personal. The implication is that any spiritual path, ideology, or lifestyle could be perverted in that way, whether it be Buddhism, Christianity, yoga, existentialism, nationalism, communism, capitalism or, for that matter, fitness programs, scheduling strategies, or interior decorating. This view is exemplified by his analysis of the cultural situation in the early 1970s that he encountered in the West as found in this seminar, Buddhadharma Without Credentials (pp. 1-2, Kalapa Publications, 1973):

It seems to be the destined karmic flow that buddhism is obviously going to come to America, and America is going to become the home of buddhism. Sooner or later that is going to happen. So, if we are going to be instrumental in bringing that about, we could disregard the advertisement aspect of it. We could work on a much more fundamental, basic, and honest level. Therefore, I have been presenting the idea of spiritual materialism, which is the basic core of understanding religion and spirituality, as well as deception and charlatanism.

....the spiritual path is not divided in terms of grades, nor is it divided in terms of how smart you are, how intelligent you are. Therefore, there are no credentials. That seems to be the starting point of a spiritual path.

Even though you could create credentials, somewhat legitimately according to the buddhist tradition – it has been done in the past – in our particular situation in America, it seems that presenting any idea of credentials becomes self-destructive, rather than being a source of inspiration at all. So we have to change that attitude and also reform the traditional patterns that have already developed in the East. Such patterns were up-to-date for certain situations at certain times, but in the twentieth century in America the approach of presenting credentials is out-of-date. Acquiring credentials doesn’t make a buddha. So the only answer is buddhadharma without credentials.

Having said all that, Chögyam Trungpa did, in fact, work with his students by training them in physical and arts disciplines, related to body or “form”, as well as intellectual and spiritual disciplines, including logic and meditation practice, disciplines of “speech” and “mind.” Students were encouraged to study and attempt to understand history and politics, how both enlightened and corrupt societies have developed and functioned in the past, to join the workforce, to relate to their families of origin and their cultural inheritance, to join in with the world. Eating, dressing, wearing clothes, walking, talking, sexual expression, political activity, caring for oneself, one’s friends and one’s family – all of these are included in his Buddhist and Shambhala teachings, as well as disciplines connected with these. Having pride and confidence in one’s life, oneself, and one’s world, appreciating and enjoying human existence, are also fundamental to the way he taught and lived. This intention, together with the intention to cut through spiritual materialism, provides a context for further investigating this man and his life.

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