Crazy Wisdom


by Robert Walker

A great power of this film, Crazy Wisdom: The Life and Times of Chögyam Trungpa, is the way it introduces or re-introduces Chögyam Trungpa as a human being, as a person in relationship with others. It shows how the heart of his teachings was transmitted -- not merely as information, but as an intimate gift of love that could be taken to heart, and which could be transformative. The journey and experiences of the early students, many of whom had personal time with him, is so useful in showing this, and I am grateful that so many of them express themselves in this film. This film is largely about relationships and how those who were close to Chögyam Trungpa were changed -- not just from instructions and information, but by how they were touched by him.

Such relationships were marked by love, appreciation, and a certain amount of fear and trepidation on the part of the students. It could be intimidating to be faced with such unconditional passion -- someone who both knew you and could see through you at the same time, who was willing to tell the painful and pleasurable truth, and who appreciated both one's faults and one's deepest inspiration. He was also willing to train students in awareness practices, without embarrassment, in many challenging, inspiring, and boring ways.

However, the notion that such a journey with his teachings is not available now is an error, in my opinion. Even near the beginning of his teaching career in the United States, students complained about not having enough direct contact with him. This became more and more an "issue" as the community of students increased in size. His response was often to encourage students to take the teachings more to heart and to practice more, especially on the meditation cushion. Such instruction does not seem to be outdated.

Speaking of Johanna Demetrakas and crew, I cannot emphasize enough what a brave and generous act making this film is. For all the artfulness -- the willingness to not preach but to let the various narrators, reliable or unreliable, tell this story -- she does not give in to the pretense and hypocrisy of being objective, and I applaud her for that. This is an intimate work, not particularly one that was produced from some peanut gallery. And with respect to Johanna's generosity - I have to think that there must be less stressful and more lucrative ways to make a living than making this film. So, thanks, Johanna. This is an invaluable piece of work, and a wonderful access to Chögyam Trungpa, both for those who met him and for those who did not.

Many of the people in this film, students of his, are excellent teachers themselves. For every one of them you see in this film, there are dozens more teaching at Shambhala Centers and in other Buddhist groups, mostly Tibetan and Zen groups. The filmmaker, Ms. Demetrakas, has also been known to teach meditation from time to time, as have I. He was a teacher of teachers, including teachers who trained other teachers, and who also encouraged and supported a number of Western teachers from other Buddhist lineages in their formative years.

I am a little dharma brother of many of the student-teachers of Chögyam Trungpa who appear in this film. I went to talks by many of them and people like them as a student of Chögyam Trungpa from 1979 on, roughly nine years after he first began teaching in the United States. As sort of a minor practice and study nerd, I have also transcribed many of his talks, some of which he gave while consuming a great deal of alcohol. I was a student and staff person at what was then The Naropa Institute, and was also on the psychology faculty for a number of years.

One of the challenges of making a film about Chögyam Trungpa is the scope of his activities. In his English-language teaching career, he gave well over 2000 talks to a variety of audiences, from devoted students to indifferent spiritual seekers, and during almost all of which he was mostly paralyzed over half of his body. There were (and are) artists, health professionals, political activists, people in business, people connected to other Buddhist lineages and other spiritual traditions - all sorts of people - who claim to be influenced by him, who take his teachings to heart in various ways and to different degrees. This does not include the many people who don't like him but were also influenced by him and his work. It would be an error to talk about him purely in the past tense; he is a living force in many people's lives.
One film can't tell that whole story of how much he accomplished in the 47 years of his life.

So, this is the first of a series of blogs about the Crazy Wisdom film, addressing a number of themes, most of which are highlighted by the film. My bias is that all of these subjects can best be understood when seen through the lens of his teaching relationship with people, students and nonstudents alike, and his aspiration to benefit this world. In any case, these blog subjects could, and probably will, include craziness, wisdom, more about student teacher relationships, sexuality and intimacy in human relationships, spiritual materialism, meditation practice and boredom, different aspects of the dharma art teachings, language and elocution, the Shambhala military (kasung and kusung), other awareness practices, alcohol and the question of alcoholism, how he let the "sparks fly" and trained people intellectually, his appreciation for monasticism, his decision not to be a monastic, and probably other topics that have not come to mind yet.

2 comments 2 comments ( 1331 views )

Marianne Schaefer
I was a student of Chogyam Trungpa when I was much younger. I was in a relationship at the time and had a young child. One of his senior students approached me and enocuraged me to leave my partner and be with him, as my partner was not a student. I got very mixed up and ran away. Yet Trungpa was always there for me and acutally still is.
I never understood all the switching of partners that took place, the drinking etc, as I saw Trungpa fall down at a party, he was so drunk. Your film put it all in perspective for me, so I am very grateful.
thank you.
I saw the film in Boulder at an initial screening last year. After reading as much history as I possibly could, it was wonderful to see Choyam Trungpa come alive on the screen. Although I was never able to study with him in the flesh, I feel as though he leads me daily as an artist and student on the Shambhala Path. I appreciate you pointing out how he is still very much alive in many peoples lives to this day. Thanks.