Crazy Wisdom

"The coming of Buddhism to the West may well prove to be the most important event of the Twentieth Century." -Arnold Toynbee, historian

We speak casually of good parking karma, Samsara is a perfume, and Nirvana is a rock band. A recent survey by Germany's Der Spiegel revealed that Germans like the Dalai Lama more than their native-born Pope Benedict XVI. Tibetan Buddhism is doubling its numbers faster than any other religion in Australia and the U.S.A. How did this happen? Crazy Wisdom explores this profound cultural shift through the story of Chogyam Trungpa, the brilliant "bad boy of Buddhism." Born in Tibet, trained in their rigorous monastic tradition, Trungpa fled the Communist invasion in 1959, the same year as the Dalai Lama. In Britain, seeing the cultural gap blocked his students from any deep understanding of Buddhism, he renounced his vows, eloped with a sixteen year-old, and lived as a westerner. In the U.S., he openly drank alcohol and had intimate relations with students. Was this the "crazy wisdom" that his Tibetan colleagues recognized as an authentic way to manifest in the world? And was it "crazy wisdom" that helped him build the first Buddhist university in the western hemisphere and articulate the Buddhist path in a way that would sweep across the country in one short decade?

Trungpa landed in the U.S. in 1970 and legend has it that he said to his students: "Take me to your poets." He drew a following of the country's prominent spiritual teachers and intellectuals - including R.D. Laing, John Cage, Ram Dass, and Pema Chodron. Poet Allen Ginsberg considered Trungpa his guru; Catholic priest Thomas Merton wanted to write a book with him; music icon Joni Mitchell wrote a song about him. Trungpa became renowned for translating ancient Buddhist concepts into language and ideas that Westerners could understand. Humor was always a part of his teaching - "Enlightenment is better than Disneyland," he quipped, and he warned of the dangers of the "Western spiritual supermarket." Initially judged harshly by the Tibetan establishment, Trungpa's teachings are now recognized by both western and eastern philosophers and spiritual leaders, including the Dalai Lama, as authentic and profound. Today, twenty years after his death, Trungpa's books have been translated into thirty-one languages and sell worldwide in the millions. His organization thrives in thirty countries and five continents. Yet Trungpa's name still evokes admiration and outrage. What made him tick, and just what is crazy wisdom anyway? Veteran director Johanna Demetrakas uses archival footage, animation, interviews, and original imagery to build a film that mirrors Trungpa's challenging energy and invites viewers to go beyond fixed ideas about our teachers and leaders.

So I called on an old, unsuspecting friend, an intrepid filmmaker, Lisa Leeman. Lisa: "Working on CRAZY WISDOM has taken me across 14,000 foot mountain passes in Tibet.... to Maui cliffs, the seaside home of Ram Dass and into the many chambers of my own mind, thanks to Chogyam Trungpa."

The Greek tradition of nepotism revealed Pablo Bryant, who happens to be both a sensitive cinematographer and my son. Pablo: "Shooting CRAZY WISDOM, for me, was discovering who Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche was. He has changed from an occasional figure from my childhood into someone I have in my corner."

Bringing films to life, Kate Amend (renowned ACE editor) came on board because I knew her sense of humor matched Trungpa's so well. Kate: "I met Chogyam Trungpa when he visited Los Angeles in the 80's but it wasn't until I attended a Shambhala weekend taught by him that I got it. He was magical--he filled the room. I remember the humor and delight he took in the laughter. I knew Johanna wanted to give her audience the feeling of being in the room with Rinpoche and that was the way I 8 approached editing the film. I always try to find moments of subtle humor when I'm cutting any film and this was a bonanza! As we gathered more and more footage of his talks we were able to take the many rich, profound and delightful Trungpa moments and sprinkle them throughout the film. I don't think I've ever used the word "sprinkle" in reference to editing before, but I think it's apropos in conveying the light touch of Trungpa's heavy wisdom. "

I knew this would be a nice change for Sean Callery, an old friend who won 3 Emmy's composing the music for all seven years of "24." Sean: "Writing music for the scenes that featured CRAZY WISDOM's 'star', Chogyam Trungpa, was the biggest challenge. Speaking to a group, painting, or just sitting silently in a chair, he had genuine presence, full of dignity, humor and spontaneity. Who knew that drinking a glass of water could be so elegant? He always seemed completely comfortable with who he was. The music score required that level of personal authenticity. Whatever came up while composing- -fear, anger, embarrassment, frustration, shoulder pain--all of it is in the score because it was real while it happened. If it wasn't coming from that raw place then the music simply didn't work."

And Bill Bryn Russell, our technical genius, quietly made every single shot in the film more beautiful. Bill: "Trungpa snuck up on me while I was doing my work. It is indeed absurd to spend so much time on the technicalities of film finishing, a job that should have taken me weeks instead of a year. That ridiculous year of minute and repetitive practice is what it took for me to absorb some crazy wisdom. About halfway through the job, Trungpa started to appear in my dreams. The clarity of the sensations, emotions and insight I take away, even when I can't remember the details... only thousands of hours in solitude, listening to Trungpa's word fragments over and over again and catching his coy and woozy manners out of the corner of my eye, could possibly afford such dreams." With a team like that, anything is possible. When I left my passport at a remote Tibetan monastery, a young monk, who happened to be making the ten-hour motorcycle drive on the most harrowing of roads to our last location, brought it to me in one day. This is how we got the film done, out of the blue people stepped up. I learned how to wait and trust the universe. And yet, after four and a half years of active filmmaking, 68 interviews, shooting in England, Scotland, Canada, Tibet and all over the U.S., unearthing hundreds of hours of archival footage going back decades, why do I feel like we're just beginning to scratch the surface?