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Buddhism permeates popular culture worldwide - 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; the biggest Buddhist monastery outside of Asia is in France, and 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 through the story of Chogyam Trungpa, the brilliant "bad boy of Buddhism," who was pivotal in bringing Tibetan Buddhism to the West. Trungpa shattered our preconceived notions about how an enlightened teacher should behave. Born in Tibet, recognized as an exceptional reincarnate lama and trained in the rigorous monastic tradition, Trungpa fled his homeland during the Chinese Communist invasion. In Britain, realizing a cultural gap prevented 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 crazy wisdom?
Trungpa landed in the U.S. in 1970 and legend has it that he said to his students: "Take me to your poets." 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 western philosophers and spiritual leaders, including the Dalai Lama, as authentic and profound. Today, twenty years after his death, Trungpa's name still evokes admiration and outrage. What made him tick, and just what is crazy wisdom anyway? With unprecedented access to Trungpa's inner circle and exclusive never-before-seen archival material, Crazy Wisdom looks at the man and the myths about him, and attempts to set the record straight.
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by Robert Walker
Chögyam Trungpa did not present the history of Tibet as an ideal, continuous spiritual utopia. His depictions of the Tibetan culture of the late 1950s, from which he emerged, were decidedly mixed, showing great respect and devotion for many realized teachers and practitioners, but also descriptions of some questionable situations. (Readers are encouraged to consult his autobiography, Born in Tibet, Shambhala Publications, on this.) The aggression and materialism in the West in the 1960s and 1970s was not Chögyam Trungpa’s first encounter with such obstacles. It would be misleading to imply that the dark-age problems discussed in his Sadhana of Mahamudra were solely about the invasion of Tibet or the aggression of Westerners or aspects of Western culture:
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.
by Robert Walker
This second blog will be devoted to exploring and amplifying the notion of “crazy wisdom” itself as it was taught by Chögyam Trungpa. It’s not a slang expression, but a way of talking about the realization and activities of certain great Buddhist masters of India and Tibet, as described in their teachings and hagiographies.
The term “crazy wisdom” refers to a particular style of teaching and being, a particular way of manifesting enlightened mind. “Wisdom” is a way of talking about enlightened being, completely in harmony with and awake to the elements of reality. According to the scriptures, such beings manifest love, compassion, and skillfulness that are not strategized or conditioned by any limited reference point, but are spontaneously creative, resourceful, and realistic.
Johanna Demetrakas's documentary Crazy Wisdom explores the story of Chögyam Trungpa, the brilliant "bad boy of Buddhism," who was pivotal in bringing Tibetan Buddhism to the West. Trungpa shattered any preconceived notions about how an enlightened teacher should behave. Born in Tibet, recognized as an exceptional reincarnate lama and trained in the rigorous monastic tradition, Trungpa fled his homeland during the Chinese Communist invasion. In Britain, realizing a cultural gap prevented 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 crazy wisdom?
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 avant-garde artists, spiritual teachers, and intellectuals - including R.D. Laing, John Cage, Ram Dass, and Pema Chodron. Poet Allen Ginsbergconsidered 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."
We at Alive Mind Cinema are proud to offer Crazy Wisdom and to explore his legacy beyond the film. Robert Walker, an early student of Chögyam Trungpa and current archivist for Pema Chodron, has generously agreed to extrapolate upon and to contextualize the film in a series of bi-weekly teachings that will be posted on the Alive Mind Cinema Crazy Wisdom website. Registered users may leave comments as well as upload avatars. Please sign-up now to participate and receive notifications about Crazy Wisdom.
Editor, Alive Mind Cinema
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. Read the rest of this story »