Chögyam Trungpa was one of the important exponents of Buddhism to western students. The 14th Dalai Lama said about Trungpa in 1981: “Exceptional as one of the first Tibetan lamas to become fully assimilated into Western culture, he made a powerful contribution to revealing the Tibetan approach to inner peace in the West.”
Chögyam Trungpa was born in Geja, Tibet in February 1939 and at 13 months old was recognized as a “reincarnation” of the tenth Trungpa Tulku, the 11th descendant in a line of teachers of the Kagyü lineage, one of the four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism. He was installed as the head of the Surmang monasteries in eastern Tibet. In 1959, the Rinpoche (which simply means “precious one”) fled the country because of the Chinese takeover. He spent two years in India, then four in England at Oxford University, then moved on to Scotland to found a meditation center. In 1969, after a car accident and some other problems, he relinquished his monastic vows. The next year, at 31 years old, he married a 16-year-old English girl, Diana Pybus. The marriage drew much criticism from other lamas.
In 1970, Trungpa went to the USA in order to travel and teach. He set up urban meditation and study centers, the two most important ones in Boulder and in Barnet, VT. In 1975, followers established the Naropa Institute, a liberal arts college, in Boulder
1981: He hosts the visit of the 14th Dalai Lama to Boulder, Colorado. He organizes the first annual Buddhist-Christian Conference in Boulder, Colorado, which explores the commonalities between Buddhist and Christian contemplative traditions. He also has an interest in Japanese spiritual and aesthetic traditions, for instance in the tea ceremony. In 1982, he forms “Kalapa Ikebana” to promote the study and practice of Japanese flower arranging. In 1983, he establishes Gampo Abbey, a Karma Kagyü monastery located in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. This monastery houses Western students who wish to enter into traditional monastic Tibetan discipline. Trungpa creates a series of elocution exercises to promote precision and mindfulness of speech. He observes a year-long retreat in Mill Village, Nova Scotia in 1984/85:
1986: He moves his home and the international headquarters of Vajradhatu to Halifax, Nova Scotia. On April 4, 1987, he dies of an alcohol-related illness in Halifax. He gets cremated on May 26 at Karmê Chöling, which is a Buddhist meditation and study center in Vermont that he created in 1970. In 1989, a child is born in Derge, Tibet, and recognized as his reincarnation two years later by Tai Situ Rinpoche.
Quotes about him:
Suzuki Roshi, founder of the San Francisco Zen Center and Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, describes Trungpa in the context of a talk about emptiness:
The way you can struggle with this is to be supported by something, something you don’t know. As we are human beings, there must be that kind of feeling. You must feel it in this city or building or community. So whatever community it may be, it is necessary for it to have this kind of spiritual support. That is why I respect Trungpa Rinpoche. He is supporting us. You may criticize him because he drinks alcohol like I drink water, but that is a minor problem. He trusts you completely. He knows that if he is always supporting you in a true sense you will not criticize him, whatever he does. And he doesn’t mind whatever you say. That is not the point, you know. This kind of big spirit, without clinging to some special religion or form of practice, is necessary for human beings. (Midal, Fabrice (2005). Recalling Chögyam Trungpa. Page 148.)
Diana Mukpo, Trungpa’s wife:
First, Rinpoche always wanted feedback. He very, very much encouraged his students’ critical intelligence. One of the reasons that people were in his circle was that they were willing to be honest and direct with him. He definitely was not one of those teachers who asked for obedience and wanted their students not to think for themselves. He thrived, he lived, on the intelligence of his students. That is how he built his entire teaching situation. From my perspective, I could always be pretty direct with him. Maybe I was not hesitant to do that because I really trusted the unconditional nature of our relationship. I felt there was really nothing to lose by being absolutely direct with him, and he appreciated that.
The Genuine Heart of Sadness ~ Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche
“The sitting practice of meditation… is the means to rediscover basic goodness, and beyond that, it is the means to awaken this genuine heart within yourself. When you sit in the posture of meditation, you are exactly the naked man or woman… sitting between heaven and earth. When you slouch, you are trying to hide your heart, trying to protect it by slumping over. But when you sit upright but relaxed in the posture of meditation, your heart is naked. Your entire being is exposed-to yourself, first of all, but to others as well. So through the practice of sitting still and following your breath as it goes out and dissolves, you are connecting with your heart. By simply letting yourself be, as you are, you develop genuine sympathy towards yourself.” “When you awaken your heart in this way, you find, to your surprise, that your heart is empty. You find that you are looking into outer space. What are you, who are you, where is your heart? If you really look, you won’t find anything tangible and solid. Of course, you might find something very solid if you have a grudge against someone or you have fallen possessively in love. But that is not awakened heart. If you search for awakened heart, if you put your hand through your rib cage and feel for it, there is nothing there except for tenderness. You feel sore and soft, and if you open your eyes to the rest of the world, you feel tremendous sadness. This kind of sadness doesn’t come from being mistreated. You don’t feel sad because someone has insulted you or because you feel impoverished. Rather, this experience of sadness is unconditioned. It occurs because your heart is completely exposed. There is no skin or tissue covering it; it is pure raw meat. Even if a tiny mosquito lands on it, you feel so touched. Your experience is raw and tender and so personal.” “The genuine heart of sadness comes from feeling that your nonexistent heart is full. You would like to spill your heart’s blood, give your heart to others. For the warrior, this experience of sad and tender heart is what gives birth to fearlessness. Conventionally, being fearless means that you are not afraid or that, if someone hits you, you will hit him back. However, we are not talking about that street-fighter level of fearlessness. Real fearlessness is the product of tenderness. It comes from letting the world tickle your heart, your raw and beautiful heart. You are willing to open up, without resistance or shyness, and face the world. You are willing to share your heart with others.” — from Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior
Working with Negativity
Here is an excerpt from a chapter entitled “Working with Negativity” found in the book “Myth of Freedom” by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche : “We all experience negativity–the basic aggression of wanting things to be different than they are. We cling, we defend, we attack, and thoughout there is a sense of one’s own wretchedness, and so we blame the world for our pain. This is negativity. We experience it as terribly unpleasant, foul smelling, something we want to get rid of. But if we look into it more deeply, it has a very juicy smell and is very alive. Negativity is not bad per se, but something living and precise, connected with reality. Negativity breeds tension, friction, gossip, discontentment, but it is also very accurate, deliberate and profound. Unfortunately, the heavy handed interpretations and judgements we lay on these experiences obscure this fact. These interpretations are negative negativity, watching ourselves being negative and then deciding that the negativity is justified in being there. This negativity seems good natured, with all sorts of good qualities in it, so we pat its back, guard it and justify it. Or, if we are blamed or attacked by others, we interpret their negativity as being good for us. In either case, the watcher, by commenting, interpreting and judging, is camouflaging and hardening the basic negativity. . . . . . The basic honesty and simplicity of negativity can be creative in community as well as in personal relationships. Basic negativity is very revealing sharp and accurate. If we leave it as basic negativity rather than overlaying it with conceptualizations, then we see the nature of it’s intelligence. Negativity breeds a great deal of energy, which clearly seen becomes intelligence. When we leave the energies as they are with their natural qualities, they are living rather than conceptualized. They strenghten our daily lives….” ~ The Myth of Freedom and the Way of Meditation by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche