“Chögyam Trungpa His Life and Vision” highlights the life of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Buddhist meditation master that had one of the highest statuses’ in the monastery and was a scholar, teacher, and artist. The reading describes his journey of leaving his origins in Tibet to move west to the United States to spread his Buddhist beliefs. He to “not present the spiritual path in terms of acquisition of some precise, external wisdom, but as the capacity to face our true selves as directly as possible, leaving aside social or moral conventions” (11).
Trungpa, in particular, had an unorthodox way of teaching his beliefs when he went to the west. Tibetan Buddhism was not very well known in the western culture so Trungpa idea for teaching stemmed from the idea of abandoning “exotic trappings of the lama and meet people on their own ground” (5). Trungpa started teaching in England, but did not find much success in his teachings because people found him “horribly hypocritical” (6) and expected him to behave as the stereotypical “Oriental Sage” (6). So he moved to the United States in hopes to spread his teachings.
In the United States, Trungpa tried as hard as possible to downplay his high Tibetan Buddhist status and tried more to assimilate with the cultural norms so he could better communicate with people he met. He “smoke and drank whiskey” (5) and tried as much as possible to become their friend. By becoming more personable and appealing to the American culture, he could be more respected and his teachings were well heard. He started the Rocky Mountain Dharma Center in Boulder, Colorado. This rural residential center acted as a place for his followers to live, meditate, and learn from Trungpa. His teachings spread and meditation centers across the country were set up. Trungpa asked very little of his students at first, but gradually with his laid-back attitude he was able to turn the students into the Buddhists. The students slowly asked to create more rules in the Rocky Mountain Dharma Center that allowed them to meditate more and focus on themselves. Trungpa showed that the “Buddha’s teachings were not aimed at a particular sort of person at a particular time, but at all of us, here and now” (16).
While his teachings emphasized the being present and in the moment one concept in particular inhibited people from doing this. The inhibitor was spiritual materialism. Trungpa characterized spiritual materialism as being “consciously centered on the material world and related preoccupations” (19). He stated that spiritual materialism had three lords. The Lord of Form consisted of the efforts to gain comfort and security. The Lord of Speech is using intellect to control the universe better and the Lord of Mind “perverts the spiritual desire to become more conscious and aware” (20). To combat the pressures of spiritual materialism, Trungpa stated that meditation was the best way to fight these feelings. He encouraged meditation because it encouraged people “not learn to be ‘right,’ but instead to be ever more open to what is” (25).
I really enjoyed this reading because it is a different approach to the religion from what we have seen from previous readings. I think it’s very intriguing that a man left the high status in Tibet to come teach in the United States. Although his approach is unorthodox, it definitely seemed to work. In order for people to understand what you are trying to teach them it is best to be on the same level as them as an equal to seem more relatable and trustworthy. While the spreading of the teachings did not come immediately, Trungpa’s approach of giving them the base of Tibetan Buddhism then letting the people run with it and develop norms on their own proved to make the transition into being a Buddhist feel more natural and less forced. In other religions such as Christianity, people attend church and read the bible in a very structured environment. Having less structure allows for more interpretation and increases the true fellowship and following that Trungpa was trying to build.
Unlike other readings, we can view this reading from our own perspective because it seems more familiar to us. I am wondering if this way of teaching Tibetan Buddhism was controversial at all in Tibet or if they would take this same stripped down and raw approach. How might the Tibetan’s view Trunga’s teachings? Do you think it is easier to gain followers in a place completely foreign to beliefs like the United States or a place with a little more familiarity of the religion? With this kind of teaching approach do you think there are gender hierarchies like the Buddhist nuns and monks? How might Trungpa and other followers view the Buddhist concepts the cycle of samsara and the idea of merit? Both samsara and merit are considered to be spiritual materialism in a way because it is a goal focused on a physical destination or qualitative goal. Are these concepts better than focusing on oneself and who one really is?