Chögyam Trungpa and his Teachings

“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?

Implications Kumari Must Face

In “The Very Strange Life of Nepal’s Child Goddess” the author gives a detailed description of kumaris in the Kathmandu Valley and selection process as well as life after being a kumari. This article described how the Kumaris are chosen from the Newar community. Newars were the original inhabitants of the Kathmandu Valley. They are Buddhists who adopted the Hindu caste system and overall, symbolize harmony. The Kumari is believed to be in the incarnation of the goddess Durga. Durga is thought to visit the Malla dynasty each night until the king makes sexual advances and then Durga exits in anger. The king dreams about Durga, where she tells him to “find a child from the Shakya caste. I will enter her soul and you can worship her as you worshipped me.” The king obeys the dreams and the Living Goddess is born as the Kumari.

The article describes the exclusive selection process where the young child must meet 32 physical characteristics. During elimination rounds of choosing the Kumari, a certain group of religious figures are present during the tests. When selected, the Kumari lives must live in isolation and is not allowed to divulge secrets of her experiences until she reaches puberty, when she is deposed.

The ex-Kumari that was highlighted in this article seemed to note the idea of secrets and the capacity of young girls to retain these secrets. At such a young ages, many girls do not fully understand the power of secrets and the meaning behind them. When she divulges a secret, she is considered a “common woman.”

“Meet Nepal’s Living Goddesses” discusses more of the implications to being a Kumari and how the transition is for families. While the Kumari is worshipped among the community, the article brings up the point of the family and the financial difficulty of maintaining the lavish lifestyle of the Kumari. For example, make-up, outfits, and certain foods make traditions and rules difficult to financially abide by. The author also discusses how the Kumari is immediately dethroned as soon as blood exits the body. This happens when the female gets her first period. Ages vary among Kumaris and while each one is different, the transition into normal life is rough. Kumaris have been sheltered their entire life making interactions with people difficult. While these girls are still young to transition into adulthood, education is also difficult to catch up on and takes particular attention and tutors to help the girls catch up.

I found both of these articles to thoroughly describe the history and the implications of the life of a Kumari. While both state the transition out of being a Kumari is tough, the financial burden seemed to be the intriguing to me. How can families financially support the needs and lifestyle of a Kumari? Is there financial support from religious figures? If the family cannot support the Kumari is it possible to deny the election to be a Kumari?

The obvious transition for the female back into common womanhood seems to be interesting to look at too. The girl featured in “Meet Nepal’s Living Goddesses,” Chanira, ended her time as a Kumari and now wants to pursue music. At a young age, these girls are taught to close their mouth and not respond in public settings, because of these taught social interactions, today, Chanira awkwardly answers questions and seems to have difficult with interactions with people. I wonder if Kumari’s ever adjust to “normal life.” So much of our adulthood is dependent on our values we learn as children, how can ex-kumaris make this immediate 360 change and forget everything they learned up to their adolescence and change their values? How might the family all of a sudden stop change their ways of teaching their young daughter and transition back into regular life. Is the family, not just the Kumari, viewed differently when the Kumari is worshipped? With western culture learning about this part of religion, can the Hindu beliefs of the Kumari and the transition into normalcy be changed with these influences? Or do the Hindus believe in upholding tradition and beliefs? With such a feminine based religion, is it difficult for males to understand the struggle of Kumaris during and after being a Kumari? Do you think Hindu males feel the same sympathy as the western culture?