Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, February 28, 1939 to April 4, 1987.
I’m understating considerably when I say that Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche was one of the most colorful and controversial gurus of the 20th Century. To say that Trungpa was a poet, a scholar, a teacher and an artist is to underestimate his accomplishments. He was certainly worthy of the honorific title, “Rinpoche”.
Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche was the head Lama of the Surmang Monastery schools of Tibet. Trungpa followed His Holiness, the Dalai Lama in flight from Tibet in 1959 after the Communist Chinese, under the leadership of Mao Tse Dung, consolidated control over the mountain nation. The 20-year-old Trungpa led his band of monks over the Himalaya mountains on foot and horseback to refuge in India.
Trungpa is mostly known for his great contribution of introducing the esoteric teachings from the Tibetan schools of Buddhism to the West. He is notably famous for founding the Naropa Institute, later Naropa University of Bolder, Colorado. It was the first accredited Buddhist university in North America.
The list of his students reads like a who’s who of wisdom teachers. The short list includes Pema Chödrön, Allen Ginsberg, Ken Wilber, and David Nichtern. He had two celebrity entertainer students: David Bowie and Joni Mitchell.
I can only skim Chögyam Trungpa’s huge raft of accomplishments. Aside from Naropa University, probably his greatest sharing was his introduction of the Shambhala method of teaching esoteric practice to the public. It was Trungpa’s vision of a pragmatic version of the legendary kingdom of Shambhala. He taught that Shambhala is the potential for an enlightened society that can be actualized in the real world.
His teachings were among the very first in the West to use mindfulness/awareness meditation as the key to a person’s basic nature. An important part of Trungpa’s teachings is that of stressing that all people have a basic goodness.
Shambhala Training is presented as a non-religious path of meditation and arts to be used by people of any or no religion. To find out more, you may wish to study one of the many, many volumes that Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche published.
Trungpa is also known for some controversial activities and teachings. His sexual expression being a major source of problems for him as he encouraged relations with several of his female students. He claimed that the act of acquiring consorts was his way of activating the highest stages of Tibetan Tantric practice.
It is a traditional belief that sexual relations with a high ranking teacher is the fast-track to spiritual insights. Some people have testified that Trungpa was an alcoholic. Despite any apparent drunkenness, his teachings were always crystal clear, according to those who knew Chögyam Trungpa well.
Many of his wisdom courses were considered controversial in that he brought forth teachings to the lay community that had previously been reserved for elite members of the monastic community.
Trungpa advocated the use of a meditative approach to Japanese archery, calligraphy, Ikebana (flowers), the Tea ceremony, dance, theatre, film, poetry, health care and psychotherapy. He wanted to bring “art to everyday life”. To help accomplish this aim, Trungpa founded the Nalanda Foundation to encourage such activities.
Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche died after suffering cardiac arrest after years of failing health. Much of his illness was attributed to a car crash during his youth along with years of heavy alcohol use. He passed away in a hospital on April 4th, 1987.
This is just a tiny thumbnail sketch of one of the most interesting people of the last century. I hope your curiosity has been piqued.
The Blue Jay of Happiness would like to see the beauty of Shambhala spring forth within his own lifetime.