The Collected Works of Chögyam Trungpa. Ed. by Carolyn Rose Gimian. Boston, Mass.: Shambhala Publications, 2003. Hardcover, 560 + 763 + 656 + 496 + 464 + 640 + 880 + 544 pp., 8 vols.
China’s invasion of Tibet began in 1949 and led, ten years later, to the Dalai Lama’s urgent flight across the Himalayan mountain ranges into India. The safe arrival of Tibet’s leader on Indian soil birthed the Tibetan diaspora and at the same time started the dissemination of the precious wisdom teachings of Tibet throughout the world—a development that, as Samuel Bercholz mentions in his Publisher’s Foreword to the first volume of the The Collected Works (p. xv), Arnold Toynbee saw as the single most decisive event in modern history.
Several months after the Dalai Lama’s escape, Chögyam Trungpa (1940-1987), the eleventh reincarnation (tulku) in the series of trungpas of the Kagyu lineage, crossed over on foot into India. After journeying for many months, while constantly dodging the Communists, he, aged 20, finally led his party of nineteen into safety.
While in India and by appointment of the Dalai Lama, he served as spiritual advisor to the Young Lamas Home School in Dharamsala. With the help of John Driver, he also eagerly immersed himself into the English language, since he recognized that it would allow him to communicate the Buddha Dharma more efficiently to an increasing numbers of Western students. Driver was also mainly responsible for motivating Chögyam Trungpa to consider teaching in the West. Unlike many lamas, Trungpa Rinpoche enjoyed teaching Westerners because of their curiosity and openness.
In 1963, Chögyam Trungpa was granted a prestigious Spalding sponsorship to attend Oxford University, where he studied comparative religion, philosophy, history, and fine arts. Even though he was longing to teach the Buddha Dharma, he made good use of his time at Oxford to acquaint himself with the strange ways of the British and the Western world at large.
Generously assisted by a British friend (Esmé Cramer Roberts), he completed the original version of his autobiography Born in Tibet, his first of many books, which was published in 1966 and which makes up a good portion of the first volume of The Collected Works (pp. 1–289).
It was very clear already from Born in Tibet that Chögyam Trungpa was an extraordinary individual with exceptional spiritual capacity and intellectual acumen. His subsequent magnificent contribution to the establishment of the Buddha Dharma in the West proved this first impression correct.
In 1967, he and his friend Akong Tulku Rinpoche founded Samye Ling Meditation Centre in Scotland, where his ambition to teach was finally realized, though in his Foreword to the 1977 edition of Born in Tibet, he remarked that the experience was “not entirely satisfying” because he had few students and those who came did not seem sufficiently prepared.
A year later, he visited Bhutan at the invitation of the royal family and while on retreat there, he had a “jolting” realization about his spiritual work, notably the need to be more daring in his teaching in order to radically expose “spiritual materialism” in his students, which he came to appreciate as the biggest stumbling block in the West.
On his return to Scotland, Trungpa Rinpoche—whose British citizenship had just come through—was agonizing over how to go about teaching in the new way he had seen would be necessary in the West. His inner dilemma manifested outwardly in a car accident that caused a life-long paralysis of his left side. The event, however, proved rather liberating and clarifying for him, and in its wake he resolved to give up his monastic vows and marry, which he felt would aid his teaching work considerably. Significantly, in 1970, he married not a Tibetan but a British woman, Diana Judith Pybus, who subsequently became known as Lady Diana Mukpo (Mukpo being Chögyam Trungpa’s family name).
She gave birth to two of his three sons: Tendzin Lhawang Mukpo (born in 1971 and recognized as a reincarnation of Surmang Tendzin Rinpoche, one of the Karmapa’s own teachers) and Gesar Arthur Mukpo (born in 1973 and recognized as a reincarnation of Shechen Kongtrul Rinpoche, one of Chögyam Trunpa’s own teachers). However, his spiritually most important son, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche ( Ösel Rangdröl Mukpo), who is the head of the Shambhala Buddhist lineage, stemmed from a liaison with a Tibetan refugee woman (Kunchok Palden) prior to his marriage to Diana Pybus. He came to live with them in America in 1971.
His actions left everyone consternated, and he was unceremoniously asked to leave the spiritual center he had founded. This essentially left him stranded, but a change of fortune was in the offing. In the same year, he published his second book, Meditation in Action (also included in Volume One, pp. 293–351), which inspired Samuel Bercholz to publish a U.S. edition through his newly created company, Shambhala Publications. When Chögyam Trungpa saw the U.S. edition for the first time and saw the publisher’s name, he thought for a moment that he was hallucinating, but Bercholz had created the company specifically with Chögyam Trungpa and Buddhism in mind. The book stirred up enough interest among Americans to lead to an invitation, which Trungpa Rinpoche gladly accepted, since Britain’s Buddhists had closed their doors on him.
Once he had relocated, Chögyam Trungpa’s destiny as a pioneering teacher of Tibetan Buddhism could flourish freely, and during the remaining seventeen years of his life he accomplished what others—less determined, less energetic, and less visionary—might not accomplish even in a century.
He right away established the retreat center Tail of the Tiger (now known as Karmé Chöling) in Barnet, Vermont, followed in 1974 by the founding of the Naropa Institute, modeled after the famous Buddhist Nalanda university, in the Boulder, Colorado. Twenty-five years later, it became the first accredited North American Buddhist university. He traveled almost continuously, giving teachings and guiding retreats, and writing twelve more books.
Chögyam Trungpa’s brilliance and undoubtedly also his charisma attracted many notable intellectuals and other prominent people, including Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Anne Waldman, Gary Snyder, and Robert Bly. The combined influence of these notables in turn helped launch the Trungpa phenomenon, boosting the popularization of Tibetan Buddhism enormously in the process.
Trungpa Rinpoche personally founded over 100 meditation centers, formerly known as Dharmadhatu but after his death being renamed to Shambhala Meditation Centers—a worldwide organization now led by Trungpa’s son Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. The name and concept of Shambhala deserves at least brief elucidation here. In 1976, Chögyam Trungpa started a cycle of teachings revolving around the Kingdom of Shambhala, which are explained in his Shambhala: Sacred Path of the Warrior and Great Eastern Sun: The Wisdom of Shambhala, which make up the core of volume 8 of The Collected Works.
As Carolyn Rose Gimian explains in her nicely crafted introduction to volume 8, “The Kingdom of Shambhala, according to some legends, ascended into a higher realm at some point in the past. Since the entire populace was enlightened, there was no further reason for the kingdom to exist on earth . . . Chögyam Trungpa himself often emphasized a more symbolic, psychological and spiritual interpretation of the story, saying that “there has long been a tradition that regards the Kingdom of Shambhala, not as an external place, but as the ground or root of wakefulness and sanity that exists as a potential within every human being” (pp. ix–x). Thus, Chögyam Trungpa clearly went beyond what some detractors of the Shambhala legend have characterized as a fascist political system.
In fact, as one delves into Trungpa Rinpoche’s literary outpouring, one cannot but be impressed by his exemplary tolerance and cosmopolitanism, as well as his unfailing focus on essential rather than dogmatic spirituality. Each book, essay, poem, play, or interview gathered in this priceless collection strengthens the impression that one is encountering one of the truly great visionary minds of modern times, and more importantly, that one is in the presence of a great realizer in whom the spirit of Vajrayana Buddhism has found its most eloquent and convincing voice in English.
Although the first volume of The Collected Works conveniently features Chögyam Trungpa’s early writings, the series as a whole is organized by theme rather than chronology. Thus, volume 2 comprises five full-length books and 34 articles—all revolving around the themes of meditation, mind training, and the path of compassion according to Mahayana Buddhism. Together these writings form an outstanding overview of the theoretical and practical dimensions of mind training and the bodhisattva path. The editor’s skillful introduction, moreover, gives one a sense of Trungpa Rinpoche’s eagerness to avail himself of modern psychological knowledge in order to assist the spiritual process and his interest in contributing, in turn, insights from Buddhist practice to contemporary psychology—again an unmistakable indication of his astounding capacity to integrate tradition and modernity, spiritual wisdom and secular knowledge.
Volume 3 contains two of Chögyam Trungpa’s pivotal books, which, as the editor observes, put him “on the map of the American spiritual scene”—Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism and The Myth of Freedom,which, like all of his books, are as readable and pertinent today as they were back in the 1970s. The third full-length book found in this volume, The Heart of the Buddha, was published posthumously. In addition, the reader will find a host of miscellaneous writings from the early years in America, including two interviews and Chögyam Trungpa’s forewords to seven books by other authors.
As Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche explains in his Foreword to this volume: “These lecturs and teachings were given in the early 1970s, at a crossroads of heightened awareness and spiritual awakening in the United States. East was beginning to meet West” (p. 3). He also talks about his father’s struggle to teach his students to distinguish authentic spirituality and genuine inner progress from the many ego-driven counterfeits. Chögyam Trungpa’s words of wisdom on this decisive matter have lost none of their urgency.
Volume 4 again contains three complete books—Journey Without Goal, The Lion’s Roar, and The Dawn of Tantra (coauthored with the renowned Tibetologist Herbert V. Guenther)—and an interview with one of the editors of long-defunct Laughing Man magazine in which Trungpa Rinpoche addresses some of the important issues involved in attempting to teach Vajrayana to Westerners.
Volume 5, perhaps my favorite of the series, takes one straight to the heart of Vajrayana Buddhism, that is, to the central role of the guru on the spiritual path and the proper attitude of the disciple toward the teacher. In particular, the reader is introduced to the phenomenon of Crazy Wisdom, a word coined by Chögyam Trungpa himself to express the Tibetan concept of yeshe chölwa. The materials presented include the first and second part of Trungpa Rinpoche’s intensive seminar on Naropa, bearing the title Crazy Wisdom. This book was ably edited by Sherab Chedzin Kohn, who also edited Illusions’s Game: The Life and Teaching of Naropa,which is likewise to be found in Volume 5.
Also included are the English renderings of the Tibetan texts “The Life of Marpa the Translator” and “The Rain of Wisdom,” both translated by the Nalanda Translation Committee under the direction of Chögyam Trungpa. Finally, this rich volume concludes with a series of shorter writings on mantras, lineages, the tulku principle, and Milarepa, as well as a selection from “The Sadhana of Mahamudra,” a treasure text (terma) discovered by Chögyam Trungpa while on retreat in Bhutan in 1968 and translated by Richard Arthure.
Volume 6, which makes for more challenging reading, is a veritable treasure chest for those wanting information about advanced Tantric (Vajrayana) concepts, practices, and experiences. It comprises, among other things, materials from seminars given in the early teaching years but not available in print until after Chögyam Trungpa’s demise. The volume starts with the book Transcending Madness: The Experience of the Six Bardosfollowed by Chögyam Trungpa’s foreword and commentary to The Tibetan Book of the Dead (the translation of this text is not included). Next the reader will be treated to two short but significant books, Orderly Chaos: The Mandala Principle and Glimpses of Space: The Feminine Principle and EVAM. This is followed by the booklet Secret Beyond Thought: The Five Chakras and the Four Karmas, which was first published in 1991 and consists of two talks by Chögyam Trungpa. Under “Selected Writings,” the reader will find two short pieces—one entitled The Bardo and coauthored with Rigdzin Shikpo and and essay entitled “Femininity” in which Chögyam Trungpa turns his attention to the “mother principle” of the uncorrupted nondual space of awareness and the play of feminine energy in and through the manifest world.
With Volume 7, the reader is introduced to Chögyam Trungpa’s untrammeled creativity and versatility beyond the confines—but never without the deep backing of—Tibetan Buddhism: his work as a poet, playwright, and visual artist. Included are the books Dharma Art, The Art of Calligraphy: Joining Heaven and Earth (excerpted only), and Visual Dharma: The Buddhist Art of Tibet (excerpted only), as well as numerous poems, 13 essays, the preface to First Thought Best Thought and the introduction to Disciple’s of the Buddha. In addition, as appendices, this volume contains contributions to some of Chögyam Trungpa’s works by others.
Volume 8, as mentioned earlier, is dedicated to the Shambhala teachings. Apart from above-mentioned books, this volume also includes a variety of essays and two interviews. It represents an appropriate rainbow conclusion of this series.
The Collected Works include many long-out-of-print writings and difficult-to-locate tracts, as well as a number of hitherto unpublished pieces, which makes this cornucopia even more valuable. The editor has spared no effort to do justice to the depth and breadth of her teacher’s work, and all students of Buddhism owe her an enormous debt for this singular labor of love. Each volume has a helpful introduction from her pen, which contextualizes each of the selected items and also furnishes precious glimpses of Chögyam Trungpa the man and teacher for those who did not know him personally. Finally, each volume has its own glossary and index.
All involved in creating The Collected Works, but especially the editor Carolyn Rose Gimian and the publisher Samuel Bercholz, deserve our gratitude for rendering the yeoman service of preserving Chögyam Trungpa’s legacy for future generations. This marvelous collection ought to grace the bookshelf of every student of Tibetan Buddhism, Buddhism in general, and the world’s great spiritual traditions. If I were stranded on an island by myself, I could think of no better company than the thought-provoking, elevating, and endlessly resourceful writings of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Short of this unlikely eventuality, I am thrilled to have the opportunity to dip into The Collected Works whenever I seek clarification or inspiration.
Copyright ©2006 by Georg Feuerstein. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in any form requires prior permission from Traditional Yoga Studies.