The Trouble with Chögyam Trungpa

Chögyam Trungpa was the brilliant, charismatic Buddhist teacher who founded Shambala and Naropa University. According to the Shambala website he, “was the 11th descendent in the line of Trungpa tulkus, important teachers of the Kagyü lineage of Tibetan Buddhism.” He was also an alcoholic who died from complications from alcoholism. He had sex with many of his female students including. He was partially paralyzed when he drove his expensive sports car into a joke shop, possibly while drunk. He may have also been addicted to cocaine. The list goes on and on. His followers sometimes excuse his behavior as a kind of “crazy wisdom.” And of course they follow his example when it comes to drinking and sex rather than following the Buddha’s precepts. Here’s what the Buddha had to say:

[The Buddha is talking with the Brahmin Sonadanda and a group of his followers.]

Sonadanda said, “Look there at my nephew Angaka! He is fair and good looking. He looks like Brahma himself. Nobody here is better looking, except of course Gotama [the Buddha]. He is a scholar; he knows the mantras and the 3 vedas; he knows the rules, rituals, and traditions. I should know! I was his teacher!

“He has an excellent lineage. His parents were brahmins on both sides going back 7 generations at least. I know his parents!

“But what if Angaka were to commit murder? What if he were to have an affair? What if he told lies or drank? Would good would his looks, his mantras, his parents do then? Only if one is virtuous and  wise can one truly say, ‘I am a Brahmin.’”

The Buddha asked Sonadanda, “What if one of those two qualities was missing. Could you then truly say, “I am a Brahmin”?

“No, Gotama” replied Sonadanda. “Just as one hand washes the other, wisdom perfects virtue and virtue perfects wisdom. One is not possible without the other. The combination of wisdom and morality is best in the world.”

“Yes,” affirmed the Buddha, “this is right.”

-Digha Nikaya, 4: 20-22

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42 thoughts on “The Trouble with Chögyam Trungpa

  1. Where did you hear that Chogyam Trungpa had sex with a 13 year old girl or was addicted to cocaine? I’ve read tons about him and know many people who knew him and I’ve never heard that. Also, do you know what a brahmin is? It seems odd to post this “quote” from the Buddha to show that Trungpa Rinpoche didn’t live up to the standards of what it means to be a brahmin. It would like posting a quote from Neil deGrasse Tyson that showed that the Buddha was not a proper scholar (meaning that the Buddha was not attempting to be a proper scholar). I also wonder what you think the purpose of Buddhist precepts is.

    If you want to read an interesting article about Chogyam Trungpa and his behavior, I suggest you read this article “Chogyam Trungpa as a Siddha” by Reginald Ray in the book of collected essays called Recalling Chogyam Trungpa. It looks like it’s on Google Books. You can go to this page http://books.google.com/books?id=qT7xLbSCJJQC&printsec=frontcover&dq=recalling+chogyam+trungpa&hl=en&sa=X&ei=qHkWUZGMHYb69QSPqYD4Aw&ved=0CDgQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=reginald&f=false and then search for Reginald and it will come up.

    1. The value of the internet is that is provides access to information in terms of books, articles and personal opinion. Chogyam Trunpa is beside the point entirely. No person is OBLIGATED to do anything aside from the basics of breathing and eating to stay alive. We choose to dress, live and means of work or earning an income according to our tastes (or lack thereof). Religion and Spirituality is something that people become might become interested in as a result of upbringing, boredom or a feeling of lack aside from other promptings. No HAS to be a Buddhist, Hindu, Jew, Christian, Muslim etc… Often, people join an organization due to boredom, their friends do it or it is the “in” thing. Any criticism of Trungpa, IMO, is criticism of yourself. NO one has to stay. His interest in drinking, sexuality and maybe drugs is his interest. Even a world famous Medical Doctor who has helped thousands could have some negative personal attributes – so what. For me, these articles about Trungpa speak more about the people complaining than about him. He would NOT be sitting on a throne with a large following without the CHOICE of each person that claims to be His student or follower. Yes, He IS a Mahasiddha and we (or at least me) are not. This is not a defense of Trungpa or His behavior but a poke to look more closely at who & what we are & do. ed

      1. Ed, Thanks for the note. I agree with some of what you say, but consider this: why are you angry enough at an internet post to write back? Perhaps it’s worth taking your own advice in terms of considering your own intention. CT put himself forward as a great teacher of he Buddha’s Dharma. Even now he influences many, many people. But his teaching is sadly flawed, and it is reflected in his own tragic life. I think this is useful to say and to repeat to try to nudge people away from going down that path. Ultimately it is their own decision.

      2. j.m wrote ; “…why are you angry enough at an internet post to write back?…” Where did you find anger in my comment? My point is simply that people are responsible for their own actions regardless of station in life. No person has the obligation of joining a club or organization and then imitating the leader(s).
        I think it telling how some people have admitted to and in some case have been said to deliberately imitate CTR. This goes on in business organizations as well. Walking like a duck, going quack-quack and putting on feathers does not make you a duck. Engaging in all manner of questionable personal behavior does not indicate that you are above it or unaffected by it. This is not anger but a call for people to pay close attention.

  2. Thanks for the message. Within the Shambala tradition there is a lot of denial an misinformation about Chogyam Trungpa. It doesn’t surprise me that you could spend time reading about him and hearing about him from his followers and still not know very much about his life. It’s very similar to the treatment of Joseph Smith within the Mormon church and its offshoots or with L. Ron Hubbarb and Scientology.

    In the suttas, the Buddha uses the word Brahmin in two ways. It can refer to a Vedic priest, or to a highly developed spiritual seeker. You have to see the context to see which the Buddha means. This was just one quote that I chose, but it’s clear in the suttas that virtue is not something that can be jettisoned once you reach a level of spiritual attainment. The Buddha taught that an enlightened person cannot violate the moral teachings. It would be impossible (they could accidentally violate a minor rule of etiquette, for example, but they would immediately confess it).

    Here’s the problem: when you have someone with spiritual credentials like CT, it’s very difficult for people to accept when he turns out to be morally bankrupt. So they deny it or try to make excuses. It’s exactly the kind of thinking that lead to the Catholic sexual abuse scandals.

    Chugyam Trungpa was a charismatic teacher, but he was also a cautionary tale. This is what happens when someone has some wisdom but not virtue. They end up bringing tremendous suffering to themselves and others. It’s also a cautionary tale for students. It’s hard to find a teacher that speaks to you, but it’s vital to find someone that also walks to the walk. It’s better to have no teacher than a teacher completely defiled and at the mercy of his corruptions.

    I’ve been reading Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s wonderful teachings on the rules for monks. It’s amazing how detailed and thoughtful they are! It also strikes me just how many of these rules are about protecting the laity from possible abuses of power from the monks. This is why CT disrobed. He didn’t want to live by those rules. The result was massive abuse of power.

    If you would like to read more about the allegations of sex with students see http://books.google.com/books/about/Cave_In_The_Snow.html?id=_j2cmAm3SOUC. For more on his alleged $40k/yr cocaine habit see http://books.google.com/books/about/The_other_side_of_Eden.html?id=sHZbAAAAMAAJ.

    1. I was reading in the Cave of Snow link you sent to me where Tenzin Palmo said that he said, “I’ve had women since I was thirteen…” I’d say that’s a tad different from having sex with a thirteen year old girl. I hope you are referring to something else in that source besides that quote, because if you are that is really pathetic. I couldn’t read much of the Steinbeck link because Google Books doesn’t allow it. It’s a pretty wild and absurd accusation though, by one disgruntled couple. I’m sure that he tried cocaine, but $40k/year is unrealistic.

      I don’t know how much time you’ve spent in the Shambhala community, but denial and misinformation is certainly not part of it. Everything he did is out in the open and always has been. Check out Dragon Thunder, the biography by his wife. She does not hold anything back. Jeremy Hayward’s memoir is also very forthcoming. The “company line,” so to speak, ever since I’ve been around at least, has always been to be upfront and honest about his behavior. Also, some of his close students are among the most “processed” people I’ve encountered (from any tradition). They are the people who, to me, are examples that this path can actually work and are my inspiration to continue.

      I think your position on morals and virtue are a bit off-the-mark, but to each his own. My understanding of such things is this: gewa (virtue) is something that takes you closer to waking up and migewa (non-virtue) is something that takes you further away from it. There is no moral underpinning at all. There is nothing morally objectionable with having sex, or with drinking alcohol, for example, it’s just that these things can often impede one’s path to liberation from samsara. People take vows and become monks and nuns in order to resolve to abstain from these distractions in order to practice the teachings.

      I’m sure that Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Theraveda in general, and others see things much differently. If you read that essay I sent to you, it will give you a better idea of the lineage that Trungpa Rinpoche comes from.

      1. Again, thanks for the note. I really appreciate when someone with a different point of view is interested in reading widely. I’m curious what you mean that lack of virtue takes you further away from liberation but isn’t morally wrong. Isn’t that playing with words? Our actions have real consequences that can reverberate for a long, long time. Even if the roughest allegations are exaggerated, I think the efforts to explain away CR’s bad behavior as “Crazy Wisdom” do more harm than good. Whether they want to or not, there is no “do what I say, not what I do.” And by the way, remember he did marry a 16 year old girl when he was twice her age, so let’s don’t be coy.

  3. Hi, I am glad you modified your post a bit. I think it shows that you are a thoughtful person with good intentions. I also think it shows that you are judging him, just as others surely judged Tilopa, Milarepa, and others in their time. Also, when people, such as, His Holiness the 16th Karmapa, Dilgo Kheyntse Rinpoche, Ponlop Rinpoche and others of the highest regarded lamas say that he was a “mahasiddha” with the highest of realization and ability, it kind of makes you wonder about people who never met him, and probably have very little understanding of the experience of a realized being, take it upon themselves to criticize him.

    But, I just thought of something else. I can see how one’s motivation would influence how they felt about different teachers. If you’re looking for someone to emulate, who acts like a “good” boy, etc., I can see how you would be drawn to some teachers and want to condemn others. Myself, for one, am not interested in such things. I am interested in waking up from samsara, self-actualizing, and being a benefit to others as a result. I also think part of this is challenging our concepts and beliefs and cutting through them. In any case, I never met Trungpa Rinpoche and my teacher is Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. I do think Trungpa Rinpoche’s teachings are invaluable and the best thing for me that are out there. I’m just starting to read the Profound Treasury of the Ocean of Dharma which I think will be the definitive work in my study of Buddhism. The Sakyong now is taking these teachings and unpacking them further, creating sadhanas, classes, etc. There’s no where else I’d rather be. 🙂

    I think that it is actually imbuing morality into virtue (as described above) that is playing with words/concepts. People are always (even 25 years after his death) talking about Trungpa Rinpoche’s drinking, for example. Do you think that there is something “morally” wrong with drinking alcohol? If you, or anyone else, does, I can’t imagine what it would be based upon. There is an idea that one shouldn’t become intoxicated to the point that they lose their mindfulness and thus commit unskillful actions that will harm themselves and others, i.e., take them further away from waking up.

    Trungpa Rinpoche was 28 when he married Diana Mukpo. You can read her account of it in Dragon’s Thunder.

    Good luck!

    Travis

  4. Make no mistake, the point of this blog isn’t to talk about what I think. What I think isn’t very interesting or important. The point of this blog is to talk about what the Buddha taught. One of the basic precepts given by the Buddha is not to drink, not to do drugs, not to have affairs. If you or your teachers think they know better than the Buddha, fine. Say so. But please don’t say you are teaching Buddhadhamma.

    If you are happy where you are, I’m glad. But maybe just keep in the back of your mind the words of the Dhammapada: “To cease from evil, to do good, and to purify the mind yourself, this is the teaching of all the Buddhas.” If that’s being a good boy, so be it.

    1. You have to look at the context of those teachings, for one thing. He told monks in a monastic setting not to drink, not to have affairs, etc. Why did he tell them that? What is the purpose of being in a monastic environment?

      What are the purpose of precepts? What do you think the purpose of Buddhism is?

      I’m not asking you to reply with the answers to those questions. You can if you want. But, it’s something for you to consider- if you want.

      If you are looking for a code of ethics to live by you should become a Confucianist. If you think drinking is “evil” you have a very naive understanding of the Buddha’s teachings.

      1. I decided since this is turning to a discussion of alcohol, I’m going to do a post on it. Look for it on Thursday!

        In the meantime, the Buddha clearly and often taught that abstaining from alcohol is not just for monks but for lay followers as well. It is one of the 5 basic precepts, an absolute beginning point of practice. You are right that the precepts are not sins that are arbitrarily defined by God. But they are the basic steps for engaging in the practice. Again, this isn’t according to me (or Confucius!) but the Buddha himself. You can disagree with him, but dont’ misrepresent his very clear instructions. I have looked carefully through the Buddha’s words (or the closest thing we have), and the only instruction he ever gives on alcohol is “Don’t drink it.” The only exception is very small amounts in medicinal preparations.

        The point of the Buddhist path is liberation in this very life. The purpose of the precepts is many fold. They begin to remove us from addiction to the world of the senses. They teach us what is truly important. They protect our mindfulness. They protect ourselves and others from unnecessary suffering. The ante gets up further in a monastic setting when we go from 5 precepts to hundreds. The “removing a thorn with a thorn” technique came hundreds of years after the Buddha. If you want to use the word “evil” or “unskillful” or “unhelpful” or “conducive to suffering” go to town. Just remember when you pick up the bottle, that is not the teaching of the Buddha.

  5. I heard today a disturbing report that Trungpa had sex with and underaged girl named Ciel and that she committed suicide. I was told this by two students that were close to him. I went to Shambhala centers for six months and experienced first hand the lax attitude toward correcting gendered harms in the community. I love his teachings, but I will never believe it is okay to seduce vulnerable students.

    1. I can’t find evidence about the event you’re talking about. If we dig, I’m certain we could find problematic or even truly awful teachers in almost any Buddhist tradition. My biggest takeaway is not that there was one particular bad teacher but rather that some of his behavior, instead of being taken as a cautionary tale, is looked on as a model. The alcohol in particular. Thanks very much for your note.

  6. It was told to me in a private conversation, but another senior person says this report is untrue. Bottom line: Shambhalians do not let the truth get in the way of devotion to the guru.

    1. Not all truth is “Truth”. Devotion is a double edged sword. A Teacher can inspire and direct you to the point where your devotion can cut through ignorance. Misplaced devotion can cut your own throat. It is not possible to eliminate the emotional component of devotion that sees “MY” Guru or “MY” tradition as better than the rest. There is abundant material that shows how all manner of immoral and outright illegal behavior is excused in the name of a teacher or tradition. In part, idiotic emotion will always be a block to complete and open dialog about the abuses that have happened, are happening and will continue to happen in the name of Dharma. Senior students and insiders will typically have that certain grin and dismissive attitude towards those that either question, wish to discuss or openly object to questionable behavior. No one has to join anything. Regarding being outsiders, that too is a matter of perspective.

      1. I agree. Thanks very much for your comments. Having institutions and communities can be so valuable to practice, but they almost inevitably have these kind of difficulties.

  7. In an interview Mr. Trungpa’s wife stated that she believed she was still 15 when she had her first sexual encounter with Mr. Trungpa.

    Steve Silberman: It was on your second visit to his center in Scotland, Samye Ling, that he invited you into bed. He was 28 and you were 16, correct?

    Diana Mukpo: I signed myself out of my boarding school—to tell you the honest truth, I don’t think I was 16 yet, I think I was still 15—and I found my way up there. He wasn’t really receiving visitors at that point but I was quite insistent that I get to see him, and that’s when we ended up having our first sexual encounter

    1. 16 or 15 are both so, so young. If true that is statutory rape as well as a clear vinaya violation. From that moment he was no longer a monk. He had need to disrobe. He was a failed monk playing dressup. Sad.

  8. Just a friendly reminder that there was 84,000 teachings to cater for all the different levels of mind for beings.

    “…those whose capacity or wisdom was to be able to understand at the hinayana level heard the Buddha giving teachings at that level. In the same session, those who were at the mahayana level understood the Buddha giving mahayana teaching. Those who were highly advanced, such as in the tantrayana level, understood tantric teachings in the same session. These are the qualities of the Buddha’s enlightenment.”
    https://www.kagyu.org/kagyulineage/buddhism/int/int07.php

    And to add to Travis May’s comment about judging other masters such as Tilopa, Milarepa, etc, you should read up about the divine madman Drukpa Kunley!

    1. Thanks very much for the note. I always appreciate hearing the views of others. First, I would like to remind you that the term Hinayana is a term of abuse aimed at the Theravada. It is an insult along the lines of a curse word, so it should never be used in polite conversation.

      I agree that there are different practices appropriate to different people along the path, but the Buddha never hid teachings or secretively withheld doctrines. Very importantly, he never condoned unethical behaviour, most especially from his monks.

      The “crazy wisdom” of Trungpa, Drukpa Kunley, Rajnish, etc is nothing more than evidence of their very human failings. There are teachers that are ethical and not liberated (me on my best days!), not ethical and not liberated (Trungpa on far too many days), and the rare teachers that are both ethical and liberated. There are no teachers that are drunks and sexually out of control and are yet liberated.

      This is merely charismatic predators taking advantage of gullible students. We should appreciate some of the words of charismatic predators like Trungpa, but never condone their behaviour.

  9. I agree, you can’t just sweep these things under the rug, or worse, say they’re OK because Trungpa was enlightened and a “great” teacher because that just validates his behavior. Ethics are ethics. They’re a little flexible, yes. If someone were coming to harm you and I decided to lie and say you weren’t there, that is a good thing. We have to have some discernment, some wisdom, or we’re too rigid. But you really have to be very careful on this, and w/o an ethical grounding it can’t work.

    Trungpa was breaking the precepts right and left because his crazy “crazy wisdom” delusion enabled him to pretend that he could avoid taking responsibility for his actions. That is the sign of a personality driven guru, as we have seen time and time again. In the end, it was the old, old story of power corrupting. It happened at the San Francisco Zen Center, as it has happened other times and other places and probably always will. No person is greater than the teachings, as it is the individual that manifests then in the world.

    These things you’re talking about need to be brought out into the open. They’re a cautionary tale for us all. If you see someone of authority that is not following the dharma, it is our responsibility to say something. Silence is, in a sense, being complicit. In my personal, spiritual path (25 years with Zen, and now recently with Shambhala because there is not a good Zen teacher where we currently live), I have become aware of the importance of keeping the precepts to the best of my abilities. That’s where we really work w/ people, and all sentient beings. I don’t need to be enlightened, and I’m not even sure what that means, but I do need to be compassionate to those I meet in this life. That’s really where the magic happens. You can’t be compassionate if you’re using people for your own ends. Thank you for your writings, I very much enjoyed reading them.

    1. Thanks for the kinds words. I am very impressed that you practice with a group outside of your tradition. It shows a broad mind and commitment to what really matters in practice.

      1. Thank you. No need to post this reply to your page. I saw no other way to reply to your nice note to me.

        I just wanted to mention that my current situation is not by choice, it’s just all that is available. And it could never have happened w/o this Shambhala group being, from what I see, a group of authentic people that seem to be rid of many of the problems that Trungpa and his predecessor started. Two other people in the group are also from the Zen tradition. I think Zen groups could learn from this particular group that it’s good to laugh at yourself, have a little fun, and not take every action and word so seriously. We went on a Mid Summer’s Celebration and BBQ at a local lake this past Sunday, and there was some burning of incense, a very brief period of chanting, and then it was just a good time. Telling old stories, discussing our paths, eating food, and music w/ drums, a guitar and tambourines. I even joined in a little on a tambourine, and I am not a musical person. It was great! I just can’t imagine a Zen group doing this.

        There are some things about the Shamphala practice that I sort of don’t get, but that’s OK. There’s some things (a lot) about Christianity I don’t get either, yet occasionally you meet someone that understands what Jesus allegedly said and lives it themselves. For someone just starting out I would never recommend Shambhala, and would steer them right to a good Zen center, assuming that one was available, but that is not always the case. My preference is actually for those tough drill sergeant type Zen teachers that can cut you in half w/ a stare. But we both know what happens when we follow our preferences, our likes and dislikes :} After a while, that’s all I want to do, and everything else gets neglected.

        If someone understands the basic Buddhist practice, then going from one lineage to another is not so difficult. I do admit that the few times I tried Tibetan I was pretty lost w/ their meditations, but that may have just been that particular group.

        I’m where I am for the sitting meditation, and to meet other people on a similar path. As you know, there aren’t that many, so it’s wonderful when you do meet people that you can feel right at home with, and pretty much understand where everyone is coming from. Keep up the good work! Love your blog. Steve.

    2. 06/20/2016

      “…You can’t be compassionate if you’re using people for your own ends…”

      This is the real litmus test for me.
      Having intimate relations with others is not a big deal providing they give their consent freely.
      Drinking is also no big deal if your behavior causes no harm to others immediately or over time
      Drugs while illegal are also no big deal if there is no harm done to others.
      Teachers and anyone in general have as much authority as others are willing to give them.
      “Spiritual Teachers” have the weight of mythology behind them which causes some people to allow them more than simple respect. People allow themselves to be led. There are no excuses for the lack of personal responsibility and plain common sense.

      Basically, Chogyam Trungpa might be the prime example of a Mahasiddha who can go beyond all social conventions. There is nothing He cannot say or do that hinders or negatively impacts Awakened Mind. He has complete freedom Physically, Mentally and Spiritually.

      That being said, should ANYONE have suffered from something Trungpa did or said, this should be examined from the standpoint of motivation and end result. I certainly do not consider Trungpa perfect and above morality. I DO consider him to be in the minority regarding His level of Freedom.

      ” …I’ll be haunting you, along with the Dralas…”

      He wasn’t kidding…

      ed

      1. I considered not approving this message because I disagree with basically every word. It truly makes me sad to think that someone could think that this is the teaching of the Buddha. But everyone should have their say.

      2. Since we have no written material directly from Buddha, voice recordings or video there is no way to know exactly what he did or do not say. We are told that his close disciples had perfect recollection and in gatherings after the Buddha’s death shared this with others. Fundamentally NO ONE knows exactly what Buddha said or taught. No Spiritual Tradition is monolithic and interpretation of the “founders” ideas can vary widely.

        My premise is simple: do not hurt others. Should a person or teacher engage in sex, drink alcohol or even use drugs it is of no concern. It is not about the activity per se but whether the potential outcome is positive, negative or neutral for themselves and/or others.

        People seems to take a prudish attitude towards Trungpa’s activities and Buddhism in general.
        Often, practitioners want to be “Stone Buddha’s” and work to repress the natural emotions, feelings and tendencies being humans. There is fundamentally nothing wrong with emotions. It is the effect they could have on the person and those around them that are of concern.

        Lastly your comment “I considered not approving this message because I disagree with basically every word…” speaks more about you than you realize. I would not be offended if you removed me from this list as a contributor or a viewer. Closed mindedness is not a characteristic of Dharma (my opinion , of course).

      3. I would add one thing to your simple premise: “Do not hurt yourself or others.” This is exactly the “trouble with Trungpa. He did indeed hurt himself and others, and that hurtful attitude is all to often being transmitted to new generation of students. He did what he did not out a liberated heart, but a heart trapped in the prison of addiction and sensual desire. We need to stop apologizing for that and call it what it was: a sad affliction.

        By the way, I very much disagree that we don’t know what the Buddha taught. Indeed, the basic premise of this blog is that we do for the most part know what the Buddha taught. There is probably no tradition that has worked harder and been more successful at transmitting the words of the teacher over the ages. If you really believe that nobody knows what the Buddha taught, what does Buddhism even mean?

  10. We seem to have strayed away from the real issue, which is not what Trungpa or any other teacher smoked or drank, but whether or not they acted ethically? It’s well documented that he had serious drug and alcohol addictions, and addicts are very skilled in manipulating people. Someone that is high on a drug is not thinking correctly, and there are numerous accounts of Trungpa being abusive and controlling to others, almost at a cult level. Shambhala became a personality cult, and in the center where I practice here in St Pete, although there is a picture of him in the meditation hall along w/ their local teacher, everyone I met has spoken of the problems that Trungpa caused in the past, and they are very careful to not follow that road, nor deny that what happened, happened.

    I agree, no one really knows exactly what Siddhartha said, and that is perhaps a good thing. This is where the Zen expression of “if you see the Buddha, kill him” comes from. It means to kill our ideas of Buddha. We should be in a “don’t know” mind, and then we can see reality as it is. Whenever we go back to learned thinking, in fact, whenever we think, we are far from the truth. We’re stuck in conceptual ideas at that point where we “see the Buddha”. Since all beings already have Buddha nature (and you don’t need Siddhartha’s words to know this, it is readily apparent), what exactly are we seeing?

    It sounds as if some people are saying that Trungpa had another set of rules, or no rules, because he was who he was. That is not true, His position of authority meant that he should have been much stricter w/ his personal life and set an example. It isn’t OK that he said one thing and did another, and he receives no special dispensation for taking liberty w/ the dharma. The only thing that remains to haunt anyone is Trungpa’s reputation, and I am sure that most Shambhalla centers, like the one where I live, are working very hard to overcome that reputation.

  11. You wrote: “…It isn’t OK that he said one thing and did another, and he receives no special dispensation for taking liberty w/ the dharma…”

    Why not?
    Emptiness is beyond conceptualization.
    Ethics/morality exist for those of us that cannot simply act directly.
    I have little to no compassion for people that choose to shut their eyes and conform blindly to whatever a Teacher or Guru says.
    I am of the position that Awakening allows the perspective of seeing beyond artificial boundaries.
    In some ways, a Liberated Being is like a champion athlete. After years of effort and preparation, s/he acts in ways that untrained people cannot duplicate or comprehend. This is one reason why some Teachers say “do not imitate me”.

    Sometimes, the so-called victim, is fully responsible for their situation.
    Other times, it may be a matter for Law Enforcement.
    It’s essential to understand which is which.

    Clearly, we might have different perspectives on this matter based on our individual personal experiences & practice.

    Would this be a barrier to dialog?

  12. “… If you really believe that nobody knows what the Buddha taught, what does Buddhism even mean?”

    I wrote that we have nothing written by the Buddha Gautama’s hand and certainly no recordings or video. What we do have the recollection of his close disciples. To the degree that this information is found to be useful and beneficial, people accept it and respect it.

    Should one take the word Buddhism apart we the the root Budh and ism. There are several meanings to the root Budh including to open or blossum (Bud) or awaken. Ism is defined by Webster (and are others sources as well) “a distinctive doctrine, cause, or theory”. So, Buddism is the doctrine, cause of theory of blossoming or awakening. Seems quite simple but when anyone reviews the doctrines of Thervada, Mahayana and (time permitting) Vajrayana, this is doubtfully what Gautama Buddha said. So, Is this was Gautama Buddha taught or it is the interpretation of his Disciples or followers? Were they Awakened enough themselves to be able to provide instructions or explanations about the techniques or processes used? What about specific implications of that well worn term Nirvana? Is it really worth the trouble?

    What we REALLY have is a large number of people on a journey of personal discovery (i prefer uncovery). There is no way to know whether any one of these that are labeled teacher really can be thought of as prime examples of Awakening or good guides. There is more celebrity worship than anyone will ever admit: Ohh, that guy/girl is ENLIGHTENED. I want that. This then evolves into “My Teacher (or Tradition) is better then yours. Ours is authentic and truly as mind-to-mind transmission.

    What does Buddhism mean to me? The same as a clear piece of glass. So clear, the glass itself is invisible.

    Ethics and morals within the Buddhist structure have the same value as student discipline in a grammar or high school. It keeps the urchins somewhat in check and manageable. We all know that most people that enter a Monastery or Study center will come out no better than when they entered. The problem here is not with the Monastery, Study Center or the “ism” but the expectations of the student or ( and i don;t like this term) follower.

    Have i ever went to someone labeled a Teacher and been showed the posture of Zazen? Yes.
    Have i ever spent weekends or longer on retreats? Yes
    Would i ever go to a Teacher again? No
    Do i consider myself awakened? As much as i consider myself the Emperor of France…

    So while there is something nice about behaving like god boys & girls, wiping our noses and saying excuse me when we have gas, here is also something profoundly dishonest and artificial.

    A good Buddhist is no better or worst than a good Christian, Jew, Hindu, Taoist or whatever. Just water taking the shape of the container it is poured into. Water by its nature simply flows. People might take the example of water to heart except that being in a container is safe, predictable and stable.

    Just another viewpoint.

    1. I’m a bit confused. Are you saying that any teaching is essentially the same? That we are just water that takes the shape of our teachings and environment, and it’s all essentially meaningless?

      One other quick point on this: the biggest lie one hears in any religion is this: “Once you’re enlightened/liberated/perfected/clear morality no longer applies. You’ve gone beyond that silly schoolboy stuff. That is the absolute hallmark of a schuckster. I think it was remains one of the enduring, beautiful aspects of the Buddha that he lived the life of a renunciate holy person his whole life. Indeed, on the Buddhist path, the more intense your practice, the more strict the discipline. Living a life in vinaya is not poorer but infinitely richer. Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something.

  13. These are good questions. “What does Buddhism even mean?”, “Why not?”, “Are you saying that any teaching is essentially the same?”

    I have no answers for any of them. Just getting through each day and seeing how I am led around by my nose through my conditioning and beliefs is all that I can deal with, to tell the truth.

    My gut feeling is to go by our gut feelings, not our thoughts. If something feels wrong, then it probably is, For us as individuals anyway. To feel the rain and the wind on our face, to smell the food cooking, this is truth. Time after time others will let us down or mislead us. It’s just how it is. All we can count on is our own personal belief systems, our own rules to live by if you will. Emptiness means nothing to me, nor do the terms awakened or enlightened. Anyone that tells you they are enlightened is not in my mind, and who cares if they are? They have their life to live, as do you and I, and we are all subject to old age, illness and death.

    On some level this all just sounds like another “empty” philosophy. To be kind to others and get our selves out of the way as much as possible, yet not deny that we have needs and desires, seems to be the path. I don’t know why people make such complications about what is truly a simple, yet difficult, practice?

    1. I very much appreciate your comments. For one thing, it’s really helped me to sharpen some of my thinking on these issues. I think the philosophy you lay out here is very beautiful but has one critical flaw: simply going with our gut is great for a liberated, enlightened being, but it’s no good for the rest of it. It is exactly our instincts that lead us to suffering. The practice is a practice of purifying our hearts and minds so that we can act with freedom and kindness instinctively. B

  14. Just wanted to give an update on my Shambhala sitting experiences. I have found it necessary to limit my participation since there are many things that are not even close to Zen (or even Buddhism). After our meditation sessions, there is often a group discussion, something that never happened in a Zen Center (at least, not any I went to). Rather than the roshi giving a dharma talk and fielding a few questions from his students, at Shambhala, the discussion is more of a free for all. The “teacher” (often simply one of the students) makes no effort to keep things on track. Consequently, you can get someone coming in and sharing that they are very judgmental, it is their practice and they’re happy w/ it, and it’s necessary because they currently live in Ecuador. According tho their “practice,” all men are to be seen as dangerous and not to be trusted until shown otherwise. Therefore, their path of judgement keeps them safe, so it’s a good practice. Not only did this person not receive any correction on this corruption of the path, but she was given support from other women there, who chimed in w/ their complaints about men. It was more like group therapy for men haters.

    Many of the people participating in these discussions are brand new, or are not very far on their path. There really HAS to be a qualified teacher to point out that these opinions are not Buddhism, and are very off the path. Today, as has happened many times, people bring their coffee w/ them into the meditation hall and occasionally sip out of them during the alleged awareness meditation, people’s children were allowed to run freely around the hall, and one person insists on bringing their disruptive family member who obviously has some sort of mental disability. She will not sit still, talks to herself and others, does not participate in any of the meditations, and really does not belong there. If the woman cannot find someone to sit w/ her while she comes to meditation, then she should not come because it disrupts everyone’s concentration (such as that is). But no one says anything, or even acknowledges that it’s even a problem Things are just way too strange, and the commitment from people is nonexistent.

    In the end, the sits are run, if that’s the right word, far too loosely. No meditation rules or guidelines are adhered to, and of course, what is supposed to be a safe and quiet place for the dharma is not. So now the wife and I leave if there’s disruptive people, and don’t participate in the after meditation discussions, which are often more like Ego Gone Wild groups.

    1. Bummer. Well, I hope you can find a place that is more supporting of a serious practice. There is a sutta where the Buddha says that if you can find spiritual friends that are serious about their practice, better to just practice alone.

      1. Justin, thank you for your view in the blog.

        Sila, samadhi and panna. There are the only way to spiritual liberation – Virtues, Stillness/Concentration, Wisdom. One support the others for the final liberation. Without virtues, it is impossible to get into the stillness of mind and without concentration, there will be no seeing as the way things really are.

        One’s own perception is very much conditioned and it is very hard to change if one does not reflect. Yoniso Manasikara is critical important. The belief one has is one’s own kamma – the product of the conditions.

        May you be successful in your spiritual quest and be diligent on the path of the truth seeker.

        Sadhu sadhu sadhu.

  15. I met Chogyam Trungpa in the 80’s. He was drunk. Though I had Buddhist leanings, the experience prejudiced me and I mistakenly dismissed meditation as a viable path for me. Eventually, I began meditating again, and decided I could use some direct instruction and coaching. I’ve been to several Shambhala warrior trainings, and took a couple of online Shambhala meditation courses, primarily because the center in Boulder was somewhat familiar, accessible, and reasonably priced. I have found them helpful and had none of the concerns expressed above by Steve Marino. The beginning courses are gentle, the talks and discussions reasonable and supportive, and I’ve had positive experiences overall. The teachers also never spoke of devotion to Trungpa or his son other than to encourage bowing in respect when entering or leaving the hall. On the contrary, every teacher I’ve had in my Shambhala experience has encouraged students to question and not to take the teachings as the end all be all. I’ve found the Shambhala center helpful and supportive without being cultish or coercive or threatening. Trungpa wrote some excellent books and failed to follow his own teachings and those he was taught by others, and it killed him. People at Shambhala understandably don’t like to talk about it, but I would like to note that the center in Boulder has a weekly group for those recovering from addiction, and they have developed a program utilizing Buddhist/Shambhala practice as a form of relapse prevention. Seems ironic, but I’m glad they’re addressing it directly. It is also worth noting that I’ve heard Shambhala leaders point out that the practices are rooted in Buddhism, but also the teachings of the Shambhala lineage, admitting they have created some of their own related but unique practices. I don’t practice out of devotion to the Rinpoche or the Sakyong. I just practice. With that said, the Buddha’s 4 Noble Truths and 8 Fold Path, in my mind, are the roots of my practice, and they rule out intoxication, infidelity, and other behaviors that turned me off to Shambhala all those years ago.

    1. Thanks so much for this very balanced view of the issue. I have no doubt that there is a huge range of the quality of actual Shambala centers, just as with Vipassana halls, Theravada Viharas and sitting circles. Thanks so much for sharing your experience.

    2. I’m sorry, but if the people involved in a particular lineage do not wish to discuss the founder of that lineage due to their actions, that is not acceptable, and should be a red flag to anyone wishing to become involved w/ that group. I understand that my take on this may seem harsh and heretical, as any criticism of Trungpa attracts this sort of blow back. He is a sort of sacred cow. My criticism is not about his books, it’s about his life and the lineage he left behind after his Crazy Wisdom did what it was bound to do….killed him.Tibetan Buddhism has a very different take on what the teacher’s role is compared to Zen, and how their behavior should be judged. I am a Zen Buddhist, not a Tibetan Buddhist, so fortunately I don’t feel obligated to always skew the truth in order to placate the lineage. People are what they are.

      For what it’s worth, I have had to greatly limit my activities at my Shambhala group due to the incompatibility of their practices and mine. I still consider some of the people “almost” friends, but that’s it. Relationships within the group only go so far between us as I really have no interest in achieving Level 1 training (what is this, Scientology?) or learning anything about the mythical kingdom of Shambhala. Stupas,relics. All the Tibetan tantric practices and beliefs are lost on me, as Zen has no beliefs. I also refuse to believe that all people are basically good (irregardless of their actions in the world). If I never chant that again as long as I live it will be too soon.

      To be perfectly blunt and to the point, as this will be my last comment on this subject, I don’t think that what goes on at Shambhala has anything to do w/ what the Buddha taught, other than the Zen awareness meditation that goes on every Sunday. Yes, some of the trainings may be beneficial to an individual, but they may also activate a sort of arrogance and trust in the self. The path is compassion, and Buddhuism is not a self help discipline. Nothing I have seen in my Shambhala center has benefited anyone other than the members in that group, and whenever I have mentioned helping others outside the group directly, I have met w/ what seems to be passed off as noble silence but is actually disinterest. No one there (other than myself) is involved in working in our community to help others. It is all me, me, me. It’s just a club of white, well off latte liberals (we have not one person that is black) playing at being Buddhists, which is actually a criticism of western Buddhism and not specifically Shambhala. .

      1. I’ve never met any teacher in Shambhala who didn’t openly discuss Trungpa Rinpoche’s behavior. It was never hidden while it was happening and it never has been since. See the movie Crazy Wisdom where senior Shambhala teachers talk openly about it (including Pema Chodron), see his widow’s biography, Dragon Thunder, and so on.

        Steve, do you ever go to the local Zen Centers to practice? I don’t really understand why you continually try to fault Shambhala for not being like a Zen Center, when it isn’t a Zen Center, and isn’t trying to be a Zen Center. You could just go to the Zen Center. Or, if you are just looking for open sitting and community, then there’s opportunities for that too.

        Since you don’t believe in basic goodness due to what people do in the world, I assume you don’t believe in Buddha Nature either. No one “achieves” Level 1 (especially the first time they take it), it’s just a gradual curriculum of introducing the teachings of Shambhala.

        It’s funny how you’ve come to all these conclusions about the Shambhala path, yet you haven’t actually done ANY of it.

        Back to the lattes and self-indulgence for me,

        Travis

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