Trungpa Rinpoche, Chogyam (1940–1987)
Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, teachers
of the occult have portrayed Tibet as an outpost of the
highest occult wisdom. However, it was not until after the Chinese
invasion of Tibet in 1959 that Tibetan teachers arrived in
the West, making firsthand encounters with Tibetan Buddhism
available to more than a few adventurous explorers. Among the
first to arrive was Chogyam Trungpa, the eleventh Trungpa
Tulku. He was born in February 1929 in Geje, Tibet. Designated
the reincarnation of a famous lama as an infant, he was
raised in a monastery and trained in Tibetan Buddhism. He
fled Tibet at the time of the invasion, and in 1963 received a
Spaulding grant to attend Oxford University. While in England
he wrote his autobiography, Born in Tibet (1966), and established
a center in Scotland.
In 1970 Trungpa renounced his monastic vows to marry. He
moved to the United States that same year and founded Karme
Choling, a seed center of what would grow into Vajradhatu, an
international fellowship of his students. He presented his version
of Tibetan Buddhism in a number of books, including
Mudra (1972); Cutting through Spiritual Materialism (1973); Visual
Dharma, the Buddhist Art of Tibet (1975); The Dawn of Tantra
(1975), with Herbert Gunther; and The Myth of Freedom (1976).
He found ready acceptance among one segment of people who
appreciated his total dedication to his spiritual teachings and
his simultaneous ability to enjoy life, manifested through his
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love of alcohol and women. He was also a patron of the arts, especially
poetry, and founded a school, Naropa Institute, which
offers an alternative curriculum with college-level instruction.
The institute has taught the likes of Allen Ginsberg and Ram
Dass.
Trungpa possibly became best known for his denunciation
of ‘‘spiritual materialism,’’ manifest in the spiritual seekers of
alternative religions who seemed preoccupied with collecting
as many varied spiritual experiences as possible. Such seekers
never settle down long enough to have their search rewarded
with real insight, he said.
In 1981 Trungpa expanded his teachings to Canada, where
he established a community in Halifax. He died at these Canadian
headquarters April 4, 1987 of cardiac arrest and respiratory
failure. He was succeeded by Osel Tendzin, his chief disciple.
Sources
Clark, Tom. The Great Naropa Poetry Wars. Santa Barbara,
Calif. Cadmus Editions, 1980.
Fields, Rick. How the Swans Came to the Lake A Narrative History
of Buddhism in America. Boulder, Colo. Shambhala, 1981.
Queen, Edward L., Stephen R Prothero, and Gardiner H
Shattuck. ‘‘Chogyam Trungpa,’’ Encyclopedia of American Religious
History. 2 vols. New York Facts on File, 1996.
The Tibetan Book of the Dead. Translated and with a commentary
by Francesca Fremantle and Chogyam Trungpa. Berkeley,
Calif. Shambhala, 1973.