Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s comprehensive presentation of the three-yana journey, taught only to his senior students, is being made public for the first time in The Profound Treasury of the Ocean of Dharma. Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche takes us through this unique body of teachings.
In the summer of 1980, the Vidyadhara, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, invited my father and me for dinner at the Kalapa Court in Boulder, Colorado. That evening, Rinpoche surprised me with an extraordinary gift: a collection of his seminary transcripts along with a roll of Japanese brocade personally designed by him, on a tray. The Vidyadhara looked at me over the rim of his glasses and asked, “Can you read in English?” “Not very well,” I replied. “Perhaps someday you can enjoy these,” he said, motioning to the stack of transcripts.
While I was attending monastic college, I kept Rinpoche’s transcripts with me and never forgot his words. After attending Columbia University, I began to read them more closely. Rinpoche’s fresh and experiential interpretations of the original Buddhist concepts that I’d studied my whole life couldn’t help but give me a new perspective.
Three decades after receiving the transcripts, I appreciate the opportunity to revisit these historic and innovative teachings. Once again, I’m struck by the remarkable achievement of the Vidyadhara and his brilliant and masterful presentation of buddhadharma to the West. At the same time, it’s a challenge to convey their special qualities and what they’ve meant and continue to mean to those seeking a genuine experience of waking up.
As a member of the last generation of Tibetan masters trained in Tibet, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche received a rigorous, and I daresay excruciatingly thorough, training in the Vajrayana tradition of Buddhism before fleeing to India. Through his studies at Oxford University and years of living in the U.S., he developed a command of the English language, as well as an intimate knowledge of Western culture and the contemporary cosmopolitan psyche. Coupled with his classic Buddhist training, these experiences laid the ground for a fascinating and unique presentation of the Buddhist teachings, one that left none of the most essential pith instructions behind.
In many cases, in order to connect with Western mind and experience, he redefined and reshaped terminologies to give fresh connotations to existing English words, such as ego, boredom, and basic goodness. A number of Buddhist phrases commonly used today were coined by Rinpoche. He used the terms spiritual materialism and spiritual narcissism to describe a tendency of many practitioners to turn their spiritual journey into an egoenriching exercise. He dubbed as idiot compassion the tendency to give people what they want, instead of what they really need, because one can’t bear their suffering. Such innovations, rare in traditional settings, signaled the very beginnings of a truly Western Buddhism.
Excerpted from the Spring 2013 issue of Buddhadharma: The Practitioner's Quarterly, available on newsstands and by subscription.
Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche is a meditation master and holder of the Karma Kagyu and Nyingma lineages of Tibetan Buddhism who has taught extensively in the West. He is the founder of Nalandabodhi and Nitartha Institute, which offer Western students courses modeled on the Tibetan shedra, or monastic college system. His books include Rebel Buddha, Mind Beyond Death, and Wild Awakening: The Heart of Mahamudra and Dzogchen.
Photo Courtesy of Naropa University