Remembering Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

Last night was the evening before Khyentse Rinpoche begins to transmit the teachings from the Zurmang tradition, so he asked some of Trungpa Rinpoche’s older students to make a visual presentation and talk a little about their hugely influential master. It all happened at Deer Park and both the Yangsis attended, along with Spiti Tulku and, of course, Khyentse Rinpoche.

Rinpoche introduced the evening by telling a story. It was dark and I’m not only a bit deaf but also a compulsive editor, so what follows bears no resemblance to a transcript whatsoever, but it was too good a tale for you to miss.

“When I was 10 years old, the guy who is now sitting there [Khyentse Yangsi was sitting in the front row] was taming, training and teaching me—and he hasn’t aged one bit! On his shrine stood a photo of a man with a clean-shaven head, wearing a very impressive military uniform.

“Having spent a little time with Kyabjé Rinpoche I knew that in many ways he was a very broad-minded person and open to many things, but in others he was absolutely meticulous, and this photo just seemed… well unacceptable. A picture of an army man standing next to Buddha Shakyamuni and Guru Rinpoche! Surely, I thought, Rinpoche’s attendants must have made a mistake.

“In the end curiosity got the better of me, and I asked who the army man was. ‘He is one who has perfect realization,’ said Kyabjé Rinpoche.

“Now, in my very stereotypical mind, a being with ‘perfect’ realization could only take the form of a monk or a yogi, never, ever a soldier. So, it was many years later that I realized this was just another example of the extraordinary, yet often unfathomable wealth of the Buddhadharma, and that great vidhyadharas are always ready to pull the rug out from under their students feet at any moment.

“At one point I visited Trungpa Rinpoche’s seat—the one called ‘Halifax’—and was told that he had asked many of his students to move there. Some seven hundred families willingly relocated. Did you know that Halifax was the biggest producer of babies’ bibs in America? To me, though, with my impure perception, it should have won the award for being ‘the most boring place on earth.’

“Westerners generally, and particularly Americans, are not easy to order around or teach, which makes it almost unbelievable, unthinkable even, that this half-drunk, half-paralyzed guy, could ever have managed to transform all those dippy-hippy north Americans into sadhana practitioners and even lineage holders.

“As we are now coming to the part in the Dam Ngak Dzö that presents teachings from the Zurmang tradition, now is good time to celebrate the life of this great master, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, so I have asked some of his students to talk about him a little.”

And they did…

(I believe the last photo here, of Trungpa Rinpoche and Robert Elk, appears in Sacred World: the Shambhala Way to Gentleness, Bravery, and Power by Jeremy and Karen Hayward. I’m sorry, I don’t know then name of the photographer.)
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