~~Chogyam Trungpa and the ko0l kids ~~

The hippies of the 70’s aren’t much different from the hipsters of today. Popular/trending waves during the two decades in America (1970-1980 and 2005-2015) include the use of “mind-expanding drugs”, vegetarian food diets, and a rise in equal rights movements. While hippies desired “a world of peace and love [in which] their open-mindedness…created a fertile ground for the arrival of Buddhism” (4), modern day hipsters enjoy pretending not to care and rejecting mainstream ideas. A thought experiment: how effective would the same approaches that Chogyam Trungpa used to educate the West on Tibetan Buddhism throughout the 70’s be on hipsters today? Trungpa took a few different approaches to educate laypeople during his time in the West, which included making genuine connections or provoking them in order to expose the truth.

Trungpa’s casual method of sharing Buddhism was a much more personal approach. He was said to wear “jeans and sometimes a rather loud cowboy shirt left unbuttoned at the top,” (5) and while staying at a person’s home, he “washed the dishes and helped with the household chores,” (7). By abandoning his prestige in Tibet and connecting directly with people, he was able to establish a direct relationship with the person. This method seems timeless, other than his dated fashion choices, as Trungpa could establish a rapport and genuinely connect with whomever he was educating. But how seriously could you take a cowboy’s life advice? Perhaps in the modern day, Trungpa would be wearing a flannel and cooking quinoa with vegetables at the person’s home.

Conversely, Trungpa would also provoke his audiences. To begin with, Trungpa believed that “the purpose of the spiritual path is not, as young people then imagined, to attain some ethereal existence in which the passions of life are replaced with a superior detachment, but is instead a way of being fully human” (6). In order to call attention to this, at larger lectures, “some of the audience would be furious and demand a refund [because] Chogyam Trungpa would often arrive very late or speak only for a few minutes…People wanted answers, but Chogyam Trungpa refused to cater to their expectations. His purpose was to unravel the tangle of beliefs in which they had ensnared themselves. He thus exposed as purely artificial the hidden foundation on which most people’s experience is based” (9). By arriving late or saying little, Trungpa was intentionally toying with the audience’s expectations, and in doing so; he reveals to them that they are not living the “complete experience” (6). While this method was effective in some way to the people at the time, this might not be effective with people today. The culture of hipster-dom hides behind a veil of apathy and if Buddhism is trending enough to bring crowds of people for a single lecture, it runs the risk of being too mainstream.

Ultimately, the effectiveness of Chogyam Trungpa’s teaching methods depends best on your audience reception, hippie, hipster, or not.

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2 Responses to ~~Chogyam Trungpa and the ko0l kids ~~

  1. makalaka says:

    I found his approach interesting and it definitely did work on his audience. This is something worth exploring further. Did his working with hippies lead to Buddhism being taken less seriously in the mainstream?
    I feel if he were to try to appeal to our generation he would have to wear his robes and stay true to his vows. It seems that we are more focused on “authenticity” and not necessarily accessibility.

  2. AU says:

    I bet Chogyam Trungpa’s approach would be as effective today as it was on hippies in the 70’s, however I think a “hipster” is harder to characterize than hippies were (although that could just be because of the perspective we have on hippies now in hindsight). In my mind, there is still a difference between modern day hippies and hipsters and I think Trungpa’s teachings would be more influential on people who still hold 70’s hippie ideals than on those whom we might think of as hipsters. It’s hard to say, though, because it’s a conversation built on generalizations and ultimately everyone experiences things differently, even if they fall into the same social group or phenomenon.

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