Practical Buddhism

Chogyam Trungpa’s teachings offer a perspective into Buddhism unlike any other that we have learned of in class. Trungpa stripped away the mysticism and unattainability that has dictated so much of the Western understanding of Buddhism. His appeal to the hippy population of the 1970’s is obvious, he cut through the confusion and confinement by offering an authentic, truthful path.

In “Portrait of Chogyam Trungpa in 1970”, the author presented a very accurate description of how Westerner’s view Buddhism and spiritual wisdom, “that wisdom manifests itself as the disembodied calm in every circumstance.” This depiction was powerful because it is a misconception that I have personally held and was sometimes reinforced by teachings about the principles and practices of Buddhism. It often seems so difficult to meditate for such extended periods of time and to reach a point of clarity where one can understand emptiness that the entire process seems like an impossible feat. Chogyam Trungpa’s approach was entirely different, “wisdom derives from a “complete experience” – no matter what that experience may be.” This radical acceptance of the exact situation and feeling of the present moment is deeply refreshing; because although I am sure it aligns directly with Buddhist thought, it is sometimes difficult to see how a homework assignment or job search can align with the practice of Buddhism. Or even more powerfully, how we can accept feelings of anger, jealousy, or fear, instead of judging ourselves for their presence.

Chogyam Trungpa did not only teach radical acceptance, but painfully made his students face that our beliefs and expectations are covering us from seeing any real truth. While we have read many texts that talk about perceived truth and the ultimate truth, Trungpa brought these texts to light by forcing his students to see the blinders within their own lives. He additionally brought this truth to his audiences, “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.” He methods of arriving late, talking briefly, speaking personally, and not adhering to societal rules made his teachings appeal even more to those who were in search of truth. People are drawn to the radical truth when they find that the path society is leading them down is no longer working. Trungpa offered this to his students in an approach that appears to be a mix of radical, loving acceptance and a slap in the face of truthful awareness.

He spoke often of materialistic spiritualism, which can be divided into three aspects of materialism: Lord of Form, Lord of Speech, and Lord of Mind. Lord of Form are “our efforts to gain comfort and security” and to shield ourselves from the difficulty of life. He associated this with the endless comforts we have created: packaged food, elevators, electronics, and so on. Lord of Speech refers to the intellectual filters that stop us from seeing reality. They are the filters we create to understand our existence for the purpose of comfort. Lastly, Lord of Mind is the abuse of consciousness and awareness for the purpose of reaching a state of sustained happiness. He explained this as being the most devious of the aspects of materialism. This harsh awareness of our states of being is side of Trungpa’s very honest approach to Buddhist teachings, he did not avoid the painful aspects of awareness for comfort – but made them applicable to any interested follower.

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2 Responses to Practical Buddhism

  1. Emilia says:

    I really enjoyed your piece! I was especially drawn to the few comments you made about Trungpa’s methods of “arriving late, talking briefly and speaking personally, and not adhering to societal rules” which came across as almost more truthful to this followers. It reminded me of the other intentional aesthetic choices he made like not wearing robes to separate himself from the mysticism often associated with people from another country.

    I find it very interested the intentional decisions he made to create this very specific appealing and yet not stereotypical image for Western consumption.

  2. Sarah says:

    Thank you so much for this post. It was very interesting, particularly in light of the class discussion we had today. I think the observation that I appreciated most from your piece was that Chogyam Trungpa brought a particular truth to his audiences – and did so effectively. In the end, the efficacy of his teaching is a convincing testament to the necessity of his departures from strict tradition. Thanks for all you raised.

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