I recently listened to a podcast (Chronicles Radio Dispatches) on the Chronicleproject.com website, devoted to the life, work and legacy of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche (1940-1987), a Tibetan lama who escaped Tibet and became known as the unconventional Tibetan Buddhist teacher during the 70’s and 80’s in North America and Europe.
It is an interview with Khandro Rinpoche, one of the few female Tibetan lamas. She is the head of a Tibetan Buddhist nunnery in northern India and a retreat center in Virginia, USA. This coming June she will be teaching a program in the Amsterdam Shambhala Meditation Center, which I hope to attend. She was a young lama in India when Trungpa Rinpoche started teaching in the West. Some of my fellow Shambhala Amsterdam members have met her and are very impressed by her sharpness and directness. In this interview she describes herself as "A needle in the cushion", to prevent complacency among her students. Therefore, I was very eager to hear her voice and listen to what she had to say about Trungpa Rinpoche, who is the founder of Shambhala meditation centers around the world, and who is also the father of my teacher and present leader of the worldwide Shambhala community, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche.
Khandro Rinpoche discusses many aspects of Trungpa Rinpoche and some aspects of Tibetan Buddhism in general. Here I would like to choose two important points from the interview. She recounts in a crystal clear and friendly way how amazing the way was in which Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche was able to teach in English (a very rare thing for a Tibetan lama at the time) and teach it in a western style choice of words. The example she gives about the seed syllable hrih is remarkable, even if you (and I) don’t know what hrih is about. Trungpa Rinpoche supposedly explained it (according to a student of his) as follows:
“docking into the humor of the sky.”Another remarkable thing that Trungpa Rinpoche did, was to create forms within the daily life of the Shambhala community. It was and still is predominantly a lay community. As Khandro Rinpoche put it: Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche created ways for the sangha members to be in his presence and to be useful, otherwise the students would be glued to the teacher. I will give some examples, because these forms are still practiced today.
Whenever you visit a Shambhala center anywhere, when you enter the shrine room (or meditation hall) you will find a flower arrangement, done in an Ikebana way, the Japanese flower arrangement tradition, introduced by Chögyam Trungpa as a practice and as an expression of elegance and basic goodness. Also, a public talk is a form that was initiated by him, and totally different from the monastic tradition that Tibetan Buddhism until then used to present the dharma. His very direct and sharp way of teaching the dharma is still an inspiration today-- he lives on in his books, which are all available in English, and some of them also in other modern languages. Two of the most well-known titles are: Shambhala, The Sacred Path of the Warrior and Cutting through Spiritual Materialism. His successor, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, particularly recommends the latter one as a eye-opener for spiritually inclined readers and meditation practitioners.
More Buddhism on this blog:
Engaging in the path - zencast,
Gil Fronsdal on speech,
Zencast - Right Effort,
Not knowing - Zencast 102.