Friday, March 25, 2011

"The Essential Chögyam Trungpa": Book Review

In bold fashion, this Tibetan lama challenges us to find secular, or Buddhist, enlightenment. Neither placid nor full of platitudes, this compiles 38 pieces from fifteen books in print. It may daunt most readers unfamiliar with basic hinayana- mahayana- vajrayana "vehicles" of knowledge and practice, but if you already have a basic grounding in these teachings, this book may inspire you to move deeper, and climb further.

Chögyam Trungpa's urging us against getting bogged down in the means, the material trappings that surround so many gurus, and the egotistical temptations which entrap so many ethereal seekers. His "cutting through spiritual materialism" encourages us to let go of "trying to live up to what we would 'like' to be," rather than "trying to live what we are." (50) Any technique associated too securely with the inexpressible divine, ultimately, prevents us from breaking free on our quest.

"Crazy wisdom" counters this materialism with giving up on answers but keeping a literal perspective, to keep on investigating without fixating on solutions or stopping at answers. "Both question and answer die simultaneously at some point. They begin to rub each other too closely, and they short-circuit each other in some way." (53) At that point, hope abandons us, yet transcending its saving grace pushes us into the deeper discoveries beyond in an unfolding, never-ending process of self-discovery by losing the self. This may sound elusive, and it may be, but this book takes this process seriously, if with oblique asides and a lot of metaphors such as a blue pancake falling on your head, to keep the elucidation unexpected. It can be tough going in many places, and tends to skip about-- being a compendium-- but it's a sampler to whet your appetite for his two dozen books listed in the appendix.

He tries to steer us out of our "huge traffic jam of discursive thought." (66) He excels in delineating the six realms of existence, the "styles of imprisonment" that entomb us. He tells the story of Marpa engagingly, and he explains the five Buddha families clearly. He lets us in on the secret that "cool boredom" can be a blessing for a meditator, however advanced all the more bored. Shambhala Training, an innovation of his, brought "secular enlightenment" to many, and this collection mixes its admonitions with those of higher levels of actual Buddhism.

As a lot of these doctrinal selections were talks, the verve of his delivery comes across, even if on paper his suggestions may seem rather disjointed. The sections shift quickly up into advanced teachings. The edition follows the three yanas as it leaves secular Shambhala approaches behind for dharma in complex, increasingly Tibetan forms. You'll even get a sense, deep into this book, of the true meaning of disorienting Tantra, and how emerging from "cocoons" (in a closing chapter reminiscent to me of "The Matrix"), can lead us out of shyness and aggression.

The surprise at such a "warrior's" brave, interior and exterior pilgrimage, he reminds us, shatters one's "ordinary approach to reality and truth," far too "poverty-stricken." (199) Truth encompasses all of its manifestations. "It could be everywhere, like raindrops, as opposed to water coming out of a faucet that only one person can drink from at a time."

In the end, with "maha ati yoga" (aka "dzogchen"-- a glossary explains many terms), the highest teaching of the Nyingma school is given, or glimpsed. The learning curve of these excerpts moves steadily-- if a bit erratically and unpredictably given its instructor's methods-- up steep heights. While it may be an uneven and rocky trek for those not acclimated to Chögyam Trungpa's pace, it does introduce us to this memorable guide for so many Westerners, the first Tibetan teacher to gain a wide following outside the homeland he escaped. (Posted to Amazon US 3-24-11 & 4-21.)

No comments: