Sunday, February 19, 2012

crazy wisdom - Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche

I am often amazed at the “connections” that Merton made during his life.  Merton’s friendships outside of the monastery were deep and varied - artists, writers, theologians, singers and a few of the local nobodies.  It’s as if there is wavelength of thought (or vision) that coalesces around Merton, and sometimes I wonder if we are not still being carried along by this vision (or spell).  A happening that the daily news totally misses.

As I was reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, I was fascinated with Jobs’ serious and diligent practice of Buddhism.  One of the books that inspired Jobs to become interested in the process of letting go of illusion was Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche.

Hmmm.  Didn’t Merton meet that guy in India?

Even before he even left for Asia, Merton was reading Chögyam Trungpa’s Born in Tibet.  Chögyam Trungpa must have been 29 years old in 1968.  And then, “quite by chance”, Merton meets Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche in Calcutta.  This is what he writes in his journal on October 20, 1968:

“Yesterday, quite by chance, I met Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and his secretary, a nice young Englishman whose Tibetan name is Kunga.  Today I had lunch with them and talked about going to Bhutan.  But the important thing is that we are people who have been waiting to meet for a long time.  Chogyam Trungpa is a completely marvelous person.  Young, natural, without front or artifice, deep, awake, wise.  I am sure we will be seeing a lot more of each other, whether around northern India and Sikkim or in Scotland, where I am now determined to go to see his Tibetan monastery if I can.  Hi is a promising poet.  His stuff in Tibetan is probably excellent; in English it is a little flat, but full of substance. He is also a genuine spiritual master.  His place in Scotland seems to have become an instant success and I think he has something very good underway.  I am certainly interested in it.  The newsletter he puts out is good.  His own meditations and talks, from what I have seen, are extraordinary.  He has the same problems we have with “progressive” monks whose idea of modernization is to go noncontemplative, to be “productive” and academic.  …"
Merton ran into Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche twice more during his journey in Asia.  Of course, this was all before Chögyam Trungpa came to America (1970) and gained renown for his unique ability to present the essence of the highest Buddhist teachings in a form readily understandable to western students.  Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche later began to express the path of meditation in secular terms, increasingly turning his attention to the propagation of teachings that extended beyond the Buddhist canon.

Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche sought to bring, in his words, "art to everyday life."


  1. This is a great piece of information. I didn't know that Merton met Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche during his Asian journey.

    Trungpa Rinpoche's life, though, was quite unconventional. He slept with his female disciples, and drank quite a lot. Despite this, he seems to be an authentic spiritual master, and Merton seems to like him.

    His goal to bring "art to everyday life" reminds of D.T. Suzuki's words:

    "I am an artist at living — my work of art is my life."

  2. Yes. I didn't really know anything about Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche until I made the connection with Merton while reading the book about Steve Jobs.

    Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche was not yet 50 years old when he died. Like Merton, he was onto something at a very young age and then able to fly with it.

    It seems, somehow, almost eerie that the 2 of them met in Asia "by chance" just before Merton's death. As if there was an attraction of energy or something.

  3. You find such fascinating connections, Beth, and always at a time when they seem to have a special meaning for me: true "synchronicity"! Thank you...

  4. There's a good discussion of Trungpa Rinpoche's influence in contemplative photography in the book The Practice of Contemplative Photography by Andy Karr and Michael Wood. We well know Merton's practice of this sort of picture making; I've read about Lax's interest in photography, however, haven't seen what he made; I've wondered if Lax's "waiting" shows in the images.

  5. I saw Lax's photography in the collection at St. Bonaventure. I seem to remember a lot of people - the Greek town people. The Lax drawings are simple line drawings, not abstract. Very much what is here and now and right around him.

    In my search around the web about Trungpa Rinpoche I saw an exhibit in Nova Scotia of his calligraphy. (Steve Jobs really picked up on that art.) Rinpoche was also interested in Japanese flower arranging and other things - like health sciences. It's all very interesting, this interplay between the arts (and science) and contemplative spirituality.

  6. Trungpa Rinpoche's work and process of working can be seen in his book True Perception: The Path of Dharma art (Shambhala). I look forward to seeing Lax's photographs and drawings someday.

  7. James, here is a little series of drawings that Lax did upon hearing of Merton's death:

    I'll get a few more up on this blog.


The Stuff of Contemplation (Joan Chittister)

Thomas Merton, Trappist, died December 10, 1968 Thomas Merton entered the Abbey of Gethsemane in Bardstown, Kentucky, at the age of twenty-s...