I just posted a new article on the Suicide Girls safe-for-work blog. It's called Crazy Wisdom - The Story of a Drunken Sex Pervert Who Revolutionized Buddhism.
It's about a new film called Crazy Wisdom. It's a documentary about the life and times of Chogyam Trungpa Rimpoche, the controversial Tibetan master who founded Naropa Institute in Colorado, the first Buddhist university in the Western world. Perhaps still the only Buddhist university in the Western world. He was Pema Chodron's teacher. He also set up the Shambhala Foundation. Trungpa's influence extends far and wide. I'm not even certain what his connection is with Shambhala Sun, for example. I keep running into organizations and people who have associations with Trungpa that I did not know about.
I gave the film a good review because I enjoyed it a lot. It has flaws. For all its openness about Trungpa's boozing and sex, it does gloss over a few things that I think are important. The filmmakers are followers of Trungpa, so it's to be expected they'd make a film that shows him in a mostly positive light. One could just as easily make a film that painted Trungpa to be evil, awful and nasty. In fact that movie might actually be a little easier to make.
Trngpa was mostly very honest about himself and the things that he did. I say "mostly" because there were some things he kept hidden. One of these was the advice he gave to his HIV positive successor Osel Tendzin that Tendzin would not transmit his illness to others as long as he did certain purification practices. This was nonsense, of course. And people have suffered greatly because of it.
Yet over all, Trungpa didn't present himself one way and behave another. Which is why I think he never was subject of any of the kinds of scandals some other Buddhist masters like Genpo Roshi, Eido Shimano, Richard Baker and the rest have been. Those guys' big mistake was the give people the idea that they were saintly in the conventional sense. Perhaps they never directly said they were, but they allowed people to build that sort of image around them. If anything Trungpa probably made himself sound worse than he really was.
Although I like the film, I'm still not sure about Trungpa himself. I know people who I respect and trust who knew Trungpa and think he was a terrible person. But then again, even these people will admit Trungpa wrote some good books and did some good stuff for a lot of people.
Oddly enough, just before I got the DVD screener of Crazy Wisdom in the mail from the producers for the purpose of writing the review, I watched a Discovery Channel documentary about Shoko Asahara, the cult leader responsible for the poison gas attack on the Tokyo subway system in 1995. The documentary is on YouTube. I'll put part one at the bottom of this blog entry. You should be able to find the other three parts pretty easily yourself.
I was struck by the ways in which Chogyam Trungpa resembled Shoko Asahara. There are several extremely important differences between the two men. The biggest difference is that Trungpa was trained and ordained in a legitimate Buddhist lineage. Shoko Asahara just pretty much made his credentials up. And Trungpa was wise as well as crazy whereas Asahara was just crazy and had no wisdom at all.
Still, it would be easy for someone to be fooled into believing Shoko Asahara was also an example of crazy wisdom and to excuse his weirdness for signs of deep enlightenment. Trungpa was openly a boozer. Asahara made no secret of his use of LSD. Trungpa had a legion of uniformed guards who served as a kind of Buddhist militia. Asahara had all kind of bizarre paramilitary operatives in his cult. Superficially one could site a number of points the two men had in common.
And yet even before the subway gas attack, I got a very very bad feeling from Asahara and his group (they had a little shop near one of the train stations I used to use frequently and I went in a few times). I never got that kind of ill feeling from Trungpa. I felt a little odd about him, but I didn't get the sense of real dangerous insanity that I got from Asahara's material.
Which is to say that I think one has to go with one's gut in these matters. Sometimes the superficial intellectual view seems to be fairly even when looking at several different spiritual teachers. And yet in the pit of your stomach you can kind of tell which ones are bad and which are okay. That is, if you learn to recognize your own intuition.