Monday, September 19, 2011



I happened upon this audio recording from The Chronicles of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche a few nights ago, a treasure. In it Rigdzin Shikpo recounts with what seems to be great fidelity and personal understanding the meditation instruction he received from Chögyam Trungpa in 1965. The recording documents not just the fruitional nature of Chögyam Trungpa's initial teaching but perhaps something of the "non-linear" element of a great teacher's work, since the language of these instructions is not unlike the teachings of Shabhala Level Five, the program Chögyam Trungpa/Lord Mukpo personally taught during the last decade of his life, a language of profound simplicity, immediacy and tenderness. Another remarkable document on The Chronicles are stories Rigdzin Shikpo's wife Shenon Hookam tells about meeting Chögyam Trungpa and about her and Rigdzin's lifelong involvement with his teaching. I have transcribed Rigdzin Shikpo's audio recording (scroll down to end of post).  
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My sixth-floor hotel room has a windowed door that opens onto a small patio and comes with a view of the traffic circle and much of the city of Bursa. In this Mediterranean climate, it has not been warmer than 89F or cooler than 70F for the last three weeks and so I leave the door open. I'm in my room most of the day, writing, but often looking out at the city and its constantly changing light.

The dual towers of the coal plant are across town and loom behind a building that partially obscures them. I hear the traffic circle day and night, the horns and acceleration. The atmosphere above the basin of this city that has been occupied since antiquity and was the westernmost edge of the silk route fills with various forms of burnt fuel and processed chemicals and by the time the sun is low in the sky the buildings catch fire; even the blue of a nearby wall the sun hits at 5:00 PM is hot and cinematic. In this irresistible glow of late afternoon global warming is made into a tactile newsprint of itself, a scrim that didn't used to be here.

I bought a while button-down dress shirt at Brooks Brothers before I left Washington D.C. and wear it every day when I go out. I wondered why I was paying eighty dollars for a shirt but the hunch was right, it’s holding up well and is the right piece of clothing to be wearing, with my black belt and denim pants. It dresses me up just enough so that I feel employed in something rather than someone just wandering around, which is what I mostly do when I’m wearing the shirt. 

Sometimes I’m in Ulu Cami, the city's great mosque that was completed fifteen years before the battle of Agincourt, and the local Starbucks on the same day. The Starbucks, too, seems like a scrim, glass walls along the front, inside of which what has been going on for a long time continues. The main difference between the Starbucks and the traditional tea shops is the latter are frequently by men and from an initial glance they look centuries apart; the most traditional tea shop looking a bit derelict and the men perched on tiny stools, whereas the Starbucks comes in its standard uniform of throw away cups and chocolate brownies with men and women at the tables. Something remains intact, certainly in the tea shops but even in the Starbucks, an atmosphere of manners and tradition and enjoyment, things that haven't gotten as mangled or gone akimbo as elsewhere. Everyone sits and visits, not a single person carries a cup out onto the street, as if even that much multi-tasking hasn't taken hold.

There was a celebration day during Ramadan (or Ramazan in Turkish) and not just Ulu Cami but the entire area of the older, historic city – and it is a labyrinth of commerce and countless shops indeed – was flush with people. Like a penguin I was in it and sometimes pressed to the bodies of those around me, their touch, familiarity with each other, ways they were enjoying themselves. The unmangled factor was there in the familial enjoyment and chaste atmosphere of celebration, mores that seemed to have missed me as I journeyed with the culture of my own generation though the sexual revolution. The tenderness made we weep inside and I was ashamed for having missed things about love, and for America's need for a global enemy, the projection of Islam as a necessarily oppressive force.

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My experience of the drala principle and the drala has often occurred near water; Boulder Creek, the River Arno, the Mekong. I came down with food poisoning three days after I arrived in Bursa and lay in bed for thirty-two hours, for much of the time unable to drink water because it made me vomit again. I slept through most of it, two nights and the entire day in between, a long and rare and frequently disturbed sleep. 

Each time I woke I had a vivid and specific memory, as if I was being taken to earlier times in order to retrieve something: a certain hike I took in southern Utah; my mother's turquoise bracet; the zocalo in Mexico City.

 For some time I've been writing these moments down, the thought I have when I first wake, even if just from a nap (sometimes especially a nap), as if this was one of the moments Lord Mukpo's dream-time spills in, as he once said, All the relative thoughts that happen in your mind in connection with cause and effect are the agents of the dralas. As if finding a clue that amplified the logic of dream time, on the day I recovered my health I came across a quote about history by Antonio Gramsci, that it "has deposited us" in an "infinity of traces without leaving an inventory" and as part of becoming conscious it is necessary "to compile such an inventory."

This morning the swallows were out, acrobatic as ever. I lay on my back and stared up at them, though the open door; wing gusts of acceleration, then glides or turns in the next instant. Swallows fly in unpredictable changes of direction according to the insects they sight in their hunt. As I watched them my body relaxed discernibly, the patterns of their movement so at home in my optic nerve. The swallows were hunting and the insects where dying, that's what one narrative said. Another narrative was about the traces, that as we notice and record them, they accumulate into the steps of an unknown but optimal path. Realization feeds upon the erratic.

After three weeks in Bursa, writing, studying, doing my practice, wandering and taking my meals, without having had a single conversation beyond the ones it takes to order food or ask the desk clerks to help me with my Turkish, I recognize that what brought me here was an unimaginable sequence of blessings in a free-fall, accidents occurring beside other things I momentarily took more seriously according to the infections I had at the time.  
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From The Chronicles of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche
Rigdzin Shikpo, formerly known as Michael Hookham, talks about his training with Trungpa Rinpoche in the 1960s, beginning while Rinpoche was studying at Oxford.

Tribute to Trungpa Rinpoche

I and a friend first met Trungpa Rinpoche in 1965 in London. We both had been very impressed by his teaching and asked if we could meet him and talk further and get some teaching from him at his flat in Oxford, the flat he called Anitya, meaning impermanence. We went and stayed there for a long weekend, going up on Friday and getting some teachings from him in the evening, staying over Saturday and Sunday and getting some final instructions in the morning on Monday. The most astonishing thing about this period of time for us was that he was very enthusiastic in teaching us something of dzochen or Maha Ati as he called it. We perhaps didn’t realize at the time just how profound this teaching was, but nevertheless it was something that was very impressive and very telling for us, and in fact has something that stayed with us right up to the present the day.

The first aspect of the teaching he wanted to bring across to us was a very practical aspect, and that is the teaching of what he called complete openness. He said this is the way that you had to act to everybody and to every situation you encountered, you had to be completely open, without having prejudice mind and you had to train yourself in that particular way. And that this was the keynote of the essence of formless meditation itself and no matter what  kind of thing arose in meditation, no matter how emotional it might be, no matter how confusing the quality of openness, opening yourself out to what was there always had to be present. It wasn’t a question of indulging in the experience, but allowing yourself to feel it in a very complete way, and then be able to let go of it when you’d done that. So the essence of formless meditation was really this teaching of complete openness.  And it wasn’t simply that the complete openness was a meditation instruction, but simply he said that everything was completely open in nature. It didn’t matter what it was, the nature of everything you encountered, all situations and all people, no matter what the experience might be, complete openness was the keynote. 

Another thing he mentioned at that time he said it’s not just a question of things of being open, which one might interpret perhaps as some kind of ultimate emptiness, but that things form some kind of coherent pattern just naturally, and this he called natural perfection. As things manifest to you naturally in your life and in your experience they formed patterns that have meaning and significance in a way that he sometimes described as the mandala principle. There isn’t anything that is not significant and not valuable. And there is nothing you can say about your experience that doesn’t make it perfect, even if you were to experience something negative, then the perfection involved in that is of course the fact is that you had yourself constricted or interfered in some way with the natural flow or natural expression of that pattern, and as you did that then the pattern changed and it formed a different kind of natural pattern that might seem to our minds rather confused or rather negative, but it was simply the natural outcome of one’s personal participation with the pattern, along with the participation of all other beings and everything that went up to make up that natural situation.

The important thing in one’s life and in ones behavior was to see this kind natural patterning and to go with that, not in the sense, again, of indulging in it, but to be able to experience it and to open out to it and then to allow the third aspect, which he described as very important, which was to allow the quality of absolute spontaneity to arise. Absolute spontaneity isn’t really  something  that you can say, “I’m going to be spontaneous”; that of course wouldn’t make any sense,  and you can’t in any way make spontaneity happen, of course, but it is possible to lay some kind of ground for that spontaneity to arise, and the important thing there is to not have preconceived, solid ideas about notions of causality, why you think that the volitions that you have should arise in a particular way, such as, well I think in this way because it’s the way am, or I think in this way because it’s the force of my notions that make me think like this, or maybe I think it’s a series of associations that makes me behave or think in this way, but in fact, as you allow yourself to open up into something of that ground from which actions arise, you realize the actions that you called “yours” don’t arise from ego at all, they are not ego centered, and they simply arise from some bases which is actually beyond thought, beyond concepts. You could say its like a fountain of goodness, that all actions are fundamentally good in nature. When it seems that they don’t work and there is some negativity involved, one can see that it is one’s modifications and constrictions in how one treats one’s experience that makes that negativity there, and makes me think that I perhaps performed this particular action, and the egocentricity that is involved in that makes it not a spontaneous act.

You had to bring the three together, the natural perfection of everything, the complete openness and spontaneity all came together and that it was possible in the general experience of one’s life and one’s Buddhist practice to make those three things a complete unity, and then if you do that you have the experience of what is called the tree of life. That everything that arises has something of significance or value, that nothing in your life is to be considered, as it were, an accidental event, everything had to do with dharma, everything is the living dharma, as he would sometimes say, that on this day the dharma wants me to do this particular thing, or the dharma wants me to do this - that is something that obviously you have to find out for yourself - but his idea was that dharma was alive with these three particular qualities and that was the basis for him for the whole of the dharma and particularly this formless meditation.

And as I said that was something he said to take to heart and we did our best and of course even in those weekends with the instructions were straight from his mouth, as it were, when we went back to our hotel and started to meditate we would say to ourselves, “Well, we can’t force meditation into a particular way or frame it in a certain way,” but of course we couldn’t have not guided the meditation along a bit, to shove it in a particular direction, it took years, to learn to abandon yourself to this quality of spontaneity and to rely on natural perfection and to realize that complete openness was the only way.

1 comment:

  1. རྣམ་པར་སྣང་མཛདOctober 19, 2011 at 11:08 AM

    "The necessary and welcome economic growth within our Sangha, in the form of business operations and commercial and domestic investments, has brought along as a by—product an increasing frequency of disagreements and disputes. There is a need for our society to provide resources for the sane, nonagressive resolution of such conflicts in keeping with the principles of Dharma and the Great Eastern Sun. Accordingly I have decided to institute and appoint the Upaya Council. The function of the Upaya Council shall be to mediate and/or arbitrate commercial and domestic disputes among members of the Vajradhatu community, as individuals, groups, or businesses. It shall be the initial task of the Upaya Council to propose to me and my Privy Council a set of guidelines under which it shall operate. There shall be no internal hierarchy within the Upaya Council and each member shall have an equal voice; the findings of the Council shall be arrived at by unanimous consent."

    ~ Vajracarya the Venerable Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche, Spring, 1979.

    Upaya Council