Crazy Wisdom

Dear Spiritual Explorer: To be spiritual, does one have to attempt to be a good person? Raymond G., Pomona, CA


Crazy Wisdom by Chogyam Trungpa

Dear Raymond: Read Chogyam Trungpa’s book Crazy Wisdom and see if you can find an answer to your question. While a bit difficult to migrate through, the icon of which Trungpa speaks is Padmasambhava, born in an advanced state and who brought buddhidarma to Tibet. Padmasambhava never tried living up to moral precepts, but was just open to life at a very deep level. Trungpa contrasts Christian philosophy with the Buddhist philosophical mindset emanating from Padmasambhava.  According to Trungpa,in Christianity, there is an outward looking towards something that will inspire us to emulate a particular moral quality whereas in Buddhism, it is the stripping,unlayering and unfolding of a person that brings them to a sense of natural morality. The essence is revealed. There is no trying to become something that is not within the nature of the person. The goodness, the joy, and morality are always there waiting to be seen and acknowledged.

Trungpa called this searching to “get better” spiritual materialism, where we as westerners look for outward signs that we are progressing in spiritual life. One does not have to do good works or acts of charity to show progress in spiritual life. Jesus himself said that by good works alone one cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven. I’m sure Jesus knew what Padmasambhava was expressing. It was more the expression of “being” rather than “doing.” This is what Trungpa refers to as “crazy wisdom,” wisdom that arises from the inward being rather than being conventionally imposed on the outside.

“Padmasambhava’s way is that of transcending spiritual materialism, of developing basic sanity. Developing basic sanity is a process of working on ourselves in which the path itself rather than the attainment of a goal becomes the working basis. The path itself is what inspires us, rather than promises about certain achievements that lie ahead of us.”

I met Trungpa when I was at “Esalen in the 70’s. He arrived with quite an entourage, dressed in a businessman’s suit and black Florsheim shoes. Even though his reputation as an excessive drinker and womanizer preceded him,nonetheless, he was radical, brilliant and cogent. It was evident that he had no interest in presenting himself as a saint in western terms. As an aside, he especially liked the belly dancers doing a workshop there at the same time. I don’t think Trungpa was interested in what might have passed for conventional morality. I wish I had been a more mature spiritual seeker to better understand him.

While a complicated book using some Hindu terms that are difficult to comprehended, I am trusting and hoping that I am able to convey the general gist of his book. Trungpa was the foremost teacher of our beloved Pema Chodron who has been able to take what I believe is Trungpa’s major philosophy and somehow reduce it to comprehensible layman’s terms available to scores of people. When asked about the scandals that swirled about Trungpa, Pema Chodron continually reasserts her own gratitude for the time they had spent together and the teaching she received from him.

A wonderful, relevant and current insight about Padmasambhava. Read the book and let me hear your comments. Spiritual Explorer

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