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Excerpts from Crooked Cucumber - Crooked Cucumber main page

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche in Crooked Cucumber: the Life and Zen Teaching of Shunryu Suzuki

Chögyam Trungpa cuke link page

excerpt from Chapter 18, the Driver - pp 373-375

You cannot judge a teacher by your low standards.

In early 1970 Shunryu Suzuki had been reading the book Meditation in Action by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a Tibetan teacher who had just arrived in America. Some of Suzuki's students had heard Trungpa speak, had met him, and had talked to Suzuki about him in glowing terms. One evening while sitting with students after dinner at Page Street, out of nowhere Suzuki said, "Someone is coming. After he comes, maybe no one will be left here at Zen Center but me." Then he laughed. Nobody had the faintest idea what he was talking about. He was talking about Trungpa.

     Trungpa and Suzuki met at Tassajara in June of 1970, and they immediately made a strong connection. Trungpa, his very young British wife, and a few of his students ate supper late the night they arrived. At the end of the meal, Suzuki came in and sat down across
from Trungpa. They looked at each other intently and spoke unhurriedly with long pauses.

     Suzuki asked Trungpa to give a talk to the students in the zendo the next night. Trungpa walked in tipsy and sat on the edge of the altar platform with his feet dangling. But he delivered a crystal-clear talk, which some felt had a quality—like Suzuki's talks—of not only being about the dharma but being itself the dharma. After that he asked Trungpa to come to Page Street and lecture when he was in the city, which Trungpa did. Suzuki had no relationship like this with any other teacher. They talked about the loneliness of being a teacher. Trungpa called him his new spiritual father, and Suzuki told him, "You are like my son."

     Suzuki's relationship with Trungpa disturbed some people, maybe because Trungpa, in addition to being a brilliant, inspiring speaker and the beloved teacher of many disciples, was also an outrageously heavy drinker who slept with some of his female students.

  One afternoon in May of 1971, Trungpa dropped by Page Street unannounced. He brought his newborn son to be blessed by Suzuki. Still recovering from his operation, Suzuki nonetheless put on a fancy yellow robe and high hat, quite appropriate for Tibetans, and performed a little ceremony in the buddha hall.

     Afterward they went to the courtyard for tea. Later a number of Suzuki's students started studying with Trungpa. Some, including Bob Halpern, went to Boulder, where Trungpa spent most of his time; others stayed at Zen Center and went to Trungpa's San Francisco place when he was in town. Suzuki was comfortable with this and even suggested to some students that they go study with Trungpa. He communicated to Trungpa by letter and through students who went back and forth. Suzuki was interested in Trungpa's ideas of exchanging students, starting a Buddhist university, sharing tapes and transcripts of lectures in their libraries, and founding a center to work with what Trungpa called "mentally extreme" students.

     Trungpa's scene was new and exciting. He was younger and more energetic than Suzuki. Suzuki expressed concern that be-cause of his indulgent lifestyle Trungpa wouldn't live long enough to establish his way. As austere as Suzuki's own lifestyle was, and as controversial as Trungpa was, Suzuki did not reject him for his ways but always related to him with love and acceptance. In July 1971 Suzuki mentioned Trungpa in a lecture:

Because emptiness has no limit and no beginning, we can believe in it. Isn't this so? This is very important. I am not fooling you! Okay? If you really understand this, tears will flow. You will really feel happy to be a Buddhist. If you struggle hard enough, you will feel how important this point is. The way you can struggle with this is to be supported by something, something you don't know. As we are human beings, there must be that kind of feeling. You must feel it in this city or building or community. So whatever community it may be, it is necessary for it to have this kind of spiritual support. That is why I respect Trungpa Rinpoche. He is supporting us. You may criticize him because he drinks alcohol like I drink water, but that is a minor problem. He trusts you completely. He knows that if he is always supporting you in a true sense, you will not criticize him, whatever he does. And he doesn't mind whatever you say. That is not the point, you know. This kind of big spirit, without clinging to some special religion or form of practice, is necessary for human beings.

excerpt from Chapter 19, Final Season: autumn, p 394

     Bob Halpern visited. He had been studying with the Tibetan teacher, Trungpa, in Boulder. On Suzuki's bedside table was a large postcard Bob had sent. Instead of a note, he had drawn a picture of Trungpa's altar, which had a Buddha in the center, Trungpa's Tibetan guru on the left, and Suzuki-roshi on the right. Trungpa came a few days later. Suzuki spoke to him optimistically about the future of Buddhism in America. Trungpa sat by Suzuki's bed, holding his hand for over an hour.

Crooked Cucumber Excerpts

Crooked Cucumber main page

To see what was added to this site in earlier months Land years, go to  What Was New:  1999, 2000-2001,  2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008


what's new this year

There's a lot of old material that's as good as new if you haven't read it. -DC

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