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Discussion on one sentence (P.374, #3, L.3-4.) in CC pertaining to Trungpa Rinpoche's indulgences. (latest messages on top)

Chögyam Trungpa cuke link page

10/01/99--From a letter in Readers' Comments from Carolyn Gimian, fellow Buddhist archivist. You might want to see that letter to see the context in which the following comments were couched. I wrote to Carolyn and told her about this page and said I'd post her letter. She knew about but had missed this discussion.--DC

I hesitate to do this, but I did want to say one small thing that I didn't like. Considering how careful you were not to insert bias into the book, I thought it unnecessary for you to refer to Trungpa Rinpoche as "an outrageous alcoholic." (p.174) As someone who was fairly close to Rinpoche for a number of years and witnessed him many times as a serious drinker, I never felt that he was like any alcoholics I've ever met, in terms of the state of mind of alcoholism. He just didn't have the psychological problems or profile of an alcoholic, although he drank a tremendous amount. I realize that my opinion is not very pc these days and that even a number of Rinpoche's students would characterize him as an alcoholic. However, as someone who drinks very sparingly and also as someone who pretty much calls a spade a spade, I never experienced him that way. Physically falling down, granted, but mentally lucid, always right there. So that's my little rant. It's a small point but one that comes up often -- as you are obviously not the only person to use that label. I wouldn't even bother trying to discuss this with the average writer who never met Rinpoche and would just think I'm an overly-devoted student with stars in my eyes. But given your relationship with Suzuki Roshi and what an extraordinary person he was, I'm sure you appreciate that the mind of enlightenment is not always or necessarily contained within a pc frame of behavior. I don't have any problem with the reference to Rinpoche drinking a great deal. It's just that the label "alcoholic" carries with it so much baggage and presumption about the person's state of mind, psychological problems etc. So enough on that. It's really a very minor point. David Schneider said he thought you wouldn't mind feedback, so I thought I'd just do it!

9/8/99--I submitted the final I hope errata to Broadway Books and sent in the line in question as such:

P.374, #3, L.3: outrageous {alcoholic}.

Change to: ... an outrageous <heavy drinker>.

So, I didn't change "slept with some of his female students" to "slept with many of his female students."

This could be seen either as a balancing act or as buckling under to pressure from Bob who I still have plans for. Thanks to all who contributed to this vital exchange.--DC

8/31/99--from Bob Halpern: Remember the old story about the finger pointing at the moon? Well, wouldn't it be silly to miss the moon for having tried so hard to figure out whether or not the finger had been stirring martinis?

8/27/99--from Dan Kaplan: I read, with interest, the e-mail from Bob Halpern about Trungpa and your reply. I have a few observations and thoughts. Firstly, if Trungpa developed a tolerance of alcohol and felt a "need" for it, it would be fair to characterize him as Alcohol Dependant and, more generically, an alcoholic. Particularly if there were physiological problems as a result of his drinking. 

Bob raises some excellent and well stated points about Trungpa being of a different culture where drinking and womanizing may have been thought about differently than we Americans think about such matters. He further states that Trungpa never asked others to follow his example in these regards, but that students mistakenly took it as a behavior to be emulated. All of this is well reasoned etc. However, anyone ever involved with spiritual pursuits knows that, in fact, teachers behaviors are taken to be examples of the teaching, and if a teacher isn't living the teaching, then what do we students do with the disconnect? (Zen Center suffered this during the Crisis over Baker Roshi and, I believe, still hasn't adequately put this conundrum to rest.)

If all of Trungpa's students thought about his behavior (and Ozel Tenzin's) in this way, his community would have been better off. But being human, students look for examples. I agree with you totally about the need to address the entire man, not just what he wrote or lectured. This is totally valid and essential to be credible. Bob's letter is thought provoking and I hope you get more input on this discussion line. 

To a degree, Alcoholism has certain characteristics and symptoms, which, if present, merit the label. I don't know enough about Trungpa's drinking habits and the effects on his psyche and body to make a judgment. But Alcoholism is not simply a judgment, just as if someone can't get out of bed in the morning, lost interest in previously enjoyed activities, loss of interest in sex, increased sleep, disturbed appetite has the diagnostic label of Major Depression. 

I appreciate Bob wanted Trungpa's memory as a teacher to be unsullied by his personal habits, but the Whole man was the teacher, not some ethereal teaching that just happen to have been enunciated by Trungpa.

8/26/99--Further comments about the description of Trungpa Rinpoche in Crooked Cucumber by Bob Halpern:

Before you went to Tassajara, you asked me about "alcoholic or heavy drinker" [in regards to Trungpa]. When you next changed your description of his drinking, you also changed your description of his sexual escapades with his students [from "slept with some of his female students" to "slept with many of his female students."]

 I now ask you to consider the following: If you lived in a country where feet were considered sacred, you might be shocked to hear that Japanese people sit on their feet. If however you then learned that Japanese people also think highly of their own feet and don't consider the posture of seiza in anyway disrespectful to their feet then you might no longer feel shocked about how they sit. For me, this possibility helps me understand American attitudes towards Trungpa Rinpoche's life of drinking and romance. For centuries, in Tibet, vast numbers of students have had sexual relations as an essential part of the training they received from their masters. They also have a rather matriarchal setup where husbands seem to come and go freely. And, to continue with my little expose, I think people are often proud to be the bastard children of great lamas. I never heard Rinpoche suggest that anyone follow his sexual lifestyle. In some ways his behavior, sort of a koan for us, reminded me of how Roshi said he could teach us how he learned Zen and then we could develop an American version. Of course many students failed to listen when Roshi repeatedly told us that. And likewise, many of Rinpoche's students misunderstood his behavior as something they had permission to indulge in by superficial imitation. So it went -- so it goes. Perhaps this might help explain why followers of Trungpa Rinpoche, including myself, have some difficulty with how you characterized his behavior. I don't know if the way I've put it makes much sense. If it does, I apologize for mentioning this so late in our dialogue. It occurred to me after I had begun writing this email. So I goes. As a loyal follower of Vonnegut and Milo Minder-reminder I remain, thoroughly yours, Bob

[Bob--Hi there. Thanks for the note. I appreciate all your comments and will post them post haste. People have trouble with how I characterized Rinpoche? All I did was make one comment on his drinking and sex. You can't mention Rinpoche without saying that. It's not a secret. He never kept it a secret. It was just a tiny hint. And also I made clear how loved and loving he was and close to Suzuki and all. If I hadn't said at least a little something about that side of him, it would have discredited what I said about him don't you think? And I did change alcoholic which was more interpretive with heavy drinker. Anyway, keep it coming.]

7/30/99--Another message from Jim Lowrey: Thank you for your response. I think that describing Rinpoche as an "alcoholic, chain-smoking, sex fiend" shows a more profound understanding of him than the edited version that survived. He certainly would have laughed in delight at that. And readers may have stopped and pondered. I hope you get a chance to visit the Great Stupa at RMSC in Colorado sometime. It is a three dimensional image of what he was and still is to his students. Good luck in all endeavors. Below is my 21-year-old daughter's response to your response. I enjoy your web site. In the Dharma, Jim

Dad--Only have a minute but I wanted to respond. I'm very impressed by the response you got. Surprisingly (maybe only to me) he didn't sound arrogant or pretentious about his writing and view. You may have even changed the text of a book-- and I suppose on a more important note the way some readers may conceive of Rimpoche in the future. In the middle of important scientific research-must carry on. love, Josie

[I don't know if it will be changed or not yet, but I'll try. Seems to be less weighted.--DC]

7/16/99--A letter from Jim Lowrey Re: Trungpa - an alcoholic?

Thank you for the wonderful book. It haunts me. I recommend it to everybody. I felt that I knew Roshi, because I was one of Trungpa Rinpoche's students when Roshi died and Rinpoche was inconsolable. He cried and cried and said that the world was in trouble if Roshi had to die. I got the feeling that in a better world he would have lived longer, but maybe he just meant that the world was worse off without him. As a deaf, dumb, and blind student of Trungpa for 30 years, I was curious why you referred to him as an alcoholic. You could have said drunk, heavy drinker, or something else that would have made the point without evoking disease, lack of control, or whatever else the term alcoholic conjures up in readers. In my view, Rinpoche was without disease or lack of any kind. It is the conventional world that is addicted to desire and that lacks control. Rinpoche was beyond our concepts of such things. Including our concepts of enlightenment. Thank you for letting me speak my personal prejudice. A couple of biographies of Rinpoche are in the works. I hope they are half as good as your work on Roshi. In the Dharma, Jim Lowrey

[Hi. Thanks for the message and the comments on Suzuki-roshi and Trungpa-rinpoche. Hmm. I didn't really think about the nuances about alcoholic and drunk or heavy drinker. The book was copyedited by a Trungpa student and others went over that part. But if you'd have seen it and said something to me it might read a little differently now. Actually, what I first said is that he was a profound and beloved teacher to many (or whatever I said there) who also happened to be an "alcoholic, chain-smoking, sex fiend." I just left that in till one of the aforementioned readers suggested other wording. I knew it wouldn't last. It just made me laugh. He wouldn't have minded--I drank with him on a few occasions and he always had a terrific sense of humor. I like to put wording in the text that I think no one will want me to keep just to see what the reaction of the pre-publication readers is. Maybe I can get the heavy drinker in instead of alcoholic in the next edition if they'll let me. Anyway, I'll post your letter and my answer under Readers' Comments--as soon as I get back to California and have time to go through everything. Take care.--DC] 

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