Give Crooked Cucumber to a friend

About the Book           

About Suzuki Roshi    

A comment in Readers' Comments
2/15/2000 - from Ken Spiker: I had a friend in the late 60's; a bright poet, well read; a sort of a Monkey (from Chinese Mythology) character. We were all into the Perennial Philosophy, Buddhism and Hinduism. I read Alexandera David-Neel's Magic and Mystery in Tibet and The Gospel of Shi Rmamakrishna that year (1968). We were very interested in Tibetan Buddhism, though we didn't really know anything about it. He had a quick and flexible mind.

Then a strange thing happened: He and some other people I knew went into an actual cult. It was ostensibly Sufi, but was actually a cross between New-ageism and Islamic fundamentalism. My wife's sister and her children were oppressed and abused by this cult. For the years they were in it, (70's and early 80's) the cult wouldn't allow them to communicate with friends or family. Suzy finally had to be rescued. Her moronic husband, who with my friend, assumed a leadership position in the cult, wanted to take on a second wife along with my wife's sister. After she got free, her husband, who has remained in the cult to this day, has not provided any support, emotional or financial, to his children.

It was this experience with the psychology of cultists that led me to be very suspicious of Trungpa. I had been attracted to Buddhism because it was a religion which did no violence to reason or common sense. Buddhism didn't demand that you accept absurd beliefs or subject your will to the domination of another. "Be lamps unto yourselves," the Buddha said. And my experience with Suzuki convinced me that enlightened teachers did not spout egotistical doctrines or lord it over their students. Neither did Suzuki's human qualities, his forgetfulness, that he could be sad or angry on occasion, detract from the teaching. The Zen Center was always an open and friendly place. The atmosphere was of complete honesty, though many of the students I spoke with were going through emotional upheavals in their lives and had to deal with their own demons. I remember talking to one Zen student who admitted that he practiced zazen faithfully, but sometimes had to bang his head against the wall from the frustrations in his life. Neither did the Zen students give the visitor any phony slap-on-the-back friendliness. They weren't after recruits.

The atmosphere was very different when I visited the Dharmadhatu Center in Boulder in the early 80's: the students (many of them) were haughty, exclusive and cold. Trungpa said that the screwups and neuroses of the students were the fertilizer of the bodhi, but I never understood how. He even had a team of "Vajra Guards" who went around pushing people around, sort of a Buddhist Safety Patrol, I suppose. When I heard about the famous "Halloween Party" where Trungpa ordered his goons to go to that Poet's room and drag him and his girlfriend out, and L. got cut on the face with a broken beer bottle, I was really worried about L.'s safety, both mental and physical. It didn't help that The People's Temple was in the news at the same time.

Corresponding with L. I soon realized that he wasn't in a real cult even if he tended to play the missionary a bit. Followers of Trungpa say he was a jolly good fellow once you got to know him, but nobody has been able to explain how his excessive drinking and womanizing jibed with his being an enlightened teacher. He literally drank himself to death. That explanation in your Errata footnote, about how if you respect your feet and in some culture you have to sit on your feet...etc., is unconvincing.  For some Trungpa is a Great Teacher and for others he just a drunk with an interesting education. In any case, explanations tend not to be very satisfactory anyway in the long run. I am much more interested in my own spiritual development than Trungpa's. Especially since there is no such thing.

[I asked Ken if I could post his notes (after some editing). Here's his answer of 3/7/2000. - DC]

I really don't have any objection to you using my e-mails on your site. Perhaps when you post your edited version I can ask for changes if I think necessary. Usually I'm not too particular about being edited. Neither am I adverse to controversy, in fact, I may like it too much and I know it must be an obstacle for me. I think I have grown in my ability to see other points of view and I think that's some progress. I respect Trungpa's writings and often quote from him.

I don't want to be too identified with the moralists in the Trungpa debate. I've always had friends with bizarre habits and I've even been known to abuse a few brewskis myself in past lives. And I sincerely regret the suffering I may have caused in the rather chaotic sexual relationships I've had. I don't mean to judge Trungpa; I just don't understand that an "enlightened" person would do something so destructive to his physical being. I have a feeling that the overheated scene around Trungpa was more the fault of the eager American followers than Trungpa himself. Something about the Tibetan teachings invoked a greed for power and exotic experiences in the Americans, an intense of craving for excitement. When Trungpa's followers justified everything he did with the claim that he couldn't possibly make a mistake, or that alcohol didn't affect his judgment, one wondered about their judgment. In my opinion they should have played more of a modifying role and prevented him from making a fool of himself.

In the early 80's when I visited L. in Boulder I spent a week there trying to see Trungpa in a lecture setting. I never did get to see him, but met a lot of his followers. I remember one evening I was at some function at the Dharmadhatu Center and somebody shouted, "Lady Diana is here! Lady Diana is here!" I was puzzled: the Princess of Wales? In Boulder? A rush of excitement surged through the room. Of course it was Trungpa's young bride; she arrived in a Rolls Royce with a footman. You should have seen the devotees, they were beside themselves with the celebrity of it all.

On another occasion L. confided in me that Trungpa slept with a different woman every night in order to transmit the teaching to them. L. intimated that it was really a hardship for Trungpa to do this, but it was his duty in order to spread the dharma. "Uh huh," I said. Finally I thought I'd get to see Trungpa; there was an event where the students lined up and went by him one by one and he'd tap each of them on the head--an old Tibetan custom. L.'s wife, E., urged me to get in line and gave me a push. The line was forming up fast, students rushing in from all directions. I got in line and suddenly one of the Vajra Guards in his blue blazer came up and grabbed me by the arm and started to pull me to the back of the line. I shook him off and evacuated the area. I was pissed. Not an actual cult, I thought, but cultISH.

Alan Watts said that somebody once asked the great Ananda K. Coomaraswamy which was quicker, the Right-handed [conventional] Path, or the Left-handed [tantric] Path. Coomaraswamy replied, Oh, the Left-handed Path is much quicker, but no respectable person would do it."

Click here for more on Trungpa Rinpoche's vices.

Back to Reader's Comments

Home | What Was New | Contest | Digressions | Links | Jacket Notes | Book Reviews | Reader's Comments
Author's Notes | Bibliography | Author Events | About the Author | Errata
Interviews | Suzuki Stories | Photos |  Suzuki Lectures  | Archives Project | Sangha News | Contact Me  

This site designed by
The Empty Wig

Original site designed by Sheryl B.