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Chogyam Trungpa was a Tibetan 'tulku' who ventured to America and
established a Tibetan Buddhist center in Boulder, CO in the 1970s.
Coming at the twilight of the hippie period of the 1960s he found many
followers who had experimented with psychedelics and were ready for
further explorations into new worlds of consciousness. Some people, of
course, are naturally attracted to ritualistic religion and Tibet had
lots of rituals. And Buddhism has always had an aspect of
psychotherapy, a promise of healing for minds in distress, especially
for people unable to afford expensive shrinks. Few Westerners had
tasted for themselves the exotic and esoteric teachings of Tibet and
the fact that Trungpa promised to open these new and exciting spiritual
realms for them, (and in a community which at the same time indulged in
drunken revelry and free sex) was a compelling magnet to inquiring
minds everywhere. Lots of well-known poets, writers and artists went to
study at Trungpa's feet. That his behavior was eccentric and even
scandalous was just an added attraction.
Trungpa's addiction to alcohol was legendary and this film doesn't try to cover it up. His students argue that the booze didn't impair his judgment but the facts speak otherwise. The video, of course, never mentions it, but in 1975 Trungpa staged a meditation retreat at Snowmass, CO which devolved into a wild naked party. Trungpa, drunk as a skunk, provoked a bloody fight which landed several followers in the hospital. The Boulder Buddhist center had began to acquire the reputation as a cult and that was not helped by Trungpa's drunkenness and womanizing. He took full advantage of his position as guru to ravish his female students, though by all indications they went willingly to his bed. He was married and this caused his young wife a great deal of heartache. His followers defended him. He was a genuine Tibetan and supposedly enlightened and conventional rules didn't apply to him. After all, this was "crazy wisdom." How could you argue with that? He died young of alcoholism, but for many that didn't diminish his message.
One thing is certain, Trungpa's followers weren't the usual losers and zombies who get caught in cults. Many of them were very intelligent and independent artists and writers. But there was a similar cultish dynamic. Many of them had to be treated for alcoholism after Trungpa died and the Buddhist center in Boulder self-destructed. They drank because he was their role model and he drank. They refused to see any of the guru's behaviors in a negative light. The scandal that finished off the Boulder Tibetan Buddhist center is another bizarre story never mentioned in the movie.
It is probably unrealistic for people to expect their saints to be totally pure and without usual human failings. People want to project their fantasies of purity and goodness on their leaders and gurus. No human can live up to those impossible expectations. At least Trungpa was out in the open, he was never hypocritical, what you saw was what you got. Many people found him genuinely likable and for them he seemed to possess a great deal of wisdom. The viewer must decide for himself. Was he full of "crazy wisdom" or just crazy? The film is well-made, but glosses over the negative aspects of his operation and fails to explore the nature of the esoteric Tibetan traditions that were the main attraction at the Boulder center. However you can get a pretty good feel for who Trungpa was and how he influenced so many people by watching this documentary.
I'll see this one over and over. Great job done by Johanna and her son (et. al.) As I recall, Johanna and her husband were students of Trungpa and so were present to shoot a lot of footage of Trungpa in various locations. Don't worry, this is NOT a spoiler: There is a scene where Trungpa and another man finish a flower sculpture - I believe its called Ichibana. In the scene, when they have finished and are bowing, be sure to keep your eyes on the flowers until the end of the scene. This film shows Trungpa's eccentricities as well as his deep understanding of the dharma. I am not sure why such a terrific film is not yet in wide distribution. As well, PBS and HBO documentaries, ought to screen it. Don't miss it!!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Shown at the Trycicle on-line Buddhist film festival, Crazy Wisdom charts the life and times of Chogyam Trungpa, the rebel Tibetan Buddhist Lama who died of alcohol poisoning and left a legacy that is surprisingly untarnished by his extreme exploits. This is perhaps due to the remarkable nature of this Buddhist maverick who really was the catalyst for Western Buddhism and a great in the history of modern Buddhism. This documentary explores his escape from Tibet after the Chinese invasion and attempt at cultural genocide, his arrival in Scotland, his marriage and subsequent shift to the US. Above all though it explores the man's attempt to transmit something greater than an exotic religion to the hearts and minds of the people he met. It's hard to say of how much interest this film will be for non-Buddhists. Perhaps those curious about Tibet, Religion and spirituality in general would find some reward from exploring Trungpa's ecletic journey from a medieval mountain top kingdom to the 'wild-west' of the 60s and 70s. For those interested in the human condition and original souls, this film may have much to offer. It is well-made, beautifully and professionally shot with a heavy dose of sympathy for the protagonist. I can't complain as I loved and still love Trungpa; his originality and deep dedication to the awakened state clearly visible throughout. From one believer to those who may or may not buy into the myth, enjoy a view of a great man his 'warts and all.'
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