I first met Trungpa Rinpoche at a lecture when I was a college student, just two days before I was to go to India for the first time. At the end of his talk Trungpa took written questions. One of my friends wrote out a question for us, “In a few days we’re leaving for Asia to try to find a Buddhist meditation teacher. Do you have any suggestions about where we might go?” Trungpa picked the question out and read it aloud. He was quiet for a while, and then he said, “Perhaps you’d best follow the pretense of accident.” That turned out to be a major blessing for the journey, because that’s just what it was like. Without my own choosing, the trip became an unfolding of events that were surprising, mysterious, unclear at the time and through which, in the end, I was guided by a very direct path to my teacher.
I’d like to express great appreciation for Trungpa Rinpoche’s contribution to dharma in the West. Not only did he establish a phenomenally rich array of his own dharma centers and activities, but, in a fundamental way, his energy also seeded the vipassana sangha. The creation of Naropa University in 1974 was a very significant event which brought together a huge gathering of spiritual energy and spiritual seekers. It was a kind of spiritual Woodstock that first year in Boulder. Through Naropa both Jack and I had the opportunity to begin teaching, and that summer initiated the ongoing offering of vipassana courses around the country. Rinpoche was always very supportive of the work we were doing. He respected the transmission of any genuine lineage of the Buddhist teaching.
I first met Trungpa Rinpoche in 1971 when I had just come back from India. I’d been back about a month and I stopped in Boulder for a couple of days. I went and had an interview with “the Rinp.” He asked what technique I had been learning in Nepal with Goenka. So I began describing the vipassana sweeping method. While I was talking he was drinking a beer and smoking a cigarette. It was about 10:00 in the morning. Sitting sort of sideways in the chair, he fixed on me. I could literally feel his mind penetrating what I was saying and what I was doing. I became very aware of what I was trying to transmit to him. Now I had just returned from India and my conception of spirituality at the time had to do with whiteness and purity. And here he was with those real long cigarettes, the 101s or whatever they are, smoking one after another. It was probably his third beer of the morning. Yet he was incredibly present with what I was saying. That evening I went to a party with him. He got absolutely plastered. He couldn’t walk. But he sat in a chair as composed as ever and people came and asked him questions. so I went and talked to him for a while. Again he came back absolutely lucid and clear. I’m sure his body was not his mind at that point. I guess that’s what the “crazy wisdom” was for me—the ability to poison the body to such a point and yet be able to keep the mind clear. It’s something very extraordinary. But it doesn’t work for the general populace.
This man made more trouble and did more good than any man I ever knew.