Chögyam Trungpa and The Tibetan Book of the Dead

Looking back at those days, it seems astonishing that he was teaching on such a profound text, which refers to the most advanced and secret practices of vajrayana, to people with little or no experience even of basic Buddhism.


by Francesca Fremantle

Francesca Fremantle became a student of Trungpa Rinpoche in 1969 and collaborated with him on a translation of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, published in 1975. Her latest book, Luminous Emptiness, interprets the Tibetan Book of the Dead in the light of his teachings. She lives in London, where she translates Sanskrit and Tibetan texts and writes on Buddhism. She is a teacher with the Longchen Foundation, established by Trungpa Rinpoche and Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche in the Nyingma tradition, and directed by Rigdzin Shikpo.

In 1971, only a year after Trungpa Rinpoche had moved to North America, he gave three lengthy seminars on subjects relating to the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Looking back at those days, it seems astonishing that he was teaching on such a profound text, which refers to the most advanced and secret practices of vajrayana, to people with little or no experience even of basic Buddhism. Certainly no other Tibetan lama at that time would have done so; but it was typical of Rinpoche’s approach, which was always to be direct, unconventional, and courageous in proclaiming the lion’s roar of dharma. Just as the Tibetan Book of the Dead asserts that everyone who hears it will be liberated, in the same way Rinpoche had unshakable confidence that all who came into contact with him had established a connection that would be for their ultimate benefit, even if they did not fully understand him or respond to him positively in this life.

His choice of topic may simply have been because the book was available in English and had become popular during the 1960s—those years of spiritual exploration and discovery for young people throughout Europe and North America. But no text could have been more symbolic of his future work, since it contains the essence of the vision that inspired him and that he expressed throughout his life. It sums up all the important elements of vajrayana and all the fundamental Buddhist doctrines. So, in a certain way, everything that Rinpoche taught could be seen as elucidating the Tibetan Book of the Dead, which itself is simply a reminder, at the most crucial time, of one’s previous meditational experience, inspired by the instructions of one’s guru. The astonishing teachings he gave at those early seminars, and the effect they produced, gave us a foretaste of the methods he would employ in the years to come. For me personally that period was a turning point, as it was then that Rinpoche asked me to work on a new translation of the book with him. The Tibetan Book of the Dead became in my mind the quintessence of dharma and the symbol of my connection with him. So it seems auspicious to use it as a thread on which to link some memories and impressions of this extraordinary man and to illustrate a few aspects of his life and work.

I first met Trungpa Rinpoche at Samye Ling in Scotland in 1969. At that time I had no intention of becoming a Buddhist, as my greatest love was for India and the Hindu tantric traditions, and I had studied Sanskrit in order to read their sacred texts. Although I was also interested in vajrayana, the tantric form of Buddhism, somehow I had received the impression that it had become diluted and corrupted and could no longer be found as a genuine living tradition. However, I was working on a Buddhist text, the Guhyasamaja Tantra, for my doctoral thesis, and for this it was also necessary to read Tibetan. A fellow student had met Trungpa Rinpoche and suggested that I go with her to visit Samye Ling, as he might be able to help me with my research.

We arrived late in the evening, so my first sight of him was on the following day at the early morning puja. It was still dark, and we waited for his arrival in the shrine room, wrapped in blankets to protect us from the cold. Above the shrine was a large painting of Amitabha Buddha, its red and gold colors glowing in the candlelight. When everyone was assembled, a slim figure in monastic robes entered the room, looking so young that I could hardly believe this was really Trungpa Rinpoche. He moved like a dancer, silently and gracefully; and when he prostrated himself before the shrine, his simultaneous dignity and humility produced an extraordinary effect. There was something extremely touching as well as awe-inspiring about him, and I was deeply moved. In a way that is impossible to describe, he appeared to be the living form of the painted Amitabha. I had met several genuine and impressive spiritual teachers before, but as I watched Rinpoche, I thought that I had never seen anyone who radiated such presence and awareness.

When we met later that morning, I felt as though we had already known each other for a long time. He gave me a room to work in, and set aside some time every day to answer my questions. One day he asked me if I had read the Tibetan Book of the Dead. I replied that I had looked at the translation but was not particularly impressed by it, and he simply remarked that it would be good to read it in Tibetan. But I assumed that the book was only addressed to the dead and dying, and I was not really interested in the question of what happens after death; I had no premonition of the important part the book would play later in my life.

Soon our sessions together grew longer and longer, and we began to talk about all kinds of things. He had as many questions for me as I had for him. Since he had decided to live and work in the West, he wanted to learn all he could about its culture. He particularly liked the poetry of T. S. Eliot and had translated some of it (The Waste Land, I think) into Tibetan. He read me some of his own poetry in Tibetan. He had translated many of his poems with the help of his students and was also beginning to write directly in English. Sometimes we listened to music together. He was attracted by the passion and the haunting melodies of the Russian composers; Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade was a particular favorite, perhaps as much for the stories it illustrates as for the music. He played the Tibetan flute very beautifully, and he was also an accomplished painter. Among the paintings he showed me, one of the most impressive was of a large dragon with gleaming, rainbowâcolored scales, coiling through the clouds of a stormy sky. In later years he channeled his artistic talent mainly into calligraphy, for which he became renowned.

Rinpoche had spent several years in India after his escape from Tibet, and we found that we shared a love of its classical arts. I had been learning the dance form of bharatanatyam, and, to my embarrassment, he insisted that I demonstrate it for him. On my next visit I brought him recordings of Indian classical and folk music, which he had heard and enjoyed while he lived in India. He had met several Hindu teachers there too and said that he had interesting discussions with them about religious practice (just as later he was to engage in dialogues with Christian monks). Although he sometimes spoke out strongly against certain aspects of Hindu belief, he understood that its innermost essence transcends the concept of theism, just as Buddhism does. He was especially interested in its tantric traditions. He told me that at one point he had even considered joining a group of yogins in Varanasi, who lived just as they had for centuries, wandering around the holy places and practicing in forests, mountains, and cremation grounds. He had performed a divination to decide which path to take, but it indicated that he should travel to the West instead.

We both spoke a little Hindi, so we played a game of speaking it to each other, mixed with exaggerated Indian English. I was very impressed with the fact that he was able to appreciate the subtle nuances, and especially the humor, in the variations of a foreign language that he had only recently learned himself. He loved playing with words, transforming them, and making puns, which he would create visually as well as aurally, using letters rather in the manner of contemporary mobile phone text messages. For instance, he silently wrote down a symbol meaning “Why cross-question?”, when he felt bombarded by too much curiosity. This playfulness appears in some of his poems, especially among those that he composed later in America. He would also pick up unusual words or colorful colloquial expressions and use them as often as possible, but with complete accuracy.

He was fascinated by the characteristics of different languages. One thing that struck him as significant was the frequent use of personal pronouns in English (which applies equally to French and other European languages), compared with their rarity in Tibetan, where they appear only when necessary to avoid confusion (and not always even then). As he pointed out, it would be possible to write a whole letter in Tibetan without the word I. He said that the continual use of the first person had made him feel uncomfortable when he began to learn English, and he preferred the impersonal Tibetan mode of expression.

I was hoping that I might speak some Tibetan with him, but I soon gave up the attempt. His English was so good that I could not bear to waste time struggling with the difficulties of colloquial Tibetan (which is very different from the classical, written form of the tantras). However, when we worked on the Tibetan text, he seemed to enjoy getting glimpses of his own language through the eyes of a foreigner. When I came up with unexpected observations, perhaps something about the peculiarities of Tibetan spelling, Rinpoche would open his eyes wide in amazement and say, “Oh, I never thought of that!” Then he would explore this unfamiliar perception like a child with a new toy.

He was extremely interested in Sanskrit, the sacred language of the Buddha’s homeland. Both in Scotland and later in the United States, he would frequently ask me about the Sanskrit equivalents of dharma terms, the names of deities, the correct version of mantras, and so on. Later on, when he produced texts for his students to use in ritual practice, he insisted that the Sanskrit be pronounced correctly. Although many lamas have a reverence for Sanskrit, not many take such care; indeed, such an attitude is quite unusual.

My original reason for approaching Rinpoche had been to receive assistance with my doctoral research on the Guhyasamaja Tantra. As it turned out, that tantra is not practiced in his tradition, so he was unable to answer all my questions on the text. What he gave me instead was far more valuable a wide-ranging understanding of vajrayana. All the time, in some mysterious, unspoken way, he was transmitting an insight into the true meaning of the tantras, and I began to see him as my guru. Since I had arrived with no expectations, it appeared miraculous to have met such a master out of the blue like this. His dharma teaching at that time was informal and spontaneous, responding totally to the situation of the person he was with. This is very much in the style of the siddhas, the legendary tantric masters of medieval India. One night I had a vivid dream of him as a siddha, presiding over a ritual feast in a forest, surrounded by dakinis (embodiments of the feminine principle) and disciples. This vision remained in my mind as an image of his inner nature, and it is how I always saw him and continued to think of him.

Rinpoche had been brought up in both the Kagyu and the Nyingma traditions, whose styles of practice differ in some respects. The Nyingma school preserved the original teachings transmitted to Tibet from India in the second half of the eighth century, and is particularly associated with Padmakara (or Padmasambhava), who is known as Guru Rinpoche, the precious guru. Its highest practice is dzogchen, the “great perfection,” which Rinpoche usually called, in rather unorthodox Sanskrit, maha ati. This is a teaching of direct recognition of mind, going straight to the heart of our innate awakened nature; and its spirit of directness, spontaneity, and simplicity pervades the entire path. Many of the great Nyingma teachers are householders or homeless yogins, as well as monks. Derived from later Indian developments, the Kagyu tradition is strongly monastic, and its style is more gradual and structured. Its essential practice is mahamudra, the great seal or great symbol. Through it, phenomena are seen in the state of openness as they truly are, and one’s perception of the ordinary world is transformed into the pure vision of a sacred world.

Rinpoche perfectly united both strands in his teaching, while emphasizing one or the other at different times. He began his career in Britain by teaching in the Nyingma style, but only a few fortunate and well-prepared students were really able to respond to it fully. Then, in 1968, during his visit to the cave of Tagtsang in Bhutan, where Guru Rinpoche had meditated, he received a vision of the great Guru unified with the Karmapa lineage of the Kagyu, a sign that indicated the direction of his future work. He wrote down his experience in the form of a meditation practice, The Sadhana of the Embodiment of All the Siddhas, later renamed The Sadhana of Mahamudra, in which he combines both approaches, exhorting the meditator to “Fearlessly enjoy the mahamudra / And attain the experience of maha-ati.” After his move to the United States, he introduced vajrayana according to the Kagyu style; yet his way of life was that of a Nyingmapa householder, and everything he taught was flavored with the taste of dzogchen. The Shambhala teachings of his later years, too, are pervaded by the dzogchen spirit, which can be adapted to all sorts of conditions and appear in many different disguises.

At the time when I met Rinpoche, he was not yet famous and had only a few students, so he had the freedom to teach in a completely individual way. But unfortunately I was very slow and dull and was unable to take advantage of such a wonderful opportunity. I may have had some familiarity with the tantras, but I found his instructions, or rather the lack of them, very difficult to follow. When I asked him how to practice, he would often say, “But you know what to do, just go ahead and do it!” He taught through his whole way of being rather than just by what he said, and he used hints and symbols that one might misinterpret or even miss altogether. It was only after many years that I felt I could begin to understand some of his words and actions, a process that continues to unfold and reveal the unique quality of his teaching and the greatness of his being.

Already he was searching for a method that would reach a wider public and bring the dharma to a far greater number of people than was possible in his restricted situation at Samye Ling. About a year after I met him, he moved to the United States, and the following year I went there to join him. In America I saw completely different aspects of his personality. He was continually responding to demands on his time, meeting new students, traveling, and talking to large audiences. The display of his nature seemed to have no limits. He possessed an astonishing ability to communicate with everyone he met scientists, artists, academics, dropouts, the whole range of humanity in their own language, so to speak. The key to this diversity of his nature was his complete openness of mind and his curiosity about everything around him, which enabled him to reach out to all kinds of people and enter into any situation, no matter how strange it might seem. He could see into people’s hearts and enter their worlds without preconceptions, recognizing in them the potential for awakening. Since all his relationships were driven by his total dedication to dharma, everything he said and did was a teaching for that particular situation, often in a very subtle way. His whole life exemplified the ideal of the bodhisattva, who plays whatever part is necessary to help all living beings.

Fortunately I arrived at Tail of the Tiger just in time for the seminar Rinpoche gave on the Tibetan Book of the Dead. The literal translation of the book’s Tibetan title is Liberation through Hearing in the Bardo (in-between state). It is one of the “hidden treasure” texts (terma) of the Nyingma school, believed to have been composed by Guru Rinpoche himself and then concealed. It was discovered and written down by Karma Lingpa in the fourteenth century. In 1925 the first English version was published, translated by Lama Kazi Dawa-Samdup and edited by W. Y. Evans-Wentz.

During the seminar, Rinpoche translated from the Tibetan text and offered commentary while the audience followed along in the Evans-Wentz translation. But he found the translation very unsatisfactory and frequently disagreed with the editor’s comments and interpretations. In spite of his criticisms, it is worth mentioning that Rinpoche understood the great difficulties faced by these pioneer translators, and he very much appreciated the contribution that Evans-Wentz had made to the spread of Buddhism in the West. However, he felt very strongly the necessity of a more accurate version and suggested that we should do one together, which led to the publication in 1975 of our joint translation of the Tibetan Book of the Dead. As Rinpoche remarked in the book’s foreword, the Trungpa lineage has been involved in the transmission of the Tibetan Book of the Dead since shortly after its discovery. His very brief account raises some historical questions, but unfortunately none of us thought to ask him about it in more detail. However, it seems clear that his predecessors had a close connection with this terma and that it was particularly dear to his heart. Appropriately, it contains both dzogchen and mahamudra instructions, while being thoroughly pervaded by the essential dzogchen view.

Translating it was an extraordinary experience. To work intensively on such a text is wonderful enough, but to study it with someone who has realized its essence in his own life is an extraordinary privilege. Naturally quite a lot of our time was taken up with textual matters; and on this level, working with him was a delight because of his interest in language. He had an unusual ability to understand the problems faced by translators, such as the significance of grammatical details and subtle ambiguities of meaning. He also recognized the importance of being faithful to the text and avoiding the temptation to interpret or elaborate as part of a translation.

Rinpoche was extremely concerned about how best to present dharma without distorting or diluting it, yet in a way that would be relevant to the modern world. Unhappy with many of the accepted translations of Buddhist terminology, which often dated back to the early translations of Pali texts, he was experimenting with alternatives. We had fascinating discussions about the subtle implications of various words and phrases and the associations they suggested. He wanted to avoid words that he associated with Theosophy or with the New Age movement of the sixties. Equally, he rejected words that were strongly identified with Christianity. Some of these he felt could not be separated from a theistic attitude, while others conveyed the sense of guilt that he found to be so damaging in the lives of many of his students. He often remarked that Buddhism emphasizes basic goodness instead of original sin. In order to convey this concept, Rinpoche adopted some of the language of psychology in preference to religious language. He described the awakened state as basic sanity, and life in samsara as a condition of neurosis. But I never felt entirely happy with this vocabulary. Looking back, it seems to me that a psychological view of life was typical of the 1970s, just as what Rinpoche called “the love and light approach” was a feature of the previous decade; and it now appears equally dated. Rinpoche’s choice of certain words could be startling and effective in his talks, but they are not necessarily always suitable for translating traditional texts.

When we came across particularly interesting passages, Rinpoche was always ready to go further than was strictly necessary for our work and to leap into the boundlessly fascinating realm of the text’s inner meaning. Then he would often become inspired and talk about his own teachers, his experiences, and the profound teachings of dzogchen. At such times I had the sense of entering the presence of a higher dimension of awareness. It seems to me now that he was continuously radiating the power of mind-to-mind transmission. This power, or atmosphere, that he created was the ceaseless, spontaneous communication of his essential nature. Soon afterward in India, a lama asked me (in English), “Does Trungpa Rinpoche give good initiations? I was not quite sure what he meant, as initiation is sometimes used as a translation of abhisheka, the ceremony of empowerment into the practice of a deity, which Rinpoche had not yet performed in America (initiation is one of the words that Rinpoche disliked, and he was the first to use empowerment in this context). But initiation also is used to refer to less formal transmissions or pointing-out instructions, which can occur spontaneously at any time; and remembering those experiences of direct contact with awareness, I unhesitatingly answered yes.

Rinpoche’s interpretation of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, right from the start, was to treat it not as part of a ritual for the dead but as instructions for the living, to be put into practice here and now. He referred to it as the “Tibetan Book of Birth,” or a “Book of Space,” because its teachings relate to the principle of birth and death taking place at every moment, within the environment of basic space. Here space does not mean physical space but the experience of openness, boundlessness, and absence of ego, containing all potentialities within itself. That which is continually dying and being born is the ego, along with its whole subjective world. Our awareness is continuously arising from and dissolving back into that spaciousness at every instant of our existence. Instead of perceiving the true nature of reality, we try to “solidify space,” as Rinpoche put it, and thus we become entangled in a world created from our own projections.

The title Liberation Through Hearing in the Bardo alludes to the promise made in the book that anyone who hears this teaching, even without understanding it, will be liberated. Rinpoche commented that even if one has doubts, or else if one simply has an open mind toward the teaching, a sudden glimpse of awakening is possible through its great power. And this liberation, this glimpse of the awakened state that is our own true nature, occurs during the bardo. Bardo is the gap between the cessation of one state and the arising of another. Rinpoche emphasized that it refers not only to the period after death but to each moment of our lives. He called it “the immediate experience of nowness,” the present moment that continually exists between past and future. Traditionally there are six bardos, which define certain transitional periods or intervals of suspension. These are the bardo of dying, the moment between life and death; the bardo of dharmata, when the mind is absorbed in the true nature of reality; the bardo of existence (or becoming), in which we enter a new embodiment; the bardo of this life (or birth), the interval between birth and death; and within the bardo of this life, the bardos of dream and of meditation, both states of suspension from ordinary waking consciousness.

The book begins with the bardo of dying, when all the constituent elements of a living being dissolve until only the most subtle dimension of consciousness remains in its natural, fundamental state of luminosity. If one can recognize this and rest in it without giving rise to any new subjective fantasies or projections, one is awakened. Next, the bardo of dharmata is a description of the dzogchen vision of how phenomena arise from the basic ground of reality, which is continuously and spontaneously expressing its nature as energy. It appears first as light of five colors, the subtle form of the five elements, from which arise the deities of the five buddha families. Through ignorance of its own true nature, the individual consciousness perceives them as external. Instead of merging with them, it reacts with fear and tries to escape, resulting in ever more terrifying hallucinations. Finally, in the bardo of existence, if one is unable to recognize the deities as oneself, one is drawn back through the power of past actions into the cycle of the six realms.

Rinpoche was to develop all these themes much further over the next few years; yet even in the short space of that seminar, he revealed them in a totally new lightâas vital and vivid aspects of our own experience. He had an unequaled skill in bringing to life the concepts and images of this strange new world, in demonstrating the connections among them and making them relevant to everyday life and practice. During these intensive periods, he made us live the teachings, not just listen to them. I particularly remember the powerful effect of his words when he described the process of dyingâthe total dissolution of the ego, which is actually occurring continuously here and nowâand the state of confusion, panic, and uncertainty that follows. It immediately became apparent that, as he says in the Commentary, the book is not primarily about the death of the body but is concerned with “a completely different concept of death.”

Very soon after the seminar on the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Rinpoche gave another, titled “The Six States of Bardo.” It took place at a beautiful site in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, where the participants slept in log cabins or tents around a large central hall in which the talks and meditation sessions were held. The setting was magnificent, simultaneously down to earth in its living conditions and tremendously inspiring in the midst of such glorious surroundings. But the teachings that he gave and the way in which he made them intensely personal were utterly unexpected.

In this seminar he related the six traditional bardos to the six realms: the spheres of existence of gods, jealous gods, humans, animals, hungry ghosts, and hell beings. He treated them not as external realms at all, but totally as states of mind, our various styles of confusion. In this context a bardo is like a highlight, an interval of suspension between two opposite extremes, resulting from the intensification of the emotions that characterize the six realms. He spoke of the very thin line between madness and sanity, the sense of uncertainty, when one experiences these highlights, between the possibility of enlightenment and the fear of becoming insane.

Rinpoche devoted a day each to describing the six bardos and their associated realms. By some magical process, which far transcended the actual words he spoke, he enabled us to experience the particular emotion associated with each one. I do not know if everyone felt this to the same extent, or if some people were immune to the effect, but certainly many of us began behaving in bizarre and uncharacteristic ways. The peaceful, meditative mood of the first few days, which seemed like paradise, gave way to an atmosphere of uncertainty and frustration. Surges of suspicion and jealousy arose, and quarrels broke out over the smallest matters. This seesaw of emotional turmoil was shocking and at times terrifying. One day feelings of sexual desire seemed overwhelming, and the next was filled with anger and aggression for no apparent reason. Some people reacted with depression and refused to take part at all, while others became hysterical. Naturally much of this unrestrained emotion was directed toward Rinpoche himself, who remained absolutely calm and cheerful amid the turmoil that surrounded him. I can still remember the vividness of it all, and the bewilderment I felt until I realized what was really taking place: all this display was like a magic show, created before our eyes in order to demonstrate the illusory nature of passion, aggression, and delusion.

The essence of the bardo teachings is to recognize the gap, or moment of openness, that occurs at the extremes of these emotions. At that point we have the opportunity to let go into the space from which they arise and into which they dissolve again. And these sudden, illuminating glimpses of openness were also part of the experience that Rinpoche transmitted to us. These encounters with a totally different kind of perception brought home to us in the most direct way possible that the realms and the bardos are not external worlds but are created by our own minds. They imprison us because we grasp at them, we believe in their reality, we solidify them. Rinpoche would return to the theme of the six realms again and again in the course of his teaching, so that we came to know them as an intrinsic part of our experience.

The mandala of the five buddha families, which lies at the heart of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, became one of the most important components of Rinpoche’s teaching. The energy of the five families is neutral; it pervades the whole of existence in both the confused and enlightened states. For buddhas it manifests as five modes of knowledge, known as the five wisdoms; whereas for ordinary sentient beings it appears as their distorted and confused emotions, the five poisons. Rinpoche applied the principles of the five families to every possible aspect of life and showed us how to recognize them in our states of mind, in nature, in activities, in art, and so forth. He had become enthusiastic about photography and would take photographs to illustrate the characteristics of the families: for instance, the sharp vajra quality of angular shapes outlined against the sky or the seductive padma quality of a sunset. But the most important application of this system is as a powerful tool for understanding ourselves and others. Combining it with the bardos and the realms, he created a complete spiritual psychology of transformation.

The vajrayana deities male and female buddhas in their peaceful, wrathful, or passionate manifestations, bodhisattvas, dakinis, and all the other divine beings became real and vivid presences in our lives, embodying the qualities and activities of the awakened state. When Rinpoche gave teachings on the dharma protectors or the feminine principle, whose energy can be dangerous and unpredictable, anything could happen. Natural phenomena, accidents, coincidences all kinds of events became significant, sometimes in striking and dramatic ways. This way of seeing opened our eyes to the reality of the sacred world around us.

Rinpoche’s teaching never remained in the realm of theory; his presentation of dharma was unique, and one always felt that it flowed directly from personal experience. His way of conveying the principles of Buddhism was not always traditional in form, but it inspired great faith in its authenticity. Yet he never gave the impression of handing down the truth in a dogmatic or dictatorial manner. He always encouraged his students to read widely, to learn as much as possible, and continually to ask questions. In contrast to the disparaging opinions expressed about Western students by some lamas, he said that he preferred teaching them because of their curiosity and outspokenness; he felt that Tibetan students were inhibited by custom from asking contentious questions or freely expressing their doubts.

Above all, he emphasized the importance of meditation as being the only way to go beyond intellectual understanding to genuine realization. There are many different methods of meditation in Buddhism, and many techniques for dealing with the problemsâsleepiness, restlessness, boredom, discomfort, and so forth that arise while practicing meditation. Rinpoche made practically no use of these techniques but insisted on the direct approach of simply relating to the nature of mind. Nor did he ever encourage his students to perform any practices directed toward worldly aims such as health or success; rather, he taught that one’s own mind is the source of all fulfillment and attainments. Realization of awareness, the true nature of mind, is the one and only thing that is needed above all at the moment of death. When our body and our senses dissolve, and everything we are used to abandons us, then we shall have to meet the essence of mind face to face. From his own experience, Trungpa Rinpoche exclaims in his Sadhana of Mahamudra: “The joy of spontaneous awareness, which is with me all the time, / Is not this your smiling face, O Karma Padmakara?” His whole life was dedicated to helping others so that they could realize this joyful state of naked awareness for themselves.

The fundamental message of the Tibetan Book of the Dead is the recognition of our own mind as awakened mind, the mind of the Buddha. And the instruction that the book gives again and again is to let go of grasping in all its forms, of our desire and hatred, of our hope and fear-and to rest in our own awakened nature. This is the essence of Trungpa Rinpoche’s teaching, which he presented in many different ways to suit the capacities of his students. And it is the way he lived his own life: never clinging to the past, never held back by regrets, he was always ready to go forward into the next phase of his journey with the intention of benefiting all beings. Even now that he has left this life, his presence is still profoundly felt in the lives of his students, and his influence on the transmission of dharma to the West is becoming more and more evident. To quote the Sadhana once again: “the power of his blessing can never be diminished.”

© 2005 Shambhala Publications

This article is from Recalling Chögyam Trungpa, compiled and edited by Fabrice Midal. Reprinted by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc.,