Book Launch at the Halifax Trident
E ma ho! Finally a true grass root’s history of the early days of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche and his entry into the Wild West! Here we have a graphic narrative of the early sangha, starting with the origins of a hippie commune, known as the Pygmies, and continuing with their coalescence with other people and events that kickstarted the community of Trungpa Rinpoche’s American students. It is recounted by an original Pygmy himself, his words carved from the myriad flavors of those wildly experimental and adventuresome times. Author Jim Lowrey, in addition to his own vivid recollections, has also meticulously collected stories and accounts from every corner of the now widely-disseminated early sangha, assembling them into a captivating mosaic of the early times in America with Trungpa Rinpoche. It is an eyeball level, gutsy, true-grit and heartfelt rendering verite. It had me tearing up every few pages … it’s been so many years since those precious root times, and it fills in on many events and interactions that even then, in the midst of them, I did not fully comprehend or know about. The book even mentions things I had forgotten I myself did! It is like reading about the everyday mundane and sacred happenings and interactions among the 25 original heart disciples of Guru Padmasambhava at the time of his arrival in Tibet, when they first encountered him face-to-face! Jim’s accounts and the events they recount are as earthy and utterly human as an Arthur Miller play, yet portray the foundations of the early Vajradhatu sangha like the classic Greek plays portray the interactions of the gods. The Pygmies and the earliest sangha, like the Greek gods (all too human themselves) were instrumental in creating a universe! And we all know who Zeus was!
And speaking of Zeus, Trungpa Rinpoche did enter into the American context like a bolt of lightning. This book chronicles that entry at its first spark, first bolt, first thunder and first contact. It was where East met West, where centuries of the sweat, tears, unabated devotion, unrelenting practice, and enlightened brilliance of the Kagyu lineage from Tibet met the modern world in all its untamed rawness and potential. And where a Mahasiddha, a consummately trained and accomplished crazy wisdom Buddha met the first American generation of aspiring Tantric Buddhists exactly where they lived, with utter directness, honesty and openness. These accounts will capture the minds and devotion of generations of practitioners to come. They are as potent as the moment Milarepa first met Marpa at the edge of a field and, at Marpa’s behest, downed a vessel of beer, sealing with a drink the bond that would launch a lineage. Through Jim Lowrey’s evocation of Trungpa Rinpoche, we continue to taste that first drink.
I remember, looking back to the early 1970s when Trungpa Rinpoche first arrived in Colorado, at first being somewhat put-off by the Pygmies, with their seeming chaotic contrast to my then orderly Zen pretensions. But then after not so long, thinking I should really just jump in and join them! Being a commune, they came ready-made as a sangha, and the allure of a close-knit community was magnetizing. I didn’t join the Pygmies, but then we all joined together. As time went on, the Pygmies and the other segments of the early Trungpa Rinpoche sangha blended in with each other as the Pygmies’ communal identity dissolved into the greater sangha. And then the wave of the greater sangha swelled as more and more people encountered the blazing brilliance of Rinpoche’s presence and mind.
Trungpa Rinpoche skillfully sculpted us from raw lumps of 1960s and 70s visionary mania into tamed beings and dedicated practitioners. He grounded us, eventually into the ground of Mahamudra, the pith of dharma itself. Yet those first days of the sangha, so poignantly recalled by Jim, remain as a precious juncture of human and dharmic encounter. Jim’s unique combination of sharp wit, sometimes edgy honesty and directness with pure, unbounded heart and devotion have combined like the sword of wisdom and the lotus of compassion to bring this book about.
My only regret about the book was that it did not chart the destinies of the Pygmies’ children to the current day. Not that it should have, it is already an abundant treasure. But that would connect the dots leading to now. Where are they now, who are they now, what do they remember about their earliest childhoods as Pygmy progeny? What do they recall as children meeting this apex of their parents’ attention, Trungpa Rinpoche? Perhaps that could be a sequel. Jim, call up your kids and get them on it!
There have been a few biographies and accounts of Trungpa Rinpoche in the West published to date, and there should be many more. Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche was a man of many facets and manifestations, and no one or even several accounts can claim to characterize him definitively. His skillful means and spontaneous insight arose with each situation, each person, and each moment, as Jim has eloquently captured in real-life relief. Yet TAMING UNTAMEABLE BEINGS is unique in being the first book to draw on the collective memories of many of the first people involved.
Once the Vidyadhara Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche responded to a question that Mipham Halpern and I asked, with regard to the role of history in a course on lineage and devotion we were about to teach at the 1980 Vajradhatu Seminary. Rinpoche exclaimed, “History is devotion!” Jim’s passionately written history in TAMING UNTAMEABLE BEINGS is indeed devotion.
Clarke, thank you , and excellent an erudite review of a delicious, exciting, poignant book. I totally agree with you. -Jan Watson
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From after our beloved teacher, the Vidyadhara, came to the USA in 1970 and encountered the pygmies, to the first seminary in 1973, when he first taught Vajrayana, was a little over three and a half years. That’s a pretty quick turn around, if you think about it. -John Tischer
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This is a terrific book. We should all buy it. But if we buy it through Create Space (an Amazon subsidiary) rather than Amazon, the author keeps quite a bit more of our money, which he deserves for writing such a terrific book. How did he do it? An astonishing amount of rich, meaningful and funny detail. Big historical point of view.
Buy the book here: amazon.com
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Thanks for this wonderful review. -Gilbert Seldes
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I would like to express my thanks to Jim Lowrey for penning the book “Taming Untamable Beings”.
I consider this book a “must read” for those of us who never met, nor even heard of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche as we began our Shambhala training in the early 90’s. The unmistakable truth that we quickly saw however, was the love, devotion, and dedication his students (now our teachers) had to the Vidyadhara. I often remember thinking to myself that he must have been “something else” to so inspire his students to tirelessly teach us “infidels” with such love and dedication.
As my personal contacts expanded to include many of the “Old Dogs” the stories, anecdotes, and reminiscences increased but, to me, they were just interesting stories of someone whom I admired but never met. “Taming the Untamable Beings” brought Trungpa Rinpoche to life for me, and I am very grateful. His excellent writing style, as well as his wonderful recollections of his experiences and those around him, helped me “get it!” Thank you Mr. Lowrey.
-Peter R Gravel
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Jim’s narrative is as egoless as it gets. Unlike the rest of us wondering, am I in here? Now? Maybe now? Taming Untameable Beings is gritty, honest, insightful. And, probably one of the best descriptions of San Franicisco hippie life I’ve ever read. Bravo and thank you Jim. Especially for re-connecting me to those feelings of first experiencing Rinpoche. Best always, Wendy Ferraris Tigerman