The Essence of What He Invoked

Naropa, circa 1975

I watched a video of Rinpoche for the first time in a long time recently. When I saw him and heard his first words, his presence was so vivid that I thought, “It’s inconceivable that he’s gone.” Some part of this may be neurotic nostalgia, but it also felt very accurate; the essence of Rinpoche and the essence of what he invoked in his students is indeed inconceivable—beyond concept—and that quality continues to be everywhere present and available.

Over time, Rinpoche’s teaching and activity seem vaster and vaster, perhaps as I experience more that profundity actually has no limits. I’m not just referring to the formal practices, but everything. The homey expressions Rinpoche often used when we were wrapped around the obsession of the moment—”Everything is workable;” “I don’t see any problem;” “The question is the answer,” “Just do it,” “You can do it” (not to mention “Good luck, Sir/Madam!”) reveal themselves to be pith instructions of the highest views. The forms he developed—in arts, decorum, the Shambhala teachings, the kasung, open up to such depth and breadth that prolonged studying of any of them still mostly feels like just paddling around the surface. Each opens a complete world with infinitely receding horizons.

The aspect of that world that I’m closest to, that Rinpoche devoted a lot of energy to in the latter part of his life and that remains largely hidden to much of our sangha, is building enlightened society in Nova Scotia. His vision and passion for this project—shockingly large and penetratingly practical—initially baffled and scared many of us. Now the need for a place that can be a beacon of sanity in the future is becoming obvious to the woman on the street. And here in Nova Scotia, the mixing of the local genius with the Shambhala teachings continues to further root and flower in new and unexpected ways, each time invoking the feeling of his smile. So slowly, even in this outrageous vision, I and others start to feel deeper conviction, and further gratitude and trust in our incomparable guru.

Michael Chender began studing with Trungpa Rinpoche in 1970, and was a senior teacher and meditation instructor in the Buddhist and Shambhala streams of Trungpa Rinpoche’s teachings. He was also a student of Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche beginning in the late 1990s. He was the founder of the Shambhala Institute for Authentic Leadership (later known as ALIA), and retired after a long career in the information business in 2013. Michael died in Halifax on July 2, 2019.