Text and calligraphy by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche.


Big No Calligraphy


If you know “Not” and have discipline, Patience will arise along with exertion. Then the ultimate “No” is attained, And you are victorious over the maras of the setting sun.


The Tibetan word at the top of the calligraphy is min, which means ‘is not’, or ‘no’. The Tibetan phrase at the bottom is ma che, which means ‘don’t do it’.
Note the English word “NO” in the middle of the third line of Tibetan verse.

Text and calligraphy by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche.


There was a giant No.
That No rained.
That No created a tremendous blizzard.
That No made a dent on the coffee table.
That No was the greatest No of No’s in the universe.
That No showered and hailed.
That No created sunshine, and simultaneous eclipse of the sun and moon.
That No was a lady’s legs with nicely heeled shoes.
That No is the best No of all.
When a gentleman smiles, a good man.
That No is the best of the hips.
When you watch the gait of youths as they walk with alternating cheek rhythm,
When you watch their behinds,
That No is fantastic thighs, not fat or thin but taut in their strength,
Loveable or leaveable.
That No is shoulders that turn in or expand the chest, sad or happy,
Without giving in to a deep sigh.
That No is No of all No’s.
Relaxation or restraint is in question.
Nobody knows that Big No,
But we alone know that No.
This No is in the big sky, painted with sumi ink eternally.
This Big No is tattooed on our genitals.
This Big No is not purely freckles or birthmark,
But this Big No is real Big No.
Sky is blue,
Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
And therefore this Big No is No.
Let us celebrate having that monumental No.
The monolithic No stands up and pierces heaven;
Therefore, monolithic No also spreads vast as the ocean.
Let us have great sunshine with this No No.
Let us have full moon with this No No.
Let us have cosmic No.
The cockroaches carry little No No’s,
As well as giant elephants in African jungles—
Copulating No No and waltzing No No,
Guinea pig No No,
We find all the information and instructions when a mosquito buzzes.
We find some kind of No No.
Let our No No be the greatest motto:
No No for the king;
No No for the prime minister;
No No for the worms of our subjects.
Let us celebrate No No so that Presbyterian preachers can have speech impediments in proclaiming No No.
Let our horses neigh No No.
Let the vajra sangha fart No No—
Giant No No that made a great imprint on the coffee table.

-Chögyam Trungpa, January 1979

On January 8, 1979, an event took place at the Kalapa Court in Boulder that has become known as The Big No. Here is Chögyam Trungpa’s commentary on that event and its meaning from Chapter 12 of GREAT EASTERN SUN, THE WISDOM OF SHAMBHALA.
© 1999 by Diana Judith Mukpo. Used here by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc.

You cannot destroy life. You cannot by any means, for any religious, spiritual, or metaphysical reasons, step on an ant or kill your mosquitoes — at all. That is Buddhism. That is Shambhala. You have to respect everybody. You cannot make a random judgment on that at all. That is the rule of the king of Shambhala, and that is the Big No. You can’t act on your desires alone. You have to contemplate the details of what needs to be removed and what needs to be cultivated.

OUR TOPIC IS DECENCY. Decency here is not in contrast to the indecency of, say, wearing two different-colored socks or not having your zipper done up. We are talking about decency as something more profound to be realized and understood. The first part of decency is what is called modesty, which here is the absence of arrogance. The second part of decency is being so kind and wise, but without laying your trip on others.

Decency means never being tired or made haggard by others. There’s always some enjoyment in dealing with the world, whether you are dealing with people, with other sentient beings, or even with inanimate objects. You could be dealing with your garden; it could be your horse; it could be your dog, your cat, or your stove. No matter what you are doing, the sense of decency is being absolutely on the spot, without falling to the level of uncaring and crudeness.

Finally, decency is being loyal to others, loyal to the most intimate experiences that you’ve shared with others, and it is having loyalty to the principle of Shambhala vision. I would like to encourage that enormously. The Shambhala training is just an educational system, and we are not asking for your loyalty to that, particularly. You can hold on to being a Freudian or a Jungian, or to whatever philosophy you hold. Nonetheless, you should also hold your loyalty to Shambhala vision. That loyalty is twofold. Quite simply, it is a commitment to (1) working gently with yourself and (2) being kind to others. When those two concur, there’s no alternative, no other way but to develop enlightened society. So enlightened society is quite an important part of our work and our vision. Enlightened society is pragmatic: it comes from trust, faith, and the genuine experience of reality. At the same time, it requires greater and further vision to propagate this vision to other human beings, to bring them into this society.

The next aspect of decency is being free from trickery, free from the tricks we play on ourselves or on each other to maintain our basic existence. When we’re having trouble maintaining our ground or ourselves, we play all kinds of tricks. For example, you invite a potential employee to dinner so that you can seduce him or her with an offer, saying, “Look, I can offer you this great job and all this money. Please come work for me and build my ego up for me. Please do.” Trickery brings hope and fear. You’re so tempted; at the same time, you’re so afraid.

According to the Shambhala teachings, the way to be free from that self-deception is to appreciate the phenomenal world, free from hope and fear: the sun and the moon, the clouds and the bright blue sky — or the gray sky. Pine trees and rocks, gardens and green grasses — or the gray grasses of the snow. Buildings that are tumbling down, buildings that are perfectly erected. Housewives coming in and out of shops. People with briefcases walking in and out of their offices. The taxi drivers’ pole providing a meeting point for the driver and the passenger. Flags flying on a metal rod jingle as their grommets hit the pole. The world is full of all sorts of things. In fact, I feel that I don’t have to actually retell you your world. You already know it.

In the case of my world, it used to be that, in my country, Tibet, when we woke up in the morning, we could smell the wood burning as breakfast was being cooked. We could smell butter and tea being churned for our morning drink. In the monastery where I lived, in the early morning, I might see an attendant coming in to clean my living quarters, and I would hear the devotees offering their prayers to the shrines. After the morning chants, we would have a hearty breakfast, very hearty. I think that, quite possibly, it was more than six times heartier than an American breakfast, even huevos rancheros.

After our big breakfast, we Tibetans would go about our business. Some of us would go out journeying to sell things. If you were a farmer, you would take care of your animals. If you were an official, your business might include punishing a criminal by beating them with a cane. Traditionally, that was the punishment for someone who tried to hunt deer on your land. That crime required three canes. The person had both hands tied up behind them so that the shoulder sockets would begin to turn inward, which was quite painful. Those punishments were laid down by tradition, which now the Chinese communists call “the feudalism of Tibet.” Frankly, I don’t see why the Tibetans were regarded as the worst of the worst by the Chinese regime. Their feudalism was absolutely worse and terrifying. At the Chinese court, for instance, there might be ten sweepers to clean the courtyard. There would be five whippers assigned to whip the sweepers whenever they took time off. If a sweeper stopped sweeping, they would be whipped with a particular kind of whip that draws blood.

Nonetheless, that is not particularly our concern here in the West. We’re not, by any means, expecting that kind of ignorance to be propagated here at all. The closest thing to whipping and sweeping in our world is typing letters and vacuum cleaning. When you are employed in an office and you have a boss who tells you what to do, it is somewhat like being one of those sweepers in the courtyard. In a lot of cases, you find that you’re smarter than your boss. Just like the sweepers, you would like to take a break now and then, or you have to take a break. Occasionally, your computer breaks down, or your printer runs out of ink. You might like to take your lunch break, you wish some good coffee had been made, or you have a sudden desire for a sandwich. All those things are natural phenomena.

Why am I saying all this— Because we have to realize that we live in a society: we have society, and we are society. Every one of you is part of society. Maybe some of you don’t work in the way that I just described. Maybe you have enough money to spend a lot of time skiing, swimming, diving, or motor-scooting. There are all kinds of possible lifestyles, but as far as the majority is concerned, the system of livelihood is based on going to work, having a regular job.

Sometimes we have a tendency to ignore problems in the world, by saying, “Well, that’s their problem.” Sometimes we have a tendency to get too close to situations. We are so involved with women’s liberation, men’s liberation, saving the Hopis, helping the Tibetans, all kinds of things like that. On the whole — beyond your own personal discipline, the practice of meditation, and working with your own mind — I’m trying to look at how we can actually relate with the world at large and how we can help this particular world. I would be so delighted to hear your ideas and approaches to being of service to the world, without creating what is known as the setting sun. That includes your own setting sun.

Occasionally watching a football game or an interesting movie on television is fine, but if you’re completely glued to the set, it becomes setting sun. Taking a holiday at the seaside, staying in a hotel, appreciating the sand, the sunshine, the water — even waterskiing — in the proper season is lovely. But if you become a fanatic, making a cult out of worshiping the sun and wanting to be a beachboy for the rest of your life, then you are in the setting sun. Reading books, being interested in scholarship, and appreciating the knowledge that has been presented to us and worked for by our ancestors — that’s all fine. People have worked very hard for us. But if you intellectualize everything, you don’t even know how to cook a boiled egg. You’re so into your bookie that you don’t even hear the water boiling on the stove. While it’s boiling, you’re still stuck in your book, glued to it. That is the setting sun.

The antidote to a setting-sun mentality is to be free from deception. In connection with that, I’d like to tell you about the Big No, which is different than just saying no to our little habits, such as scratching yourself like a dog. When human beings scratch themselves, we try to do it in a slightly more sophisticated way, but we’re still scratching. The ordinary Shambhala type of no applies to things like scratching — or not scratching — yourself or keeping your hair brushed. That no brings a sense of discipline rather than constantly negating you. In fact, it’s a yes, the biggest yes. It is part of learning how to be human, as opposed to how to be an animal. The Big No is a whole different level of no.

The Big No arose some time ago when I was together with my vajra regent1 and several other students at the Kalapa Court, my house. When the Big No came out, I had found that everybody was indulging in their world too much. I had to say No. So I crashed my arm and fist down on my coffee table, and I broke it. I put a dent in it. Then I painted a giant picture of the Big No in the entrance hall of my house: BIG No. There was ink everywhere from that proclamation. The message was: From now onward, it’s NO.2 Later on, I executed another calligraphy for the Regent as another special reminder of the Big No, which he has in his office. That No is that you don’t give in to things that indulge your reality. There is no special reality beyond reality. That is the Big No, as opposed to the regular no. You cannot destroy life. You cannot by any means, for any religious, spiritual, or metaphysical reasons, step on an ant or kill your mosquitoes — at all. That is Buddhism. That is Shambhala. You have to respect everybody. You cannot make a random judgment on that at all. That is the rule of the king of Shambhala, and that is the Big No. You can’t act on your desires alone. You have to contemplate the details of what needs to be removed and what needs to be cultivated.

On the whole, gentleness is the rule in the Shambhala kingdom. It is actually much more terrifying than kindness, to your surprise. When you are gentle, there’s no room for hostility. We like being hostile; we want to be perked up and energized by our negativity. But in Shambhala, we never do that, and we shouldn’t do that. However, with Shambhala vision, there is festivity and joyousness, because we are not totally in the dungeon of our neurosis. That cheerfulness is what we call the Great Eastern Sun. The model for the Great Eastern Sun is the sun that shines at ten o’clock in the morning. The sun is no longer the early morning sun, and it is no longer a teenage sun. The sun is about to be full, but it’s not quite full. That ten o’clock sun is the Great Eastern Sun.

You may hear what I’m saying and think that it’s true. But you have to practice it; you have to do it, sweethearts. We can’t just issue messages of philosophy all over the world. We are capable of actually sending up a satellite that would beam down Shambhala or Buddhist slogans twenty-four hours a day. What good would that do— We have to get ourselves together.

Please regard yourself as part of the Shambhala kingdom. People say, “Another day, another dollar.” But from the Buddhist point of view, we say, “Another breath, another life.” We should be proud and very pleased that we can hear these teachings because we have not dropped dead yet! Beyond that, I hope you will have a good time, enjoy your life, and appreciate the information you’ve received.

A few years ago, His Holiness Karmapa was visiting the United States, and we were working with many different people and organizations to finalize his tour of the country. A Buddhist studies’ professor told one of the people working on the arrangements that we should never refer to His Holiness as a king. That is completely missing the point, and it’s totally wrong.3 I am going to write the professor a letter, basically saying exactly that, but I may not put it that politely. We should do things in a humble manner and in a glorious manner, and both of them come together. There’s no conflict between the two at all. We need to develop a humble manner, meaning a sense of decorum, without arrogance. But when we invite friends into our home, we shouldn’t be shy of showing our guests the silver. Shambhala vision is not based on the creeping humbleness and reasonability of democracy.

I hope that we can mingle ourselves together. Please join the Shambhala world. You invite me; I invite you. The world is not all that small. There’s a giant world. I appreciate your kindness and goodness. Even after the death of our leader, His Holiness,4 you have actually made my life longer.

1. The Vajra Regent, Osel Tendzin, was the American student (born Thomas Rich) who was appointed by Chögyam Trungpa in 1976 as his dharma heir, or the heir to his Buddhist lineage of teachings. The Big No is exemplified by the powerful student-teacher encounter that the author describes here, which took place in 1979.
2. [Editor’s note] Although I wasn’t present for the first part of the event, I was invited to the author’s house, the Kalapa Court, for the final proclamation of the Big No, which took place about twenty-four hours after the incident began. Chögyam Trungpa, the Dorje Dradul, used an enormous brush to execute a huge calligraphy on a paper banner spread out on the floor of the hallway. When he executed the calligraphy stroke, he crashed the brush down, screaming No at an indescribably deafening volume. Black sumi ink went everywhere. Later, I remember taking my wool skirt to the cleaners, hoping to get the ink out of it-to no avail. The white walls of the hallway had to be repainted.
3. The author’s original remark was considerably stronger.
4. His Holiness Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, the Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa, the head of the Karma Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, passed away from complications of cancer in November 1981. He had visited the United States at the author’s invitation three times — in 1974, 1976-77, and 1980. This talk was given in January 1982.
© 1999 by Diana Judith Mukpo.