The Lineage of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche


The following is from an article published in
The Vajradhatu Sun, February March 1990, Vol 12, Nbr 3

This column is taken from the first talk of a seven-part seminar given by the Vidyadhara, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, at Karme-Choling in December 1975 on the lineage of the Trungpa tulkus, called "Line of the Trungpas." This talk provides basic background on the development and meaning of the Kagyu lineage, which came to he known as the practicing lineage, as the setting in which the Trungpa lineage has flourished. In the Kagyu tradition particular emphasis is placed on the practice of sitting meditation and on devotion to the guru. Through its critical view, or prajna vision, the Kagyu lineage has acted as a guardian of the buddhadharma by exposing subtle corruption taking place in the name of dharma and thereby undermining the forces of spiritual materialism.

Good evening. Welcome. Some of you might be unfamiliar with the topic that we are about to discuss, and some of you may be familiar with it. However, I would like to prepare some groundwork on the subject matter. The question is the lineage or line of the Trungpas, to which this particular person sitting here and speaking to you belongs; I am one of them, in fact, the eleventh one of them. We are not talking about a dynasty or kingdom, and we are not talking about a family story; hopefully not, We are talking about how the lineage has evolved through the various Trungpas up to the present situation.

The line of Trungpas is associated with a particular tradition, which is Buddhism. of course. and alto with Tibet. What kind of discipline of Buddhism, and what particular locality of Tibet? We are forced to go back to the background story, which is connected with what is known as the teachings of the practicing lineage. All of you are also part of that at this point. A lot of you have inherited, a lot of you are just about to inherit, and a lot of you are just beginning to dip into this particular tradition called the practicing lineage.

There are four schools of Tibetan Buddhism: the old school; the medium which has two parts; and the new one. The older school is known as the Nyingma tradition. It is continuing the tradition of Padmasambhava, the great Buddhist adept, saint, and yogi who instigated and introduced formally and officially the teachings of Buddha in Tibet. And then there is the middle school, which is divided into two sections called Kagyu and Sakya. These came into the picture much later in presenting further Buddhist teachings from India. And then there is the latest one, the newest one, we could say the youngest one of all, which is called the Gelugpa tradition.

The Gelugpa tradition is, we could say, completely and fully a Tibetan form of Buddhism, because it did not have any direct historical relationships with Indian Buddhism. By then Indian Buddhism was already far gone and slowly dying out due to the Muslim invasions of India. Most of the Buddhists in India were being persecuted or had gone underground. A lot of the monasteries were attacked because the Muslim troops thought people wearing uniforms were soldiers, so monks were killed and monasteries were completely destroyed.

The Islamic tradition in particular does not believe in deifying any kind of idols or statues or images, and does not believe that truth should be represented in an anthropomorphic fashion. Consequently, they destroyed a lot of statues and completely wiped out any evidence of Buddhist culture as much as they could. These days we still find, from excavations of all kinds that take place in India, that certain temples and stupas and images received a token seal on them; such statues without noses or without ears or fingers are a mark of Muslim disapproval of any deified images, anthropomorphic images.

The practicing lineage became the middle school, which came after the old school, or literally, the ancient. It developed through various Tibetan masters and scholars who visited India and received teachings there and established their particular situation: namely, the famous translator saint, Marpa, visited India three times, bringing the teachings to Tibet; and his disciple, Milarepa, who is the greatest yogi poet of Tibet, or shall we say singer poet; and Gampopa, and so forth. That lineage of the Kagyu, the practicing lineage, at this point consists of something like 36 generations up to the present Trungpa, whoever he might be.

The meaning of the practicing lineage is important for you to understand before we understand the rest of the story, so to speak. The practicing lineage is a term developed particularly by Milarepa. Previously, the Kagyu lineage was known as the lineage of the sacred word, which is actually the term that we are using these days. Ka means "logos" or "sacred word" and also "command" or "truth;" and gyu means "thread" or "continuity," which is closest to the idea of lineage. At the time of Milarepa, the Kagyu tradition was sometimes known as Drupgyu, drup meaning "practice" and gyu again meaning "lineage" or "line."

The practicing lineage puts a great deal of importance on the necessity to practice, sit, meditate a lot. Without practicing, without having some sense of understanding the meaning of practice, there is no real communication that takes place in your understanding of buddhadharma. And it is equally important to have a great deal of devotion to your teacher, who actually embodies the symbolism or the concept of practice at the same time. Through practice, the guru has already achieved a higher degree of enlightenment. Moreover, the guru is the only person who can actually push you and who could become a heavy-handed friend, who can actually make you, sit a lot and go beyond your slothfulness and laziness.

If you want to boycott and all kinds of things like that, only the guru can push you to make you sit a lot and practice a lot. A cosmic guru might send theoretical blessings and encouragements through your particular antenna, and tell you all kinds of stories and messages; but, according to the practicing lineage, such things are regarded as very fishy.

We can always reinterpret our own interpretations. To begin with, our own interpretation received from the antenna is not so substantial, but on top of that we can actually reinterpret it according to our liking. So it is necessary to have an earthly person, born and raised on this planet earth to begin with, who regards himself or herself as a human being who we like to share, the love and hate sweet and sour, hot and cold whatever you have of this particular world.

This person can communicate to you man to man, so to speak, and as a mirror reflection in some sense. He also provides some sense of real, genuine communication, independent of politicking or over-indulging in charitable kindness, and free from obsession with masochiistic trips - somebody who is somewhat sensible and reasonable, but at same time unyielding, who we "wise" in the traditional sense; somebody who cannot be persuaded by your side of your trip, and somebody who can actually be clear about whole thing; somebody who buys your story with a pinch of salt; but at the same time is kind and friendly to a certain extent. Such a person is the teacher, who then teaches you practice a lot, sit a lot.

The fundamental teachings of Buddha are based on a sense of understanding what we are, who we are and why we are. And when we be to realize who we are, what we are and why we are, then we begin to realize why we are not, who we are not, what we are not. Then we begin realize that we do not have a basic substantial, and solid fundamental ground that we can exert anymore. We begin to realize our of ideas security and our concept of freedom have been purely phantom experiences.

We would like to use spiritual discipline and traditional wisdom to fit into our own desires, into our own particular pigeonhole. We would actually like to glorify ourselves by collecting stories and wisdom from every worthy person. We would like to meet lots of people who are seemingly worthy, according to one's own judgement, and collect all those and re-edit them according to what we want, constantly.

When we begin to do that, we develop our own version of freedom, which is: I would like to become a greater version of myself, spiritually uplifted and so forth. I might even have a place in the social situation and be known as an important, wise person that people can come and consult. Those are the kinds of desires that we have. We are not really interested in developing spiritually, but we are more interested in evolving politically in the name of spirituality. Such a situation is known as spiritual materialism.

The practicing lineage teaches us that we have to get rid of those ego centered, conceptualized notions of grandiosity about our own development. If we are truly involved with spirituality, we are willing to let go of trying to witness our own enlightenment, the celebration of our own enlightenment. We have to learn to be willing to die, to subside; this particular "me" that wants to attain enlightenment has to go away. When that happens, then you actually attain enlightenment. So one cannot watch one's own burial, in other words.

In order to develop a shedding of the ego, an understanding of that particular principle, we have to practice a lot, sit a lot, and experience a lot. We might have some intellectual or, analytical understanding, but those understandings have to be based on some intuitive level of practice alone. Without that, we cannot develop anything at all in the practice. We are simply creating further schemes, expanding further schemes of our grand plans of spiritual ego trips, materialism, and so forth.

Throughout the lineage of the practicing tradition, every one of them has been extremely sarcastic and extremely critical of the current scenes taking place around them, of the subtle corruption taking place in the name of the dharma. We could say that the practicing lineage is the guardian of the buddhadharma, not only in Tibet, but also in the rest of the world. Someone at least has some understanding, some critical view of how things should happen and how things shouldn't happen.

And that particular sharp vision, traditionally known as prajna vision, is very important. It is a very lively and living situation, and still up to date in the present situation. And, in fact, that is why we are here. And that particular tradition is seemingly most pure and unhampered by all kinds of spiritual materialism.

Instead of just viewing the whole thing from a purely historical point of view, it could take place in ourselves at the same time. Our particular growth, how we have come to be, to practice, and our particular background, are all based on the notion that we would like to become richer, a more conscious and highly-evolved person. That is why we are interested in some kind of spiritual practice. But those trips are actually questionable. And such trips require a very heavy critical dosage of the practicing lineage message so that we could at least work on our naivete, on our confused attitude about spirituality, and on our further attempt to pollute the spiritual world of the 20th century.


See more on Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche from the first issue of the

Garuda magazine published in 1971.