Stories of the Kongtruls from the Vidyadhara Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Part One

[I am very pleased to present the first in a two-part post from Acharya Fenya Heupers. She has been following the blog and sent a very interesting compilation of notes taken from a seminar given by the Vidyadhara Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche in 1974. Just to warn you, the seminar focused on three different Jamgon Kongtruls. The first is Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye (also known as Jamgon Kongtrul the Great) who lived in the 19th century and compiled the Rinchen Terdzo. Among many others he was a teacher to the Chogyam Trungpa’s previous incarnation, the tenth Trungpa, Chokyi Nyingje.

After Jamgon Kongtrul passed away he had two simultaneous rebirths. This is not uncommon with great teachers. Both of these rebirths were students of the tenth Trungpa. The first rebirth of Jamgon Kongtrul the great was Jamgon Kongtrul of Sechen, meaning Sechen Monastery. He became one of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s root gurus and he bestowed the Rinchen Terdzo upon Trungpa Rinpoche. The second Kongtrul, Jamgon Kongtrul of Palpung (Palpung Monastery) gave Chogyam Trunpga Rinpoche his monastic vows.

Because Achaya Heupers was wrote this paper from notes taken at the seminar, there are several paragraphs in quotations. The notes have the raw feel of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s teachings, although the notes are not the exact words of Trungpa Rinpoche. Many of his seminars still await transcription and editing, we hope this one will come soon. WB]

Stories of the Kongtruls from the Vidyadhara Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

By Acharya Fenya Heupers

On the joyous occasion of transmission of the Rinchen Terdzo, when Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche becomes the lineage holder of this tradition of his father, the Vidyadhara Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, through the tremendous kindness of his father-in-law, His Eminence Namkha Drimed Rinpoche, I remembered teachings of the Vidyadhara on Jamgon Kongtrul. In December 1974, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche gave a seminar in Boulder on Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye. He taught about his root guru Jamgon Kongtrul of Sechen and what it means to study with an authentic teacher. He also talked about Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye, who collected endangered teachings and empowerments in various collections, the Rinchen Terdzod being one of these collections.

Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye was part of a renaissance of Tibetan Buddhism in the 19th century, known as the Rime, or nonsectarian, movement because this group of teachers did not want to fixate on sectarian differences of the various schools. In those days the Vidyadhara used the word ‘ecumenical’ for Rime, a word that westerners were familiar with from the Christian tradition. The Vidyadhara explained the difference:

“Rime is not as naive as the 20th century “ecumenism” That ecumenism says: we are brothers and sisters, why do we fight? There is good intention in that, but the reality is that we, as human beings, are all brothers and sisters, and that’s why we fight. There is no reason for fighting if there is no communication. The biggest problem is trying to unify the cosmos and to structure it so that everybody eats jellyfish and everybody drinks milk. If we give up hope of unifying the world, and accept chaos as it is, there is a possibility, then there might be peace. It is uncertain whether harmony is the answer to develop peace. Jamgon Kongtrul accepted chaos as well as orderliness. He was able to find profundity within complication.”

Chogyam Trunpga Rinpoche explained also how sectarianism came into existence: “The teachings originate from experience, and are expressed in words, then the words are recorded and become doctrines. Logic is needed to prove the validity of these doctrines and then there is a battlefield and clashes between the doctrines because they cannot understand each other’s language. Finally there is complete confusion; intoxicated in their own doctrine, they cannot see the other doctrines.”

The Rime movement brought back the contemplative tradition, which is “a complete approach to buddhadharma, including both learning and practice, understanding and intuition. Sitting without learning is like wandering blindly; learning without sitting practice is like trying to climb a rock with crippled arms. The understanding of buddhadharma is experiential; it is not rejecting scholarship but including it. That demands dedication and devotion. Without those we are working only on the surface. So Jamgon Kongtrul had two approaches: to conquer the ocean of learning and to conquer the space of practice. In order to do so, one has to commit oneself 200%. Not that you do not eat or sleep, but they are included in that commitment. Bringing learning and practice together is not difficult; it is like stepping on dog shit - you know what you’ve done, you smell it, experience it, so there is a complete experience of intellect and intuition at the same time.”

“Jamgon Kongtrul of Sechen used to ask, “how do you feel about it?” instead of asking about facts and figures. The contemplative tradition is personal living experience. So he seemed to be more pleased with Trungpa Rinpoche’s critical attitude than with acceptance.”

Jamgon Kongtrul the Great ”first trained himself thoroughly in the Kagyu tradition, he was a fully ordained monk. He had to live very humbly, had to beg. He learned basic solid buddhism, about mind and emotions according to the hinayana, about bodhisattvas in the mahayana, and about the play of phenomena of tantra.”

“Jamgon Kongtrul established himself in Pepung, in Jewel Rock, home of devis and dakinis. He studied texts very arduously to the light of a butter lamp or just the red glow of an incense stick. He practiced meditation with stinging nettles around his meditation box. If he fell over to sleep he woke up by the stinging. He was very austere, but loved metaphysical jokes. He was a great punster.”

“After a solid training in one tradition, he studied under 100 masters of various schools. After him these schools faded out. In this way he revived the contemplative tradition. He worked together with the terton Chogyur Lingpa, with Patrul Rinpoche from the Nyingma tradition, and with Khyentse Rinpoche from the Sakya tradition. He brought together teachings from the eight buddhist traditions in Tibet, and brought them into the contemplative tradition.”

“The tenth Trungpa was a student of Jamgon Kongtrul the Great. Frustrated by spiritual materialism he suddenly decided to escape from his monastery and studied with Jamgon Kongtrul the Great. Then he returned to his monastery (Surmang) and realized that it is not such evil, that he did not have to become a mendicant monk. He was planning to visit his guru again, then he heard that his guru had died. He continued his life of practicing meditation.”

[The final part of these stories will be posted tomorrow. WB]

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