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Master of meditation, social visionary, artist, poet–Chögyam Trungpa was all these and more. Yet “Who was Chögyam Trungpa?” is a slippery question, for who can nail down the personality of a man who by all accounts seemed to be a different person to different people at different times and on different occasions?
Fabrice Midal, by steering his way between conventional Western biography and traditional Tibetan hagiography, has succeeded in painting a detailed portrait of this unconventional Tibetan lama, who is regarded as one of the most influential forces in spreading Buddhism to the West.
From his first years of teaching in Britain and the United States, Trungpa began making friends with his students in a completely free style, adapting to the language and understanding of young Westerners. Yet, although Trungpa appeared to be a modern teacher at first glance, he was really one of the most traditional teachers because of his radical emphasis on the source: the root practice of sitting meditation.
In his oral teachings, Trungpa surprised his audiences by making no concession to their expectations, speaking directly from his heart and experience to their hearts, without alluding to techniques and philosophy, often bypassing their intellects.
His approach was unique in its emphasis on a secular rather than religious approach to spiritual practice. Among other studies that he encouraged among his students were calligraphy, flower arranging, Japanese archery, tea ceremony, dance, theater, health care, psychotherapy, poetry, elocution, and translation. His founding of centers, communities, and innovative educational institutions was also part of the flowering of a new culture of Buddhism in the West that he inspired.
Fabrice Midal’s biography puts the overall scope of Trungpa’s work into illuminating perspective. The reader will come away from the book deeply impressed by the versatility of Trungpa’s vision, talents, and teachings, and with an appreciation for the “outrageousness” of this master and how it manifested in all his activities.