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Lions Roar : November 2006
SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2006 13 THE BLACK-AND-WHITE PHOTO of the smiling young couple on our cover was taken about thirty-five years ago. On the left is a young, Oxford-educated Ti- betan, Chögyam Trungpa. He had recently given up his monastic robes after co-founding the first Tibetan meditation center in the West, Samye Ling, in Scot- land. On the right is Diana Mukpo (née Pybus). Her elopement with Chögyam Trungpa at sixteen caused a scandal in Britain. Soon after this picture was taken, the two would abandon Britain for North America. Here they are: happy, in love, on the cusp of a new life. Like most readers of the Shambhala Sun, I never met Chögyam Trungpa. And like many of you, I’ve tried for years to separate Trungpa Rinpoche fact from fiction, to get some measure of the man who (by almost all accounts) has had a lasting, posi- tive influence on Western Buddhism, including the founding of this magazine. So I’ve read the books, listened to the tapes, and heard the stories (many of them more than once) both shocking and banal from the “old dogs,” some of the longtime students with whom I work, now aging boomers. I’m grateful to Trungpa Rinpoche and his students; they inspire me. Still, from time to time I chafe at the backward glances and I wonder, What does the retelling of the fabled early days have to do with the here-and-now, and with the project of advancing Buddhism in the West? Wouldn’t Chögyam Trungpa have been more interested in that? We all tell ourselves stories, and we’re well aware that in telling them, we tend to skew their accuracy. This is true whether we’re talking about events that happened thirty-five years or thirty-five seconds ago. In telling a good story, we excise some of the naughty bits, play up our role in the heroic conflict, and as- cribe to ourselves better motives than we had. And then there are the faulty heuristics of the listener, too. We are not a tabula rasa on which stories are writ- ten. We bring a notion about the outcome (this is a happy/sad story) and about the characters (he’s a vil- lain/saint). Holding a view, we listen for evidence that confirms it. For these reasons, I find the image on our cover both touching and provoking—an uncomfortable state that goes directly to the point of why it’s neces- sary for Diana Mukpo to tell her story. Because even if you were there in the good ole days of Buddhism’s nascence in the West—and Diana Mukpo was smack- dab in the middle of it—the whole thing defies a neat summary. Diana Mukpo doesn’t claim in her new memoir, Dragon Thunder, to give the definitive ac- count of her husband or the events she describes, but she does give them as full and as honest a treatment as she can. Memoir is self-revealing by definition. But with good memoir, the activity of self-revelation extends from author to reader. In Diana Mukpo’s telling, and in my listening, I came up against the limits of my own honesty (How far do I think the teacher-student relationship should extend? How would I have fared married to the guru? How do I understand his drink- ing? His affairs?), and I found my own struggle writ large. I stumbled onto this Buddhist path, and for years I’ve been edging slowly, warily, toward the fire. So I admire a woman who spent, with good heart and not just a little grace, much of her life in direct con- tact with a consuming flame. Diana Mukpo’s marriage to Chögyam Trungpa was more than unconventional—it was absent of convention. It was a powerful, if risky, platform for growth that would be difficult to replicate today. (We lack the easy trust on tap in the early days, and few of us have a Trungpa Rinpoche to hold our feet to the fire.) So while it wasn’t an ordinary union, it was still sustained on honesty and decency—pretty simple human virtues. Whether your own tendency, in read- ing this story, is to shy away from or relish its gnarly parts, please don’t miss its real point, which is love. I’ve decided that this looking-back is more than just an exercise in nostalgia—it has to do with the survival of dharma in the West. To me it’s analogous to the period in history when humans (or our pre- cursors) hadn’t yet harnessed the technology of fire- building, only fire-preserving. In those societies, sto- ries and rituals developed to ensure that the flame— crucial to the community’s survival—was tended to. It’s not like we don’t have the know-how, but until we become confident of our ability to start a dharmic bonfire in damp 21st-century North America, we’re well advised to maintain—and pass—this torch. ♦ Editorial: I never met him either BY ANDREA MCQUILLIN