Once, about 10 years ago, i -already some years in vajrayana- was told to read "Cutting through spriritual materialism".
I was blown away. It was -and still is- the most concise, dense, straight, practical, clarifying, straightening book i have ever read not only in tibetan buddhism, but in spirituality in general. It blew my mind. Before it, i had pieces of buddhist info in my head. The book assembled the whole puzzle of pieces and i saw the big picture. This came as a shock.
I didn't know anything about Trungpa but i set myself to research about the guy. I then found out that he drank alcohol, had sex, etc.
Rather than find this outrageous, i found it amusing. Because i had no doubt that the teachings on that book were 100.00% pure, Tibetan Buddhism, and that such a book could only have been with a person with very deep knowledge of dharma based on real insight, not just intellectual knowledge.
Now, there are people who still are shocked and start claiming things like Trungpa "did harm to other people", that his drinking was unacceptable, and this and that.
We are buddhists here. Chogyam Trungpa was a buddhist master of the Kagyu lineage. He was also a tulku. So, to judge him as a "good" or "bad" buddhist master one should use strictly the criteria of the Kagyu lineage, NOT our vulgar preconceptions of good and bad inherited from centuries of Catholic moral.
So let's see. Was he certified "good" by a respected Kagyu authority? Yes, by none other than the 16th Karmapa, one of the last true great mahasiddhas on the western world, who expressed about CTR in no other terms than being his "heart son" and being "no different" than him. Also by the incomparable Dilgo Khyentse Rimpoche.
Chogyam Trungpa had an immense task -- to bring tibetan buddhism to the western world in the most skillful way. And he delivered.
The first step was to understand the culture and the language. He went to England to learn the language. He did it. By the late 1960s he was probably the tibetan buddhist master with the best command of the english language. He also learned everything he could learn that was related to the western world.
He went to USA to find deluded, hedonistic folks that indulged themselves in drugs, and used all sorts of New Age and eastern spirituality to ultimately increase their egos. Chogyam Trungpa mingled with the hippies, and with the Ginsberg-like crowd, and tried the drugs these guys were taking, NOT to indulge himself, but to have a full understanding of the way these guys were living and experiencing life. Doing everything -including doing things that have the danger to damage yourself- to best understand the needs of your disciple is no other than an example of immense compassion. For example, on "Cutting through spiritual materialism" Trungpa explains very clearly and logically why taking LSD will not help the person progress further on his path, for example. To say this with authority, is logical that he had to actually try LSD first, otherwise how could he give valid, useful advice on it? Same with the rest of the drugs the deluded hippies consumed. Trungpa's advice always came from actual experience, not cheap moralistic considerations.
Afterwards, he "opened his mouth" and sweep his disciple's feet. In an extremely skillful way, he clearly explained to these westerners the immense amount of damage they were doing to themselves, coining the very appropriate term of "spiritual materialism". The ones that got the message, stayed with him, left the New Age things, and started practicing actual Kagyu buddhism. The lectures were 100% pure and true to the lineage.
SEX and PRIVACY
To people obsessed with the sex topic, you must understand that lay and/or nomadic Tibetan culture has an attitude to sex that, from the viewpoint of the Bible Belt would totally be described as "promiscuous". He wasn't a monk anymore so there were no reason he couldn't have sex.
Reading the "Dragon Thunder" book by CTR's wife (Diana Mukpo) will be a revelation for the CTR naysayers.
Trungpa chose to literally have ZERO private life. Anyone could and would enter his room and he would attend him/her, no matter what time. He never hid anything from his personal life. This was disconcerting to Diana, initially.
Picture this: Diana had fathered kids with CTR. Then she had another lover. The lover was a closer student of CTR. He then had a kid with Diana. NOTHING was kept private from no-one, not only CTR was well aware of everything but actually the three hung around together and cared for each other, literally like a family. Diana was always well aware of all of Trungpa's sexuality. Which you could NOT call "affairs" (because they weren't hidden from anyone) nor exploits (because, correctly understood, the purpose is not to take advantage of the other person but to aid them into their dharma path. Sex is the ultimate form of personal communication.)
It is wrong to judge this behavior assuming CTR's mind was mundane. In the same way it is plainly wrong for a student to try to behave as CTR did, without having exactly his same level of realization, endorsed by somebody of the straospheric caliber of someone like the 16th karmapa.
Again, CTR wasn't your typical sutrayana buddhism master. He was acting right within the framework of the Kagyu tradition, which he was an approved member. The drinking, the sex, getting two specific students naked by force, etc, make perfect sense once one studies the life of Tilopa, Naropa, and Marpa, three of the most important historic masters of the Kagyu lineage, as correctly pointed out on previous posts.
THE CAR CRASH
According to lady Diana, he wasn't drunk (this was england late 1960s, CTR did not had yet any taste of the US hippie life). He crashed his car into a joke shop. No one got seriously hurt but himself. Trungpa was very shocked by this (no pun intended) and took this as a clear message of the utmost importance. He wrote about this:
ALCOHOLI realized that I could no longer attempt to preserve any privacy for myself, any special identity or legitimacy. I should not hide behind the robes of a monk, creating an impression of inscrutabilty which, for me, turned out to be only an obstacle. With a sense of further involving myself with the sangha, I determined to give up my monastic vows. More than ever, I felt myself given over to serving the cause of buddhism.
Many videos of Trunga's talks show him with physical signs (eyes, body movements) of being under the physical influence of alcohol. But what is startling is that his mind didn't seem to be affected by him. This is confirmed once he opens his mouth and starts to talk. Zero nonsense came out from that mouth. Can we, then, honestly say his mind was "inebriated" or "intoxicated"?
Diana Mukpo, on her book, notes she didn't like Trungpa drinking at all, that it wasn't good at all for his health, obviously. Here is the only real controversy or mystery i can find with CTR. No one knows for sure why he did drink so much to put his own health at risk. On past posts somebody has noted that perhaps it was his way to deal with the physical pain he chronically suffer after his accident. Any guess?
But it cannot be stressed enough that CTR's alcohol consumption did harm no other than himself and only himself, for he never stopped teaching.
OZEL TENDZIN / THE REGENT
Diana's book is very fair and honest with this topic. Basically, according to her, Thomas Rich was a very applied disciple, with a lot of very good qualities and very liked and appreciated by everybody in the community. But, of course, he wasn't a realized being. He got VIH (when it was a new thing) and when it was an open secret he -according to Diana- started telling other people not to worry because CTR told him the practices will shield him and others from any damage. According to Diana, Trungpa did NOT give this advice to Thomas Rich and rather started getting very worried about what to do with the guy... So from this point of view, one cannot put the blame on the HIV infections on CTR.
As far as i know, CTR was the first tibetan-born, fully-monasticly-educated Tibetan Buddhism master to establish himself and to teach in USA.
Many standard terminology used on tibetan buddhistm books was actually coined by CTR.
He was the first one to bring a major tibetan buddhist lineage head (the 16th Karmapa) to the new continent.
Perhaps without him, we wouldn't be writing about tibetan buddhism in this forum. Or our knowledge of tibetan buddhism would come exclusively from scholars.
And here, i stop.