Disturbing “facts” re Trungpa Rinpoche on Wikipedia.

Via elephant journal
on Sep 18, 2009
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trungpa controversies

Update: Mission Accomplished. The unsubstantiated allegations have been removed (for now). When and if there’s three on-the-record, corroborating, verifiable sources that state Trungpa Rinpoche did...those things...then, honoring Journalism Ethics 101, they have a place in his biography. Until then…their presence in his official Wikipedia biography, the most-clicked-upon top-in-google-rankings page defining who and what this great Buddhist teacher was has been amended by many of the people who knew him, and read this post over the past 32 hours. With thanks— ed.

Original post follows:

Horrifying rumors & slander re: Buddhist pioneer Chogyam Trungpa on Wikipedia. Surprised? Let’s correct it:

I know every rumor and fact there is to know about Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche, the Buddhist meditation master who de-mystified and made accessible the seemingly esoteric teachings of Buddhadharma, and who was the teacher of my parents. I’ve reported on them here before, seeking to draw a clear, broad line between fact and myth. I believe in openness, showing the light of day on this stuff—as did Trungpa Rinpoche himself, who never hid anything, which is part of the reason he was so well-loved and that the many myths that have sprung up about him did not fester until after he’d died.

I just happened upon his Wikipedia page, and was shocked. I couldn’t even read all of it. It’s like hanging out in the most degraded cocoon of gossip you could imagine.

Wikipedia is often made fun of for not having its facts straight—still, it is the web’s number one source for information. Chogyam Trungpa’s page has some really horrible information regarding cocaine, etc that I’ve never even heard rumors about, though I grew up in his community and write about him frequently in the public sphere these day. I’d love to hear a confirmation from some senior students that this stuff isn’t true—and, assuming the stuff on this page…

Wikipedia Biography of Chogyam Trungpa Controversies

“…Two former students of Trungpa, John Steinbeck IV (son of novelist John Steinbeck) and his wife, wrote a sharply critical memoir of their lives with him in which they claim that, in addition to his addiction to alcohol…

[…it goes on to talk about drugs, and womanizing, in a harsh light and with many unsubstaniated facts and opinions, like his treatment of women as “chattel,” something I’ve never heard. Since some of the most vitriolic, inflammatory entries have been amended or deleted (for now) as a result of this here post, I’m not going to repeat all the details here, as “repeating rumors makes them true.”]

…is BS, any of you who want to help me correct the information on this page, which we all can do, please go to that page and edit it. Anyone can do so.


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Comments

67 Responses to “Disturbing “facts” re Trungpa Rinpoche on Wikipedia.”

  1. kunga chodzin says:

    I am in favor of openness and revealing the whole truth even if it is complicated. I have been influenced by the writings of Chogyam Trungpa and follow the teachings of Shambhala. I have heard some stories from credible sources that are not as disturbing as those at Wikipedia, and I don't want to repeat them here. But I feel that a full appreciation of the teacher as a human being would ultimately be of benefit to everyone who really cares about Buddhism in America and the world.

    One reason Buddhism is able to appeal to so many people is the fact that no one in it is a god, and no one should be held up to unrealistic standards, even a great teacher. I can understand how he could be both a human being with some frailty sometimes and a great teacher other times.

  2. A comment via a friend on FB:

    "I didn't know they wrote a book, let alone with scathing remarks. I was friends with John…never even knew if he might've felt that way…I'm thinking this might have been more from her? In any case, I wasn't aware of any Coke thingy going on / not to that extent…I'm sure there was trying it and maybe more but 40k/yr….??? The women thing / you'd have to explain almost all of Buddhism for someone to get that in perspective."

  3. Guest says:

    Well done, Waylon! I see that the most lurid charges have already been appropriately toned down from a long paragraph to a single sentence.

    babydrala, I think you missed the point. VCTR did not deserve this kind of vitriolic, single-sourced abuse in what Waylon accurately describes as the single most used reference source on the web. Those of us who love him certainly won't put up with it if we can do anything about it.

    Bruce Dodds

  4. jonesgirl says:

    ahh.. people love to talk! I find this a very relevant topic indeed, one clearly misunderstood. How could we ever know how much or what and when? To talk about it now is only to speculate. But perhaps, at least some of the point is in the controversy. More to be understood one day we should hope. For the teachings to come through, what did this man become? The experiences he apparently had so he could fully realize for us… ah… but what do I know.

  5. Former Student says:

    Waylon, for you to claim to know everything about CTR is utter hogwash. When I was a senior student, you were a gleam in your mother's eye. John Steinbeck IV was a kusung with inside knowledge. He was also an Emmy-award winning journalist who broke the story of the Mai-Li massacre in Viet Nam on his news service. He leaked the story of the Regent's transmission of AIDS to a teenager in the Boulder paper.. Please get over yourself and hone your skills as a journalist.

    After his death, board director Marty Janowitz admitted to concerned members of the sangha that Trungpa had a huge coke habit, so start there if you want to get the facts and not spout party line BS. Kasung and kusung in service at the court knew exactly why Rinpoche stayed up till dawn most nights. Women who slept with him saw the Seconal, including Diana. He used it to come down from coke. Ciel, the teenage "consort" of Rinpoche, regularly carried his coke in bottles marked vitamin C across national borders. Perhaps if Rinpoche and her parents had a little more concern about the statuatory rape issue of him screwing a 17 year old, she might not have committed suicide.

    Continued below…

  6. Guest says:

    I'm glad to see that many of this blog's readers have a better understanding of openness than the blogger, who wants to enlist hordes of dittoheads to erase WIkipedia he finds unnerving.

  7. Guest says:

    Sorry, that was supposed to be "Wikipedia content he finds unnerving." Interesting to see that some Tsultrim Serri corroborates the content. I will add that I also knew about the cocaine usage.

  8. Via my Dad:
    "I wouldn't be surprised if Trungpa tried everything… once. So did we all. I knew John, too, and would take his comments with a truckload of salt.
    There are people out there who still hate Trungpa, and that's life."

  9. Former Student says:

    Anyone can write anything they want on Wikipedia. Are you going to watch the CTR site 24/7 to make sure nothing "disturbing" is posted? Get a life! Talk to Janowitz, ask around about how Ciel was used as a mule before you call something "not verified". Those of us who had the courage to face the truth about CTR 25 years ago did our homework. Yeah, I'm irritated by your immature sense of self-importance. The inner mandala party line was that Rinpoche was always open, so how could you fault him? Well, there were plenty of secrets that your mother never knew because she was fringe and the fringe was always snickered about and kept in the dark. You will never be an expert in CTR, so give it up. Your father always had a healthy suspicion about the sangha when I knew him, so don't be quoting Daddy, either. He was beyond fringe.

  10. The voice of reason says:

    This is great! I am totally losing my interest in Buddhism and will certianly never pay for another Shambhala Program again.
    No one can say what enlightenment is or how it can be discovered or identified. The senior students are petty, mindwashed drones. The teacher was a self-serving hypnotist. And the children of the faithful are self-rightouse and arrogant bastards.
    There is nothing worthwhile to be found on this path. Lets all get on with better things like growing food, making art, playing music and quit pretending that there is anything to be concerned about other than the way we relate to the people in our daily lives. Just think about how much time, money and energy has been wasted persuing Trungpa and all the other false prophets.

  11. The voice of reason says:

    This is great! I am totally losing my interest in Buddhism and will certianly never pay for another Shambhala Program again.
    No one can say what enlightenment is or how it can be discovered or identified. The senior students are petty, mindwashed drones. The teacher was a self-serving hypnotist. And the children of the faithful are self-rightouse and arrogant bastards.
    There is nothing worthwhile to be found on this path. Lets all get on with better things like growing food, making art, playing music and quit pretending that there is anything to be concerned about other than the way we relate to the people in our daily lives. Just think about how much time, money and energy has been wasted persuing Trungpa and all the other false prophets.

  12. Former Student says:

    It is all about how we treat each other, with kindness and honesty and directness. That was not something I saw in the sangha or even in the comments on this blog. Ultimately, it's a country club cult, where everyone jockies to get close to the inner sanctum by mouthing something CTR said 20 years ago. Now the Sawang is promising siddhis? The height of spiritual materialism? The very thing his father warned us about as being the major trap of the American mind-set. And still the ditto-heads don't smell a rat. They sit, complacent and smug, in the midst of their jealousy, blind adoration, spiritual vanity, sibling rivalry and, sadly, very little spiritual growth. And they try to tell those of us who woke up to the maha-illusion that we missed the point.

  13. At the risk of sounding glib, he's dead – get over it.

    All of you.

  14. Wow. Well, thanks for that, Hunter. At least you have the guts to put your name to your opinions. Sorry I've offended you.

    BTW, Trungpa Rinpoche has never got me laid, or a seat on the Council, or even made me look cool or mysterious—who should I complain to, Hunter?

  15. G8ful Current Stdent says:

    Dear Former Student,
    Thank you for your comments. Although I am a current student of Shambhala, I am more interested in getting to the truth than I am in perpetuating myths about Chogyam Trungpa. I am grateful to the Steinbecks for giving us an insiders view of the era. I am also very saddened that so many senior students of Trungpa continued to cover up his secretive coke use. It definitely changes things for me.

  16. Jeff Fuller says:

    Jeff Fuller here. I stumbled across this blog conversation quite by accident. [Full disclosure: I took refuge vows with VCTR in 1978, attended 1982 seminary, and completed ngondro in 1987. I served as a kusung to the Vidyadhara, and was in charge of the Regent’s kusung service in Halifax. In the spring of 1989, two years after Rinpoche’s death and a few months after the VROT scandal erupted, I left the sangha and never looked back.]

    I once heard a zen story that goes something like this: The gateway to enlightenment is protected by two enormous temple guardians whose names are “Paradox” and “Confusion.” The only way to make it past these guardians, the only way to enter the land of Big Mind, is to utter a simple phrase — but it must be spoken with complete sincerity. The phrase is “I don’t know.”

    How can a teacher engage in both (presumably) highly enlightened activity and (presumably) highly confused activity? I don’t know. What I do know is that as soon as I take a step back and admit that I actually don’t know, my compulsive need to know falls away, and all I am left with is my paradoxical, confusing experience. Groundlessness.

    When I can manage to abide in that weird, wobbly place of neither denying nor defending my experience, I discover that I have already begun moving past the guardians at the gate. I have begun to move beyond content. If I am then motivated to act, my action is a bit more spontaneous and free of agenda, a bit less of a knee-jerk reaction arising from my beliefs and conditioning.

    This may sound bizarre, but I felt a surge of appreciation and warmth toward everyone who responded to Waylon’s post. I believe every single post contains the truth. Not the kind of “truth” that takes sides, not the kind of “truth” that starts wars, but the kind of truth that simply exposes what is. Each post reveals the truth of what’s going on inside each writer. (The fact that some contributors didn’t feel comfortable enough or safe enough to use their own names suggests that the sangha has a ways to go before it lives up to the buddhist ideals of kindness, non-judgment, candor and fearlessness.)

    Like many of those who wrote in, I come down on the side of honesty and transparency. Yes, let’s not spread rumors and gossip. Yes, let’s correct what is unfounded or inaccurate. But let’s also not embellish, or spin, or deny, or fear the facts. If I am shocked by something, what does that show me about myself? When reality suddenly collides with my beliefs about reality, why do I become angry and defensive, even violent? What’s really going on?

    One of the posts contained an excerpt from Cutting Through, where VCTR speaks directly to this very issue: “…‘I’m quite certain the guru doesn’t do harmful things. Guruji is a perfect being and whatever Guruji does is right. Whatever Guruji does is for me, because he is on my side. So I can afford to open. I can safely surrender. I know that I am treading on the right path.’ Something is not quite right about such an attitude. It is, at best, simple-minded and naive…”

    I’m sure I read that book, but for some reason I don’t remember that passage; reading it just now floored me. Rinpoche, in no uncertain terms and early on (1973), warned us that the kind of surrender he was speaking about — actual surrender of the ego — has nothing to do with safety. Practitioner beware.

    Was Rinpoche a living Buddha, always and only acting for the benefit of beings? Was he totally free of obscurations and attachments? Was he addicted to alcohol and sex and possibly cocaine? And what about the Regent?

    I don’t know. I simply don’t know. What I do know is that somehow, because of the time I spent around Rinpoche and the Regent, my ego was thoroughly (and un-safely) exposed. I never thought I’d say this, but 20 years later, I’m grateful.

  17. Student Now and Then says:

    Trungpa was bland, boring, conventional, safe, and his teaching and practices were so easy.
    Actually I was part of his near-circle for a brief-ish time and, through fault of my own, ended up broken, tied in a knot, in torment. (Some of this was heredity, no doubt–my siblings ended up the same way through quite different circumstances.)
    I got much too close, much too close. Still, Trungpa cared enough about me that, even as he was tossing me on a trash heap, he seems to have peered into my future and given some good advice that came in handy some decades later. Nevertheless, after decades of struggle, I crawled out of hell–and I still love the guy.
    Steinbeck IV might have been quite right. Nonetheless, confirming same through another source or two is just good journalistic practice, speaking of which I gotta go sit now. 'Bye!

  18. JoanaSmith says:

    (Just to clarify, this is Nathan Smith–I was logged in through my wife's computer, same person as the "ndsmith" commenter above)

    @Boulder Native, @Former Student, @Hunter Thompson: Hey, I'm not engaging in "hero worship" or bad faith. I'm genuinely interested in this issue.

    @Hunter Thompson: I'm not finding the quoted statement you cite. The statement I'm referring to says: "What he wrote in that excerpt was not journalism, but memoir, it came from a personal place and was, safe to say, rather one-sided in the adjectives he used." I took that to mean that Waylon was distinguishing between journalism and memoir, which seems legitimate.

    The thing I'm objecting to is the ad hominem arguments proliferated by people on this site. Understandably, Waylon's statement that "I know every fact and rumor about Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche" was hyperbole, but it doesn't follow that his desire to distinguish fact from rumor and to energize a community to ammend wikipedia (a community-driven web-based information resource) is misguided.

    I understand that Waylon's personality may rub some people the wrong way, but I don't see why his personal ambitions should be stomped on en route to I-don't-know-what.

    Personally, I'm just as frustrated with the ambiguous posts of other students, the "I don't know" variety. On one side, people are wantonly flinging mud (so it's hard to discern fact from smear) and on the other side, there's just reticence and silence. Rather unsatisfying. That's my point.

    -Nathan Smith (yes, living in Texas, born in Boulder)

  19. elephantjournal says:

    Via a consort of the Vidyadhara who gave permission to post her thoughts but asked to remain anonymous:

    Dear Waylon,
    I am writing to share this with you, encouraged by [a friend] to speak. I hope this helps give a more accurate picture of who Trungpa Rinpoche was, and still is.
    Yours,
    X

    I hope you don't mind, I feel I would like to share my own experience of Trungpa Rinpoche. I was a consort, and never had any experience such as the one described below. I was always treated with love, affection and humour. There was no escaping my mind when I was with Trungpa Rinpoche, and being a consort was not about sex, but about waking up, and connecting to passion without grasping. There was so much more that I learned from Rinpoche, from singing the anthem with him at dinner, playing the Qualities game, and now, all these years later, he is near me at a heartbeat, waking me up still.

    I knew John and Nancy as well, and don't really know what their experience of him was, but I personally feel that what they have written is an exaggerated and inaccurate picture of who Trungpa Rinpoche was.
    Thanks, X.

    —My response—
    Thanks so much, X. I was and am friends with several consorts and have always heard positive things. My mom was asked once to be with Rinpoche, she declined and they went on being close as close can be for 10 years. No "retribution." I was simply saying that this stuff was on Wikipedia, and that I thought it was way out of line with what I'd heard, and that it should be taken down unless anyone could back that stuff up.

    If you do want to share this on our article, with or without your name, it might help to quiet down the folks who think Rinpoche was some sort of rock star.

    Yours,

    Way

  20. Anita says:

    um imho – do ya all wanna be right or do you want to be love? just sayin…

  21. Via Judy:

    I'm not sure that this post made it to Sangha-announce but here it is. Cheers, Judy.

    I went to seminary with John but did not know him well. I recently spoke with someone who did know him well who says that Nancy's part of the book is filled with inaccuracies. She was the one who saw that it got published after John IV's death.

    I don't intend to read the book and am not in a position to know the truth behind the stories, but I suggest that anyone who does know the truth, go to Amazon.com where one can buy the book and also write a review.
    The book has received 9 reviews so far, most of them giving it 5 stars.

    Submit your review if you are in a position to comment.

    In the dharma, Judy

  22. Boulder Observer says:

    The fact that Waylon Lewis turns not the Buddha eye but the eye of denial toward serious illicit drug dependecy, sexual abuse, pedophilia, rape, and other ethical perversions will certainly do wonders for his political future.

  23. Alex G - CTR student says:

    The issue in question is not whether Trungpa Rinpoche tried cocaine. He never hid the fact that he experimented with the drugs which were popular amongst his students in the 1970s. As a kid, I remember sitting around the kitchen table with friends and family, as Rinpoche's wife told a touching and hilarious tale of Rinpoche trying LSD in their Montreal apartment, just after they arrived in North America. What is memorable about the story is that the primary reaction the drug elicited from Rinpoche was laughter. Doing such drugs was clearly not a preoccupation for him.

    I wonder where John Steinbeck Junior arrived as the magic number of $40,000 a year. Wow! That's a BIG number. I met Steinbeck in Boulder in 1978 when I was a high school kid, and I remember him as a profoundly morose and somewhat lost alcoholic. Although a nice man, I question his recall and narrative skills from that time.

  24. Boulder Observer says:

    .Steinbeck was clean and sober before he did the research on VROT and VACT in 1987. If you want a mature dialogue, go over to Beliefnet (referenced above) and drop these ad hominem attacts. This isn't about who said what. It's about the need to keep secrets and suppress investigation with arrogance and censorship.

  25. I believe the people most upset on this post do have to be taken seriously. They are holding some strong feelings based on personal experience, not hearsay. Feelings which suggest that what they witnessed has left them shaken and sorry they didn't speak up more, object, step in, resist.

    The Vidyadhara’s actions, his teachings/empowerments and his personal outcomes are not each the same thing. One can talk about the merits of one and the harmful outcomes from another, and love him unreservedly as a teacher, friend and guide.

    No one “embodies” enlightenment. Whatever life and body we’re handed to live through at this birth becomes a second-by-second gamble with fun, distasteful, indifferent, tricky and, rarely and sometimes, “enlightening” outcomes… if we are paying very close attention to life as it passes, as few of us are. That is perhaps why one of the nicknames for the Kagyu is the “mishap lineage,” is it not?

    I personally feel that Rinpoche was a bit disappointed in us. We could have given him more of a fight…. continued at – http://mishaplineage.wordpress.com

  26. damcho raphel says:

    Reading recommendations: 1: The Double Mirror, by Stephen T. Butterfield. This is a brave, honest and intimate memoir. 2: The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power, by Joel Kramer & Diana Alstad. This is more generic in that it's not specifically about CTR and Vajradhatu, but there is a huge value in thinking about patterns of human behavior that show up repeatedly in many different religious organizations of all different traditions. Even if we are students of The One And Only CTR, we are still human, and so was he, and we can recognize ourselves in these pages.

  27. (Just entering this so I can subscribe to any future comments.)

  28. anti-vitriolic says:

    too much talk, too little information. What is the problem with Trunpga and cocaine, or women? He was a man, for god's sake. A Mahasiddha, but a man! No dharma is affected, just listen to him.

  29. […] I didn’t like this at all, trust the English to put a damper on things. Good old Wikipedia was a little more life-affirming: “the quality of being modest, reverential, even politely […]

  30. jan hendrik says:

    Would Trungpa care? I guess not. Then why would you? What is it that you devote your energy to? Memories of your own thoughts about thougts of athers about Trungpa??
    Maybe there might be something better here and now.

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  33. Melissa says:

    I am supposed to take the refuge vow this weekend-this is the first time I have heard any of these allegations and I am horrified! I dont know what to do now…I was so ready and excited to take the vow and follow this path, but I dont know if I can follow the teachings of someone who lived such a hypocritical life.

  34. Would you be inquisitive about exchanging hyperlinks?

  35. jesse mackinnon says:

    +
    westerners are so delusional re: eastern mystics and guru's. I have friends that still worship Osho never bothering to investigate how much pain and suffering he and his minions visited against those in his own community and neighbors in Oregon. Or Muktanada and the many children who testified to being raped. In a way trungpa and the Viceroy were the worst -deluded into believing they could do anything and be above rthe consequences. I have the theory that many of these from humble asian villages achieve, through Karma and discipline high levels of awareness perhaps just short of full enlightenment and are brought to the west where thousands of beautiful mostly young americans worship them and believe they can do no wrong —–and they fail the final test for the ego

  36. Asking questions are in fact fastidious thing if you are not understanding something completely,

    however this piece of writing provides pleasant understanding even.

  37. David says:

    Just saw Crazy Wisdom, and I've come to the conclusion that Trungpa was nothing more than a cult leader whose cult is still apologizing for him to this day. He was nothing but another jive-assed preacher working only for his own benefit, and he took a lot of innocent people with him.

  38. edward says:

    Missed it all.
    All of the books, tapes and seminars. Difficult for me to accept that someone addicted to alcohol, drugs and sex would have the clarity of mind to express all that knowledge and accomplish so much. Yes, i was not there but am here now.
    "We could have given him more of a fight…. " Yes, i sometimes consider the viewpoint that certain teachers create an environment and/or atmosphere around them just to see what we will do. A few might go to extremes to shock us us out of our habitual patterns and self-absorption. I am delighted that Trungpa maintains his presence in our thoughts, discussion, gossip and even unfair analysis. Why – because he is still here. Someone reading this will log off, and simply sit quietly for awhile and maybe – simply be. Trungpa is gone? 😉

  39. Janelle says:

    To the person who wrote that a teenaged girl committed suicide as a result of being CTR's consort. That makes me so upset. Is this information verifiable? If it is true than, Shambhala International needs to make amends to that family even if the incident occurred in the distant past. Could someone else with inside information please speak to this. And no devotion to the guru cover ups please. The truth.

  40. Eily says:

    Dear elephant journal, I am one of those newish students. I have been involved with Shambhala and meditating for 7 years. I have found Trungpa's teachings very helpful. At the same time, I am trying to integrate whatever happened during the Merwin incident and also the vajra regent's reputed behavior (keeping his HIV/ AIDS positive status secret while having sex with students, possibly even condoned by Trungpa Rinpoche, possibly raping one of his students) into the existing framework in my head. I already know that the Dorje Dradul was quite controversial- smoking, drinking, and having sex with some of his students. All the same, what I've read on Wikipedia about the Merwin incident and about the vajra regent make me want to know more about what really happened. I understand Merwin talked his way into a restricted event and then was not participating, and that Merwin and his girlfriend themselves didn't make a big deal out of the events…. what is known about the Merwin incident? What is known about the regent? Apparently, the Vidyadhara planned to designate Osel Tendzin as Regent for a long time – a decision he allegedly made soon after meeting Thomas Rich, a decision that according to Lady Diana (via Wikipedia), he subsequently regretted. Another thing that raises questions for me is that it is said that some or all of the Kasung during these rumored events stood by or even helped their teachers with these more fuzzily ethical activities that may (or may not) have happened back in the day. Perhaps Trungpa was testing bystanders as well as Merwin and his girlfriend. At the same time, even senior teachers are still human and fallible and every one has different teaching styles, some of which raise more hackles than others, and there are such things as crazy wisdom and idiot compassion, but also one sees things through the lenses of one's own ordinary-people ethics and does wonder. So, I am curious about what is to be known about these things, if you or your commenters can tell me, and what is as far as we know, simply rumor. Thank you.

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