Beyond the Shower Curtain
by Acharya Bill McKeever
In 1974 Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche invited His Holiness the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa to visit his fledgling sangha and its centers in the United States. In the roughly four years Rinpoche had been in North America, he had been quite successful attracting a devoted following of students. He was equally successful in gathering spirited controversy about his behavior and methods.
As news of the impending visit of His Holiness the 16th Karmapa spread, the controversy surrounding Trungpa Rinpoche intensified. There was a network of western “tibetophiles” who had spent time in Nepal and India with Tibetan teachers, and considered themselves expert, or at least knowledgeable about who was who in Tibetan Buddhism. One camp of those critical of Trungpa Rinpoche held that he had become corrupted by the west as his dissolute lifestyle demonstrated.
Well, how did that one turn out?
I’ll get to that in a minute….
First, closer to home: For months, Rinpoche worked tirelessly, and worked us tirelessly, transforming our familiar, furry, casual hippy culture to formality, to suits and ties and satin and gold leaf in a few short months. He said he was preparing us to meet a true dharmaraja, a dharma king.
One night shortly before His Holiness arrived, I was sitting with Rinpoche in his room at Tail of the Tiger. I asked Rinpoche what he wanted us to learn from His holiness’ visit. He was quiet for a few minutes, then, peering over his glasses, he said softly, “Well….for one thing…. you’ll see how you’ve been mistreating me all these years.”I was floored, and didn’t know what to say. The next day we had an executive committee meeting of the Tail of the Tiger leadership to prepare for His Holiness’ arrival. I reported on my troubling conversation with Rinpoche the night before. We all took it quite seriously, and we discussed what he must have meant by his comment. After an extended discussion we decided to take decisive action. And what was that action? This is embarrassing, but it goes to show you what small vision we had, and how we had no idea of the preciousness of this mahasiddha teacher who was miraculously in our midst or how to treat him.
What was our considered action to show Rinpoche that we really appreciated him? It was to buy the more expensive of two shower curtains for his house at Tail that we recently renovated. We’d go for the deluxe $60 maroon shower curtain rather than the cheaper $12 plastic one.
I kid you not. A shower curtain…..that was the best we could do…
As for the Karmapa’s triumphal visit, it was a huge success, traveling to Boston, New York City, Tail of the Tiger in Vermont, Boulder and Shambhala Mountain Center, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Literally several thousand people met His Holiness at one of his Black Crown Ceremonies. And the effect on our community was profound. In many ways, this was when we started to grow up.
As for the Karmapa’s evaluation of Trungpa Rinpoche, take one guess which side of the controversy he supported?
At the conclusion of his visit he issued a statement. It was entitled: “Proclamation to all Those Who Dwell Under the Sun Upholding the Tradition of the Spiritual and Temporal Orders.”
It read as follows:
So much for the Karmapa’s denunciation of Trungpa Rinpoche and his methods. The controversy was settled – at least as far as the Kagyu lineage was concerned.
The ancient and renowned lineage of the Trungpas, since the great siddha Trungmase Chokyi Gyamtso Lodro, possessor of only holy activity, has in every generation given rise to great beings. Awakened by the vision of these predecessors in the lineage, this my present lineage holder, Chokyi Gyamtso Trungpa Rinpoche, supreme incarnate being, has magnificently carried out the vajra holders discipline in the land of America, bringing about the liberation of students and ripening them in the dharma. This wonderful truth is clearly manifest.
Accordingly, I empower Chogyam Trungpa Vajra Holder and Possessor of the Victory Banner of the Practice Lineage of the Karma Kagyu. Let this be recognized by all people of both elevated and ordinary station.
And the rest as they say, is history…
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