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Mar 30
VCTR Tributes
Falling in Love with a Buddha

by Frank Berliner

To commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Vidyadhara, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s parinirvana, Frank Berliner has published a book that recalls his encounters with this engaging and enigmatic teacher. Here is an excerpt. You can order a copy of the book, or download it as an ebook, here.

This book has come into existence as the result of my meeting an authentic spiritual master when I was twenty-eight years old, and resolving from then on to dedicate my life to studying with him and serving him.

It is inspired by the simple reality that I was fortunate enough to be alive when he was alive; that in every interaction with him, he seemed in some utterly uncanny way to embody the raw truth at the very heart of life; and that, at very rare and always unexpected times, I seemed to have been paying attention when he did.

My teacher was a wild holy man. He changed my life and the lives of many, many others in ways that we are only just beginning to fathom. In that sense, this book presents the story of my life as only one reflection in the radiant mirror of his life. It is certainly not the story of his life in any complete way, since none of us who knew him could ever write about more than the few reflections each of us saw in entering his world. Like the blind men touching the elephant in the Buddha’s parable, each of us encountered only one facet of his enormous life, and we each interpreted that encounter according to the particular limitations of our own consciousness.


When you think about the first time you may have met someone – your mate, your lover, or your best friend, for example – you can remember it as a particular time and place, a particular situation with its unique details. It was the first time, and then every experience you have afterwards with that person is no longer the first time.

Photo courtesy of Bob Morehouse.

With Rinpoche it is different. Meeting him, no matter how many times, is always the first time. For that matter it is always the last time as well.

I actually met him for the very first time in Lindy’s sugarhouse one spring day, by proxy, as it were. I still hadn’t seen him and didn’t yet know what he looked like. But I’d come upon just a few words in a little saffron-colored book with a beautiful red Sanskrit letter on its cover, and from that day on he was with me as though we’d always known each other:

Buddha never claimed that he was an Incarnation of God, or any kind of Divine Being. He was just a simple human being who had gone through certain things and had achieved the awakened state of mind. It is possible, partially possible at least, for any of us to have such an experience.
~ Meditation in Action, by Chogyam Trungpa

“Yes, of course,” I would tell myself happily as the maple sap bubbled nearby. “Somehow I’ve always known this. I was just waiting for someone to put it into exactly the right words.”

Fifteen months later, as I sit in a high school auditorium in Colorado in a crowd of perhaps five hundred young spiritual seekers like myself, I see a short Tibetan man in a lightweight summer three-piece suit make his way to the stage with a noticeable limp. He is clean-shaven and attended by a young American man my age, also clean-shaven and dressed in jacket and tie. His jet-black hair is long but neatly groomed.

This cannot possibly – I say to myself – be the teacher I’ve just driven two thousand miles to meet! Can it?

Half an hour later, I’ve just learned to meditate in the Buddhist way from the simple instruction he gives to the whole lot of us simultaneously. He sits with uncanny stillness up on the drab stage as he speaks to us, occasionally sipping something from a ceramic goblet on the side table by his chair. Behind him a fading banner celebrates the local football team’s exploits from ten years before.

“It’s very simple, actually. Follow your breath. Go out with your breath. Be the outbreath. Tschoooo!”

He proclaims all this in an unforgettably high-pitched voice, emphasizing it all with an exuberant gesture of his right arm sweeping out into the space onto the tops of our heads like a strange blessing. His sudden smile is dazzling. Then it vanishes without a trace back into his stillness.

We all sit and meditate together. My mind wanders idly to this thought and that. Meditation is boring. I just want to look at him right now. Is that allowed?

Come back to the breath! I chastise myself.

I sneak another look. He’s still immovably there. I notice now that his left arm hangs somewhat lifelessly at his side.

“Why do we follow the outbreath?” a student asks him afterwards. “Why not the inbreath?”

Photo courtesy of Michael Wood.

“Well, it’s like coming home from a hard day at work…” Rinpoche begins, reaching for the goblet and taking a long swallow. “When you go to the kitchen, open your refrigerator, take out a beer, go to your TV room, turn the TV on, and flop down on the couch, the next thing you do is never – ”

Just then he makes an exaggerated sucking sound on the intake of his breath. It seems almost to drain the hall of air, and to compel all of us to hold our breath for a moment, too. Then the whole audience’s energy releases in a wave of laughter. As if he has just delivered a perfectly timed punch line in a transcendental comedy club: Of course! The outbreath! Got it! Laughter itself is an outbreath. Never noticed that before…

“It seems to be connected with some sense of relaxation, don’t you think?” he adds with a wide grin as the hubbub subsides, taking another draft from that clunky goblet. I look around at the smiling faces of bearded men and beaded women.

Who is this person? I ask myself. I resolve then and there that I must find out more.

And it seems that with every step I take to find out more, or to meet him again, a peculiar cosmic law is operating. It is a law that dictates that my life will fall apart a little bit more.

Frank Berliner became a student of the Vidyadhara, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, during the first summer of the Naropa Institute in 1974. He lived at Karme Choling from 1974-78, and spent the next fourteen years as national director of Shambhala Training and ambassador to the Berkeley Dharmadhatu. He teaches contemplative and existential psychology as well as meditation at Naropa University, and maintains a private practice as a life coach and psychotherapist. Frank lives with his wife Nan in Boulder, Colorado.

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2 responses to “ Falling in Love with a Buddha ”
  1. Robert O'Keefe
    Apr 5, 2012

    What hits me from those days, and seems to be corroborated by others recollections is the perfect blend of niavete and thirst for experience/knowledge on the part of we seekers and VCTR’s simple but trnascendent humorousness(i.e.-joy) that radiated from him and captivated us all.

    Thanks Frank.

  2. Jan Watson
    Mar 31, 2012

    “Those were the days my friend. We thought they’d never end !”
    And in some way they never have… :-)
    Thanks for writing the book…

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