What if I told you that there was a Buddhist monk that escaped Tibet just as the Chinese invaded, smoked, hung out with Allen Ginsberg and married a 16-year-old girl? Oh, and I forgot to mention that he opened the first Buddhist retreat in the Western world.
Welcome to the world of Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche, who some have described as ‘the bad boy of Buddhism.’ “Crazy Wisdom,” directed by Johanna Demetrakas, tells the story of the monk and his struggle to bring Buddhism to the Western world.
Rinpoche is probably personally responsible for the association of Buddhism with American hippies — he traveled to the United States in the summer of 1970 and spread his gospel there. He dressed as a hippie, lived with hippies, and may or may not have shared bathing habits with hippies. What he did not share was the hippie predilection for weed — he called a group of followers to a meeting and subsequently destroyed their entire stash in a fire. Bummer, man.
What caught my attention most (beyond the marrying and the smoking) was his fantastic attention to detail — he demanded that the entrance to his temple be painted to coordinate with the geometrical distribution of rods and cones in the human eye. His discerning eye, however, caused controversy among his followers. His suggestion that they don suits and ties and reintegrate to mainstream America in order to subtly influence American culture was met with uproarious laughter.
However, those that were devoted to him were, and are, devoted to a degree that defies belief. One of his followers describes watching him set a table for three hours as “a work of art.” I can personally say that I’ve attempted to use the same argument, but my mom just yelled at me and told me to stop messing around. Buddhist masters have all the luck in the world.
I have to say that I respect the hell out of Rinpoche — any monk that can identify watered-down sake by smell is alright by me. Although he died at a young age, probably due in no small part to massive alcoholism, his own personal brand of “crazy wisdom” was invaluable in bringing Buddhism to the West.
“Crazy Wisdom” premiers Saturday, February 5 at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.