Work, Sex, Money: Real Life on the Path of Mindfulness by Chögyam Trungpa

A Tricycle Book Club Discussion with Carolyn Rose Gimian

Work, sex, and money: these are among the most powerful elements of everyday life, and they are topics that preoccupy us, almost every day. In relationship to work, innumerable books, articles, TV programs and internet sites give career advice, tell you how to dress for the workplace, deal with bullies or bosses, ask for a raise, or be an effective manager.  Our obsession with sex and relationships is addressed, and titillated, in print and by film, television and the internet, whether we prefer fiction, the tabloids, or “reality” TV. Money has become an increasing source of anxiety. How to save, how to spend wisely, how to make more money, how to do more with less, exhilaration when the stock market rises, panic when we lose our job: we have lots of issues with money.

Chögyam Trungpa had much to say about those themes, in their own right and in relationship to meditation, mindfulness, and how we conduct our lives. I helped to edit three seminars he gave on these topics, which make up most of the material in this recently-published book. I found that what Trungpa Rinpoche talked about then, in the 1970s, still resonates with experience today.

The book begins with an overview of the whole terrain. In the first chapter, Rinpoche asks this question:

As Buddhist practitioners or practitioners of meditation, we are supposed to be immersed in the contemplative tradition and spiritual practice. Why would we discuss work, sex, and money?

Why indeed! Rinpoche then offers this perspective:

You may find that, in spite of your spiritual intentions, your life is involved with work, sex, and money anyway. In that case, maybe there is something to be said about those subjects after all. On the whole, we are not strictly spiritual or religious at all. People have to look for work. They have to find a J-O-B. We work for money. We may find that we are building our lives around sex and more generally on relationships.

Then the question is, are we really working on spirituality or not? If so, there is something that we might not have thought about: that spirituality isn’t really “spirituality” in an idealized sense. Do you think spirituality is something purely transcendental? It’s questionable. Real spirituality might have something to do with ordinary life.

Chögyam Trungpa then places these topics in the context of sacredness, which is quite an interesting shift. He writes:

The whole question boils down to whether we regard society as sacred. Society does contain profundity and sacredness. The sacredness of society is potent and powerful... We have to see not only the basic happenings (in our lives) but also their basic quality of energy, the energy that they contain... Work, sex, and money are actually the energy outlet of society, its energy radiation, the expression of its sacredness.

While that sounds intriguing, we all know that these areas of  life are the source of many persistent difficulties. It's easier to say that everything is sacred than to live our lives from that point of view. If it were easy, no book on this subject would be needed, or the book would have just one chapter. But it has seventeen, so there must be more to the story!

In emphasizing the importance of our experience of daily life, Chögyam Trungpa is not suggesting that we abandon meditation. He's not saying to embrace work, sex, and money as opposed to meditation. Not at all. He suggests that they are complementary parts of life. We need both meditation on the cushion and meditation in action, and we flourish when we can bring the two together. In Chapter Two, "Meditation and Daily Life," he says:

In meditation, you don’t have interactions with people or the world outside verbally or physically, but still the practice is a way of relating with phenomena directly, rather than being caught in the centralized games of ego. Meditation is not a matter of withdrawing—you are not drawing in, retreating from the world. In fact, you are getting into the world. Until now the world hasn’t been able to show us its fullest expressions, because we never let it happen. We were constantly seduced by this or that. In the meantime, we were missing the boat all the time. Whenever there is an upheaval or uproar—all kinds of energies coming up—our minds are preoccupied with something else. We never become conscious of those things properly. But in meditation there is a sense of forthcoming, opening. Meditation allows us to see the hidden things, so we don’t miss one moment of energy or upheaval. We see them clearly and precisely because we don’t evaluate them. Evaluation requires more self-consciousness, and in the meantime, while we are evaluating, we miss something else. We miss the implications that happen around those energies that arise in our minds.

So in this case, meditation is a way of developing clarity, which allows us to see the precision of daily life situations as well as our thought process, so that we can relate with both of them fully and completely.

After discussing some of the general issues that frame the discussion of work, sex, and money for practitioners of meditation, Trungpa Rinpoche gets into the juicy details, with several chapters on each topic. The chapters on work are not just about the workplace and one’s career or profession. The author looks at general issues of conduct and discipline in everyday life, as well as how the smallest action or everyday activity can be either an expression of simplicity and wakefulness or a source of chaos, pain, and confusion. The section on sex includes both a broad discussion or sexual energy and passion, as well as discussion of relationships and relating sanely to family dynamics. In the section on money, Rinpoche looks generally at money as a form of energy. Chapters on the ethical approach to money and relating sanely to economics while being in business are included. The book concludes with two chapters on karma and panoramic awareness that tie together the whole discussion of a meditative or contemplative experience of everyday life.

Chögyam Trungpa witnessed and immersed himself in vastly different human circumstances and life styles. In Tibet he was an incarnate lama and the abbot of an important monastery in Eastern Tibet. He was raised in the monastic tradition, which he fully embraced in his early years. Tibet was not a culture of luxury, but within that modest society, he lived a privileged life. With the increasing presence and dominance of the Chinese in the 1950s, he experienced the devastation and destruction of his culture, and he was forced to leave his monastery, his family, and his country behind, forever, in 1959. He became a poor refugee in India. He led a frugal life in England, and during his early days in North America he had very little money. In the 1970s, he married and started a family, and in his later years, he led a householder's life of material comfort and relative affluence. He was an artist, a playwright, and a poet. He was the president of a university and of a large association of spiritual groups, he sat on the board of many businesses and organizations, and he helped to start a number of non-profit and for profit enterprises. In all of the life situations Rinpoche encountered, he harmonized and demonstrated  both nonattachment and engagement. He didn’t shy away from life at all, yet he wasn’t trapped in life either. He made many mistakes and had many transitions in his life, and he learned from his experiences. So when he speaks in this volume of the very human challenges of working in the world, being a sexual being, engaging in intimate relationships, and relating to wealth, poverty and money, he speaks from a broad base of experience rather than preaching from afar.

Chögyam Trungpa had an enormous effect on the standard English vocabulary now used in connection with Buddhism and the practice of sitting meditation in the West. Meditation-in-action was one of the phrases he coined, and it was also the title of his first book of Buddhist teachings, published in 1969. If that title had not been used then, it could have been the title or subtitle for this book. In 1973, Trungpa Rinpoche replied to a letter (from someone he had never met), with these comments about his personal life, in which he explains the meaning of meditation in action:

With regard to your inquiry about my lifestyle, you must understand that I regard myself as an ordinary person. I am a householder, who makes mortgage payments. I have a wife and three children whom I support. At the same time, my relationship with the teachings is inseparable from my whole being. I do not try to rise above the world. My vocation is working with the world....There is a fundamental idea which refuses to divide things into this or that, sacred or profane, right or wrong. That is why I write and speak of meditation in action. It is much easier to appear holy than to be sane. So the idea is to separate spirituality from spiritual materialism. This requires a practice and some courage.*

Work, Sex, Money is neither a purely theoretical tome nor a "how-to" book. It is, I think, a profoundly helpful book that espouses the conviction that every inch of life is workable and worth celebrating. For me, it helps to reveal the richness of the life of every day, providing reminders, challenging my habitual tendencies, and leaving me with conundrums and ambiguities to navigate, and ultimately embrace.

It will be very interesting to see where the discussion leads us.

Order Work, Sex, Money here from Shambhala Publications.

*Excerpt from a letter to Steven Morrow, May 10, 1973. Used by permission.

Carolyn Rose Gimian is a principal editor of the works of Chögyam Trungpa, and the co-editor of Work, Sex, Money: Real Life on the Path of Mindfulness. She is also the director of the Chögyam Trungpa Legacy Project and a meditation teacher, trained by Chögyam Trungpa. Carolyn lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

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Carolyn Gimian's picture

Thank you Mitaky for these comments and for the link to the terrific post about the practice of giving and receiving alms. I found it very inspiring.

It's been delightful to discuss this book and the ideas in it with members of the TRICYCLE community. Thanks to everyone who contributed and dropped by to read what was being discussed. And a big thanks to TRICYCLE for providing this online space and for all their support.

To close this forum, words from Chogyam Trungpa himself, from the closing chapter of the book:

I hope that you will be able to put into effect what we've discussed, in practical
ways. No doubt, what we've talked about might clarify your problems, but at the same
time, the discussion might confuse us more. That confusion is the starting point. It is what
we have to work with in everyday life.

We have been talking extensively about the importance of appreciating and
working with our mundane life as a source of sanity and awareness. Often there is a
perceived conflict between our ordinary life and sitting meditation. Seeing a conflict
between those two comes from the inability to perceive the background of panoramic
awareness that is present in our daily situations. There is always an undercurrent of
panoramic awareness that acts as guidance. That is the source and inspiration for being
skillful in daily life. Relating to that does not mean having to be rigid and careful, or
overly watchful. Nevertheless, there should be some acknowledgment that the space of
awareness is there. There should be just a fraction of a second of acknowledgment.
Through this acknowledgment, a sense of spaciousness spontaneously arises that
provides the right perspective, or distance, between action and reaction.

For the beginner, relating to this awareness may require some level of watching
oneself or deliberateness. In the long run, however, watching doesn't come into the
picture. For instance, if a chaotic situation happens, there is uncertainty about how to deal
with that, and that uncertainty flashes back on us. That uncertainty itself becomes space.
In other words, each time there is doubt, the doubt itself brings a kind of bewilderment but that bewilderment becomes space, spaciousness. In that way, a sort of natural, inbuilt
understanding of the situation happens. In that sense, there is a shock absorber that is
always present.

That kind of awareness is based on a certain amount of trust, or optimism.
Basically, nothing is regarded as a failure or as dangerous. Rather, whatever arises is
experienced as part of a creative and loving relationship toward oneself. That subtle
confidence and optimism automatically bring skillful means, because we realize there is
no need to be panicked. We have a warrior's attitude towards life, which could also be
described as faith or belief in our life, or possibly as devotion to our experience and our
world. Whatever happens, we always have a fundamental positive quality about our
experience of life. Such faith could be said to be the source of an almost magical
performance. If a person relies on that confidence, it is almost as though she is going to
perform a miracle, and she is taking quite a chance that the miracle might not happen.
However, because she has confidence, she almost knows it will happen, and she does
what she has to do, and the miracle does happen. That kind of fundamental positive
approach runs right through all situations in dealing with life. It also becomes a
meditative experience, because it is a purely optimistic attitude without watcher, without
ego, without centralizing in the self or being careful. This whole positive flow can only
happen if there is no centralized security. Instead, there is basic faith and belief in one's
wholesomeness, in one's fundamental healthy situation.

Monty McKeever's picture

Thank you so much for everything Carolyn! I finished the book over the weekend and it was fantastic. Great teacher, great editors!

mitaky's picture

Carolyn, I wanted to add that oppressive global networks of multinational businesses, WTO, IMF, World Bank etc, and failure of centralized banking is pointing out to us that our money system is certainly not working as 'mother's milk'. Motherhood itself has taken an ignoble backseat under patriarchy. I remember how afraid I was to ask for a leave or early dismissal in my first job due to my child's sickness. So many mothers and some fathers struggle between raising a family and keeping their jobs. Many women in career jobs simply postpone or skip altogether having a child. Stress in full time jobs has gone up sharply over the years in US. Sacredness in society requires less stressed families. Along with machines and industrialization there was increasing separation of 'human psyche' from 'nature' and natural ecology.

The practice of taking alms by monastics from the lay community in Buddha's time and still practised in some Buddhist countries in Asia is not like 'begging' we see today. On the contrary the practice of 'dana' suggest continued existence of gift economy that prevailed in many non-western cultures since ancient times. Free lunch for no 'work' is looked down upon in the West where the protestant work ethic makes it seem ignoble and shameful. Unlike privileged Brahmin priests who felt entitled to all sorts of lavish gifts from kings to spiritually ignorant and socially oppressed, the empty bowl of monastics have been filled even by the materially poor to this day for monks uphold wisdom, compassion and virtue in society. Buddha said dana of dharma surpasses all other gifts. The ordinary people and lowest castes were to be uplifted through the free teaching/gift of dharma.

Buddha was a great social reformer and innovator. It also kept monks modest (vinaya also means humility) and egoless and monks were prohibited to accept monetary and other lavish gifts. However this alms or 'dana' giving degenerated along with rise of 'spiritual materialism' as society became greedy, competitive and corrupt with money and resources and most unwilling to share food and material possession. I am sure the increasing solidification of personal and private property concepts along with growing urbanization played a role. That's all for now.

We all get free lunch of 'prana' effortlessly from nature. Mindfulness of breath and pacing work and life with the natural rythym of breath seems to be the major responsibility of our time. Just came across this link the other day.


Carolyn Gimian's picture

Hello! Thank you Fairway Linda for joining in. There are a number of discussions of the monastic tradition in WORK, SEX, MONEY -- and some interesting comments on how our "practice" may differ in the West. For example, Chogyam Trungpa talks about the virtues of the monastic practice of begging and problems with begging as a practice in contemporary Western society:

In Asia there is the tradition of the monks wandering through the countryside and begging for their food, which is a little like hitchhiking might be in this country. I don’t think we can practice this approach in America, particularly. For one thing, it is not socially acceptable. Also, if you started doing this without the proper background, you might begin to feel you are a special person. You might make a spectacle of yourself, which would just create a self-conscious egotistical problem. Generally, in Buddhist countries in Asia, mendicant monks are part of the community. They are accepted in society. In Tibet there were lots of monks doing that, and they had no problem of survival at all. They didn’t have to go to more than ten doors begging for food. They would get chunks of meat and butter and bags of barley flour and all the other things they might need. If they went to more than ten families, they would get more than they could carry. The relationship to giving food was very different in Tibet. People weren’t hesitant to give. They were concerned about taking care of the person who needed food, and they cared about the relationship. They gave large quantities automatically. It was just the habitual way of doing things. Somehow I don’t think we can really practice that here, sadly.
For the monks, this way of life expressed simplicity. It wasn’t an expression of poverty mentality. With this monastic approach, you don’t worry about survival. You live day-to-day. You think just of today; you don’t think of tomorrow. Tomorrow comes, it doesn’t come—either way, you don’t worry. You continue to live in a very simple way. It is an everyday life of simplicity.

("The Question of Money," pages 162-163)

I find that Trungpa Rinpoche expresses a lot of fondness for monasticism -- but clearly he didn't find it relevant for his own life in the West, and in this book he doesn't seem to see that it will play the same leading role that it played in Asia. I think many Buddhist monastic lineages are now having to contemplate how the teachings will be preserved in the future -- because of difficulties in keeping monastic lineages going in our modern world. Perhaps there will always be people who follow the monastic path ( I personally hope so) but there is still a big question about how to bring the teachings into the lives of people who don't follow that path. Trungpa Rinpoche was one who felt that a secular lifestyle was not a hindrance to realization. In fact, it could be an inspiration and an aid. And it seems that the householder's approach will be the norm for many serious practitioners in the West.

fairway Linda's picture

I am late to the party! I just received the book in the mail and am looking forward to it. NOT a Shambhala student, but being (at least partially) in the Maezumi Roshi lineage I know my fair share about teachers who are shall we say unconventional by Western/American conventions, and how they still have wisdom to offer. This book seems very "worldly" The CTR I am interested in is the sort of ethereal or traditional one, as in, this guy was actually a student in a monastery at one time! Hard to believe from his later incarnation as being Westernized. Was this his upaya? Anyway, sorry to be here so late to the party, thanks for introducing me to this and looking forward to reading it!!
Aside, who are the main students of trungpa Rinpoche still active today? Was Pema Chodron his student?

Carolyn Gimian's picture

Good morning. Here's a quote from the book about money and karma, perhaps relevant to our discussion:

"Usually people are not aware that money is karmically related to them. Some people may be more aware than others, but the usual tendency is to think that giving your possessions or your wealth away will be like having an operation to remove a malignant tumor, and then you will be free of it. But money doesn’t work that way. That whole karmic situation comes back to you, always. So again the same old saying is true, 'Better not to begin, but once you do begin, do it properly,' We have to be able to have money and work with it but not be attached to it. It is similar to any transmutation process. You have to make a relationship with money and a relationship with possessions and not get into an extreme, impulsive renunciation kick." page 166 ("The Karma of Money")

Monty McKeever's picture

Great passage. I learned a lot from this chapter.

Carolyn Gimian's picture

Dear Mitaky,

Thanks for continuing this conversation. Your description of "Creativity and Chaos" : "dealing with the whole situation without preconception and communicating with it without judgement and becoming one with the situation." You go on to mention: "unplugging from the treadmill of resentment, negative, discursive thoughts and connecting to our basic goodness" -- that's a much better way of speaking of what I was referring to as egolessness.

The discussion of Power Love and Freedom sounds more like Adam Kahane (POWER AND LOVE is the title of his recent book) than Reggie, but I don't know Reggie's work that well --

In any case, you are asking the 64,000 $ question: how do we infuse work, sex and money with love rather than being subject to habitual patterns of materialism and poverty mind -- I think the chapter "The Myth of Happiness" is provocative here. Trungpa Rinpoche writes: "People think they are embarking on the spiritual path, but they soon find themselves into spiritual materialism. It is much easier to get into the spiritual materialism that is associated with the competitive world than to get into true spirituality, which means giving up our ambitions and aggression." It sure is!


Carolyn Gimian's picture

Hello Again,

Oliver: thanks for your comments about irritation and awareness. Ever since you raised this issue, I've been finding myself dealing with a lot of irritation. Pretty amusing. Once the missile is on its way, which it has been for me a few times this week, I'd say it's the 3 H's. In this case: humor, humility, and hindsight, or learning from your mistakes. I think it's actually very important to realize how little one has realized, over all, if that makes any sense. I find that the things that irritate me are often those I can learn the most from. So it can be very helpful to be irritated and provoked and to have to work with those challenges, as long as that is accompanied by enough space to process what is happening. The space isn't always there immediately, but if there's just constant speed, challenge, and irritation with no possibility of integrating that, then I'm not sure how helpful it is.

On the issue of getting used to awareness: that seems extremely perceptive. In a seminar published as a sourcebook, in a talk called "Crazy Wisdom," Chogyam Trungpa said:

"We have a great fear of complete sanity. Let's face it! We don't like being completely sane, completely awake. We really don't like it! We would like to have a home touch so that we can indulge in ourselves as well as inviting somebody else to indulge in us. We would like to take a break here and there...we don't want to be completely sane."

The good news is that it's a choice -- it's completely possible to be awake.
I'd love to hear more if you have more to say!

For now, Carolyn

mitaky's picture

Thanks Carolyn. It is not hard to see much of our military industrial complex and particulary WMD systems are driven by a paranoia and propaganda that enemy is out there and that killing and violence makes us safe in the long run. May be such paranoia and poison creates the condition or ground for methods and technologies like internet to break out of the paranoia. What happens if one is not even aware of eating, producing and distributing poison and harming not just humanity but the planetary ecology in unimaginable ways?

Some soldiers have their moment of awakening after repeated engagement where death is staring at them. Unintended consequences of war are vast, not just physical damage, but mental, emotional and psychological trauma that lingers in the collective psyche and may be plays out karmically through generations. The question of right action and right livelihood becomes paramount when one becomes aware of the unintended consequences of one's habitual action, reaction or inaction on family, other people and inner/outer environment.

I am curious about the last two chapters you mention and the approach CTR is talking about in "Creativity and Chaos" about dealing with the whole situation without preconception and communicating with it without judgement and becoming one with the situation. Does one do that by unplugging from the treadmill of resentment, negative, discursive thoughts and connecting to our basic goodness? I am not so sure about 'egolessness' as it seem to be tainted by western notion/perception of 'ego'. Is it the same thing as anatta or non-self as historical Buddha taught?

This temporary mind-body experiences of Vajrayana is mostly as raw energy of emotion and feeling, not always coming from immediate cause or surrounding. Read somewhere Vajrayana is a journey of Love, Power and Freedom (may be Reggie Ray) and wondering how that interweaves through our contemporary experience with Work, Sex and Money. Since money has become the measure of everything in materialistic consumer culture how can we infuse more love into these three things, so they become liberating and fulfilling?

Carolyn Gimian's picture

Good morning. Mitaky, thank you for continuing our discussion of money and right livelihood, as we might put it. It causes me to consider the unintended consequences of our actions.

Action/reaction and cause/effect may seem very simple and somewhat mechanistic, but the details get complicated. For example: As you begin to develop more awareness of your environment, this may lead you to clean up the mess in your house or even remodel. But where does the stuff go that you clean up? Even the commitment to re-cycle may not lead to its intended consequences. If your stuff gets recycled at an industrial plant, the processing may produce a lot of pollutants that go into the environment. Or you want to drink filtered water, for a lot of good reasons, but you may be contributing empty bottles to the floating continent of plastic in the ocean or encouraging the monetization of clean drinking water, so that it's financially out of reach for many people. So that's bad consequences that arise from seemingly positive actions. (Grossly over simplified, of course.)

On the other hand, you may not like the military, but setting aside a lot of issues there, the military is often responsible for financing/supporting the development of advances in technology that we all use -- like the internet we're using right now. That's an unintended consequence that most of us won't reject.

I'm not proposing that you ignore ethics or morality, but I think that what Chogyam Trungpa is addressing in WORK, SEX, MONEY is that you have to address karma -- which is what this really is about -- in the moment and in your experience of mind/consciousness. If you act from a place that is without preconception and before confusion and good/bad arises, that is transformative. The last two chapters of the book, "Karma" and "Panoramic Awareness" relate to this. I find them mind-blowing every time I read this material. Trungpa Rinpoche is suggesting that you discover this space in your practice of meditation, and that you bring that to how you work with every aspect of work, sex, and money. It provides a method, not a solution.

One another issue you raise: One of the descriptions of Vajrayana is that, unlike other schools of Buddhist thought and practice, Vajrayana (as an expansion of the boddhisattva ideal) involves eating poison rather than avoiding it, and transmuting it into wisdom. The simplistic understanding of that statement can lead to egomania or self-indulgence, so it's a dangerous thing to discuss, and perhaps that is why a lot of Vajrayana is referred to as "self-secret." Without egolessness, transmutation is bogus -- just more self-deception. That said, it seems that we are living in an increasingly intense and chaotic situation in which some kind of heroism is required, just to survive, let alone to help the world.

What do you think? Thanks so much for contributing to the discussion, Carolyn

Carolyn Gimian's picture

Lots to contemplate, thanks to Richard, Mitaky and Oliver.

Richard:Thanks for this question. I don't like to speculate too often on what Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche would do or say or like now. But I'm intrigued by your bringing our attention to "online jewel searches which now are familiar, ordinary situations usually lacking extraordinary insight."

In my limited experience, Trungpa Rinpoche never rejected technology out of hand. He didn't seem overly fond of television, and once referred to its "criminal" effects, I believe, but he gave it a good try. His wife of many years, Diana Mukpo, reported that they watched a lot of television together in Montreal when they first arrived from England. I once watched a football game with Chogyam Trungpa and it was excruciating. All illusion was dispelled by his presence and it was incredibly boring to watch.

Rinpoche often spoke of the negative effects of mental speed and how this led to mindlessness and aggression. Encouraging mindless speed is certainly an issue with many new and current technologies.There are, however, also many positive effects. For me, a big one is the ability to communicate with people all over the world at the same time or almost in real time. Online teaching/learning is being used by many practice communities. People can gather at a certain time online to share a teaching. There are many people who practice but don't live in close proximity to a community or sangha. For them, the online community can be of great benefit. Why, TRICYCLE Magazine is providing just such a forum for us at this very moment!

Chogyam Trungpa used the internet -- just once -- on April 9th 1983. At that time, the internet was being developed and used primarily by people in universities and in the military. Trungpa Rinpoche had several students involved in the early development and application of the technology, and they set up a terminal for Rinpoche to use while he was in retreat for a year in Nova Scotia. He sent one message:

From: Kalapa Manor
To: VDH (Vajradhatu was the name of his main organization)
Subj: Retreat
Pain and pleasure are one
Peacock and goose are delicious
Listening to our hearts we found prediction In the form of crocodillian tears
Alligatorial laughter
Aren’t we lucky to be in retreat!
C.T. Mukpo 9 April 1983

Nineteen years later, to the day, and having totally forgotten about this, on April 9th 2004, I decided to start OCEAN OF DHARMA QUOTES OF THE WEEK, an e-mail service providing quotations by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche to interested subscribers. I sent out the first quote that day. A few days later, Mark Szpakowski, one of those who had helped Rinpoche set up his interent terminal, contacted me to ask if I'd consciously chosen April 9th as the date. I was pretty flabbergasted that it was the anniversary of Rinpoche's one transmission by e-mail. Anyway, I've always felt from this that Rinpoche in some way gave his blessings to the use of the internet to send out these quotes. The first day we had 108 subscribers. We now have close to 12,000.

Wow, this has gone on. More to come later....
Cheers, Carolyn

olemagic253's picture

Dear Carolyn,

thank you for your answer (flashing on openess vs. holding on)! --As far as I have understood
we can afford to relax in the postmeditation and rest in a natural awake state.
There we need no anchor for stabilizing the mind, but the foundation for
relaxation is a well trained mind through sitting meditation.
And resting in awareness should itself be relaxed: So one holds not on to this finally found freedom and centralizes the experience.

I think the "problem" is that experientially awareness in every day life feels sometimes disturbing and we (at least me) would like to get away from it.

CTR writes about irritation/bewilderment:
" You are so shaken up by it that you do something panicky and upset the whole possibility of skillfullness and dignity. Then everything becomes very pathetic. Then each subsequent time you try to deal with the irritation, because you handled it wrong at the beginning, the whole situation becomes an ongoing emergency. When you try to deal with that emergency, another emergency pops on top of the first one. Then the whole situation becomes very spiky or freaky..."

The best way would be to deal properly with irritation right at the beginning, but often you can`t
do that. If you find yourself in such a situation (when the missile is on the way so to say) is there anything you can do ? What works for you?
Besides that I think it is a more gradual process of getting accustomed to awareness, where you start with everyday situations and then you can deal properly with the real highlights of your irritation someday in the future....

Thanks, Oliver

mitaky's picture

I am wondering would CTR conduct the online jewel surfing or row his life boat?

Buddha was quite resourceful and creative in picking up thrown away rags, coloring them and sowing them up to make saffron robes (the color worn by untouchable and outcastes, something I read recently) for himself. Which was also a powerful social statement to growing social oppression of Brahminism of the time. May be CTR's disrobing and many well-known Western Buddhist Teachers' disrobing themselves to become lay teachers/practitioners are also ways of giving up social privilege and embracing this everyday samsaric realm more fully.

Carolyn you stated in the begining about the internalized violence among Aztecs and i have seen shocking images in a film ripping out of the heart of the sacrificial victims and throwing them down the steps of the temple/pyramid. Sometimes i wonder whether the Spaniards (victors) who wrote about such sacrificial practices were exaggerating them (the numbers) to hide their own repressed violent side which they amply showed in their subsequent expeditions and ruthless exploitation of Inca Gold mines etc. Some of that violence carried forth in North America through slaughter of native Americans and the institution of slavery.

The economic conquests, trade and financial imperialism under Capitalism and MNC driven consumerism has led to indirect form of violence to planet and people. You seem to be saying establishment of Vajrayana is a form of counterbalance to this violent setting sun forces. Interesting...

Money's intended purpose and goal is to nourish community and social relationships much like green energy or mother's milk ....but the huge military-industrial-nuclear weapon complex prompts us to see things as they are.

richard willaims's picture

Dear Carolyn,

Do we have any clues as how Rinpoche might have guided us in our online jewel searches which now are familiar, ordinary situations usually lacking extraordinary insight. How do you guess he might have gotten involved with Facebook? Or Or virtual shrine rooms?

Please give your imagination the free reign it has earned after years on the back burner while you were faithfully avoiding unwarranted assumptions as his editor.

Thanks, Richard

Carolyn Gimian's picture

Here's a quote (slightly altered) to start the weekend from the chapter on "Communication":

Something's wrong when spirituality is regarded as something extraordinary, something completely out of touch with everyday life. You step out into another sphere, another realm, so to speak, and you feel that this other realm is the only answer. That is why it is so important for us to talk about spirituality in connection with all the aspects of relating with our familiar world. It is possible to see ordinary situations from the point of view of an extraordinary insight -- that of discovering a jewel in a rubbish heap. You start with what you are, where you are now.

( page 98)

So where are we in our discussion? Cheers, Carolyn

Carolyn Gimian's picture

Dear Richard,

I first became ONE of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche's editors in the mid-70s. I was actually the last of the "primary" editors he worked with directly. I learned from everyone who had come before.

After I had been at Shambhala Publications as an editor for a few years, Rinpoche suggested to me that I work with two of his senior editors on an editorial project. David Rome was one of the two. (Sherab Chodzin was the other.) David was Trungpa Rinpoche's private secretary, the main editor of his poetry, and many other things. He took me under his wing, so to speak, and gave me training. A few years later, Rinpoche asked me to run the department that edited his work for him. Judy Lief (who writes frequently for TRICYCLE) left the position at that time. So I became a chief editor for Trungpa Rinpoche in 1980. That's really when I began to suspect that this would be for life! It was not just because Rinpoche asked me to do this, but because it felt so right -- as though I were made for this work. It was an odd feeling. So far, it's worked out all right....

Thanks for asking, Carolyn

richard willaims's picture

Ms. Gimian,

How did you become Trungpa Rinpoche's editor? When did you first guess this would be your life's work?


Carolyn Gimian's picture

Dear Oliver,

Thanks for writing in. It's great that the book is being read in Munich!

What a great question/issue you raise.

As far as the contrast between holding your attention on an object versus flashing:
--generally, you need to start with a technique that helps to anchor you, through mindful attention. This is often the breath in meditation, but other objects are used, as you say.

--the idea of flashing on awareness that Chogyam Trungpa discusses here is a further development, in some sense, of a more general sense of space. The image one might use is that you are rowing a boat and paying attention to the oars. At some point, your attention expands to include the water, the whole lake or ocean. So it becomes a much vaster frame of reference.

--Trungpa Rinpoche talks in this section about taking a leap, which comes up many times in the book. That is also another way of describing the "flash." You have to have somewhere to leap FROM, although you don't know where you are leaping TO -- so it's important to start with mindful concentration, which calms the mind, but then it's equally important to allow your mind to expand out, when it's ready.

Usually, it's an organic development in meditation practice, and sometimes we think it's a problem. which is interesting.

OK in Meditation in action -- you are choicelessly in a bigger space. If you try to keep a focus on any one thing, you may develop tunnel vision of some kind. Chogyam Trungpa is suggesting a more spacious view that allows you to "become one with the actual things you're working with." (page 49)
So you have a flash of being in a bigger space or a flash of awareness. What's the problem with holding onto that?

That's a pretty sophisticated question and gets to the heart of a number of things. I think there might be different answers from different readers. But one possibility is that, if you hold on to any insight, you centralize it into yourself and it becomes YOUR insight or you try to make it YOUR space. So the opportunity for an open experience -- which we might also call egolessness -- is lost.

We could certainly continue this discussion, if you'd like.
Thanks, Carolyn

olemagic253's picture

Dear Mrs. Gimian,

thank you a lot for editing these brilliant and powerful talks! They can be seen "as the necessary foundation within one`s personal discipline for creating an enlighted society" (as you say in your afterword)..

I have a concrete question about meditation in action: "Normally" the practice is introduced in terms of holding your attention to objects that are suitable for every day activities, such as the body, sense perceptions, your actions and so on. It is meant to hold your attention continously on them.
CTR suggests something quite different: Postmeditation consists of (for example in the chapter "simplicity and awareness") flashing on openness and then disown the experience afterwards completely.

"just flash on it, just acknowledge it. flash on it for a second..having acknowledged it, don´t try to hold on. you almost ignore it after that...."

Could you please elaborate a bit about the contrast between holding your attention in a continous way to an object and this "just flashing"? Thank you a lot!

With warm regards from Munich
Oliver Fuchsenthaler

Carolyn Gimian's picture

Hello All,

Monty, you raise interesting points about the interdependence of things in our lives: the good and the bad, happy and sad. Also the recognition that, although we may become more thoughtful or mindful people, we still can't control everything, especially at the highest levels of society. There are many unintended consequences that we have to deal with in our lives.There is a chapter in WORK, SEX, MONEY called "Creativity and Chaos" that addresses an approach to situations that I found thought provoking and helpful.

He says:
"To clarify, you feel and open yourself to each situation without anticipating rejecting or accepting. Without any idea of rejecting and accepting, you deal directly with the whole situation. If you can work that way completely, then rejecting, if necessary, becomes a natural process; and accepting, if necessary, becomes a natural process. You communicate with the situation thoroughly, without any judgment. Communicating thoroughly inspires sound judgment, by itself. You might think that people are unpredictable, but a person actually can’t react to you in an unpredictable way. If you are actually one with the situation, you will see why and how that reaction happened." (page 90)

And thank you Fairway Linda for your comments and the points they raise. In THE PATH IS THE GOAL, Chogyam Trungpa had this exchange (slightly shortened here) that relates to the issue of everyday life vs practice (pages 81-82):
Student: Since most of our time is spent in movement, why not use movement as a form of meditation?

Chögyam Trungpa: I think you can’t do that. At this point I have to be very orthodox. You can’t do that because it would be very convenient and there would be no discipline. You have to set aside a time for sitting practice that is especially allocated for that practice. Whereas with the approach you suggest, you could just say,: “Well, I’m going to visit my girlfriend and I have to drive. So on my way to my girlfriend’s I’ll use driving as my meditation.”

Student: But as long as it’s mindful, why couldn’t that be done?

Chögyam Trungpa: That approach to mindfulness becomes too utilitarian, too pragmatic—killing two birds with one stone. “That way I meditate and I get a chance to see my girlfriend at the end, too.” But something has to be given up somewhere. Some renunciation somewhere is necessary. One stone kills one bird.

A friend of mine calligraphed the last line for me: ONE STONE KILLS ONE BIRD. I have it on the wall, to remind me.

Maybe other readers of this discussion will have some recommendations for a first book by Chogyam Trungpa to read. There are a lot to choose from. As for WORK, SEX, MONEY: the book is based on three seminars by that name that Trungpa Rinpoche gave in the early 70's. A small amount of the material was used in articles published around that time. Most of the material, however, was never published. In a sense, it's very fresh because it hasn't been used or rehashed before. At least, that was my experience of it. There are literally hundreds of seminars like these, which have not been studied or published. Some have not yet even been transcribed.

In my experience, something about Trungpa Rinpoche's voice and perspective is very much for this time, as well as for the time in which he gave these teachings. So I hope we'll be able to make the material available in years to come.

Thanks for joining in!

Monty McKeever's picture

Thanks Carolyn!

fairway Linda's picture

It has become a cliche to say things likem My life is my practice. Well, no, your practice is your practie, but your practice and your life inform each other and will intersect often and much. To me what is interesting about the Mahayana is the emphasis on householders, and this is why it suits the West so well. A teacher like Trungpa RInpoche lived in the world--and had, ah-hem! real-world problems, which is more interesting than some remote figure in robes and a hat on a dais. So I am all for teachers in-the-world with us, and yet I want to hold them to a higher standard, which is my own hang-up. I do think, coming from the Zen side of things (where recently the proverbial fan has been hit by you-know-what a bit too often...) that guru devotion and your own discernment seem at odds. I think T.R. must have provided endless lessons in this, shifting the ground of the discussion, pulling the rug, and being a living koan. Anyway, thank you Ms Rose for this, I am curious about this anthology and also how someone could move from the traditional tulku side of things to the flamboyant figure that Rinpoche cut in his later years. Side question, what is the best first book to read by Rinpoche, or introduction to his works, if we are looking to see a crystallization of his thoughts on the dharma? I do think Tricycle might have some video of Rinpoche talking on this page, to give us more of a flavor of his teaching.

Monty McKeever's picture

Hi everybody,

Carolyn, thank you so much for reading this discussion. I am reading the book now and it is great.

I really appreciate the term "green energy" that Rinpoche uses regarding money (not to be confused with clean energy/renewable resources.) This is actually how I was taught to relate to money as a child, that money is not inherently good or bad, not the "root of all evil" or a means to happiness and fulfillment, that it is just energy, very powerful energy. Like any powerful energy, they way it manifests depends on our state of mind. Money doesn't hurt or help anyone, it is the mind that wields the money energy that does these things. It was this teaching that led me strive not just to be mindful of how to manage money in my own life, but to be aware that the way I spend money effects others—the interdependent nature of green energy.

That said, sometimes I feel like just being part of the reality of money and society, is toxic, regardless of mindfulness. For example, I find it very frustrating that, as an American, money is taken out of every one of my paychecks that pays for wars that I oppose. No matter how many different charities I support, no matter how many destructive companies I choose NOT to support, I am still lining the pockets of a military industrial complex that I want to see dismantled. Relating to this reality can be a struggle, and at times I do feel like saying, "Forget all this householder talk. Asceticism or a monasticism really is the only way." Yet, I'm not going to do that...

I'm curious if others ever feel this way.

boiester's picture

Yes, I do feel this way too. I guess that this has always been true for the "householder" who must participate in the economy.

Carolyn Gimian's picture

Thank you Mitaky for starting the dialogue. You raise some very interesting questions about the obstacles to dharma and mindfulness in secular, democratic, capitalist societies.Chogyam Trungpa has some relevant things to say in the chapter "Regarding Money as Mother's Milk." He suggests that it's quite possible to have a positive and sane sense of fundamental wealth, unrelated to monetary value. He uses the Buddha as an example:

"When the Buddha attained enlightenment, he went around the cities and collected small pieces of cloth that were thrown away by other people. Apparently, he was a good seamstress, so he sewed all those little squares of cloth together and made a beautiful monastic garment out of them. When people saw him wearing this robe, they remarked, “Look! Who is that well-dressed, well-clad person?” A tradition of sewing monastic robes out of small pieces of cloth came from the example of the Buddha. He projected some kind of richness, power, and strength. It was not a question of having expensive cloth sewn into robes, but the sense of richness came from the way the robe was worn, the way it looked on him."

I have no doubt that the Buddha looked splendid in his robe!
Trungpa Rinpoche also makes some really provocative comments in that chapter about the karmic history of the United States and of North America all together:

"The land in America was invaded, which is particularly heartbreaking. It is absolutely heartbreaking to study the history of Mexico and how the Spanish gained their wealth by devastating the wealth, culture, and beauty of Montezuma’s kingdom. I changed my mind about that a little bit after I learned how the Aztecs sacrificed a person to their gods every day and threw the body down in the temple. What happened to their culture could be a result of that bad karma. At the same time, the way the Spaniards related with the Native peoples there was heartbreaking. They were purely greedy for gold and willing to kill for it. We have a similar problem in the United States. Although we have a nice Thanksgiving celebration to remember how we exchanged food with the Native Americans and thanked one another, at the same time, most of this place was snatched. That has brought all kinds of karmic consequences to us, as Americans, that is.
"To put it in a nutshell, in America, when we run a business, we have habitual tendencies, based on how others made money purely by cheating. It is not necessarily cheating directly, but cheating in the sense of figuring out how you can get around things, which is a very interesting phrase.
"As Buddhists, however, we are immigrants who have arrived here out of nowhere. (Maybe some of us were in Tibet together in our past lives. Who knows?) So we can change the possibilities and the ways of doing business here into something different than the American heritage. The situation has changed at this point. Vajrayana has been established in this country. The karmic situation in the United States has changed altogether. Maybe some of the karmic debts connected with the Native Americans have been paid off. In any case, it is a very good time to set up a business."

I look forward to further discussion!

mitaky's picture

Hi Carolyn

Good to see you start this dialogue here! I was alerted by my friend Judith to visit here. First of all I was surprised to see a book by C. Trungpa with a title that is quite close to the title of a fairly recent book by engaged Buddhist author David Loy. His book title, if I remember correctly, is Money, Sex, War and Karma - notes for a Buddhist Revolution. As a practitioner I feel how challenging and difficult it is to hold all things in balance and harmony in Dharma in modern capitalist society or at least sustaining mindfulness as not to get broadsided by challenges in any one of those dimensions of life.

My dharma economics work focuses considerably on the institutionalized greed side of money and banking. I do feel each of the three issues, work, sex and money has a sacred dimension to it that has been largely lost in secularly organized democratic capitalist societies. Wondering whether that is what is driving the cycle of violence, war, inner and outer conflicts and breakdown of social relationships? So I am curious what Trungpa and other readers view these issues in context of the enlightened society.