‘The Spiritual Seeker’s Dilemma’ (1987)

Written by Rob Hogendoorn

1 minute

In their introduction ‘The Spiritual Seeker’s Dilemma’ to Spiritual Choices: The Problems of Recognizing Authentic Paths to Inner Transformation (1987), Dick Anthony, Bruce Ecker, and Ken Wilber review some contemporaneous “problematic developments” and the “dramatic eruption of leadership pathology” in groups such as Chögyam Trungpa’s Vajradhatu/Dharmadhatu, now known as Shambhala. The full book is available here.

“Chogyam Trungpa is a Tibetan Buddhist spiritual master prepared from childhood to be the abbot of a number of monasteries there. In 1959 he fled the Chinese communist takeover of Tibet and in 1970 came to America, where he is now widely known. He is regarded by followers as an incarnation of an earlier master, the Trungpa Tulku, and continues Tibet’s 1200-year-old Vajrayana Buddhist tradition, a Tantric tradition of ‘crazy wisdom,’ as Trungpa calls it.

Trungpa’s spiritual authority is controversial for well-known reasons: sex with disciples (both men and women), hard drinking, and the following incident, reported by Peter Marin in the February 1979 issue of Harper’s magazine. The incident occurred in the fall of 1975 at an annual retreat ordinarily open only to Trungpa’s regular disciples: ‘A woman is stripped naked, apparently at ‘Trungpa’s joking command, and hoisted into the air by [Trungpa’s] guards, and passed around‐presumably in fun, though the woman does not think so.’ Two special guests—a couple, and not regular disciples—have already retired to their room, wary from having heard rumors of sexual carrying-on at these occasions. Later Trungpa notices their absence and requires them to join the group. They refuse, and Trungpa, drunk, eventually orders their room broken into, through the window. This happens, and the man attacks the invaders with a broken bottle. He cuts several people, and after shouts and screams, realizes what he has done and stops fighting. The couple is brought before Trungpa. They refuse his request that they strip, and he orders his guards to strip them. They stand huddled together naked, and Trungpa seems satisfied. Others begin to strip, then many others. Trungpa says, ‘Let’s dance,’ and the crowd does so. The couple returns to their room.

The next day, Trungpa meets with the couple and says that nothing like it will happen again. They decide to stay on. The man ‘explains later: They were, after all, about to receive the Tantric teachings, and he did not want to miss them.’

Tantric strategies for achieving enlightenment involve sexual and emotional energies in ways that often offend Western morality. Numerous other Eastern masters who have been caught indulging mundane appetites are violating their own moral teachings. Trungpa’s behaviors are not self-contradictory in this way. He claims that they are consistent with the Tantric tradition that, instead of resisting certain ‘base’ impulses, one should utilize them as an avenue of higher spiritual growth. This approach makes it particularly challenging to distinguish between authentic and debauched, exploitative masters.” (pp. 17-18).

About the author

Rob Hogendoorn

Investigative reporter and academic researcher Rob Hogendoorn (b. 1964) began researching the reception of Buddhism in Western society and culture in the early 1990s. His modus operandi remained the same ever since: independent, inquisitive and provocative.