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Helen Tworkov

COPYRIGHT CANADIAN BROADCASTING CORPORATION

TAPE 242 - INTVW W HELEN TWORKOV:

I certainly don't think it's been a painful process at all. It's had its painful moments. But if you look at - if we're talking let's say in the past 25 years from the time that some of these Zen communities started to really take off or some of the Tibetan teachers first came to this country, Buddhism has certainly spread and gone towards the mainstream with much more rapidity than anything that probably we would have predicted 25 years ago. And I think that the only thing that could possibly account for that is that by and large people's experience of Buddhism has been very, very positive. Otherwise we just couldn't - we would not see that extraordinary growth and expansion.

...IT SEEMS THAT WITH FIRST GENERATION NORTH AMERICAN OR IT'S REALLY AMERICAN TEACHERS, THEY'VE HAD THEIR DIFFICULTIES RELATING TO WOMEN AND TO POWER AND NOT JUST IN THE TIBETAN COMMUNITY ..... PROBABLY WITH ALCOHOL TOO... BUT THOSE DIFFICULTIES EXIST. DO YOU THINK THIS IS JUST PART OF A PROCESS THAT'S AT ITS FIRST STAGE OR IS IT -

Well it's hard to think of it as a process in its first stage because it's gone on for as long as we've known (laughter) in the history of Buddhism. So it certainly is not its first stage. If it's its first stage in America, I don't know, or North America but it certainly went on in Japan and Tibet and various other Asian countries, presumably in India. After all, you know, the Buddhist precepts are quite clear about what the -in certain - it varies, the interpretation depending on what culture you're in. But in all cultures there's a certain very clear sense of what to do and what not to do and what is so called right and what is so called wrong. You only make those taboos if you have a problem. If nobody is getting drunk or having ah ah abusive sex or exploiting anybody else, you don't have to make a rule against it. So we can only assume that the rules are always there because the behaviour always happens. So it certainly isn't the first stage. Whether or not it's the last, I don't know. (laughter) Probably if one looks at a historical perspective, probably not the last either.

WHAT'S BEEN HAPPENING THOUGH? WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS THAT HAVE BEEN HAPPENING?

Well ah certainly one of the things that happened is that we had no sense of what a spiritual teacher was. And our own country provided us virtually with no sense of what a guru was except for perhaps a native American. The concept of one who embodies wisdom was virtually unknown to white America even - yeah to mainstream America or to North America. We simply did not know what that is. And so we had a lot of ideas about that and a lot of the ideas we had tended to be from our Puritan heritage. And ah so we sort of superimposed what we might expect from a parish priest or a parish minister on to the concept of guru. They're not the same concept. They were never intended to exist in the same way. They did not play the same role in society. So I think that there was an immediate transference there which did not serve ah - well you know I was going to say that did not serve us well. That's not true either. It served us brilliantly as a matter of fact. It was marvellous. We had this wonderful honeymoon and it made many of us take big dives into the practice and go a long way with it and be very encouraged and find it extraordinary and help build up centers. So to say it didn't work would be completely incorrect. It worked marvellously up to a certain point. And then there was a certain kind of big wave of disillusionment, and that's okay too. No problem with that either. But we clearly had to make real adjustments in what we think of as a guru, as a teacher, what is enlightenment. All of these questions have been brought up. In some cases they've been brought up in very radical in-your-face ways. But they're wonderful questions to wrestle with and part of wrestling with those questions is in fact part of what has made the darma in North America filled with vitality. And so in the sense of its vitality and its energy and its questioning, that's all part of the health of the darma in North America.

IS THERE A CRAZY WISDOM FACET OR LINEAGE TO ZEN?

We don't use the term the way some of the Tibetans do but certainly the whole Zen tradition is known for being crazy. I mean that's what, you know, we call Zen lunacy or ah yeah very - you always hear this description of eccentric Zen masters. So what is it that they're talking about? I mean from a certain perspective there's nothing lunatic about Zen at all. There's no eccentricities going on at all. It's simply behaviour that we could say is not conventional behaviour and certainly in some cases in the Zen stories it was behaviour that was very deliberately carried out for the sake of enlightening or awakening or instructing the other. And sometimes, you know, the feeling, if you read the Zen stories, is that what Buddhism is about is assaulting this kind of habitual, small-minded, what they call the monkey mind or the chattering mind that's just going on and on and on and on. IT's very hard to break that, very hard to break that. So sometimes, you know, in a sort of a sense of wanting to do something to break that, to cut through that chattery mind which is the human addiction, is our addiction to that small-minded chattering, yee-jee-jee. So what are you going to do to break through that? Well every once in a while, some Zen master will come along and take a shot at doing something that's very erra - you know what appears to be irrational. It appears to be crazy or eccentric. But if you look at the motivation in terms of waking up the other, really it's not very- it's not irrational at all. It has tremendous rationality to it. So I think that the guideline in Buddhism, whatever tradition you're in is about intention. And if the intention of the behaviour is to help others then it would appear to be Buddhist behaviour. And if the intention is not then it would appear maybe not to be. And very often we don't know what the intention is. Very hard to tell the intention.

(interruption)

IT COMES DOWN TO INTENTION, THAT INTENTION IS THE BASIS OF EVERYTHING. BUT WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU HAVE SOMEBODY LIKE TRUNGPA RIMPOCHE WHOSE STUDENTS MAINTAIN THAT ... . HIS INTENTION WAS ENLIGHTENED AND BODY ... INTENTION ALL THE WAY THROUGH TO EVERYTHING HE DID, EVEN THROUGH THE DRINKING, THROUGH ALL THE SEX WITH EVERYBODY. THAT WAS HIS ENLIGHTENED INTENTION. THIS IS A VERY DIFFICULT THING TO JUDGE.

Yes I would agree with you. I don't know what else to say. What am I going to say?

I DON'T KNOW. ... WHAT WE'RE LEFT WITH IS A BIG ENIGMA.

See clearly what we know is that there are certain teachers whose behaviour has not fit our expectation of the behaviour of what we think is enlightened mind. But what does that come down to? That doesn't add up to a can of beans. After all, in theory the Judeo-Christian - people who left their Judeo-Christian heritage to enter Buddhism in theory I assume that most of us, all of us, whatever or atheist tradition were looking for something that we didn't have in our own background. And certainly the focus and attention to enlightenment and to enlightened mind in Buddhism was very attractive to us. But then of course what we want to do out of maybe our human habit is to superimpose on to that image what we already know. So we want something that we don't know but we want to bring with us what we do know. Well there's a certain kind of enlightened mind that has virtually nothing to do with our descriptions of holy style or what looks like religious behaviour or ideas of religious behaviour. It just doesn't have anything to do with that. Some people may think it does. Maybe they would argue that it does. As far as I know, it doesn't. It's very comforting to come up with this check list of what looks like enlightened mind or enlightened behaviour. But all we're doing is that we then are - we're then asserting what we think we know or what we want to know or our ideas of how it should be. And meanwhile all the teachings are telling us that your ideas of how things should be is exactly what you have to set aside so that you can experience life as it is. So we keep getting caught in this trap. We want the comfort of the check list but somewhere we know that that's not what it's about either. If we wanted the comfort of the check list, we could have just stayed with the Protestant tradition. We had the check list.

...

I don't know what else. I mean I can't put it together. I don't understand what happened. He wasn't my teacher.

EXACTLY. NOT MY TEACHER ....

(OVERLAP, LAUGHTER)

I don't know, you know. I don't know what to say about the guy. I think you know, I think that Trungpa Rimpoche was one of the great comets to come to this planet. Just extraordinary.

ONE OF THE GREAT WHAT?

I always think - I always think of Trungpa Rimpoche as a kind of a comet that came, you know, with a real blaze and just went through this planet in a flash. You know he just was here for seconds and just like this, just extraordinary, extraordinary teacher.

HOW WOULD YOU RATE HIS IMPACT ON BUDDHISM ...

Extraordinary. Trungpa Rimpoche's impact in Buddhism in this country is absolutely extraordinary and I think that that's true even for people who don't think it is or for people who never studied with him and knew very little about him. The impact is extraordinary, even for people who don't like him. Because they've come into Buddhism, they don't even know what the chain of influences are. But it was very rare for anybody let's say of my age to have been around Buddhism at all without for example reading Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism. That was an extraordinary book. That was a really crucial book in this culture. See people who read that book, maybe they didn't even study with him but they went off and they were involved in setting up other darma centres and people came to those darma centres maybe they never had heard of Trungpa Rimpoche or whatever. And they didn't understand that maybe some of those - that the impact was already being felt. But he in his work, and again I only speak as a reader of his work and not as a student, but ah he took this culture on in a way that none of the other Buddhist teachers who came did. He had a great capacity for that. And he addressed us and I'm now talking about, for example, in the early '70s he addressed us where we were at and he really had a way of talking to us and to our situation and he talked in our language and he was completely convincing and compelling.

YOU SAID IT. THIS MAN MAY TURN OUT TO BE ON THE SAME LEVEL AS .... IMBABA. HISTORY IS GOING TO ...

I have no - personally I have no doubt. I have no doubts about his capacity ah and about the nature of his darma mind or understanding. None whatsoever. A lot of people when they see behaviour that they disapprove of, which is pretty much what we're talking about, because they disapprove of the behaviour then they like to say, and therefore he was not enlightened or she was or whatever the case may be. That person is not enlightened because they have committed this behaviour. The other way of looking at it is to say my idea of this enlightened mind and this behaviour doesn't add up in my mind so I guess that there's something about enlightened mind that I don't understand. And because of my own experience with Trungpa Rimpoche and his books and the enormous impact that his books had on my own life, I have basically always asked myself the question of - if at any given moment I'm stumbling over the behaviour then what is it about enlightened mind that I don't understand.

I THINK THE REAL QUESTION IS STUMBLING. THE REAL QUESTION ...

Well there are certain things that we just can't put together. I mean with Trungpa Rimpoche personally I don't know the details of his life or his community so it's never been my particular responsibility either personally or collectively in terms of a community to try to put it all together. But certainly I mean we see things all over the place. We recently had this situation in India with the new Karmapa and you know, two groups of kogyu monks going at it over the real Karmapa, the real baby Karmapa. How does that happen? I mean you know, what do you make of it? I mean finally you could just - I don't know what other people do - I have to somehow end up you know, I shrug and go, I don't know. I don't know what to make of you know. I wish it were some other way. I don't know. I mean in terms of stumbling, there is something dumbfounded about it. But you know, if you look at the history of Buddhism over a period of 2,500 years, those incidences have happened over and over and over again and certainly in Tibet they happened plenty of times. So there's something about the darma finally that's stronger than that. It's more powerful than that. It's wiser than that collectively. And individual people and individual factions and individual scenes will go through their own difficult times or they'll survive or they'll not survive. But the darma as a whole has - it really doesn't really dent the darma. It may dent individual people but the darma has a life of its own and from an absolute point of view can never be violated. So then what you're looking at is human behaviour, you know, in all of its glorious and diverse manifestations. (chuckles)

A PERFECT POINT TO END ON.