Born in Tibet:
A fascinating account of monastic life in old Tibet
by Bill Courson
The Eleventh Trungpa tulku, Chökyi Gyatso (1938-1987), has been described as the major Buddhist pioneer in America and the Western world. Meditation master, holder of the Kagyu and Nyingma transmission lineages of Tibetan Buddhism, Oxford scholar, artist and poet, Trungpa Rinpoche founded the first accredited Buddhist University in the Occident (Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado), and established well in excess of a hundred Vajradhatu Dharma and Shambhala Centers world-wide. Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche was one of the most dynamic teachers of Buddhism in the 20th Century. He was a pioneer in bringing the Buddhist teachings of Tibet to the West and is credited for introducing many important Buddhist concepts into the English language and psyche in a fresh and unique - yet startlingly clear and understandable - way.
During his too brief life, he was also one of the most controversial figures in Tibetan Buddhism and more generally in the Tibetan exile community, largely owing to his lifestyle and life choices since leaving Tibet, which were instrumental in his death at the age of 49.
Trungpa was identified at the age of only thirteen months as a major tulku (reincarnation) of an enlightened teacher, a revered figure in Tibet's religious history. As the eleventh in his teaching lineage, he underwent a period of intensive training in mediation, philosophy, Buddhist history and scripture, and the arts, receiving full ordination as a monk in 1958 at the age of eighteen, which he captivatingly recounts in "Born in Tibet.".
The following year in 1959, armed forces of the Communist-led People's Republic of China brutally invaded Tibet, and the young Trungpa spent many harrowing months trekking over the Himalayas, narrowly escaping both the dangers of the terrain as well as capture. Trungpa's account of his experiences as a young monk, his duties as the abbot and spiritual head of a great monastery, and his tender relationships with his teachers offers a rare and intimate glimpse into the life of a Tibetan lama. The memoir concludes with his daring flight from Tibet to India. In an epilogue, he describes his emigration to the West, where he encountered many people eager to learn about the ancient wisdom of Tibetan Buddhism as well as those who made a "museum-piece"-like curiosity out of him.
This is a delightful and captivating book, one which once begun can hardly be put down. It is exceptionally well-written, and I strongly encourage any student of Tibet or Buddhism to add it to their library.