Gorals Gone Wild


Contrast with regular Gorals, below:

This post is more or less about that ever-so-hip status referred to in Vajrayana circles as, Crazy Wisdom.

It should come as no surprise that this spiritually honorific term, in English, was coined by the Vajracharya Chogyam Trungpa XI. It is usually explained that the term crazy wisdom refers to the tradition of yeshe cholwa. Technically, the Tibetan term yeshe cholwa (ye-shes ‘chol-ba) translates as, wisdom gone wild. The word for crazy in Tibetan is nyonpa (smyon-pa). Furthermore, there is a well known list of Tibetan Buddhist adepts who have earned the nyonpa epithet. Is there a distinction to be made between spiritually induced nyonpa and cholwa? Perhaps. But what seems more relevant than the precise differences between wild and crazy is an inquiry into what might qualify as either wild or crazy in our current epoch. When I considered this it occurred to me that the most unconventional behavior these days would be for someone to demonstrate no interest whatsoever in being the center of attention — not due to shyness, but due to radical internal stability. Another shocking and crazy activity would be to dedicate oneself entirely to telling the truth in all communications. The 4th-century Christian nun, St. Isidore, is famous for her crazy humility and crazy patience. When she was eventually acknowledged for these virtues, she left the convent immediately and became a total recluse. Thangtong Gyelpo was a famous 14th-century Tibetan nyonpa who was notorious for his very unconventional behavior. He was somewhat like the American legend of John Henry in that he seemed to be perpetually engaged in single-handedly building large structures, particularly bridges. All records of him describe him as very old, and yet, very strong and robust. He liked to eat a lot of fine foods but he was also often seen eating the rotting carcasses of horses. Below is a photo of the current reincarnation of Thangtong Gyelpo, living in Bhutan. tt Here is also a photo of one of the bridges he built 700 years ago, still functional but recently decommissioned. It is a 300-meter suspension bridge constructed of oval-shaped iron chain links that are approximately 30 centimeters in length. Old_Chain-Bridge_at_Chaksam

Yeshe cholwa and yeshe nyonpa are certainly not a matter of just being odd or outrageous. It is a matter of losing the inhibitions and limitations of our self-image. What is generally taken to be normal behavior is typically entirely ego-protective. But this is not really normal, from the dzogchen perspective. According to dzogchen, what is truly normal is to behave without the slightest pretense or strategy — with the innocence of a young baby. A wonderful cinema example of this is the character of Chance, played by Peter Sellers in the 1979 film, Being There. Although in that story Chance maintained his freshness and innocence due to his being mentally underdeveloped, the character’s depiction of what truly natural behavior might look like is still very compelling. Pablo Picasso also had a reputation for exhibiting this kind of natural innocence. So, there seems to be an obvious connection between the innocent, playful, unpredictable, experimental, candid behavior of a pre-ego-entrenched child and the innocent, playful, unpredictable, experimental candid behavior of a post-ego-liberated adult.

It is extremely important to differentiate clearly between the madness that derives from negative provocations and psychological trauma, in contrast with the “madness” that is a natural expression of spiritual liberation. In the case of negative provocations, there can even manifest, temporarily, apparent wisdom and precise spiritual knowledge. There is a story retold in the famous Tibetan text, kunzang lamai zhelung that describes an illiterate and spiritually untrained man who suddenly began to give very erudite teachings and attracted many students. Later, when a realized master met him, the master recognized that this teacher’s knowledge was not his own. In the presence of the teacher, the master burned a small piece of amber mixed with myrrh and mustard seed. Upon smelling it, the teacher began to convulse and immediately a malicious spirit left the teacher’s body. After that, the man returned to his previous state of ignorance and all his students left him. As we all know from the biographies of various cult leaders, seriously disturbed individuals can sometimes possess great charisma and even considerable wisdom. The sanctity of a great master however is never measured by charisma, or even wisdom, alone. Eccentric behavior, by itself, is certainly not a reliable indication of spiritual accomplishment. A great master is thoroughly liberated from the constraints of ego and therefore naturally manifests all the great virtues; especially compassion, kindness, impartiality and joyfulness. In my own personal view, someone who genuinely and spontaneously manifests compassion, kindness, impartiality and joy is already a quintessential Crazy Wisdom master.

Companions in pathos, who barely murmur,
go with your lamp spent and return the jewels.
A new mystery sings in your bones.
Cultivate your legitimate strangeness.
— Rene Char

Pablo Picasso with Rene Char in France

This entry was posted in Dzogchen and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Gorals Gone Wild

  1. 'chol-ba'i khro 'gan says:

    Thank you for your excellent and thoughtful writing.

    I’d like to ask, please, that you give the Romanized spellings for Tibetan terms you introduce in your blog in addition to the transliterations. This really helps …

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