Shenpen Hookham: Trungpa Rinpoche's Teaching on Maṇḍala Principle in "Orderly Chaos" and the Innumerable, Inseparable Qualities in the RGV

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Shenpen Hookham: Trungpa Rinpoche's Teaching on Maṇḍala Principle in "Orderly Chaos" and the Innumerable, Inseparable Qualities in the RGV

Transcript of video of IATS Prague Talk by Shenpen Hookham: Trungpa Rinpoche's teaching on Maṇḍala Principle in Orderly Chaos and the Innumerable, Inseparable Qualities in the RGV.

I'd like to start by thanking the organizers of this event, inviting me to make a presentation. When Karma Phuntsho first invited me to attend the conference and to make a contribution. I felt I didn't have time to do that, because I'm working on a book on Mandala principle. But then it occurred to me that I could actually offer a presentation on that topic, which Karma Phuntsho immediately took me up on. I haven't been able to attend in person, unfortunately, which I regret. But at least we have the opportunity to do for me to give my talk online and to answer questions at the end, I hope.

The book I was planning wasn't particularly academic in approach. It's very much based on principles that were laid out by Rigdzin Shikpo (RS), of the Longchen Foundation with whom I worked for many years and developed a course of study in which we focus quite a lot on the idea of Mandala principle, with nine principles that RS drew out from the teachings of Trungpa Rinpoche. And these turned out to be very useful for teaching students at every level, a very unifying concept. But Trungpa insists this isn't a conceptual principle at all. It's purely experiential.

In his book Orderly Chaos, Mandala Principle, he doesn't actually spell out what the Mandala is - he says what it isn't. And at various times when he's asked what it is, he'll give different answers. Answers, like it's an organizational principle, like a gestallt, an organizational pattern - one time he said it was time (very interesting). One time, he says it's connections, or relationships and another it’s a society and so on. He says he is not talking about diagrams particularly at this point, or about deities, or geometric patterns. So what a mandala is becomes a question that's left hanging there.

Over the years, I've noticed that Tibetans just use the word ‘Mandala’ for center and the periphery, just in ordinary language. Many of the teachings in Buddhism actually can be expressed in terms of Mandala, especially when you have the principles drawn out in the way RS has done - where you've got a central principle that determines what the Mandala is about, and then a boundary, which marks what is in the mandala and what is not in the Mandala and the emotionality of that boundary. You're talking about an energy exchange with what's inside and what's outside and the different levels of hierarchy within the mandala as to what is near the center or further from the center, a dynamic of focus and spreading, and guardians and messengers and gates and so on.

These principles are found in everything in your life, you don't need to have any deep philosophical view, to be able to orientate yourself towards these principles. This is a point that Trungpa makes again and again in Orderly Chaos - that he's not talking about a theory, he's not talking about philosophy. Hes isn't talking particularly about an enlightened point of view. He's just talking about life and how this applies to our life.

The principles of the Mandala are in fact themselves an expression of awakening, even while we're confused. So that we need to look first at our confusion. We have to look at our suffering and our pain. And rather than thinking about how to escape it, thinking about how to discover its origin, which of course takes us straight back to the Buddha's teachings on suffering, the noble truth of suffering. First, you have to understand suffering. This is a point that Shrimaladevi in the Shrimaladevi sutra makes - - if you don't understand suffering, then you don't get to see the Dhatu - you don't get to see cessation, or you don't get to see the Dharma, or whatever kind of technical term you want to use. And Trungpa makes this point throughout his talks in ‘Orderly Chaos’.

What's interesting is, that on the very first page of the book he describes the obscuring process which are the 12 links of the pratityasamutpada as a mandala. This is a Mandala that we are creating ourselves. And an interesting theme throughout the book is what the ‘we ‘that creates this mandala is. what is the self? what is the ego? How he's using the language here is quite revealing. So you've got a mandala of suffering, or Dukkha (the 12 links of pratityasamutpada). Why call it a Mandala? He calls it a mandala because the 12 links are all- of- a- piece. They come together all- of- a- piece which Trungpa refers to as a totality. I tend to use the expression all -of- a- piece to get that sense you can't break it up - if you can break it up, then it becomes something relative, it becomes something that is impermanent and changing and unreliable and to be discarded. Reality is always all-of- a- piece so not impermanent etc. I think this is probably a way of translating the Tibetan term ‘hlundrub’ which is used a lot in the Mahamudra and Dzogchen teachings (often translated as spontaneous).

Trungpa is saying that there is this Mandala of confusion and there's a corresponding Mandala of Nirvana, or whatever you want to call it and that they both spring from the same base. And he talks a lot about this base or ground, which is a very Dzogchen way of talking, although he mostly refers back to the tantric view.

He talks about this base as solid - solid space, which is perhaps somewhat counter-intuitive, but it's quite challenging from the experiential point of view.

All this relates very much to what I say in my abstract. What's he talking about, really, in terms of reality (and he specifically announces that he's not talking about Madhyamaka) is what I would call post-Madhyamaka, where you're talking about what's real, what's really there. And this is quite unusual. He makes some quite striking statements, such as this one here, which jumped out at me.

On page 84, a student says ‘On the non dualistic level, can there be such things as Buddha families and Prajna and the world of distinctions’. Trungpa says, ‘That's exactly what we have been saying is the case in this talk. The level of non-dual reality is the realm of jnana, therefore, there is discriminating awareness wisdom happening all the time. On that level, there is in fact, a living world, a much more living one than we are experiencing’. And the student says, ‘It sounds like there would be a contradiction there, because to discriminate is to find duality’ and Trungpa just says,

‘There's no problem with finding duality.

We're speaking here of the relative world in purely psychological terms. We're talking about relative fixation, relative hangups, rather than

seeing things as two. That is not regarded as dualistic fixation, but still as discriminating awareness.

I mean, an enlightened person is able to go down the street and take his bus. As a matter of fact, he can do it much better than we can because he's always there’.

So there is the sense that there is a reality there in all its richness, depth, energy, complexity, aliveness, detail and so on.

To me this is what the Mahaparinirvana Sutra says and what Dolpopa is saying when he's talking about his ‘extreme shentong’ – in effect that the world really does exist. Although what we think of as real (which you might call relative) never did exist.

Although Trungpa Rinpoche is not particularly referring to the Jonangpas and Dolpopa, nonetheless, what he is describing pretty much conforms to that and is what I was looking for in the RGV in terms of Buddha Nature especially in the section on inseparable Buddha qualities. If you're looking for an extreme shentong interpretation of what the qualities are in the RGV - it’s not there. The qualities are inseparable, yes but in the RGV they're inseparable from awakening or the awakened state – inseparable from the Buddha - the Buddha has these qualities, but the extreme shentongpa would say, we have already all the qualities of a Buddha.

I'll leave it there as hope that you will come back to me with some questions.
Featuring Shenpen Hookham
Creator Awakened Heart Sangha
Event Old Topic, New Insights: Buddha-Nature at the Crossroads between Doctrine and Practice (, Prague)
Related Website
Citation Hookham, Shenpen. "Trungpa Rinpoche's Teaching on Maṇḍala Principle in Orderly Chaos and the Innumerable, Inseparable Qualities in the RGV." Old Topic, New Insights: Buddha-Nature at the Crossroads between Doctrine and Practice. The 16th IATS Conference, Prague, July 3–9, 2022. Video, 11:37.