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"Crazy Wisdom": A Flat Portrait of a Holy Fool 

Wednesday, Jul 11 2012

Watching the succession of talking-head testimonials by former disciples of Chogyam Trungpa that comprise Crazy Wisdom: The Life & Times of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, it is evident that the Buddhist teacher commanded significant loyalty from his acolytes — though that personal magnetism isn't visible in the stock film of the guru, who died in 1987. Director Johanna Demetrakas is herself a former student whose personal archives supply much of the vintage footage in Crazy Wisdom, which outlines Trungpa's biography: his recognition as an incarnate lama, his escape from occupied Tibet on foot through the Himalayas, his travels from Oxford to founding Naropa University in Boulder, Colo., in 1974, where his program of describing the road to enlightenment in everyday, workmanlike English made him a sought-after figure among counterculture kids. In part, Trungpa's popularity might be explained by the fact that, a great drinker and philanderer, he practiced contemplation without the sacrifices of asceticism. It is suggested that Trungpa was in possession of yeshe cholwa — the title's "crazy wisdom" — and, as a sort of holy fool, his apparent misbehavior could be read as a manifestation of higher spiritual truths. If you're determined to see something, it's easy to find it — so those inclined to interest in Tibetan Buddhism will discover something here. Watching footage of Trungpa in later life, dressed as a Banana Republic generalissimo, I detected only charlatanism.

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Nick Pinkerton

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