Mostly Book Reviews

Visit the Mirror International Newspaper of the Dzogchen Community for my interview with Tibetan calligrapher, Tashi Mannox 

My most recent Book Review in the Mirror 9/27/2015

Book Review by Jacqueline Gens

Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening
By Joseph Goldstein, Sounds True, Boulder, CO ,
457 pages, 2013

Unlike most other spiritual traditions, the Buddha’s path does not rely on deities and saviors, rituals, the Word or external dietary/dress regulations for Liberation but on each person’s participation in a rigorous mind training that examines with ardor, comprehension and mindfulness first hand the nature of reality of self and phenomena. At the core of his teaching method, the Buddha urges us in the Four Reliance to rely on “experience” not on dogma; furthermore, to rely on direct experience (Nitharta), not indirect (Nethartha). While not the same as direct introduction by a living master, as we know it, the Buddhist path sets a precedent for personal individuation based on direct experience over doctrine from the very outset. This thread runs through the most basic teachings to the highest culmination- thru all of Sutra, Tantra, and Dzogchen. This is important to recognize because we are not alone but part of a continuity of yogins who have already traveled the path to realization for millennia. If they can do it, so can we. But we need to begin somewhere. For some of us it is at the very beginning.

For those interested in undersanding meditative stability in Sutra, indispensable as a base, the gold standard among the Buddha’s many teachings remains the Four Foundations of Mindfulness (Sati Patthanna Sutta). These days the word ‘mindfulness’ is widely used for a variety of meditation techniques both within Buddhism and also in secular contexts. Goldstein, one of the primary Western teachers of Insight Meditation based in the Theravada tradition has provided here a commentary that elucidates the pure canonical tradition of the Buddha as outlined in the Sati Patthanna Sutta with brilliant clarity, humor, and most importantly accessibility for both beginners and advanced practitioners. It is indeed a practical guide to refer to again and again.

In The Previous Vase, the Four Applications of Presence of body, feeling, mind, and phenomena [PV, p/ 138] are part of the base training drawn directly from the Four Foundations of Mindfulness. For those of you curious to go deeper, Goldstein’s commentary will prove a useful reference to these essential teachings. Like many of the methods outlined in The Precious Vase, they are presented in the most abbreviated instruction. This does not diminish their importance. Rather it is up to us to regard the base practices according to our capacity and interest unfolding the deeper meanings as we experience them. Similarly, one simple definition can fill whole volumes if we have knowledge such as exploring the The Four Applications of Mindfulness of Presence in order to go beyond a taste of the experience.

The path of renunciation need not be about the grim reaper destroying our every joy but about renouncing our attachments, aversion, and blanket of delusion that solidifies a self and phenomena as separate outside ourselves. What we are renouncing is what causes us so much confusion and tensions so that we can really experience joy that is not dependent on outer conditions or dualistic thinking. That does not mean, of course, that we can’t appreciate any moment with awareness—enjoy a sunset, smell a flower, see sky as blue, or taste a sumptuous meal. To some extend as long as we are alive, renunciation is part of our wisdom tool-box when needed if we are practitioners. From renouncing our deeply entrenched sense of me me me, to renouncing that wily thief of distraction, renunciation is the cornerstone of wise discernment or as Goldstein says, exemplifies the “wisdom of no”.

Goldstein’s commentary is a treasure trove of information by someone who has spent most of his life in formal meditation under the severest conditions found in Burmese and Thai vihares. His many personal antidotes breathe life and pure joy into this living tradition. The author of many books on Insight Meditation, he is one of the leading Western teachers of Vipassana and it’s introduction into Western culture. .

As many long time Vipassana practitioners are now turning to Dzogchen, a natural progression, so we too on the Dzogchen path might turn towards Sutra, to our our Noble roots on occasion to check our progress and drink at the well-springs of the Buddha’s wisdom.

For the future it is important that we all know what is what and not mash up all the teachings into “one” big pot nor get caught up in petty sectariansm and pedantry. Rather as the first generation of Westerners in this great transition from East to West, let’s all respect the enormous wisdom behind these centuries old teachings on their own terms in whatever form they manifest. A commentary like Joseph Goldstein’s Mindfulness, guides us in knowing the profundity of the Buddha’s teachings beyond a preliminary taste. Let’s not forget who and what we are on the path. Otherwise we might just end up with a watered down Church of sorts, an ignorant orthodoxy that obliterates the profound heritage of direct experience into a lifeless system that looses sight of the purpose -- which is to discover one’s true nature.

Jacqueline Gens
August 2015

Dakini Power
Twelve Extraordinary Women Shaping the Transmission
of Tibetan Buddhism in the West
Michaela Haas
Forward by HH XVII Karmapa
Snow Lion, Boston & London, 2013, 296 pages

Dakini Power, Twelve Extraordinary Women Shaping the Transmission of Tibetan Buddhism in the West by Michaela Haas in many ways is a summation to date of the marvelous synergy of a feudal 17th century Tibetan ethos mingling with Western culture, mostly American--what happens, the challenges, and the results when two cultural mindsets collide. While individually each woman's story is unique and an inspiration, the bigger raison de etre this book serves is to show the evolution of the transmission of the Tibetan lineages into new soil over the past thirty years. And the story is not over, by any means.

The title of the book aptly portrays--Dakini Power, as an unconditioned force of natural mind beyond gender --unaltered and free from concepts serving as the messenger of change behind this cultural transformation. The women portrayed here are on a mission—all of them. Indeed, the context shared by all these women can best be defined as the recognition of the emerging feminine or in more standard terms a feminist perspective they each embody in their role as authorized teachers in the Tibetan lineages. We are NOT talking here of limited political ideologies or politics that taint the transmission but the actualization of an evolutionary process in combination with a deep reverence for the Tibetan traditions they represent or were trained in.  The fruits of this impact can best be summed up by the recent international news generated by the first Tibet nuns allowed to sit for their Geshe exam in the Gelug tradition.

There seems to be several types of women portrayed in the book. They are ordained nuns in the vanguard (Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo, Pema Chodron, Karma Lekshe Tsomo, and Thubten Chodron); Tibetan women (all too few) authorized by their culture to teach (Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche, Dagmla Kusho Sakya ); lay women practitioners who are mothers (Tsultrim Allione and Elizabeth Mattis –Namgyel)  and wives/consorts of recognized male teachers who teach (Sangye Khandro, Chagdud Khandro and Khandro Tsering Chodron). And then there is that hybrid between Zen and Tibetan Buddhism in the form of Roshi Joan Halifax—a force all unto herself!  If people are interested, I urge you to read this book and watch the various online interviews. Michaela Haas is a marvelous writer and storyteller who evokes the spirit and challenges of our times in vivid language. Her approach goes far beyond mere feminism. These women are not only shaping the transmission of the Teachings in the West but trailblazers in our western culture on a number of fronts in the fields death/dying, permaculture, and social justice. They also all seem to have a particular siddhi that allows them to withstand avalanches of criticism by less adventurous practitioners out to diminish their contributions.

Michaella Haas also does a great job of portraying the unique contributions each woman has made to her particular lineage and how their personal and sometimes painful spiritual development empowered them on the path as well as serves as an inspiration to thousands of others. And we are talking thousands here—men and women who resonate with these unique teachers at this point in time. 

Perhaps it is time that we begin to think deeply about what does a culture imbued with the Dzogchen Teachings actually look like.  How do you define a culture based on collaboration and equality?  In what kind of culture will the living transmission of our Master thrive? What do people in our community really have to say about our community culture, that is to say, about ourselves? In our heart of hearts we know we have to evolve.

Well, the women portrayed in Dakini Power have pondered deeply some of these issues on behalf of the Teachings for decades. Maybe they have something to communicate. Their hard won confidence and joy is infectious.

Fortunately, many of the concerns portrayed in Dakini Power are being embraced by a whole new generation of young Tibetan Lamas including His Holiness the 17th Karmapa who calls himself a feminist and has an active social media site emphasizing ecology-- one of his principle interests. Here’s what the Washington Post on the matter of the Geshe exams allowed for the first time for Tibetan nuns had to say quoting the ever feisty Tenzin Palmo,
“It’s just time they get their act together and give the nuns their full ordination! “  or as Pema Chodron might say, “There’s No Time to Lose.”

Tsegyalgar East
Jacqueline Gens, June 29, 2013

Reprinted from The Mirror, Issue 122

Here's another video of Tsultrim Allione at the book launch party addressing "What is a Dakini ........She's really something in all of us..."


Choegyal Namkhai Norbu in Khyung Lung, the ancient capital of Shang Shung, Tibet
PHOTO: Alex Siedlecki, 1988

Zhang Zhung: Images from a Lost Kingdom by Choegyal Namkhai Norbu Reprinted from The Mirror: International Newspaper of the Dzogchen Community,  No. 104, May/June 2010

Zhang Zhung Images from a Lost Kingdom
Chogyal Namkhai Norbu
Translated from the Tibetan by Adriano Clemente
Compiled and collated by Alex Siedlecki
Shang Shung Publications, 2010

Chogyal Namkhai Norbu is among the last generation of Tibetan lamas fully educated in Tibet. Forced into exile due to tragic political circumstances, they suffered loss of family and country. Soon these elders will pass away like so many already have. What remains of Tibetan culture is the fruit of their great efforts to salvage from the wreckage of their country to preserve whatever can be saved.

Since his arrival in the West some 50 years ago in 1960, Chogyal Namkahi Norbu has endeavored to publish an extraordinary number of secular works relating to Tibetan culture. While doing research on Tibetan poetry some years ago, one of the earliest Western articles I located was by Namkhai Norbu on Tibetan folk songs—written after a few years of arriving in Italy. Even then as a young man learning to integrate into Western culture and academics, he expressed an original point of view by focusing on topics generally considered unimportant. Over the years his secular works have emerged in addition to his vast treasury of writings on Dzogchen, commentaries on both the root tantras and terma, and important exegeses such as his Santi Maha Sangha training, For those of us who have been so very fortunate to hear him teach and read his books, what often arises is his enthusiasm for scholarship. His research methods in themselves often make for compelling accounts of the challenges to compare texts, locate lost commentaries, correcting mistakes with painstaking diligence to reconstruct early works and then bring them to light for the contemporary world. Only a Tibetan fully educated since childhood could manage the magnitude of such a large vision to unravel the puzzle of history—reconstructing it for us by seeking out the lost threads. I was most interested in such an account during a recent retreat in Moscow on the texts relating to the Seven Nails of Shri Singha. To this day he is always, studying, researching, and writing on some topic-- probably a number of topics on the level of cosmic multi-tasking!

While the tragedy of Tibet looms large for many generations of Tibetans, for us Westerners this personal tragedy has been a huge boon. We must remember our debt to Tibet and the Tibetan people by trying to assist in whatever way we can, especially through supporting the work of organizations like A.S.I.A. and the International Shang Shung Institute who are actively working to preserve Tibetan culture,. Moreover, as the beneficiaries of practice lineages preserved for centuries in Tibet, it behooves us at least to take an interest in the history and cultural traditions of Tibet.

One aspect of the Tibetan Diaspora that is relevant is that scholars like Chogyal Namhai Norbu began to have access to a wide variety of texts in contemporary times that would otherwise have not been available to them in Tibet because of geographical distance or doctrinal biases. For many years, Chogyal Namkhai Norbu took an interest in the ancient history of Tibet compiling exhaustive source materials from ancient texts to support his argument that the early civilization of Zhang Zhung played a vital role in the origins of Tibetan culture thousands of years before the official account beginning with the introduction of Buddhism into Tibet during the reign of .From this research has manifested such major published works as The Necklace of Gzi (1981), Drung, Deu and Bon (1996), Birth, Life, and Death (2008), and The Light of Kailash (Vol. I, 2009.

The current publication, Zhang Zhung Images From A Lost Kingdom offers a user-friendly version of some of his research on the role of the ancient kingdom of Tibet in relation to the origins of Tibetan language, history, medicine and archaeology. We are immediately transported there via the fine images drawn from the Shung Shung archives and the estate of the late Brian Beresford who accompanied Chogyal Namkhai Norbu to Tibet in 1988 on an expedition to the Valley of the Garuda in Western Tibet near Mount Kailash with other community members. Shang Shung Institute has prepared a wonderful video from this expedition that can be watched online (just search the title of this book on You Tube). While this publication is but the tip of the iceberg in terms of the research undertaken by Chogyal Namkhai Norbu, nonetheless, there are a number of features that may prove of interest to scholars. Among them is the list of works cited in their original sources, a previously unpublished essay by Chogyal Namkhai Norbu that clearly presents his point of view, and then the images themselves, which reveal the scope of the archaeological remains (the complex is enormous). Alex Siedlecki is to be commended for putting this attractive volume together that will appeal to the general public but also be of great interest to practitioners.

Chogyal Namkhai Norbu has accomplished much to reverse a number of long cherished and inaccurate views based on his research into primary sources. Points of view once thought of as controversial are now increasingly accepted as many scholars worldwide turn their attention to the ancient history of Tibet.

Western culture is not immune to such intellectual narrow-mindedness, even punishing original thinkers and scholars. But what we do know is that there will always be courageous heroes/heroines who defy conventional thinking in favor of truth throughout time. While history more often than not is written by the ‘victors,’ humanity will always have a deep yearning to get at the heart of things while the very earth and rocks themselves never lie-- thus the archaeological record. The ancient civilization of Zhang Zhung is not a myth but was a place inhabited for centuries by living and breathing people to whom we share some measure of relationship as their distant beneficiaries to the path we now travel in this life. Reading Zhang Zhung Images From A Lost Kingdom infuses life into this vital connection.

Reprinted from the Mirror, International Newspaper of the Dzogchen Communioty.

Review of  TULKU Divine Birth, ordinary life
Written and Directed by: Gesar Mukpo
Producer: Kent Martin
Running time: 75 minutes, 33 seconds
Order Number: 153C 9108 456
National Film Board of Canada

By Jacqueline Gens

One of the joys of being an older practitioner is that we are in the position to observe over time the development of dharma teachings in the West. At present, a number of incarnate successors of many great Tibetan teachers who first taught in the west whom we knew first hand are now coming of age and beginning to teach themselves—the 17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje and Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche’s incarnation come to mind most recently.  Increasingly Westerners who studied and practiced for decades are themselves transmitting the teachings. Another interesting factor in the continuity of the teachings is the phenomena of Western Tulkus born and raised in secular societies outside the monastic infrastructure or family dynasty lineages that was the custom in the Tibet of their previous incarnations. 

In his film, TULKU, Divine Birth, ordinary life, Gesar Mukpo, the third son of the late Chogyam Trungpa (1939-1987) addresses the meaning of his own incarnate experience as well as a number of other Western Tulkus of similar circumstance.  Recognized at age three by the 16th Karmapa as the incarnation of Sechen Kongtrul, the root teacher of his father, Gesar explores with refreshing and sometimes heartbreaking honesty the challenges of such an identity. As a Westerner coming to the precious lineages of teachings in adulthood outside the sanction of my own culture, I found a gratifying sense of continuity in Gesar’s personal story. I remember him well as a boy. And then, one of the early dharma books I read was Chogyam Trungpa’s Born In Tibet. Here, I was first introduced to Kongtrul of Sechen. Trungpa’s recollections of his root guru are among the most affecting accounts of devotion I’ve ever read, narrated against a dramatic background of historical events and sweeping cultural changes in Tibet at the end of an era.  The book is also a window into Tibetan monastic culture and the traditional role Tulkus played in preserving that culture for good or at times worldly aims. In turn, Gesar’s recollections of his father are modified by his own unique upbringing within the Shambhala community in America founded by the 11th Trungpa in the early 1970s, a period of intense searching for young people experimenting with sex, drugs, and alternative lifestyles.  I personally would have appreciated more content about this special relationship in the film with some indication of their relationship and Gesar’s experience as a child growing up with such a father. Still, Gesar does speak about his later training with various lineage masters, in particular, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche who appears through out the film and is an important teacher for Gesar, in the dharma sense, as well as a filmmaker mentor.

The Tulkus featured in the film come from a variety of lineages and backgrounds. They are Gesar Mukpo, Dylan Henderson, Ashoka Mukpo, Wyatt Arnold, and Reuben Adrian Derksen. Some received early monastic educations while others learned directly from great masters like Chagdud Rinpoche, Trungpa Rinpoche,  Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche.  Unlike those Tulkus destined as lineage holders such as Mipham Rinpoche (Gesar’s older brother and head of Shambhala International) and our own, Khyentse Yeshe, these young men all are searching for the meaning of their life in the context of being recognized as great masters outside the normal channels of hierarchy usually associated with Tulkus--hence the subtitle of the film, “Divine Birth, ordinary life.” The film examines their questioning and search for purpose within such uncertainty.

Just as Gesar’s previous incarnation did not advise the young 11th Trungpa whether or not to flee Tibet at a critical moment,  likewise it appears that his father, Chogyam Trungpa, left little direction for Gesar’s role as a Tulku. Nonetheless, these two mind streams have been intertwined for generations which is told in compelling detail in Trungpa’s early publication, Born in Tibet. Devotion is at the heart of their relationship and this shines through Gesar’s story and the other Tulku’s stories as well, especially Wyatt Arnold, who recollects his relationship to the late Chagdud Rinpoche.

Dzognzar Khyentse Rinpoche, Gesar Mukpo’s guru is featured prominently in the film. Dzongzar Rinpoche, at one point, with biting sarcasm comments “Who cares about Tulku?  They will be the ruination of Buddhism.”  Thus, the film also explores the dark side of the Tulku system which only emerged in the century and was often an instrument of institutional organization laden with large land holdings and vast treasuries at stake, which continues strongly, especially in India in association with the monasteries who can count on revenue form such recognitions.  On the other hand, the system also allowed for  a more democratic and revitalizing inspiration at times when major teachers were often recognized from the most humble of origins such as his HHDL which is also acknowledged in the film. As one of the young Tulkus  remarks about his early monastic education in India, the monastery he experienced was a nest of corruption, deceit, and abuse where only a very few individuals manifested deep spiritual qualities. This film is about those few, not about organized religion.

Institutional politics aside, I personally found the film uplifting, charming and boldly authentic without any particular point of view other than Gesar’s personal exploration which some might find lacking in focus or unsophisticated. This is his first feature film which is the result of a diversity grant he received form the National Film Board of Canada. The film does little to explain exactly what a Tulku is in the traditional sense or their specific trainings.  But watching the film a few times while listening to the upbeat sound track, I was left with a sense of contentment, even joy, that all is well when such beings manifest in whatever capacity and medium they choose. For Gesar, at the moment, it seems filmmaking is his path. Among his music videos through which he earns his living, he has produced an interesting one on his brother Mipham Rinpoche or “Mipham”, the spoken word artist,  called “What About Me? which can be viewed on You Tube under his channel “chewyguru” where you can also see the trailer for TULKU. Unbelievably in the music video, there is Mipham Rinpoche, rapping away deep into the video—his voice a magnet of wisdom about our penchant for consumerism seeking happiness, which only leads to suffering ending with—“I’m happy when you’re happy” It’s a new generation and yet the story continues.  And this makes me happy!

Into the Heart of Life
Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo
Snow Lion Publications,
Ithaca, NY, 2011
ISBN: 1559393742

Reading Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo’s book, Into the Heart of Life brought me home to my early years of introduction to the Buddhist teachings, especially the mind of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, my first teacher.

Feeling tender hearted by her writing I had a memory, surely one of the great moments in my life. One night in the Rocky Mountains, a group of us—actually hundreds of us attending a three month outdoor encampment known as the Vajradhatu seminary were roused from our sleep late into the night to the sound of a conch as we were summoned to an impromptu talk by the late Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche during the hinayana portion of his seminary.

What transpired is difficult to communicate even after all these years. In 1986, Trungpa Rinpoche’s health was declining. During this final seminary his talks were minimal and often surrounded by an ocean of silent but pregnant pauses. Little did we know that these would be his final public teachings and that within weeks he would suffer cardiac arrest, eventually leading to his death some months later. So it is profoundly poignant what he had to say to us on that high mountain and starry night among so many jewels.   These are words that have stayed with me for decades. They were spoken with huge gaps of space between each word conveying far more than any literal meaning. He said,

“The hinayana teaching should not be regarded as something that you can just carry out and then get rid of, or discard. The hinayana teaching is the life force that carries out our own practice and discipline, which goes on continuously. From that point of view the hinayana should be regarded as life’s strength. OK. That’s that. NEVER FORGET THE HINAYANA!”

Khamtrul Rinpoche says in his introduction to Into the Heart of Life, that Jetsunma’s teachings are both for beginners and for advanced practitioners wishing to achieve the happiness of liberation.  Her conveyance of the sutric paths is not about renunciation from the world but as a vehicle for bringing us closer to the “Heart of Life.” Thus she captures the spirit of Chogyam Trungpa and all great Masters’ sense of the root of the teaching as a kind of life force we can always draw sustenance from.

Through out the dzogchen path there is a tripartite logic known as view, meditation and behavior.  As we all know,  it is behavior that remains our greatest challenge where our true development is exposed day after day with all its subtle and gross delusions, petty concerns and endless litany of blames and complaints about others—what the Buddha referred to as our immense blindness for foolishly childish behavior.   Jetsunma addresses these common foibles with a sweet yet pungent and thoroughly no nonsense reminder of what’s important. She does this through her deep personal experience not from doctrinal training.

For those unacquainted with her path, Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo is the British nun who in 1964 was among the earliest practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism by a Westerner. She spent twelve years meditating in a cave in solitude, which became the subject of Cave in the Snow, a compelling account of her experience by Vicki Mackenzie.

Returning from Tenerife, I read Into the Heart of Life while traveling. There are many lofty teachings and views that we have been introduced to over the years. Sometimes going home to our humble origins, our beginnings, is a useful tact when all else fails or we forget our own Master’s prompt for “total relaxation.” Here is where we share with humanity the eternal hope for happiness and desire for liberation from suffering, especially those afflictive emotions that burn us in a kind of living hell realm of our own prison. Although we have been given the key to escape by being present to the moment, we sometimes need the recollection like a Dorothy, in the classic child’s tale, The Wizard of Oz, that we simply have to click our shoes to get home to Kansas. Jetsunma’s book is a great reminder about getting out of the tornado and back home safely when we’ve lost the way or gotten distracted in OZ.

Among the many topics she tackles effectively that might be of interest for long time practitioners are issues of “Praise and Blame” in connection with the Eight Worldly concerns; the chapter on the Five Precepts as the ground for ethical behavior—especially the fourth precept of speech, since most of us at this point don’t go around killing and stealing; her chapter on Impermanence is deeply moving. She covers everything in loving detail including many intelligent Q & A following her teachings.

She also has a strong feminist understanding of the limitations of the historical patriarchy of Tibetan Buddhism. Her view is less about personal rancor having to scramble for transmissions in her lineage but more about a fervent mission to transform these out dated social mores so that nuns, her nuns, can become educated and fully-trained like their male counterparts rather than glorified servants.  It has become her mission to restore the lineage of the great yogic practices of the Drugpa Kagyu, mostly destroyed during the Cultural Revolution.  Proceeds from this book go towards that goal to support her nunnery, Dongyu Gatsel LingShe makes a strong case for how lucky we Westerners are for our education.

Into the Heart of Life is not a book for everyone, especially people who think they are already accomplished practitioners and have “arrived,” who might find it boring or people who thrive in an atmosphere of believing in their projections as real even decades of practice later.  But for people who observe themselves closely and have an honest desire to improve their capacity by eliminating their defects and finding true joy, there are lots of gems here, good pointers to the reminder that time is passing and we would do well to use it wisely when it comes to our spiritual life. In short this is a modest book for modest practitioners who walk the talk and never forget the sutric path as the perfect foundation.

Jacqueline Gens
Tsegyalgar East
November 8, 2012

Togden Shakya Shri
The Life and Liberation of a Tibetan Yogin
By Kathog Situ Chokyi Gyatso
Translated from Tibetan and compiled by Elio Gaurisco
Shang Shung Publications, 2009, Merigar, Italy, 327 pages

Excerpts Reprinted from The Mirror, International Newspaper of the Dzogchen Community, Issue 101, 2010

The biography or in some cases, autobiography of individuals who have attained great spiritual development (often referred to as hagiography or sacred biography) in the Tibetan tradition is known as namthar or “liberation” story. These “liberation” accounts chart the inner and outer journey of an individual leading to their enlightenment. Unlike western notions of biography, the spiritual liberation story reveals in visionary and sometimes mythic terms the accomplishments of individuals who have mastered conventional reality to achieve awakened primordial awareness. As such, they provide an important “how to” map for practitioners
still on the path towards realization and serve to prompt greater diligence. They also notarize like a seal, the various empowerments and practices received and conveyed by the master for future generations to come. All of us who have heard teachings from many masters can attest to the Tibetan penchant for telling stories about their precious masters and early training. The telling of such stories also provides a rich cultural context that fuels our inspiration and sense of transcendent community.

Shakya Shri’s (1853-1919) biography is no exception. The boy from humble circumstances whom his monastic schoolmates chided as “big nose” or “onion head” was a lowly cook in a Drukpa Kagyu monastery with little status who would become one of the greatest masters of his time. As Elio Guarisco points out in his Appendix, there is no indication that Shakya Shri studied philosophy but achieved his mastery through practice and exceptional devotion. His practice was often done around his kitchen duties. One oft repeated story is the following:

“On one occasion, while Shakya Shri was reporting to Tsognyi Rinpoche (1849-1904) on his progress in his practice, one monk shouted up from below, ‘Nephew of Pema! Come down and start the fire in the kitchen!’ Hearing the monk, Tsognyi Rinpoche called down, ‘Well! It seems that without the nephew of Pema nobody in Drugu monastery can keep the fires going in the kitchen.’ Laughing loudly, he added, ‘One day you will beg to drink his piss!’ (p.53)

The author of this namthar, Kathog Situ Chokyi Gyatso repeatedly refers to Shakya Shri as a “hidden yogin” which allowed his practice and training to flourish unimpeded so that he could realize his potential. Shakya Shri never took ordination as a monk, which further diminished his status. Eventually, a family man with many children, he and his consort(s) and children lived in a cave above a remote village--- vilified by some locals as that ‘dirty’ pack of yogins. Yet all of his direct descendents and their children were accomplished practitioners whose influence survives into the present. His retreat encampments were known for its strict discipline and simple lifestyle.

We Westerners are deeply indebted to the generation of masters Shakya Shri was born into, for he and his contemporaries exerted extraordinary efforts to collect and preserve all teachings in anticipation of the gradual demise of Tibet’s sovereignty as the sacred container for the Buddha’s teachings as well revitalize the dzogchen lineages through the many revealed treasures including those of Shakya Shri. Reading this biography offers an abundance of illuminating details about that unique period and the masters who were influential at the time. We will recognize their names--Adzom Drukpa, Za Patrul Rinpoche, Khamtrul Rinpoche Tenpe Nyima (Shakya Shri’s root guru), Jamyang Khyentse Wangmo, Mipham Rinpoche and so forth.

Translator, Elio Guarisco’s concerted work in compiling information about how this biography came to be, his accompanying essays and his clear translation proved a joy to read from “cover to cover.” Elio really poured his heart into the project and it shines with many additional features which merit comment.

There are several amazing teachings contained in the Shang Shung publication, not part of the original text. These include, “Opening the Door to Liberation” and “The Five Things Difficult to Accomplish.” A man of passionate intensity, Elio has included several of Shakya Shri’s extraordinary Vajra songs, including one about his consort, Namkha Dronma. They are quite special. Elio writes in his essay at the conclusion of the book, “The Free Spirit of Shakya Shri,”

“Presented as saintly in the biography, Shakya Shri, was certainly also a man who, within the light of his vast mind, blended all the conflicting aspects of human life. He was a human being of deep passions who at the same time had the wisdom to resolve them to benefit himself and others.” (p.223)

Whether the tradition of namthar will continue as a literary genre in Western contexts is uncertain. No doubt, various electronic delivery modes in the future will replace these kinds of accounts. For now, let it suffice to say, that continued translations like Shang Shung’s publication of this book are of great service to practitioners everywhere.

Here’s a bit of my personal take after reading this biography. In the West there seems to be a growing interest in miraculous and supernatural occurrences. This orientation has permeated both popular film and literature for a couple of decades. One of the greatest selling publications in the history of the written word is the Harry Potter series. Millions of children around the world have been nurtured on the heroic and magical forces of the world of sorcery. The great secret that is Tibetan culture is that such miracles are everyday manifestations not just imaginative yearning for the extraordinary. They are secret because they are not to be appropriated for egoistic agendas. Reading Shakya Shri’s biography is an incursion into the fantastic world of the impossible becoming possible. The real magic and adventure, of course, is discovering our own mind and cherishing the source of that knowledge-- our masters. Shakya Shri’s liberation story reminded me of that principle on a deep level. I sincerely hope those interested in such life stories will read this book. You won’t be disappointed. In the end, I offer many thanks to all those who worked on making this rare biography available to us.

Jacqueline Gens
Tsegyalgar, December 2009


The following review is forthcoming in The Mirror, International Newspaper of the Dzogchen Community

Review of Tibetan Literary Arts catalog, Neilson Library, Smith College, published by Shung Shung Institute, edited by Marit Cranmer, May 2007

For my reprinted essay on Women poets of Tibet, "A Small Stone Casts Its Ripple" from the catalog, go to the Poetrymind page.

Some years ago I became interested in learning more about Tibetan poetry. Not being a native or learned scholar of the Tibetan language proved a great obstacle to my studies. At one point, I wrote to a few translator scholars and some lamas who responded without much interest or answers to my many questions about poetic forms other than good luck and general encouragement. The exception was Professor Robin Kornman (1947-2006), a scholar and translator of the Gesar of Ling epic, who engaged me in a lively conversation about doha, Milarepa and the influence of the Gesar epic tradition before he was diagnosed with a rare cancer and our conversation discontinued. The other exception is poet, Louise Landes Levi, who can speak about these literary traditions with great fluency, authority and intimacy and who generously shared her knowledge over long conversations in not a few cafes, via email and by phone.

I’ve probably read close to every article related to Tibetan literature including some rather obscure books in English ordered from India via inter library loan services to inform my interests. After many attempts (at Louise’s recommendation), I finally located a pristine book in English in America of the influential Kavyadharsha 7th century text on Sanskrit poetics by Dandin at the Amherst College library whose only other brief visitor in thirty years was a Professor Robert Thurman. So we are not talking about a mainstream scholarly presence here but a topic still rather esoteric and unacknowledged even among most Tibetologists and certainly among most Buddhist scholars. However, it was one article (written by well known Buddhist scholars), in particular, that inflamed my interest and “lit my fire,” as they say. This was the entry for Tibetan poetry in the gigantic and definitive academic reference book for world poetry, The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. What I read there deeply, (I say deeply like an arrow through my heart), disheartened me for unlike other non-western world literatures (Persian, Arabic, Turkic, Burmese, Senegalese, Tamil, Bengali, to name a few), Tibetan poetry was characterized as unevolved, codified back in the 12th century, and essentially a dead tradition. The two brief examples (selected from all the magnificent Tibetan literary canon) cited were so simple, one would think that the Tibetan people were deficient in literary imagination. Here’s one uninspiring example cited from the great master, Longchenpa:

Life is impermanent like clouds of autumn
Youth is impermanent like flowers of spring
The body is impermanent like borrowed property
Wealth is impermanent like dew on the grass.

Even cultures long gone and far more undeveloped had more to say about themselves than the entry on Tibetan poetry. This just did not seem right to me nor indicative of what I had already been introduced to over the past 25 years by the late Chogyam Trungpa through his magnificent anthology, The Rain of Wisdom and the many poets from the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa influenced by Tibetan poetics. Surely, with the millions of Tibetan pages surviving into the present and more discovered every day, there must be something to say to elevate Tibetan literature, particularly poetry, to a world-class level such as with other non-Western cultures.

While an MFA candidate in poetry back in 2004, I decided to do my final thesis on Tibetan poetry using the opportunity to further my knowledge by investigating the tradition from several vantages. At one point, my professor, a Patrician sort of fellow, asked me with a note of dry sarcasm (the kind of tone academics know all too well), “You say Tibetan poetry is so great but where’s the proof? I don’t see any evidence.” Even the work of the 6th Dalai Lama failed to rouse his interest, perhaps among the most accessible and widely translated poems for Western readers with their simple folk inspired lyrics, yet complex worldly mix of mundane and sacred love, and politics. Amazingly too, Milarepa fell on deaf ears. In fact, my professor/mentor, I later found out, had consulted that mighty compendium over 1200 pages long on world poetry mentioned above, which no doubt colored his perceptions of my paper’s topic and to substantiate his claim that Tibetan poetry was inferior. While my work in his eyes was “shabby” (his own word), barely passable, yet when lecturing with the exact same material to my poet colleagues and general college students, on the other hand, I discovered something different. The response was one of overwhelming interest and enthusiastic discovery. People couldn’t believe what they were hearing. One such lecture included a room of about thirty advanced technology students who, much to my surprise, were totally enthralled with the topic, especially since Tibetan literature as it entered the modern era is no stranger to digital technologies in its preservation strategies (a fact I exploited to gain their interest). And so, shamelessly and without academic credentials, I have made it my life’s mission to continue in my quest to explore Tibetan poetry as an outsider & amateur poet/scholar, speaking my mind free from the dreary sanctions of academic endorsement and reputation. However, I also deeply respect those many individuals who have taken the topic to task in a more conventional academic context and the great effort required to study the Tibetan language in depth—not an easy task as I‘ve discovered numerous times when I have tried to take it up again and again.

This somewhat long winded introduction is but a prelude to emphasize just how unique the Tibetan Literary Arts exhibit Marit Cranmer curated for Smith College and the accompanying catalog is at addressing this essential question of what’s so great about Tibetan poetry. Marit’s curation of this exhibit with its predominant emphasis on the experiential poems of great masters (nyams mgyur) brings together her expertise in museum exhibition, library science/rare books, textile artistry and depth of spiritual understanding in a remarkable fusion that creates a concrete introduction to Tibetan poetry combining both visuals and text at the same time. The catalog she put together and in part sponsored by the Shang Shung Institute is not only aesthetically gorgeous and well organized but by combining multiple views in the essays by diverse scholars, for the first time a new paradigm emerges that can begin to address some critical issues such as literary genre classification, ancient influences, formal stylistic elements, and the rich display of literary diversity within the Tibetan canon. It will serve as a tremendous resource for budding students of Tibetan literature and the general public. The exhibit, largely inspired by Choegyal Namkhai Norbu, to honor HHDL’s presence on the Smith campus in May of 2007, is an homage to Rinpoche’s own scholarship and contributions to revealing the importance of Tibet’s ancient literary heritage and toward setting the record straight.

The great tragedy of Tibetan people in the modern era has in some sense liberated Tibetan culture from the flat plane of dogmatic insistence on placing the origins of Tibetan language, and therefore its literature, solely with the onset of Buddhism that has misinformed the tradition for millennia. Unlike other cultures, Tibetan history has been subject to the shackles of its own making in defiance of archaeological and historical records in service of spiritual orthodoxies far beyond any other world civilization. Choegyal Namkhai Norbu’s book, The Necklace of Zhi (1974) seriously addresses this conundrum by placing the burden of reconciling the historic record on the young people of Tibet. To some extent this is our legacy as well, since as practitioners we have benefited so enormously from the Tibetan Diaspora. We, too, need to take up this banner by supporting translation projects, training translators, funding schools inside Tibet and respecting the multi-dimensions of Tibetan culture (much as the missions of Shang Shung Institute and A.S.I.A. aspire to).

The good news is that the writing of great and lesser poets everywhere emerges into the modern era as newborn as the day they were composed whether named or anonymous, even in translation, to speak directly to us. Ultimately, save a few scholars, most people don’t care where poems come from only that they exist in every conceivable form and culture being somewhat plastic in translation to communicate universally transcended themes, And to be really prosaic here— wow! Does Tibetan poetry ever have universally recognized transcendent themes! What can be more universal than the nature of mind, the heritage of all peoples throughout time. Thus, many ordinary people outside the Tibetan spiritual traditions recognize the special contribution that Tibetan literary works convey when first exposed to them. The exhibit for which this catalog represents proves this by the desire on the part of Smith College to extend the exhibit’s presence on campus. The truth of the matter is that people off the street have immensely enjoyed coming into the literary exhibit spaces and contemplating the large-scale texts—some even daily.

It is a rare occasion to walk into a room and see displayed large-scale excerpts of the cream of Tibetan verse, translated with elegance and presented so artistically. We see here the hand of many fine independent translators, including Erik Pema Kunsung, Constance Wilkinson, Thubten Jinpa, Steven Goodman, the Padmakara and Nalanda translation committees and Keith Dowman, among them. While most practitioners in the Dzogchen Community can not view the exhibit first hand, the catalog is an enduring representation of a unique contribution to the field of literary studies that the Shang Shung Institute can be proud of and which is available for purchase.

In the catalog, each essay is laid out with excerpts from the exhibit—Tulku Thondup presents a fairly traditional exposition on the five fields of knowledge (language, medicine, logic, arts, Buddhism) of Tibetan literature (rig pa’i gnas lnga) with an exhaustive catalogue of key texts in all the genres and sub genres. While not particularly analytical, his essay does offer an important reference for the breadth and scope of Tibetan texts presenting the conventional categories according to traditional monastic training. For the uninitiated to read his essay, it would come as a great surprise that he covers material that is but the tip of the iceberg.

Professor Thubten Jinpa’s is one of the first Tibetans seriously to examine Tibetan poetry on its own terms but within some context of Western literary articulation. Educated at both Cambridge where he received a Ph.d and Ganden monastic college where he received a Geshe lamdra degree, his understanding of poetic versification in both Tibetan and English has placed him in the exceptional position to discuss subtle distinctions and stylistic elements of versification rarely looked into or considered especially relevant. In his essay, “Poetry and Spiritual Experience in the Tibetan Tradition,” Jinpa discusses various types of poetic composition. Through his own poetry mentor, Zemey, Rinpoche, Professor Jinpa brings the complex influence of the kavyadharsha training to life in the context of some of Tibet’s greatest writers and scholars by examining aspects of his own training on the use of metaphor in his essay.

The love poems of the 6th Dalai Lama are not only beloved by all Tibetans but are widely appreciated by Westerners for their individualized expression. Per K. Sorensen’s essay on the 6th Dalai Lama, “Divinity Secularized,” also presents key literary analysis that discusses the formal elements such as the prevalence of trochaic meter (long/short two syllable) and lack of alliterative use that has its own distinct quality so different than the English language predominance of an iambic meter (short/long two syllable). The modern sensibility of the 6th Dalai Lama’s lyrics derives its potency from his artistic dilemma that presents a tension between his worldly and religious aspirations encapsulated within a succinct few metaphors cast in a general context of rich figurative language about nature or society that one encounters over and over in Tibetan verse. “The poems, ” Per Sorensen, is right to assert, “therefore paint a canvas of a complex personality and run the gamut of emotions.”

Steve Goodman takes great risks with his essay, “The Transmission of Presence in Tibetan Poetics of Ineffable Experience,” with free-form translations of experiential poems, that brings the interpretation up a notch from more traditional scholarship. His translations are fresh, contemporary and best of all--melodious.

My own essay in the catalog, “A Small Stone Casts Its Ripple,” was an impossible challenge at Marit’s invitation to write something about women poets of Tibet because after all Smith is a women’s college and I’m an alumna. Humm, well there just aren’t that many Tibetan women writers translated into literary English, let alone available in the original Tibetan to speak of much of a women’s writing tradition comparable to other cultures. Somehow, by the grace of the lineage masters and devas and dakinis whom I invoked to help me out here, I managed not to embarrass myself or Shang Shung too much. After all, one can’t go wrong with Yeshe Tsogyal or Machig Labdron. The exercise was actually a further indication for me to apply myself to learn classical Tibetan. While many songs of spiritual experience (nyams mgyur) by female masters have been preserved and incorporated into other texts, they simply are not available for public distribution because they are transmission based, which was a limitation. Nonetheless, I found a lot to talk about after all. This was in part, thanks to Tsultrim Allione’s groundbreaking book, Women of Wisdom.

A number of other essays illuminate this catalog including Chapter Two from Choegyal
Namkhai Norbu’s, The Necklace of Zhi on Tibetan language with the text in both English and Tibetan. Donatella Rossi contributed a brief explanation of the Light of Kailish (publication forthcoming) also by Choegyal Namkhai Norbu that outlines the general topics of each volume. Per Kvaene’s excerpt from his "Introduction to the History of Bon" presents the evolving scholarship over the past three decades regarding the historical interdependence between Bon and Buddhism resulting in a far more complex relationship than previously acknowledged.

In conclusion, I would especially like to thank Marit for her inspired exhibit and beautiful catalog. May we all manifest our gifts in the service of our spiritual heritage. I would also like to encourage the many young people in our community to make use of online resources and training in Tibetan literature and language (becoming more sophisticated each year) to further their education and to support the important activities of Shang Shung Institute. Younger practitioners in our community have many years to develop their expertise and so make a contribution to these exciting studies. Such efforts can benefit many people by introducing them to the vast treasury of Tibetan literature through well-crafted Western language translations that will someday take their rightful place among the world’s great literary masterpieces.

The Tibetan Literary Arts catalog is available through Snow Lion Publications.

Jacqueline Gens
Brattleboro, Vermont
August 4, 2007

A couple of poems featured in the Smith College Literary Exhibit:

This lunatic child
Who lost his mother long ago
Will soon learn by pure chance
That he just failed to recognize her.
She was with him all along!

Perhaps mother is the yes and no of emptiness,
As whispered to me by my father,
Dependent origination. All duality is
Mother’s benign smile; the cycle
Of life and death, her verbal display.

Always truthful mother, you have fooled me!
I now seek salvation through my father’s lore.
Yet, ultimately it is in you alone
That I can hope for freedom.

If the world is really what it seems to be,
Even the Buddhas of the three times cannot save me.
But this world of diversity and change
Is actually my changeless mother’s moods.
So I can hope for freedom!

(Changkya Rolpai Dorje’s “Recognizing my Mother,” 18th century,
translated by Thubten Jinpa and Jas Elsner)

Everything is Everything
appearance & emptiness
when they’re no different
everything is my view

dream time & wake time
when they’re no different
everything is my meditation

bliss & emptiness
when they’re no different
everything is my activity

now & later
when there's no difference
everything is naturally real

mind & space
when there's no difference
everything is dharmakaya

happy & sad
when there's no difference
everything is guru's instruction

upset & wisdom
when there's no difference
everything is the realized state

my mind & buddha mind
when there's no difference
everything is complete

(Milarepa, (Mi la mgurr ‘bum), translation by Steven Goodman)


Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche in the Tibetan robes of his previous incarnation, the 10th Trungpa.

Book Review
Dragon Thunder: My Life with Chogyam Trungpa
Diana J. Mukpo with Carolyn Rose Gimian
Shambhala Publications, 2006

Reading Diana Mukpo’s Dragon Thunder My Life with Chogyam Trungpa, transported me back to the years I spent in Boulder nearly twenty-five years ago. Chogyam Trungpa’s vision of enlightened society continues to inspire me in surprising ways. For someone whom I barely met, his presence in my life as a teacher has left me caught in the crocodile hold of his grip. There was no one like him and I doubt in these times we will experience anytime soon such a manifestation of wisdom unleashed on the western world—both wild and yet totally immersed in cultural civility as the first Tibetan to bear the message of the Buddhist teachings to the West. This particular Tibetan, whose family descends from the great warrior king, Gesar, broke the mould of conventional mind with aftershocks still being felt decades later. Perhaps if his manifestation had lived up to the stereotypes expected of a spiritual teacher, there would be less of a story to tell.

Whether other readers will find the book as captivating as I did, I’m not sure. But if anyone is seriously interested in the life and work of Chogyam Trungpa, it’s a must read evoking the incandescent and ‘crazy wisdom’ world that emanated from Chogaym Trungpa Rinpoche.

Publisher’s Weekly sums up the book:

That crazy wisdom manifested itself in a highly unconventional life that (Diana) Mukpo shared for virtually all of her husband's time in the West until his untimely death in 1987. Rinpoche drank prodigiously and had numerous lovers. He was also greatly gifted as an imaginative interpreter of Tibetan Buddhism, with its many esoteric practices, to the West. The couple was unconventional from the get-go. An upper-class Briton educated at an exclusive girls' school, Mukpo was just 16 when she married the Tibetan lama, who she recalls couldn't remember her name when he broke the news of their marriage to a friend. Such anecdotes form a series of revealing private snapshots of the influential Buddhist teacher. Mukpo makes sense out of his craziness and also builds a good case for his brilliance. She is better at domesticity than discipleship, however, so the value of this book is to open household doors and tell a page-turning family story by which the controversial guru can be better understood.

Reading Diana Mukpo’s book was as astonishing as seeing a glimpse of a photo of Trungpa Rinpoche recently on National Public Television as part of Bill Moyer’s featured interview with Pema Chodron, a senior disciple, in his series “Faith and Reason.” It’s hard to believe that this Tibetan master should ever enter the living rooms of mainstream America. But maybe not surprising, as once Trungpa Rinpoche was said to comment that if he could win over his unforgiving mother-in-law (for stealing her daughter away at age 16), he could conquer the world. And to find out just how he won his recalcitrant mother-in-law’s affection is one of the more light-hearted stories in Dragon Thunder.

Lady Diana, as she is known in the Shambhala community, writes with an ingenuous candor and equanimity when discussing even the most painful aspects of her life. And there are plenty of heartbreaks: her first born son, Taggie, a tulku recognized by the 16th Karmapa, would eventually be diagnosed with autism; a nomadic lifestyle disruptive to creating a home base; Trungpa’s drinking and many girl friends; the Vajra Regent’s scandalous behavior; financial difficulties; and Trungpa’s final days when she pleaded with him to take care of his health to his words that, “It’s too late.” She’s not above relating instances of hurt or mean spiritedness directed against her by jealous disciples or her own failings at key moments. I have no problem referring to Diana Mukpo as Lady Diana. She deserves the elevated nomenclature of royalty to have survived a most unconventional life with grace and grit. But then Diana nee Pybus is no ordinary woman. In the Shambhala lineage, she holds the title Druk Sakyong Wangmo, as appointed by her husband, the late Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche.

Through out the narrative of her girlhood, teen years, the riveting story of her courtship and years of motherhood, her unaffected presence shines through, even if lacking in some details, but still telling all. It’s also an unusual document in that it recounts that even amid domestic turmoil, it is possible to live within the realm of discipline and radiance. Generally, in the lives of great masters in the Tibetan tradition, little credence is given to the consort’s point of view. Diana Mukpo changes this forever. Reading through the book one begins to appreciate that Chogyam Trungpa chose the right partner for bringing forth his vision of Shambhala. What I especially appreciated about Lady Diana’s narrative in Dragon Thunder is that it includes both outer details of her day to day life with Trungpa Rinpoche as well as a glimpse into her own inner life-- her dreams, her ambitions in the world of dressage and for a normal family life.

A couple of months ago, I ran into a friend of mine from thirty years ago at my local supermarket. There among the greens, we had a long catch up as my friend’s teenage son had recently been in a serious auto accident in which he suffered many injuries. At some point, I asked her if her son knew about her own {very} wild youth, a trait her son seems to share. She said, “Goodness no,” She was just a regular mom and wanted to keep it that way. Unlike my friend and most of my generation, Lady Diana leaves no stone unturned in the spirit of authenticity that illuminates her life’s narrative.

The first and only time I met Chogyam Trungpa, taking my hand he peered closely into my face saying “Welcome.” As I got up to leave he would not let go of my hand that had the most amazing combination of ironclad and softness to it. Hence the crocodile hold I previously mentioned at the beginning of this review! True to his word, he has never let me go, nor I him. To enter his world was to enter the family of Mukpo. Lady Diana’s book is a further extension of the Mukpo family, who like any other family has its trials and tribulations, dysfunction and bonds of loving acceptance and yet, the largess to open themselves to public scrutiny while including others in their destiny—a whole lot of others.

While at times, the book seems to be an apology for Trungpa Rinpoche’s unconventional methods, it accurately chronicles those countercultural years perhaps some of us would like to forget or sweep under the rug—with its many scandals and bon vivant lifestyle, Yet, it also offers a remarkable view into his inner journey in bringing the dharma to the West from the person who knew him best. Her recounting of Trungpa’s last days deeply pierced me with a sadness that lingered for days but the legacy he left behind continues to shine two decades later. Sharing her story with world is an act of generosity. The hand of Carolyn Gimian, the primary editor for most works by Chogyam Trungpa is clearly present throughout Dragon Thunder, lending the publication an excellent literary consistency filled with heartbreak, humor, and above all else-- dignity. Altogether we are happy to die, Trungpa Rinpoche wrote in his spiritual will, We take our joy along with us. It is unusually romantic to die:

To hear Lady Diana's keynote speech at the Naropa University Ocean of Dharma Conference click here. The above is my edited version of a book review of Dragon Thunder. I have to say, Lady Diana covers ground rarely touched upon in a traditional namthar account. Experiencially, she covers intimate details from her birthing experiences to the intimacy she shared with Trungpa Rinpoche. Her talk is delightful. She said that while Westerners found the fact that Trungpa Rinpoche slept with his students shocking, what the Tibetans found shocking was that Trungpa Rinpoche audaciously taught Vajrayana to Westerners. "Pick your poison," she humoursly said.