Early in the 1970’s Chögyam Trungpa coined the term “crazy wisdom” to describe an advanced stage of realization on the Tibetan Buddhist path in which the teacher’s compassion drives him or her to transcend conventional norms. It is about being willing to do whatever is necessary to wake people up. But it is not about self-aggrandizement or outrageousness for outrageousness sake. Trungpa Rinpoche had studied with several masters in this lineage in Tibet, where he became steeped in this approach. As his journey to the West unfolded, he became increasingly willing to drop all pretense in order to communicate directly, and to go deep, with Western minds and hearts. Our understanding and practice of the Buddhist teachings would not be what they are today if he had not given his all to Buddhism in America.
When one of Rinpoche’s earliest students in America, filmmaker Johanna Demetrakis, decided to make a film about Trungpa Rinpoche’s life and work, the perfect title seemed clear. Crazy Wisdom: The Life and Times of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche is the product of almost twenty-five years of work on Johanna’s part. It premiered at the Santa Barbara Film Festival this past weekend, and it will soon be moving on to festivals around North America and beyond.
It’s an opportunity to see many aspects of Chögyam Trungpa, both through his own words as well as through the impressions of many who knew him, studied with him, or were his colleagues. In this beautifully shot film, the threads of the story are woven together with sensitivity. The pacing is spacious but alluring—appropriate for a film about a man who always created a deep and vast space for others.
I had the privilege of working with Johanna on some parts of the film. I was repeatedly impressed by her deep sense of the story, by her determination to remain true to the man and his life, as well as by her openness to seeing things from new perspectives and being open to surprises along the way. I found that she was able to share the freshness of her discoveries with the audience.