The Teacup and the Skullcup by Chögyam Trungpa

The Teacup and the Skullcup by Chögyam Trungpa

Chogyam Trungpa (1940 – 1987) was, by all accounts a remarkable teacher, author, lecturer and artist.

His many achievements include the founding of Naropa University, Boulder, Colorado; the Shambhala Training program; and an international association of training programs known as Shambhala International.

In addition to this he was an accomplished artist, a writer for theater and film, as well as a counsellor on meditation for professionals from the fields of psychology, medicine, business and education.

North America, 1974

On New Year’s Day 1974 Trungpa began teaching the first of two seminars on the subject of Zen and tantra. These seminars formed part of the early stages of a lecture tour that lasted seventeen years – one that criss-crossed North America and comprised hundreds of private and public seminars and thousands of individual teaching talks.

In the first three years spent in North America he taught fundamental topics related to the Buddhist path but with an emphasis on meditation. Later on in the summer of 1972 he specifically and exclusively taught tantra in a series of fifteen talks at the Naropa Institute in Boulder.

His book ‘The Teacup and the Skullcup’ is a compilation of edited transcripts from two seminars that he gave at the start of that North American tour – one in Barnet, Vermont and the other in Boston.

Zen and Tantra

These lectures highlight the connections that the author had come to see between in hie lifetime between the practice of Zen and that of tantra.

‘The Teacup and the Skullcap’ is sectioned into four parts.

In part one, The Awakening of Prajna he talks about Prajna – the state of complete clarity, as the core of the Zen tradition. This is followed by his discourse on tantra and its concept of instant enlightenment.

Part two The Net of Discipline, he refers to the similarities between Zen and tantra. It includes the subject of meditation and a series of questions that attendees had regarding the regularity of practice, the development of breathing and the use of a mantra.

Part three, Oxherding, features ten well-known pictures that are used to train the mind. Here the author explains that In the oxherding pictures, the evolutionary process of taming the bull is very close to the vajrayana view of the transmutation of energy.

Part four of the book features an essay that was written by the author on the ocassion of the death, in 1971, of his friend Suzuki Roshi.

The book closes with acknowledgments, sources and an index.

Our Review of ‘The Teacup and the Skullcup’ by Chogyam Trungpa

A great deal has changed in the Buddhist movement since 1974. It has become more mainstream in its use and application than Trungpa could ever have imagined during those trail-blazing years spent teaching both Zen and tantra to a fresh-faced world looking for new spiritual ideals.

Despite this, the material in ‘The Teacup and the Skullcap’ stands up well to the pressures of contemporary scrutiny. Whilst its style and presentation does lack some degree of clarity in places much of this can be put down to the style of the day and the nature of the source of the transcripts.

This is, however, a deeply philosophical work. One which will appeal to those who attended the author’s lectures all those years ago as well as to those who have, subsequently, followed the author’s work.

What is of little doubt is that Trungpa was a remarkable teacher, deeply versed in subjects of which he was a master at a comparatively young age.

Wisdom and insight into the Zen and tantra traditions make this collection of Chogyam Trungpa transcripts essential reading for those prepared to engage with the deeper recesses of Buddhist thought and practice.

Our Rating

4/5