Getting to the Point with Chögyam Trungpa

Quotes on Perception by Chögyam Trungpa

Photographs by Chögyam Trungpa © Diana J. Mukpo

If You Are Able to Relax

The way experience one’s state of being is simply to relax. In this case relaxation is quite different from the setting-sun idea of flopping or taking time off, entertaining yourself with a good vacation. Relaxation here refers to relaxing the mind, letting go of the anxiety and concepts and depression that normally bind you. In meditation you are neither “for” nor “against” your experience. That is, you don’t praise some thoughts and condemn others, but you take an unbiased approach. You let things be as they are, without judgment, and in that way you yourself learn to be, to express your existence, directly, non-conceptually.

If you are able to relax—relax to a cloud by looking at it, relax to a drop of rain and experience its genuineness—you can see the unconditionality of reality, which remains very simply in things as they are, very simply. When you are able to look at things without saying, “This is for me or against me, I can go along with this”, or “I cannot go along with this,” then you are experiencing a state of wisdom.

You may see a fly buzzing: you may see a snowflake; you may see ripples of water; you may see a black widow spider. You may see anything, but you can actually look at all of those things with simple and ordinary, but appreciative, perception.

You experience a vast realm of perceptions unfolding. There is unlimited sound, unlimited sight, unlimited taste, unlimited feeling and so on. The realm of perception is limitless, so limitless that perception itself is primordial, unthinkable, beyond thought. There are so many perceptions that they are beyond imagination. There are a vast number of sounds. There are sounds that you have never heard. There are sights and colors that you have never seen. There are feelings that you have never experienced before. There are endless fields of perception.

Normally, we limit the meaning of perceptions…in other words, we fit what we see into a comfortable or familiar scheme. We shut any vastness or possibilities of deeper perception out of our hearts by fixating on our own interpretation of phenomena. But it is possible to go beyond personal interpretation, to let vastness into our hearts through the medium of perception. We always have a choice: We can limit our perception so that we close off vastness, or we can allow vastness to touch us.

When we draw down the power and depth of vastness into a single perception, then we are discovering and invoking magic. By magic we do not mean unnatural power over the phenomenal world, but rather the discovery of innate or primordial wisdom in the world as it is.

Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche
‘Discovering Magic’  from Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior 

Discovering Magic 

Whether you care to communicate with it or not, the magical strength and wisdom of reality are always there….By relaxing the mind, you can reconnect with that primordial, original ground, which is completely pure and simple. Out of that, through the medium of your perceptions, you can discover magic, which in the Shambhala tradition is called drala. You actually can connect your own intrinsic wisdom with a sense of greater wisdom or vision beyond you.

You might think that something extraordinary will happen to you when you discover magic. Something extra-ordinary does happen. You simply find yourself in the realm of utter reality, complete and thorough reality.

Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche
‘Discovering Magic’  from Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior 

The Basic Principle of Photography

The basic principle of photography is viewing things as they are in their own ordinary nature. We should be willing to see a particular vision without expectation or conceptualization. We should have the perspective of being willing to take any kind of good old, bad old shot. We should be extremely careful and inquisitive about what we see in our world: what we see with our eyes, what we actually perceive, both how we see and what we see.

Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche
“New Sight” in True Perception: The Path of Dharma Art,

Panoramic Awareness in Everyday Life

Student: In the arts, there are techniques that one learns for the purposes of overcoming techniques, in order to be able to get to the direct experience part of it. I was wondering if, besides meditation, there are any other techniques that you could speak of that could help one in this way, some means to open oneself or to be closer to being. 

Chögyam Trungpa: In addition to the sitting form of meditation, there is the meditation practice in everyday life of panoramic awareness. This particular kind of practice is connected with identifying with the activities one is involved in. This awareness practice could apply to artwork or any other activity. It requires confidence. Any kind of activity that requires discipline also requires confidence. You cannot have discipline without confidence; otherwise it becomes a sort of torturing process. If you have confidence in what you are doing, then you have real communication with the things you are using, with the material you are using. Working that way, a person is not concerned with producing masterpieces. He is just involved with the things that he is doing. Somehow the idea of a masterpiece is irrelevant.

Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche
“Consciousness”  from Glimpses of Abhidharma.

The Majesty of the World is Always There

Look at the sun. The sun is shining. Nobody polishes the sun. The sun just shines. Look at the moon, the sky, the world at its best. Unfortunately, we human beings try to fit everything into conditionality. We try to make something out of nothing. We have messed everything up. That’s our problem. We have to go back to the sun and the moon, to dragons, tigers, lions, garudas (mythical birds). We can be like the blue sky, sweethearts, and the clouds so clean, so beautiful. We don’t have to try too hard to find ourselves. We haven’t really lost anything; we just have to tune in. The majesty of the world is always there.

Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche
“Helping Others” from Great Eastern Sun: The Wisdom of Shambhala.

The Beauty of Totality

Ultimate goodness is connected with the notion of ultimate joy without comparison to suffering. Out of that joy, we begin to experience, visually, the beauty of the blue sky; the beauty of a red rose; the beauty of a white chrysanthemum; the beauty of chattering brooks; the beauty of the openness of the ocean, where sky and land meet; the beauty of sweet and sour; the beauty of music, high pitches and low; the beauty of experiencing warmth on our bodies; the beauty of cool air, which creates natural refreshment; the beauty of eating a meal when we feel hungry; the beauty of drinking water when we feel thirsty; the beauty of learning more things when we feel that we are not learned enough—when we feel that we don’t know enough wisdom or vocabulary or language. 

I don’t want to paint a pleasure-oriented picture alone. There is also the beauty of your schoolmaster pinching you on the cheek; the beauty of being too hot on a mid-summer’s day; the beauty of being too cold in the middle of winter—the beauty of pain as well as the beauty of pleasure. All of those are connected with the fundamental notion of basic goodness. You might ask why we speak of beauty. The answer is that beauty here means fullness, totality—total experience. Our life is completely full even though we might be completely bored. Boredom creates aloneness and sadness, which are also beautiful. Beauty in this sense is the total experience of things as they are. It is very realistic. It means that we can’t cheat ourselves—or anybody else, for that matter. 

Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche
“Natural Hierarchy”  from The Collected Works of Chögyam Trungpa.

Fearlessness Contains Joy

Fearlessness contains a feeling of joy and relaxation or well-being. From the goodness of simply being yourself, a quality of upliftedness arises, which is not overly solemn or religious. It is joyful to be in such good health, joyful to have such good posture, joyful to experience that you are alive, you are here. You appreciate colors and the temperature of the air. You appreciate smells and sounds. You begin to use your eyes, your ears, your nose, and your tongue to explore the world. You have never seen such penetrating and extraordinary red before. For the first time, you see such cool and beautiful blue. For the first time, you see such warm and delicate yellow. You see such refreshing, earthy, and wet green; such pure, clean white, as though you are opening your mouth and breathing out at the same time. For the first time, you see such wonderful balck. It’s so trustworthy that you can almost sleep on it. It has a sheen, which reminds you of stroking a black horse.

Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche
“Joining Heaven and Earth” from Smile at Fear: Awakening the True Heart of Bravery.

Ordinary Is Extraordinary 

The Shambhala approach is to befriend what is there, the everyday occurrence, which is real, obvious and constant. Then first thought, best thought becomes a shocking experience, which shocks us into reality. It may be the same blue sky and the same Volkswagen car that we drive to work every day. But that ordinariness is extraordinary. That is the dichotomy: when you live life in a thoroughly ordinary way, it is extraordinary. 

Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche 
“Aloneness and the Virtues of the Higher Realms” from Great Eastern Sun: The Wisdom of Shambhala.

Be There All Along

Sometimes people find that being tender and raw is threatening and seemingly exhausting. Openness seems demanding and energy consuming, so they prefer to cover up their tender heart. Vulnerability can sometimes make you nervous. It is uncomfortable to feel so real, so you want to numb yourself. You look for some kind of anaesthetic, anything that will provide you with entertainment. Then you can forget the discomfort of reality. People don’t want to live with their basic rawness for even fifteen minutes…For the warrior, fearlessness is the opposite of that approach. Fearlessness is a question of learning how to be. Be there all along: that is the message. That is quite challenging in what we call the setting-sun world, the world of neurotic comfort where we use everything to fill up the space. 

Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche
“Conquering Fear,” from The Collected Works of Chögyam Trungpa.

Click into the Sense of Delight

The phenomenal world is self-existing. You can see it, you can look at it, you can appreciate your survey, and you can present your view to others. It is possible to discover the inherent state of things. It is possible to perceive how the world hangs together. It is possible to communicate your appreciation to others. The possibility of freshness is always there. Your mind is never totally contaminated by your neuroses. Goodness is always there. Catch it on the spot. Click into the sense of delight that comes from basic wakefulness. 

Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche
“Heaven, Earth and Man,” from The Collected Works of Chögyam Trungpa

Buddhists Don’t Con You

If you are completely confident in yourself, you don’t have to think about the audience at all. You just do your thing, you just do it properly. This means YOU become the audience. What you make is entertainment, but that needs a certain amount of wisdom. When an artist does a painting for commission, there is a good likelihood that his painting will be one-sided because he is aware of the audience and he has to relate to the educational standards of the audience. 

If he presents his own style without reference to the audience, they will begin to react and automatically their sophistication will develop and eventually will reach the level of the artist….You see, we have the responsibility of raising the mentality of the audience. People might have to reach out with a certain amount of strain, but it’s worth it. The whole civilization then begins to raise its level of sophistication….The beautiful thing about Buddhism, if I may say so, is that Buddhists don’t try to con you. They just present what they have to say as it is, take it or leave it.

Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche
‘Visual Dharma: Film Workshop’  from Collected Works of Chogyam Trungpa Volume Seven


When you were very young, three years old, you didn’t want to look into the possibility of escape, particularly, because you were so interested in how things were done. You used to ask your father and your mother all sorts of questions: “Why is this so, Mommy? Why is this so, Daddy? Why do we do this? Why don’t we do that?” But that innocent inquisitiveness has been forgotten, lost. Therefore you have to re-ignite it. Getting into your cocoon of habitual behavior happens after that initial inquisitiveness. Once there was tremendous inquisitiveness happening and then you couldn’t care less. You thought that you were being mistreated by your world, so you jumped into your cocoon and decided to ignore the whole thing….Actually using our sense perceptions properly — inquisitiveness — is so important.

Chögyam Trungpa 
“Overcoming Habitual Patterns” from Collected Kalapa Assemblies 

Beyond Habitual Patterns 

How on earth, how in the name of heaven and earth can we actually become decent human beings without trying to entertain ourselves from here to the next corner? It boils down to taking interest in what you see. I have a very frustrated feeling, actually, that when I talk about appreciating red, white, blue, and green, I’m not sure whether you actually appreciate those colors or not. Maybe you think I’m trying to tell you that you should be artists or something. And when I say that you should listen to the sounds that go on in the world, maybe you think I’m trying to tell you to be musicians. And when I talk about the textures of your body — sense perceptions and feelings — maybe you think I’m trying to tell you to become salesmen in the garment industry. I’m beginning to wonder.
We are not talking about becoming experts in marketing things, but we are talking about our own situation: how we can actually stop habitual patterns and appreciate the nitty-gritty of the real world on the spot. We can appreciate the bright, beautiful, fantastic world around us; we don’t have to feel all that resentful….Once we put a stop to habitual patterns, the vividness, the magic, will begin to descend, and we will begin to become masters of our world — individually, personally, of course. We will begin to appreciate our world.

Chögyam Trungpa 
“Overcoming Habitual Patterns” from Collected Kalapa Assemblies 

Unconditional Expression

‘There is such a thing 
as unconditional expression
that does not come from self or other. 

It manifests out of nowhere 
like mushrooms in a meadow, 
like hailstones, like thundershowers.’

Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche from The Art of Calligraphy

Nowness and Tradition 

We need to find the link between our traditions and our present experience of life. Nowness, or the magic of the present moment, is what joins the wisdom of the past with the present. When you appreciate a painting or a piece of music or a work of literature, no matter when it was created, you appreciate it NOW. You experience the same nowness in which it was created. It is always NOW.

Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche
From Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior 

 Work of Art 

What a work of art is all about is a sense of delight. Touch here, touch there, delight. It is an appreciation of things as they are and of what one is — which produces an enormous spark. Something happens — clicks — and the poet writes poems, the painter paints pictures, the musician composes music.

Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche
“Artists and Unemployed Samurai” from The Teacup and the Skullcup

The Warrior Is Also an Artist

If the warrior does not feel alone and sad, then he or she can be corrupted very easily. In fact, such a person may not be a warrior at all. To be a good warrior, one has to feel sad and lonely, but rich and resourceful at the same time. This makes the warrior sensitive to every aspect of phenomena: to sights, smells, sounds, and feelings. In that sense, the warrior is also an artist, appreciating whatever goes on in the world. Everything is extremely vivid. The rustling of your armor or the sound of rain drops falling on your coat is very loud. The fluttering of occasional butterflies around you is almost an insult, because you are so sensitive. 

Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche
Conquering Fear,” from The Collected Works of Chogyam Trungpa

Blue Sky All the Time

The absence of grasping and fixation is like flying in an airplane. When we rise above the clouds, we begin to realize that upstairs there is a blue sky all the time. We realize that the sun is always shining, even when it is cloudy and rainy down below. There is blue sky all the time, and that blue sky is free from clouds.

Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche
“Unconditional Ground” in, The Tantric Path of Indestructible Wakefulness

Expansive Awareness

When you have an expansive sense of awareness, rather than focusing on what is “here,” your focus is totality, everywhere. This applies to communication in general. When we say “everywhere,” of course that includes here as well, but “here” is not particularly important. Here is just here. This is just this. But “that” permeates everywhere.

Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche
From Work, Sex, Money: Real Life on the Path of Mindfulness

Don’t Try to be Artistic

The whole philosophy of art is that you don’t try to be artistic but you just approach the objects as they are, and then the message comes automatically. When you look at a painting by a great artist, it doesn’t look like someone actually painted it, but it just seemed to happen by itself. There’s no gap, no cracks at all; it’s one unit, complete.

Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche
From The Collected Works of Chögyam Trungpa, Volume Seven,

Impermanence is Beauty

Real flowers are much more beautiful than plastic ones, in part because of their impermanence. People appreciate the seasons, the autumn and the spring, because the seasons are a process of change. Each season is a precious time. In this way, impermanence is beauty.

Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche
From Mindfulness in Action by Chögyam Trungpa, page 145

Innocent Mind, Innocent Projections

Mind and its projections are innocent. They are very ordinary, very natural, and very simple. Red is not evil, and white is not divine; blue is not evil, and green is not divine. Sky is sky; rock is rock; earth is earth; mountains are mountains. I am what I am, and you are what you are. Therefore, there are no particular obstacles to experiencing our world properly, and nothing is regarded as problematic.

Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche
“Ground Mahamudra” in The Tantric Path of Indestructible Wakefulness

Art in Everyday Life

Every moment we might be doing the same things—brushing our teeth every day, combing our hair every day, cooking our dinner every day. But that seeming repetitiveness becomes unique every day. A kind of intimacy takes place with the daily habits that you go through and the art involved in it. That is what is called art in everyday life.

Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche
From “Art in Everyday Life,” in True Perception: The Path of Dharma Art

The Art of Meditative Experience

The art of meditative experience might be called genuine art. Such art is not designed for exhibition or broadcast. Instead, it is a perpetually growing process in which we begin to appreciate our surroundings in life, whatever they may be. It doesn’t necessarily have to be good, beautiful, and pleasurable at all. The definition of art, from this point of view, is to be able to see the uniqueness of everyday experience.

Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche
From “Art in Everyday Life,” in True Perception: The Path of Dharma Art

Refreshing Boredom

Boredom is part of the discipline of meditation practice. This type of boredom is cool boredom, refreshing boredom. Boredom is necessary and you have to work with it. It is constantly very sane and solid, and very boring at the same time. But it’s refreshing boredom. The discipline then becomes part of one’s daily expression of life. Such boredom seems to be absolutely necessary. Cool boredom.

Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche
“Selected Writings” in The Collected Works of Chogyam Trungpa,

Not Freezing the Space

Someone is walking toward us — there is the possibility of not freezing the space.  In that case, the person walking toward us is walking into a lubricated situation of myself and that person as we are. Such a lubricated situation can create open space. The situation could be seen without any fixed idea at all. In that case, the attitude is just to see the situation as it is: “That person walking toward me is not a friend; she is not an enemy either. She is just a person approaching me. I don’t have to prejudge her at all.” That is what is called right view.

Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche
From “The Eightfold Path,” in The Myth of Freedom and the Way of Meditation.

All material by Chogyam Trungpa © Diana J. Mukpo and used by permission.