[Book Review]: Born in Tibet by Chogyam Trungpa

Cover of "Born In Tibet"
Cover of Born In Tibet

As a caveat to this post, it’s important to note that I practice in the Shambhala tradition of the Tibetan Buddhist lineage. Chogyam Trungpa is the founder of this lineage. (See the Shambhala Buddhism Wikipedia page for more information.)

Many years ago, as I was beginning to take meditation training classes, I asked my writing teacher what I should be doing along with practicing. As per usual, she recommended a list of books, which included Born in Tibet. “Learn your lineage,” was her advice.

A number of the books ended up on my shelf, but not fully read, until very recently.

Born in Tibet is the story of the discovery of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche as a tulku (a reincarnation of a lama) and his life from that discovery to when he fled Tibet for India in the late 1950s, during the Chinese invasion of Tibet.

This was an incredible story, both in the adventure – traveling over the Himalayan mountains, with a large traveling party, with much danger – but also in learning more about the foundation of the lineage I currently study in.

Reading about the importance of keeping one’s seat and being able to turn to one’s practice, especially when others around you are frightened and wanting to make the decisions (but… not take responsibility for them) helped root the teachings and practice in something more than classes, more than just the learning and absorbing I’ve been doing for the past three years. In many ways, it also gave me a bit of context for some of the chants that we do during Sunday sitting, where I thought it was just names and lists, but is part of the whole lineage.

So, I’ve been thinking a bit about my own lineage, where I come from and what matters to me. What decisions I’ve made and how I’ve made them. And, perhaps one of the things that struck me the most: How do I keep my sense of humor when things are challenging? When things are falling down, how do I take the path that is required? Even when it seems like it’s not what’s supposed to be happening.

On some level, I am a part of this lineage now. That I may not be leading people out of danger through the Himalayas, but I’m learning to take root in the teachers who have come before, who are with me now, and learning to sink into that lineage. What does it mean? How do I fit? Where does it lead? How do I actively work with where I am and see where this has come from?

In some ways, I wanted this to be a brilliant post about lineage and all that entails – except, I don’t know. In some ways, I have more questions than answers, that there is still learning to be done, and learning happening.

It’s larger than a single book, and deeper than just learning. I think I’m just starting to scratch the surface.

When you start about family, about lineage and ancestry, you are talking about every person on earth.
Alex Haley


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