Chögyam Trungpa on honoring one’s roots

Fijians on Naitauba Island

Fijians on Naitauba Island

I used to hear stories about my teacher encouraging Fijians and Native Australians to honor their cultural heritages.  And doing the same with his students of Japanese, African, Jewish or other ethnic origin.  I used to wonder about that — it made no sense to me.

Later I came across some remarks by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, who said that people in North America are terribly disconnected from any sense of our roots. He said we have a complete poverty consciousness about ourselves, which is an obstacle to spiritual practice, and makes us vulnerable to all sorts of problems.

Becoming a (dharmic) person also means taking pride in the wisdom of your family heritage.  From the Shambhala point of view, respecting your family and your upbringing has nothing to do with separating yourself from others or becoming arrogant about your ancestry.  Rather, it is based on realizing that the structure and experience of family life actually reflects the deep-seated wisdom of a culture.  That wisdom has been passed down to you, and it is actually present in your everyday, domestic life…

Chögyam Trungpa

Chögyam Trungpa’s wife was of Scottish origin, and on one or more occasions he dressed in Scottish attire and enjoyed Scottish music, poetry, dancing, food, and drink. (Photograph by George Holmes)

In some societies, people used to set up shrines to venerate their ancestors.  Even today, in such a modern society as Japan, there is still a strong tradition of ancestor worship.  You may think that such practices are purely a function of primitive thinking or superstition, but in fact, the veneration of your ancestral lineage can be a sign of respect for the accumulated wisdom of your culture.  I am not suggesting that we reinstate ancestor worship, but it is necessary to appreciate that (there is wisdom in your family and cultural background)…

“Shambhala vision is based on living on this earth, the real earth, the earth that grows crops, the earth that nurtures your existence.

[Excerpted from Shambhala:  The Sacred Path of the Warrior, by Chögyam Trungpa.  Boston:  Shambhala Publications, 1984.  As listed by Bhagavan Adi Da on The Basket of Tolerance, section on “social wisdom”.]

Personally, I was raised on the west coast of the U.S. and always thought of myself as “white”, like white bread.  It wasn’t until I moved to New York that I noticed white people could even have an ethnic heritage.  At some point I realized I’m half-Irish.  For your amusement, here’s is an Irish song I like (especially: loud), The Rocky Road to Dublin performed by The Dubliners.  It’s interesting to see the joy and seriousness people can exhibit when they don’t feel cutoff from their roots.

This clip by the Corrs is a bit silly, some might say, but there’s just some kind of joy in this music, isn’t there?  I’ve heard that at the end of a hard work week, farmers in Ireland 100 years ago would gather in a clear patch of dirt and dance to music like this.  They understood something about the need for a “sacred domain”, for something in their lives besides labor and mere survival concerns.

Questions for consideration:

  • Do you ever honor your own heritage?
  • Have you ever assumed that “getting spiritual” meant cutting yourself off from your roots?
  • Do you have a “sacred domain” in your life that is about ecstasy, and keeps you sane?  My own teacher says that a sacred domain might include meditation, puja, intimacy, friendship, retreat, music or dancing or other arts, etc.

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  1. Hugh O'Doherty   Thumb up 0

    Another terrific quote! I’ve struggled with the issue of cultural “identity”. I’ve felt the “attachment” and separative nature of my identity as “Irish”, but I find Chogyam Trumpa’s reflection very relieving. It can be celebrated. I was brought up in Northern Ireland with the music of the Clancy Brothers and many others and I love the Corrs.

    Keep these quotes coming. Great stuff.

    Love: Hugh

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