Riding back from lovely Coalinga, Ca (a place that can cure anyone of a desire for meat) the other day, James and I were listening to the radio. I was enjoying the 80's-90's feel of it, I knew the lyrics to almost all of the songs. 'Cult of Personality' by 'Living Colour' came on, and I started to sing along. I have heard this song hundreds of times since it came out, and I have always been taken by the lyrics. When it first came out, I was surprised to hear the band put Joseph Stalin in with Mohandas Gandhi. Kinda edgy.
A few days later, I found myself in a discussion with some friends about the colourful life of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, founder of the Naropa Institute and Shambhala training. Through this discussion I was surprised to witness how much many people invest in the leaders of the different branches of Buddhism. Granted, Trungpa was an enigmatic individual who left a tremendous disturbance and impression wherever he went. There are many stories of his life and the colourful people in it. He has been accused of sexual inappropriateness, violence, fiscal malfeasance, lying... He was an open alcoholic, showing up for many public talks obviously drunk. He was wild, but he never made an excuse of it.
In listening to the song in the car, certain lyrics stick out as appropriate to Trungpa-
Neon lights, a Nobel prize
The mirror speaks, the reflection lies
You don't have to follow me
Only you can set me free
Did anyone ever really 'see' him, or did they simply see a reflection of what they thought he should or shouldn't be? Of course there were those who could not see beyond the behavior, and they tend to feel that Trungpa was a hindrance to Buddhism in America. However, there are just as many who couldn't see beyond his teachings. Some were so enamored of his words, that they couldn't see the danger in his behavior, and followed along with it, much to their detriment.
Isn't that what the 'cult of personality' comes down to? Someone who's personality and charisma overshadows all around them and thus distorts the vision of those they influence. Sometimes, to such an extent, that true interpretation of their thoughts and actions becomes impossible for those who can not get beyond the spell.
I have an innate distrust of almost all religious and spiritual leaders, so I don't really expect much out of them. There has never been a point where I have felt a need to know much about the lives of most leaders, of any type. Either what they say speaks to me, or it doesn't. If they have something I want to learn, I listen to the lesson and then move on with the process of understanding it if I can. Learning too much about the teacher seems to just cloud things up. If the purpose of a teacher is to point to the truth, then that is all we need them to do. Until this point, M. Gandhi was the only exception to the rule, but now I have to put in Trungpa, too
You gave me fortune
You gave me fame
You gave me power in your gods name
I'm every person you need to be
I'm the cult of personality
Do any of these leaders take what they end up with, or do we just give it to them blindly? I think it is more the latter, and if that is true, then why do we get angry at them for using what we give them? Trungpa's life, for me, seems more like the lesson than a lot of his words. He drank himself to death by the age of 48, but in the meantime, he started a movement that reverberates to this day, in some ways more clearly than it did when he was alive. He was a boorish lout, at times, but he also founded a University. He believed, and taught thousands of others to also believe, that peace is a place that we can put here on Earth, even though he obviously struggled daily with finding peace within himself. What an amazing lesson, from a man. Not a Saint. A man with demons and fire and light.