When we consider Chögyam Trungpa and Gurdjieff, we find some interesting parallels.
Both men brough a new way of inner work to the west. Both men were unabashed rebels, leaping far outside the traditional forms of their own heritage (In Gurdjieff's case, Eastern Orthodox Christianity, and in Trungpa's case, monastic Tibetan Buddhism) to offer a radically new perspective on both the method, and the meaning, of inner transformation. In the process, they alarmed and alienated most of the traditionalists around them; they were revolutionaries. Not, it's true, on the level of Christ, but certainly well within His tradition.
Perhaps Trungpa summed it up best in a heretofore unpublished note from his personal diaries:
"In particular, my own situation is due to the fact that no one [else] could understand everything all together--both worldly and spiritual views, and how to live one's life. That is not to say I am more skilled, more learned, and more experienced in the dharma. There are many people who are more learned than I and more elevated in their wisdom. However, I have never made a separation between the spiritual and the worldly. If you understand the ultimate aspect of the dharma, this is the ultimate aspect of the world. And if you should cultivate the ultimate aspect of the world, this should be in harmony with the dharma. I am alone in presenting the tradition of thinking this way." (from The collected works of Chögyam Trungpa, Shambhala publishers, Boston & London, 2003, volume one, pgs xxxv-xxxvi.)
Well, not quite alone.
Gurdjieff certainly emphasized the same approach--and look at how strikingly similar the two men were. Both prodigious drinkers, adept and aggressive socializers, and notorious adulterers, they lived life in sheer defiance of our traditional concepts of "spiritual" behaviour: abstinence, purity, serenity. No white robes for these men. They didn't even propose storming the gates of the temple: they ignored the temple. The temple, to them, paled in significance when compared with the scale of the undertaking. Here again we encounter that aggravating, life-filling oscillation between the scylla and charybdis of carnal demand and holy perfection; and here are not one but two masters of twentieth century practice who insist that we must inhabit life in all its contradictory, uncompromising, and even perhaps repulsive forms rather than trying to polish it or escape it, if we wish to discover anything real within ourselves.
Both men challenge us to invest within this life, to be clothed by it. To be sure, practitioners within the Gurdjieff work may well understand that question in a different way than the Shambhala Buddhists. Nonetheless, the aims are not at all that different. And Trungpa's teachings are of more than passing interest to students of the Gurdjieff method. There's even an intimation that some of Gurdjieff's seminal influences may have come from the same tradition that Trungpa was raised in: the similarity between the names (Trungpa's Surmang monastery, Gurdjieff's Sarmoung brotherhood) is, at the very least, intriguing.
Both men presented some seemingly contradictory ideas, framing their very work itself as a zenlike koan-in-motion: life itself as an active question.
Gurdjieff said everything is material; unlike the Hindus and Buddhists, to whom everything is an illusion, he embraced the concretization of all form, stressing its absolute unity. In Gurdjieff's cosmos, even illusion itself (if that is what everything is) would have to be considered material. The divine cannot express itself outside the context of materiality, yet that very materiality is transcended by the divine.
In my recent experience, this paradoxical relationship between illusion and reality finds itself best expressed in a passage from "The Zen Teaching of Huang Po," translated by John Blofeld. (Grove press, NY, copyright 1958 by John Blofeld, pages 64-65): "You do not see that the fundamental doctrine of the dharma is that there are no dharmas, yet that this doctrine of no-dharma is in itself a dharma; and now that the no-dharma doctrine has been transmitted, how can the doctrine of the dharma be a dharma?" [Blofeld's rather delightful word-for-word translation, typically Chinese in character, is found in the footnotes: "Dharma original Dharma not Dharma, not Dharma Dharma also Dharma, now transmit not Dharma Dharma, Dharma Dharma how can be Dharma?"]
We might conclude that in spite of its putative illusory nature, the experience of self within the material contains no essential contradictions: it's only in the context of that process of discovery that the "ultimate Dharma"--presuming there is such a thing--can be encountered.
Trungpa may well have argued, like Marpa, that everything is illusory--I haven't yet conducted a major review of his body of work, which I will soon be undertaking, so I'll suspend judgment there--, but, like Gurdjieff, he argued for the immersion within real life as the path.
Is there one real world--the world of tangible reality, of the flesh, of materialism? Or is that world an illusion, and is the only real world the "real" real world, the total expression of the dharma, within which resides naught but perfection?
Or are both worlds quite real?
Let's suspend that fascinating question--hold it in front of us, so to speak--and apply color to the context of Trungpa and Gurdjieff from a much earlier perspective. Once again we return to the Apostle Paul's discussions about faith, which is of the spirit, and law, which is of the flesh.
Law presumes an order, a structure, a methodology. As such, it attempts to establish a preordained, top down approach to the matters of the soul. We might argue that law is materialism in its most inflexible form: a materialism cast in concrete, a materialism that attempts to freeze events and circumstances within a single perspective.
The spirit, on the other hand, is a "bottom up" approach to the spiritual: a willing concession to, and investment in, materialism that nonetheless discards the presumptions of law.
Faith and the spirit insist on the inhabitation of life through experience, not the interpretation of life through law. Faith requires an ongoing, willing, and active confrontation with uncertainty: Law requires nothing more than repetitive, mechanical behaviour.
As such, it's not much of a leap to argue that both Gurjdieff and Trungpa call on us to invest ourselves in the same qualities of faith and spirit that Paul presents. To live not through a dry recapitulation of life constructed from the inflexible, judgmental laws of a vengeful God (or cold, indifferent universe,) but rather through a rich, fluid experience of life, forever presuming nothing more than a compassionate, intelligent willingness to be present to the encounter itself.
May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.