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Buddhadharma : Fall 2016
fall 2 0 1 6 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 67 countless people to strive to do the same. Yet there is some confusion in Western writing regarding rimay and Kongtrul’s relationship to it. Jamgon Kongtrul has sometimes been portrayed as having created a new way of engaging with the Buddhist teachings, a reformist “rimay tradition” (or move- ment, school, project, and so forth) that entailed rejecting all established institutional affiliations. This was not the case. Institutionally, he was firmly Kagyu (although he followed both Karma and Shangpa traditions). The common misperception that Kongtrul invented rimay, rather than simply embodied the ideal in a way few before him had done, is largely a result of the way the term was introduced to the West. This was first done in an introductory essay to a 1970 edition of one of Jamgon Kongtrul’s main compositions, Encyclopedia of Knowledge. The essay was by E. Gene Smith, the brilliant scholar whose own library later served as the nucleus for the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center, which he founded in 1999. In this introduction, Smith included a survey of Jamgon Kongtrul’s life and situated him in a context Smith called the “Ris-med Tradition.” Of Kongtrul himself, Smith wrote that his “life story is in effect the story of the Ris-med ideals and their impact on Kham [eastern Tibet].” Smith ascribed to Kongtrul a weariness toward sectarian bigotry that resulted from his childhood experience of being moved from one institution and religious tradition to another: from Bön to Nyingma and then to Karma Kagyu. One of Kong- trul’s successes later in life, his ability to work effec- tively with members of other institutions and other religious traditions, no doubt stemmed in part from this experience—having been moved away from places he loved, he seems to have been able to hold his mind open to the value of institutions other than his own. Yet Smith and several later commentators on the life of Jamgon Kongtrul portray Kongtrul as a reformer, and there seems to be a lingering belief that rimay has something to do with an antipathy toward institutions and traditions and a preference for practice unencumbered by either. Because of this and the excessive identification of rimay with Kong- trul, rimay has come to mean, for many people, a rejection of tradition and an embrace of the buffet approach to Buddhist practice. Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, in his 1974 inaugural lectures at Naropa Institute (published in 1981 as Journey Without Goal: The Tantric Wisdom of the Buddha), assailed what he called “spiritual materialism,” specifically the tendency to “collect” empowerments, which, he said, was a “recent corruption in the presentation of [the] Vajrayana” perpetrated by Tibetans. According to Trungpa Rinpoche, that corruption was what Jamgon Kongtrul had responded to in initiating “a reformation of Buddhism in Tibet, which he called the Rime school.” He described the institutions that had been originally founded to promote the Bud- dhist teachings as having ossified into ornate houses of ritual and recitation, little more than hollow shells. According to Chogyam Trungpa, Jamgon Kongtrul initiated a reform that foregrounded “practice” as opposed to tradition and institu- tion. He has Kongtrul appealing to the leaders of Tibet’s religious traditions, saying, “Let us unite; let us work together within this contemplative tradi- tion. Let us experience this tradition for ourselves, instead of inviting hundreds of artists to build glorious shrines. Let us experience how it feels to sit on our meditation cushions and do nothing.” For Trungpa Rinpoche, the key element of Jamgon Kongtrul’s legacy was the revival of a “practice lin- eage” that would be available to all, outside of the Whatever their affiliation, whatever their personal belief, a rimay teacher would not shoulder the burden of rejecting any part of the Buddha’s teaching.