The Impact of Crazy Wisdom (by Pat Parisi)

Pat Parisi was instrumental in bringing the "Crazy Wisdom" documentary and its director to Toronto. (Photo by Chris Luginbuhl)

Pat Parisi was instrumental in bringing the “Crazy Wisdom” documentary and its director to Toronto. (Photo by Chris Luginbuhl)

For me, life as a Buddhist began with books, and lots of them. I didn’t understand a word that was written on the pages. It wasn’t only that the concepts were beyond me but the words described a landscape that I didn’t yet inhabit. It was as though I were visiting another country and nothing looked familiar. Curiously, I didn’t get rid of those books and kept them in growing numbers in my bookshelves. There was just something about them that intrigued me, something that kept me reading more of them, even though I didn’t comprehend them any better.

Then in 1991 my life fell apart the first time and I found refuge in When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödron. It was my introduction to Shambhala and it was quickly undergirded by a subscription to the Shambhala Sun which continues to this day. Yet I was still relating to Shambhala and to Buddhism only through the printed word.

I didn’t know—didn’t want to know—much about Chögyam Trungpa.  To begin with, I would stumble trying to say his name which felt like so many strange rocks in my mouth. The stories of his outlandish lifestyle turned me off. I had enough drama of my own and I was looking for someone who could model a way out, not someone who might take me deeper into theirs. Trungpa didn’t fit that image for me.

Then when my life fell apart the second time, I was driven to my meditation cushion and my practice finally took deep roots. Once again, I picked up Trungpa’s books that I had kept but not read.  I was shocked to discover how his words leapt off the page and into my being. His clarity was breathtaking and I could easily sense how the words came from his direct personal experience. His voice was kind, seeking only to help others through the teachings.

So when my friend Richard called me from Santa Barbara to tell me how he had just seen Crazy Wisdom, and what a great film it was, I was immediately drawn to see it.  Richard is a very discerning Zen guy and I trusted what he said.  I was finally ready to learn more about Chögyam Trungpa as the “bad boy of Buddhism.” It took another two years from that phone call to the Toronto premiere screening in April 2013 but it was worth the wait.

Who I saw in Crazy Wisdom was a man who had the freedom to be anyone he wanted to be. And he knew it. He took on any number of personas without getting stuck in any particular one.  He explored them, genuinely, to an extraordinary depth. He experienced them from the inside out yet without any apparent self-consciousness, guile, or fear of ridicule. Even as he did this, he continued to teach with tremendous clarity and kindness to people. Perhaps he was just that free, that flexible, that he simply became who the person he was with needed him to be. In a short seventeen years he built an international organization, founded dozens of meditation centers, and created a culture of compassion with teachings that were uniquely tailored to the Western mind and idiom (which in my opinion was one of his greatest gifts). Almost thirty years after his death, the impact of his life and the teachings continue.

—Pat Parisi, Toronto. April 2013