Excerpted from Robin Kornman’s chapter in Recalling Chogyam Trungpa by Fabrice Midal.
Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche was an important figure in a movement of Tibetan Buddhist thought that flowered in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the Ri-me (ris med), or Eclectic school. The leaders of this movement, scholars and masters of meditation, came from different lineages or sects of Tibetan Buddhism. One even represented the native, non-Buddhist religion of Tibet, Bön. They combined the teachings and practices of their different lineages to produce a new synthesis, one that allowed followers of any school to use the best teachings from the other schools. In his eleventh incarnation Trungpa Rinpoche was groomed to be a leading spokesman of this movement and to advance its program in the monastic/academic society of Northeastern Tibet, a region that borders China.
As we will see, the Eclectics were not just a syncretic philosophical movement; some among them seem to have had a sociopolitical vision as well—a vision of how mundane society and mystical religion should be united. We will find this program in no political text, for the study of politics, as we have it from Plato and Aristotle, did not exist in Inner Asia. In that arid and sparsely populated region where nomadic pastoralists predominated, there was no such thing as a polis, a city, as we know it. There was no such geographical entity that could have generated a government one would theorize about. Whereas Greece had city-states or empires, Northeastern Tibet had nomadic groups and centers of trade, the Chinese empire to the east, and examples of burgeoning nomadic confederations such as the Mongols along the Silk Route.
The Tibetan oral epic of King Gesar of Ling presents an extensive and detailed description of an idealized nomadic government formed by a Tibetan tribe known as the Mukpo clan, which gradually expands to become an empire-sized nomadic confederation. The Eclectic movement used images from this immense corpus of oral and literary materials to construct its views on the nature and function of government. Trungpa Rinpoche in his Western mission called this “enlightened society”—the theory that there is a certain good way to combine religion, government, and society.