Just the Facts 


by Chögyam Trungpa



When Chögyam Trungpa, a Tibetan Buddhist teacher, first came to America in May 1970, he and his young English bride Diana went immediately to Tail of the Tiger, a rural meditation center on several hundred acres of verdant land in northern Vermont. From 1970 until his death in 1987, Rinpoche taught many seminars at the center, which was later renamed Karmê Chöling.  This teaching on “truth” was given at Karmê Chöling during a summer seminar in 1975. From his earliest days in the West, Trungpa was known for his no-nonsense, straight-up approach to Buddhism, meditation and daily life. Being honest with oneself was a favorite topic. ~ Carolyn Gimian



Dharma literally means “truth” or “norm.” A particular way of thinking, a way of viewing the world, it is not a concept but experience. This particular truth is painful truth—usually truths are. It rings with the sound of reality, which comes too close to home. We become embarrassed when we begin to hear the truth. It is wrong to think that truth is going to sound fantastic and beautiful, like a flute solo. The truth is actually a thunderbolt. It wakes you up and makes you think twice— whether you should stay in the rain or move into the house. Provocative.


The sound of thunder could be nice and friendly, or it could be a great hassle. The whole thing depends on your living situation. If you’re camping outside without a tent and it begins to thunder, you feel threatened. You feel terrible because you are exposed and you have to move under a tree or into a cave—some kind of roof is needed. Whereas in the opposite situation, in which you already have a roof or a shelter, when you hear thunder, it sounds great, fantastic. And you can listen to the raindrops as well.


The basic questions are: Who is actually listening to the truth? What is his or her situation? And, in fact, what is truth? At this point, we could say quite clearly that truth is not about celestial beings descending on you, or Martians. The truth is about you, your existence, your experience. It’s about you. Hearing the truth of Dharma and becoming part of the Dharma is [being] willing to face yourself, to begin with. It may be disturbing or encouraging—

however, that’s it!


Following the Dharma doesn’t mean going along with a particular prescription and taking your medication every day. Instead, it’s a basic commitment to the teaching—to yourself. You could get out of an organization, you could get out of the club. But you can’t step out of the Dharma. The Dharma is always you. You are always going to have the Dharma of you, your Dharma. Your truth, your facts and figures, your reality, are always there.


People try to escape reality by recreating the different seasons—in the winter they can go to Florida; in the summer they can go up to the mountains. But it’s not as simple as that. Reality is inescapable.


The truth about you has different facets, obviously. You might think you are made out of some good things and some bad things. Sometimes you feel bad and sometimes good. Life may be monotonous, but there are ups and downs as well. Regularity in life is not the point; experience is the point.


Fundamentally, every one of us feels extremely insecure. You could have lots of money, lots of background, education, friends, resources, skills—but none of that is going to make any difference to your security. The more we seek security, the more insecurity that creates. It constantly happens that way.


There’s something fundamentally threatening and insecure taking place all the time in our lives. Something’s not quite as solid as we would like it to be, so we need lots of reassurance—some philosophy, some idea, some kind of backing from the world of comfort, the world of companionship. There is always a hollowness, an emptiness taking place in us. Basically, we feel we are broke; we have a poverty mentality. Few people like to face that, but it’s the first truth, one of the valuable truths to face. It is not really pleasant, and it may not even seem helpful, for that matter. But maybe its unhelpfulness is helpful. There’s always that possibility.


Out of that insecurity, we come up with a lot of strategies, plans of all kinds. We try to combat this insecurity by means of drugs, politics, philosophy, religion, friends. Everybody has tried something. This approach is extremely depressing, but it’s all experience. It’s Dharma. In its own way, it is truth.


What is so sacred about that? Sacredness doesn’t come in the form of religion, as a savior notion. The sacredness is the truthfulness.

Experience is true; therefore, it’s sacred. Truth could be secular, but still it’s sacred.


If we don’t face what we are experiencing then there’s no path. It may be a drag, but you must be willing to face and actually give in to what is happening. Nobody’s going to come up with a fat check for you tomorrow. At this point, believing in miracles is an obstacle.

There is great room, on the other hand, for our minds to open, give and face facts. Literally to face the facts: the facts of reality, the facts of pain, the facts of boredom.


Our world, this particular world, our Dharma, our truth, needs to be acknowledged and needs immense surrendering—not just a one-shot deal. Without this first Dharma, understanding the truth and our relationship to the truth, we could not go further. Finally, you and your world meet and are introduced to one another: “My name is Ms. World.” “Hello, Ms. World. Pleased to meet you.” You shake hands and actually begin to give in. You’re willing to accept your world. You have never done that before.




“Just the Facts” was edited by Carolyn Gimian and published in Elephant Journal, Summer 2007, now unavailable in Elephant Journal’s archives.


Carolyn Gimian is editor of the The Collected Works of Chögyam Trungpa.  The above, adapted from The Four Dharmas of Gampopa (shambhalashop.com), is courtesy Vajradhatu Publications and Diana J. Mukpo. For a Chögyam Trungpa quote-of-the-week via email: carolyn@shambhala.com.