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Steve Silberman: By the time I got to Naropa in 1977, there was a lot of talk about Rinpoche’s drinking, and students had different explanations for it. In 1972 Rinpoche wrote, “Whether alcohol is to be a poison or medicine depends on one’s awareness while drinking. Conscious drinking, remaining aware of one’s state of mind, transmutes the effect of alcohol,” and I remember people quoting that quite a lot. I have two questions: why do you think Rinpoche drank so much, and do you feel it ever became a poison for him?

Diana Mukpo: Well, this is a complex question. I should probably start by saying that not everybody will agree with what I have to say about this, and that’s OK, because Rinpoche by nature brought about controversy.

I think that Rinpoche probably drank because he felt it facilitated his ability to teach in the West. I think he drank because he felt that he was able to harness more energy to teach. If you look at what a task it was for him to bring the Buddhist teachings over here, and what he did in such a short period of time, I think he felt that alcohol facilitated that for him.

Now other Tibetan teachers would refer to Rinpoche as a mahasiddha, that he was not an ordinary person, and he would have been the first to say that people should not imitate his behavior. Knowing Rinpoche as I did, he was not a traditional alcoholic. You never felt that he just lost it when he got drunk. I never experienced him that way. On the other hand I do think it became a poison because I think it was one of the contributing factors to his physical decline and death. So I think it was both a medicine and poison for him.

Steve Silberman: Did you ever ask him to stop drinking?

Diana Mukpo: Yes, many times. Sometimes he did for a little while, but it didn’t last.

Steve Silberman: One of the most impressive things about Rinpoche was how he practiced and promoted what he called dharma art in many different forms: poetry, calligraphy, flower arrangement, music, even graphic design. When I first sent away for the Naropa catalog in 1977, I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was and what a unified design sense it had. What was it in Rinpoche’s background that prepared him to became a creator of dharma forms that went far beyond those of traditional Buddhist practice?

Diana Mukpo: That’s very much tied in to the total picture of what occurred for Rinpoche in bringing the dharma to the West. It’s an extension of that. As the buddhadharma spreads, it has taken on the flavor of each different culture where it manifests, and this was happening for the first time in the West. Now, in order to bring the dharma to the West, Rinpoche faced quite a few challenges. In Tibet, dharma had been practiced largely in a monastic setting. Particularly as Rinpoche started to introduce the Shambhala teachings, his view was that the dharma could only work in the West if it was applicable to householders, to people who had careers and families and children. So he worked to bring the concept of dharmic society into people’s homes and into their lives all the way through.

I think an offshoot of this was that he appreciated all of these different disciplines and saw the potential for wakefulness and beauty within the different Western traditions. I think one of the unique things about Rinpoche was that he appreciated many different cultures, traditions, and religions and was able to see the potential for human wakefulness within them.

Steve Silberman: You make it clear in your book that Rinpoche was very supportive of your own independent identity and, in particular, your practice of dressage.

Diana Mukpo: I had enjoyed riding throughout my entire childhood and during my teenage years. I started riding again after we moved to Colorado, and at some point I realized that my dressage component was very weak. I took a year off to study dressage and completely fell in love with the art and the discipline. Then I realized that I couldn’t get the proper training in Colorado if I were to really become good at it. So I told Rinpoche that I wanted to go to California to study dressage. He said, “You’re not going to be at home, I am going to miss you,” and I said, “That’s fine, but if I don’t go I’m going to give it up, because I’m not really interested in pursuing something if I can’t really be good at it.” He thought about it for a little while, and from there on he encouraged me all the way through.

In fact, he was quite delighted when I wanted to go to Europe to study there. We took a trip to Vienna together to see the Spanish Riding School, and he was overcome with the beauty of the school. He cried, in fact, when he saw it, because he had a real feeling that the genuine Shambhala tradition was being manifested there. He thought it was absolutely fantastic.

Later, before I went to the Spanish Riding School, he said something very interesting to me: “Sometimes people who really achieve the pinnacle of their discipline—not only in their riding but in other arts—these people who are great artists, they have a lot of problems in their personal life.” I said to him, “Why is that the case?” and he said, “Because they really have such a profound experience of wakefulness when they’re performing their art but they don’t have the tools to bring it into their life. So they’re always missing that in their day-to-day life.” And I did observe that to be true.

Steve Silberman: As your home situation became more formal and elaborate, as it evolved into the “Kalapa Court,” how was that for you? Did it seem like a natural progression of your role in the community or did it feel odd to suddenly have these people serving you dinner and that sort of thing?

Diana Mukpo: Well, I had grown up in a relatively formal British household, so some of it was familiar. But Rinpoche was not imitating the English; he was using some of their forms. Obviously, he wouldn’t have wanted to adopt the entire English tradition, but there were certain aspects of English culture—the table manners, the way you might furnish your house, the way service can be manifested—that he appreciated as expressions of mindfulness. He had the same feelings toward Japanese culture; he really appreciated the aesthetics.

The court was sort of a dharmic pressure cooker. There was tremendous energy there. I think it was a kind of formula he developed to work with his students on a very intimate level. As people would serve him, they were genuinely able to connect with his mind.

For me, one of the hardest things in the court was the complete and total lack of privacy. Rinpoche was always, always inviting people into our life, constantly. He had no sense of personal privacy or space, and sometimes that was difficult. Combined with this feeling of isolation and the situation of being his wife, sometimes it was difficult for me to form genuine relationships with people.

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