Crazy wisdom

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Crazy wisdom was a term coined by Chögyam Trungpa.[1] Since Trungpa described crazy wisdom in various ways, some scholars have suggested he did not have a fixed idea of crazy wisdom.[1]

Various aspects[edit]

The student[edit]

In his book "Crazy wisdom", the Tibetan tülku Chögyam Trungpa describes the phenomenon as a process of spiritual discovery:

Instead we explore further and further and further without looking for an answer. [...] We don't make a big point or an answer out of any one thing. For example, we might think that because we have discovered one particular thing that is wrong with us, that must be it, that must be the problem, that must be the answer. No. We don't fixate on that, we go further. "Why is that the case?" We look further and further. We ask: "Why is this so?" Why is there spirituality? Why is there awakening? Why is there this moment of relief? Why is there such a thing as discovering the pleasure of spirituality? Why, why, why?" We go on deeper and deeper and deeper and deeper, until we reach the point where there is no answer. [...] At that point we tend to give up hope of an answer, or of anything whatsoever, for that matter. [...] This hopelessness is the essence of crazy wisdom. It is hopeless, utterly hopeless.[2]


From a particular Buddhadharma spiritual lexicon and perspective, Georg Feuerstein implies nonduality in his equating the essence of Saṃsāra and Nirvāṇa as the root of crazy wisdom: "Crazy wisdom is the articulation in life of the realization that the phenomenal world (Sanskrit: संसार saṃsāra) and the transcendental Reality (Sanskrit: निर्वाण nirvāṇa) share the same essence."[3] Generally, the difference between Sanātana Dharma and Buddhadharma conceptions of "Samsara" and "samsara", respectively, are the former, a proper noun denoting a relative apparent locality, and the latter, an interiority or state of mind, the two are resolvable when understood from a nondual perspective.

Feuerstein then enters the spiritual lexicon of Advaita Vedanta with what may in an etic Anthropological discourse be proffered as its culturally relative memes, archetypes, literary motifs and cultural tokens of Atman, Brahman, Paramatman and Satcitananda (which Feuerstein glosses to the contraction of Being-Consciousness with bliss implied or transcended) to identify the root of crazy wisdom:

Seen from the perspective of the unillumined mind, operating on the basis of a sharp separation between subject and object, perfect enlightenment is a paradoxical condition. The enlightened adept exists as the ultimate Being-Consciousness but appears to inhabit a particular body-mind. In the nondualist terms of the Indian teaching known as advaita vedanta, enlightenment is the fulfillment of the two truths: the innermost self (atman) is identical with the transcendental Self (parama-atman); and the ultimate Ground (brahman) is identical with the cosmos in all its manifestations, including the self.[3]


Feuerstein frames how the term Avadhuta (Sanskrit: अवधूत avadhūta) came to be associated with the mad or eccentric holiness or "crazy wisdom" of some antinomian paramahamsa who were often "skyclad" or "naked" (Sanskrit: digambara):

The appellation "avadhuta," more than any other, came to be associated with the apparently crazy modes of behaviour of some paramahamsas, who dramatize the reversal of social norms, a behaviour characteristic of their spontaneous lifestyle. Their frequent nakedness is perhaps the most symbolic expression of this reversal.[4]

Feuerstein equates the Avadhuta with the "sacred fool":

The crazy wisdom message and method are understandably offensive to both the secular and the conventional religious establishments. Hence crazy adepts have generally been suppressed. This was not the case in traditional Tibet and India, where the "holy fool" or "saintly madman" [and madwoman] has long been recognized as a legitimate figure in the compass of spiritual aspiration and realization. In India, the avadhuta is one who, in his [or her] God-intoxication, has "cast off" all concerns and conventional standards.[4]

Crazy wisdom as a universal cultural phenomenon[edit]

Feuerstein lists Zen-poet Han-shan (fl. 9th century) as one of the crazy-wise, explaining that when people would ask him about Zen, he would only laugh hysterically. He also counts Zen master Ikkyu (15th century), the Christian saint Isadora, and the Sufi storyteller Mulla Nasruddin among the crazy wise teachers.[5] Other adepts that have attained "mad" mental states, according to Feuerstein, include the masts and bauls of India, and the intoxicated Sufis associated with shath.[6]

June McDaniel, in her work on the divine madness of the medieval bhakti saints in Bengal, mentions multiple parallels to this phenomenon in other cultures: Plato in his Phaedrus, the Hasidic Jews, Eastern Orthodoxy, Western Christianity and the Sufi all bear witness to the phenomenon of divine madness.[7] The bhakti divine madness may show itself in a total absorption in the divine, complete renunciation and surrender to divinity and the participation in the deity and divine pastime rather than its aping or imitation.[8] Though the participation in the divine is generally favoured in Vaishnava bhakti discourse throughout the sampradayas rather than imitation of the divine 'play' (Sanskrit: lila), there is the important anomaly of the Vaishnava-Sahajiya sect.[9]

Divine madness may also be seen in the biography, hagiography and poetry of the Alvars and it has parallels in others religions, such as the Fools for Christ in Christianity, and the Sufis (particularly Malamati) in Islam.[10] The 9th-century Indian philosopher Adi Shankara also described that an enlightened man may act like a Jadvat (an inert thing), a Balvat (child), an Unmat (a manic) or a Pissachvat (ghost).[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Divalerio, David (2015). The Holy Madmen of Tibet. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 239. 
  2. ^ Trungpa (2001) 9-10.
  3. ^ a b Feuerstein (1991) 70.
  4. ^ a b Feuerstein (1991) 105.
  5. ^ Feuerstein (1991) 69.
  6. ^ Feuerstein (2006) 15f; 28-32.
  7. ^ McDaniel (1989) 3-6. See also the lead section of this article. See the article on theia mania for more information regarding Plato's views.
  8. ^ McDaniel (1989) 7.
  9. ^ Dimock (1966).
  10. ^ Horgan (2004) 53; McLeod (2009) 158-165.


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Dimock, Edward C. Jr. (1966). The Place of the Hidden Moon: Erotic Mysticism in the Vaisnava-Sahajiya cult of Bengal. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 8120809963. 
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Ray, Reginald (2005). Fabrice Midal (ed.). "Chögyam Trungpa as a Siddha". Recalling Chögyam Trungpa. Boston: Shambhala Publications. ISBN 1590302079. 
Trungpa, Chögyam (2001). Crazy Wisdom. Judith L. Lief, Sherab Chödzin (eds.). Boston: Shambhala Publications. ISBN 0-87773-910-2. 
Simmer-Brown, Judith (2001). Dakini's Warm Breath: The Feminine Principle in Tibetan Buddhism. Boston: Shambhala Publications. ISBN 1-57062-720-7.