Be Here Now

Be Here Now

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism

The first real insights I gained, as an early follower of the dharma, came courtesy of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and his book, ‘Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism.’ I’ve reread this book many more times over the years, and have recently come back to it once again.

There was no one better able to articulate the dharmic teachings thanTrungpa. He was a light, shining though the misconceptions and confusions many of us bring to the spiritual path. He cuts to the chase as it were, and warns those who wish to enter a religious path, of the pitfalls that luck around each turn. Many of us find it difficult to let go of ego even on the religious path. That is why Trungpa was, and still such a towering figure presence.

This is an exract from first chapter of the book, it sums up the essence of our approach to the teachings.

“The approach presented here is a classical Buddhist one - not in a formal sense, but in the sense of presenting the heart of the Buddhist approach to spirituality. Although the Buddhist way is not theistic it does not contradict the theistic disciplines. Rather the differences between the ways are a matter of emphasis and method. The basic problems of spiritual materialism are common to all spiritual disciplines.

The Buddhist approach begins with our confusion and suffering and works toward the unravelling of their origin. The theistic approach begins with the richness of God and works toward raising consciousness so as to experience God's presence. But since the obstacles to relating with God are our confusions and negativities, the theistic approach must also deal with them. Spiritual pride, for example, is as much a problem in the theistic disciplines as in Buddhism.

According to the Buddhist tradition, the spiritual path is the process of cutting through our confusion, of uncovering the awakened state of mind. When the awakened state of mind is crowded in by ego and its attendant paranoia, it takes on the character of an underlying instinct. So it is not a matter of building up the awakened state of mind, but rather of burning out the confusions, which obstruct it. In the process of burning out these confusions, we discover enlightenment. If the process were otherwise, the awakened state of mind would be a product, dependent upon cause and effect and therefore liable to dissolution.

Anything which is created must, sooner or later, die. If enlightenment were created in such a way, there would always be the possibility of ego reasserting itself, causing a return to the confused state. Enlightenment is permanent because we have not produced it; we have merely discovered it. In the Buddhist tradition the analogy of the sun appearing from behind the clouds is often used to explain the discovery of enlightenment. In the meditation practice we clear away the confusion of ego in order to glimpse the awakened state. The absence of ignorance, of being crowded in, of paranoia, opens up a tremendous view of life. One discovers a different way of being. The heart of the confusion is that man has a sense of self, which seems to him to be continuous and solid. When a though or emotion or even occurs, there is a sense of someone being conscious of what is happening. You sense that you are reading these words. This sense of self is actually a transitory, discontinuous event, which in our confusion seems to be quite solid and continuous. Since we take our confused view as being real, we struggle to maintain and enhance this solid self. We try to feed it pleasures and shield it from pain.

Experience continually threatens to reveal our transitoriness to us, so we continually struggle to cover up any possibility of discovering our real condition. "But," we might ask, "if our real condition is an awakened state, why are we so busy trying to avoid becoming aware of it?" It is because we have become so absorbed in our confused view of the world, that we consider it real, the only possible world. This struggle to maintain the sense of a solid, continuous self is the action of ego. Ego, however, is only partially successful in shielding us from pain. It is the dissatisfaction which accompanies ego's struggle that inspires us to examine what we are doing. Since there are always gaps in our self-consciousness, some insight is possible.”

Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche (1939-1987), was the founder of Naropa University in Colarado, USA.  He was the 11th descendent in the line of Trungpa tulkus, important teachers of the Kagyü lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. 

You can find out more about Trungpa here

‘Cutting Through Spiritual Materiamism,’  by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, is published by Shambhala Publications

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