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Spiritual materialism is one of the most serious social problems.
It’s the reason for all the suffering and unhappiness of the modern men.
In “Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism” Chögyam Trungpa explains why.
And how you can transcend it.
Who Should Read “Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism”? And Why?
You’ve read your fair share of books on Buddhism?
You enjoy reading and listening to Alan Watts?
Well, then, “Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism” is certainly a book for you.
Especially if you feel that the consumerist capitalistic society has drained all of your energy and power to feel happy.
About Chögyam Trungpa
Chögyam Trungpa was a Buddhist teacher and meditation master, the eleventh Trungpa tulku and the supreme abbot of the Surmang monasteries.
In addition, he was also a poet, an artist, the foremost popularizer of Tibetan Buddhism in the West, and the originator of the most radical representation of the Shambhala vision.
Born on March 5, 1939, Chögyam Trungpa was widely recognized as the preeminent Buddhist lecturer and scholar during most of the second half of his life, even though parts of it were marred by controversies, ranging from his sexuality to his drinking problems.
Chögyam Trungpa died in 1987 at the age of merely 48, probably from cirrhosis. Even so, one of the nurses who attended him has noted that “there was a power about him and an equanimity to his presence that was phenomenal, that I don’t know how to explain.”
“Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism PDF Summary”
Now, that sounds a bit oxymoronic, doesn’t it?
Well, you wouldn’t expect anything less from the guy who invented the concept, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a walking and talking oxymoron – figuratively, at least (since he died on April 4, 1987), or even literally, if you think of Choseng Trungpa, his current reincarnation, as the continuation of his existence.
As we briefly summarized above, Chögyam Trungpa was the 11th and the least conventional of the Trungpa tülkus, a line of Tibetan lamas which goes back to at least the 15th century.
However, it’s safe to say that we wouldn’t have known too much about it if Chögyam Trungpa wasn’t a part of it between 1940 and 1987.
Because during this period Trungpa grew to become the most influential Buddhist teacher in the west and is widely regarded even today as the man who singlehandedly brought Tibetan Buddhism into the mainstream.
However, he was also immensely controversial, since he was one of the few Buddhist teachers who taught his students to not follow his example.
Don’t get too fussy – this was actually fairly good advice.
You see, Chögyam Trungpa was basically an alcoholic, who was also smoking tobacco and had a number of sexual relations with his female students (though not with Tenzin Palmo – who we have mentioned before right about here).
Even more, at one Halloween party in 1975, he ordered his guards to forcefully strip bare Pulitzer Prize-winning poet W. S. Merwin and his then-girlfriend Dana Naone (after the couple refused to do what the other guests had already done), which left Merwin with some “mixed feelings” (go figure!)
Finally, Chögyam Trungpa did the unthinkable act of choosing Ösel Tendzin as his dharma heir. Unthinkable for two reasons.
First and less scary, because Ösel Tendzin was born Thomas Frederick Rich, Jr. in Passaic, New Jersey, making him the first Westerner to hold a Tibetan Buddhist lineage in history.
And secondly and really creepy, because he was not exactly a great guy since he continued practicing unsafe sex with his followers even after finding out that he was HIV positive.
Before you ask us – yes, a student of Tendzin died from AIDS.
All in all – to return to our guy – Chögyam Trungpa was not your usual Buddhist teacher. But, controversies aside, he was also one of the most capable and knowledgeable Buddhists ever to walk the earth, leading one Buddhist historian to say that Trungpa “caused more trouble, and did more good, than anyone I’ll ever know.”
Well, “Cutting Through Spiritual Existence” is certainly one of the latter highlights, basically a transcript of two series of lectures Chögyam Trungpa gave in Boulder, Colorado, in the fall of 1970 and the spring of 1971.
If you need some help to imagine his lectures, here’s one from a couple of years later, where he covers many of the topics this book covers as well:
Anyway, back to the basic premise of this book: spiritual materialism.
It is, indeed, just like the man who coined the phrase, an oxymoron, since it combines two contrary processes within itself: spirituality and materialism.
In Chögyam Trungpa opinion, however – one that he shares with Alan Watts – that’s, unfortunately, the contradictory age we’re living in.
Namely, people are devoid of spiritualism, and they search for it in material things, thus confusing their minds that they are on the right path as they are continuously plunging deeper within the pitfalls of the ego.
In the “Introduction” to this book, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, Trungpa’s son, reminds us of the time this book was published and its everlasting purpose:
People were naive about the many pitfalls possible on any path. Spiritual awakening is not a happy-go-lucky endeavor. The path of truth is profound-and so are the obstacles and possibilities for self-deception. No matter what the practice or teaching, ego loves to wait in ambush to appropriate spirituality for its own survival and gain. Chogyam Trungpa – who had just arrived in the States from Scotland – tried to clarify these issues. He wanted to raise people’s awareness to a level where they could distinguish between what is genuine spiritual progress and what is ego hijacking spirituality for its own purposes. He wanted to help them learn to recognize the grip of the Three Lords of Materialism – strategies that ego can use any time, any place, in order to seduce us from a bigger view back into its self-limiting perspective.
So, who are these frightening Three Lords of Materialism?
Obviously, they are the bad guys in the story, the three henchmen of our greatest enemy, the non-existent but all too powerful Ego.
And they are as pervasive today as they had been in the 1970s – when Chögyam Trungpa was trying to reach out to the American population.
The Lord of Physical Materialism is the one who finetunes your brain to believe that you can become more than you are by hoarding material possessions.
Buying more and more is your way to transcend your suffering. And you believe that you’re on the right path since, obviously, you are temporarily happy when you buy the car you’ve craved for, or you receive that promotion you’ve focused all of your attention on.
However, in the long run, you’re stuck in constantly creating an environment where you can be happy – which is impossible since you’re not immortal and you don’t have endless amounts of money.
The Lord of Psychological Materialism has a different tactic to convince you that you can overcome your suffering through the reinforcement of your ego.
Simply put, in this case, you seek refuge from the pain in your identification with a certain movement, be it political, or religious. You don’t just want to be a Christian or a Buddhist, a capitalist or a socialist – you want to be the best there is, and you want everybody to know this.
Needless to add, this is once again a serious pitfall.
The Lord of Spiritual Materialism may be the most devious one since he works under the pretext of making you a spiritually richer being.
However, using meditation or drugs to achieve a certain state of mind and firmly believing that this state of mind is unachievable in any other way makes you an addict.
And the addicts are the happiest when they are doing the thing they are addicted to –which can even be setting fires – but they are also the saddest when they don’t have such an option.
The way out?
Obliteration of the Ego.
Simply put, such a thing doesn’t exist: you are a part of the whole and whatever you’re doing against it (be it obtaining a diploma to become a teacher, or smoking marijuana to spend some chill-time with your friends) leads you far from spiritual enlightenment.
And deep inside the giant pitfall that is spiritual materialism.
Key Lessons from “Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism”
1. Spiritual Materialism Is the Ultimate Trick of Your Ego
2. The Three Lords of Materialism
3. Buddhism Is a Ladder That Must Be Thrown Away
Spiritual Materialism Is the Ultimate Trick of Your Ego
The most fundamental flaw of your reasoning – according to Trungpa – is your belief that your ego is existent and that your happiness depends upon satisfying its endless desires.
This is basically the definition of “spiritual materialism,” an oxymoron Trungpa uses to describe the sad reality of our quest for spiritual enlightenment.
Because, tricked by capitalism and new age thinkers, it usually ends up being a plunge inside spiritual materialism, guided by one of its three lords.
The Three Lords of Materialism
Spiritual materialism can manifest itself in three different forms.
The first is physical materialism which is the belief that possessing something may release us from suffering and lead us to enlightenment. It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about a car or a diploma – it’s a flawed belief since it makes us only temporary happy and has nothing to do with our actual selves.
The second is psychological materialism, the belief that a certain belief system is the only thing which can release us from suffering.
Finally, spiritual materialism refers to the belief that certain practices (such as meditation) or substances (alcohol and drugs) hold the key to our ultimate release.
Buddhism Is a Ladder That Must Be Thrown Away
Buddhism, unlike other religions, is not theistic, i.e., it isn’t concerned with God.
What it is concerned is the confusion which makes us suffer.
Becoming a Buddhist and going to many initiation ceremonies, listening to many different teachings, etc. will end up being just another form of spiritual materialism for you.
So, Buddhism works – to borrow an analogy from Schopenhauer and Wittgenstein – basically like a ladder which you must throw away once you climb it.
Learn from Buddhism that your ego doesn’t exist and, once you do that, stop being a Buddhist.
And substitute the pride of your revelation with an utter humbleness.
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“Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism Quotes”
People are afraid of the emptiness of space, or the absence of company, the absence of a shadow. It could be a terrifying experience to have no one to relate to, nothing to relate with. Click To Tweet
Our Critical Review
“Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism” works both as a Buddhism 101 and as Buddhism 899, introducing the novice you to the basic idea behind the religion, while giving the advanced you something serious to think about.
All in all, a book for everyone who wants to achieve enlightenment – which, according to Trungpa, is the most important thing you can achieve.
If not the only one.