Cutting Through Spiritual Materialismby Chogyam Trungpa, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche
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In this modern spiritual classic, the Tibetan meditation master Chögyam Trungpa highlights the commonest pitfall to which every aspirant on the spiritual path falls prey: what he calls spiritual materialism. The universal tendency, he shows, is to see spirituality as a process of self-improvement—the impulse to develop and refine the ego when the ego is, by nature, essentially empty. "The problem is that ego can convert anything to its own use," he said, "even spirituality." His incisive, compassionate teachings serve to wake us up from this trick we all play on ourselves, and to offer us a far brighter reality: the true and joyous liberation that inevitably involves letting go of the self rather than working to improve it. It is a message that has resonated with students for nearly thirty years, and remains fresh as ever today.
This new edition includes a foreword by Chögyam Trungpa's son and lineage holder, Sakyong Mipham.
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Chapter 11: The Four Noble Truths
Having painted a colorful picture of the monkey with his many qualities—inquisitive,
passionate, aggressive, and so on—we could at this point examine the details of how he might deal with his predicament.
One comes to an understanding and transcendence of ego by using meditation to work backwards through the Five Skandhas. And the last development of the Fifth
Skandha is the neurotic and irregular thought patterns which constantly flit across the mind. Many different kinds of thoughts develop along with the monkey's hallucinating of the Six Realms: discursive thoughts, grasshopper-like thoughts, display-like thoughts, filmshow-like thoughts, etc. It is from this point of confusion that we must start; and in order to clarify the confusion it would be helpful to examine the ideas of the Four Noble Truths which constitute the first turning of the "Wheel of Dharma" by the Buddha.
Four Noble Truths are: the truth of suffering, the truth of the origin of suffering, the truth of the goal, and the truth of the path. We start with the truth of suffering, which means that we must begin with the monkey's confusion and insanity.
We must begin to see the actuality of
Sanskrit word which means "suffering," "dissatisfaction,"
or "pain." Dissatisfaction occurs because the mind spins around in such a way that there seems to be no beginning and no end to its motion.
Thought processes continue on and on: thoughts of the past, thoughts of the future, thoughts of the present moment. This creates irritation. Thoughts are prompted by and are also identical with dissatisfaction, duhkha, the constantly repeated feeling that something is lacking, incomplete in our lives. Somehow,
something is not quite right, not quite enough. So we are always trying to fill the gap, to make things right, to find that extra bit of pleasure or security.
The continuing action of struggle and preoccupation is very irritating and painful. Eventually, one begins to become irritated by just being "me."
So to understand the truth of duhkha is actually to understand mind's neurosis. We are driven here and there with so much energy. Whether we eat, sleep, work,
play, whatever we do, life contains duhkha, dissatisfaction, pain. If we enjoy pleasure, we are afraid to lose it; we strive for more and more pleasure or try to contain it. If we suffer in pain, we want to escape it. We experience dissatisfaction all the time. All activities contain dissatisfaction or pain,
Somehow we pattern life in a way that never allows us enough time to actually taste its flavor. There is continual busyness, continual searching for the next moment, a continual grasping quality to life. That is duhkha, the First Noble Truth.
Understanding and confronting suffering is the first step.
Having become acutely aware of our dissatisfaction, we begin to search for a reason for it, for the source of the dissatisfaction. By examining our thoughts and actions we discover that we are continually struggling to maintain and enhance ourselves. We realize that this struggle is the root of suffering. So we seek an understanding of the process of struggle: that is, of how ego develops and operates. This is the Second Noble Truth, the truth of the origin of suffering.
As we discussed in the chapters dealing with spiritual materialism, many people make the mistake of thinking that, since ego is the root of suffering, the goal of spirituality must be to conquer and destroy ego. They struggle to eliminate ego's heavy hand but, as we discovered earlier, that struggle is merely another expression of ego. We go around and around, trying to improve ourselves through struggle, until we realize that the ambition to improve ourselves is itself the problem. Insights come only when there are gaps in our struggle, only when we stop trying to rid ourselves of thought, when we cease siding with pious, good thoughts against bad, impure thoughts, only when we allow ourselves simply to see the nature of thought.
We begin to realize that there is a sane, awake quality within us. In fact this quality manifests itself only in the absence of struggle. So we discover the
Third Noble Truth, the truth of the goal: that is, non-striving. We need only drop the effort to secure and solidify ourselves and the awakened state is present. But we soon realize that just "letting go" is only possible for short periods. We need some discipline to bring us to "letting be." We must walk a spiritual path. Ego must wear itself out like an old shoe, journeying from suffering to liberation.
So let us examine the spiritual path, the practice of meditation, the Fourth Noble
Truth. Meditation practice is not an attempt to enter into a trance-like state of mind nor is it an attempt to become preoccupied with a particular object.
There has developed, both in India and Tibet, a so-called system of meditation which might be called "concentration." That is to say that this practice of meditation is based on focusing the mind on a particular point so as to be better able to control the mind and concentrate. In such practice the student chooses an object to look at, think about, or visualize and then focuses his entire attention upon it. In so doing, he tends to develop by force a certain kind of mental calm. I call this kind of practice "mental gymnastics" because it does not attempt to deal with the totality of any given life-situation. It is based entirely on
subject and object, rather than transcending the dualistic view of life.
The practice of samadhi on the other hand does not involve concentration. This is very important to realize. Concentration practices are largely ego-reinforcing,
although not purposely intended as such. Still, concentration is practiced with a particular aim and object in mind, so we tend to become centralized in the
"heart." We set out to concentrate upon a flower, stone or flame, and we gaze fixedly at the object, but mentally we are going into the heart as much as possible. We are trying to intensify the solid aspect of form, the qualities of stability and stillness. In the long run such a practice could be dangerous.
Depending upon the intensity of the meditator's will-power, we might become introverted in a way which is too solemn, fixed and rigid. This sort of practice is not conducive to openness and energy nor to a sense of humor. It is too heavy and could easily become dogmatic, in the sense that those who become involved in such practices think in terms of imposing discipline upon themselves. We think it necessary to be very serious and solemn. This produces a competitive attitude in our thinking—the more we can render our minds captive, the more successful we are—which is a rather dogmatic, authoritarian approach. This way of thinking always focused on the future is habitual with ego: "I would like to see such and such results. I have an idealized theory or dream which I would like to put into effect." We tend to live in the future, our view of life colored by the expectation of achieving an ideal goal. Because of this expectation we miss the precision and openness and intelligence of the present. We are fascinated, blinded and overwhelmed by the idealized goal.
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Meet the Author
Jeffrey Hopkins, PhD, served for a decade as the interpreter for the Dalai Lama. A Buddhist scholar and the author of more than thirty-five books, he is Professor Emeritus at the University of Virginia, where he founded the largest academic program in Tibetan Buddhist studies in the West.
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I went to Naropa and like the person before me said, Trungpa had some baggage. And I didn enjoy some of his other books, but this one is pure dharma. If you have been practicing a while this book is amazing to refocus your goals, and the reasons behind those goals. I also think that the previous poster should read the book before passing judgment.
I am a slightly left of fundamental Christian, yet when I reviewed the summary of this book it seemed to address issues that Christians face (or more to the point, don't face) today. It did not disappoint. I found insights and wisdom that transcend religious boundaries. It was useful to me - I would recommend to anyone for expanding their spiritual mind.
MAYBE you should read the Wikipedia article on Trungpa. I was going to buy this book based on Danny Carey's (drummer of the band Tool) recommendation on the tool site, and I will still buy it as a representation of Tibetan Buddhism for my library. After reading about Trungpa on Wiki, I lost a little enthusiasm for buying the book. I am familiar with "Trickster" gurus such as Aleister Crowley and Carlos Castenada, and I do think there is a lot to be learned from these teachers. After encountering the info on Wiki, I feel Trungpa seems more like these kind of "crazy" teachers rather than what most people would expect from a teaching using the label of "Buddhism". I will still eventually get this, since it is a "classic".