Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism
Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism

Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism

By Chögyam Trungpa

If Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche had written no more than the title of this book, it would have been an invaluable contribution to the language of Buddhism in the West. The introduction and first chapter of this book are essential for anyone coming to Buddhism as an adult raised in another religious worldview.

“The problem is that ego can convert anything to its own use, even spirituality. Ego is constantly attempting to acquire and apply the teachings of spirituality for its own benefit.... Our vast collections of knowledge and experience are just part of the grandiose quality of ego. We display them to the world and, in so doing, reassure ourselves that we exist, safe and secure, as ‘spiritual’ people.”

Beyond this razor-slice of clarity is the path by which one cuts through spiritual materialism to the actual practice of Buddhism.

The book presents a range of Sutrayana teachings: the five skandhas, the six realms, the four noble truths, refuge, the six paramitas, emptiness, and compassion. The particular value of his presentation for students interested in Vajrayana Buddhism is that Trungpa Rinpoche presents all of these teachings of Sutrayana from the view and context of Vajrayana. The chapter on the six realms was the first presentation in the West of the realms as psychological states rather than physical locations through which one passes in successive incarnations. This is still a radical notion for some.

Trungpa Rinpoche also teaches on explicitly Vajrayana topics, including surrender, the importance of the Lama-student relationship, and initiation or empowerment. He concludes the book with a chapter on the Tantric teaching of the Five Buddha Families.

At the physical centre of the book is a chapter called ‘Sense of Humour’, illustrated with a ga’kyil or ‘coil of joy’.

This is a book that one could read once a year, through an entire lifetime of practice, and in which one could continue to find new insights.

Trungpa Rinpoche’s uncompromising approach is refreshing and inspiring to many, but may not be to everyone’s taste. For a gentler treatment of similar material, you might care to try Tarthang Tulku’s Openness Mind.

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