A Note on Spiritual Materialism…

I recently read the first chapters of a very interesting book, ‘Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism’, by Chögyam Trungpa. I’ve known about this book for years, and had a feeling I needed to read it. The author was both a highly respected Buddhist Lama in the Tibetan tradition, and quite a character. He was an alcoholic, a probable cause of his death was alcoholism, and he is rumoured to have had a serious cocaine habit, yet he was revered by many western spiritual teachers and students. A lesson in itself – ‘spiritual’ doesn’t always mean ‘perfect’.

I read bits of the book to my wife, and she laughed, “that’s you, that’s you!” …as with this quote for example, that described me for many years:

“If you are attempting to be good and give up everything, ironically it is not giving up at all; it is taking on more things. That is the funny part of it. Someone might think himself able to abandon the big load he is carrying but the absence of the load, the giving up, is heavier, hundreds of times heavier than what the person has left behind. It is easy to give something up but the by-product of such renunciation could consist of some very heavy virtue. Each time you meet someone you will be thinking or will actually say, “I have given up this and that.” “Giving up” can become heavier and heavier, as though you were carrying a big bag of germs on your back. … At some stage a person begins to become completely unbearable because he has given up so many things.”

How she laughed at that last line! Me too!

I laughed at myself too (and why not, this was in a chapter called ‘Sense of Humour’,) when he describes the feeling of being stuffed with spirituality:

“…if we treat the practice of meditation as a serious matter … then it will become embarrassing and heavy, overwhelming. We will not even be able to think about it. It would be as though a person had eaten an extremely heavy meal. He is just about to get sick and he will begin to think, “I wish I were hungry. At least that would feel light. But now I have all this food in my stomach and I am just about to be sick. I wish I had never eaten.” One cannot take spirituality so seriously. It is self-defeating, counter to the true meaning of “giving up.””

That is exactly how I felt as I read more and more Dharma books – I couldn’t take another bite.

So what does he suggest? “The real experience, beyond the dream world, is the beauty and color and excitement of the real experience of now in everyday life.”

I’m fine with that too. I stopped reading there, after about 5 chapters or so. To continue into his version of meditation and Dharma would have been more spiritual materialism for me. More overeating. Adding more to my bulging collection. Without doubt he confirmed my own suspicions, and helped me decide to let go a bit, or a lot, of ‘being spiritual’. To just slow down and enjoy good, ordinary, wonder-inspiring reality in the here and now. I think there isn’t much more to it than that.

Winter moon with ring

The moon up in the mountains last Friday night, with an extraordinary ring around it.

2 thoughts on “A Note on Spiritual Materialism…

  1. Hi Ben and everyone ?

    Thanks for the story a note of spiritual materialism. Erm yes! Sometimes we try too hard to feel peace or make our life just right. It can be exhausting to try and make sense of everything. My brother taught me something very affective “keep it small” and as you say it you close your fingers together! It can be about anything. As long as we don’t get tide up in the chaos. It makes me smile because for me it means let go and don’t take anything too serious ??


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