Sunday, May 24, 2020

Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism by Chogyam Trungpa

The inspiration to find the truth, to see what is real, and to lead a genuine life the culmination of which can be enlightenment is what underlies every spiritual journey. However, embarking on this journey is rarely as straightforward as we may wish.

The journey toward enlightenment ultimately may be both profound and simple, yet the process of understanding that simplicity tends to be multidimensional, if not downright complicated. For in order to understand a spiritual path, we must acknowledge and understand our own mind, now, as it pertains to the journey.

What misunderstandings and concepts we may have about a spiritual practice, we must overcome so that we're not merely practicing according to our own conceptualized idea. Ego, and the myriad games it plays to unravel our inspiration for enlightenment, must always be monitored.

To understand the essential qualities of the spiritual path, especially what obstacles might lie ahead, we need a clear sense of direction. We need teachings, instructions, and guidance from someone who has traveled the path and therefore can give valid and confident advice.

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.

We must raise our awareness to a level where we could distinguish between what is genuine spiritual progress and what is ego hijacking spirituality for its own purposes. Learn to recognize the mind strategies that ego can use any time, any place, in order to seduce us from a bigger view back into its self-limiting perspective.

If you are experimenting with idea of rejecting society in order to pursue an idealistic, transcendental path, this teachings shed new light. You must practice where you are in your own situation. Rejecting everything was not the solution. Training your mind, body, and speech in accordance with the truth would bring about the understanding and wisdom that produces peace.

This teaching continues to have the power to sharpen our awareness of spiritual materialism. It deserves our careful attention, as its message is more applicable now than ever. It deserves your careful attention, as its message is more applicable now than ever. Walking the spiritual path properly is a very subtle process, it is not something to jump into naively.

There are numerous sidetracks which lead to a distorted, ego-centered version of spirituality; we can deceive ourselves into thinking we are developing spiritually when instead we are strengthening our egocentricity through spiritual techniques. This fundamental distortion may be referred to as spiritual materialism.

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 thoughts and paranoia, the ego takes over. 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.

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 thought or emotion or event 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. 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 - it is ego!

The first confusion refers to the neurotic pursuit of physical comfort, security and pleasure.

Our highly organized and technological society reflects our preoccupation with manipulating physical surroundings so as to shield ourselves from the irritations of the raw, rugged, unpredictable aspects of life.

This confusion does not signify the physically rich and secure life situations we create per se. Rather it refers to the neurotic preoccupation that drives us to create them, to try to control nature. It is ego's ambition to secure and entertain it-self, trying to avoid all irritation. So we cling to our pleasures and possessions, we fear change or force change, we try to create a nest or playground.

The second confusion refers to the use of intellect in relating to our world.

It is the systems of ideas that rationalize, justify and sanctify our lives.

This confusion refers to the inclination on the part of ego to interpret anything that is threatening or irritating in such a way as to neutralize the threat or turn it into something "positive" from ego's point of view. The confusion refers to the use of concepts as filters to screen us from a direct perception of what is. The concepts are taken too seriously; they are used as tools to solidify our world and ourselves.

The third confusion refers to the effort of consciousness to maintain awareness of itself.

We use spiritual and psychological disciplines as the means of maintaining our self-consciousness, of holding onto our sense of self. Yoga, prayer, meditation, trances, various other spiritual practices, all are used in this way.

Ego is able to convert everything to its own use, even spirituality. For example, if you have learned of a particularly beneficial meditation technique of spiritual practice, then ego's attitude is, first to regard it as an object of fascination and, second to examine it. Finally, since ego is seeming solid and cannot really absorb anything, it can only mimic. Thus ego tries to examine and imitate the practice of meditation and the meditative way of life.

When we have learned all the tricks and answers of the spiritual game, we automatically try to imitate spirituality, since real involvement would require the complete elimination of ego, and actually the last thing we want to do is to give up the ego completely.

However, we cannot experience that which we are trying to imitate; we can only find some area within the bounds of ego that seems to be the same thing.

Ego translates everything in terms of its own state of health, its own inherent qualities. It feels a  sense of great accomplishment and excitement at having been able to create such a pattern. At last it has created a  tangible accomplishment, a confirmation of its own individuality.

If we become successful at maintaining our self-consciousness through spiritual techniques, then genuine spiritual development is highly unlikely.

Regardless of how sublime our ideas may be, if we take them too seriously and use them to maintain our ego , we are still ruled by one or other confusion.

These confusions are creating a fundamental myth: that we are solid beings. But ultimately the myth is false, a huge hoax, a  gigantic fraud, and it is the root of our suffering. In order to make this discovery we had to break through very elaborate defenses erected by the confusions, we must cut through, layer by layer, their elaborate defenses.

The defenses are created out of the material of our minds, so we must examine our own experience in situation as it is. The confusions use discursive thought as their first line of defense, as the pawns in their effort to deceive us.

The more we generate thoughts, the busier we are mentally and the more convinced we are of our existence. So confusions are constantly trying to activate these thoughts, trying to create a constant overlapping of thoughts so that nothing can be seen beyond them. In true meditation there is no ambition to stir up thoughts, nor is there an ambition to suppress them.

During a day, interaction with the world is inevitable. The confusion have build up another layer of defense mechanism - it stirs up emotions to distract us.

The exciting, colorful, dramatic quality of the emotions captures our attention as if we were watching an absorbing film show. In the practice of meditation we neither encourage emotions nor repress them. By seeing them clearly, by allowing them to be as they are, we no longer permit them to serve as a means of entertaining and distracting us.

In the absence of thoughts and emotions the confusions bring up a still more powerful weapon, concepts, our own imagination. Labeling phenomena creates a feeling of a solid definite world of "things." Such a solid world reassures us that we are a solid, continuous thing as well.

The world exists, therefore I, the perceiver of the world, exist. Meditation involves seeing the transparency of concepts, so that labeling no longer serves as a way of solidifying our world and our image of self. Labeling becomes simply the act of discrimination.

The confusions have still further defense mechanisms, but it would be too complicated to discuss them in this context. By the examination of our own thoughts, emotions, concepts and the other activities of mind, we discover that there is no need to struggle to prove our existence, that we need not be subject to the rule of the confusions.

There is no need to struggle to be free; the absence of struggle is in itself freedom.


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