Cutting through Spiritual Materialism by Chogyam Trungpa is a collection of his talks delivered at Boulder Colorado in 70s. On the main path of spirituality (which is supposed to lead us away from suffering and towards enlightenment) there are a number of sidetracks, bylanes which hoodwink us in believing that we are on the right track. The author calls such misleading tracks as Spiritual Materialism.The book delineates the bylanes first and then takes us to the main path. One such bylane is the belief that an external entity like a book, a discourse is going to help us towards salvation. A Guru will provide us answers for all our problems. You download your problems on your Guru and he will take care of you. The process of initiation into spirituality clears the road towards enlightenment is also one such misconception. A master once told his new disciple after the initiation process; remember, wearing a robe does not make you enlightened and if you are enlightened you do not need a robe.
The author says that a true Guru actually does not give you answers but helps you look into yourself ; the frustration, the anxieties and guides you in facing and penetrating them. Most of the activities that are carried out on the path of Spiritual Materialism like chanting a mantra or a Sutra or thinking about the positives and eschewing the negatives may help us feel better but it may not lead us towards self-realization. In fact most of such activities are nothing but ego-enhancing tricks played by the mind. We may watch endless youtube videos, read multiple books and listen to a number of audiobooks but unless and until we realize that knowledge like gold, has to be burned, hammered and beaten before wearing as an ornament. Now it becomes your wisdom, otherwise it is just a downloaded information of others. On this line I remember Carl Rogers’ statement that most of the cognitive knowledge is useless.
Another dimension of Spiritual Materialism is a misplaced sense of humour. Some people feel that humour is a roadblock on the path of spirituality and are serious all the time. Others try to be funny likewise. As Buddha has said, an extreme of an error is another error. Both the situations, where one is trying to be serious and the other trying to be funny are equally ridiculous. A truly evolved person sees both sides of a situation and thus takes an aerial view. It involves seeing the basic irony of the juxtaposition of extremes so that one is not caught taking them seriously. Thus there are rare chances a truly spiritual person taking extreme views.
After discussing the sidetracks the author discusses about the main paths of surrendering, the four noble truths and the most important concept of Shunyata ( emptiness)
This book has been my companion for the last four years. It was never on any best-seller list. There are no anecdotes, no jokes, no one-liners, no quotations from eminent people at the beginning of each chapter, not even any endorsements from celebrities. It does not even try to impress you. It simply states the truth as it is. Just sample this:
The conventional concept of enlightenment is that you aim for a higher level of consciousness from a lower level by silencing the thoughts. For some, the targetted goals may include understanding past lives, predict future, becoming one with supreme consciousness etc. Compare this with what the author says. The journey of enlightenment is not that that you go up but you fall down, Every day you fall down to such an extent that you hit the rock bottom that you cannot fall down further. And what is this act of falling down? It is to see through your negativities; be it anger, jealousy, frustrations, pain, the games you play. It does not mean that you detest such negativities but simply acknowledge them as a part of you being human. And then you start accepting others as they are. And when you hit the ground, you become a sane person, you know how to make a cup of tea with simplicity and precision, how to communicate with others in a non-judgmental way. And that is enlightenment. The first approach is an ego-boosting activity ( spiritual materialism) where one wants to achieve a goal of becoming extraordinary like the celebrity who struggles hard in life to become one and then wears dark glasses to remain incognito. In the second instance it is to become thoroughly ordinary, the right path towards self-realization. As someone has said one of the most ordinary things in life is to become extraordinary.