Sunday, July 10, 2011
I finally got around to reading Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism by Chögyam Trungpa. I tend to get an aversion to a book if too many people recommend it to me. Go figure why. Also, Trungpa's personal history put me off—what with the affairs with students and the drinking and such, he exemplifies a lot of what went wrong with Eastern gurus that came to teach Flower Children in the West in the 1960's and '70's.
But I finally read it, and am glad I did. Because it really is one hell of a fine book. It's simple, clear, to the point, utterly unpretentious, utterly non-dogmatic, and I'm left with the overwhelming impression that he absolutely and completely gets it, whatever "it" is.
Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism is an unusual choice of title for the book, I think. It's a thoroughly Buddhist book. In fact, it's the best primer about Buddhism that I've come across. It starts out simple, lays out the fundamentals of what Buddhism is about, and what someone attempting to practice it can expect. Spiritual materialism is a point of view, not a subject. Trungpa felt that it was the trap his students were most likely to fall into: to start treating the Buddhist path as yet another consumption choice; picking stuff from it and adding it to the junk stores in their heads. Buddhism certainly provides lots of material for that kind of pack-rat activity; robes and initiations and ceremonies, titles, teachers, and gurus, koans and yidams, paths and bhumis. Not to mention actual, physical junk.
I was also struck by how unsuperstitious and universalist the book was. Everything but the last chapter was plain vanilla Buddhism, nothing particularly Tibetan about it, except that he picked scenes from the lives of the likes of Marpa, Naropa and Milarepa rather than, say, Nanchuan, Chaochou, or Layman P'ang for illustration.
Whatever has become of the institutions Chögyam Trungpa founded, and however unorthodox his lifestyle, this has got to be one of the best books about Buddhism intended for a Western readership that I've come across. If you're at all curious about what this stuff is about, you could do enormously worse than start here.
Oh, and, it's also available on the Kindle. Finally.