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Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  8,238 ratings  ·  264 reviews
In this modern spiritual classic, the Tibetan meditation master Chögyam Trungpa highlights a common pitfall to which every aspirant on the spiritual path falls prey: what he calls spiritual materialism. The universal human tendency, he shows, is to see spirituality as a process of self-improvement—the impulse to develop and refine the ego when the ego is, by nature, essent ...more
Hardcover, 298 pages
Published October 14th 2008 by Shambhala (first published 1973)
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Oct 26, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The only way we’re going to cut through our spiritual materialism is by cutting right through our souls - to their other, hidden side.

How would you define Spiritual Materialism? Probably as nothing more and nothing less than a day when everything seems to be going right for you. You’re having things YOUR way.

The way you’re USED to having them.

Our hope springs eternal. Even when it’s too unbearably much for our neighbours!

I first read this powerful gem of a book 35 years ago. Want to know a secre
I'd flipped through this many times before and read parts over the years, and it seems like there's always something new that stands out. This time, it's a reminder of what I love most about the Buddhist approach to the awakened state: that it's something that always exists, not something we need to try to create. Over the last year or so, I've seen (and been part of) so much striving and so much reaching, working, studying intensely, and taking Oh So Seriously the spiritual life ~ an approach t ...more
Roy Lotz
We do not consider how we are going to vomit; we just vomit.

Chögyam Trungpa was a charismatic and controversial figure in the Western popularization of Buddhism. As a teenager in Tibet, Trungpa fled the Chinese in an escape that involved swimming across a river under gunfire, climbing the Himalayas, and running so short of food that he had to eat his leather belt and bag. Eventually he emigrated to the United States, where he founded several schools, and pioneered a secular interpretation of
"Ego is able to convert everything to its own use, even spirituality."

Spiritual materialism can be defined as a self-delusion that some people have, when what they believe to be spiritual development is in fact strengthening their ego. It's a very common trapping for students of Buddhism (but not exclusively; it actually occurs in all spiritual disciplines), and by publishing the notes from his talks, Chogyam Trungpa wished to help his students understand how they could avoid falling into it.

Jenifer  R.
May 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The spiritual path is lonely. There is nothing to fall back on.
"It could be a terrifying experience to have no one to relate to, nothing to relate with."


I love this book. I first read it in the context of a reading group, and the collective feeling of discomfort in our discussions was palatable. As it moves along, the book becomes a little more complex. Trungpa goes further into Buddhism, to its psychology and understanding of mind, to the four noble truths, techniques of meditation, shun
Feb 23, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I find that most of my pursuits are spiritual in their ends, but that they are contingent upon material winnings. I took an aura photograph and saw a chakra reader recently, most of my friends having gone and received a "lower" chakra and being a color like orange or red or indigo at best. I got a "white color" aura photo and was told that I have a "crown chakra" (the highest, most enlightened of them all). It seemed fishy to me because I feel just as full of anxieties and self-doubt as any othe ...more
This book is the most plain English explanation of the path of spirituality from the Tibetan Buddhist perspective I have ever read. It does not contradict what is taught by theistic religions and it describes all religions to be different methods of attaining the same goal. It has nothing to do with spirits or afterlife. It has everything to do with our subjective reality of the present moment. This book shows a path to a state of mind that allows you to flow like water through space and time ra ...more
This is my 100th read of the year! Obviously, boasting about this is a form of spiritual materialism. Sigh.

In a nutshell, spiritual materialism is that which accumulates within ourselves that obscures our ability to see things as they really are and hampers our ability to live within that context, without all the baggage of expectation and stress and judgment and egocentricity and so on.

This is a good, clear, non-jargon-heavy (if repetitive) explanation of the concepts of Zen and how to begin th
Chris Lemig
Aug 02, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
When I first began to delve into Buddhism I though, "Ah ha! Here it is! The TRUTH!!!" At first I thought that I would now just be able to read a few words and: "Wham, bam, thank you , Stan," I'm enlightened. I thought that the truth was supposed to be simple, profound and sublime. If we had to talk about it too much then it couldn't be the TRUTH. Well, I was wrong.

Yes, the truth is simple but the way to it is ever unfolding. It takes time, skill and effort to get to it. We must read about it, st
210325: very insightful. idea of ‘spiritual materialism’ resonates, as i often think of how many buddhist philosophy texts read as if accomplishing something. i have read a lot in the same way i used to study anything: my mind would gradually absorb, understand, grasp. i follow the argument for finding ‘spiritual friend’ (guru) useful but my appreciation of buddhist thought remains philosophical and i do not have interest in Tibetan version...

'spiritual materialism' is the tendency to 'reify' (m
Oct 06, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book could have been so much more than it was. I was really excited by the summaries on Amazon from people who had read this book, and so I ordered the book right away when I discovered it. Unfortunately, the structure of the presentation leaves so much to be desired that I almost gave up about halfway through the book.

Based on the reviews I had seen and the title of the book, I was expecting a book with a straightforward premise that it is trying to argue regarding the pitfalls of spiritua
Nov 12, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spirituality
It was not until I moved to Boulder Colorado, Trungpa's last home after his Tibetan exile that understood why he was so insitent on teaching Americans about how shallow we are in our various approachs to the embodying the wisdom of the East. This text is designed as a sort of feedback mechanism for all the smarmy, new age, old school, rightous Americans who might be confusing the soil of India with Nirvana or the black robed Zen Roshi with the definative expression of kindness. Hard reading for ...more
Oct 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The concept of Spiritual materialism is very powerful. Not sure I fully understand it yet. After reading the book I immediately wanted to go back and reread it, because I know I will get a lot more out of it. Seldom do I read a book twice and then it is usually because I have forgotten I've already read it.
This may be a volume I pick up and add to my library so that I can high light passages in it. If I understand it right, Spiritual materialism applies not just to Buddhism, but to all spiritual
Michelle Margaret
I bought this book in 2004 and let it sit on my bookshelf in California, Austin, then Guatemala until finally reading it this spring. It's the kind of book I want to reread as soon as I finish.

Tibetan meditation master Chögyam Trungpa clearly explains how "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," and how to avoid these pitfalls on the path
Aug 14, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is one of the most important books I've read in my life. I highly recommend it to anyone considering Buddhism. Trungpa asks important questions about the motivation for faith in a materialist culture. For example, are you drawn to Buddhism because it's got a nice aesthetic or because you are ready to commit to some very difficult spritual practice? ...more
Apr 29, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: buddhism
Reviewing books on Buddhism presents unique challenges, at least for me. The first of these is disentangling the wisdom contained in a great extant corpus, such as Buddhism's—which every modern text draws from—from the contributions unique to the text in question. This is often complicated further when the reader already has some expectations from or, dare I say, reverence for some or other portion of that corpus. One begins to bring those concepts with him to every text, along with his preconce ...more
Apr 26, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: buddhism
This book is a re-read. First time I read it, I was seeking spiritual truth. Well, to be honest, it was very difficult, very layered. I read it to get something out of it, and was very disappointed. 2nd time through, I happened to be cleaning my book shelf up, and it fell out and open to a page on experiencing anger. I was just drawn in, and discovered to my delight that rereading this book was an entirely different experience. Straightforward, exact, precise, a joy to read, and a great pleasure ...more
May 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of those books that really needs to be read many times throughout the course of a life... it will reveal new things each time. Many books provide comfort or guidance, this one is like a mirror and what you see in it depends on how much you are willing to see... and what you see isn't often very pretty. ...more
J K Hoffman
Started strong, but the last third was pretty esoteric and definitely not for the casual Buddhist reader. I often felt like the author was referring to literature in Buddhism that I had not only not read, but never even heard of. I feel like I'd be better off sticking with the author's student, Pema Chodron, from now on. ...more
Mr. Roboto
Just can't get down with this one. Maybe it's bad timing on my part. ...more
Dec 25, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Cutting through Spiritual Materialism by Chögyam Trungpa is clearly divided into two halves: the first one, which could also be called "Cutting through Spiritual Mumbo-Jumbo" deals with the perils and traps that come during the spiritual path as a manifestation of the everlasting desire of the ego to pervade every single aspect of a person's life. In this aspect, Trungpa masterfully puts his audience (us) in its place in almost every wrong road they may have taken during their
We must surrender our hopes and expectations, as well as our fears, and march directly into disappointment, work with disappointment, go into it, and make it our way of life, which is a very hard thing to do. Disappointment is a good sign of basic intelligence. It cannot be compared to anything else: it is so sharp, precise, obvious, and direct. If we can open, then we suddenly begin to see that our expectations are irrelevant compared with the reality of the situations we are facing. This autom
Mar 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own, spirituality
This isn't just about spiritual materialism. There are plenty of other topics covered.
I hadn't been too thrilled about some of Trungpa's other books but this one was impressive.
This book wasn't perfect (I didn't like some of the chapters or the Q&A sections at the end of most chapters), but I will reread it if I can't find a better Trungpa work.
Beverly Cooper
Mar 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An excellent book for those people on just about any spiritual path, but particularly those who follow Eastern philosophy. Chogyam Trunga wrote this book for his students who were so into attaining enlightenment, nirvana, etc, they began thinking they didn't need to care for themselves on the earth plane (i.e, feeding oneself, washing, sleeping, etc,). In short, they were becoming becoming a bit too self-righteous, which is rather at odds with the philosophy itself. Trungpa became alarmed at thi ...more
Russell Eric Dobda
People on the spiritual path might often be lead astray by teachings, which on the surface, may indicate that we are better than others or better than ourselves because we follow some certain path. We might abstain from worldly pleasures and observe and judge our every thought and action, thinking that this is the path of enlightenment. Trungpa helps us step outside these dichotomies and look at the path as a way to 'just be here' instead of of a way to 'go there.' He discusses the expression of ...more
Jan 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A phenomenal piece to the puzzle of Buddhist thought. Based off of the second turning of the wheel when basically the Buddha had been teaching for a while. He got all of his followers together and had one of his students explain that "form is emptiness and emptiness is form." He was basically saying that grasping on to anything - including the teachings of the Buddha - would cause suffering. This in itself caused suffering for many of the followers, but thus cut "through spiritual materialism". ...more
The subject matter here is at once profound and immediately applicable to anyone with a spiritual interest. This was an exhilarating read, unlike many of the others in its precise and straightforward style. Trungpa received a Western education at Oxford, and his writing/speaking reflects this -- there is none of the awkward phrasing that sometimes can be found in works by great spiritual teachers from other cultures. But what really made this book a gem for me, one that I will undoubtedly read a ...more
Craig Werner
Excellent introduction to the foundations of (mostly Tibetan) Buddhism, originally delivered as a series of interconnected lectures/dharma teachings. Chogyam Trungpa is particularly good on the relationship between the six realms and the psychology of illusion, the cycles of karma. I'm less enthusiastic about the Q&A sessions which follow the talks. The "problem" with the book is simply inherent in talking/writing about an approach to the world that's fundamentally grounded in the emptiness of w ...more
Todd Mertz
Jan 03, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Trungpa's writing and thinking are a breath of fresh air in an often too-serious field. While I find his writing and personality to be as fun as Osho's, Trungpa consistently offers a simultaneous feeling of vitality and profundity (where Osho seems to evidence an adolescent form of "I've-got-enlightenment"). It took me a little time to begin to understand Trungpa's particular way of presenting nuance as well, but once I did, each subsequent book added more. After some time, you begin to see that ...more
Jim Parker
Oct 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very likely the best and most direct book I have read about how to proceed in becoming more awake.

Chögyam Trungpa wasn't know as a challenging teacher for no reason. This book will kick most every seeker in the teeth more than once before the book is finished. Chögyam Trungpa points out the road blocks, detours, and pot holes that most everyone encounters on the journey to greater awareness. At least the reader of the book stands a chance of being aware of what is happening to them. Just reading
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Vidyadhara Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche (Tibetan: ཆོས་ རྒྱམ་ དྲུང་པ་ Wylie: Chos rgyam Drung pa; also known as Dorje Dradul of Mukpo, Surmang Trungpa, after his monastery, or Chökyi Gyatso, of which Chögyam is an abbreviation) was a Buddhist meditation master, scholar, teacher, poet, and artist. He was the 11th descendent in the line of Trungpa tulkus of the Kagyü school of Tibetan Buddhism. He was al ...more

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