Some years ago, when I was delving into Buddhism (which I love) and reading a lot of Pema Chodron, I found my way to Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s book, Cutting through Spiritual Materialism. It’s a hard concept to get around, and a somewhat difficult book to read. It requires some pretty intense focus, and can only be fully understood, I think, if one has done a lot of meditation, has developed a practice for several years.
Because “spiritual materialism” is a way of understanding that people who want to be “spiritual” often apply a capitalistic framework to a life of the spirit, to our concept of what God, or the Universe, is. We are so bogged down by the way money is made in our world, by the material fabric and transaction of a man-made society, we begin to think that a life of the Spirit works that way also. In essence, spiritual materialism is the thought, “I do this, I get that.” Something like, I meditate, I get external reward. I become a spiritual person, and I get accolades and attention and respect from other people for being “wise.” I study the Bible, or other forms of Scripture, and I become an authority. People come to me for answers. I am above.
So, just to clarify, this is all bullshit, and not the way a true spiritual life works.
What Rinpoche emphasizes is that the true spiritual path, the path of the warrior, is a process of uncovering layer after layer of label and disguise, the stories we tell ourselves to function in daily life. We strip away the ego and get to the core and truth of existence.
“This rationalization of the spiritual path and one’s actions must be cut through if true spirituality is to be realized. ([Notice he says “realized” and not “attained.” –JR]) However, such rationalizing is not easy to deal with because everything is seen through the filter of ego’s philosophy and logic, making all appear neat, precise, and very logical. We attempt to find a self-justifying answer for every question. In order to reassure ourselves, we work to fit into our intellectual scheme every aspect of our lives which might be confusing. And our effort is so serious and solemn, so straight-forward and sincere, that it is difficult to be suspicious of it. We always trust the ‘integrity’ of our spiritual advisor.”
He says some other things after that, but they’re pretty complicated, so I’ll save you and just go from here.
Essentially, the point here is that the True Spiritual Path is not about “attaining” enlightenment, or becoming elevated above other people. The True Spiritual Path, the path of the warrior (I just love that phrase), is about wading through bullshit narrative after bullshit narrative, with love and kindness, and getting to golden core that is the essence of all things, the gem of the soul, which is love and pure being and generosity.
I don’t know if I’ve described that in a way that makes sense, because it sounds so pretty. But it is the truth.
And honestly, and without judgment, I don’t know how you can do this kind of thing without meditation. Because other parts of your body, other energy centers or chakras, can heal and evolve and breathe and change and grow, but the mind is quite a rascal, and there are more and more and more and more layers to that thing. We want to make sense of our world. We want to fit everything into a neat little framework. We want structure and orderliness. We don’t know how to live.
So, let’s look at SexyJesus.
The Wisdom Tradition of Christianity, which many people don’t know about, and which is on the rise through people like Richard Rohr, Cynthia Bourgeault, and the Center for Action and Contemplation out in New Mexico, blends this more eastern, egoic-framework-problem into our understanding of Jesus’s teachings, which is really healthy and such a relief.
The way that mainstream Christianity has taught about Jesus is very simplistic, and very spiritually materialist. Do good deeds, and get your reward in heaven. Therefore God is a kind of transaction. Serve God, and you will be relieved with eternal glory and pleasure later on. Accept Jesus as your lord and savior, and you’re good to go. Relax. Sit back. Just tell other people about him and suffer your trials and you’ll have your cake and eat it too when you die.
As you know, this isn’t working. And people are flocking to any sort of philosophy or spiritual practice that feels more holistic and better so we don’t have to be aligned with this scary way of thinking. Such as the idea of “manifesting.” Do your work internally, and something will “manifest,” you’ll get your reward.
A true experience of God, however, is debasement. It is humbling. It is recognizing, Shit, no matter how much I try, I truly cannot dictate the world around me. Something weird is always going to happen, and I cannot know the higher plan, or if there is a higher plan. No matter how much I wish for it and pray for it, the thing I want that looks and acts and smells all the ways I want it to will not appear.
And only then can you learn how to be present, which is what Life is, which is all you can really know.
So SexyJesus teaches this too, in the Gospel of Luke:
“Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.”
Because we have a mixed-up sense of what God is, and because we are mainly driven by ego, and because so many of us are anti-authoritarian and live in a country run by crazy people, a passage like this might make us pissed. Who is this fucking God guy who tells me I’m a servant? Puh-lease. Fuck you, dude. I’m going to go watch a good show on Netflix. I’m going to find someone to have sex with on Tinder. I’m going to go to happy hour and have fun. Servant my ass.
The point that SexyJesus is trying to make, though, is not that you are powerless, necessarily. He is just showing, in one parable of many, a spiritual truth. Just because you commit to a spiritual path does not mean the Master (God, I suppose, or we could just call this the Reality of Life), gives you all these rewards and makes it so you don’t have to live anymore, or that you can just sit back and relax. God is not like, Oh, wow, you’re soooo amazing, you’re not a servant anymore, now you’re God, too, and you can do all the things God can do!
It’s more like what Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita to Arjuna, the young, struggling warrior who has a lot of shit on his plate. Krishna says, Do your duty, and let go of the outcome.
This is a very complicated blog post.