"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."
This is how the book Cutting Through Spiritual Materialsm by Chögyam Trungpa begins, with these words from an introduction by Sakyong Mipham. I am one of those people who longs to find the truth, who wants to engage with what is real and, yes, lead a genuine life. But I am not someone who considers myself to be on a spiritual journey, or even someone who is spiritual. I've always considered myself an artist in search of the truth by way of the creative process.
These worlds, though, between art and Buddhism, spirituality and a search for the truth in things, are not so different. And that is part of why I enjoyed this book so much. Despite what the icon and colors on the cover of the book might evoke in you about Buddhism, the book itself has far more general applications. You do not have to be a Buddhist to read this book and benefit from its wisdom.
I picked it up because I am at a point in my yoga studies where I am considering pursuing a 500-hour teacher training program. The physical practice of yoga is still incredibly valuable to me, but I'm wanting to steep myself even more in the philosophy and literature of yoga and Buddhism, and weave all of my studies in dance together with my work in yoga.
Within this desire, I can feel the need in me to know more and want more knowledge the way one wants more shoes. I can feel a part of myself wanting to collect wisdom. I can feel how this is a dangerous, dishonest place to be.
So materialism in spirituality - yes, this is perhaps some of what I'm reckoning with each morning as I meditate and read the yoga sutras and think I'm doing the good work of the yogi. Trungpa says it is not simply in the practice and study of a philosophy, religion or tradition, and in the self-study you have to cultivate when committing to a practice, that leads one towards a true spiritual journey. In fact, he writes: "To be completely open, to have that kind of absolute trust in yourself is the real meaning of compassion and love." And later in the book he writes about how being truthful is about being 100% open to ourselves, our failures and successes, both. It's not about the solitary, learned, isolated study. "The more we open to ourselves, completely and fully, then that much more openness radiates to others."
The book takes the reader through the stages of spiritual materialism, from surrendering to finding a guru to being initiated to self-deception to the ego and more. Each chapter starts with an essay written by Trungpa and then a Q&A to help clarify and elaborate on what he is getting at.
Trungpa comes back, again and again, to the paradox of trying to pursue the truth. He writes about how the minute you set out to search for what is real your search has ended. It's similiar to how the Buddha is said to have said the man who thinks he is enlightened is not. The minute we think we know the truth we do not.
I have experienced this paradox so many times when making dances. The minute I find the thing I think is the thing that will make the dance complete it eludes me, leaves me, never to return in exactly that way ever again. Impermanence? Yes. But something else happens when working in these ways when I allow the dance to emerge on its on. Some other wisdom is operating.
One of the clearest passages on what I think is happening when I work in these ways in dance I found in this book, and was so thrilled to have found it in a completely different context.
Trungpa is asked a question about what happens when you're not as advanced as others when embarking on the search for truth:
"But if you are not at that point of true compassion and wisdom?"
And Trungpa answers:
"You do not question or worry about your wisdom. You just do whatever is required. The situation you are facing is itself profound enough to be regarded as knowledge. You do not need secondary resources of information. You do not need reinforcement or guidelines for action. Reinforcement is provided by the situation automatically. When things must be conducted in a tough manner, you just do it because the situation demands your response. You do not impose toughness; you are an instrument of the situation."
You are an instrument of the situation. Yes! Making dances using an emergent premise approach reminds me of this again and again. (Perhaps that is why I love to make dances. They remind me of the truth.) What this passage says to me is you observe, question and then act. You act at every opportunity. For it's in the openness, in the engagement, that the search is truly a search.
What happens when we replace the word situation with the word dance in this passage?
"You do not question or worry about your wisdom. You just do whatever is required. The dance you are facing is itself profound enough to be regarded as knowledge. You do not need secondary resources of information. You do not need reinforcement or guidelines for action. Reinforcement is provided by the dance automatically. When things must be conducted in a tough manner, you just do it because the dance demands your response. You do not impose toughness; you are an instrument of the dance."