Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes


From showbiz to spirituality

Posted on August 09, 2014 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated August 10, 2014 – 12:00am

I discovered the book Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, by the venerable Tibetan Buddhist meditator Chogyam Trungpa, 12 years ago. He wrote the book for anyone who is on a spiritual quest.

I have been wanting to write about it since.

In the book, Trungpa talks about the many pitfalls of the spiritual journey, and describes spiritual materialism as “deceiving ourselves into thinking we are developing spiritually when instead we are strengthening our egocentricity through spiritual techniques.”

I seriously began examining my spiritual life some 20 years ago. I was in my early 40s and was starting to go into a mid-life crisis. I was discontented with much of what constituted my existence. Among other things, the world of showbiz and entertainment was losing its appeal. I felt it was not the answer to what I was really looking for. I was tired of all the ego-stroking going on day in, day out in my line of work.

I also felt that what I had learned growing up Catholic was inadequate to explain many things I was going through. I had a spiritual yearning to know and find answers to the biggest mysteries of life. I was hungry for authentic experiences.

While I valued my faith, more and more, I felt that religious rituals could not satisfy my quest for real answers. I wanted to bypass traditional religion and discover God, not through intermediaries or religious franchises alone, but through direct experience.

That’s when I began to read a lot and engaged in book club discussions. In my quest, I even wrote my own books and joined a Zen meditation group which I am still part of.

One’s spiritual journey could be different from another’s. Chogyam Trungpa writes about how one must overcome the greatest obstacle to enlightenment — spiritual materialism.

As spiritual journeys go, one may discover many wonderful things that move him/her to speak with passion and great zeal. There are many moments when you may experience profound insights into the meaning of life and the universe itself. These divine moments can touch you to the core, leaving you in a kind of joyous ecstasy.

But often, what can also be happening, side by side with the spiritual awakening, is the ego aggrandizing itself, which the traveler may not even be aware of. The ego is a genius that will use anything, including spiritual techniques, to present itself as a winner in the world. No doubt, it will find new tools, including spiritual ones, to feed on and project itself better.

I have seen many people embrace a new spiritual path where the “new” God they discover is one that assures them that their material wishes will be granted. They also truly believe that only they will be “saved.”

Frankly, I do not know what to think about that. The God that “gives” you the new car, or house, or whatever it is you wish for, is the same God that “allows” cancers, accidents and deaths to happen. So why do we say “Praise God” only when so-called “good” things happen? Why not say it also after we hear of a bad health diagnosis given to our loved ones?

Is God there to make us feel good emotionally? Or does God want to break us so that we can get out of ourselves and learn real, egoless compassion and serve others? Is God there to take away all the “bad” and give us only “good” things? But what is good for some may be bad for others.

The idea of a sunny spirituality that does not fully accept and understand pain and suffering, and seems to suggest that everything can be solved with positive thinking, can be a shallow one. While I believe that suffering is undesirable, it is a part of life and cannot be avoided.

A big portion of the spiritual quest that many go through involves self-improvement or the healing of past trauma. This appealed to me. But the major part of spirituality is about compassion and attention to others more than the self. One must always be aware of the balance.

In a spiritual journey, narcissism can easily creep in, and often does so undetected. Self-discovery and self-indulgence may be indistinguishable to many. It takes years of honest reflection and/or a good teacher who can spot one’s B.S. and point out one’s self-absorption. As Trungpa put it in his book, “No matter what the practice or teaching, ego loves to wait in ambush to appropriate spirituality for its own survival and gain.”

Everyone who embarks on a spiritual quest will discover soon enough that while one can be profoundly moved by truth, one must also cultivate the practices that a deep spirituality requires. Spiritual awakenings, complete conversions, are not one-shot affairs. There is no magic wand. Enlightenment, kensho, satori, conversion or whatever else you may want to call it must go beyond emotions. Feelings come and go; spiritual growth must include practices that one does regardless of how one is feeling at any moment.

It is equally bogus to readily believe in so-called miracle cures. Spirituality does not mean readily believing in so-called special, gifted teachers who claim to be directly connected to the divine source. While there are authentic spiritual guides, one must constantly do due diligence regarding their claims.

There is also the great temptation to believe that one has become special, different from the rest of humanity, because one has “seen” or realized something that others have not. When this happens, you can almost be sure that the ego is at work here.

“The path of truth is profound — and so are the obstacles and possibilities for self-deception,” writes Trungpa. Sadly, many do not realize that the ego can hijack the spiritual quest from an honest yearning to know Spirit into an insidious earthly materialism.

Spiritual materialism is when we believe that we have gained some superiority over others because we think we understand God better than others. Underneath all the spiritual talk often lie pride, conceit, intolerance and, yes, even greed. It can also be driven by the feeling that one is special, chosen, and therefore above the rest of humanity because he/she is on the “right path” worshipping the One True God.

Vanity is indeed insidious. When the ego takes over, the burden of becoming a vessel of the truth often becomes an ego massage. It is entitlement more than enlightenment.

Compassion, which is an integral virtue often seen among the truly spiritually awakened, can be easily and unconsciously upstaged by the ego’s insatiable desire to make points and look good.

True enlightenment is a burden to carry. It demands active humility and commitment. Often, it requires one to go against the grain of how the world conducts itself.

Trungpa says that, in the end, “Enlightenment is ego’s ultimate disappointment.”

It has to be.

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