2.4
January 27, 2011

American Buddhism: The Art Of Self Deception.

*Don’t have time to read this whole post..? Scroll down for a short video that covers all the points. ~ BR

Part One: the Art Of Self Deception.

So this post marks the beginning of a remarkable opportunity. An opportunity for us, as an online community, to come together and investigate the human condition. This is not a study, but an inquiry. So, I am not concerned with presenting a certain ideology and then defending it’s validity. I am concerned only with questioning myself, and creating an environment that invites you to question yourself. This is spirituality…

The first thing that needs to be drawn into question are our motives for being here. I think its safe to say, that suffering is what delivered us to the door step of spirituality. We begin to question ourselves and the world we live in only once we realize that we do not understand it. Its the recognition of confusion that inspires the search for understanding.

The evidence that suggests there is confusion or misunderstanding  is suffering. Discontentment is a symptom of confusion… It is our inability to arrange the world in such a way that we are comfortable or insulated from pain, which prompts our search for answers.

What’s the point? What is the meaning of life? Why do I suffer? These are the sorts of questions we ask once we have realized that our best efforts to prevent disappointment have failed yet again.

When the search for content or meaning assumes an internal emphasis we have stepped onto the spiritual path…

However, we must be realistic. It does us no good to fill our heads with all these lofty ideas about salvation or enlightenment. We must start where we are, which for most of is hell. Remember it is suffering that started this journey. So, it is with suffering that we must begin.

It has been the action of a rigid self-centered state of mind that has muddled the experience of reality. This state of mind is called ego-centricity. It is a dualistic form of consciousness that judges all available information on the basis of how it affects this static self-image— an image that appears to be at the center of the universe. When someone or something affects us in a negative way, or excites our fears, we push them away. When someone gets us all hopped up, or fulfills our expectations, we cling to them or take them as a prisoner. Since no one likes to be pushed away or held hostage there is always resistance. This resistance is an indication that we are unable to manage our situation… We are looking to create and maintain a sort of consistency that does not exist in the natural world.

We are never really in control. It is this lack of control that is the source of our on-going paranoia. We are always a bit suspicious or afraid that everything is on the verge of spinning out of control. So, we try even harder to force our agenda, but this ends in still less control. We repeatedly find ourselves right back where we started, but each time with an added element of frustration… Frustration with the fact that we are right back at square one.

It is at this point that many of us end up in therapy, buried in a self-help book, on a meditation cushion, or a yoga mat. The point of this first discussion is to question our motives… To raise the question, How is spirituality an different? Initially, are we not seeking relief or comfort— some sort of answer? Are we not looking for a more efficient means by which to control life? In the beginning, is our attraction to spirituality not a selfish infatuation?

When we developed an interest in spirituality we didn’t destroy the causes and conditions that give rise to our confusion. So, it seems reasonable to question whether or not this confusion has hijacked the spiritual path. It seems necessary to probe our intentions… When we come to the cushion or mat, are we looking for yet another technique to avoid our fears and cultivate out expectations?

It seems likely that the same self-centered mentality that drove us into spirituality would attempt to use spirituality as means to control the environment… As a way of creating a comfortable atmosphere.

First, the ego would seek to establish itself in this new “spiritual” environment by identifying with the environment— using the surroundings as reference points to establish a new and improved spiritual image. From the ego’s point of view this is a rich environment, as it enables the ego to relish in a situation that validates its position.

Then, using the intellect, the ego creates sophisticated censors that protect this comfortable situation from any possible threats. It establishes preconceived standards that judge all antagonistic information as invalid. This transforms us into spiritual fundamentalists…

Finally, using spirituality as a sort of technology, the ego begins to incubate this self image in its womb of reference points, safe and protected by its network of contrived ideas.

This movement illustrates the Three of Lords of Materialism.

Spiritual Materialism is a concept Chogyam Trungpa introduced to describe the contrived state of affairs produced by the ego kidnapping the spiritual path. From the ego’s point of view spirituality is not an inquiry, but a screen play that supplies it with identity and behavior to mimic… Through ego-centric eyes, spirituality is nothing more than means of identifying itself.

Trungpa Rinpoche wrote:

“(The Lord of Form) does not signify the psychically rich and secure life situations we create per se. Rather, it refers to the neurotic preoccupation that drives us to create them, to try to control nature…

The Lord of Speech refers to the use of concepts as filters to screen us from a direct perception of what is…

(The Lord of Mind refers to the) Use of spiritual and psychological disciplines as the means of maintaining our self-consciousness, of holding onto our sense of self.”

Here is a video of me briefly describing the concept of Spiritual Materialism

Today’s discussion is about discovering this movement within our own lives. The discussion is not therapy, nor is it an academic study. It is an opportunity to get honest with ourselves… To identify the movement of spiritual materialism in our own lives, and in the process, help others to identify this deception in their lives.

I have a written extensively about my personal experiences with spiritual materialism here on Elephant Journal. I think reading this article would be of great help in understanding spiritual materialism. So if you have not read, “Confessions of Buddhist Dumb-Ass,” you may do so by clicking here.

In the comment section below I encourage everyone to share their experiences with spiritual materialism… Reluctance to do so is just another form of spiritual materialism! Haha! Just kidding… But seriously, share!

Here are some questions to help start the discussion:

Have I fallen in love with a romantic idea about spirituality? What does this relationship look like?

When I come to the cushion or mat am I looking for yet another technique to avoid my fears and cultivate my expectations?

Do I read spiritual books in search of the great answer or philosophy to my current problems? Do I then commit this ideology to memory and use it to judge the value of others? of myself???

Do I expect meditation and/or yoga to solve my problems? To be a solution to my suffering?

Do I attempt to identify with yoga and/or meditation? Symptoms include: sudden change of wardrobe, spontaneous and fervent disdain towards all things not “spiritual,” the overnight acquisition of a God-voice or soft spoken spiritual voice, spiritual tattoos, a mala but not a mantra, etc…

Do I find ourselves attracted to meditation because I want to visit the places within me that scare the hell out of me… Or because it is a practice that enables me to withdrawal from life in a socially acceptable way?

I encourage everyone to ask themselves these and other questions about their intentions with spirituality, and share their insights below. It is only by getting honest with ourselves at the outset of the spiritual journey, that we can engage the spiritual path directly… In seeing and accepting our deception it is immediately transformed into honesty! As Trugpa Rinpoche pointed out in Orderly Chaos, “Meditation practice right at the beginning is acceptance of being a fool.”

Thank you!

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Benjamin Riggs

Ben Riggs is the author of Finding God in the Body: A Spiritual Path for the Modern West. He is also the director of the Refuge Meditation Group in Shreveport, LA and a teacher at Explore Yoga. Ben writes extensively about Buddhist and Christian spirituality on Elephant Journal, and his blog. Click here to listen to the Finding God in the Body Podcast. To keep up with all of his work follow him on Facebook or Twitter.