Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism by Chögyam Trungpa

Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism by Chögyam Trungpa

Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism summary

Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism highlights our tendency to see spirituality as a process of self-improvement. But self, or ego, is essentially empty—there’s nothing to improve. Ego, in other words, tricks us into using spirituality to build itself. Rather than bolstering self, true, joyful liberation comes from complete surrender of self.

Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism notes & quotes

Here are my notes and quotes on Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism by Chögyam Trungpa. My notes are casual and include what I believe are the essential concepts, ideas, and insights from the book, along with direct quotes from the author.


  • Finding the truth, seeing what is real, and leading a genuine life underlies every spiritual journey.
  • But the path ahead is filled with obstacles—and possibilities for self-deception.
  • The ego loves appropriating spirituality for its own survival and gain.
  • “…in our continuing pursuit of whatever will distract us from the truth of pain and suffering, we have become even more materialistic.”


  • “…we can deceive ourselves into thinking we are developing spirituality when instead we are strengthening our egocentricity through spiritual techniques.”
  • Spiritual materialism is common to all spiritual disciplines.
  • Buddhism seeks to cut through our confusion to uncover the awakened state of mind.
  • The process of burning out the confusions—rather than building up the awakened state of mind—leads to enlightenment.
  • The ego struggles to maintain the “sense of a solid, continuous self.”
  • “It is the dissatisfaction which accompanies ego’s struggle that inspires us to examine what we are doing.”
  • In Tibetan Buddhism, spiritual materialism comes in three forms: Lord of Form, Lord of Speech, and Lord of Mind.
  • “The Lord of Form refers to the neurotic pursuit of physical comfort, security and pleasure…all are attempts to create a manageable, safe, predictable, pleasurable world.”
  • Ego’s ambition is to avoid all irritation through security and entertainment.
  • "The Lord of Speech refers to the use of intellect in relating to our world…the use of concepts as filters to screen us from the direct perception of what is.”
  • “The Lord of Mind refers to the effort of consciousness to maintain awareness of itself.”
  • “Ego is able to convert everything to its own use, even spirituality."
  • The Lord of mind is most skilled at subverting spirituality, but together the “Three lords seduce us by creating a fundamental myth: that we are solid beings.”
  • Examining our own experiences helps us see how the ego works, and meditation is the best method for doing this.
  • “The practice of meditation involves letting be…”
  • “The more we generate thoughts, the busier we are mentally and the more convinced we are of our own existence.”
  • Freedom does not require struggle; “the absence of struggle is in itself freedom.”
  • The true spiritual path can be described as “transforming the material of mind from expressions of ego’s ambition into expressions of basic sanity and enlightenment.”

Spiritual Materialism

  • “…we really do not want to sacrifice any part of our way of life. We become skillful actors, and while playing deaf and dumb to the real meaning of the teachings, we find some comfort in pretending to follow the path.”
  • “…the main point of any spiritual practice is to step out of the bureaucracy of ego.”
  • “Our vast collection of knowledge and experience are just part of ego’s display, part of the grandiose quality of ego. We display them to the world and, in so doing, reassure ourselves that we exist, safe and secure, as ‘spiritual’ people.”
  • How to know when we’re on the wrong path: seeing knowledge as an antique, an ‘ancient wisdom’ to be collected.
  • Saying in Tibetan scriptures: “Knowledge must be burned, hammered and beaten like pure gold. Then one can wear it as an ornament.”
  • Spirituality is a lonely, individual path, a “very living process” that entails making the teachings our own and practicing them.
  • “…the guide does not walk ahead of you, but walks with you.”
  • “…a large part of the problem is that we do not know where to begin.”
  • People are “afraid of the emptiness of space…a fear that we will lose our identity as a fixed and solid and definite thing.”


  • “Surrender means opening oneself completely…”
  • “Self-evaluation and self-criticism are, basically, neurotic tendencies which derive from our not having enough confidence in ourselves, ‘confidence’ in the sense of seeing what we are, knowing what we are, knowing that we can afford to open.”
  • “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.
  • As we open, we see that our expectations are not suited to reality.
  • “Disappointment is the best chariot to use on the path of the dharma.”
  • “Surrendering does not involve preparing for a soft landing; it means just landing on hard, ordinary ground, on rocky, wild countryside. Once we open ourselves, then we land on what is.”
  • Seeking refuge through “worshipping mountains, sun gods, moon gods, deities of any kind simply because they would seem to be greater than we is the wrong way.”
    The right way is to take refuge in the path—the Buddha, the Dharma, and the sangha.
  • “…we surrender because we would like to communicate with the world ‘as it is.’”

The Guru

  • “People always come to the study of spirituality with some ideas already fixed in their minds of what it is they are going to get and how to deal with the person from they are going to get and how to deal with the person from whom they think they will get it. The very notion that we will get something from a guru—happiness, peace of mind, wisdom, whatever it is we seek—is one of the most difficult preconceptions of all.”
  • “A guru should be a spiritual friend who communicates and presents his qualities to us” rather than speaking down to us from on high.
  • “As a result of this [your] openness you begin to see the guru-quality in every life-situation, that all situations in life offer you the opportunity to be as open as you are with the guru, and so all things can become the guru.” As such, guru is a universal quality.
  • The idea of living life according to the dharma is to be “fundamentally sane.”
  • “When we first experience true ordinariness, it is something very extraordinarily ordinary…”
  • “If you don’t question yourself, don’t watch yourself, then you just do it. We do not consider how we are going to vomit; we just vomit.”


  • We must endeavor to expose ourselves and our self-deceptions and deal honestly with our spiritual friend (i.e., guru).
  • “…true initiation is born of surrender.”
  • “Mara represents the neurotic tendency of mind, the unbalanced state of being…”
  • “…openness is the most insignificant thing in the world. It is completely insignificant, truly ordinary, absolutely nothing.”
  • “Eventually we must give up trying to be something special.”
  • “So it is necessary to drop altogether the idea of security and see the irony of your attempts to secure yourself, the irony of your overlapping structure of self-protection. You have to give up the watcher of the watcher of the watcher. In order to do this, one has to drop the first watcher, the intention of protection itself.”


  • “Self-deception is a constant problem as we progress along a spiritual path. Ego is always trying to achieve spirituality.”
  • “You must accept yourself as you are, instead of as you would like to be, which means giving up self-deception and wishful thinking.”
  • Regarding something as valuable and special makes it separate from us.
  • “But when we have it with us all the time, when it is part of our entire make-up, then we cannot value it particularly; it is just there. The evaluation comes from the fear of being separated, which is just what keeps us separated.”
  • “If we had the experience continuously it would seem quite ordinary, and it is this ordinariness that we cannot accept. ‘If only I could have that wonderful experience of openness again!’ So we keep ourselves busy not having git, remembering it. This is self-deception’s game.
  • “Self-deception seems always to depend upon the dream world, because you would like to see what you have not yet seen, rather than what you are now seeing. You will not accept that whatever is here now is what is, nor are you willing to go on with the situation as it is.”
  • “When we face things as they are, we give up the hope of something better.”
  • “Then you might learn a very useful lesson: to give up the whole thing, to be nothing.”
  • “There seem to be two solutions: either to simply unmask, or else build and build, strive and strive, until you reach a crescendo and then drop the whole thing.”
  • “…stop trying to go anywhere, both in terms of getting away from and of running to, because both are the same thing.”

The Hard Way

  • “Inasmuch as no one is going to save us, to the extent that no one is going magically to enlighten us, the path we are discussing is called the ‘hard way.’”
  • “The idea that we do not have to do anything on our own is extremely wishful thinking.”
  • “It takes tremendous effort to work one’s way through the difficulties of the path…”
  • “We become vegetarians and we become this and that. There are so many things to become. We think our path is spiritual because it is literally against the flow of what used to be, but it is merely the way of false heroism, and the only one who is heroic in this way is ego.”
  • “We hope that by manipulating matter, the physical world, we can achieve wisdom and understanding.”
  • “…we cannot escape what we are, we carry it with us all the time.”
  • “But in order for it to be meaningful, it must entail giving up our hope of getting something in return.”
  • “We must give up our ambition to get something in return for our gift.”
  • “We must begin to dismantle the basic structure of this ego we have managed to create. The process of dismantling, undoing, opening, giving up, is the real learning process.”
  • “The problem is we tend to seek an easy and painless answer.”
  • “The only way to get to the heart of the matter is to experience it for yourself.”
  • “You see, it does not matter whether you are a beginning or advanced student. It is a question of how much a person has been with himself. If he has been with himself, then he must know himself.”
  • “Whenever we confront something we regard as ‘evil,’ it poses a threat to the self-preservation of ego. We are so busy preserving our existence in the face o f this threat that we cannot see the thing clearly at all. To open we have to cut through our desire to preserve our own existence.”
  • “The ape instinct of ego dissolves because it is based upon secondhand information rather than upon direct experience of what is. Struggle is ego. Once you give up struggle, then there is no one left to conquer struggle; it just disappears.”
  • “…it is unhealthy to regard our therapist or guru as our savior. We must work on ourselves.”
  • “The idea is not to regard the spiritual path as something very luxurious and pleasurable but to see it as just facing the facts of life.”

The Open Way

  • “The problem lies in the fact that we are always trying to secure ourselves, reassure ourselves that we are all right. We are constantly looking for something solid to hang on to.
  • “So the next step on the path of self-deception is the desire to see miracles. We have read many books describing the lives of great yogis and swamis, saints and avatars.”
  • “You would like to be one of those few people who have done something fantastic, extraordinary, super-extraordinary, one of the people who turned the world upside-down…”
  • “We feel that we are a minority and that we are doing something very extraordinary, that we are different from everyone else. This sort of attempt to prove our own uniqueness is just an adept to validate our self-deception.”
  • “It is good to experience the hopelessness of ambition…”
  • “The whole point we are trying to get to is—where are we going to open, really?”
  • Compassion “is the key to and the basic atmosphere of the open way. The best and most correct way of presenting the idea of compassion is in terms of clarity, clarity which contains fundamental warmth.”
  • Compassion “is the continual act of making friends with yourself.”
  • “…having made friends with yourself, you cannot just contain that friendship; you must have some outlet, which is your relationship with the world. So compassion becomes a bridge to the world outside. Trust and compassion for oneself bring inspiration to dance with life, to communicate with the energies of the world.”
    Feeling that we cannot achieve our goal causes us to “suffer despair and the self-torture of unfulfilled ambition.”
  • “…compassion is the ultimate attitude of wealth: an anti-poverty attitude, a war on want.”
  • “It is an attitude that one has been born fundamentally rich rather than one must become rich.”
  • Learning to trust in your fundamental richness allows you to be open.
  • “In order to develop love—universal love, cosmic love, whatever you would like to call it—one must accept the whole situation of life as it is, both the light and the dark, the good and the bad.”
  • When you do not want anything from the situation, you are free to act in the way genuinely appropriate to it.
  • “Openness means ‘being what you are.’ If you are comfortable being yourself, then an environment of openness and communication arises automatically and naturally.”
  • “You neither care nor do you not care.”
  • “When there is no speed or aggression…you see the things which need to be done more clearly. You become more efficient and your work become more precise.”
  • Where does the attitude of warmth come from? “It comes from the absence of aggression.”
  • “Dharma is defined s ‘dispassion’ or ‘passionless,’ and passionless implies absence of aggression. If you are passionate, you want to get something quickly to satisfy your desire.”
  • “So if a person can really relate to the simplicity of the practice of meditation, then automatically there is an absence of aggression. Because there is no rush to achieve, you can afford to relax.”
  • “Shantideva says that every uncompassionate action is like planting a dead tree, but anything related to compassion is like planting a living tree.”
  • “You do not have to feel compassion. That is the distinction between emotional compassion and compassion compassion: you do not necessarily feel it; you are it.”
  • “The fear of someone else seems to generate uncertainty as to who you are.”
  • “Uncertainty is related to distrust in yourself, feeling that you are inadequate to deal with that mysterious problem which is threatening you.”
  • “…you know what you are, therefore you can afford to trust yourself at the same time.”

Sense of Humor

  • “Whatever we do is constantly being watched and censored. Actually it is not Big Brother who is watching; it is Big Me! Another aspect of me is just about the strike, just about to pinpoint my failure. There is not joy in this approach, no sense of humor at all.”
  • “Sense of humor means seeing both poles of a situation as they are, from an aerial point of view. There is good and there is bad and you see both with a panoramic view as though from above. Then you begin to feel that these little people on the ground, killing each other or making love or just being little people, are very insignificant in the sense that, if they begin to make a big deal of their warfare or love making, then we begin to see the ironic aspect of their clamor.”
  • Sense of humor “involves seeing the basic irony of the juxtaposition of extremes, so that one is not caught taking them seriously, so that one does not seriously play their game of hope and fear.”
  • Many have seen the awakened state by breaking into laughter—seeing the irony and contrast of polar situations.

  • “This seduction, the seduction of spiritual materialism, is extremely powerful because it is the seduction of thinking that ‘I’ have achieved something. If we think we have achieved something, that we have ‘made it,’ then we have been seduced by Mara’s daughters, the seduction of spiritual materialism.”                

The Development of Ego

  • “…we are not condemning or attempting to eliminate our ego-psychology; we are purely acknowledging it, seeing it as it is. In fact, the understanding of ego is the foundation of Buddhism.
  • “Fundamentally there is just open space, the basic ground, what we really are. Our most fundamental state of mind, before the creation of ego, is such that there is basic openness, basic freedom, a spacious quality; and we have now and have always had this openness.”
  • “When we see an object, in the first instant there is a sudden perception of which has no logic or conceptualization to it at all; we just perceive the thing in the open ground.”
  • “We are this space, we are one with it…”
  • “…one is ignoring what one is all the time. That is the basic definition of ignorance.”
  • “These are the three types of impulse: hatred, desire, and stupidity. Thus perception refers to receiving information from the outside world and impulse refers to our response to that information.”
  • “Often we look for the positive side, the beauty of spirituality, and ignore ourselves as we are. This is the greatest danger.”
  • “Ego’s intelligence is tremendously talented. It can distort anything.”
  • “He [monkey-mind] never stops, never allows himself to actually feel anything properly. This is the problem. That is why simply stopping, just allowing a gap, is the first step in the practice of meditation.”
  • “The more we try to struggle, the more we will discover that the walls really are solid.
  • The more energy we put into struggle, by that much will we strengthen the walls, because the walls need our attention to solidify them.”

The Six Realms

  • "… eventually the monkey begins to become exhausted from his struggle.… begins to relax, and suddenly he sees the possibility of a more open, spacious way to be. He hungers for this new state.”
  • Before, “he had been too busy struggling to even have time to consider the possibility of relief.”
  • “in each of his fantasies glimpses the possibility of satisfaction, reaches out for it, and as quickly disappointed.”
  • “… but his hunger is so demanding that he is not daunted and so continues to constantly turn out fantasies a future satisfaction. The pain of dissatisfaction involves the monkey in a love-hate relationship with his dreams. He is fascinated by them, but the disappointment is so painful that he is repelled by then as well.”
  • It is “not so much the pain of not finding what he wants; rather it is the insatiable hunger itself which causes pain.”
  • “… the monkey is fascinated with being hungry rather than with satisfying his hunger.”
  • “…he is afraid to give up this security and entertainment, afraid to venture out into the unknown world of open space. He would rather stay in his familiar prison, no matter how painful and oppressive be.”
  • “he ignores other ways of dealing with life experiences, relies on the same set of responses, and in this way limits his world.”
  • “The monkey blinds himself to what is around him and refuses to explore new territory, clinging to familiar goals and familiar irritations. He is intoxicated with his safe, self-contained, familiar world and so fixes his attention on familiar goals and pursues them with unswerving and stubborn determination.”
  • “But eventually the monkey begins to realize that he can pick and choose his pleasures and pains.”
  • “He becomes more discriminating, considers alternatives, thinks more…”
  • “But the monkey discovers that, although he is intelligent and can manipulate his world to achieve some pleasure, still he cannot hold onto pleasure nor can he always get what he wants.”
  • “Pain is the constant companion of his pleasures.”
  • “So he begins, quite logically, to deduce the possibility of heaven, the complete elimination of pain and achievement of pleasure.”
  • “his version of heaven maybe the acquisition of Extreme wealth or power or fame—whatever it is he would like his world to be, and he becomes preoccupied with achievement and competition.”
  • “But his preoccupation with always being best, with always being master of a situation, makes him insecure and anxious. He must always struggle to control his territory, overcoming all threats to his achievements. He is always fighting for mastery of his world.”
  • “When it is too difficult to achieve his goals, he may shy away from the struggle and condemn himself for not disciplining himself, for not working harder.”
  • “So the monkey is caught in a world of unfulfilled ideals, self-condemnation and fear of failure.”
  • “The monkey has managed to reach the ultimate level of achievement; but he has not transcended the dualistic logic upon which achievement depends.”
  • “Sooner or later the absorbed and wears out and the monkey begins to panic. He feels threatened, confused, vulnerable…”
  • “But Messages from the environment break through and a hunger for something more develops.”
  • “This perpetual cycle of struggle, achievement, disillusionment campaign is the circle of samsara, the karmic chain reaction of dualistic fixation.”
  • “It is in the Human Realm that the possibility of breaking the karmic chain or the circle of samsara, arises. The intellect of the Human Realm and the possibility of discriminating action allows room to question the whole process of struggle.”
  • “Panoramic awareness allows the monkey to see the space in which the struggle occurs so that he can begin to see its ironical humorous quality.”
  • “He begins to realize that the world was never outside of himself, that it was his own dualistic attitude, the separation of ‘I’ and ‘other,’ that created the problem.”
  • “…he begins to realize that to be free of his prison he must give up his ambition to escape and accept the walls as they are.”
  • “It is very paradoxical that, the more you dislike the wall, the stronger and thicker the wall becomes, and the more you make friends with the wall, the more the wall disappears.”
  • “…in the perception of ego the phenomenal world is very real, overwhelming, solid.”
  • “He is too busy continuously trying to reinforce his own existence. He never allows a gap. Thus there is no room for inspiration, no room to see other aspects, different angles of the situation.”

The Four Noble Truths

  • “We start with the truth of suffering.”
  • Dukkah is “suffering,” “dissatisfaction,” or “pain.”
  • “Dissatisfaction occurs because the mind spins around in such a way that there seems to be no beginning and no end to its motion. Thought processes continue on and on: thoughts of the past, thoughts of the future, thoughts of the present moment. This creates irritation. Thoughts are prompted by and are also identical with dissatisfaction, dukkha, the constantly repeated feeling that something is lacking, incomplete in our lives. Somehow, something is not quite right, not quite enough. So we are always trying to fill the gap, to make things right, to find that extra bit of pleasure or security. The continuing action of struggle and preoccupation is very irritating and painful. Eventually, one begins to become irritated by just being ‘me.’”
  • “So to understand the truth of dukkha is actually to understand mind’s neurosis.”
  • “All activities contain dissatisfaction or pain, continuously.”
  • “Somehow we patterns life in a way that never allows us enough time to actually taste its flavor. There is continual busyness, continue searching for the next moment, a continual grasping quality to life.”
  • “…we are continually struggling to maintain and enhance ourselves.”
  • “… many people make the mistake of thinking that, since ego is the root of suffering, the goal spirituality must be to conquer and destroy ego… that struggle is merely another expression of ego.”
  • “We go around and around, trying to improve ourselves through struggle, until we realize that the ambition to improve ourselves is itself the problem.”
  • “We begin to realize that there is a sane, awake quality within us…this quality manifests itself only in the absence of struggle.”
  • “We need only drop the effort to secure and solidify ourselves and the awakened state is present.”
  • “Meditation practice is not an attempt to enter into a trance-like state of mind nor is it an attempt to become preoccupied with a particular object.”
  • “The practice of samadhi on the other hand does not involve concentration. This is very important to realize. Concentration practices are largely ego-reinforcing.”
  • “One’s whole practice should be based on the relationship between you and nowness.”
  • “One begins to realize that whatever we do in everyday life is beautiful and meaningful.”
  • “Every act of our lives can contain simplicity and dignity and precision and can thus have tremendous beauty and dignity.”
  • “Space is as important to talking to another person as talking.”
  • “This practice of seeing the precision of situations at every moment, through such methods as the awareness of walking, is called shamatha (Pahi: samatha) meditation…Shamatha means ‘peacefulness.’"
  • “When you see the nowness of the very moment, there is not room for anything but openness and peace.”
  • “We have the expectation that spirituality will bring us happiness and comfort, wisdom and salvation. This literal, ego-centric way of regarding spirituality must be turned completely upside down. Finally, if we give up all hope of attaining any sort of enlightenment, then at that moment the path begins to open.”
  • Once we understand dukkha, or suffering, a tremendous hunger for knowledge follows.
  • “When we allow a gap, then spontaneous, intuitive understanding of how to proceed on the path suddenly, automatically comes to us.”
  • “Trying to be good, trying to be calm, is also an aspect of neuroticism.”
  • Many people are afraid of looking at the source of their dissatisfaction for fear of what they may find.
  • “You have to be willing to explore everything, even though it may be ugly, painful or repulsive.”
  • “…you cannot get around the problems of mind by manipulating things external to it.
  • We see so many people in our society trying to do just this…But eventually they will have to deal with their confused minds.”
  • “If one is trying to get around mental confusion by manipulating the physical world, then I do not think it will work.”
  • “In the dance of life, matter reflects mind and mind reflects matter. There is a continual exchange.”
  • “…we must be very direct and not think that we can evade the problems of mind by playing with matter.”

The Bodhisattva Path

  • “By allowing a gap, space in which things may be as they are, we begin to appreciate the clear simplicity and precision of our lives.”
  • After cutting through the “busyness and speed of discursive thought,” the “next step is to work with emotions.”
  • “Discursive thought might be compared to the blood circulation which constantly feeds the muscles of our system, the emotions. Thoughts link and sustain the emotions so that, as we go about our daily lives, we experience an ongoing flow of mental gossip punctuated by more colorful and intense bursts of emotion.”
  • “We must becomes aware not only of the precise details of an activity, but also of the situation as a whole. Vipashyana involves awareness of space, the atmosphere in which precision occurs.”
  • “Being aware of a situation on a small scale also bring awareness on a larger scale.”
  • “Mahavipashyana meditation means allowing things to be as they are.”
  • Six Paramitas: “transcendental generosity, discipline, patience, energy, meditation and knowledge.”
  • “Transcendental patience never expects anything. Not expecting anything, we do not get impatient.”
  • “Once one is aware of the space between the situation and oneself, then anything can happen in that space. Whatever occurs does so in the midst of space.”
  • “If we are completely open, fully awake to life, there is never a dull moment.”
  • “Dhyana literally means ‘awareness’” being awake to life situations as they are.
Prajna, or ‘knowledge,’ “is traditionally symbolized by a sharp, two-edged sword which cuts through all confusion.”
  • “It is said in the sutras that the five paramitas are like fiver rivers flowing into the ocean of prajna.”
  • “Once you have experienced a tiny glimpse of the awakened state of mind, just a fraction-of-a-second glimpse, there is tremendous desire and effort to proceed on the path.”
  • “…aggressive action is generally connected with defending oneself.”
  • “…I do not think our version of everyday life is as precise and accurate and sharp as we generally thing it is. Actually we are completely confused, because we don’t do one thing at a time. We do one thing and our ind is occupied with a hundred other things.”
  • “…you only arrive at the other shore when you finally realize that there is no other shore. In other words, we make a journey to the ‘promised land,’ the other shore, and we have arrived when we realize that we were there all along.”


  • Shunyata is "nothingness, emptiness, voidness, the absence of duality and conceptualization.”
  • “Form is that which is before we project our concepts onto it…”
  • “Form could be a maple leaf falling from a tree and landing on a mountain river; it could be full moonlight; a gutter in the street or a garbage pile. These things are ‘what is,’ and they are all in one sense the same: they are all forms, they are all objects, they are just what is.”
  • “Form is empty of our preconceptions, empty of our judgments.”
  • “Form is empty if we see it in the absence of our own personal interpretations of it…but emptiness is also form.”
  • “To try to see these things as empty is also to clothe them in concept.”
  • “So shunyata in this case is the complete absence of concepts or filters or any kind, the absence even of the ‘form is empty’ and the ‘emptiness is form’ conceptualization.”
  • “If we see things as they are, then we do not have to interpret or analyze them further…”
  • “As a famous Zen master said: ‘When I eat, I eat; when I sleep, I sleep.’ To do so is to be rishi, an honest, truthful person, a straightforward person who never distinguishes between this and that.”
  • “…words simply are not the experience. Words or concepts only point to partial aspects of experience.”
  • “…words simply are not the experience. Words or concepts only point to partial aspects of experience.”
  • “As long as we look for a conceptual answer there will always be areas of mystery, which mystery is itself another concept.”
  • “…mindfulness practice which sees the impermanence of mental events.”
  • “Belief in anything is simply a way of labeling the mystery.”
  • “The enlightened person realizes that thoughts and emotions on the one hand, and the so-called external world on the other, are both the “play of the mind. Thus the enlightened person is not caught in the dualism of subject and object, internal and external, knower and known, I and other. Everything is self-known.”
  • “Reality just is, and this is what is meant by the term ‘shunyata.’ Through this insight the watcher which separates us from the world is removed.”
  • “One is no longer fascinated by the object nor involved as a subject. It is freedom from this and that. What remains is open space, the absence of this and that. What remains is open space, the absence of this-and-that dichotomy. This is what is meant by the Middle Way or Madhyamika.”
  • “…we have to learn in order to unlearn.”
  • “‘Awakened’ means not being involved in the chain reactions and complications of the karmic process.”
  • “So shunyata means seeing through confusion.”
  • “Sudden enlightenment comes only with exhaustion.”
  • “The word ‘karma’ means ‘creation’ or ‘action’—chain reaction.”
  • “Enlightened people have completely mastered the restless and paranoid activities of mind. They are completely, fully in the moment; therefore they are free from sowing further seeds of karma.”

Prajna and Compassion

  • “…we impose our preconceptions, our ideas, our version of things onto phenomena instead of seeing things as they are.”
  • “Preconceptions are a form of security.”
  • “But form is empty; it does not need our categorizations to express its full nature, to be what it is. Form is itself empty of preconception.”
  • “We search for emptiness so that it too becomes a thing, a form, instead of true emptiness. It is a problem of too much ambition.”
  • “Thus the next stage is to give up our ambition to see form as empty.”
  • “…prajna is a very clear, precise and intelligent state of being. It has a sharp quality, the ability to penetrate and reveal situations. Compassion is the open atmosphere in which prajna sees. It is an open awareness of situations which triggers action informed by the eye of parjna. Compassion is very powerful, but it must be directed by the intelligence of prajna, just as intelligence needs the atmosphere of the basic openness of compassion. The two must come simultaneously.”
  • Compassion is “fearlessness without hesitation.”
  • “Ego would like to establish its territory, whereas compassion is completely open and welcoming.”
  • “Generally awareness is absent in our lives; we are completely absorbed in whatever we are doing and we forget the rest of the environment, we seal it off.”
  • “…true compassion is ruthless, from ego’s point of view, because it does not consider ego’s drive to maintain itself. It is ‘crazy wisdom.’ It is totally wise, but it is crazy as well, because it does not relate to ego’s literal and simple-minded attempts to secure its own comfort.”
  • “We have to be jarred out of our regular, repetitive and comfortable life-styles.”
  • “Generally in our lives we take a grasping approach, trying to attach ourselves to different situations in order to achieve security…on the other hand, we might like to regard ourselves as helpless infants and leap into someone’s lap. This lap might belong to an individual, an organization, a community, a teacher, and parental figure.”
  • “The fundamental characteristic of true compassion is pure and fearless openness without territorial limitations. There is no need to be loving and kind to one’s neighbors, no need to speak pleasantly to people and put on a pretty smile.”
  • “The point is not to want to benefit anyone or make anyone happy. There is no audience involved, no ‘me’ and ‘them.’ It is a matter of an open gift, complete generosity without the relative notions of giving and receiving.”
  • “If you can afford to be who you are, then you do not need the ‘insurance policy’ of trying to be a good person, a pious person, a compassionate person.”
  • “Openness to other people is not the issue. The more we open to ourselves, completely and fully, then that much more openness radiates to others.”


  • “We cannot be truly peaceful unless we have the invincible quality of peace within us; a feeble or temporary peacefulness could always be disturbed.”
  • “…the basic teaching of Tantra is connected with working with energy.”
  • “When we speak of transcendence in the Mahayana tradition, we mean transcendence of ego. In the Tantric tradition we do not speak of going beyond ego at all: it is too dualistic an attitude.”
“The function of Tantric practice is to transmute ego, enabling the primordial intelligence to shine through. The word tantra means ‘continuity.’”
  • “…eventually you must realize the futility of striving and then become completely one with nirvana. In order to really capture the energy of nirvana and become one with it you need a partnership with the ordinary world.”
  • “One cannot reject the physical existence of the world as being something bad and associated with samsara. You can only understand the essence of nirvana by looking into the essence of samsara.”
  • “In Tantric tradition tathata, ‘what is,’ is used, rather than ‘shunyata’ or ‘emptiness.’”
    Mahasukha means “the ‘great joy’ or ‘bliss,’ the full realization that ‘emptiness is emptiness.’”
  • “The teaching must connect with the day to day lives of its practitioners.”
  • “Tantra teaches not to suppress or destroy energy but to transmute it.”
  • Tantra is “solid peace, solid compassion, solid wisdom which cannot be influenced by the frivolity of the ego.”
  • “He is able to see not only the absence of complexity, the absence of duality, but the stoneness of stone and the waterness of water. He sees things precisely as they are, not merely in the physical sense, but with awareness of their spiritual significance.
  • Everything he sees is an expression of spiritual discovery.”
  • “The only way to experience things truly, fully, and properly is through the practice of meditation, creating a direct link with nature, with life, with all situations.”
  • “…the Three Yanas: the Hinayana, the vehicle or method; the Mahayana, the vehicle of shunyata or space; and the Vajrayana or Tantra, the vehicle of direct energy.”
  • “…we have not actually experienced our emotions, although we think we have.”
  • “Expressing or acting our hatred or desire on the physical level is another way of trying to escape from your emotions, just as you do when you try to repress them.”
  • “When masters of art are completely absorbed in their work, they produce masterpieces, not because they are aware of their teachers, but because they become completely absorbed in the work.”

Related Resources

Here is a list of resources, including authors, books, websites, podcasts, and concepts mentioned in Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, which might be helpful for further learning.