Spiritual materialism

Chögyam Trumgpa, after escaping from the Chinese invasión of Tibet (during the journey he came to losing his life several times), arrived in the USA and  became one of the first and most important teachers of Tibetan Buddhism in the West.

One of the things that alarmed him about the West was what he described as “spiritual* materialism”.

Our culture is dedicated almost exclusively to consumerism. The philosophy is that you can always feel better about yourself simply by buying or ingesting something. For this type of society to work, it has to be based upon constant manipulation of the ego.  Nowhere is this more apparent than on social networks. So much ego!

Everything becomes a product. For example, I recently saw some clown offering mindfulness franchises on Facebook. Talk about missing the point!

I have come across many seminar junkies who have read so much, have attended so many retreats and workshops and yet remain unchanged by the experience, except that they have come to consider themselves as somehow superior or special. Beware of these people.

Remember that spiritual practices are to weaken the ego’s compulsive demands, the delusions and suffering it creates.

Here is a list of seven symptoms of spiritual materialism that will help you decide whether you are feeding your ego, whether you too have succumbed to spiritual materialism:  

  1. Elitism: Using the fact that you meditate or practice yoga to feel superior to others.
  2. Future obsession, believing that “if I do xxx, I’ll get to this special elevated state in the future” whilst neglecting to live in the present moment or recognizing the fundamental ego-centricity of this driving belief.
  3. Creating a spiritual CV: keeping a list of, and constantly talking about all the important spiritual people you’ve met, workshops you’ve been to, certifications, etc. that you’ve achieved to impress yourself and others.
  4. “Spiritual” shopping sprees: adopting the “style or look” without doing the work.  Habitually buying spiritual trinkets,tools or clothing, or accumulating the blessings and initiations from sages, shamans, saints, etc. to somehow feel more “special,” “more awake,” or more spiritually worthy.
  5. McSpirituality: Instead of finding a series of practices and sticking with them, seeking out spiritual practices/teachers that are always bigger and better, and promise “instant joy/abundance/bliss/enlightenment” and quick fixes.
  6. Focusing only on positive aspects so that the ego avoids the reality of  pain, wounds, and delusions, it focuses on the purely positive aspects, aka. “Think positive thoughts,” “be high energy”,  “love and light,” etc. This will lead to much suffering.
  7. Instant fix. focusing on aesthetically-pleasing spiritual practices that are “Instagram-worthy”; with a nice image and catchy spiritual phrase that make you feel good for 30 seconds without ever bothering to do the work

Now be honest with y urself. How many can you relate to?

As we can see, spiritual materialism is what occurs when the ego hijacks our practices to inflate its/our  own importacnce.

Don’t be too hard on yourself as we all have this tendency; so there’s nothing to be ashamed of.

The law of attraction, as popular as it is nonsensical, is a manifestation of this.

The reality is that so long as we are still attached to our egos, there will always be some level of spiritual materialism on our paths creeping in here and there we have to be vigilant and understand this tendency to make sure that we do not fall into the trap.

May you be at ease,  May you be safe


*When I use the term “spiritual” here, I do not refer to anything mystical or other-worldly; I refer to the process of self-realisation which is a process not a goal:

Self-realizing people know what they really think, feel, and believe; they are able to take responsibility for themselves and to determine their values and aims in life. Their judgments and decisions are in the best interest both of their own growth and that of other people.

Spiritual experience is something that we can feel when we are completely present in our lives in the present moment.

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