This was a term I first heard in reference to a buddhist teaching I was learning. Spiritual Materialism was coined by the buddhist Chogyam Trungpa. So what is spiritual materialism? It is an affliction of spirit intertwined by the great ego that rules us all. There are different types of spiritual materialism but the greatest was once called idol worship. It is the collection of spiritual or religious objects to make one feel more spiritual or to try and satiate that gnawing more need within.
An example of this first type of spiritual materialism would be surrounding yourself, with crucifixes, malas, holy books, the bible, the quoran, crystals, statues, rosaries, holy relics, prints of spiritual deities, books or tv shows of a supernatural nature or anything fo the sort. Many of us may have one or two of these items and this is fine. It is when there is a collection built, a compulsion or need to surround yourself with these items that it becomes a spiritual materialism. This is the most base of spiritual materialism as it has its grounding in the physical world. Possessing these items is not a guilt or offense alone, because it is when the possession is in conjunction with a superiority complex.
This is the next stage of spiritual materialism the halo effect, it is a holier than thou attitude. A feeling that these people don’t deserve to worship here or have these items because they cannot properly care or appreciate them. This is the ego feeding off of the spiritual need to better one’s self. This halo effect has the opposite effect however and pulls us closer toward materialism and the desire to belong, to control and conquer.
Spiritual materialism is not a means to an end, it is a soul sickness. The goal of a spiritual aspirant is humility, compassion, understanding, empathy and right mindedness. Without these qualities the aspirant is lost amongst the visceral noise of another materialism that is under the guise of something more.
It is with great sadness that I see many aspirants adorn themselves with malas, pentagrams, or astrological bangles in effort to be more spiritual. These items alone will not aid in the journey. It is the intent behind the item, the aspirant must be willing to toss them aside and look to achieve more. The objects are nothing more than simple guides. But, when they become crippling, and you cannot live without them or function in fear of removing or losing them, they become like a poison to the soul. It is at this point when spiritual materialism truly takes over. We are merely ethereal beings in a perceived physical world. We are of one consciousness trying to unite itself globally, and universally. When the desire or need to be better leads to egotism all of your work is for naught.
You are a spiritual materialist if
- You surround yourself with religious or spiritual objects
- You think others are unworthy of their spiritual efforts
- You feel you alone are able to guide humanity
You do not need to have all of these to qualify as a spiritual materialist, you only need one. When you are able to admit to yourself that just maybe you are materialistic in soul, then and only then are you ready to transcend beyond.
How do I escape from spiritual materialism?
It may be a quick change of direction for some and a longer process for others but in the end it will improve you.
Step 1: Identify if you are materialistic
Look around and see what do you keep close to you? Could you live with out the objects? Can you look at the situation outside yourself? What do you hold close what is driving you to where you are? When you can answer these question honestly with yourself, because you are the one who knows if you are lieing. Then you can begin to step outside your comfort zone.
Step 2: Practice selflessness
Give it away, give away your collection, the items you hold so dearly. Give away yourself help others not in hopes they may help you or return the favor but simply to help. Expand beyond your safety zones. By giving away items that are closest to us or serving someone we may consider below us we practice humility. We are able to see what makes us uncomfortable and we can use that to better ourselves. What part makes you uneasy, what do you feel safe doing? Is what you are doing for the betterment of others or is it self fulfilling because you were told to do it?
Step 3: Repeat
Keep reflecting upon your current situation, where are you? what are you doing? what is a need versus a want? We have many wants our modern culture drives them all the time. We are bombarded by wants, but what is truly needed to grow?
This is not an easy process and I myself admit I have been struggling with some aspects of this. But, I keep trying knowing that someday, I will not want or need, I will be able to help others and live in wealth without ever wanting or needing more. The spiritual items we surround ourselves with are like a safety blanket of a young child. Eventually, either the blanket wears away or we realize we don’t need it any more. If you find that some items you have do genuinely benefit you and not perceivably benefit you then I encourage you to keep them until you know you no longer need them. If you use them because you invested $1600 in it and it is a pain point to give away that astrological bangle or old tome then it is time to let go. I hope this has been of some help to you and if you are ever struggling I encourage you to reach out to me and I will do my best to help guide you.