On Spiritual Materialism

I wasn’t going to write on this until I saw a glaring example on-line. As we grow on the spiritual path and clear some of our shadows, what remains becomes more subtle and elusive. We may emulate seekers around us who are actually spiritual materialists. These are people using spirituality in service of the I-self or me. Kavitha Chinnaiyan‘s book Shakti Rising explores the issue.

“…we may take up yoga classes, change the way we behave and who we associate with, and learn to speak the language of spirituality. Although the original intent for liberation was genuine, the I-self stealthily tries to find completion in the process. Our motivations for inquiry and devotion come to center around self-improvement rather than self-realization. In this process, the I-self collects a different set of labels and concepts about itself. Instead of material materialists, we become spiritual materialists.

“When we become spiritual materialists, we base our knowledge of liberation on what it should be. The idea of liberation becomes much more engaging than liberation itself. Our interest can become fully vested in the intellectual prowess of teachings and less on direct experience. We remain entrapped in Tara’s shadow of self-deception, where the seeking never ends. In fact, we can give up all other identities in favor of being a spiritual seeker.”
– Kavitha Chinnaiyan, Shakti Rising p.169

A classic example of the latter is how spiritual names can be used – a new adopted identity but an identity nonetheless. A more glaring example is what Lori Ann Lothian called the “Nonduality Manscape“* and the “breast beating to prove who has the right answer or the most enlightened understanding.”

“Instead of opening to the truth that the guru embodies, devotion and service to him or her can become the primary goal of the spiritual path. Our validation-seeking I-self finds yet another avenue for self-improvement, such as in gaining the guru’s approval, moving up the ranks of the spiritual circle, being respected by others in the circle, and so on. In the shadow of this spiritual materialism, Self-knowledge remains elusive. We can acquire the language of Self-knowledge, become adept at scripture, and even impart these teachings to others without Self-knowledge becoming actualized.”
– Kavitha Chinnaiyan, Shakti Rising p.173

Many spiritual organizations run on people in this mode. Service co-opted by the identity.

The best way to look at this is as a stage of development. For some, it’s easier to step out of our old identities by adopting a new “improved” one. We move from self-development into being a seeker. But the key is not getting stuck there. Not investing too much in a “better” me, a new form of self-development. A spiritual identity is just another I-self. Even an awakening can be packaged into an identity. This is not liberation.

Not that we shouldn’t make efforts at self-improvement. We all have work to do on that front. The point is to recognize this is not who we are. We are infinite beings expressing through this human form.

* the article mentions SAND15 where I was one of those male speakers. It is not only dominated by white males with a concept-heavy message but by intense seekers, seeking the right answers from the right teacher, preferably one who is famous.

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4 Responses to On Spiritual Materialism

  1. Jim says:

    Thank you. The other thing that immediately springs to mind, is while engaged in ‘spiritual competition’ and always being ‘right’, the life doesn’t improve as a result. In fact the majority of such energy is re-purposed frustration.

    In contrast, the deep and expanding fulfillment of ongoing enlightenment is far richer and more satisfying than any contest of concepts will ever be. No words need be spoken about an ongoing state providing infinite and indescribable rewards at every turn. Cannot even be compared to the pale shadow of playing pretend. 🙂

    • Davidya says:

      Agreed Jim. When mind is frustrated, it seeks ways to make itself right and others wrong. It’s such a fools game, yet it can lead to major conflicts and wars.

      Yeah, enlightenment cant really be compared. Apples vs universes?

  2. Hi David. I just saw this ping back. Yes the spiritual seeker identity is just as sticky as the materialist which is just as sticky as the “enlightened teacher” identity. While we adopt roles in the game of life it’s the tendency to forget we are the role player — not any one character we might for a time play. Great post!

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