Spiritual Materialism and Where to Point the Finger. ~ Tamara Levitt

Via elephant journal
on Apr 11, 2010
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I’ve kind of had it “up to here” with spiritual materialism: people spending $200.00 on yoga outfits, the abundance of self-proclaimed gurus taking ancient Eastern spiritual principles and repackaging them into fragmented Cole’s notes versions, and films that suggest if we simply repeat our daily affirmations we’ll attract the perfect partner and a high paying job. And if it doesn’t attract them, we must be doing it wrong. Suddenly, personal growth is all about outcome. Everybody’s jumping on the spiritual bandwagon. But hey, it’s hip. It’s cool. It’s fun. Let’s all chant, “Namaste,” together!

I don’t know . . . Personally, my spiritual path hasn’t always been so hip, cool and fun. It has often felt beautiful, but along that path there has also been pain. When I was in my early 20s being spiritual wasn’t hip at all. I spent my evenings hanging out with people 30 years older than I was in Buddhist and meditation classes. I remember feeling isolated, with my mind full of questions, wanting to share my path so desperately. I felt such frustration that everyone my own age was hanging out in bars getting wasted instead of wanting to discuss concepts such as impermanence and emptiness. It was a lonely time. Even now, I consider myself a happy person, but my current path is by no means a simple one.

I’m grateful to have connected with an abundance of authentic, aligned seekers and feel no lack of sangha. But similar to when I was younger, I still feel disconnected from the mainstream. Before, this disconnect was due to an absence of spiritual support, and now it involves me questioning the authenticity of fellow seekers and the teachings available. I find myself concerned about what the Westernized spiritual movement has become.


One of my favorite books is Cutting through Spiritual Materialism by Chogyam Trungpa. In it, he offers the following passage about spiritual materialism:

“Walking the spiritual path properly is a very subtle process; it is not something to jump into naively. There are numerous sidetracks which lead to a distorted, ego-centered version of spirituality; we can deceive ourselves into thinking we are developing spiritually when instead we are strengthening our egocentricity through spiritual techniques. This fundamental distortion may be referred to as spiritual materialism.”

I love this quote. It resonates deeply with my experience that walking the spiritual path can be so complex. And part of the reason spiritual materialism irks me is because I feel a responsibility to assist others in their paths, to offer guidance and save them from the struggles I’ve endured. I feel a responsibility to encourage questioning and discernment in order to avoid unconsciously falling prey to blind faith.

Another quote from an unknown source comes to mind: Every time you point the finger of blame, your hand reminds you that there are three fingers pointing back at you and that’s the place to look.” I strive to keep these words in mind, and as they pertain to my own spiritual materialism it’s profoundly easy to catch myself: I observe myself reinforcing my ego, I find myself desiring material goods, and I’m aware that I judge others. Don’t get me wrong. I realize how ironic the entire context of this article is considering the theme. Here I am judging people’s choices, how they teach and practice, making claims about right and wrong, when I’m clear that there is no right or wrong. I have to ask myself,

Why am I so concerned about how others choose to practice?

Where do I get off judging anyone? Am I so perfect and enlightened? Far from it! Alas, it’s not my job to change the world and save people. It’s my job to walk my path, allow others to do the same, and support them when they ask.

So, yes, we can now find yoga studios selling expensive yoga gear on every second corner. And, yes, there are an abundance of workshops that promise to change your life in a weekend (and charge you an arm and a leg). But in the end I have to ask myself, Are these all such bad things? Different things work for different people. Haven’t I needed to go through extensive exploration of my own and learn what felt right through what felt wrong? At least now as opposed to when I was young, a person can find the support they seek fairly effortlessly. I am deeply grateful for that.

So until I’ve reached enlightenment, at which point none of these things will bother me anyway, I’ll do my best to concern myself solely with my own practice and continue to support others’ choices regardless of what they may be. I may not become a fan of yours on Facebook but in the end, we’re all in this together, non? Hell, I’ll even end here with a cyber-group hug and a big ol’ namaste! 😉

Tamara Levitt

Tamara Levitt (aka @SuperSpiritGirl) is the founder of Begin Within Productions. At her website, she shares resources, blogs, original music and videos designed to inspire and assist others in navigating the world of today. Her production company creates multi-media properties (including books, television/film projects and ancillary) to entertain, educate and empower individuals.

For the past 15 years, her dedication to her own personal development, through study, contemplation, meditation and integration has been paramount. She has actively explored a wide variety of spiritual practices, traditions, and healing modalities. Tamara can be hired for life coaching, speaking engagements and works as an empowerment facilitator.

Tamara’s websites are Begin Within and Begin Within Productions.  Subscribe to her blog, follow her on Twitter and view her videos on Youtube.  


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18 Responses to “Spiritual Materialism and Where to Point the Finger. ~ Tamara Levitt”

  1. Hi, Tamara.

    I enjoyed this blog because it is so engaging and personal and heartfelt. And I enjoyed it because you answered your own question in such an open and honest way.

    The fact is, there are learned and honored gurus with all the fancy titles who are in fact spiritual frauds because they are utter jerks in real life. And by the same token, some of those seemingly vapid Yoga seminar attendees with all the latest expensive clothes and gear are, in reality, exceptionally generous, caring, loving human beings. Which is more "enlightened"?

    The ancient Yoga texts are remarkably clear about the universality of core Yoga concepts and the fact that there are many paths to realizing the love and the glory of the world. I've learned that the only reliable way to decide about someone is to judge them from their behavior or to sit down with them for and hour and find out what they're really like as a human being, beneath all the surface appearances.

    Thank for a very thought-provoking blog.

    Bob Weisenberg

  2. Greg says:

    The post appeared to be a mini-meditation on Trungpa's observation.

    When he first arrived in Boulder he was faced with a form of spiritual materialism that was not so much contingent on consumerism as upon guru worship and attachment to the form, to the pose, of being a student.

    The concept appears as difficult to grasp now as it was back then. The phrase has so many levels of meaning. For example, there are those who turn the Buddha's teachings on their head and end up with philosophical materialism or naturalism. This is as problematic as the consumerism form of materialism.

    Engaging in the short meditation you have begun, I would say the core concept is sunyata or emptiness. This is the idea that all material or phenomenal appearances are fabrications of Buddha Mind. in other words, philosophical materialism is bogus. All material appearances are merely projections of spiritual mind.

    Ironically, all materialism is spiritual materialism in the sense that the material world is dependently-arisen from spirit or Buddha Nature.

    Trungpa was a genius in weaving together multiple layers of teaching in a single phrase…

  3. Hollie Hirst says:

    Thanks so much Tamara! Very thoughtful, compassionate and well written 🙂 This is a subject I've often pondered and appreciate your insight.
    Namaste, Hollie

  4. max says:

    nice article

  5. Tamara, thanks for coming out and saying what so many of us feel all the time but for some reason don't!

    Can't wait for your next article!



  6. Emer says:

    Gentle amusing inquiry into a question many of us mull over from time to time…..well said. Thank you.

  7. Great post, Tamara. I have my own inner dialogue about where the world is headed, but in the end I know there is no way others or the world "should" look. Only my own mental preferences. Of which there are 6 billion others. 🙂 Thanks for bringing up this conversation!

    – Jeffrey

  8. Shoshanna says:

    Very thoughtful and honest. I look forward to reading your next article. — Shoshanna

  9. Mahita Devi says:

    Loved this article! This is a much needed conversation. Thank you.

  10. Bodhgaya Buddha (dhyan)

    Bodhgaya is a small town where Lord Buddha planted the seed of Buddhism over two thousand five hundred years ago. This town is situated in the state of Bihar in eastern India and is well connected with other parts of India. It is the scared place for all Buddhists since it is where Lord Buddha attained Divine Enlightenment. The place is now a temple of Mahabodhi Temple. Apart from this pilgrimage destination there is also a colossal statute called the Great Buddha Statue, Bodhgaya.
    This statue is one of the many stops in the Buddhist pilgrimage and tourist routes. The statue is of 80 ft high which is next to the the Mahabodhi Temple, a World Heritage Site. It features the Lord Buddha in meditation pose or dhyana mudra seated on a lotus in open air. The Great Buddha Statue, Bodhgaya is a collage of red granite and sandstone blocks.

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