Are you just a Spiritual Window Shopper?

Via Ed & Deb Shapiro
on Jun 15, 2010
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Enlightenment—or our money back.

In the last 5-10 years the search for meaning in our lives has taken on similarities to…visiting a shopping mall.

Never before have we seen such an array of teachers all saying they will bring ever-lasting happiness and proclaiming their path is the way, that they have the only or the best teachings, that if we do this we will be free, transformed, changed forever, happy as never before, fulfilled, enlightened! And it’s fast! We once received notice of a Guru Training program where we can become a guru in two weekends, after which, the brochure assured us, we were guaranteed to receive endless adoration, wealth, fame and happiness—or our money back.

Put together a great interest in all matters spiritual with a fair amount of money, plus a love of stardom as seen in the adoration of everything Hollywood, and the result is a huge plethora of New Age ‘stars’. We were recently sent an invitation to a conference on Altered States of Consciousness: Enlightenment, Entheogens, Shamanism and Peak Experiences. There are forty-six headlined speakers, all of whom have endless credentials, books, teaching centers and followers, and all of whom will speak for just one or two hours each in a five day period. Subjects range from The Humpty Dumpty Trajectory: Cracking Open Consciousness, to How to Tell Your Friends From the Apes, Gender-Specific Altered States of Consciousness and, thankfully, The Miracle of Ordinary Awareness.

At the Mind Body Spirit Festival in London England, there is a huge range of speakers offering subjects as diverse as Attract Your Past-Life Soulmate NOW!, The Secret Tibetan Red Egg Cure, Discover Your Secret Chakras, and Learn What Planet You are From. And that’s just on the first day. Later on you can learn spiritual laws for ascension, teach your DNA to listen to your higher mind or, if that doesn’t work, at least you can learn how to bend spoons. One of our teachers, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche,  called all this spiritual materialism.

When people are in need they often try anything. They are susceptible and easily vulnerable to outside influences. When ego-centered or strongly persuasive people say they can help save them they believe it. There would appear to be three main reasons why someone goes window-shopping for a spiritual teacher:

  1. Life does not easily satisfy our needs. We get something but always want more. More becomes the mantra. But from constantly wanting more materially and emotionally, we then apply the same principle to spirituality: more teachers and techniques must be better than just one, surely?
  2. Like the musk deer in India that has a beautiful smell in its anus but looks throughout the forest for that smell, so we look for happiness outside ourselves and come up short because whatever we find never lasts. This is the truth of impermanence: happiness comes but happiness also goes. Not wanting to believe this, we continually search for that elusive promise of foreverness, and we search for it wherever we can.
  3. Everywhere we look we find fliers on bulletin boards advertising how each can help save or heal us, promoting different teachers and methods, which are the BEST. Each is more enticing: surely this one will finally solve all those nagging difficulties in my life? Or maybe it’s this one?

Where is all this taking us? How do we find our way through such a maze of offerings? Many of the above subjects may have something wonderful to teach us, but what can we really learn in an hour or two or even a weekend? When we dig for oil we have to dig deep to reach it. If we dig too many different holes we will never get to the source of the oil. In the same way, if we guru hop or learn too many techniques we will never get to the essence of the teachings. Does this sound like you? Are you a spiritual window shopper?

This blog is a chance for us all to do a reality check. Are we being taught to listen to our own wisdom and to be self-empowered or is someone telling us the way it is? Perhaps is it time for us to be still enough to look within our own mind and heart for what we know and can trust to be true.

photo courtesy of Stefan Beckhusen


About Ed & Deb Shapiro

Ed & Deb Shapiro are the authors of new The Unexpected Power of Mindfulness & Meditation. Deb is the author of Your Body Speaks Your Mind, now in 19 languages. They have six meditation CDs. See more at their website.


23 Responses to “Are you just a Spiritual Window Shopper?”

  1. Greg says:

    Actually, I have the most advanced teachings. Not only in the U.S., or on the planet, but in this entire sector of the galaxy.

    However, due to the risk of being called a spiritual materialist, these teachings, the best you will ever encounter, are not, nor will they ever be, for sale.

    I pray that angry crowds who desire enlightenment do not protest and become violently hostile toward the Shapiro's for nixing the greatest teachings ever. I can only hope that is not their karma. I can only hope the mob is satisfied with the poor imitations left on the market and do not hold the Shapiro's personally responsible for killing this once-in-many-lifetimes opportunity. ::>)

  2. Greg says:

    Nope. Still keeping it all secret.

  3. Gregman, your humor is right on…since these awesome writers are new to this forum, you're basically saying they're "rudely" poking holes in the marketing and success of spiritual materialism, yes?

  4. Greg says:

    Love the concept of spiritual materialism that Trungpa put forth.

    When he first arrived in Boulder I know he was put off by the circus atmosphere of the seekers. The expectations were so off the wall. The audiences were waiting for Trungpa to "perform" in the role of Tibetan guru. He worked hard to demolish those expectations from the outset. Perhaps for some his efforts worked too well.

    So at the same time I was enjoying the topic the new writers brought to light, I was also lamenting the fact that due to all the hoopla and promotion of spirituality those who worked at the subject were lost in the clutter.

    The humor was in honor of Trungpa who was/is the epitome of the wise trickster. At one time, a very long time ago, he criticized me for being too serious. Said that approach would never work. I had no time for his more playful approach, but, in the end, he was so right and to this day I struggle with being too serious about the task.

    Good catch, Waylon. The Shapiro's probably thought they had ventured into a den of spiritual materialists who were bent over pyramids chanting for their demise. No such show here.

  5. Ed Shapiro says:

    I met Trungpa Rinpoche in 1970 – One of the first times I was with him alone I walked into a room and said, "you are a golden Buddha!" he replied, "Shit".

    In the dharma – Jygpo – Ed :->)

  6. Greg says:

    That is when I met him. He was staying with acquaintances, Ed and Kitty, in Ward. I met him outside, early in the evening. We spent only a short while together but there was a timelessness about it … it reopened doors to vast time. Perhaps I, like others, had false expectations. They were common then. Though I did not voice them. At some level I am sure he also said "shit" but not out loud.

  7. Ed Shapiro says:

    aw schucks!

    So it's true- "Enlightenment is a secret!"

  8. Greg says:

    Damn. Did not mean to let it out of the bag. It is such a secret I should not have spoken of it. The Zen gods will be down on my head soon.

    I wish I remembered the last name of Ed and Kitty who hosted Trungpa upon his arrival. Had a place up in Ward. They were psych grad students. Do you remember them?

  9. Ed Shapiro says:

    I met CTR first in 4 Mile Canyon (after I came 2 Boulder) it was the 3rd place – NYC- LA then Boulder

    I walked in his house and this form across the room came towards me- I didn't recognize CTR at first and suddenly he was in my face and i just said – "it's you!" and he replied, "yes it's me" ha – that was about 1971 ish

  10. Greg says:

    Your post raises an issue that has so many angles. At the same time that cheap promotion is offensive and "off key" the question of how one makes the need for spiritual development known looms. Promotion of products that not only disappoint but which betray trust cannot be good; access to opportunity to enter the practice, however, is needed. Perhaps there will come a time, soon, when we move up a notch and the correct emphasis comes into focus.

  11. squasheatenbybugs says:

    you know, when i was growing up, i thought life itself was supposed to be the spiritual teacher. As i child of divorce, i kinda had plenty on my plate to offer that. I didn't quite get why you had to look outside yourself for spiritual enlightenment. Having "come of age (not quite what i would term it, but) in CA in the early 90s, i felt sort of pushed to identify myself with some "spiritual system". There are benefits and things to be learned from various groups and teachers, but maybe it's just not me. Even if you have the most amazing teacher offering the most amazing teachings, YOU still have to apply it to your own life (or not). YOU still have to live YOUR life as best you can. I can't seem to wrap my head (or my wallet) around paying big bucks (or charging for them) for weekend workshops. I'm not even a churchgoer, but they still have one thing going for them – they're FREE. I still miss CA, but mostly just because I miss the beach (a day at which is probably worth a lot more to me than a $400 workshop).

  12. Greg says:

    Ah, a day at the beach. I am still in California and close enough to partake… but have not for a long time. Thirty years ago, that used to be my therapy. When things were going rough, I would just take a day at the beach. Would totally disconnect from my life, as it was, and "let it be." Inevitably, things would have straightened around by the time I returned. Yea for Santa Monica beach.

  13. squasheatenbybugs says:

    Actually, since i haven't been to a beach in 8 years !!!!!(except for one cold northeastern winter beach) right now i would gladly pay at least xx $400 for that privelege…..i keep trying to convince myself (reverse mirage therapy) that this desert i live in is actually an ocean (b/c it once was), but it's just not workin'!:)

  14. Ed Shapiro says:

    hey squasheatenbybugs – great name 🙂

    Most important is that you are doing what you want!!

    Each person is different. I was in India in 1968 and lived & trained at the Bihar School of Yoga. It is the foundation of my teaching and writing (Deb and I have written over 16 books)

    being with a teacher was paramount in my development. You need to train well over 8 years to be doctor- lawyer- scientist etc. being a Spiritual teacher is just as significant. There is wisdom that may need development.

    So there is much to say about inner and outer spirituality… yes it is an inward journey – but this samsaric world is very tricky. Best to respect both & fortuante when you can drop it all and see clearly your luminous emptiness… and yes there are plenty of deluded teachers charging mega bucks that suck!

    Cheers, Ed

  15. Ed Shapiro says:

    dive in! 🙂


    ENJOY da journey

  16. LasaraAllen says:

    Great article. Love it. I was on my way to writing an article about spiritual materialism, but you beat me to it — and di a great job of it. Thank you.

  17. Ed Shapiro says:

    Hey LA -I would love to hear ya version – it is rampant in the western world – soooo much confusion/misundertsanding and worshipping of da $$$ 🙂

    Let me know when you write so I can tune in. Cheers- Eds

    [email protected]

  18. LasaraAllen says:

    I'll do my best to tackle it soon!

  19. ceci miller says:

    Appreciate hearing from those who encountered CTR in person (of whom my husband, Jack Elias, is one). Seems like spiritual materialism is flourishing in this age. As one of my teachers said, "People want the harvest, but they don't want to work in the field." And as Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche recently said on Twitter, "You can read about meditation, or you can just experience it by sitting." 🙂

  20. Bud Wilson says:

    Thanks to seekers on the beach, those looking inward, and all the window shoppers, – Ed and Deb have offered a very timely inquiry. A note on an office bulletin board in Boulder stated: "what you are seeking, is seeking you"! I've always appreciated that insightful turn of phrase. In a culture that emphasizes immediate gratification and endless opportunities for virtual entertainment and constant distractions, it's not surprising that fast tracks to liberation are proliferating. Embracing the simple joy of Wild Nature is, for me, the preferred path. Nature awakens us, nurtures our spirit and nourishes our hearts. Isn't it really that simple? Onward with Courage, Bud

  21. hillary says:

    fun article and love your spin on it. glad to share this journey with you both!!!

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