Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

Psychological Materialism

--by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche (Oct 18, 2011)

Even if you are against the materialism of society and you do not want to support it, refusing to work is still grasping at the wrong end of the stick. Not taking part in work and practical activity is not going to achieve anything. More than any anything else, it will simply magnify your own negativity. By not doing anything to help, you will merely feel the sense of being useless in society. If you really take this kind of nonparticipation to its logical conclusion, it means that you shouldn't eat, you shouldn't even breathe, because the air you breath also belongs to the world and society. This approach could become quite extreme. If you take it all the way, it means you shouldn't exist at all.

There's a great deal of confusion about materialism and society. Just taking care of one's business or even running a business doesn't amount to materialism. There's nothing wrong with that at all. What really produces the materialistic outlook towards society is psychological materialism. Materialism has a pervasive kind of philosophy connected with it that is passed from one person to another orally and taught to everyone through examples. One person catches it from another. However, trying to reject that contagion by purely not doing anything, not caring for anything at all, simply doesn't work.
Not doing anything takes the form of laziness, and in order to be lazy we have to develop a certain kind of intelligence. Laziness has tremendous intelligence in it, in fact. When you are lazy, as soon as you have the urge to do anything, immediately a kind of answer comes to you that you can present about why you don't have to do it. Later you can say: "I didn't do it because I didn't have time. Thus and such happened and I didn't have a chance to do it. It was because of that." This automatic answer that comes to you is very convenient. One has to be very intelligent to find these kinds of excuses. There is tremendous intelligence in laziness, but it is misused intelligence.
The best way to use our intelligence is to learn to feel what the skillful action in a situation is. To do that, we have to relate to the earth as directly as possible. Interestingly, we call this being "grounded." In this approach, we do not regard work as just a job but as a way of expressing our ourselves. It could be work in the garden or work around the house—cooking food, washing the dishes—whatever. These are not really jobs, but they are what has to be done because nature demands attention. It is very interesting that if you leave something undone or do not relate to even a small matter like, for instance, cooking with full and proper attention and clear thinking, then some kind of chaos is going to come up. This will happen because you are not relating properly; you are not expressing your love properly toward the earth. Either you are going to break a dish or you're going to spill something, or the food you're cooking is going to turn out badly, or something else will go wrong. Nature tends to react very  sensitively this way. If you don't feel the relationship between the work and yourself, then chaos is going to arise.
A balanced state of mind depends on the way you do things, the way you pour a cup of tea and the way you put sugar and milk in it. It may seem like a really insignificant thing, but it means everything. You can always tell whether a person feels the activity she is engaged in as dealing with the earth or whether she feels it as just some casual thing or something she is doing because she has to. If the person is not relating to the earth, then you can always feel a certain clumsiness, even if the person's action appears to be smooth. This is very evident and easy to sense.
--Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

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Previous Reflections:

On Oct 15, 2011 Thierry wrote:

To be non materialistic does'nt mean rejecting in a block society pretexting that it is all too materialistic. Is it what the rimpoche means? Taking philosophy as a pretext to be lazy and casual in what one does? I do not see that much intelligence is at play in that sort of posture. And who could be such a fool as to believe the material aspects of existence need not be taken care of. The fact that one is lazy or one is a workaholic needs not and should not be connected to any kind of philosophy.

But the way one relates to what one does and how one approaches one's work seems to me very important. However seemingly important or unimportant the work , one's work has an impact on other people, an impact on nature, it fits into a much bigger whole. 


On Oct 15, 2011 Ravi Sheshadri wrote:

Dear Charity Focus,

These reflections are helping me clarify my life. Whenever I read these reflections I get an answer to the question I was working on.

Just an hour before I was questioning myself positively, "What should I do next?" Is living without an outward goal okay? Is trying living in the present a good thing to do, pursuable goal? And here comes your mail and solves the conundrum.

I am completely assured that living life from moment to moment is what I am good at. And I am completely okay with it. I do not want to specialise in anything else.

With love and regards

Ravi Sheshadri

On Oct 17, 2011 Conrad wrote:

My groundedness seems to come from knowing I do not know. Arising from that seems to be groundedness coming from no separate ground.  I'm not separate from the ground or anyone or everything else.  All ground and no ground appear to be the same. No question balances is needed between intellectual interpretations of one's experience and one's experience that can't be easily said. Silence, at least at times is involved in the process of "grounding" which may be no different from wise living. As usual,  I'm not sure of what I say.

On Oct 17, 2011 Suchitra wrote:

Materialism is taking without giving, giving with an ulterior motive and taking without gratitude. Materialism buys everything but the heart.

On Oct 18, 2011 ganoba wrote:

Materialism or worldlyness arises due to a misunderstanding about our relationship with the world of matter/ things.

One part of our identity is inside our skin usually considered the whole of our identity.. This is only a part. The other part of our identity is outside the skin usually called the worldor the other.

When the I(the inner part) interacts with the world, also known as the field of action (karmbhoomi) in a playful, loving way, the whoole identity comes into being. Then there is bliss. There is no insecurity, no anxiety, no fear. Allour actions are graceful and harmonious.

The materialistic world is also created by comparisons, which in effect means, we are not taking the world as a whole bur as an admixture of several disjointed others. The perception of the self and the world is then fragmented and distorted. It then leads to endless conflicts.

Let us stop comparing and relate to the world in a playful way.

On Oct 18, 2011 hassana wrote:

 av been thru all of these situations and i gez tz perfectly true.. lazy ppl are clever liars.. but u'd probably end up too lazy to be lazy.. ;)

On Oct 18, 2011 Manisha wrote:

This article is a great reminder for me to be more attentive and mindful to even the smallest of activities in daily life. Thank you. :)

On Oct 20, 2011 Austa wrote:

Laziness is indeed a state of the mind...its intelligence will stop us from making this world a better place than we met it.

On Oct 20, 2011 varsha wrote:

This passage made me think of outer work and inner work, which often informs outer work and hence, is equally, if not more important.  There is a saying that "Work is an expression of who you are so who you are is what needs to be worked at."  I also read this poem that connects to this:

Working Together

 We shape our self

to fit this world

and by the world

are shaped again.

The visible

and the invisible

working together

in common cause,

to produce

the miraculous.

I am thinking of the way

the intangible air

passed at speed

round a shaped wing


holds our weight.

So may we, in this life


to those elements

we have yet to see

or imagine,

and look for the true

shape of our own self

by forming it well

to the great

intangibles about us.

David Whyte

(House of Belonging)

On Oct 21, 2011 Conrad wrote:

This entire I journey group loves you and wants to help. Please tell us what kind of help you may need. signed, the entire journey group

On Oct 22, 2011 Alwion wrote:


On Oct 22, 2011 VICTORIA .W. wrote:

our relationship with whatever we do really determines the outcome.

On Oct 23, 2011 Jose Luis Hdez. B wrote:

Good way to teach students how to be part  of their world. 

On Jan 7, 2012 Chika Onyekwere wrote:

             "If only lazy people would give up laziness and become hardworking, what a great deal of tremendous intelligence they would have invested to make our society better".


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