Spiritual Materialism

Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche

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Awakin FeatureWhat first comes to mind to speak about is my own spiritual materialism. I find that as I'm reading or reflecting upon the teachings and something becomes clear to me, I immediately want to rush out and teach it to others. Why is this? The answer disturbs me, because although I believe there is a certain amount of good motivation, looking deeply, I discover that actually there is very little intention to help others. Instead, it's all about making an impression, and there is much of my own ego involved. I have become so proficient at disseminating knowledge, particularly the teachings of dharma, that I do it almost automatically. Unconsciously, though, I want to make a good impression on others.   In one sense, because these are dharma teachings, the activity still bears fruit, but in another sense it is quite sad to realize that one is not truly taking the teachings to heart. This is where the impression must be made - on your own heart. If this is not the case, although you might be able to contemplate the dharma, achieve some insight and expound it to others, you will not experience any dramatic change in yourself. So naturally, you cannot instigate significant change in the minds of others, except perhaps in some intellectual capacity.  

That, then, is the confession I would like to make. I aspire to be truly free from the entrapment of spiritual materialism. To rid myself of this tendency would bring such long sought freedom and peace. May I one day practice the dharma without trying to make an impression on others, and instead may I truly make the needed impression on my own heart. [...]

I can speak to you about my own knowledge of spiritual materialism, although others might explain it differently. According to my understanding, spiritual materialism is present when the spiritual path is tainted by selfish thoughts or selfish emotions, and we use spiritual practice to indulge our own ego -- to make ourselves look good or to achieve some sort of recognition. You see, because we live closely with others, our paths intermingle. We are so persistently concerned with how our companions will perceive us that we don't know how to be genuine and authentic -- to actually be truly ourselves. Such sensitivity to the opinions of others pervades our dharma activity as well. [...] For example, before we even learn the dharma ourselves, we want to enlighten others. Doubtless, there is a certain amount of good intention behind our actions, but again, this often has more to do with the fact that we want to impress others with our breadth of knowledge, our level of realization. In truth, our focus is on the self. The function of self to promote itself, so if we aren't careful, we can actually turn all of our dharma activity into self-promotion. [...] 

 

From Sacred Voices of the Nyingma Masters, Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche in conversation with Sandra Scales.

Seed questions for reflection: What does spiritual materialism mean to you? Can you share a personal story of a time you were able to detect spiritual materialism in your thoughts? What helps you overcome the desire to impress others and be grounded in your authenticity?

Add Your Reflection:

18 Previous Reflections:

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    On Jan 23, 2020 kaamos wrote:
    Since early childhood, I wanted to impress others. I still do. It's pretty deeply ingrained in me. Not sure whether anything can ever change that, but I feel it would be really nice not to worry about how others see me. I feel like that would give me the freedom to simply be.

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    On Jan 19, 2020 Tyler wrote:
    This is such an interesting topic and I appreciate it and all of the responses. I am a recovery Mindfulness, Spirituality and Yoga instructor. All of which began with just yoga. Through that teaching, I was asked to lead the other 2 classes. Then, through word of mouth, I have been asked to teach at other facilities. I have been beyond amazed at how I believe, God is using me! I do however, find myself getting caught up in myself at times, Believing this was "my" doing and not God's. The other day I had the epiphany of the old adage: You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink. My epiphany was this: you can also be the Water! There is no need to go searching for horses, nor is there a need to lead them. They simply come when they are ready and thirsty. Grateful for this community! β˜ΊοΈπŸ™πŸ»πŸ’—

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    On Jan 16, 2020 Jayendra Shah wrote:
    This is very true for most people. That is one of the reasons - many persons start this journey with all good intentions in a true way but when this path leads to name and fame, it is difficult to stick with the true path. It is similar to - ego of not having ego. What one needs is a true friend or companion who can question us about our true intentions.

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    On Jan 14, 2020 4Everblooming wrote:
    Thank you for writing this open article that has made me delve a little deeper into my reaction to my own ego involvement when discussing spiritual matters. Somehow, I get a gut feeling of, almost, shame when I start trying to impress others. I recognize it immediately as being inauthentic in my self and in others. I consider it a lack in my own spiritual growthand then deeply regret participating in ego driven conversations. My "Authenticity" warning is a gut feeling.

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    On Jan 14, 2020 Nalini Mohan wrote:
    ChogyamTrungpa's words from his classic "Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism" comes to my mind. “There is a saying in the Tibetan scriptures: “Knowledge must be burned, hammered, and beaten like pure gold. Then one can wear it as an ornament.” So when you receive spiritual instruction from the hands of another, you do not take it uncritically, but you burn it, you hammer it, you beat it, until the bright, dignified color of gold appears. Then you craft it into an ornament, whatever design you like, and you put it on.”

    1 reply: David | Post Your Reply
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    On Jan 14, 2020 ARVIND SHAH wrote:
    Yes, ego does play a role in all aspects of life including Spiritualism. What is ego? In my understanding, the ego stands for 'an attachment to the false image of one's self'. When you perceive yourself as a body with a thought that I am so and so, the ego plays a role in whatever you do. Once you change the belief and perceiveyourself as a Soul or Spirit or Consciousness or a Spark or Energy or whatever you believe in, you go beyond body and mind. Once you are firm in this belief the ego would gradually subside.
    Another approach is thinking one's self as an instrument of God. Before you do any thing you pray 'God you think, speak and act thorough me so that whatever I do is on the path of Truth'.

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    On Jan 14, 2020 Kay wrote:
    Thank you for your confession! All of us are subject to this! It seems so many people, albeit good intentions, have gotten on the spiritual band wagon bc of potential financial or personality gain. Sometimes it feels like so much heady stuff when simple silence and heartfelt meditation brings a beings light to others.

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    On Jan 14, 2020 Anil Pandit wrote:
    Like to submit my humble understanding on the subject.
    My association being more in materialism (also dealing with material world) getting to know it to the core and depth is what I endeavor.
    Having had numerous guides in spiritualism has in fact helped me, use it as a vehicle to gain deeper understanding of the material world and derive happiness therewith. 

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    On Jan 14, 2020 Michael wrote:
    Then what is this post?

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    On Jan 14, 2020 Teresa wrote:
    Greetings. I am feeling confident enough to go out and teach meditation and spiritual teachings. My intention is to help others as I have felt so incredibly blessed to have been exposed to this beautiful way of feeling, thinking and being. I deeply want to share so if guided others can embrace what feels like truth to them. I'm confused as to how to have this balance of teaching and Ego. Pleade any suggestions would be honored Thank you. Teresa

    2 replies: Danny, David | Post Your Reply
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    On Jan 14, 2020 Sunil, Bangalore wrote:
    Admire Rinpoche for his confessional spirituality.First step to" Who Am I"? Me, mine & I are the stumbling blocks. To me this awareness mindful of how the human conscious operates is an achievement. Kabir said the spiritual path is so narrow to accommodate two. Just enough for I or HIM. Earnest desire with honest continued efforts surely opens the tenth door/third eye to see the truth.

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    On Jan 13, 2020 Archana Parsai Gehlot wrote:
    To me spiritualism is always reflected in the way you interact with others and that is what going to impact them without your telling anything. Talking about or teaching your experiences or knowledge of spiritualism will always elevate your ego and desire to impress others is going to affect you negatively.

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    On Jan 13, 2020 Dr Phiroz A Poonawalla wrote:
    Real spiritualism is doing away with financial exploitation ways and means must be created to prevent banks and financial institutions as well as moneylenders stop the exploitation Thus prevent cheating and suicides

    Close the gap between the rich and the poor which make take ages tohave a paradigm shift 

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    On Jan 11, 2020 David Doane wrote:
    I appreciate the openness and the message of Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche. For me, spiritual materialism means spiritual egoism, that is, doing or expressing spiritual knowledge in order to feed my ego, promote myself, get respect or adulation. I often want to teach or be of help and usually there is some amount of spiritual egoism also present. I overcome the desire to impress in the sense of keeping that desire at least below 50%. What helps me do that and be grounded in authenticity is a sincere caring about people and their growth; learning that the other being impressed really doesn't do much for me while my being impressed by the other is satisfying; knowing that real me is independent of what others think of me and what really matters to me is what I think of myself; learning that for me loving is much more satisfying than being loved; growth in seeing the other as myself; and knowing that what I am attempting to 'teach' the other is what I am needing to develop in mysel... [View Full Comment] I appreciate the openness and the message of Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche. For me, spiritual materialism means spiritual egoism, that is, doing or expressing spiritual knowledge in order to feed my ego, promote myself, get respect or adulation. I often want to teach or be of help and usually there is some amount of spiritual egoism also present. I overcome the desire to impress in the sense of keeping that desire at least below 50%. What helps me do that and be grounded in authenticity is a sincere caring about people and their growth; learning that the other being impressed really doesn't do much for me while my being impressed by the other is satisfying; knowing that real me is independent of what others think of me and what really matters to me is what I think of myself; learning that for me loving is much more satisfying than being loved; growth in seeing the other as myself; and knowing that what I am attempting to 'teach' the other is what I am needing to develop in myself.[Hide Full Comment]

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    On Jan 10, 2020 Jagdish P Dave wrote:
    The ver phrase spiritual materialism seems contradictory to me. To me spiritualism is an inward journey to discover and know who and what I am. It is indeed self-inquiry transcending my physical, mental, social and cultural and national identity. When we get enlightened there is a heart-to-connection with another person or persons. There is no higher and better self than the other person. When my motivation is to be recognized and admired by others, to feed my ego, my spirituality loses its heart and it turns into spiritual materialism. To know oneself, self-realization takes time. It demands self-discipline, let go of ego and humility.There are times when I get eager and excited to teach others my spiritual knowledge. When others recognize my spiritual achievement and accomplishment and praise me, my ego gets inflated and my spiritual growth gets stunted. When I wake up from my self-created sleep and delusion, I am on the path of spiritual recovery. I become free from my ego trip. A... [View Full Comment] The ver phrase spiritual materialism seems contradictory to me. To me spiritualism is an inward journey to discover and know who and what I am. It is indeed self-inquiry transcending my physical, mental, social and cultural and national identity. When we get enlightened there is a heart-to-connection with another person or persons. There is no higher and better self than the other person. When my motivation is to be recognized and admired by others, to feed my ego, my spirituality loses its heart and it turns into spiritual materialism.

    To know oneself, self-realization takes time. It demands self-discipline, let go of ego and humility.There are times when I get eager and excited to teach others my spiritual knowledge. When others recognize my spiritual achievement and accomplishment and praise me, my ego gets inflated and my spiritual growth gets stunted. When I wake up from my self-created sleep and delusion, I am on the path of spiritual recovery. I become free from my ego trip.

    Awakeningand self-awareness have been very helpful to me in my spiritual journey. I remember the wise and encouraging advice my father used to give me when I would deviate from my spiritual path. His advice was "the morning comes when we wake up." His advice has helped me whenever my mind takes an ego trip. I am very grateful to him for guiding me on my spiritual path. Self-awareness illuminates my mind from darkness.
    Namaste!
    JagdishP Dave

    [Hide Full Comment]

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