The Trap of Spiritual Materialism

By Edwina Shaw

Can Spirituality Feed Your Ego?

‘Spiritual materialism’ is a term first used by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist teacher who came to the United States in the early seventies. In his book Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, Trungpa expounded on his theories of how the ego likes to use the spiritual path for its own ends, and the mistakes seekers easily fall into in their quest for enlightenment.

The problem is that ego can convert anything to its own use… even spirituality. ~ Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

In the west, we have come to think of our spiritual quest as ‘self-improvement,’ which is all well and good, except what is the self? Ego.

Especially in the west, where we are conditioned from an early age into individualism and material accruement, it is easy to impose these ingrained structures of understanding onto spirituality as well. We can collect courses and retreats and practices like medals, or childhood sports trophies, feeding our ever-hungry egos. “Look at me! Look how much I’ve given up, read, invested in my spiritual life!” As if this spiritual search somehow makes us better than the person beside us; who feels no need to meditate every day or do an hour’s asana practice or sit at the feet of a guru. But in all of us, the spiritual path unfolds.

Whether we are aware of it or not – our soul is growing and finding its way. It is only when the ego grasps hold of this search and uses it to feed itself that we are in danger of falling into the trap of spiritual materialism.

The Three Lords of Materialism

Trungpa discussed how these spiritual errors fall into three misunderstandings, stemming from the materialism inherent in Western cultures. He called these the ‘Three Lords of Materialism.’ The first of these is ‘physical materialism’, where the belief that owning and accumulating more and more will bring us happiness. Yet, even when we attain what we first desired, we always yearn for more. In this sense, dissatisfaction accompanies every purchase. It is the yearning that must be addressed.

The second Lord is ‘psychological materialism’, where we believe that a certain faith or belief system will be the cure to all our ills. We fall in love with Buddhism, for instance, and think that if we throw ourselves into the practices with enough vigor, we will be able to evade suffering. Yet, we still suffer. We may strike upon an idea or a political party or cause that momentarily seems to relieve our burdens. But this relief is only momentary. We are still living in the world and the religion or idea, or whatever it is we’ve latched onto so enthusiastically, doesn’t stop challenges from arising.

The third Lord is ‘spiritual materialism’, the belief that a certain state of mind or spiritual practice will set us free from our daily troubles. We may seek to remove ourselves from the world through overusing meditation or breathing techniques, or by living in a drugged-out haze. Escaping. However, at some point we have to stop meditating or the drugs run out and the world again intrudes and the suffering we sought so hard to evade is back in our faces, louder and harder than ever. Life keeps on happening, no matter how hard we try to block it out. Shit still happens.

The Ego – A Projection of the Mind

Trungpa taught that these three Lords are based on the idea that the ego is real, that it is something to be tamed or trained, when in fact, it is constantly changing and does not exist in itself, only as a projection of the mind. If we feed it and build our sense of self around our spiritual practices for instance, then we are only feeding what doesn’t exist. Anything that feeds into this false self of ego will ultimately cause us only more suffering.

So what are the warning signs and how do we find our joy and relieve our suffering, without falling into the trap of feeding the ravenous ego? God knows!

Navel gazing has often been derided, though of course, it is necessary to examine one’s mind and motivations, but when the focus becomes one of boosting the self, narcissistic or self-aggrandising, then we know perhaps it’s time to stop looking inwards and turn our attention out into the world and set an intention to serve the good of others. Though, that too, can feed the ego – look at me, being so good giving up Christmas with my family (which I really hate anyway) to serve food to the homeless – aren’t I a good person? Just bringing an awareness of our true motivations is enough.

Too much inward inquiry can lead to narcissism if we are not mindful.

If we find ourselves jumping from one fad, one teacher, one book or idea to the next, hoping for instant enlightenment, or healing, that’s another trap. Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy way out; the work of living continues as long as we live. We can find ways of being that help us to embrace all of it more completely, without judgment, but there is no cure for life except death. Even enlightened beings grieve when someone they love dies. We all feel pain.

The Trap of Competing

That leads me to another trap on the spiritual path, one that I recognize as my ego’s favorite – my suffering is worse than your suffering, my bliss is greater than your bliss — comparison and competition, inherent in capitalism but of no use whatsoever in the quest for living more peacefully. We all suffer, we all find our bliss. Be aware of the ego grasping for fuel. If you find yourself dwelling on your own sainthood, then perhaps it’s time for a reality check. Sooner or later it will come to you anyway. If you catch yourself talking only about your latest spiritual teacher, book or practice, trying to enlist others to the cause – look closely at yourself – are you ‘selling’ it? If we’re selling something, then we’ve probably tipped over into spiritual materialism.

That’s not to say you can’t write a great book about the search for happiness, or provide healing services for a fee, it’s only a caution to ensure that the heart of your practice remains centred in being of service, not of serving your own need for a big fancy house and a brand new car.

If you find yourself preaching or selling your beliefs, it might be time for a reality check.

Be aware also of buying into quick fixes, super-gurus and anything that promises instant enlightenment or a cure for what is missing in our lives. Perhaps these things do happen but the reality is, we each have our own path unfolding within us for the entirety of our lives. Even when we reach some kind of peace, events will still happen that shake us to the core and strip away all we’d fought so hard to attain.

In the West, we have a bad habit of appropriating the spirituality of other cultures, borrowing the rituals or practices we enjoy, mixing and matching without really thinking about the culture or history that shaped the path. Picking a little of this and a little of that, like a pick-and-mix lolly bag, collecting without due consideration. Accumulating. Treating the practices of other cultures with respect and care is important.

Language Clues

The words we use when referring to our spiritual paths give us clues as to whether we’re falling into the trap of ego identification through spirituality – spiritual materialism. If we’re using words like buy and sell, attain and lose, and win, and more and greater than, less than – words of judgment, separation, and acquisition, then we’re probably in need of a wake-up call.

Chögyam Trungpa said:

[Spiritual materialism is to] deceive ourselves into thinking we are developing spiritually when instead we are strengthening our egocentricity through spiritual techniques.

What Then is Spirituality?

How can we approach our spiritual paths without falling into these traps? Awareness is key, and then once we are aware, focusing not only on ourselves and our own healing but on somehow serving the greater good. True spirituality, for me, means experiencing life as it is, while at the same time experiencing that part of ourselves, and of others and the universe itself, that comes from a higher source and connecting with that source in whatever way works for us.

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The Four Cardinal Virtues of Human Excellence According to Plato

by Gary Z McGee

“Wisdom is the leader: next follows moderation; and from the union of these two with courage springs justice.” ~ Plato

Human excellence is the art of character. Character is the art of practicing the four cardinal virtues. Practicing the four cardinal virtues (courage, moderation, wisdom, and justice) leads to moral virtue, which is best encapsulated by the concept of arete. And arete cultivated over a lifetime can lead to eudaimonia, human flourishing.

The concept of arete is from Homeric times. Although there is no specific definition, it is associated with bravery and effectiveness, intimately bound up with the notion of fulfillment and the act of living up to one’s full potential.

But it almost certainly hinges on the four cardinal virtues. In The Republic, Socrates assumed a wide acceptance of them as the core qualities in an excellent human. Let’s break them down…

1) Courage (fortitude):

“Without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.” ~ Maya Angelou

Courage is the bedrock of human excellence. Without the initial leap of courage there is no freedom, and so there can be no excellence. One is merely restricted to the conventional, inhibited by the whims of others, imprisoned inside the box of the status quo, and hampered by outdated reasoning.

With the leap of courage, however, one is emancipated. One is delivered into liberation. The world unlocks. The mind unbolts. The soul unfastens. Inhibitions dissolve into serendipity, adaptability, and improvisation. Boundaries transform into horizons. Comfort zones stretch into adventure.

But, there is a fine line between courage and recklessness. Courage involves seizing one’s impulses just as much as it involves seizing the day. One must be able to respond to a given situation with the proper balance of apprehension and confidence. Too much courage leads to recklessness; too little, to cowardice. Fitting that the next cardinal virtue is moderation.

2) Moderation (temperance):

“After the ecstasy, the laundry.” ~ Jack Kornfield

The beauty of life is that in order for it to exist there must be balance. The ugliness of life is that we are usually unable to understand what that balance is. Moderation can be deceiving, especially when we’re not tuned into healthy frequencies.

Luckily, health is a benchmark for moderation. It’s the core of universal law. Unluckily, this benchmark is hidden in a ‘language older than words,’ which can sometimes seem impossible to decode.

Although some things must be moderated more than others, extremism in anything is the bane of health. We can breathe too much oxygen. We can drink too much water. We can even live too much in the moment.

We moderate ‘being in the moment’ with the realization that even the moment needs a past and a future to define it. We maintain our personal health through moderation so that health in general can become manifest. Indeed. I live simply, so that you may simply live.

A good rule of thumb is: moderation in all things, to include moderation. This way we’re proactively injecting balance into the cosmos, while at the same time enjoying life. The key is to accept responsibility for the consequences of both our moderate and immoderate choices. Tricky, but wisdom can help.

3) Wisdom (prudence):

“To attain knowledge, add things every day. To attain wisdom, remove things every day.” ~ Lao Tzu

Wisdom cannot be taught. Knowledge can be taught, but not wisdom. We can discover wisdom, live in it through experience, do wonders through it thereafter, but we cannot teach it.

If we define wisdom as a practical understanding of cosmic law and the skill (intention) in applying it to an ever-changing impermanent world, we see how it cannot be taught, only experienced. Wisdom is hands-on, never second-hand. Knowledge is second-hand, quantifiable, and measurable, but not wisdom.

As Dostoevsky said, “The cleverest of all, in my opinion, is the man who calls himself a fool at least once a month.” It’s the humility at the heart of wisdom that cleanses hubris from the eye so that justice can be actualized.

4) Justice (liberty):

“The fairest rules are those to which everyone would agree if they did not know how much power they would have.” ~ John Rawls

Humans are social creatures. As such, we are also story-telling creatures that create deep mythologies out of the stories we tell each other. Some of these stories are fiction and some of them are nonfiction, but they all require honesty and forthrightness in order to be just. Honest communication is the key.

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Detox with Activated Charcoal

By Ty Bollinger | Guest writer for Wake Up World

Activated charcoal can remove unwanted toxins, bacteria, and decades of heavy metal buildup from your body, leaving you feeling renewed and vibrant.

No matter who you are or what your goals are, you need to detoxify. The secret to an effective “whole body detox” might just be carbon — actually, activated carbon (aka activated charcoal) is the more accurate term.

The History of Activated Charcoal

The first recorded use of charcoal for medicinal purposes was found in Egyptian papyri around 1500 BC as a method of staving off infection from open wounds. Since then, healers have used activated charcoal to soak up poisons and improve intestinal health through a process called “adsorption.” No, that’s not a misspelling. It’s important to understand the difference between absorption and adsorption. When something is absorptive, that means it soaks up other substances, but when something is adsorptive, that means it binds to substances. Activated charcoal actually uses a thin film on its outside surface to bind toxins and poisons.

Activated Charcoal Uses

Ancient physicians used regular charcoal for a variety of medical purposes, including treating epilepsy and anthrax. In the early 20th century, the development of activated charcoal sparked many medical journals to publish research revealing its effectiveness as an antidote for poisons. Today, beyond use in hospitals as an antidote for drugs and poisons, activated charcoal is a global remedy for general detoxification and intestinal disorders.

How to Make Activated Charcoal Powder

You make activated charcoal by burning a source of carbon (wood or debris or coconut shells). The high temperature removes all the oxygen and activates it with gases like steam. Basically the process that creates activated charcoal (steam heating and oxidation) ends up creating an adsorbent internal lattice of very fine pores that capture, bind, and remove poisons, heavy metals, chemicals, bacteria, toxins, and intestinal gases which have thousands of times more weight than the charcoal itself.

It’s hard to believe, but just two grams of activated charcoal powder has about the same surface area as an entire NFL football field! The porous surface has a negative electric charge that attracts positively charged toxins and poisons; it binds them, and escorts them out of your body through the elimination process of your intestines.

Detoxifying Your Body With Activated Charcoal

Toxins from low quality, GMO, processed food, and environmental pollution are real problems. It is important to help your body eliminate them to promote a healthy digestive system and brain. Chronic exposure to toxins produces cellular damage, allergic reactions, compromised immunity, and more rapid aging.

Regular use of activated charcoal can remove unwanted toxins from your body, leaving you feeling renewed and more vibrant ? often in minutes! Activated charcoal helps unwanted bacteria move through your system faster before they spread and multiply, helping you feel better faster. In addition, activated charcoal flushes out all the toxic heavy metals (such as arsenic, copper, mercury, and lead) that are stored in your body, sometimes for decades.

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