The Cult of Spiritual Materialism: Have You Become Its Victim?
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4 min read

The Cult of Spiritual Materialism: Have You Become Its Victim?

Spiritualism is growing in popularity as we seek more answers and comfort in these trying times.Unfortunately, no everyone is following the spiritual path for the right reasons, or in a genuine way.
The Cult of Spiritual Materialism: Have You Become Its Victim?


There is no correct way to practice your spiritualism, but there are certainly incorrect ways. Spiritual materialism is being actively encouraged at every turn. If you’re taking on a new, enlightened path, chances are that you’ve already come across a few traps. Spirituality teaches us self-forgiveness and a non-judgemental attitude, though. Apply these principles when considering whether you have become a victim of spiritual materialism. We can all be swayed easily at times. A person becomes spiritually materialistic when they develop materialistic and shallow desires in the pursuit of spirituality.

The ego tends to use spiritualism for its own gain, to fulfill the need to be special or interesting. Our egos are the parts of our identities created by external influences, like comments from others, possessions, and achievements. This conceited part of us takes advantage of spirituality. We are in an era of “new-age spiritualism”, where the original traditions are being forgotten and replaced with modern ideas – and not always good ones. Spiritually materialistic people are likely to be using the popularity of spiritualism to boost their own sense of self. Living a spiritual kind of lifestyle gives some people a feeling that they are above others, sometimes even God-like. Instagram “gurus” are popular but are, in fact, benefitting from spiritual materialism. If your spiritualism requires the rest of the world seeing it, sponsorships and merchandise, then it’s likely not spiritualism at all. It’s pandering to a market the world seems to want right now. We’re often sold “tools” to further our spiritual journey, but these things only add to the materialism. True spiritualism happens within and doesn’t require external resources. We convince ourselves that we need “things” to boost our connection with the spiritual realm, but these things only boost our ego and decay our self-awareness. We show off our possessions like trophies, to compete with others to prove who is the most spiritual. Spiritualism is a deep and personal experience. It is all about finding your inner strength, inner truth, and inner peace. When you add materialism into the mix, it becomes shallow and superficial. Being spiritual has become fad-like these days and proving how spiritual we are is becoming a competition. You might notice more people are attending retreats or workshops and posting about it all over social media. Surely, this undermines the purpose? Spiritualism teaches us to be happy with ourselves and not compare our lives to others. A truly spiritual person does not need to use their experiences for attention, their experience is sacred and personal. Aside from using spiritualism for materialistic gain, some people also use it to rid themselves of their troubles. True spiritual gurus encourage the use of spiritualism to become comfortable with suffering. Spiritual materialists assume that methods such as yoga and meditation will prevent ever having to experience hardship. This is not realistic and not what the original spiritualists had intended. Spiritual practices are there to have you develop self-awareness and learn to be peaceful even in times of trouble. Spiritual materialism encourages the avoidance of suffering, which closes us off from the world – a total contrast to genuine spiritualism. Arguably the most concerning problem with spiritual materialism is that it leads to cultural appropriation and fetishization of particular countries. Backpackers head off to countries like Thailand, India, and Vietnam to “embrace” the spiritual culture. Unfortunately, these people tend to pick and choose the traditions they like and ignore those they don’t. This can be offensive to the traditional spiritualists who devote their lives to religions like Buddhism. Spiritually materialistic people travel to these countries to take photos posing in front of sacred monuments – instead of respecting the culture’s wishes.

There are a few ways to tell if you’ve fallen victim to this superficial, materialistic spirituality. Approach the idea with an open mind and a judgment-free attitude. If you notice elements of yourself reflected in the signs, forgive heavily and correct gently. Spiritualism only ever teaches self-improvement for your own gain, not to compare yourself to others.

There is no part of spiritualism that encourages money spending. You should be able to practice spiritualism no matter your financial status. Whether it’s expensive retreats or small trinkets, no genuine spiritualist would require any external “tools”. Traditional spiritualists would shudder at the notion that you have to spend your money to be a “better” spiritualist. Some teachings, like apps and books, might require payment, and while they’re great additions, they aren’t essential.

There are plenty of free resources out there provided by true believers who want spiritualism to be accessible to everyone. We love oversharing on social media, but we love to show off even more. For example, the Instagram hashtag #spiritualist is filled with odd quotes and unrelated selfies. It’s cool to be spiritual, and this leads to people sharing it more than they practice it. You might have fallen victim to spiritual materialism if you spend time wondering how you can curate your posts to appear more spiritual.

The spiritual journey is a personal experience and doesn’t require you to share it with others. It is possible to overdo it on the meditation. Spiritually materialistic people tend to force themselves into practicing spirituality even when their minds and bodies don’t really want it. This is because they want to be the most spiritual, and surely you can’t do that if you don’t put in the hours? Spirituality should be a journey you take at your own pace, through thought and self-discovery. Some critics even mention hallucinogenic drugs as a part of spiritual materialism, as users tend to force and expect epiphanies. You should be able to reach enlightenment and understand your true purpose without any outside help, it is within you. We’re told we need stuff in order to be the best, but no one tells us there is no best. Take your new spiritual journey in your own stride and always remember that everything you need is already with you. No amount of force, travel or excessive practice will bring it to you any faster. Focus on your own thoughts and your own progress. R.

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