In a family lunch yesterday, the topic turned to spirituality. A little out of the blue, one mentioned the materialistic worldview of Communism and that it’s incompatible with spirituality. I didn’t say anything at the time – perhaps because I didn’t know how to phrase it – but I don’t necessarily agree.
When I sat down to write something about this, the headline that fell into my mind was spiritual materialism – in the sense of spirituality within a materialistic worldview.
As I see it, most forms of genuine spirituality and awakening can happen within a materialistic view. The two are not opposed to each other.
Here are some examples:
Awakening can be understood within a small (psychological) or big (spiritual) view. In either case, it’s what we are – that which our experiences happen within and as – that wakes up to itself. We wake up to oneness, or – more accurately – oneness wakes up to itself as all there is. In the small interpretation of awakening, this happens locally and in this human self, and it can easily fit into a materialistic worldview. In essence, to us – as consciousness – everything happens within and as consciousness. Oneness wakes up to itself. And that can be interpreted to happen within a world that’s mostly or exclusively material. We can explore this through, for instance, the Big Mind process and have a direct taste of it for ourselves.
What about past lives? One side of this is research, and if they find that rebirth seems to happen (as researchers do), then that may create some troubles for a strict materialistic worldview. If we look at rebirth as it may come up in our own lives, for instance through apparent memories, the most pragmatic and useful approach may be to hold it lightly and explore it as a projection or as if it was a dream element. Whatever it is, it mirrors something in us here and now, and that’s useful. That’s something we can use to explore whatever it represents or mirror in ourselves. And that’s something we can easily do within a materialistic worldview.
What about spiritual practices, like prayer? Doesn’t that require a deity or some idea of divinity? Not at all. Prayer is transformative. It has an important psychological function, and if done with sincerity and receptivity and we allow it, it can profoundly transform us. It can open our heart and mind. It can help us find healing. It can even lead into a taste of oneness or a real shift into oneness.
When it comes to many other things associated with spirituality – heart-centered practices, forms of meditation, ethical guidelines, and so on – these help us in our own lives, makes us a little easier to be around for others, and fit into a materialistic worldview.
So we see that awakening can be interpreted within a materialistic worldview. And most or all pragmatic spiritual pointers, practices, and guidelines don’t require a “spiritual” worldview and are compatible with materialistic worldview.
How do I see this? I love that the essence of spirituality fits nicely into a strict materialistic view. Personally, I find both the small and big interpretations of awakening useful. And, for me, the big interpretation is – in a sense – a little more correct and closer to reality. (In another sense, reality is always more than and different from any words or world views.)
Note: Chögyam Trungpa initially coined – or popularized? – the term spiritual materialism and used it to describe something else: an attitude of wanting to accumulate signs of spiritual progress in order to feel better about ourselves.