Spiritual Materialism

-Thrineshwara M.R. and
- Shivshanker Cheral

Spiritualism and Materialism are two extreme doctrines that are often considered as opposite to each other. While both can provide immense pleasure and happiness to us they differ from each other in many respects. One need not classify them as either good or bad but instead one should consider both as a human experience in life, which can transform one’s consciousness to higher levels and hence both are equally important. However, as we all know, the final objective of them is totally different and hence the path chosen to achieve the final objective also will be totally different. If both can be either an individual or the collective experiences externally the inner transformation possible from spiritualism can only be achieved through the spiritualism. This inner transformation is often irreversible in that it can take one from level to another higher in the order of self-realization and total bliss. In this state the human mind can feel oneness with everything without any kind of discrimination and both pain and pleasure merging into one feeling, both good and bad becoming one and hence there will be Love, Beauty and total Bliss.

ಅಂಗವ ಲಿಂಗಮುಖದಲ್ಲಿ ಅರ್ಪಿಸಿ,
ಅಂಗ ಅನಂಗವಾಯಿತ್ತು.
ಮನವ ಅರಿವಿಂಗರ್ಪಿಸಿ, ಮನ ಲಯವಾಯಿತ್ತು.
ಭಾವವ ತೃಪ್ತಿಗರ್ಪಿಸಿ, ಭಾವ ಬಯಲಾಯಿತ್ತು.
ಅಂಗ ಮನ ಭಾವವಳಿದ ಕಾರಣ
ಕಾಯ ಅಕಾಯವಾಯಿತ್ತು.
ಎನ್ನ ಕಾಯದ ಸುಖಭೋಗವ ಲಿಂಗವೆ ಭೋಗಿಸುವನಾಗಿ,
ಶರಣಸತಿ ಲಿಂಗಪತಿಯಾದೆನು.
ಇದು ಕಾರಣ, ಚೆನ್ನಮಲ್ಲಿಕಾರ್ಜುನನೆಂಬ ಗಂಡನ
ಒಳಹೊಕ್ಕು ಬೆರಸಿದೆನು./6

On offering the body to linga; the body was bodiless.
On offering the mind to awareness; the mind was dissolved.
On offering feeling to fulfillment; feeling was a no-thing.
As body, mind and feeling ceased to be
being turned a non-being.
As linga ravished my body
I became a sharana-wife to linga-husband.
Thus melted and merged
into my husband named Chennamallikarjuna. – Akkamahadevi. 1113[1]

But with materialism this kind of inner transformation may not be possible since the human mind will be always caught between the duality of pleasure and pain because it sees only division everywhere, which will always lead to conflicts. Thus Guru Basava says:

ಅಂದಣವನೇರಿದ ಸೊಣಗನಂತೆ
ಕಂಡಡೆ ಬಿಡದು ತನ್ನ ಮುನ್ನಿನ ಸ್ವಭಾವವನು.
ಸುಡು, ಸುಡು, ಮನವಿದು ವಿಷಯಕ್ಕೆ ಹರಿವುದು,
ಮೃಡ ನಿಮ್ಮನನುದಿನ ನೆನೆಯಲೀಯದು.
ಎನ್ನೊಡೆಯ ಕೂಡಲಸಂಗಮದೇವಾ
ನಿಮ್ಮ ಚರಣವ ನೆನೆವಂತೆ ಕರುಣಿಸು-
ಸೆರಗೊಡ್ಡಿ ಬೇಡುವೆ, ನಿಮ್ಮ ಧರ್ಮ. 34

Like the dog
that sits on the palanquin
can not rid itself of prior nature
is this mind.
Shun it, shun this mind
it runs after passions
never lets me think of you lord, everyday.
My lord Koodalasangamadeva,
I beg you, with my hands folded
be compassionate so that I think of your feet. 7[1]

A mind full of conflicts cannot experience self-realization as it is not free from its past conditioning. The consciousness, though transforming continuously, may not get a new experience altogether but instead it will be a mere accumulation of the bi-products of the past conditioning. As a result, the human mind will always be driven by the Ego and hence it has to necessarily keep experience both pleasure and pain now and then. Since the sources of pleasure as chosen by the Ego are always temporary and having a potential to bring pain to the experiencer the mind cannot escape from it. In order to fulfill the Ego the mind may invent different ways and means of achieving it and any attempt to achieve or become something will always lead to violence ultimately. When there is violence there cannot be Oneness and hence the mind cannot experience total bliss with materialism.

ವಿಷಯವೆಂಬ ಹಸುರನೆನ್ನ ಮುಂದೆ ತಂದು ಪಸರಿಸಿದೆಯಯ್ಯಾ.
ಪಶುವೇನ ಬಲ್ಲುದು ಹಸುರೆಂದೆಠಸುವುದು.
ವಿಷಯರಹಿತನ ಮಾಡಿ, ಭಕ್ತಿರಸವ ದಣಿಯೆ ಮೇಯಿಸಿ,
ಸುಬುದ್ಧಿಯೆಂಬ ಉದಕವನೆರೆದು,
ನೋಡಿ ಸಲಹಯ್ಯಾ, ಕೂಡಲಸಂಗಮದೇವಾ. /51
You spread before me the green grass of desire. what does a beast know?
Seeing the grass it desires.
Make me desire free.
Feed me devotion till I am content.
Give me the water of good sense to drink.
Look after me and protect me, Koodalasangamadeva. 356 [1]

Then why are we trying to bring both spiritualism and materialism and coin a new tern called “Spiritual Materialism”? The answer to this lies in the fact that one cannot escape from the reality. We are born and living in this material world and all our thoughts and deeds, experiences, consciousness, etc., are all materialistic in nature. There is no escape from this experience, which means that if at all we want to achieve what is known as the Total Bliss that is possible from spiritualism we have to first fulfill or satisfy our Ego, get the experience from the reality and then turn our mind towards achieving the Total Bliss.

The immense experience that we accumulate from the reality should help us to achieve the final goal easily. If one wants to achieve the final goal of total bliss or self-realization, etc., without getting the life experience through the reality then it will be a mere illusion. It will be just an escape route from the reality or one’s responsibility. Without getting the life experience one cannot dream of self-realization either through deep meditation or austerity measures or any other thing totally different from the normal life experience. Thus Yogi allama says:

ಸುತ್ತಿಸುತ್ತಿ ಬಂದಡಿಲ್ಲ, ಲಕ್ಷ ಗಂಗೆಯ ಮಿಂದಡಿಲ್ಲ.
ತುಟ್ಟ ತುದಿಯ ಮೇರುಗಿರಿಯ ಮೆಟ್ಟಿ ಕೂಗಿದಡಿಲ್ಲ.
ನಿತ್ಯನೇಮದಿಂದ ತನುವ ಮುಟ್ಟಿಕೊಂಡಡಿಲ್ಲ.
ನಿಚ್ಚಕ್ಕಿನ ಗಮನವಂದಂದಿಗೆ;
ಅತ್ತಲಿತ್ತ ಹರಿವ ಮನವ ಚಿತ್ರದಲಿ ನಿಲಿಸಬಲ್ಲಡೆ
ಬಚ್ಚಬರಿಯ ಬೆಳಗು ಗುಹೇಶ್ವರನೆಂಬ ಲಿಂಗವು./344

It is of no worth to go round and round.
It is of no worth to bathe a million times in Ganga.
It is of no worth to climb the high mountain and shout.
It is of no worth to touch the body with daily rituals.
If one can fix the mind that always moves firm
then, the linga called Guheshwara is sheer light itself. -Allama Prabhu/625 [1]

ಹುತ್ತವ ಬಡಿದಡೆ ಹಾವು ಸಾಯಬಲ್ಲುದೆ ಅಯ್ಯಾ
ಅಘೋರ ತಪವ ಮಾಡಿದಡೇನು
ಅಂತರಂಗ ಆತ್ಮಶುದ್ಧಿುಲ್ಲದವರನೆಂತು ನಂಬುವನಯ್ಯಾ
ಕೂಡಲಸಂಗಮದೇವ 117

If you beat molehill will the snake die?
What if you do fierce penance?
Unless the your mind and soul are pure
How can Koodalasangamadeva believe you? /415[1]

Meditation means not taking the time out from our daily routine, sitting somewhere with closed eyes and trying to concentrate our mind on something that is willingly created in our imagination. It is not even escaping from the society to a remote place in order to control our mind and concentrate on something that is unimaginable. The real meditation has to happen throughout our life, every day and every moment, by paying total attention to everything we do and developing total awareness of our thoughts and deeds. This means that one should give maximum possible to attention, importance and value to the real life, which is our present and not either dwelling in the past or dreaming about the future. Only through life experience one can learn something new always and from this learning our intelligence can grow. But all these thoughts look like what we normal call materialistic thinking. So, how can we attain the fulfillment of life by just adhering to this materialistic thinking?

When we consider the human life as the most supreme among all other living creatures on Earth, how can we ignore and reject the idea of experiencing through our sensory organs, which are valuable gift from nature along with the intelligence. But at the same time it is a fact that the materialistic life will always lead us to misery, which all religions have warned. So, the solution to this dilemma lies in that one should pass through this materialistic life experience but not succumbing to the pressure of our Ego.

The real challenge and achievement in life is hidden in this fact. If at all we embrace this materialistic life with humility and still drive our thoughts towards universal Love, which is the culmination of Compassion, Forgiveness, Tolerance, Sacrifice, etc., then there will be the Sublimation of materialism.

Sublimation means reaching the highest level of human consciousness, not by escaping from materialistic life but all along the real world experience in life. Since this is very difficult for human beings it is considered as the greatest achievement because we are not escaping from the reality but facing it with humility as well as courage in order to achieve the final goal of Total Bliss. This will be possible for human beings only and hence we should not look at any escape routes which are just illusions. This path is known as “Spiritual Materialism”. Great philosophers and achievers such as Buddha, Basavanna, Kabir, Guru Nanak have taught us on similar lines. Same thing is taught by the great thinkers of our time such as J Krishnamurti and others.

ಅಂಗವ ಅಂದ ಮಾಡಿಕೊಂಡು ತಿರುಗುವ
ಭಂಗಗೇಡಿಗಳು ನೀವು ಕೇಳಿರೋ.
ಅಂಗಕ್ಕೆ ಅಂದವಾವುದೆಂದರೆ: ಗುರುವಿಗೆ ತನುವ ಕೊಟ್ಟಿರುವುದೆ ಚೆಂದ,
ಲಿಂಗಕ್ಕೆ ಮನವ ಕೊಟ್ಟಿರುವುದೆ ಚೆಂದ,
ಜಂಗಮಕ್ಕೆ ಧನವ ಕೊಟ್ಟಿರುವುದೆ ಚೆಂದ.
ಅಷ್ಟಾವರಣದಲ್ಲಿ ನಿಬ್ಬೆರಗಿನಿಂದ ಕೂಡಿ
ಭಕ್ತಿಯೆಂಬ ಸಮುದ್ರದಲ್ಲಿ ಈಸಾಡುವುದೆ ಚೆಂದ.
ಶಿವನ ಪಾದವ ಹೊಂದುವುದೆ ಚೆಂದ.
ಈ ಮಾರ್ಗವ ಬಿಟ್ಟು, ಸಂಸಾರವೇ ಅಧಿಕವೆಂದು
ತನ್ನ ಹೆಂಡಿರು ಮಕ್ಕಳು ಸಂಪತ್ತು ಇವು ತನಗೆ ಶಾಶ್ವತವೆಂದು ತಿಳಿದು,
ಒಂದು ಕಾಸನಾದರೂ ಪರರಿಗೆ ಕೊಡದೆ,
ತಾನೇ ತಿಂದು, ನೆಲದಲ್ಲಿ ಮಡಗಿ, ಕಡೆಗೆ ಯಮನ ಕೈಯಲಿ ಸಿಲ್ಕಿ
ನರಕ ಕೊಂಡದಲ್ಲಿ ಮುಳುಗೇಳುವುದೇ ನಿಶ್ಚಯ.
ಇಂತಹ ಅಂದಗೇಡಿಗಳ ಮುಖವ ನೋಡಲಾಗದೆಂದಾತ,
ನಮ್ಮ ಅಂಬಿಗರ ಚೌಡಯ್ಯ ನಿಜಶರಣನು./14

Listen, those of you who are
walking about making your body beautiful
but really are broken and ugly,
listen what makes beauty:
giving one’s body to guru is beauty;
giving one’s mind to linga is beauty;
giving one’s wealth to jangama is beauty;
mingling with the eight enclosures in wonder
and swimming in the sea of devotion is beauty;
attaining the feet of Shiva is the only beauty.
Deserting this path
thinking that the worldliness is the greatest
one’s wife and children and wealth are for ever
not giving a single coin for the others
consuming everything for the self
hiding the wealth under the earth
and finally being caught by Yama drowning
in the valley of hell is certain.
One should not see the face of such un-beautiful people
says Ambiga Chowdayya the true sharana. - Ambigara Chowdayya 1376 [1]

There is a possibility of attributing a negative or wrong meaning to the term “Spiritual Materialism”. Some people, who claim that they are spiritual practitioners, seekers, etc., try to make use of materialistic approaches in order to justify their thoughts and actions that might not be spiritual in nature. Such people just try to pretend that they are spiritual by imitating what they have been taught by their masters or by what is written in ancient books. They are not the ones who are able to see inner transformation in them by conquering the Ego but instead they try to think they are spiritual and hence want the world to recognize them as spiritual people.

ಸಂಸಾರದಲ್ಲಿ ಹುಟ್ಟಿ ಮತ್ತೊಂದ ಬಯಸಲೇಕಯ್ಯಾ
ನಗುವುದು ನುಡಿವುದು ಶಿವಭಕ್ತರೊಡನೆ.
ಸುಮ್ಮಾನ ಹಮ್ಮು ಬಿಮ್ಮಾಗಿರಲೇಕಯ್ಯಾ
ಅಭ್ಯಾಸೇನ ವಿಹೀನಸ್ಯ ತಸ್ಯ ಜನ್ಮ ನಿರರ್ಥಕಂ
ಗುರುಣಾಪಿ ಸಮಂ ಹಾಸ್ಯಂ ಕರ್ತವ್ಯಂ ಕುಟಿಲಂ ವಿನಾ
ನಮ್ಮ ಕೂಡಲಸಂಗನ ಶರಣರೊಡನೆ
ಮನದೆರೆದು ಮಾತನಾಡುವುದಯ್ಯಾ. 242
If one can accept whatever that comes
that is precept.
If one doesn’t hide what one has and doesn’t deceive
that is the precept.
If one doesn’t act wrongly,
that is the precept.
If one’s words don’t go false,
that is the precept.
If sharanas of Koodalasangama come
offering the wealth to them
that is the precept. -Guru Basava/271 [1]

ಶೀಲವಂತರು ಶೀಲವಂತರೆಂದೆಂಬರು ನಾವಿದನರಿಯೆವಯ್ಯ.
ಅಂಗನೆಯರ ಅಧರಪಾನವು
ತನ್ನ ಉದರವ ಹೊಗುವನ್ನಕ್ಕ ಶೀಲವೆಲ್ಲಿಯದೊ ?
ಈಷಣತ್ರಯವೆಂಬ ಸೊಣಗ ಬೆಂಬತ್ತಿ ಬರುತ್ತಿರಲು ಶೀಲವೆಲ್ಲಿಯದೊ ?
ಹೆರಸಾರಿ ಮನವು ಮಹದಲ್ಲಿ ನಿಂದರೆ ಶೀಲ,
ಪರಿಣಾಮ ನೆಲೆಗೊಂಡರೆ ಶೀಲ.
ಇದು ಕಾರಣ ಕೂಡಲಚೆನ್ನಸಂಗನಲ್ಲಿ ಶೀಲವಂತರಪೂರ್ವ /588
People often talk of purists.
We do not know what purity is, o Father.
Where is a person’s purity
when he kisses others’ women and
drinks deep from their lips?
Where is his purity
when the dog of three-fold infatuation chases him?
When the mind is steadied in the contemplation of the absolute, it is purity;
when the peace of mind prevails, it is purity.
Therefore, purists are rare in Koodala Chennasangayya -Chennabasavanna/911 [1]

From this angle the term “Spiritual Materialism” may get spoiled in its meaning. But what is meant by the great achievers such as Buddha, Basavanna, etc., has a sacred, holy meaning attached to it. So, spiritual materialism means that achieving spiritualism through the sublimation of materialism. Sublimation can be achieved by deriving fulfillment and realizing oneness in everything that we experience and bringing sanctity, divinity to them.

[1] Number indicates at the end of each Vachana is from the book "Vachana", pub: Basava Samiti Bangalore 2012.

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[1] From the book "Vachana", pub: Basava Samiti Bangalore 2012.