by Kelvin Chin, Life After Life Expert and Meditation Teacher
Materialism is usually talked about in the context of money, owning things, amassing wealth. Let's look at how it is equally present in the world of spirituality.
Many religions and spiritual pursuits use the classic "carrot" as the incentive to motivate their seekers and believers into following those groups' beliefs and schools of thought. "If you follow these rules you'll get to Heaven," "If you meditate every day and follow this lifestyle, you will reach Nirvana or Enlightenment," etc.
I would say that this is no different from someone promising a fancy car or a fancy new house, a new castle, a new estate to live in.
I have previously spoken in other essays and blogs about my friend Charlie who is now a philosophy professor with whom I taught meditation many decades ago. Charlie created this quite simple but ingenious model to describe people's experience. It's what he called the "conscious of XYZ" model. He would say that most people focus their experience on the XYZ’s, the objects of experience, the “things” that are definable, specific, identifiable. Conversely, they don't focus their attention, nor are most people even aware of, the “conscious” side of the model, the fact that we have to be conscious to even have experience, that we need a mind to experience. Most of us get so caught up in the XYZ’s that we “identify” ourselves with them, we define ourselves by our XYZ’s.
So, in this model, the “carrots" that we are caught up in...whether they be BMWs, castles, or even ‘higher states of consciousness’…are all XYZ's. They are objects to be sought out. Instead of living life moment to moment, in the present, we prioritize our lives in such a way that we will do everything it takes, everything possible to reach those goals.
But are those goals that we really want to aim for?
What are ‘higher states of consciousness’ that so many meditation students seek and that some sell all their worldly possessions to try to realize? Are they real? Are they worth all that sacrifice?
“Enlightenment” or “Nirvana” is reputed to be the goal of many spiritual practices. They are described as some sort of state of perfection, something akin to "living Heaven on Earth." Bliss. Ultimate Fulfillment. A utopian psycho-emotional spiritual state of mind.
But are they "forever" as they are promised? Are they permanent and never changing? Or do they just describe different colorations and experiences that we may have in our waking, dreaming and sleeping states?
We can debate this issue. But for me what's important is not whether they are their own ‘states of consciousness’ or whether they are merely colorations and experiences of waking, dreaming or sleeping. What matters is how we treat them. Are we so enamored of them that we drop everything, forsake our friendships and relationships, or worse...do we compromise our ethics because we espouse "the ends justify the means"?
For me, this is where the ‘rubber meets the road.’ This is where the purported seeker "would-be-saint" is tested. Does she or he take the bait?
This is where many falter. And I think it's primarily because they have put this spiritual goal in the XYZ category. It has become for them a goal, an object to possess, that is no different than the BMW. It has become a thing.
And for many seekers it becomes a thing with which they measure themselves and others. "How enlightened are you?" "Am I more enlightened than they are?"
These are red flags. They are signs one has lost perspective, that one has become a spiritual materialist.
And what about remembering past lives? Is it a sign of some higher development, some alleged higher state of consciousness?
I think not.
I think those types of memories can sometimes come more easily to some than others because of many factors. Primarily a lesser state of fear about the distant past. Combined with an attitude about what they've done which is not blocked by some strong distaste from a past experience. In other words, I think our emotional reactions to experience leave an imprint in us that can block our ability to easily access our memories. Psychologists tell us this happens to us in this life — some people, for example, don’t remember their childhood, anything before they were, say, 10 years old. So why couldn't the same reason explain why we block our even older memories?
At any rate, whatever the reason, I think there may be many factors that contribute to our having difficulty remembering past life experiences.
But more importantly, it should not be taken as an indication of that individual's level of self-awareness. I think judging ourselves and others by such metrics is also a form of spiritual materialism. We are using essentially a "thing", an "object of experience" – whether someone remembers something or not – to judge our or another person's level of self-awareness.
I don't think anyone can judge another person's level of self-awareness. I don't think any of us can even judge our own level of self-awareness with any degree of accuracy. Because, as I always say: "As compared to what?" – "...as measured against what?"
I don't think there is any absolute yardstick out there.
So what are we comparing ourselves to? Essentially we are comparing ourselves to ourselves. And that's as far as it goes I think.
And if that's the case, then I think we just need to focus on living our lives. Enjoying our lives, living in the present.
Just get on with it.
Stop wasting our time trying to assess ourselves, critique ourselves, measure ourselves against others, or against other people's supposed yardsticks that either they or some group or some organization has created, typically out of whole cloth.
I'm a pragmatist. It is simply not productive. And arguably, it is inaccurate.
Now, can certain experiences we have inform us about ourselves, tell us more about what makes us tick, why we do certain things, why we are attracted to certain experiences?
So is there value in looking at experiences, talking about them, understanding them in order to understand ourselves better – whether they be related to self-awareness type experiences, or our past life memories?
However, that does not mean that they are a "measurement" of us in any way. Not of our intelligence, nor our wisdom, nor of our level of self-awareness or spiritual growth.
They are experiences, plain and simple. So we should treat them as such, use them as such, to help us learn more about ourselves. But not to measure ourselves or to measure others. That is a waste of time.
Using them to understand ourselves better helps us live a happier, more productive life now in the present. Without dwelling in the past or getting overly enamored by some experience that is fleeting by its very nature.
This is where the seeker should spend his or her valuable life energy.
Focusing on knowing themselves more fully, not merely by turning within through meditation, but also by paying attention and learning from their actions, emotional reactions, and insights into the choices they make...i.e., how they live their lives.
So, if the seeker chooses to be effective at seeking greater knowledge of him or herself, perhaps they should choose spiritual insightfulness over spiritual materialism.
Kelvin H. Chin is a Meditation Teacher, Life After Life Expert, and Author of “Overcoming the Fear of Death.” He learned to meditate at age 19, and has been teaching Turning Within and coaching others in their self-growth for 45 years. He helps people understand their life challenges through their individual belief systems, and helps them find their own solutions. His past life memories reach back many centuries, and he accesses those memories in his teaching and his coaching in the same way all coaches draw on their own available experiences for perspective and effective analogies. He can be reached at www.TurningWithin.org.