What is the difference between spiritualist and materialist?

Posted On: 16 February, 2017

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Chogyal RinpocheWhile traveling around the world, studying various religions, philosophy, psychology and teaching people all over the world, I found a common thing which everyone seems to pursue, that is the “Happiness”. Whether you are a spiritualist or a materialist, religious or nonreligious, the so-called good people or bad people—all chasing after a single thing: Happiness.

If we ask a materialist: what do you want materials for? The answer would likely be: materials can bring on a sense of security, so I can protect my family and fulfill my desire. If you keep asking: why do you want the sense of security, the protection towards family and fulfillment of desire? You usually will get the answer like: in that way my family would be happy and so would I.

A spiritualist would claim that he or she is not interested in materials: the goal of my life is enlightenment and liberation. If you ask him: why would you want to go to the Western Paradise, the common answer would be because it is a perfect place without pain, there I could find happiness. So you can see free from the cycle of reincarnation eventually will lead to happiness as well. Some spiritualist would argue that my practicing is not only to liberate myself, but also to liberate the living beings from the six realms of existence. If you would ask him why would you want to do that? They would say, in this way those beings can be happy and so can I. It all ends up with the subject of happiness.

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Outwardly, both spiritualist and materialist have the same goal of happiness. However, if you take a minute and think about it, the two kinds of happiness are much more different. The kind of happiness material can bring is vulnerable, short term and changeable in comparison to the spiritual happiness. While the subject a spiritualist pursues is intangible and invisible, it can never be betrayed by the dependent objects, more so the subject itself will not decay. Materialist looks for external matters, which is a process that continually expands your ego. Spiritualist looks for internal spirit, during which, ego gets smaller and smaller.

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Whether it is a story that takes place in the history or one that happens around us, the similar conclusion is: if the whole meaning of one’s life is money, power, fame, status in society and the existence of family, then one could easily be crushed by the slight change among any of those subjects, that is because they have put too much emphasize on those external subjects. Therefore, when it comes to the time of crisis and change, one can easily leave out his dignity, health, relationship, virtue, etc. The scale of happiness being measured by the greatness of fortune, losing one’s fortune also results in losing the meaning of life. Or feeling happy when the family is in harmony, losing happiness whenever there is a conflict; the meaning of life also loses when the family member passes away; some even tempted to end one’s own life. In short, only when we rely the whole meaning of our lives on the external subjects can those extreme instances happen. Therefore, if such dependence does not exist, the above will also not happen.

Spiritualists and those who are determined about their religious belief are not easily disturbed by the life crisis and are surely not possible to be bothered by mental illness. The things spiritualists rely on are supernatural and eternal in their existence. The Buddha that we worship in the temple is the same with the Buddha we see when meditating. Other than the changing state of our own mood and impression, the state of Buddha and the statue remains unchangeable. For example, Bodhisattva and Amitabha will never change their expression; it will always be the same. Which implies that our nature and the aim of spiritual practice is to return to where we are originally from. Buddhism talks about the return to your Buddha Nature, meaning you are originally Buddha, and your happiness is originally there. Through practice you can free yourself from six realms of existence, and then you could maintain the same happiness, lead sentiment beings of the six realms of existence to free them, and gain their eternal happiness.

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Go back in history, the west started industrial revolution 300 years ago, as time goes science is becoming more and more important in people’s everyday life. Scientific progression and economic development have affected people’s thinking and behavior. Many who have not yet gone into depth with scientific study started to doubt the existence of God, heaven, and belief. Little by little, most people lost their religion and even started to question other people’s religion. The consumerist society started to lose its balance; many people began to feel anxious without basic spiritual dependent objects. So forth, one generation after another, people struggle in the miserable society. Not till later on did people starting to re-discuss the meaning of life, which is also the beginning of the western psychological study. During the 50’s and 60’s, many scholars and psychologist in the western society also found that psychology can only cure people’s mental illness for a short term, which is why more and more people began to learn meditation, Yoga, Taichi, etc.

As the economy develops in the East, people from many countries especially those who live in big cities, start to doubt their own religion or abandon conventional religious belief. From zero psychologists in 50 years ago, to countless psychologists nowadays, it shows the great number of patients. Look back in time, no India nor Nepal need a psychologist, but now the younger generation has a varied verity of mental problems. Today the rapid growth of the economy in Eastern societies are undergoing society phenomenon that the West has experienced, people’s mental condition are as a result, also similar.

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Everyone is looking for happiness, when interpreting purely from a psychological perspective; religion could bring people satisfaction, happiness, and sense of belonging. By the time everyone has their belief, there will be no need for psychologists because everyone would be have self-healing capability , the ability to pursue happiness, as well as satisfaction and sense of belonging.

Glad to see that more and more people start noticing and learning religion culture including Tibetan Buddhism, Southern Buddhism, Zen, Taoism and Hinduism. My intention of writing this article is not to tell everyone to become a monk or nun, strive for virtue and leave the home and practice or meditate at Himalaya. Many of the fellow practitioners are at home, they have to face their family and work every day. My point is: if our pursuit of life is a hundred percent materialistic, we are the least likely to get the happiness we are looking for. But if we are able to share fifty percent of the pursuit with idealism then we will be able to obtain greater happiness, at the same time reduce more pain of life.

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