The West's conflict with mixing spirituality and materiality

The West's conflict with mixing spirituality and materiality

Postby OregonBuddhist » Thu Nov 22, 2012 1:20 am

I don't know if the title makes any sense, and I don't remember the exact quote. But a member of this forum (I think it was Queequeg) posted a while ago that in the West there is a conflict in mixing spirituality with the material. There was some reference made as follows: people were selling figures of the Buddha next to Buddhist sacred sites, and this is fine by most standards in the East, but a Westerner is likely to find this shocking or offensive. I think a reference was made to the West's aversion to "mixing the sacred and the profane." I don't recall the exact words or thread where this took place, but it's rankled around in my mind for some time and I was wondering if anyone could elaborate on this topic -- because I find it very interesting.
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Re: The West's conflict with mixing spirituality and materiality

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Thu Nov 22, 2012 2:55 am

OregonBuddhist wrote:I don't know if the title makes any sense, and I don't remember the exact quote. But a member of this forum (I think it was Queequeg) posted a while ago that in the West there is a conflict in mixing spirituality with the material. There was some reference made as follows: people were selling figures of the Buddha next to Buddhist sacred sites, and this is fine by most standards in the East, but a Westerner is likely to find this shocking or offensive. I think a reference was made to the West's aversion to "mixing the sacred and the profane." I don't recall the exact words or thread where this took place, but it's rankled around in my mind for some time and I was wondering if anyone could elaborate on this topic -- because I find it very interesting.


People often associate the desire for, sale in, and acquisition of material objects,
with dissatisfaction.
This seems especially true among those who have had an abundance of material comfort
and yet did not find their "spiritual" needs met by material goods.
This is because material things, being composites, cannot bring lasting happiness.
Thus, a mental conflict arises in the minds of some people who see religious items being sold at holy sites.
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Re: The West's conflict with mixing spirituality and materiality

Postby greentara » Thu Nov 22, 2012 3:33 am

'We think of the Dharma as a form of medicine for a disordered society, and feel that if only this medicine, this antivenom, were more widely available, more lives could be improved. The question is, how to we "market" the brand without tarnishing it? How do we prevent the "snake oil salesmen," who denigrate the Dharma into self-profiteering, from becoming leading figures in the West'
In addition here isn't a temple in the East where trinkets are not being sold. Someone told me that they were flogging the leaves that fell off the old Banyan tree in Bhodgaya.
To be fair extreme poverty extracts its own results. Can't be judge and jury in countries where life is so tough and there's no safety net.
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Re: The West's conflict with mixing spirituality and materiality

Postby illarraza » Thu Nov 22, 2012 5:36 am

Selling trinkets is the least of Nichiren Lotus Sutra Buddhism's problems. Selling Enlightenment with priests and laymen becoming rich off the Dharma is a very real problem. $200,000 dollar High Priest Juzu beads, $10,000 dollar robes, and $200,000 dollars a year [minimum] salaries for the top few hundred Japanese lay leaders to teach the Dharma [which their juniors do for free], is a real problem. Those who exploit the Dharma to enrich themselves reflects badly on the teachings. These men are no different than Catholic Cardinals and evangelical mega church [and TV] preachers of the gospel of prosperity. Not one of the founding fathers and great sages of our movements sought fame and profit, not Buddha, not Nichiren, and not Jesus. More than the West's conflict of mixing materialism and spirituality, it is the spiritual men's objection to fake phony religious leaders. Just my two cents.

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Re: The West's conflict with mixing spirituality and materiality

Postby OregonBuddhist » Thu Nov 22, 2012 8:43 am

Thank you for the responses, everyone. I suppose my question wasn't precisely worded, so that's my fault.

I wasn't thinking of specific examples. I was just thinking of the theory of mixing the spiritual and the material, and that this seems "un-holy" to the Western mind. And I am basing this on a statement made on another thread, with hope that the statement could be elaborated on.

Specifically, this can address the SGI practice of chanting for material things. Such a thing sounds unbelievable to many in the West. And yet, according to some scholars, almost all Buddhist traditions have some aspect of petitioning for spiritual assistance for material purposes.

I think that there is a very complex theoretical issue here which, admittedly, I'm not articulating well.

Anyway, thank you for the responses. I hope to see more thoughts. Thanks.
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Re: The West's conflict with mixing spirituality and materiality

Postby Wayfarer » Thu Nov 22, 2012 8:54 am

I think that is simply human nature. It was necessary even in the earliest stratum of the teachings for the Vinaya to explicitly ban fortune-telling, faith healing and so on. There is power associated with all religious teachings, and Buddhism is no exception. Of course the Buddha has renounced all such things, and would never encourage them. But human nature will always seek advantages by whatever means it can.

By the way there was an important and influential book by Chogyam Trungpa called Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, which, if you are not familiar with it, is definitely worth knowing about.
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Re: The West's conflict with mixing spirituality and materiality

Postby OregonBuddhist » Thu Nov 22, 2012 9:18 am

Thank you for the response.

I should probably state upfront that I think it's fine to have material desires, and I think it's fine to chant for their fulfillment -- and this is what brought me to Nichiren Buddhism to begin with. I had respect for other schools of Buddhism and found them interesting, but I never considered studying Buddhism deeply until I found Nichiren Buddhism.

My perspective is that Nichiren Buddhism gets "bashed" for something that I think is representative in the Asian cultures: focusing on being successful and happy in the material world. The more I study Nichiren Buddhism, the more I look into Asian cultures, and the more I learn about Hotei (Buddha of good luck and wealth) and "Lucky Cat," etc., and I'm starting to see what I consider to be a very optimistic underlying theme here. A theme that says it's okay to wish for material success in this world. And I'm wondering if maybe this underlying attitude toward wordly success may, perhaps, in some way be linked to something my host father (president of the Chamber of Commerce of Argentina) once said to me when I was a high school exchange student to his country: "The United States is the world of today. Asia is the world of tomorrow." Noam Chomsky has also said that Asia is the most economically dynamic region of the world right now.

With regard to the Buddha and his perspective on material matters, I think this was covered earlier: the Buddha, legend holds, came from royalty, right? He was born a rich man. After reaching enlightment and making a vow of poverty, he was supported by rich men, right? (In my early 20s I was a student of Arun Gandhi, grandson of the Mahatma; I still have great respect for him. But at one point I got very caught up in Mahatma Gandhi's "vow of poverty" -- and then one day I looked a little more closely and realized that while he was personally poor, he had many wealthy benefactors.) But it kind of becomes a moot point for me what the historical Gautama would think, because to my knowledge the Lotus Sutra isn't literally the work of the historical Gautama -- and it is Nichiren Buddhism, based exclusively on the Lotus Sutra and a product of Japanese culture, that interests me most (and is the topic of this particular forum anyway).

Thanks for the response.
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Re: The West's conflict with mixing spirituality and materiality

Postby rory » Thu Nov 22, 2012 9:33 am

Sorry but you are entirely mistaken it's not the "West's" problem it's a specifically Christian problem. I'm Jewish and Jewish people have no problem having material things and being spiritual, we're not brought up to think that those things are 'evil' or it's swell to be poor and uneducated; I really cannot understand such a pov, it's just plain bizarre. I'm just not terribly attached to those material goods; it's just stuff.

So re-examine your cultural premises before making these statements about 'The West' We're not all Christians.

As Illaraza said paying lots of dollars for the Dharma and making money off it is absolutely wrong. My senseis both teach the dharma for free and aren't paid for it. They do it out of a sincere desire to help suffering human beings.
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Re: The West's conflict with mixing spirituality and materiality

Postby lobster » Thu Nov 22, 2012 9:44 am

Well said Rory. 'Emptiness is form and form is emptiness' is the profound insight of the Mahayana. No difference between spiritual and material, profane and sacred.
Such simple teachings are used by those entrapped by profit full Buddhism, whilst the profitless give away everything they have . . . :twothumbsup:
Aim for generosity, it is quite beneficial to all concerned . . . :popcorn:
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Re: The West's conflict with mixing spirituality and materiality

Postby OregonBuddhist » Thu Nov 22, 2012 9:52 am

I used the term "the west" because I was quoting an earlier comment by another member of the forum. That's the term they used.

Prior to studying Buddhism, I studied Judaism. That included taking a class called "An Introduction to Judaism" taught by the Oregon Board of Rabbis. My favorite rabbi was a woman named Rabbi Ariel Stone. I recall her saying, "People refer to the Judeo-Christian path, but there isn't one. There are things in the Christian Old Testament that I cannot find in the Torah."

Rabbi Ariel's site: http://www.shir-tikvah.net/shirblog/abo ... iel-stone/


rory wrote:Sorry but you are entirely mistaken it's not the "West's" problem it's a specifically Christian problem. I'm Jewish and Jewish people have no problem having material things and being spiritual, we're not brought up to think that those things are 'evil' or it's swell to be poor and uneducated; I really cannot understand such a pov, it's just plain bizarre. I'm just not terribly attached to those material goods; it's just stuff.

So re-examine your cultural premises before making these statements about 'The West' We're not all Christians.

As Illaraza said paying lots of dollars for the Dharma and making money off it is absolutely wrong. My senseis both teach the dharma for free and aren't paid for it. They do it out of a sincere desire to help suffering human beings.
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Re: The West's conflict with mixing spirituality and materiality

Postby Wayfarer » Thu Nov 22, 2012 10:29 am

My perspective is that Nichiren Buddhism gets "bashed" for something that I think is representative in the Asian cultures: focusing on being successful and happy in the material world.


This is like the 'prosperity gospel' in the West. You know, God wants you to enjoy all the good things in life, that kind of thing. I have a dim view, personally. If I wanted to be rich, this would not be the board I'd be writing on, nor the subject I would be studying. Camel in the eye of a needle, that kind of thing. :smile:
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Re: The West's conflict with mixing spirituality and materiality

Postby Huifeng » Thu Nov 22, 2012 10:48 am

Camels and eyes of needles indeed! However, while Jesus seemed to think that one had to be poor to get into heaven, that is certainly not the case for Buddhism. The Nikayas and Agamas contain many examples of wealthy practitioners who, through charity, moral conduct, and understanding of the Dharma, attained rebirth in the divine realms. Anathapindada is a classic example.

Later traditions often analyzed the teachings into various levels. Among these, the motivation for higher rebirth, either human or divine, is still recognized as a legitimate goal for practice. Of course, a higher goal than this is to seek liberation; and, in Mahayana context, to aspire to full awakening as an anuttara samyak sambuddha.

Wealth or poverty is not the main issue, but greed or its absence, is.

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Re: The West's conflict with mixing spirituality and materiality

Postby Seishin » Thu Nov 22, 2012 10:52 am

I've noticed in the west that a statue of the Buddha is not considered "religious" in the open market.

I've also noticed a tendency with religious people to want a material possession thinking that it'll make them a better person.

We live in a material world and it's not just the west, but I think the west has "led the way" so to speak.

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Re: The West's conflict with mixing spirituality and materiality

Postby OregonBuddhist » Thu Nov 22, 2012 10:55 am

jeeprs wrote:
My perspective is that Nichiren Buddhism gets "bashed" for something that I think is representative in the Asian cultures: focusing on being successful and happy in the material world.

Camel in the eye of a needle, that kind of thing. :smile:


Which is, to my knowledge, a Christian saying. :smile:
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Re: The West's conflict with mixing spirituality and materiality

Postby OregonBuddhist » Thu Nov 22, 2012 11:00 am

....a Christian saying that perfectly illustrates what I'm addressing in this thread: the belief prevalent in the West that a desire for material benefits is non-spiritual.
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Re: The West's conflict with mixing spirituality and materiality

Postby Wayfarer » Thu Nov 22, 2012 11:09 am

what comes first, that is the key. I think if you practice seriously, then your motivation for truth comes first, no matter what the cost. If you put your well-being first, and start wondering how, perhaps, your practice can support your well-being, I don't think that is a sound motivation.
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Re: The West's conflict with mixing spirituality and materiality

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Thu Nov 22, 2012 5:09 pm

Some would argue that if you are successful and wealthy, you can do more to help people.
i know a few very wealthy people, and they do a lot of giving,
including giving to dharma projects.
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Re: The West's conflict with mixing spirituality and materiality

Postby illarraza » Fri Nov 23, 2012 12:37 am

The Lotus Sutra states:

"Mounting this jeweled vehicle, they directly arrive at the place of enlightenment." (Lotus Sutra, Chapter 3, verse section)

Nichiren commenting on this passage of the Lotus Sutra states:

"The jewels of this jeweled vehicle are the seven precious substances which adorn the great cart. The seven jewels are precisely the seven orifices in one's head, and these seven orifices are precisely the [seven characters] na-mu-myo-ho-ren-ge-kyo, the essential Dharma for the Final Dharma Age. For us, living beings, the five characters of the daimoku will become a boat at the river of the three crossings ; they will remove the cold in the crimson-lotus hell. In the hell of burning heat, they will become a cool breeze, and on the mountains of death, they will become lotus blossoms. When we are thirsty, they will become water, and when we are hungry, they will become food. When we are naked, they will become a robe. They will become a wife, a child, retainers, a clan--benefitting all living beings by conferring their inexhaustible responsive workings. This is the meaning of "directly arriving at the place of enlightenment." Accordingly, the fact that one dwells nowhere else but in the Land of Tranquil Light is called "directly arriving at the place of enlightenment." You should fix your mind on the word "directly" and ponder it." [STN3:2563-64]

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Re: The West's conflict with mixing spirituality and materiality

Postby OregonBuddhist » Fri Nov 23, 2012 4:22 am

Thank you everyone for the responses. They are all interesting in their own way.

I can't help but feel, however, that somewhere along the line there was a miscommunication about my question.

I wasn't asking for directives with regard to my own practice, nor was I necessarily looking for ways to practice so that I may end up wealthy in the end.

I was simply attempting to address the theorical underlying issue of "the West's" perspective of wealth vis-a-vis spiritual practice. So far, it seems the most helpful comment I've received is that this is not an issue of "The West," but specifically a Christian issue -- as Judaism teaches that one can be both wealthy/successful and religious/spiritual. To my knowledge, the concept of "money is the root of all evil" and "camel through a needle's eye" and "the meek shall inherit the earth" does not exist in Judaism, nor the Eastern traditions.

I think the reason that this is such a difficult topic to discuss is because it is so controversial, which only illustrates the validity of the claim I quote in my first post in this thread: "the West" (i.e., Christianity) has trouble mixing the spiritual and the material.
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Re: The West's conflict with mixing spirituality and materiality

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Fri Nov 23, 2012 5:35 am

First, I want to establish that what I am going to refer to is Buddhism among what are essentially "converts" in the United States. This doesn't mean they dropped one religion and took up dharma (for example, I did not come from any religious upbringing) but means that they were not originally brought up as Buddhists. Further, I do not know what the situation is in other western countries, so my observations only refer to the United States.

Here are three observations:

1.There is a common belief that one should reject the material world in favor of spiritual pursuits.
This might be an attitude that came from from the 1960' counter-culture.
I would make a very random guess that quite often,
those who feel this way have had a materially abundant life yet found it not fulfilling,
as characterized by the saying, "money can't buy happiness".

2. Western buddhists are often reluctant to financially support the dharma centers that they are affiliate with,
and often feel resentment when asked to pay to attend teachings and so forth.
As a result, Buddhist organizations are often lacking in financial resources.
This is in stark contrast to Buddhists groups whose memberships are largely Asian to begin with,
and it is also at odds with Western Christian church organizations
which are able to get considerable financial support from their members.

3. "Spiritual pursuits" including the study and practice of dharma often manifest as ways of escaping the drudgery of having to make money, so whenever money issues enter the buddhist conversation, this threatens that escape mechanism, and people complain.
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