How Materialism Posing as Mysticism Limits Consciousness and Subverts Spirituality

MaterialismMatthew Butler, Guest
Waking Times

The law of attraction is a wildly-popular modern mystical belief hyped as the secret to fulfilling your every desire. It has big celebrity endorsements, and commercial products rehashing its claims sell in abundance. But beneath the glossy facade there’s often an agenda pushing egocentrism and greed in metaphysical garb, which limits consciousness and subverts spirituality for shallow materialistic ends.

Many spiritual traditions have arisen throughout history and although they have their differences, a common recurring principle is that greed and spirituality don’t mix. Renowned spiritual teachers like Jesus or Buddha did not promote greed in their teachings or lifestyle – quite the opposite: they showed that greed and egocentrism had to be overcome.

Greed has been seen in many spiritual traditions as an obstacle or trap that prevents us from understanding and fulfilling a higher purpose to life. Because it makes us selfish and obsessed with transient things, it has long been taught that renouncing selfish desires, and selflessly helping others to do the same, is necessary to attain salvation or liberation.

But this principle is increasingly turned on its head in the world of commercial spirituality. Some want to have it both ways – a spiritual or metaphysical pursuit in their lives and all their material desires fulfilled – and those selling this message (and the corporations behind them) can make a lot of money out of pushing this false promise. But at what price?

The Marketplace of Spiritual Ideas

Those who look beyond rigid constraints of traditional religious institutions have a seemingly unlimited range of alternatives in what has broadly been termed ‘New Age’ spirituality which intersects with the ‘mind-body-spirit’ and ‘self-help’ scene.

Having the freedom to explore alternative and diverse spiritual beliefs openly in society is a wonderful thing. But in today’s era of mass consumption, savvy people have realised they can make a lot of money by selling messages that cater to people’s spiritual longings in the most commercially appealing way.

The new age scene is diverse, with grass-roots and genuine elements, but like many other alternative social movements, there are those who will inevitably seek to exploit it and use it for commercial purposes. In this process spiritual ideals can be co-opted and commercialised, as corporations, and the authors they support, seek to tap the market for profit.

This commercialisation inevitably influences the message as the most appealing messages get the most corporate backing, and the most appealing messages tend to be a more palatable candy-coated version of spirituality with all the hard and difficult parts taken out.

Having commercial interests direct the course of spirituality goes against the very essence of spirituality, so it is not surprising that the message is not only distorted, but can even be completely inverted by this process.

The Law of Attraction as Mystical Greed

This is perhaps most apparent when you look at the popularity of refashioned teachings about the ‘law of attraction’, ‘positive thinking’ and ‘manifestation’ for which there are a number of products on the market, some widely successful and endorsed by prominent celebrities.

The underlying premise is that ‘like attracts like’ and you attract whatever you think, so you can change your thoughts to change what you attract in life. So if you think of positive things you will attract them, while if you think negatively you will attract bad things.

Obviously there is some truth to that – to a point. If you have angry thoughts all the time for example you are more likely to act angrily and provoke others to anger and therefore attract anger back to yourself. So changing negative thought patterns could change the circumstances you attract to a degree.

However, the law of attraction is often presented as a sort of magical Aladdin’s Lamp that can give you everything you want and desire. If you think of a new car, it will materialise. If you think of an attractive new partner, or a great new job, you can get that too. If you think of getting rich, it will happen. You just have to think it and believe in the outcome and it will ‘manifest’. The universe will provide whatever you desire if only you think it and believe – a sort of mystical power born of greed.

Not all proponents of the law of attraction are that blatantly materialistic about it, but there is no denying that some of the most popular versions of this theory dangle the carrot by promising wealth, success, and the fulfilment of all desires.

Metaphysical Materialism

Now one obvious danger with this thinking is that it can encourage delusion. People can’t have everything they want, and claiming they can gives people false hope. But another major problem is that this sort of teaching can easily encourage selfishness, self-indulgence and greed and the view that the the universe is somehow mystically designed to metaphysically reward self-centredness – while perpetuating the view that success and happiness are measured through what you acquire in the world.

When taken as a means to fulfil every desire, this belief can become completely anti-spiritual – a sort of metaphysical materialism, or greed with a mystical gloss, giving people a supposedly mystical way to manifest all their worldly desires while encouraging egocentrism.

Encouraging people to seek happiness through external things, through consumption and status, conveniently suits the corporations nicely, but it goes against essential spiritual principles.


Jesus rejecting ‘all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour’

Since when was greed a mystical path to happiness? The fictional Gordon Gecko famously said “greed is good”, but he was a Wall Street stockbroker whose greed took him to jail. His sentiment is not found in real spiritual teachings.

Greed and Spirituality Don’t Mix

We only need to look at well-known spiritual teachings to see how inverted some of the most popular metaphysical self-help teachings about the  law of attraction really are. Jesus famously said:

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth consume, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where thy treasure is, there will thy heart be also…

No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

Clearly, the law of attraction encourages some people to put their heart in the wrong place…in Mammon – the allegorical God of Greed.

It is also written that after fasting for 40 days and nights in the wilderness, Jesus was tempted by the devil and offered “all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour” which he turned down for the kingdom of heaven. He also said the kingdom of heaven is within you, and that it’s difficult for a rich man to find it.

Various spiritual devotees and teachers of many persuasions see renunciation of worldly desires as a necessary step toward spiritual enlightenment. There are various examples of this in many traditions.


‘The Worship of Mammon’ – allegorical painting by Evelyn De Morgan about the trappings of Greed

Buddha is renowned for making the observation that desire was the source of unhappiness. The more we crave things, the more unhappy and dissatisfied we become because our desires can never be sated. Liberation was to be found by freeing oneself from attachment to desire, not indulging it.

He gave up his wealth to seek enlightenment and teach. Saint Francis also famously gave up a comfortable life to become closer to God and lived his life in selfless service to others.

In the Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna taught that breaking your attachments and doing your duty in the world selflessly without seeking rewards was the way to liberation:

“Therefore, without being attached to the fruits of activities, one should act as a matter of duty, for by working without attachment one attains the Supreme.”

That didn’t mean you had to become a beggar, but he clearly explained that being attached to an outcome and to the senses, and to chase worldly rewards, was a futile way of living. Yet big-ticket marketers of the law of attraction often teach the opposite of that, encouraging people to focus on and believe in getting all the things that they want, rather than seeing these very desires as delusions which trap them, suppress consciousness, and prevent them from awakening and attaining peace within.

Missing from this world view is that life is a school in which we learn and that hardship and suffering are part of the process through which we self-realise so that consciousness can awaken. The circumstances needed for this are not always going to be easy, and when you look at the lives of famous spiritual figures you can see that they often went through great difficulties. Facing difficulties is a part of life, and what we need to grow is not always what we want. Those who believe they can manifest all their desires through positive thinking and believing in the outcome don’t seem to be aware that the more you chase after your cravings, the more you tighten the net of your own enslavement, when you could be using life to break free of these limitations.

Greed has consequences in people’s lives, because it shuts the door to real spiritual happiness and love, but it also has terrible consequences for the world. The world is being trashed because of greed, as people selfishly strive to get what they want with little regard for the consequences. And with people in such a self-centred condition the masses are easily divided and manipulated by the powers that be. Turning spirituality – which offers a way to break free of this mess – into a focus of greed and self-indulgence is truly harmful.

This of course suits the corporations in our economic system just fine, who depend on people’s perpetual despair, dissatisfaction and desires to drive them to chase happiness and fulfilment through continuous consumption. But those who want inner freedom and a genuine awakening of consciousness should not fall into this trap.

About the Author

Matthew is a freelance writer with a BA in Journalism, an open mind and a keen interest in defending personal freedom and uncovering the truth. He has a passion for exploring spirituality and consciousness and writes at The Conscious Reporter about issues that affect and suppress human potential, consciousness, alternative beliefs, and the right to free expression of spirituality in the world.

**Please visit where this article was originally published.**

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  • Mavie

    Materialistic desires will always be just that: fulfilling things that we will not take with us when we die, but will be left behind with our physical body, while or consciousness moves on to what awaits it next.

    Spirituality, well true spirituality, is about what we take with us when we die, and present to the Judges of Karma (which so many people who have Near Death Experiences talk about: their life review) and not many people seem to actually know about that.

    The spiritual figures mentioned in this article all went through tremendous hardship during their lifetime. They did not wait for things to come to them by attraction, but by using the path of action.

    Neither did they renounce life and hid in a cave, but embraced life and welcome obstacles so that they could learn and teach from the experiences they went through.

    Neither did they charge or make a profit from their teachings, quite the opposite..

    Yet the flow of universe allowed them to receive what they needed, just not what they fancied..

    And that is an important distinction that I think this article covers really, really well.

  • Mark B

    Just this week I developed a theory that your spirituality is your personal chemistry. Take care of it and it will take care of you. Emotions fuel your system so drive within your skill level or be prepared to learn new skills, like body work.
    This idea came to me after watching a video of a little girl shaking with buck fever, the adrenaline rush hunters get that causes uncontrollable shaking in some people. The idea of plant spirits and alcohol as a spirit also reflect this notion. Even the phrase ‘moved by the spirit’ has emotional ties. Rage can be described as an evil spirit…again emotion.

  • Hrvoje

    Well written article with important points to consider. Desires are indeed what keeps us enslaved to this plane of existance. Some may argue that one would naturally become bored of an addiction but I find this is not the case, and that it’s important to put a conscious effort into fighting against it.
    Say for example you have addiction to sweets: eventually you may realize they are not good for you and may stop eating them for a while, but the subconscious state that prompts you to eat it is still there and eventually it will overcome your will. Fortunately such drives can be eliminated and transformed.

    How can someone be free and happy by constantly being pulled by such subconscious states in dozens of different directions?

    • Meter

      Addiction and desire are two different states. In fact most people in debilitating addictions desire something else, another life, to not be addicted. It is this larger desire which moves them to ‘kick the habit’ and resist the addiction.

      The teaching that desire is merely enslavement I find sad and false. Eliminate desire and you eliminate life. Desire, like life, is eternal. Instead of attemtping to eliminate desire, elevate it.

      Modern (and even ancient) man’s attempt to eliminate and ignore desire is very related to modern man’s poor relationship with nature – this idea that the body and its desires are mere evil to be resisted, that man is above nature, etc. Beware the poison in many teachings on this, as they are rooted in repression.

    • Meter

      In case it clarifies my previous comment, addiction is a state of need, or a belief in need (real need does not exist, being an illusion for an infinitely creative being, which we are). It is not possible to be a creative being without desire, but it is possible to be a creative being without need (which is in fact our truth). That is to say, you can want without needing.

      Many people translate their desires into needs, and then become enslaved to those needs, those addictions. Their desires use them, rather than them using their desires (to create their dreams).

      The teaching about releasing desire is about practicing detachment, leaving a little space between you and your desires, such that you can choose which desires to energize (passion) freely. Yet the object is not to eliminate desire, which is impossible, as desire (impetus to growth) is intrinsic to life itself, in this life and beyond.

      If you’re waiting to be without desire, you will have a long, miserable, disappointing wait. If you wouldd be free of need, simply notice that you are right now existing without whatever it is you think you need, and you will see that need is an illusion called fear. That is what keeps us enslaved, not desire.

  • Eve

    Hey, fellow, I bet you, you’re a fundie, in disguise….and by the way, many much vaunted xtoam preachers, Billy Graham, included, made a lot of money in his “religious” preachings.

    AND YES< Even Yeshua ben Joseph, passed the "hat" for donations, from the crowds. He and his disciples, had to eat, too!

  • Fotis

    Thank you for bringing up this topic.
    I think consumption of spirituality is part of this materialistic way of life. For example spending some time per week with a group practicing yoga. Just taking some spiritual taste here and there and continue the mundane life after that, is very common. Also companies take advantage of people’s need for inside balance (…and more) and make profit out of it.
    So it’s something which is supported from both sides.

    I think someone need to be a true seeker of light in order to see this state inside and to look for sources of genuine information and techniques in order to overcome it. And usally is the pain that indicates that something need to be changed and the awareness of a deeply inside need that anything material can’t cover it.

  • Jeff

    I have come to realize that what makes for true happiness is the participation in the unfoldment of creation. True co-creation is not a selfish process. It is more of a witnessing to the awesome potential of creation itself. The breaking down of the small self or ego is common to these luminaries because it is a block to the flow of creative intelligence itself. Our culture has externalized this egoic self to the detriment of mother earth. We are now facing a literal annihilation of ego in the form of physical destruction. This is a consequence of the disconnect that attachment to the small self brings.

  • Laura

    I really like the examples you gave of spiritual teachers in the past who taught against following greed. It makes so much sense. It opens your eyes to what direction the current ‘spiritual’ teachings are leading people.

    It just seems wrong to me to use ‘mystical’ sounding methods such as manifestation or ‘ordering’ things from the universe to make yourself rich or ‘abundant’ (using a nicer sounding word doesn’t change its reality). It is like the universe is portrayed as a non-intelligent entity operating on mechanical laws and that will submit to all our desires and wills to give us whatever we choose to order. It can seem exhilarating and wonderful to have the hope of getting all your desires fulfilled, it’s no wonder why it is attracting many people.

    I just wish we could see a bit beyond these things, and know that everything has a price. It seems easy to go for pleasurable things, but it’s too easy. One ought to ask, what is the price for that, and when do I pay? If instead you endure hardship and suffering which is meant for your learning, and learn from it, your price is spiritual treasures like Jesus said. Besides, the idea of suffering can scare and put off a lot of people, but its nature changes when you know you’re doing it for the benefit of the consciousness. Involuntary suffering is different from voluntary.

    Anyway, Matthew explained it so well that I’m not going to repeat it. Great article, you don’t see this topic addressed too much out there!

  • Meter

    Personally, I have found little value in renunciation/abstaining – it is not a path of freedom. This author just seems to be in a twist that people are making large amounts of money on spiritual teachings/scams, and is giving the old religious doctrine of deny, deny, deny. Deny the body and its desires. Really this produces more hunger, sexual repression, and denial of freedom.

    Thinking IS magical – all thought is energy and as it collects it produces physical reality. Our reality operates as dreams do, on belief. You can create ANYTHING, do anything. We are infinite creators. Yes, that powerful.

    The fact is it just doesn’t matter whether you’re rich or poor, strong or weak, good or bad. You can choose whatever you want, and it won’t affect your ultimate destiny because this would is an illusion – it is not real. So go ahead and choose money and such – see what that brings you. It may be wonderful or hellish, and it will be temporary, like everything.

    People often think they can become more spiritual by doing things that spiritual people do. Yet that is not effective. As one awakens, one tends to be more spiritual in worldly affairs, but faking it won’t make it. Always work from where you are, in honesty. Honesty is the magnet for life, and desires are the path to freedom and experience. Denying your desires doesn’t work.

    We have many levels of desire – those of the body, mind, emotional body, and soul. As awareness grows (as you awaken), the soul’s desires become precious. Saints don’t give up chocolate because they need to – they simply become bored with it. Physical reality can’t compete with pleasures of the soul once found.

    Rather than denying your desires, be honest about them. And consider how you define wealth, and how you use it. Set yourself free – it is your soul’s truth to be wealthy and powerful, and yes that includes the physical, which is part of you.

    • Laura

      If I may just add my thoughts. I think the author here is not preaching about denying anything. He is saying to not aspire to fulfill your desires, which is a different thing, desire here meaning ego-based desire, which has its origin in low un-spiritual drives.

      The body has needs: shelter, safety, pure food and water, rest, activity, good health, to be clothed etc. Obviously these should not be denied, and should be ensured. But after the minimum physical needs have been satisfied, you can’t add to your happiness by adding to them materially. For example, adding to your shelter by making it rich and flamboyant, or by eating expensive foods, or wearing beautiful clothes, spending hours at the gym, having a cool car etc. can be feeding your desires, which are based on unconscious impulses such as pride, vanity and greed. It is these low desires which we need to stop fulfilling. It isn’t about denying them or pushing them away, more like understanding and overcoming them, and acting with spiritual wisdom instead.

      The fact just is that the world is caught up in promising happiness by adding to the material needs of the body, serving the self, yes the corporations are happy, but this will lead to nowhere spiritual.

      • Meter

        There are many places to be coming from on this, and thus many teachings apply. For basically non-spiritual, religious or atheist people, who are often overwhelmed by their desires and addictions, and who are often used by their desires, a degree of practiced discipline and control is valuable, if only to create a place of stillness where awareness may grow. What desires serve you?

        Yet for one on a spiritual path, the challenge becomes freedom (which is not abandon) – freedom from habit and limitation of any kind. Many people try to become an outpicturing of what their culture considers ‘spiritual’, and this becomes a consuming desire itself. The picture of a spiritual person who lives by self-denial, sacrificing the physical for the spiritual, while the non-spiritual man lives a life of less-limited self, is an illusion. Actually the truly spiritual are very free, and the non-spiritual live by great self-limitation. We are taught to limit ourselves.

        Thus do you find many people trying to be spiritual by limiting themselves, which is the opposite of what spirit is: unlimited.

        We, as is Life/God itself, are three-part beings. Our eternal selves are of body, mind, and spirit. We will forever have a body in some form, ever-changing. The spiritual path is not about leaving body and its desires behind, or limiting them. Find the holy in the lowly.

        There is true joy in the physical and the lowly, in addition to pain/pleasure.

        I think everyone opening to their spiritual power begins by using it to influence the physical ‘magically’. Eventually you find that while you may not be successful at instantly manifesting a treasure chest full of gold, you do nevertheless get provocative, sometimes amazing results. The power of attention works! This is enough to crack the physical-only worldview, and thus you embark on your true spiritual journey.

        A materialistic culture will enter the spiritual realm trying to manifest its desires. So of course this is ‘commercially successful’ – it’s what many people are choosing as an entry point to the divine. They are saying, “Teach me magic!” And of course, the magic they are choosing, the teachers they are choosing, reflects their level of consciousness and their current, honest desires.

        Being a creator is about freedom, not obedience. If you want to be more spiritual, create from your sincere desires, and elevate them to holiness, rather than judging them as “lowly”. There is no high without low.

        At some point you have to trust yourself.

  • We the Sheeple

    Those who are on the path that is paved with gold are the ones who follow others who paved the way and have been enticing humanity to join them for at least 6,000 years. The allure is strong, yet the illusion resides in the tangible associations in all things involving physical perceptions only.

    For the sincere spiritual seeker, they must manifest their own path, chart their own course. When these seekers awaken to the illusion that has placed humanity in a trance for so long, it is understood that surrendering to the harmony of Spirit in all that is will help to guide the seeker in the direction that is true for them in this incarnation. Illusions such as greed and materialism simply are unable to manifest in consciousness along such paths.

  • Anonymous

    Good Call Matthew, it’s about time somebody shone a light on this subject.

  • Wian Myburgh

    What a nice article, something that was on my mind for a very long time – The hidden agendas of ego-centrism and materialism woven into the ‘sacred’ new-age movement tapestry.The author has a lovely manner of putting this forth. We are so desperate to fill the eternal void within us that we don’t even realize we have exchanged our conventional religious belief systems for new-age mambo-jumbo that serves the same purpose – not bringing us nearer to ourselves. (Though there is some attractive truth in many belief systems, old and new)

  • Daniel tremblay Daniel T[eased

    By definitions, the 99% are negative thinkers or spiritually blessed/unblessed. This IS a problem I have with the business[industry] of religions. with the belief that God through prayers, will solve ALL YOUR WOES! It doesn’t work that way. Nor does the belief, HARD WORK = SUCCESS. It doesn’t. The hardest workers are the poor. So poverty is caused by, laziness, not believing enough, unanswered prayers. Root cause is Not, Not, NOT… something.
    TRUELY! All we are taught to be… just isn’t. Passivities will get you nothing. Agressions will get you jailed. Generosity/kindness get you taken. That leaves predatory GREED, as the weapon of choice too successes.

  • Abundance

    e all can have abundance. It’s just a matter of in which form we allow that abundance come to us. It might not be in the form of money. It can be in form of new connections with new people, doing favors, giving gifts etc.

    In the previous comment, the concept of flow was mentioned. I agree wholeheartedly. Money is not (in many cases) required to fulfill needs. The more people participate in a gift economy, the more it will grow, and the more people will find their needs met by other people giving and sharing.

  • Deliah Linsay

    I find that when I am meditating and everything flows, so does money without trying. It therefore comes as no surprise that money flows where energy goes and should therefore not be construed as greed. When one is in the flow, all needs are met.

    • Spiritual Engagement

      Thank you, Diliah. Absolutely.

    • bruce

      Could you explain more clearly the difference between desires of materialistic form which is ego driven,and true passion. I have been enlightened for several years and struggle a bit with this since I now live for my passions in life which is a complete turn around from my former indulgent self! As a child I was discouraged to become an artist by academics because they said few ever make a living at it so pursue something else!.I did just that and became a tradesman. Today, I am teaching myself through home study to become a holistic nutritionist but also had an opportunity to bring the color back in my life by collecting colorful artwork etc. which brings me great joy and happiness. Is this materialistic or is this simply following my path in life set out by the creator?

      • Meter

        > Could you explain more clearly the difference between desires of materialistic form which is ego driven,and true passion.

        I (and others) like to look at this like so: All of life is driven by desire. Desire is fundamental to existence, not just for humans, but for trees, rocks, sky, everything. You will always have desire. Never discard desire, because it is vital to creation. Merely step back from it, hold it loosely, rather than clinging.

        Every aspect of us, from our physical body to our soul, has ever-changing/growing desires. As awareness of the soul grows, one tends to focus more on spiritual desires, yet the body remains a vital part of us, and always will. We can honor many levels of desire through honesty – you don’t have to (and can’t) deny the physical for the spiritual. Rather, integrate and transcend.

        Passion is the use of our energy to realize our desires. We choose which desires to so energize, thus creating and experiencing our passions. This choice (passion) may be felt in the body, mind, and spirit. This passion lived is joy unto itself, regardless of outcomes.

        > Is this materialistic or is this simply following my path in life set out by the creator?

        It is deliciously material AND simply following one’s path. And YOU are the creator of your path.

        I like the questions you’re asking.

      • Laura

        In my experience, you can see the difference with self-observation, by looking at where those passions come from. You said, it’s a difference from your former indulgent self, this could be an indicator that you’re heading in the right direction. Base pleasure is different from joy and happiness, so anything that follows pleasure, is not likely to be it. Joy has a more transcendental quality.

        I believe everyone’s soul has something that it loves to do, like a ‘true calling’. What prompts you to follow it, is a feeling of pure, sincere joy at doing it, it makes your heart light, inspired and hopeful. You do it because you love to do it, and not because it makes you look good, or you earn a lot of money from it, it gives you fame or base pleasure etc. Because of your unique talent and love for that particular thing, you can help the world through it, and potentially help your spiritual development through it. So just follow your heart like they say, with sincerity and humility, and you will be guided.

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