Commoditization | Feb 2001

FMBR Editorial: Feb, 2001


Marshall Pease

This editorial is mainly based on an article by Kat Bakhu in Attunement (Nov/Dec/2000) on “The Commoditization of Spirituality.” This practice, he says, debases any truly spiritual endeavor and denies the very spirituality it claims to promote.

This is evidently true of the more blatant efforts to commercialize the spiritual path through the sale of everything from religious mementos to inspirational books and workshops. There are even trade shows held at exposition centers featuring all the latest fads. The mere existence of these shows is evidence of the intent to market these fads in exactly the same way – and for the same reasons! – as are everything from automobiles to hair coloring and kitchen appliances. The goal typically is to promote sales and therefore profits. Yet true spirituality is not concerned with either sales or profits.

The article goes on to consider more subtle kinds of commoditization. It quotes The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language as defining a commodity as “something useful that can be turned to commercial or other advantage.” On that basis, whenever you undertake a so-called spiritual endeavor in the hope of a reward, the endeavor is made a commodity. On this basis few religions avoid the trap. A common Christian and Muslim argument is that sin leads to the fire and brimstone of hell, or, in a slightly higher version, virtue earns you a place in heaven. In either case, there is a quid pro quo. Payment is being offered for what should be accepted as a spiritual imperative. Salvation has been made into a commodity.

At least in principle there are religions which appear to avoid the trap. In the Jewish religion, the individual is expected to obey God’s laws because that is what being a Jew is. The Jewish religion does not seem to have any clear position on what happens after death or whether there is any reward or punishment there. There is mention of Sheol as a domain of gloom and shadows where the dead may exist, but this is not advanced as a reason for being a good Jew. The reason is simply that God has demanded it. Period.

Similarly, in Buddhism, there is the goal of escaping the “wheel of life and death” into Buddhahood. But, at least in principle, the way to do this is not by doing anything, but by simply eliminating all desire and attachment. Some versions of Buddhism do offer rules for doing this. This seems to compromise the initial concept but the central theme seems to be pure. When you understand that life itself is the cause of suffering, you will no longer desire to be involved with it. This will naturally lead you to be free of all attachment, and will bring you to the perfection of Buddhahood.

What then is true spirituality? It is using prayer, not to ask God for help or other advantage in your daily life, but to surrender to His ultimate reality. It is using meditation, not because this will lead to better health or for release from tension or to gain useful insights, although these are often benefits that result. But the deeper reason is that through meditation you touch the ultimate reality in yourself – your own, inner godhead. It is to seek, not something that will be of use to you in your immediate, ego-driven life, but a reality that will transcend the illusion of the ego.

It is only by transcending the need for the crutches offered by commoditization that the spiritual path can be begun and the first step taken.

Marshall Pease, Feb 2001

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