Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Spiritual Materialism and the Sacraments of Consumerism: A View from Thailand

Phra Phaisan Visalo, the author of the article quoted here is a Buddhist Monk from Thailand and in this article focuses on how the distinction between religious faith and consumerism is becoming increasingly vague these days. His observations although focus on Buddhist faith, specially in the Thai context, but it has much food for thought for other traditions as well.

The Spiritual Materialism may not necessarily take form as buying precious Buddha statues or protective lockets with imaginary deity but can come in many other sympotoms depending on the context of faith or tradition we are talking about.

i have seen this specially sick tendency of religious materialism in terms of consumerism in a very naked form in Indian Subcontinent among Muslim community when it comes to the Festival of Sacrifice (Eid-ul-Adha). Rich people will go to buy animals (generally cow or sheeps) of very high price (neglecting the poor in the neighbourhood or society in need) and there are huge competition, showiness all in the air by many, which is so against the spirit of the religion and the teaching of sacrifice itself. May be i can elaborate the problem on that in another post, God willing.

Lets go back to Phra Phaisan's article. I quote some interesting areas with the link of the full article at the end for you to read.

Consumerism rests on the principle that happiness and success come about through consuming or purchasing things, not through creating or realizing it by oneself. This belief causes people to see religion as merely another aspect of consuming, rather than something which should be applied and practiced. The result is that religion has become superstition ...

Nowadays, religious faith has been altered to the degree that it means purchasing auspicious objects to worship. One's faith (saddha) is no longer measured by how one applies it, how one lives life, but by how many holy or sacred articles one possesses.

Many Bangkok monasteries as well as those in the provinces have transformed into trading centers for such auspicious objects. In these temples, it's not just a few ordinary photographs, encased amulets, and yantra (lucky cloths) that are bought and sold, but an incredible diversity of products, like protective lockets to hang from your rear view mirror, fancy matted pictures, figurines, and signs with magic phrases (like "The House of Richness").

... consumerism has more than just a material aspect; people's trust, beliefs and views play a very important role as well. When you consider consumerism in terms of the functions that it performs as well as the attitude and understanding of people who are under its influence, it is not so different from other religions. But in the final analysis, the Religion of Consumerism cannot truly answer the deeper needs of humanity.

... Life's meaning is revealed not through building a new ego, but by delving deep until seeing that "self" is illusion. Consumerism offers no refuge for our lives, whereas even consuming religion itself cannot satisfy our deepest wish.

>> you can read the full article here.

Credit: Buddhist Peace Fellowship : also published in Seeds of Peace Vol. 14, No. 3 (Sept-Dec) image credit
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