Materialism is usually talked about in the context of money, owning things, amassing wealth. Let’s look at how it is equally present in the world of spirituality...
by Kelvin Chin, Meditation & Spiritual Teacher
A friend of mine just sent me an extremely troubling article about an investigative report aired today by an Australian news outlet, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), on the serving of dog meat disguised as “chicken” in Bali to the thousands of tourists who flock to that purportedly “idyllic,” tiny (95 x 69 mile) Indonesian island vacation and spiritual retreat hotspot. The Bali Animal Welfare Association (BAWA) estimates that 70,000 dogs per year are killed and served to diners there. http://mobile.abc.net.au/news/2017-06-19/evidence-shows-dogs-in-bali-brutally-killed-meat-sold-tourists/8620128?pfmredir=sm
And, it is not the dietary choices being made by cultures around the world that is the issue. It is the methods used to capture, cage and kill animals — the cruelty and excessive pain and suffering inflicted on the animals that is troubling, widely accepted by the government and culture, and therefore beneath any labeling of the culture as “spiritual.”
Those who label such cultures as bastions of spirituality are guilty of merely judging a book by its cover, without ever opening the book to read it. Being mesmerized by the number of temples and gorgeous natural landscapes, without looking deeper.
That article reminded me of my own experiences when I Iived in a number of countries around the world. Many of them are considered by most people as “highly spiritual,” and some have even been called “the spiritual centers culturally on the planet.” I’ve often heard those very comments from friends as they boarded their planes to these lands far from the U.S. — phrases they may have read in travel books, and maybe even heard college religion professors pronounce.
But are they? Are they truly spiritually more developed?
Let’s look more closely.
How does Bali — to pick one of many so-called “spiritually-labeled” countries — justify the cultural acceptance of capturing and killing of dogs (or in other cultures, cats or other animals) for food and then openly lying to tourists about the meat being “chicken”? Or worse, the inhumane treatment that often accompanies the sad ending of those animals’ lives — the poisoning, the lynching, the muzzling and suffocation in plastic bags, or the shooting? What does it matter whether they be dogs, cats, chickens or other animals? The cruel treatment is not justifiable. And let me say at the outset, that the fact that Americans may also at times treat animals equally poorly, does not justify the behavior in other parts of the world.
But we’re not here discussing the detail of the treatment of the animals. We are here to discuss the level of spirituality of the culture.
And why do I think this is important, on a practical level?
I think it’s important because so often Westerners travel tens of thousands of miles seeking spiritual sanctuary in places that they think are more spiritual than where they are coming from. The culture or place they are going to seems to attract them, putting them almost in a trance-like state as they book their flights to those far-off lands.
I have a different view of some of these far-off lands than most. I’ve witnessed this sort of in-your-face unethical behavior countless times as I’ve traveled the globe.
My experience was that no matter how many temples, altars or public displays of reverence to ancestors, gods, or other deities that were on display in those countries, if you looked beyond those surface rituals, people were no different from the devout churchgoers in my hometown who professed much goodness, but often acted differently.
So, the lying about serving dog meat in Bali is unfortunately not surprising.
But there may be something that’s actually worse than the lying that I don’t think most Westerners realize.
When I worked for the President’s office at MIT, one of the many seminars I taught there was on cultural differences. And how different cultures communicated and therefore meant different things when they said simple words like “Yes” and “No.”
And looking through that cultural lens, what you realize — and arguably what may actually be worse and more troubling — is that many cultures do not see it at all as unethical or “cognitively dissonant” to tell an untruth — a lie.
In other words, they do not see a mismatch.
I find that is the most troubling thing. Because those beliefs and thoughts are the foundation for subsequent behavior. For actual physical acts.
Ethically, they often view money as the primary motivator even more than we do in the U.S. Ethically they would say it would be stupid for them not to fool you if they can get money out of you. So ethically, they consider that the most important part of the whole process. Have you ever wondered why piracy in China is so accepted, why it is so much an integral part of the cultural norm? Why stealing of other’s intellectual property is so ho-hum normal? Why when you send your manufacturing drawings to them to build your factory, they are literally simultaneously building an identical factory a few blocks away to compete with your company?
And my experience has been that this phenomenon — this utter inability to see this issue as an ethical one — is not merely socioeconomic. In other words, it’s not just poor people who think and act this way. It is a cultural norm in some countries, up and down the socioeconomic ladder.
And there is absolutely no connection between that and their view on spirituality which is completely based on how many candles, incense sticks or fruit they have brought to the altar in the middle of the town that day. As long as they have met the minimal requirements of their “spiritual duty and rules” as set out by some authority figure, they are “spiritual.”
Sound familiar? No different from how many times a week you should go to church in the U.S. As long as you’ve met that minimum requirement, you can go home and kick your dog, then ask for forgiveness the next time you go to church.
In Bali, you lynch then eat your dog — in the U.S., you kick your dog. Either way, it is cruel and unacceptable. And obviously, non-spiritual.
I think it’s a reflection of the lack of depth and of the falseness of the “spirituality.” And I think it stems from the false belief in Enlightenment in those parts of the world, where Enlightenment or “spiritual perfection” is viewed as a goal to reach at all costs. Or in the U.S., in the widespread belief in Heaven and that all sins can be forgiven if church is attended.
The ends justify the means. That is the belief ultimately. And so the behavior in their daily lives reflects that. Of course this is not true for everyone, but I think it is the predominant belief among many in the East, especially Hindus and Buddhists, and many in the West.
That’s the major spiritual mistake.
Westerners are easily duped by the physical number of temples, altars and prayer events. They mean nothing in reality. They are external trappings, mere symbols of cultures steeped in ritual acts, a reflection of the illusion of true spirituality that is touted on the surface.
Here’s another example of the disconnect between spirituality and the external world.
I led a weekend meditation course for about 20 students hosted by a Buddhist monastery when I lived in Hong Kong. I was a vegetarian at the time. To my surprise, when we arrived at the monastery and sat down for our first meal, all the dishes were full of pork and beef. More meat than I think I have ever seen at a regular, normal meal growing up in Boston, Massachusetts. No exaggeration.
When I asked our hosts, the Buddhist monks, why my request for vegetarian meals was not honored, they looked at me stunned, and said, “You are our guests, we want you to have what we cannot have.”
So, essentially they were saying they would love to be eating pork and beef, but because the Buddhist rules dictate that they cannot, they do not. Their spirituality was based on rules and being told what to do. Not based on what their inner voice was telling them they should do, or want to do.
For me, as a young meditation teacher, that was an epiphanous moment. It showed me the illusion of spirituality, the depth of the illusion that exists in the world. If the Buddhist monks craved to eat meat and demonstrated their respect for me as their guest by serving me more meat than the normal American meat eater would eat in a given meal, that spoke volumes.
So when we Westerners travel 12,000 miles and say, “Amazing, Oooo, Ahhhh, Wow…” at how spiritually beautiful the culture appears on the surface — judging it by the number and beauty of the temples, the freshness of the flowers on the altars, and the frequency of the prayer events — let’s not be the typical naïve Westerner blind to what is really going on.
Just because a culture seems “quieter” than our fast-paced Western culture does not mean the people are experiencing more “inner peace.” Quiet behavior does not equal inner peace. And it most certainly does not equal spirituality.
As I said earlier, be careful not to be guilty of “judging a book by its cover.”
Kelvin H. Chin is a Meditation Teacher, Life After Life Expert, and Author of “Overcoming the Fear of Death.” He learned to meditate at age 19, and has been teaching Turning Within and coaching others in their self-growth for 40 years. He helps people understand their life challenges through their individual belief systems, and helps them find their own solutions. His past life memories reach back many centuries, and he accesses those memories in his teaching and his coaching in the same way all coaches draw on their own available experiences for perspective and effective analogies. He can be reached at www.TurningWithin.org.