God Is Not a Capitalist

Some years ago, when I was delving into Buddhism (which I love) and reading a lot of Pema Chodron, I found my way to Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s book, Cutting through Spiritual Materialism. It’s a hard concept to get around, and a somewhat difficult book to read. It requires some pretty intense focus, and can only be fully understood, I think, if one has done a lot of meditation, has developed a practice for several years.

Because “spiritual materialism” is a way of understanding that people who want to be “spiritual” often apply a capitalistic framework to a life of the spirit, to our concept of what God, or the Universe, is. We are so bogged down by the way money is made in our world, by the material fabric and transaction of a man-made society, we begin to think that a life of the Spirit works that way also. In essence, spiritual materialism is the thought, “I do this, I get that.” Something like, I meditate, I get external reward. I become a spiritual person, and I get accolades and attention and respect from other people for being “wise.” I study the Bible, or other forms of Scripture, and I become an authority. People come to me for answers. I am above.

So, just to clarify, this is all bullshit, and not the way a true spiritual life works.

What Rinpoche emphasizes is that the true spiritual path, the path of the warrior, is a process of uncovering layer after layer of label and disguise, the stories we tell ourselves to function in daily life. We strip away the ego and get to the core and truth of existence.

For example,

“This rationalization of the spiritual path and one’s actions must be cut through if true spirituality is to be realized. ([Notice he says “realized” and not “attained.” –JR]) However, such rationalizing is not easy to deal with because everything is seen through the filter of ego’s philosophy and logic, making all appear neat, precise, and very logical. We attempt to find a self-justifying answer for every question. In order to reassure ourselves, we work to fit into our intellectual scheme every aspect of our lives which might be confusing. And our effort is so serious and solemn, so straight-forward and sincere, that it is difficult to be suspicious of it. We always trust the ‘integrity’ of our spiritual advisor.”

He says some other things after that, but they’re pretty complicated, so I’ll save you and just go from here.

Essentially, the point here is that the True Spiritual Path is not about “attaining” enlightenment, or becoming elevated above other people. The True Spiritual Path, the path of the warrior (I just love that phrase), is about wading through bullshit narrative after bullshit narrative, with love and kindness, and getting to golden core that is the essence of all things, the gem of the soul, which is love and pure being and generosity.

I don’t know if I’ve described that in a way that makes sense, because it sounds so pretty. But it is the truth.

And honestly, and without judgment, I don’t know how you can do this kind of thing without meditation. Because other parts of your body, other energy centers or chakras, can heal and evolve and breathe and change and grow, but the mind is quite a rascal, and there are more and more and more and more layers to that thing. We want to make sense of our world. We want to fit everything into a neat little framework. We want structure and orderliness. We don’t know how to live.

So, let’s look at SexyJesus.

The Wisdom Tradition of Christianity, which many people don’t know about, and which is on the rise through people like Richard Rohr, Cynthia Bourgeault, and the Center for Action and Contemplation out in New Mexico, blends this more eastern, egoic-framework-problem into our understanding of Jesus’s teachings, which is really healthy and such a relief.

The way that mainstream Christianity has taught about Jesus is very simplistic, and very spiritually materialist. Do good deeds, and get your reward in heaven. Therefore God is a kind of transaction. Serve God, and you will be relieved with eternal glory and pleasure later on. Accept Jesus as your lord and savior, and you’re good to go. Relax. Sit back. Just tell other people about him and suffer your trials and you’ll have your cake and eat it too when you die.

As you know, this isn’t working. And people are flocking to any sort of philosophy or spiritual practice that feels more holistic and better so we don’t have to be aligned with this scary way of thinking. Such as the idea of “manifesting.” Do your work internally, and something will “manifest,” you’ll get your reward.

A true experience of God, however, is debasement. It is humbling. It is recognizing, Shit, no matter how much I try, I truly cannot dictate the world around me. Something weird is always going to happen, and I cannot know the higher plan, or if there is a higher plan. No matter how much I wish for it and pray for it, the thing I want that looks and acts and smells all the ways I want it to will not appear.

And only then can you learn how to be present, which is what Life is, which is all you can really know.

So SexyJesus teaches this too, in the Gospel of Luke:

“Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.”

Because we have a mixed-up sense of what God is, and because we are mainly driven by ego, and because so many of us are anti-authoritarian and live in a country run by crazy people, a passage like this might make us pissed. Who is this fucking God guy who tells me I’m a servant? Puh-lease. Fuck you, dude. I’m going to go watch a good show on Netflix. I’m going to find someone to have sex with on Tinder. I’m going to go to happy hour and have fun. Servant my ass.

The point that SexyJesus is trying to make, though, is not that you are powerless, necessarily. He is just showing, in one parable of many, a spiritual truth. Just because you commit to a spiritual path does not mean the Master (God, I suppose, or we could just call this the Reality of Life), gives you all these rewards and makes it so you don’t have to live anymore, or that you can just sit back and relax. God is not like, Oh, wow, you’re soooo amazing, you’re not a servant anymore, now you’re God, too, and you can do all the things God can do!

It’s more like what Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita to Arjuna, the young, struggling warrior who has a lot of shit on his plate. Krishna says, Do your duty, and let go of the outcome.

This is a very complicated blog post.


“The Ones” by agross96 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Your Soul is Not a Product

I keep getting emails and ads showing up in my social media feeds for what is called a “masterclass.” The idea is that if you watch this video and listen to this person, you’re going to gain massive spiritual insight that’s going to take you to the next level.

And what is the next level? I don’t know. Happiness? More money? Deeper awakening?

This dude interviews all kinds of healers and authors and meditation teachers and then gives you a free class before you sign up to pay a whole bunch of money over the course of a few weeks that’s going to “change your life.”

Now listen. It’s not that I’m saying these healers and teachers and authors have nothing of value to say. These are people who have something to offer, no doubt. They’ve been through their own struggles and their own searching and now they’re trying to give back. I respect that. That’s my intention too.

But we have to be conscious and aware of the fact that we live in a materialistic society, a capitalistic framework. And so what that means is that deeply ingrained within us is this false perception that any path we’re on is a ladder, and that we must travel up, up, up, to get “there.” There is the secret treasure, I suppose. Like in Dora the Explorer (the movie, which is quite good), where the kids traverse the Amazon jungle and go through all sorts of tunnels and quicksand and arithmetic to move the big wall that reveals lots and lots of gold.

I think that within all of us is this search for gold, what we think is the jackpot that’s going to change our whole lives and make us never have to live with strife or complicated emotions.

And that is just a big ol’ lie. Because as long as you’re alive, you’re going to feel things, and you’re going to have challenges. That is true no matter how much money is in your bank account, who your boyfriend is (even if he’s Justin Timberlake!), or where you live. Money is something that has to be managed (and dear God, if you’re filthy rich, you need to hire people to help with that stuff), boyfriends don’t always please you (men get depressed, too), and even lavender fields go fallow at times. Or the sink handle breaks in your fancy kitchen. Or the toilet gets clogged. Or kids come in and track mud all over the floor.

To be honest with you, I don’t know why I’m on “the spiritual path.” I was going to have a nice, perfect life. I was going to get married and have a very sensible teaching job that put me on the same schedule as my kids, and I was going to live out the rest of my days with my favorite person in the world, and I was going to take walks after dinner and have friends over for parties and go to yoga class on Saturdays and write short stories that maybe got published in journals no one every heard of. But my yoga teachers moved to Vermont, my marriage got ugly, those high school teaching jobs felt like an episode of Survivor, and I could no longer afford to live in my house. Instead of fiction, I’m writing this weird stuff every day. And this is all after I started meditating. Go figure.

What is more true than those “masterclasses” that are supposed to “awaken” you (and take lots of your money), is this statement from the Shambala Buddhist Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, in his book The Myth of Freedom:

The attainment of enlightenment from ego’s point of view is extreme death, the death of self, the death of me and mine, the death of the watcher. It is the ultimate and final disappointment. Treading the spiritual path is painful. It is a constant unmasking, peeling off of layer after layer of masks. It involves insult after insult.


Dude, this shit is true.

If you are interested in a deep experience, where you hold nothing back and bare your whole heart, all your insides, every single thought, and you submit totally and fully to the Great Presence, then you are going to be doused and showered with love, but you are also going to lose all those strongholds that tell you what your identity is. You are no longer going to define yourself by your job, by your history, by the role you play in certain relationships. Now you are a globe of light whose world is vast and open, and no matter what direction you walk in, you are you, beyond labels.

Most people don’t want to go this route. Most people get very, very scared. Most people put up their hands and plant their feet and say, Um, no thank you. I’m going to watch TV.

But once you start this, you can’t stop. It’s like being in the forest with no cell phone, no map, and each day you have to find your food and a place to sleep, but you might as well keep exploring the forest, because what the hell else are your options?

Maybe this sounds depressing. I hope not.

My point is that we are very inundated with the false belief, from a young age, that we are climbing a ladder in life, and we have to get to the top rung. This is not true. This is never true. Maybe that works in capitalism, but then you get to the top rung and shit, people elect you to be president, and you are totally unequipped for that kind of work, and you end up just killing the world.

Maybe you want to be happy, and you want to be peaceful and calm always, so you become a yoga teacher and massage therapist and reiki healer and now you’re in school for cranio-sacral something-or-other and now you’re waking up at 3 in the morning every day for all the “self-care” you have to do, but you still can’t even pay your bills.

Materialism is materialism. It suggests that there is something to be gained. It suggests that we put forth some sort of effort or expense, and then we receive something concrete in return.

Transactions like this happen all the time in life. Giving and receiving. But the universe is not looking at it this way. What matters to the universe is an exchange of energy. The giving and receiving exists in the same act, the same moment. It is, rather than a putting out and a taking away, a blending, a sharing. A celebration in every interaction. A dance.

When you dance with someone, you’re not really expecting a transaction. More likely, you’re open to the moment you’re in, the simple exchange. Your body says, I share this experience with you. We are together right now. 

That’s the spiritual experience, too. That’s the path of enlightenment. That’s what an awakened person sees.

It’s very subtle.


“Dance Daniela Negma, dance!” by Salvo d’Avila is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0