So Arj Barker of the great HBO show Flight of the Conchords (well, Season one was great at least) made this send-up of meditation students and people who practice yoga for all the wrong reasons. (UPDATE: The Video is now down from Vimeo, and Youtube. If you can find it, please post in the comments section. Wonder why it’s down – it was just going viral. Complaints from the pious?) I had been emailed this clip no less than a dozen times over the weekend. It’s funny, but it’s not the kind of humor that requires much mentally, and is super easy to achieve (yes I do think I could’ve written it better), and ultimately I think it plays into a dark and inaccurate view of mind/body practitioners. IMHO, spiritual materialism is way way way over-emphasized. Or at least, misunderstood. First, check the video:
When the great Buddhist master Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche wrote Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, he didn’t write it to make people talk sh-t about practitioners or teachers whose motivations we question as overly self-involved or rife with profit-motive. It was meant to be instructions on how to self-reflect on the dangers of the “ego” (a badly translated word, but no time here) in ourselves, on both superficial and subtle levels of life as a Buddhist practitioner. It was never meant to be a manual for going around pointing fingers at others and tearing people down.
Every time I hear a Buddhist friend calling some teacher a Charlatan or a poser (As my friend Brad Warner sometimes likes to do on his blog) or a Yoga friend talking about how yoga has lost its purity now that Lululemon covers every single tush in every yoga studio (I love those…pants), I want to tell them to stop. Please just stop. Stop right now. I want to say “Hey guys, did you read the paper today, the part where Goldman Sachs and Exxon screwed the entire planet 100 million times as badly as any confused Buddhist or yogi ever has? Did you hear the lyrics of the latest corporate rap song that reduces humanity to its most superficially glittering impulses for millions of young people to consume without a thought? Did you see how Republicans stonewalled on healthcare reform again? Then please stop talking about Buddhists and Yogis.”
As Daniel Ingram points out, until we are enlightened, a personal mixture of awakened compassion and selfish confusion forms the basis for everything we do. The contemplative path is about working directly with this mixture, not rejecting it in self or others. The path is to notice our selfish confusion and slowly massage it away through repeated attention. At the same time, the path is to notice our already-present positive intentions and habits, and slowly cultivate and amplify these until they infuse everything we do. Spiritual materialism is not something to reject. Noticing spiritual materialism is the path.
And by the way, if anyone has tips on how to become an uber-wealthy, blinged-out, harem-having Guru – as so many poorly worded rants seem to point out that there are so many of these – I’d love to hear your advice. Myself and every other teacher I know (in every form of teaching) struggles mightily with scratching out a livelihood. So please, teach me how to be the kind of teacher who can afford diamond-studded incense. I’m sick of buying everything at thrift stores.