Selfishness and Spirituality: The Challenge of Spiritual Materialism

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Selfishness and Spirituality: The Challenge of Spiritual Materialism

The journey of spiritual growth is fraught with challenges, not least of which is the risk of falling into ‘spiritual materialism’—a term coined by Chögyam Trungpa to describe the way in which our ego can co-opt spiritual practices. This phenomenon occurs when we use spirituality to reinforce our self-image rather than to transcend it, leading to a form of selfishness that can subtly undermine our spiritual progress.

Understanding Spiritual Materialism

Spiritual materialism manifests when we treat spirituality as a means to enhance our ego. This might look like using meditation to relax and improve productivity, or collecting spiritual accolades to boost our social status. While these benefits are not inherently negative, they can become problematic if they overshadow the true purpose of spirituality, which is to foster a deeper understanding of ourselves and our place in the universe.

The Ego’s Subtle Influence

The ego is adept at adapting and surviving. Even in the context of spiritual practice, the ego can find ways to assert itself—turning the pursuit of enlightenment into just another goal to achieve. This can divert us from the essence of spiritual practice, which is to dissolve the barriers the ego constructs, not fortify them.

Navigating the Path with Authenticity

To genuinely engage with spirituality, we must constantly examine our motivations. Are we seeking to truly understand and connect, or are we merely looking to feel superior or ‘special’? True spiritual practice requires humility, openness, and the willingness to confront uncomfortable truths about ourselves.

The Role of Community

Engaging with a community can be invaluable in this journey. A supportive spiritual community provides not only companionship but also perspective that can help identify and overcome instances of spiritual materialism. By sharing our experiences and challenges, we can help each other stay true to the path of genuine spiritual inquiry.


Recognizing and overcoming spiritual materialism is crucial for anyone serious about spiritual growth. It requires vigilance, honesty, and a commitment to continual self-examination. By understanding and addressing this challenge, we can ensure that our spiritual journey leads to true self-transcendence and not just another form of ego gratification.

In both spirituality and the traps of spiritual materialism, the path forward is one of deep introspection and genuine practice. Engaging with these ideas can lead not only to personal transformation but also to a deeper, more authentic experience of life itself.

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